A Guide to Taking Toys Away From Dogs


Everybody loves to surround their dogs with lots of dog toys, but what if you must take a toy away from your dog? It’s important to follow certain guidelines when taking toys away from dogs so to prevent the onset of potential resource guarding problems. If you own a puppy, it’s best to practice these guidelines early, so that your puppy learns from the get-go that you are trustworthy and that there’s nothing to worry about when you approach him while he has a toy. If you have recently adopted a dog of unknown history or own a dog who shows signs of aggression when you’re taking toys or other possessions away, it’s best to err on the side of caution and make safety your top priority. Consulting with a behavior professional in cases as such is highly recommended.

taking-toy-away-from-dogFrom a Dog’s Perspective

There is a concerning belief that dog owners should be able to take their dogs’ toys away and the dog should allow it without batting an eye. Often, this belief is based on the outdated idea that dog owners should be the “boss” or the “alpha” and that they should be able to always take anything away from their dogs or do anything to their dogs. This is ultimately dangerous information that can lead to a bite.

One other hand, there may be dog owners who may assume that dogs don’t mind having their their toys taken away just because they don’t react, but from a dog’s perspective a toy can be as valuable as bowl of dog food or a bone.

In many cases, dog owners may miss subtle signs of resource guarding that are less noticeable than the signature “this is mine, go away” serious warning growl. A dog may also not seem to mind having his toys taken away for a while, but after a repeated number of times of having them removed, he may end up getting progressively more and more defensive about it.

It’s important to remember that dog behavior is never static, it tends to change and this can go both ways: in developing desirable behaviors and the not-so-desirable ones.

“People routinely believe that they “should” be able to take toys from their dogs. This is a subset of the belief that we “should” be able to do thing to dogs because we are humans and they are dogs. Such thinking is outdated and dangerous and leads to inhumane treatment of animals.” ~Karen Overall

A Matter of Trustdog-toy

How would you feel if one day, as you are shopping at a busy market, you feel somebody slip your wallet out from your pant’s pocket or somebody pulls your purse off from your arm? Most likely, you would be very upset about it.

Dogs care less about losing money or identity theft, but they are sure concerned about losing access to certain resources they particularly cherish such as food, toys and favorite sleeping areas. Sure, dog owners are no strangers to dogs, but wouldn’t you still feel upset if you had $20 sitting on a table and a friend or somebody in your household would take it away from in front of your nose without even asking?

Dog owners often take for granted that a dog shouldn’t mind having a toy taken away from them, but this action, done repeatedly, may make dogs become progressively more and more distrustful.

Resource guarding, a dog’s tendency to act protective of certain items he perceives as valuable and worthy of guarding,  indeed is often a matter of trust. These dogs have learned they cannot trust their owners, as often when they approach, negative things happen, such as swooping their toys away from under their noses, or even worse, chasing them, cornering them and forcing them to relinquish the item.

Canine BOGO deal, how about two toys with peanut butter in exhange for one!
Canine BOGO deal, how about two toys with peanut butter in exchange for one!

Instilling Trust in Dogs

So should dog owners totally avoid taking a toy away from their dogs? Absolutely not! Dog owners may often find themselves in situations where they must take a toy away from their dogs as in the case of a toy being broken apart and the dog potentially ingesting parts or a dog stealing a toy from a child.

It’s therefore important to know how to do this as safely as possible, and as mentioned, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, so best to start teaching dogs early so that they don’t end up growing up perceiving us as big party poopers who steal toys from under their noses making all the fun stop! So how can we take a toy away without making us resemble a Grinch, ruining Rover’s festivities?

Easy, we teach the advantages of fair trading.

Trading for Treats signs-dogs-resource-guard

How would you feel if somebody tried to steal something you just purchased at an auction? Most likely, awful, and if you could, you would probably even feel compelled to grab the person’s arm to get it back or you might call the authorities, but what if, this person instead asked you to trade what you won in exchange for 100 dollars? Most likely, you would be like: ” Sure, here you go, thank you very much!”

Ah, ha! Same goes with dogs. However, there are some important guidelines to follow, here are a few pointers:

  • Start early! This means start when your dog is a puppy and keep on rehearsing these exercises periodically throughout your dog’s life.
  • Learn how to recognize some of the the most subtle signs suggesting resource guarding in dogs. Some subtle signs may include lip licking, whale eyes, yawning, stiffening, keeping the head lowered over the toy, placing the head over the toy, lips pulled back just to name a few.
  • Never try to forcibly take a toy from your dog  such as grabbing it from his mouth or prying it open. This will only reinforce resource guarding behaviors.
  • If your dog shows signs of resource-guarding seek the assistance of a qualified professional using positive methods.
  • As a general rule of thumb, the item you trade should be higher in value than the toy taken away. So if your dog has a toy he really likes and you must take it away, you may want to skip kibble for the exchange and look for treats that are higher in value.
  • Careful with new toys, new toys are higher in value than regular ones your dog is used to seeing every day.
  • If you rotate toys or find an old toy that was under the couch for some time, consider that when you re-introduce it, it may become valuable in your dog’s eyes, almost or equally as a new toy.
  • Now, with these guidelines in mind, practice approaching your puppy when he has a low-value toy. Have several smelly treats in your hand, let him sniff them and get interested in them, then plop the handful of tasty treats in front of him and, as his mouth is busy eating, pick up the toy. Let him eat them before putting the toy down again. After practicing some time, put the behavior of taking the toy on cue, by saying “Trade!”right before you place the treats on the floor. You know you have trained well when, upon hearing the word “trade,” your puppy drops the toy immediately and looks for treats even before you show them.
  • Correct timing and technique is important, especially in the initial stages! If you happen to reach for the toy before offering the treats, you risk being bitten! Have a professional help you out.
  • Always practice with low value toys first and then build up gradually with toys that are more valuable (while accordingly increasing the value of treats)
  • A time may come as mentioned where you will have to trade the toy and not give the toy back.  What to do in this case? If the toy is one of those long-lasting flavored chew toys your dog loves to chew on for minutes at a time, consider exchanging it with another long-lasting toy such as a stuffed Kong. We have noticed some owners exchanging  long-lasting chew toys or bones for a small treat that’s gulped down in a second and the dog is then pacing around in search of the chew toy. Not a fair exchange. These dogs may decide one day that trading is no longer worthy.
  • Tossing several treats opposite the dog, offers the opportunity to retrieve the toy while the dog is at a distance.  It’s often best though to offer a stuffed Kong or a bully stick that is more likely to keep the dog occupied and forget about the toy. Some dogs may gobble the treats and then rush back to the toy right when the owner is there about to pick it up, which can lead to problems if the dog is resource guarder.
  • There is really no 100 percent complete safe way to remove a toy, but here is a safer version than the traditional exchange many dog trainers suggest. If you are giving a chew toy or other toy that you must at some point take away, simply have the dog enjoy the toy in a room where there is a door nearby. A Kong is then stuffed nearby the door with smelly, high-value treats (make sure your dog sees you doing this and you catch his interest) and then toss it out of the door. When the dog leaves the toy and is out of the room to get the Kong or bully stick, the door is shut close and the toy is removed safely.
  • Karen Overall suggests to ask the dog to sit, provide the dog with treats and feeding them while moving away from the toy (and perhaps also clipping on the leash for extra caution) while a helper retrieves the toy. She warns though to avoid doing this if the risk in taking the toy is higher than the risk of the dog having the toy.
  • Some dogs who love to fetch can be prompted to leave a particular toy if another one is tossed at a distance that allows for safe retrieval of the toy.
  • Looking for alternatives to trading ? When you need to take the toy, have a helper do something the dog is interested in. Like opening the door to the yard and letting the dog out or grabbing the leash so the dog hopefully leaves the toy upon seeing the leash and goes out for a walk leaving you the chance to pick up the toy in the dog’s absence. Alternatively, you can coordinate toy-giving with meal times. Simply provide access to the toy some time prior to meal time so that you can then collect the toy while your dog is actively eating. Replace it with another better one, so that your dog doesn’t see a pattern of eating and losing access to his toys and actually has a pleasant surprise when he comes back.

Disclaimer: this article is not meant to be used as a substitute for professional behavior advice. If your dog is prone to resource guarding, please consult with a qualified professional using positive methods.



  • Clinical Behavioral Medicine for Dogs and Cats, by Karen Overall, Mosby; 1 Pap/DVD edition (July 9, 2013) .


No, Tapping Dogs on the Nose is not OK


Many dog owners seek advice for training their dogs on the web and a commonly asked question is whether it’s OK to tap a dog on the nose or head. More concerning, there are several websites who actually suggest tapping dogs on the nose or head as a correction for puppies who are nipping or dogs who are barking! Even when the tapping on the nose or head is done by dog owners in playful manner to entice the puppy or dog to play, as innocent as this practice may seem, there are several negative implications associated with tapping dogs this way which is why behavior professionals discourage it. Following are four good reasons why tapping dogs on the nose is not OK.

dog noseIt’s a Sensitive Area

First of all, it should be considered that a dog’s nose is a sensitive area.  Sure, a canine’s nose is quite powerful in detecting smells, but it’s just made of cartilage and soft tissue and it has a blood supply of arteries and veins and nerves.

Of all a dog’s body parts the nose is therefore an overall delicate area considering its internal nasal structures.

A  traumatic nose injury in dogs can cause bleeding and pain that may require veterinary attention. Dogs should not be tapped, smacked or punched on the nose with the hands or other objects for any reason.

It Triggers Self -Defensedog aggression

Even though a tap on the nose may not necessarily  end up hurting the dog, we need to look at how the dog perceives it and what happens to him inside, emotionally. Repeated tapping to the dog’s noise may trigger fear and self defense in the long run and the dog may at some point react defensively just as it can happen with scruff shakes and other intimidating actions.

Many people still rely on outdated training methods such as smacking a puppy on the nose with a rolled-up newspaper for eliminating on the floor or giving a whack on the nose directly with a hand to stop a puppy from nipping on hands.

Tapping a dog on the nose is based on positive punishment, meaning that its timely application is meant to reduce and stop an unwanted behavior.  However, this type of correction actually heightens the chances for defensive aggression studies say.  A study conducted by Meghan Herron, DVM, DACVB, Frances Shofer, DVM and Ilana Reisner, DVM, DACVB, of the Matthew Ryan Veterinary Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania,  found that when dog owners resorted to harsh confrontational techniques, dogs responded with aggression.

” Punishment is like carpet bombing. The behavior you wanted to target gets hit but so can a huge portion of the dog‘s whole repertoire.”~ Jean Donaldson

It Makes Dogs Wary of Handshands-dog-face

One of the best ways to make dogs hand shy is  by tapping them on their nose. There are high risks that a dog will become wary of hands after owners have been tapping them on their nose or used their hands somewhere near a dog’s face for the purpose of giving a correction.

Tapping on a dog’s nose may therefore lead to a dog who becomes afraid of having hands anywhere near their faces and may also lead to defensive behaviors.

Because hands are connected to humans, it also wouldn’t be surprising if on top of being wary of hands, affected dogs would also become wary of who delivers the “corrective tap,” negatively affecting the dog’s overall level of trust in such person.

It Encourages Rough Play

As mentioned earlier, some people may use tapping on the nose or head as a way to entice (or perhaps, better say provoke) a dog into play. A while back, there was an (unfounded) belief that playing roughly with a puppy by tapping him on the face and head would make the puppy more protective.

Even though this practice may look innocent, especially when the puppy or dog responds by engaging in a play session, there are associated risks that make this practice counterproductive.

Karen Overall in the book “Clinical Behavioral Medicine for Small Animals” discourages this practice and explains that it may lead to inappropriate play and even aggression .

“It is a fallacy that if you play roughly with young puppies, particularly if you tap them about the face and head so that they snap, they will become more protective. This type of play only teaches the dog to play inappropriately and aggressively.”~ Karen Overall

                                                                  Alternative Methods

Dogs should perceive hands as sources of good things.
Dogs should perceive hands as sources of good things.

Tapping a dog on the nose ultimately doesn’t teach the dog what behavior we are expecting from him. As seen, corrective taps teach dogs to fear hands (and the owner!) and can potentially trigger defensive behaviors.

What should dog owners do then when their dog engages in unwanted behaviors? A great option is teaching the dog an alternate, incompatible behavior that can replace the undesirable one.

For instance,  your “puppygator” nips your hands with his sharp teeth? Rather than tapping him on the nose, why not teach him (under the guidance of a trainer/behavior consultant) to gently tap instead your hands using his nose? This training method is known as “targeting” and basically the puppy learns that great things happen when he makes “nose contact” with the owner’s hands.

Indeed, every time the puppy makes nose contact with hands, he is rewarded with a treat tossed nearby him or is given access to a toy tossed on the floor. This way the puppy learns a different way to interact with peoples’ hands rather than biting, he also learns to associate hands (and people) with rewards and has a replacement behavior that will keep him busy and happy! A win-win!

” Actions such as grabbing a dog and forcing it into a down, growling at the dog, and other aggressive behaviors directed toward the animal will only lead to the animal developing a “fight-or-flight” response where the animal fears for its life….When we engage in such behaviors toward our dogs, we are not telling the dog we are “boss,” instead we are telling the dog we are dangerous creatures to be avoided or fought off. There is no “dominance” in these scenarios—only terror and the instinct to defend oneself against attack.” ~Association of Professional Dog Trainers.

Disclaimer: this article is not meant to be used as a substitute for professional behavioral advice. If your dog is exhibiting behavior problems, please consult with a behavior professional employing non-aversion-based  force-free,  techniques.


Why My Dog Won’t Pee While on Leash?


It can be frustrating dealing with a dog who won’t pee on leash during walks, especially considering that dogs are often purposely taken on walks to do their business! If you own a dog who refuses to go potty when on leash or are pet sitting a dog whose bladder goes on strike the moment a leash is attached to his collar, rest assured you are not alone! Many people wonder why their dogs won’t pee or poop when on leash, but dogs may have their very own good reasons. By better understanding the dynamics behind dogs who won’t pee while on leashes, dog owners can try different approaches to help their beloved dogs succeed.

dog-wont-potty-on-leashIt’s a Dog Thing

While for us humans, eliminating waste is just a “chore,” for dogs, urinating and defecating has much more meaning. From a dog’s perspective, peeing and pooping is like leaving an important business card on the ground for other dogs to “pick up”and interpret with their powerful noses (they use their Jacobson organs for this).

Dogs therefore, like to sniff around for a quite a bit before picking their ideal “potty spot” and a leash may interfere with this natural behavior, especially if the leash is short and kept tense, meaning that the dog doesn’t have much “leeway” to sniff at his own pleasure.

idea tipTip: keep that leash loose, or even better, if safe to do so, try using a long line to take your dog to potty on walks so that he can move freely and find his “inspiration” with little to no interference.

A Matter of Surfacedog sniff

While humans use standard porcelain toilets as receptacles for their waste, dogs must rely on the ground’s surface as their restroom.

This surface may vary greatly from one place to another (grass, gravel, dirt, dry leaves, sand, concrete, pee pads, you name it!) and it’s a known fact that dogs don’t thrive on inconsistencies.

So if Rover uses grass as his favorite potty spot at home, a pet sitter might not have much luck taking him on a walk on concrete sidewalks and expecting him to do his business on such walks!

idea tipTip: For those pet sitters out there, it might help asking the owners what type of surface their dogs usually prefer to potty on. This can help prevent a lot of headaches associated with trying to get dogs to potty on totally different surfaces they are accustomed to normally using. Dogs tend to develop a substrate preference when they are young puppies and love sticking to it!

loose leashToo Much to Handle

When dogs are in a new place they are not familiar with, they may temporarily inhibit their normal routines and this may include, eating, drinking, playing and going potty.

Whether your dog is in a new place or you have chosen a different path on his walks, he may be keeping everything in, because he may feel overstimulated or doesn’t feel safe in his surroundings.

Going potty requires some level of relaxation and a dog not feeling comfortable or safe in his surroundings may have more important things to pay attention to rather than elimination.

idea tipTip: try walking your dog in quiet places where there is not too much going on. This may mean choosing a quiet cul-de-sac rather than a busy road with people walking their dogs or garbage trucks passing by.

Too Much Pressure scared-dog

Last but not least, your attitude can play a big role in your dog’s inhibition to go potty on leash. Let’s say that your dog is reluctant to go potty on leash, and you start acting frustrated when he doesn’t go.

This makes only matters worse, because your dog feels you are getting upset and this makes him further inhibited due to the extra “pressure” you put on him.

It could be he is about to go, and is sniffing around to find a spot, but when you get impatient and say something like “just go, stop wasting my time!” your dog perceives your irritated tone as telling him the opposite, to stop searching from a spot!

idea tipTip: Often, dog owners find that if they start relaxing and stop coaxing their dogs into going, their dogs will finally relax too and eventually go.

puppy-biting-leashA Word About Puppies

Puppies may be particularly reluctant to go potty on leash if they haven’t been allowed enough time to habituate to wearing a collar and leash.

It takes some time for puppies to get used to a leash, some may panic when they are attached to it, others may instead perceive the leash as a fun tug toy.

In either case, their attention can be diverted from doing their business which can be particularly frustrating, especially when the puppy won’t pee or poop during the walk, but then readily does so once home, and of course it has to happen on the immaculate carpet or expensive rug!

idea tipTip: allow your puppy some time to get used to wearing a collar and leash starting indoors and introducing the leash slowly. Simply, feed treats when he sees the leash, then, when he sniffs it, then, when you clip it, and then, when he wears it for a bit of time. Then, take your puppy outside on leash when you expect him to be needing to go potty.

A Few Tipstrain-dog-go-potty-on-command

  1. If your dog is not comfortable going potty on leash, patience is your best friend. Don’t give up! You may have to go back home and try again later (keep a close eye though or your dog may go inside!) Eventually your dog will need to go badly enough to overcome his initial reluctance to go potty.
  2. Astutely time your dog’s outings on leash when he needs to go potty the most. First thing in the morning, most dogs will need to pee or poop, or both, after holding it all night. This is the perfect time to practice going potty on walks.
  3. Try to take your dog in areas where other dogs have likely eliminated such as fire hydrants, lamp posts or the dog park. These area work like community bulletin boards  and your dog may try to leave his “mark” under the form of urine or feces.
  4. When your dog finally goes potty on leash, make sure you make a big deal about it, praising him lavishly and giving him some treats. Remember, behaviors that are rewarded, tend to repeat!
  5. Train your dog to go potty on command. This can make life much easier as your dog will associate the word with the act of going potty.
  6. If your dog goes successfully on a walk, keep a mental note of that spot and return to that same spot in the next days.
  7. If your dog is act ill or seems to have trouble going potty, please see your vet. In some cases, a urinary tract infection or an obstruction due to a large bladder stone blocking the passage may the culprit. If your dog has a hard time defecating and seems uncomfortable, this can be sign of an intestinal blockage.

Did you know? Young puppies don’t urine mark and this suggests that urine marking must entail some sort of “conversations”that have to do with something that mostly matters to adult dogs, explains Alexandra Horowitz, in the book “Inside of a Dog — Young Readers Edition: What Dogs See, Smell, and Know.”


Understanding Dogs Who Guard People


People may sometimes think it’s cute when little Gidget, the Chihuahua, growls when people come near the owner, but guarding the owner can be a troublesome behavior that can end up with a trip to emergency room when somebody ends up getting bitten for getting too close. Not only, when a dog bites a person. the owner can be liable for medical bills easily amounting to thousands of dollars and the dog can even end up being put down, and at that point, this scenario is definitively no longer cute!

From Rover’s Perspective

What is really going on in a dog’s head when he decides it’s time to protect a certain person? The dog barks, growls and lunges to anybody who tries to come near. It’s as if the dog was saying “paws off my favorite person!” and the behavior tends to escalate the closer the person moves.

Anytime we wonder why dogs act in certain ways, it helps to ask ourselves what’s the inner reward the dog is gaining from the behavior. As many dog professionals say: “Behavior is reward driven.”

Behaviors that are rewarded tend to strengthen and repeat so little Gidget must have found the behavior of guarding his favorite person rewarding in some way.

A List of Pawsibilities

What rewards can a dog gain from guarding a person? There can be several. If the dog perceives the owner so valuable, he likely cherishes any form of attention from his favorite owner and that often includes the negative type.

If every time Gidget growls at people coming near the owner, the owner may likely laughs, try to sooth him or perhaps scold him. Since Gidget values the owner’s attention so much, it works as a reward that will keep the behavior of barking, growling or lunging at anybody that comes near, alive.

If the owner takes Gidget on walks and Gidget doesn’t like that the owner stops the walk and diverts her attention to other people, he may have found a way to make the people go away, so he gets the owner’s attention back to him and resumes the walk. Win-win!

Sometimes, it seems like a dog is guarding the owner when in reality the dog simply feels uncomfortable or is fearful of having people walk near. In this case the inner reward is mostly sending the people away, so that dog feels safe again. Several dogs have space issues and may get increasingly uncomfortable with people invading their person “bubble.” They may be fine with people several feet away, but if they come too close for comfort, they will start barking, growling and lunging which can be easily perceived as guarding the owner when the dog is on walks or close to the owner. It’s important to have a professional evaluate the dog to determine exactly what is triggering the behavior so that it can be addressed accordingly.

idea tipFood for thought: Sometimes, if the owner carries treats on walks, it could be the dog is actually guarding the treats and not the person. In this case the dog’s inner reward is sending people away from the goodies the owner is carrying!

CaptureTackling the Issue

Once the dog’s inner reward is recognized, an appropriate behavior modification can be initiated. For instance, if the dog’s inner reward is the owner’s attention, removing attention the moment the dog engages in the undesired behavior would likely be most effective. This is known as “negative punishment” and it has nothing to do with use of physical punishment! To the contrary, negative punishment is pretty much force-free, all the owner is doing is removing the reward (the attention) that fuels the behavior.

So if say Gidget the Chihuahua was on the owner’s lap and were to bark when a person came too close to the owner, the owner would immediately say in a cheerful tone of voice “Ooops!” as she stands up and places Gidget on the floor. After several repetitions, Gidget will eventually notice that barking at people, no longer grants him owner’s attention, but instead makes the owner go away! What a loss!

In the case of dogs who instead bark at people because they’re uncomfortable having them around them, standing up and leaving them alone to fend for themselves can make them feel even more fearful. In this case, these dogs may benefit from desensitization and counterconditioning, a behavior modification protocol where we make good things happen in presence of the scary stimulus presented very gradually.

So if Rover is given tasty tid-bits every time a person is approaching starting at a distance, he may eventually learn that great things happen when people approach. The end result may be a dog who is more comfortable having people nearby or even a dog who is eager to have them around as their presence equals treats! Of course, these are just examples, and since every dog is different, they may benefit from personalized behavior modification methods, which is why seeing a professional for these issues is so important!

“All living things repeat behaviors that are rewarding and avoid behaviors that are not, if you remember this simple concept, you can teach every behavior that you want your dog to do and change every behavior that you don’t want… You accomplish this by rewarding the behaviors you want and ignoring or preventing those you don’t want.” ~Pat Miller

Disclaimer: this article is not meant to be used as a substitute for professional behavioral advice. If your dog is showing signs of guarding people, please consult with a professional for a proper hands-on assessment and treatment.


Positive Perspectives: Love Your Dog, Train Your Dog, by Pat Miller, Dogwise Publishing; 1st edition (September 21, 2004)

Bringing The Art of Kissing Dogs to a Whole New Level


Dogs often give us an irresistible urge to pet and pamper them and this often entails kissing them, but do dogs really like being kissed? This is a very important question, because kissing dogs along with blowing in their faces, hugging them, looming over them and patting them on their head are all part of the list of those behaviors dogs might not like. Of course, not all dogs are created equal so there are certainly some dogs who may likely enjoy the interaction (at least that’s what some owners say), or at least tolerate it at the most. So today we take a look at the art of kissing dogs, the dos and dont’s that can make a difference between cuddling or going to the ER.

dog-kissingThey Call it Puppy Love 

Why are people so attracted to kissing dogs? Well, for starters puppies and dogs are blessed with neotenous traits  which contributes to making them irresistible.

Neoteny comes from the Greek word “neos” meaning young and the word “teínein” meaning “to extend.” Put these two words together and you have “the extension of juvenile traits.”

Also known as juvenilization, in evolutionary biology neoteny refers to the process behind the retention of baby-like, “neotenous” features that are often seen in dogs and include large eyes, bulging craniums, higher foreheads and small noses and mouths.

Some like to call it “the cuteness factor” as they relate to those traits that make us ooohh and ahhh and evoke all those warm and fuzzy feelings of dealing with cuteness and care taking.

These traits are more pronounced in puppies and certain dog breeds such as the cavalier King Charles spaniel, Pekingese, pug and French bulldog. So yes, if seeing dogs makes you feel like hugging them and kissing them, it’s likely because they have these physical traits that makes them so hard to resist!

A Touch of Oxytocin  

On top of the cutesy factor that makes us want to hug and kiss dogs, is another factor that plays a big role in how we perceive our dogs: this time though, it’s at a chemical level.

We’re talking about the power of oxytocin. If you perceive your dog as your fur baby, consider that there may be a scientific explanation for that feeling. According to a study conducted by Nagasawa et al, when dogs gaze at our eyes, it increases our levels of oxytocin, the same hormone that makes us bond to human infants.

This finding may ultimately lead us to discovering how dogs became our companions thousands of years ago.“It’s an incredible finding that suggests that dogs have hijacked the human bonding system,” says Brian Hare, an expert on canine cognition at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, in an article for Science.

Takefumi Kikusui, an animal behaviorist at Azabu University in Sagamihara, Japan, also studied the role of oxytoxin, and found that the oxytocin effect was actually mutual when it comes to people and dogs, mimicking the mutual gazing of mothers and human infants. Kikusui found that male and female dogs experienced a 130 percent rise in oxytocin levels, while male and female owners experienced a 300 percent increase. Interestingly, no oxytocin increase was seen in wolves and their owners who also participated in the research and spent little time gazing at each other.

This suggests why we feel so close to our dogs and, at the same time, provides us an insight into the process of domestication if we consider that only canine specimens capable of bonding and forming social attachments were those who ultimately received care and protection from humans.

Watch for whale eyes
Watch for whale eyes

Not too Fast

While it’s quite romantic to imagine dogs as our fur babies, dogs don’t necessarily see us as their mothers and, most of all, they may not be willing to accept certain behaviors from us.

This is not because they don’t like us, it’s just that hugging and kissing are human behaviors that dogs may not understand, even if done with well-meaning intent. When a dog is kissed, it means bringing our faces very close to theirs, something that not all dogs are comfortable with.

On top of that, hugging and kissing dogs also entail wrapping our arms around them and taking a dog’s  “flight’  option (the ability to leave) away. When we hug and kiss them, we may therefore put ourselves at risk for a defensive bite.

Before biting, dogs may try to “tell us” though that they do not appreciate the interaction through subtle or less subtle signs. Watch for ears pulled back, yawning, a raised paw, whale eyes,  lip licking, turning the head and looking away before, during and right after the interaction. When ignored, these subtle signs tend to intensify and may escalate to growls, barks, air snaps and muzzle punches, and eventually even biting.

It’s important therefore to heed these warning signs and “thank the dog, for not biting” by moving away and making a mental note that, no, Rover doesn’t enjoy being hugged and kissed as much as we do.

Even better, don’t test your dog’s tolerance for hugging and kissing in the first place, but rather interact with your dog in more dog-friendly ways that your dog understands better. Following are some tips for cuddling with your dog.

Choose The Right Timewhay are labradors hungry

Even if your dog seems to tolerate kisses, it’s important to keep safety and timing in mind. There is a place and time for cuddles, and it’s important to time your cuddling time and make sure it matches with your dogs’.

Most dogs don’t like to be cuddled when it’s dinner time. Most likely, if dogs could talk they would say ” Stop with the cuddles, and hurry up instead and get my chow ready!”

Same with when they are aroused by something and are a bit on edge, like when hearing an unfamiliar noise or seeing something out of the window.

Kisses and hugs may also be the last thing a dog wants when he is sleeping or about to fall asleep, or when is hyper and has loads of pent-up energy and would rather go on a walk or a romp in the yard. You can almost hear these dogs say “No sirree! I was home all day doing nothing, no kisses please, let’s please go out and do something else instead!

“Put yourself in their shoes — no matter how much you love your spouse, partner or child, would you want his face to be one inch away from yours whenever you are interacting with him?”~Dr. Wailani Sung, veterinary behaviorist.

A dog kissing booth

Never Kiss Unknown Dogs

Another important tip is to never hug or kiss a dog you do not know.

A concerning trend are doggy kissing booths, where dogs in search of a home or for fundraising purposes are placed behind a booth where people are offered “kisses” from the dogs.

These set-ups can be a recipe for disaster, and a dog may end up being euthanized rather than going to a good home, because such kissing booths may stress them and set them up for failure.

“As a dog lover and Certified Dog Behavior Consultant, I find the idea of a doggy kissing booth very disturbing. Putting dogs in a position to be hugged and kissed by complete strangers, in a carnival like atmosphere, is going to be extremely stressful to most dogs, further increasing the probability of a bite. “~Don Hanson

Let Him Give ‘Emdog-kissing-owner

A better option than kissing dogs, (even though not ideal for many reasons like health/hygiene) is letting dogs do the “kissing”on their free will. Many dogs like to greet their owners by “kissing” them upon coming home. This may be a good time to praise the dog and let him know we are also happy to be reunited.

Yet, it’s important to recognize that these “kisses” are a fry cry compared to our human kisses. These licks to the chin and mouth area may be reminiscent of when dogs were pups and learned to greet their mother this way.

Allowing them to jump and lick our faces though can mean teaching them bad manners. A better option may be sitting on the couch and allowing a couple of  polite doggy kisses, but again, this should come freely from the dog. Putting our face directly in a dog’s face in hopes of getting “kissed” can again be asking for trouble especially with a dog we do not know well or if our dog feels uncomfortable with this type of interaction or we do it at an inappropriate time.

 “Face licking of this variety is a care-soliciting (etepimeletic) behavior, not to my mind what kissing in humans is all about.”~Nicholas Dodman

warning cautionA Word of Caution: not all doggy “kisses” are created equal. In some cases, certain types of face licking are not the affectionate kisses we interpret but are actually meant to  increase the distance.  Jennifer Shryock, a Certified Dog Behavior Consultant (CDBC) calls this type of kiss, a “Kiss to Dismiss,” and describes it as a way for dogs to get someone who’s making them uncomfortable to go away.

Caution with Kidspuppy child

Kids often feel tempted to hug and kiss dogs and this is a factor as to why children are also the most common victims of dog bites.

Because children may not recognize early warning signs that a dog is about to bite, they are particularly vulnerable. Often, there are disturbing videos being aired on You Tube, of children riding dogs like horses, jumping on them or hugging them tightly and kissing them which is quite problematic because the airing of such videos promotes and encourage inappropriate behavior by humans towards dogs.

The scary part is that parents are often the ones posting such videos.

But how much do parents know about safe dog-and-child interactions? A questionnaire designed to measure general knowledge associated with dog aggression toward children, has shown that parents are often not aware of the dangers of some child and dog interactions.

According to this questionnaire:”Eighty-two percent of respondents agreed with the statement, “I think it is safe for young children to kiss and hug their own dogs.”  These thoughts are likely based on an incorrect assumption that a dog will not bite if the one hugging the dog is a family member and parents therefore assume that certain interactions are inherently safe.  These assumptions though are quite problematic as they lead to parents lowering their guard.

Below is a great demo of how children can kiss a dog more safely. This is the true art of dog kissing brought to a whole new level!

The Best Way to Kiss Dogs

dog-kissesThe Bottom Line

So should you kiss and hug your dogs or should these behaviors be on the list of things you should stop doing? Nobody can tell you to stop doing something that your dog seems to enjoy, but it’s in your best interest to practice caution and to carefully evaluate if your dog is really enjoying the interaction or not.

Susan Hetts and Daniel Estep, two Certified Applied Animal Behaviorists explain that a dog who is enjoying an interaction shouldn’t move away or try to avoid it. If the kissing or other form of cuddling stops, if the dog is truly enjoying it, the dog would want the owner to continue, by moving closer move, pawing or leaning against.

But as mentioned, it’s best not to test a dog’s behavior in response to things they might not like. A better option is to engage in behaviors your dog seems to enjoy more and that are easier for him to understand. And with children, the risks are so not worth it, so best to follow the words of wisdom from the smart kiddo in the video above.

“When we do use human gestures of affection that dogs don’t share, such as kissing and hugging, we must be sensitive to the dog’s reactions. Carefully monitor his body language for signs of anxiety, stress or defensiveness. Some dogs will be happier (and humans safer) if we find other ways to express our love. Play a game of fetch, take your dog for a walk or give her a gentle brushing. These are things most dogs enjoy – and giving them the things they want is the best way to express our affection!” ~Susan Hetts, Daniel Estep, Certified Applied Animal Behaviorists. 

Disclaimer: this article is not meant to be used as a substitute for professional behavioral advice. If your dog appears aggressive to you or your children at any time, please consult with a behavior professional.



  • Chun YT, Berkelhamer JE, Herold TE. Dog bites in children less than 4 years old. Pediatrics 1982;69:119–120.
  • Effects of gender and parental status on knowledge and attitudes of dog owners regarding dog aggression toward children Ilana R. Reisner, DVM, PhD, DACVB, and Frances S. Shofer, PhD, JAVMA, Vol 233, No. 9, November 1, 2008
  • Dogs Behaving Badly: An A-Z Guide to Understanding and Curing Behavorial Problems in Dogs. by Nicholas H. Dodman Random House Publishing Group, 2000

Photo Credits:

  • Flickr, Creative Commons, dee & tula monstah, kissing booth, CCYBY2.0
  • Flickr, Creative Commons, Beverly Not Funny, How Embarassing! Kiss My White Puppy Butt, I’m a Big Macho Dog Mom – I’m one year old on February 14th!, CCYBY2.0
  • Flickr, Creative Commons Dave Worley, Obligatory Puppy Kisses Pic,  CCYBY2.0

Why Does My Adult Dog Hate Puppies so Much?


Your dog may act all lovey-dovey with your neighbors and he doesn’t seem to mind the company of other dogs, but have him meet a puppy and he’ll either growl, walk away or seek help from you in hopes you send that little monster away, but why does your dog hate puppies so much? It’s almost as if he’s dealing with some sort of creature from another planet. Rest assured, you are not alone. There are many adult dogs who seem to hate puppies and have a harder time tolerating them compared to other dogs. The reasons behind this may be several and may vary between one dog and another.

dogs-hate-puppiesA Lack of Continued Education

When dogs are puppies, they are often socialized to other people and other dogs and hopefully get to meet other puppies safely in a well-conducted puppy class.

There is a great emphasis put on socializing puppies during the brief window of opportunity which is estimated to close around the age of 12 to 16 weeks. More and more puppy owners are becoming aware of the importance of socializing puppies, and this is great, but not much emphasis is put on the fact that there is such a thing as “undoing” socialization.

The puppy is basically socialized during the critical period, but then everything abruptly stops. The puppy grows and then has no clue on how to act when he’s exposed to puppies or other dogs.

Dogs, just like dog trainers and other professionals, benefit from continued education, so they can continue to expand their knowledge and stay up-do-take with the all the subtleties of the world that surrounds them. For more on this, read about the neuroplasticity of a dog’s brain.

This doesn’t mean that your adult dog should be forced to meet puppies if he doesn’t like them, but he should at least learn through remedial “socialization” (under the guidance of a trainer) to not react aggressively or fear them which can lead to cumulative stress, especially if he encounters them often such as on walks or at daycare.

puppy motherA Word About Puppy Licenses

We often assume that adult dogs grant puppies a “license to misbehave” meaning that they will be pretty much tolerant and forgiving of those bouts of puppy misbehavior. Veterinarian and animal behaviorist, Ian Dunbar, explains that granting a puppy license is often a matter of detecting hormones in urine, which is not surprising considering that dogs live in a world of smells.

While adult dogs may recognize that a puppy is a puppy by its shape, size, behavior and sounds emitted (like whining and squealing), it’s most of all the pup’s smell that advertises the youngster’s age.

When the pups rolls over his back and pees, he’s simply advertising his age to the adult dog, letting him know that he’s just a pup and it wasn’t his intent to act a bit boisterous. Many times, the adult dog will keep this factor in mind and acts lenient.

However, things can change quite a bit once the puppy grows older and the license is abruptly revoked. Why is that? In most adult mammals a high level of testosterone is the norm, but when it comes to dogs, things are quite different. Testosterone levels start rising when the pup is just about four to five months old, with a peak level (like 5 to 7 times higher than adult dogs) reached when the pup turns about 10 months. These levels then drop to average adult levels by 18 months of age, further explains Ian Dunbar.

This may be one reason why an adult dog may seem to have a hard time tolerating the behavior of a 10-month old youngster.

 “By ten months of age, adolescent male urine smells sooper-dooper, ultra-mega-hyper-male, informing all adult dogs: “Why look here. This young urinater must be a developing male adolescent — a potential thorn in the side of social harmony. Let’s educate the young fellow right now, while we still can. And sure enough, most adult dogs (especially males) start to harass developing male pups to put them in their place before they become a significant challenge on the social scene.” ~Ian Dunbar

A Glimpse into  Policing the Puppydog-puppy-license

In many cases, behind what looks like an adult dog that hates puppies, is simply a dog who is trying to set some boundaries for a “socially illiterate” puppy.

Puppies don’t come into this world knowing perfect social etiquette. They are quite impulsive, come on too strong and don’t know how to greet other dogs properly.

Adult dogs may therefore decide to take the task of “teaching the pups” some rules. Since dogs cannot hold a conversation as we may do when we are telling a child to say “please and thank you” they do this best by growling and teaching the puppy to “behave.”

If you watch the adult dog and puppy interactions, indeed, you may notice how the adult dog reacts mostly when the puppy paws at his face or engages in some other obnoxious behaviors.

However, sometimes things can get out of hand, and some adult dogs may be excessively harsh in “policing the puppy.”

” Some dogs do a great job of “policing” puppies and others do not. Some dogs will take anything the puppy dishes out to the point that the older dog gets persecuted. Some adult dogs will reprimand puppies excessively ­­ to  the point of persecuting the puppy.” ~Dr. Lore Haug, veterinary behaviorist.

puppy playHoly Moses, Too Much Energy!

Puppies are often bundles of perpetual energy, bouncing around, then maybe plopping themselves on the floor for a couple of minutes to re-charge, and then they’re quickly back to their antics.

Just like people, for an adult dog, it may be difficult at times to cope with this excess energy, especially if he’ is older or has some medical problem. He may play with the pup for a little while and then he may walk away or directly roar in his face to tell the pup he has had enough.

Some puppies get the message, they may squeal or roll over their backs sometimes peeing submissively, and some others may not, so they go back to pestering the adult dog who reaches his breaking point, and finally decides to hold the puppy down with his big paws telling him in doggy language “What part of my message didn’t you get? Chill out and leave me alone!”

“Generally,  well-adjusted dogs will tolerate a puppy’s attempts to play with great patience and will join in the play when the puppy is playing “by the rules.”Sometimes, however, a puppy will bite too hard or persist too long without a break and the adult dog will growl, bark or even lay his mouth on the puppy to warn him. Don’t be alarmed; this is a natural part of learning how to safely interact. If your older dog cannot tolerate any level of play, immediately separate the dogs and call a qualified trainer. “ ~Paul Owens

idea tipTip: if your puppy is too boisterous and harassing your older dog, it’s time to step in and take some precautions to prevent trouble. Simply exercise the pup, play with him until his energy is drained at an acceptable level, before introducing him to your adult dog. Even better, take both dogs for a nice walk. Chances are, you have taken the edge off and your pup so he’ll likely be less rowdy  afterward and possibly much calmer.

The Bottom Line

Often people assume that adult dogs will automatically grant a puppy license and accept everything the puppy does, but this is often not true. A puppy license doesn’t mean permissiveness. Yes, an adult dog may tolerate some “social mishaps” from the puppy, but it doesn’t means the pup can take over and create chaos. An older dog may want to relax and conduct a laid-back life the he deserves without being constantly pestered by a boisterous pup all day. At the same time, an adult dog shouldn’t be disciplining the puppy in a way as to create emotional problems to the puppy and fear.

For puppy owners this means that they should always practice caution when introducing a puppy to an adult dog and all interactions should always be supervised. At times, the intervention of a behavior specialist may be required so to provide an expert evaluation and determine whether the adult dog is engaging in healthy discipline or if there is more into it.

“Growls are a form of communication. Because puppies have immature communication skills, they frequently miss the more subtle signals your older dog shows, and the dog may need to resort to growling.Resist the urge to correct your dog for growling. Growling may be what the puppy needs in order to recognize that the dog doesn’t want to interact.”~Laurie Luck

warning cautionWarning: Never allow an adult dog to pick up the pup and shake it by the scruff. This is dangerous behavior that can lead to potential injury and even death.

Disclaimer: this article is not to be used as a substitute for a professional behavioral advice. If your adult dog shows worrisome behaviors towards puppies, intervene immediately, keep both parties separated and consult with a certified applied animal behaviorist to play it safe.


How Do I Stop My Dog From Pawing Me All The Time?


Has your dog’s pawing behavior gotten “out of hand” and you’re now stuck with a dog who is pawing at you all the time? Well, chances are, you may be part of the problem, because let’s face it, pawing in dogs is quite an endearing behavior and it’s difficult to resist a smart dog who in our eyes seems to be trying his best to adhere to our social etiquette. Putting the cutesy factor aside, in order to stop a dog from pawing at you all the time, you must first carefully analyze what it really going on through Rover’s mind when he insistently extends his paws at you.

dog-pawing-reasonsNot What it Looks Like

Sure, dogs are quite adept into learning new tricks, there’s no bones about that, but that pawing behavior in reality is a far cry from the typical hand shake people exchange with one another.

It is common practice for humans to want to anthropomorphize and interpret dog behaviors as almost human-like.

Yet, last time we checked, dogs preferred greeting one another tail-first, or at the most, they would rather engage in an amicable nose touch rather than pawing at each other.

Pawing behavior directed at another dog’s face or shoulders is actually considered rude behavior when it comes to canine “etiquette” and may result in a growl or scuffle if carried out towards the wrong type of dog.

And when it comes to meeting and greeting people, well, let’s say that dogs would rather prefer to sniff in some other “odorous” places instead!

A  Hardwired Behavior 

dog pawing eyesEven though dogs don’y typically extend their paws to give a hand shake as people do, we must admit that some dogs are particularly, (for lack of a better term) “pawsy.”

These are dogs who are likely to resort to using their paws to get their toys out from under a bed, open doors and cabinets (yup, keep those cabinets locked), clean their faces kitty style or toss a ball in the air. All dogs eventually end up finding some use of their paws at some point of their lives though, especially when using their mouth is ineffective and  they are very determined to succeed in a particular task.

Once they discover how effective using their paws may be, they will therefore feel more and more compelled to increase their level of “manual dexterity” when the need arises.

dog pawExploiting a Natural Talent

Since pawing behaviors are quite natural, training a dog to give paw is fairly easy, especially when it comes to teaching those naturally born  “pawsy” dogs out there. Even those dogs were aren’t much used to using their paws eventually get it, if you are persistent and entice them with a good incentive (eg. treats).

The science of dog training says that “behaviors that are reinforced, will tend to become stronger and repeat, behaviors that are not reinforced will weaken and extinguish.”

What does this mean to dog owners? It means that since dogs are rewarded for pawing behaviors, dogs will be engaging in pawing behaviors more and more. This is a desirable outcome when it comes to training, as we want desirable behaviors to persist rather than extinguish. However, good trainers know that dogs should perform desired behaviors only and exclusively when the trainer asks for them. Failure to adhere to this very important rule can make a difference between a dog who paws when asked to and a dog pawing at his owners anytime he feels like it, which, as much as we love our dogs, can get quite annoying at times.

A Word About Rewardsdog-pawing-at-you

“But I don’t reward my dog when he paws at me without me asking him to perform the behavior, so why is keeping pawing at me? Also, didn’t you just say that behaviors that are not reinforced will weaken and extinguish? Why is he keeping on doing that?”

This is a very good question.

Sure, you are not giving your dog treats when he is pawing at you, but there may be underlying “rewards” that are reinforcing the behavior and you may not be aware of.

For instance, attention. Many dogs love attention, they will do what it takes to get it, and to a dog who has been bored and lonely all day, any type of attention, even the smallest teeny ounce of it, or heck, even attention of the negative type, will do!

Dogs owned by people who work long hours each day, are often the poster child for this type of attention-seeking behavior. These socially deprived dogs have likely been waiting all day for their daily dose of attention and mental stimulation. Bored, and with little left to do, for these latchkey pooches,  the owner’s return is likely the biggest perk of the day.

If the owners comes home and walk Rover or plays with him  in a way to fulfill his social or mental stimulation needs, great! Most likely the dog will then settle and gnaw on a bone when the owners decides to watch TV, but what happens when the owner comes home from work, ignores the dog and then plops himself on the couch to watch TV? You got it, Rover will try to do anything to get a bit of attention. So he may try pawing, and since the owners look at him or talk to him or push him away, bingo! Rover got his slice of attention, so he’ll keep doing it more and more!

Beware of Inadvertent ReinforcementCapture

OK, maybe you are not giving your dog negative attention, or maybe your dog is not lonely and bored, then perhaps at some time or another, you may have inadvertently reinforced the pawing behaviors. For example, say you were on the phone and were really focusing on a conversation. Here comes Rover and since your are sitting on the couch which is where you often pet him, he paws at you and you inadvertently end up petting him. If your dog loves being pet and this scenario repeats every now and then, he will likely think that pawing is a good way to get to activate your hands to start petting him. Next, you are stuck with a dog pawing at you, and you cannot figure out why!

“My dog though paws mostly at people, like guests in my house, what should I do?” In this case, be aware of the habit of social pawing. Social pawing is the tendency of some dogs to paw at people in hopes of getting attention. Your dog may just walk up to a guest and paw at him. What does your guest do next? “Awwww, you are soo cute! ” followed by many friendly pats and caresses.  This may not seem really like a major problem, but soon, your dog learns that this is the best way to interact with people and a guest one day may get upset when Rover leaves muddy paw prints all over her white pair of pants, or worse, her child gets scratched.

Beware of Variable Reinforcement

Awww.. so cute!
Awww.. so cute!

Here’s another important knowledge nugget that you should know and  we go back to the science of dog training ” behaviors that are reinforced on a variable schedule are prone to becoming quite addicting.”

To understand this, let’s pretend to be in Vegas. You spend a month in Vegas having the fun of your life playing the slot machines. The first day you don’t win, but then the second day you win a nice amount. You then spend the rest of your month playing every single day in hopes of winning again, and then, just before leaving, you eventually win again. Now you are stuck with a gaming addiction and at least twice a year you must make a trip back to Vegas, what happened? What happened is that those random wins have rewarded your persistence and now you are stuck with an addiction.

Back to dogs, if you reward those unasked-for pawing behaviors every now and then, you risk being stuck with a dog who has been rewarded for persistence and will therefore be pawing at you more and more in hopes of winning the slots ( that is, getting his slice of attention.) This means that you’ll be stuck with a stubborn pawing behavior that can be quite tough to extinguish if you don’t know how to tackle it, but fortunately, there are some easy ways you can work on it if you are willing to hold your ground.

“As the animal trainer Karen Pryor notes in Don’t Shoot The Dog!, a dolphin rewarded with a fishy treat every six jumps will soon become lackadaisical about the five in-between ones; reward it at random, however, and it’ll jump vigorously, never knowing which jump will bring fish. This is why slot machines are so addictive, and why we click compulsively on email and Twitter – not because we know we’ll be rewarded with interesting messages, but because we might be.” ~Oliver Burkeman

Tackling the Probleminfographic

“My dog is pawing at me. My dog keeps pawing at my face. My dog paws at my guests. How do I stop this annoying dog pawing behavior? ” Well,  for a good reason some dog trainers have given up training dogs to “shake” or “give paw” in classes.

Things can get out of hand at times (pun intended,) but now that you understand the dynamics behind pawing behaviors in dogs, you are better equipped to stop this behavior. How? You put your dog’s pawing behavior under stimulus control.

In more simple words, you make the cued pawing behavior extra fluent and simply train your dog to give paw only and exclusively when asked to.

When your dog complies when you ask “paw,” you  immediately reward him. Any pawing behaviors that are offered off cue (without being asked) are either totally ignored ( no look, no touch, no talk, and beware of  the extinction burst phenomenon initially) or negatively punished by you saying something like “that’s enough” as you get up and leave. This is often all that it takes to make it clear in Rover’s mind that: “I should give paw only when I am asked to, every time I paw at my owner and it was not requested, my owner totally ignores me or even gets up and leaves.”

idea tipA Few More Tips

-If you own a bored dog who is pawing at you to gain a physical connection in hopes of doing something, make sure you go to the root of the problem and meet your dog’s needs for, exercise, mental stimulation and social interaction.

-Want to take a little break in the evening and watch your favorite show? When your dog paws at you, ignore him, and then when your dog gives up and leaves, call him to you, ask him to sit or lie down and reward him by giving him an interactive toy that will keep him occupied for some time such as a stiffed Kong.

  • Is your dog pawing at you, but you never taught him to “shake?”Training your dog to give paw on cue, can actually help you attain better control of the behaviors. Here’s a quick and easy way that is often used to train a dog to give paw. All you will need is a clicker (alternatively, use a verbal mark such as “yes!”) and some tasty treats.Present your open hand with a treat sitting on the palm. Let your dog eat it from your hand and then repeat one more time. Next, close your hand. Your dog may nudge at your hand for a few times and then when frustration kicks in, he may eventually try pawing at it. When he does, make sure you mark that behavior with a clicker or a “yes!” and open your hand letting him access to the treat. Repeat several times, and then at some point, when the behavior occurs more frequently, make sure to pronounce the verbal cue “paw” right before he paws at your hand and click and reward as soon as does. Soon, you’ll have a dog who will give paw upon hearing the verbal cue.

dog pawsPutting Pawing Behaviors to Work

Have a dog who loves to give paw and use his paws? Why not open up a world of “pawsibilities” to expand your dog’s repertoire of cool tricks? Teach your dog to high five, salute, wave, say his prayers or cover his eyes. If your dog is bored or you are looking for some fun rainy-day activities, then why not teach him to use his paws to turn buttons on and off, switch on lights, file his nails by pawing at a sandpaper board or even play a battery-operated piano?  There are many fun activities you can train your dog so he can put his natural “pawsy” tendencies to good use. A win-win, situation for all!

Did you know? Just like us, dogs have paw preferences. Some dogs are mostly left-handed while others are mostly right-handed.


Does Your Dog Hate Changes With a Passion?


Changes can be exciting for people as they hop on novel adventures, but ask your dog and he’ll likely tell you that he hates changes with a passion. Unfortunately, changes are often inevitable in a dog’s life. A move, a new owner, a baby, a new pet, a vacation, a new veterinarian, a previously housebound owner starting a new job, these are all things dogs are often subjected to throughout their lives. Heraclitus of Ephesus said “the only thing that is constant is change ” and while some dogs don’t seem to mind changes much, some dogs have quite a hard time adapting to them.

dog fearLife is Not Easy for Fido

We stumbled on a blog depicting dogs as not having a hard time coping with changes and that dog owners are often the ones having a harder time. While this can be the case when we start worrying about a future trip coming up in the next few weeks (while dogs live in oblivious bliss at least until those dreaded suitcases come out!), we find that several dogs “hate” change with a passion, especially if it means not coming along with the owner but being boarded in a kennel instead, while the owners are thousands of miles away enjoying a cruise to the Bahamas.

Change is often not easy on dogs, and while they are often spared from the “pre-change anxiety” we experience several weeks prior to the changing event, dogs are often as stressed, if not more, than their owners the moment the change occurs and the stress may linger even for a certain period of time afterward. Some dogs are very sensitive to changes in their routine, and we know of some dogs who even get upset if their owners happens to re-arrange furniture!

An Insight into Homeostasis dog panting tongue

Homeostasis derives from the Greek word “standing still” and is used to depict the body’s effort to maintain everything balanced and stable. The term was coined by famous American physiologist Dr. Walter Cannon where in his book “The Wisdom of the Body”, describes homeostasis as the ability for the body to maintain steady levels of things like water, salt, glucose, fat, calcium, oxygen, blood pressure and body temperature. When something goes out of balance, the body quickly does everything it can to bring things back to normal. So if say a dog is hot, his body will do what it takes to cool his body down, if too high concentrations of glucose are detected in the blood, insulin is released and the dog’s thirst center will be triggered causing him to drink more, if the dog’s body temperature lowers, homeostasis is often attained by evoking the muscles to generate heat by shivering.

“A thermostat exhibits the quality of homeostasis—when the room temperature rises above a set point, the thermostat activates the air conditioner; when the temperature falls below the set point, it activates the heater.”~Planned Success Institute

scared dog fight or flightMechanisms for Changes 

In the same way as homeostatic reactions occur to make adjustments when things need to be stabilized, the mind undergoes something similar too. Homeostasis in this case works on bringing back the dog’s body and mind to an optimal state after it has been disturbed by some stressful change. Fortunately, people and animals are equipped with several mechanisms to help them adapt to changes. When exposed to a change, several physiological and behavioral processes take place before a psychological adjustment is made that helps the dog accept a stressful stimulus or situation and consider it nonthreatening.

“The concept of homeostasis can be applied not only to stressors associated with internal changes, such as changes in blood sugar, but also external changes such as unpleasant and dangerous environments or situations that are confusing to the animal: thus, if something scares the animal it may run away in order to restore the preferred state of relaxation in a safe and secure environment.”~Daniel Mills et al.

Working to Restore Balancedog blanket sleep sick

Gaining that cherished balance back and returning to a state of normalcy can sometimes be quite difficult and people often misinterpret the dog’s efforts.For instance, when a dog is placed in a kennel or crate, many people assume that their dog’s whining and barking is due to boredom, but often it’s actually the dog’s frustration from not being able to restore homeostasis, suggests  Daniel Mills professor of veterinary behavioural medicine at the University of Lincoln along with other authors in the book “Stress and Pheromonatherapy in Small Animal Clinical Behaviour.”

In a similar fashion, a dog who finds himself in a new place with new noises or with a new pet, may crave going back to a state of normalcy, but when this is not possible, he must learn to cope and adapt, hopefully with the help of the owner and possibly with some calming aids such as DAP sprays. According to the book Animal Behavior for Shelter Veterinarians and Staff  “As a consequence of the stressor, the animal will then undergo behavioral and physiological adjustments to avoid or adapt to the stressor and return to homeostasis.” Restoring balance and a state of normalcy therefore feels good, and all living beings cherish that comforting feeling associated with reaching  that neurophysiological stability associated with “emotional homeostasis.”

“Every individual strives to achieve and maintain emotional homeostasis., i.e. a positive emotional state. The function of emotional homeostasis is to allow an individual to deal with and adjust to the many changes that are part of everyday life.”~The APBC Book of Companion Animal Behaviour

Did you know? A dog’s capacity to remain in emotional homeostasis develops through the puppy’s sensitive period for behavioral organisation. According to The APBC Book of Companion Animal Behaviour, in early life “a picture of the world” is formed where everything that is considered within the norm is retained. Any changes in the environment that deviates from this “standard” can cause emotional upset.


  • Scientific American, What is homeostasis? retrieved from the web on Sept 17th, 2016
  • Stress and Pheromonatherapy in Small Animal Clinical Behaviour, by  Daniel Mills, Helen Zulch, and Maya Braem Dube, John Wiley & Sons; 2nd ed. edition (21 Dec. 2012)
  • Animal Behavior for Shelter Veterinarians and Staff 1st Edition, by Emily Weiss (Editor), Heather Mohan-Gibbons (Editor), Stephen Zawistowski (Editor), Wiley-Blackwell; 1 edition (July 7, 2015)
  • SENSITIVE PERIODS IN THE DEVELOPMENT OF BEHAVIOURAL ORGANIZATION IN THE DOG AND THE ROLE OF EMOTIONAL HOMEOSTASIS J. Pluijmakers1 D.L. Appleby2 * J.W.S. Bradshaw1 1 Anthrozoology Institute, Department of Clinical Veterinary Science, University of Bristol, BS40 5DU, UK 2 Pet Behaviour Centre, Defford, Worcs WR8 9AB, UK
  • The APBC Book of Companion Animal Behaviour, By Sarah Heath, Rosie Barclay, Julie Bedford


Different Dog-to-Dog Tolerance Levels


Just like people, dogs have their own personalities and they may react differently when it comes to interactions with other dogs. On one hand you have social butterflies, dogs who love mingling with other dogs, then, on the opposite side of the spectrum, you have dogs who don’t want to have anything to do with other dogs and the last thing they want is to meet them. There are then several other types of dogs falling somewhere in between. Of course, these are just generalized profiles as every dog’s personality may vary and have different facets, but different personality types and dog-to-dog tolerance levels should be kept into consideration especially when it comes to deciding whether to make dogs interact.

Some Factors to Consider 

Most dogs are eager to play and interact with other dogs when they are puppies and youngsters, but several have a change of heart as they become socially mature. Generally, starting at the age of 12 to 18 months, several dogs may start to be less and less interested in interacting with other dogs and their tolerance levels may lower. Just like children grow up and stop going to the playground, certain dogs may no longer enjoy trips at the doggy park perhaps often preferring play dates with a handful of dogs they know.

On top of dogs becoming a bit more aloof as they mature, there are several other factors that may play a role in how dogs react to other dogs and their tolerance levels. Handler influence, an over-protective attitude related to their owner, overall socialization levels, past experiences, and even genetics may play a role as to how dogs may tolerate other dogs. However, no rules are written in stone and dog behavior is prone to changing therefore, social butterflies may decide that they no longer enjoy mingling with other dogs, while dogs who have a hard time tolerating dogs may start enjoying being around dogs with  proper guidance.

“Many, starting between ages one and three on average, become more selective about their dog friends, less playful in general and less willing to tolerate crude social behavior from other dogs.”Jean Donaldson

tarzan-dogThe Canine Tarzan

The Tarzans of the doggy world are party goers but tend to lack social skills. Their motto is “let’s get together and paaaaarty!” These easy going fellows are very forgiving and don’t seem to mind even the rudest doggy manners. A dog rushes up and paws at their face? No biggie, it’s all part of the fun. After all, these are the same direct behaviors they engage in whether meeting long-time friends or fresher acquaintances (who might not appreciate their coming-on-too-strong greeting style.)

Many youngsters are this way, but some dogs remain perpetual party dogs for the rest of their lives. These dogs love spending time at the dog park, just as party goers love spending time at the disco or local bar partying and mingling with the crowds. On walks, these fellows may pull in their eagerness to mug other dogs in excitement.


The Social Butterflyplay

These dogs do fine seeing other dogs on walks and are pretty much social beings, but they have more polite manners. Upon meeting new dogs, they may act indifferent or friendly, allowing the other dog to sniff them without complaint. Rude behaviors are generally tolerated as these dogs are quite tolerant and forgiving.

These dogs enjoy the company of other dogs and thrive on social contact even though they may lack the excessive “let’s party” obnoxious behaviors of the Tarzans. The play style of social butterflies are within the norm, and because they don’t tend to break many social rules they aren’t as much in trouble as Tarzan dogs are.


maverick-dogThe Canine Maverick

Just like some people would rather enjoy a cup of coffee in front of a fireplace rather than dancing the night away at the night club, some dogs would rather have a good time in other, less chaotic ways. These dogs are not anti-social, they just have their own preferences of what they like to do best.

When placed in a play group, these dogs may be fine with other dogs, but they would rather engage in certain activities than mingle with the crowds. You’ll therefore see them interact a bit with the other dogs, but then they’ll just stray away and go on a sniffing adventure or engage in a game with their owners. These dogs may do best at the dog park during off-peaks hours. On walks, Maverick dogs tend to ignore other dogs, going on with their business as usual.


playingThe Party Pooper

Some dogs are selective of who to befriend and they may have low tolerance for unknown dogs who get in their faces and don’t follow certain rules when they interact. These dogs may do fine seeing other dogs on walks, but if a Tarzan pulls to greet them and manages to get in their face or place a paw on they’ll shoulder, they’ll get all upset about it. Same goes during play. Obnoxious behaviors are not well tolerated by these guys. A growl though often works in setting rude dogs straight. These dogs aren’t really trying to be party poopers, they just want other dogs to adhere to proper social etiquette.

After all, how would you feel if a total stranger you have never met, rushes to you and gives you a hug? These dogs feel the same way, but they are often frowned upon at the dog park, when owners of Tarzan dogs blame them for not being nice to their dogs who “just wanna have fun.”


dog playThe Wallflower

Just as some people stick to the walls in parties, some dogs will linger by the edges of the dog park. These shy, timid dogs are not too fond of rowdy dog behaviors and often find them intimidating. Well-meaning owners often try to encourage them to join in, but their tails go down as soon as any dog tries to entice them in a game. These dogs aren’t really having fun, and if they happen to be cornered, they may even engage in defensive behaviors. The dog park is not suitable for these dogs as they often end up having traumatic experiences which only make them more fearful.

On walks, these dogs may feel intimidated by other dogs and if forced to meet and greet, they may hide between the owner’s legs if the other dog is too rowdy.

“Each dog has a different tolerance for meeting and greeting new dogs. Get to know your dog’s comfort level.” ~ Nancy Kerns

reactive-roverThe Reactive Rover

In a perfect world, everybody gets along with one another, but things aren’t always as one would dream. Reactive Rovers may have no doggy friends, but if they do, they’re only a few they know very well such as the dogs they live with or perhaps just a dog with which they grew up with. On walks, these dogs may display aggressive behaviors such as barking or lunging at other dogs coming too close (no to be confused with barrier frustation); basically, their way of telling them in doggy language to keep distance. These dogs may appear tense when other dogs are present. Reactive Rovers can be helped to accept and better tolerate other dogs under the guidance of a trainer, but they may  revert to their defensive behaviors if they are mismanaged or set up for failure.

For further reading: What’s Your Dog’s Play Style?



  • Monroe SPCA, Four Categories for Measuring Dog Tolerance Levels, retrieved from the web on Sept 16th, 2016
  • Paws Abilities, Taming the Canine Tarzan, retrieved from the web on Sept 16th, 2016
  • Visiting the Dog Park: Having Fun, Staying Safe, By Cheryl S. Smith, Dogwise Publishing; 1st edition (March 16, 2007)
  • Fight, by Jean Donaldson, Dogwise Publishing (January 1, 2002)

Why Has My Dog Become Sensitive to Noises?


Those who own dogs suffering from noise phobias know for a fact how miserable life can be for their dogs when they are exposed to the noises they fear. Noise sensitivity affects a large percentage of dogs; it’s estimated that between 40 and 50 percent of dog owners have a dog who is ‘‘scared’’ of some sort of noise (1,2). The most common feared noises are fireworks, thunderstorms and gun shots, but often simple household noises such as a squeaky door, vacuum cleaner, loud voices or a car door can elicit fearful responses. How do dogs develop though noise sensitivities? It’s likely part genetic and part learned behavior and following are some possible causes for the acute onset of noise sensitivities in dogs according to research and studies.

dog-scared of noisesA Lack of Habituation

If you ever moved to a new place nearby a railroad, you might have been unable to sleep the first few nights. Then, after some time, you may have reached a point where you hardly ever noticed the noise. In that case, it can be said that you habituated to the noise. Habituation is a process that takes place when you eventually stop responding to a stimulus after repeated exposure. It’s an adaptive behavior, which means it’s productive since it helps conserve energy by not reacting to stimuli that are non-threatening and therefore no longer biologically relevant.

In dogs, we can see habituation take place in gun dogs. After startling at the noise of gun shots, repeated exposure may cause them to gradually habituate and their startle reaction decreases. Iimura and colleagues (4) found that when puppies younger than 6 months of age were exposed to fireworks, engine noises, door bangs, party poppers, vacuum cleaners, and loud voices, this exposure seemed to have a protective effect, helping the puppies habituate easier in future encounters later in life. In dogs who are fearful of noises, habituation instead doesn’t take place. Instead of recognizing a novel noise as normal through repeated exposure, the brain of a noise-phobic dog categorizes it as something life threatening.

“A fear response may include perfectly normal fearful behaviors but in a context in which they’re inappropriate. For example, a dog retreating from a snake may exhibit both appropriate and adaptive behavior…but if a dog retreats from everything that moves, that constitutes an abnormal behavior that’s maladaptive.”~ Karen Overall, veterinary behaviorist”

Take-home message: It’s important to get puppies used to noises at a young age! A study by Appleby and colleagues (6), found that lack of early exposure to an urban environment (presumably including exposure to engine noises) resulted in adult dogs who were more likely to show avoidance behaviors.

A Matter of Sensitization scared dog fight or flight

While habituation is the process where affected dogs get used to repeated exposure to certain noises, in sensitization the opposite  occurs, repeated exposure to noises exert a cumulative effect overtime, increasing the dog’s anxiety and fearful responses to the noise. Dogs who develop fear of thunder, often do so gradually rather than overnight. Iiumura’s studies found that 61 percent of dogs developed their fear over an extended period of time. The same late onset pattern appeared to take place with other dogs’ sensitivities to noises such as engine noises and fireworks. Interestingly, it seems that the way the noise is presented has an impact on the dog. Noises that appear in bouts and are separated by brief moments of quiet, seem to play a major role in sensitization.

“Sensitization—a noise bothers the dog more and more over time, causing it to be more sensitive to it rather than learning to ignore it.”~Sara Bennett, veterinary behaviorist

Take-home message: Nip the behavior in the bud before it has a chance to develop and spread like wildfire! Best to address the problem and seek help from a professional, before the fear is allowed to put roots and establishes overtime. Look for a professional specializing in positive, gentle behavior modification, harsh, aversion-based methods only make the fear worse!

scared dogStressed Induced Dishabituation

Even when a dog habituates to a noise, there is no certainty that a noise sensitivity will not emerge. When dogs undergo stress, their bodies are bombarded by the effects of hormones that the adrenal glands secrete and put them in an alerted state. If during this moment of stress, dogs are exposed to loud noises, these may result in fear responses and the onset of noise sensitivity overtime. What happens is, since the dog is stressed, he is not able to cope with the noise as he would if he was in a relaxed state. For sake of comparison, the process is somewhat similar to what happens when one’s immune system is lower. With the body’s defense system in a vulnerable state, a person is therefore more likely to get a cold than when he is in a healthier state.

The take-home message: It’s important to manage a dog’s stress and address its triggers, to prevent building fertile grounds for noise sensitivities.

Underlying Medical Conditionsdog blanket sleep sick

Sometimes dogs may be sick or in pain, and their pain and discomfort may be associated with sounds, explains veterinarian Dr. Wally. The exact dynamics may not be clear: is the dog associating the noises with his pain, or is his pain making him more susceptible to being bothered by the noises?

Older dogs seem to be more prone to develop sound sensitivities as they age. Research suggests that each additional year of a dog’s life is subject to a 3.4% increase in the likelihood that the dog would react fearfully to exposure to loud noises.

The take-home message: have your dog see your vet for a full physical and neurological exam. Keep in consideration that as dogs age they become more susceptible to the negative effects of loud noises.

social-dogs-runningThe Effect of Social Transmission

Sometimes, dogs learn to fear a noise because they are exposed to other dogs who react fearfully to it. Iimura’s studies found that 22.6 percent out of 283 owners of noise- sensitive dogs, noticed that one of their dogs had learned to react fearfully through exposure to another noise-sensitive dog. As social animals, it’s not surprising that dogs are easily influenced from one another. This phenomenon can often be seen in dogs who have lived in a yard and cared less about the noise of person driving by with a motorcycle. Then, a new neighbor moves in and his dog rushes to the fence and barks when the motorcyclist drives by. Soon, the dog who cared less about this noise, starts gradually becoming more and more reactive. He might not  necessarily bark like the other dog, but he may rush out of the yard to see what the commotion is all about. Even among people, this can be seen. How would you react if a person suddenly rushes out of the office with a scared look on his face? Most likely, an adrenaline rush will hit you. Panic is easily contagious and can spread like wild fire in emergency situations.

Take-home message: if feasible, protect your dog from being influenced from other fearful dogs. There are risks that your dog will become fearful than the other way around (the fearful dog learning from your dog to become more confident.)

The Bottom Line

Since a dog’s brain is always in a learning state, any dog can become sensitive to noises given the right circumstances. It’s important to therefore be aware of the dynamics behind the onset of noise sensitivities so to prevent paving the path for them to establish and take over. Just as an immune system must be kept strong to fend of diseases, a dog’s mental well-being deserves the same attention.


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  8. Dvm360l Canine noise aversion: The sound and the worry, retrieved from the web on September 11th, 2016



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