Picture of a Black Brussels Griffon dog wearing a red plaid harness to illustrate Get your dog to like wearing stuff.

How to get your dog to like wearing stuff

Small dogs, especially ones with short fur, need protection from severe weather and, whether we like it, love it, or hate it, winter’s coming up. If your dog hates clothes, there’s time before the weather hits to change their mind. You can get your dog to like wearing stuff.

First step

The biggest mistake most people make is assuming, since it’s no big deal to you, it’s not a big deal to your dog. Generally speaking, most dogs don’t like surprises. They like knowing what’s happening, when it’s happening, and that the world is a familiar place.

And that’s the key to getting your dog to like that new harness, coat, sweater, even boots or a post-surgery cone. Make them familiar objects – and welcome ones. It can be as simple as holding the item, letting your dog sniff it and check it out, and giving them praise and treats. Just hold the harness in one hand, and give treats with the other. Just a few, maybe five tiny treats, and that’s it. 

The best way to get your dog to absolutely hate something is to grab them, and force it on. Sometimes there isn’t time to let them accept the new thing – especially if there’s an emergency and the “cone of shame” is required. But short of that, a little advance dog training can make everyone’s life easier.

A day at a time

Picture of a Black Brussels Griffon dog wearing a red plaid harness to illustrate Get your dog to like wearing stuff.

If your dog gets treats and praise every time they see that new harness, they’re going to love it. Dogs are great at transferring the value of the treat to the object or behavior you pair it with. That’s why clicker training works. When introducing the clicker, all you do is click then treat, many times in a row. Dogs quickly learn that every single “click!” means they get a cookie. You can bet they’re trying their best to get you to click!

After a few sessions, just a couple minutes at a time, of introducing your dog to the new harness, it’s time to ask for more. Rather than the object just being there, you’ll wait for your dog to interact with it in some way – sniff it, paw it, move it. Anything they do is okay and should be praised and rewarded. That’s all for that session.

What’s next

After a few sessions where the dog is choosing to interact with the harness (coat/sweater/boot), it’s time to start trying it on. This gets much more specific to the actual garment you’re working with. If it’s a harness that goes over the dog’s head, hold it open even with the dog’s face and hold a treat on the other side. If the dog touches the harness with their face, praise and reward. This is the time when all your patience comes into play. Your dog wants the treat, but it hesitant about putting his/her face into the neck hole, just wait. If the dog is still reluctant after 20-30 seconds, reach through the neck hole and give your dog the treat. Try again another time. You want your dog to associate good things going through the harness, so be patient.

If it’s boots you want your dog to wear, don’t try for all four at once. And start with one back boot. When your dog is accustomed to the look, and smell of the boot, try just touching a back foot with it. Bit by bit, you’ll get there.

No surprises

As we said, dogs really don’t like surprises. They will accept things they’re not crazy about as long as they know what’s going on. Your dog may never love wearing boots, but he or she will adjust to them given time and patience. 

Dogs truly are adaptable beings as long as we take it at their speed and level of comfort. Be patient. It looks like it’s going to be a long winter. 

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Picture of a tan Pit Bull to illustrate

“Why Does My Dog?” has no answer

You’re never going to know why your dog does what they do. That’s really hard for lots of new dog owners to understand. Probably because dogs are so in tune with us in so many ways, the parts that aren’t aligned seem incomprehensible.

It’s especially hard to know what’s going on with your dog when they do weird things. We’ve had Boston Terrier Simon for almost five years now – Fran got him when he was a little puppy. And since Day 1, he licks vertical surfaces. Cabinets, walls, furniture. Until we tell him to “knock it off,” he licks. 

We know some “whys”

We know that licking and chewing are forms of self-soothing. As dog trainers, we recognize behaviors when we see them. If your dog barks at you, they want attention. If they yawn or scratch at someplace like the vet’s office, we recognize it as a stress behavior. So we know Simon finds some kind of comfort in licking things. But it’s still weird. And we’re not crazy about washing walls.

Dogs can’t ever tell us “why.” Why is a dog afraid of people wearing hats? Were they terrorized by someone wearing a hat? Probably not. The odd shape of the person’s head wearing a hat may signal something’s wrong to your dog.

You can never be absolutely sure of how your dog will react with something different. Twice in the last couple of weeks dog owners predicted one reaction and got something entirely different.

Picture of a tan Pit Bull to illustrate Why Does My Dog

In Hope’s “Manners” class, the facility had left a little ramp that the day-care dogs play on. It’s large, plastic, brightly-colored, has three steps that go up about 15 inches on one side, a flat center, and a “slide” on the other side. The whole thing is about ten feet long. One of the dogs in class is Happy the pit bull. Her people looked at it and thought she’d charge right over it and have a blast. 

They were wrong. Happy was nervous and didn’t want anything to do with it. Despite the fact that she loves class, is normally a happy and inquisitive dog, and the ramp had to have delightful doggy odors all over it. As it turned out, instead of a rambunctious play session, we had the opportunity to teach the people how to introduce new, scary things to their dogs.

Same thing, different day

In our Club’s class this week, the puppy/beginner class had a few extra minutes at the end for playtime. The facility had a large, blue, outside ball with a handle in the room. Hope asked the people how they thought their dogs would react. The people with Alfie, a five-month-old giant-breed mix, said he’d love it and want to play. So we dropped it on the floor and found out they were wrong. Alfie was terrified of it – barking and backing up. By the end of class, he still wasn’t crazy about it, but no longer frightened.

What should you do if you get an unexpected or strange reaction from your dog? The absolute worst thing you can do is drag your dog over, as if to say “See? You’re being stupid.” For whatever reason, and you’ll never know what it is, your dog is cautious about something. How do you train your dog to check out new stuff?

Distance is your friend. Get far enough away from the thing so your dog is comfortable – no side-eye staring, no hunching, but relaxed, and happy. Gradually approach while talking to your dog and giving them treats for being calm and good. At the point your dog starts showing fear, stop and just wait. If they relax, get a little closer.

Working through it

Both Happy and Alfie were better by the end of class, but neither made “friends” with the scary object. That takes some time and familiarity. You never want to force your dog into something they find frightening. You want to take away the scare, not add to it.

Why are we talking about this now? It gives you time to think about and prepare. Because we’re getting close to the time of year when scary things crop up in yards all over the place. You may think the inflatable, 9-foot-tall, fire-breathing, purple dragon is a great Halloween decoration. Your dog may think it’s as terrifying as a real one swooping down to snatch him. 

So bring extra treats on your walks with your dog. Stay calm, talk soothingly, and give your dog time to adjust. Reward them for being calm. If you can gradually approach the scary thing, give it a try. The more chances your dog has to see, smell, and lick new things, the more confident they’ll become.  

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Picture of a Boston Terrier to illustrate best food for your dog

The best food for your dog

The best food for your dog is the one they’ll eat and thrive on. 

The last couple of years have seen many new options, both brands and different forms of dog food. It used to be either canned or dry kibble. Now the choices include raw, frozen or freeze-dried, fresh refrigerated, subscription boxes, various custom-blended mixtures, pouches, containers, bags, cans, grain or none, percentage of protein, carnivore or vegetarian, etc.

And the commercials we see touting the various brands and forms are aimed straight at our guilt triggers. Don’t you want to give your dog the “best” food with the “healthiest” ingredients? They aim right at the soft spots.

First things first

When choosing your dog’s food, try to remember that your dog really doesn’t care what it looks like. People “eat first with their eyes” but dogs don’t. Their most important sense when choosing food is the smell. And the smells that attract dogs generally aren’t all that appealing to people. That expensive container that looks like a delicious stew is made to attract your eye – not your dog’s.

Does that mean you should choose the ugliest, stinkiest dog food available? It means that you should buy dog food based on logic, not emotion.

Dog food journey

Personally, we feed our dogs a mixture of home-made and kibble. It was a long and painful process to figure out what was best for us and our dogs. For training, we use stinky treats our dogs adore.

Picture of a Boston Terrier to illustrate best food for your dog

We switched because of Booker (pictured), Fran’s now 10-year-old Boston Terrier. If you’ve been following us for a while, you know that Booker is “special,” not in a good way. One of his issues is a very sensitive gut. For the first couple years he never had a “normal” poop, was incredibly gassy, and seemed uncomfortable.

We tried all kinds of foods for him. And in keeping with the veterinarian’s advice, introduced each option slowly. Nothing seemed to help. From different proteins, grains, “sensitive stomach” choices, canned, dry, consultations with a nutritionist. His tummy just wasn’t happy.

What worked

Finally, a friend of ours whose business was custom-made dog food hit on the right combination of ingredients and format that worked for Booker. The difference was life-changing for all of us. She figured out that Booker is a dog who can’t tolerate raw food, or certain proteins, must have vegetables, and limited grains.

And then she went out of business. That’s when we started making our dog’s food. We didn’t have a choice. If we wanted to use what worked for Booker, we had to make it ourselves. 

Luckily, our friend did give us the recipes she used. So now, once every month, we devote a day to shopping, chopping, blending, portioning, and freezing dog food. 

The rest of the story

When we started making food, we were also traveling quite a bit. Our dogs always came along on any trips. As insurance, we decided to keep our dogs accustomed to a readily-available commercial dog food. If we got stuck on the road, or something happened with the home-made food, we wanted to be sure our dogs would be okay.

We actually wouldn’t wish our dog food adventures on anyone. Food-making day is messy and stinky. But it works for us and our dogs. 

Choose your dog’s food by the results you get. If your dog loves their food, they’re healthy, eyes bright, eager to eat, happy to play, able to sleep comfortably, you’re doing fine. 

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Picture of a fawn French Bulldog in a crate to illustrate Separation Anxiety

Routine helps dogs avoid separation anxiety

One of the dog issues that bothers devoted dog owners most is separation anxiety. We hate causing our dogs stress of any kind. But even the best-behaved dogs can’t go everywhere, all the time. And when we leave these devoted companions home alone they may cry, whine, howl, or get destructive. So how do you avoid separation anxiety?

It’s just not possible for dogs to go with us everywhere. So what can you do to make sure your dog is calm and happy home alone?

Have a routine

Dogs love routine. They love knowing what’s happening, and when. Establishing a routine for every time you leave your dog home alone will let them know what’s happening, that it’s normal, and that they don’t have to worry.

As with all dog training, you have to start small. Decide what your “going out by yourself” routine will be and introduce it to your dog. For us, the last thing we do before leaving the house is give our dogs special treats they only get when we’re not there.

We use treat-dispensing toys that we’ve prepared in advance. We stuff them with a mixture of plain yogurt, peanut butter, kibble, maybe even some Chicken Heart Treats or blueberries, and put them in the freezer. (Note: be sure whatever treat-dispensing toy you use has holes at either end so no suction effect can trap your dog’s tongue.)

Scatter for their crates

When our dogs see us pulling those toys out of the freezer, they run for their crates – the only place they ever get these toys with the goodies inside. This extra-special treat is reserved for when we’re not home, so the dogs associate our leaving with something wonderful.

And we do always crate our dogs when we’re not home. While we don’t have to worry about house-breaking accidents, we do worry about other things: wrestling matches that can smash breakables, chewing on or getting tangled in electrical cords, and even possible break-ins. Our dogs are more valuable to us than any stuff we own. We’d rather a burglar grab what they want and get out, leaving our dogs safely crated and unharmed. 

Picture of a fawn French Bulldog in a crate to illustrate Avoid Separation Anxiety

If you can, set up your routine and introduce it to your dog(s) in steps. Take the toy from the freezer and put it in your dog’s crate. If the dog is used to being in a crate, shut the door and leave the room for a couple of minutes. If your dog isn’t used to the crate, close the door and stay there. As soon as they finish the goodies, let them out. Let them see you refilling the toy and putting it back in the freezer.

The next time, leave the house for a few minutes after you give your dog the toy. Come back, without fuss, open the crate, take the toy and let them watch you refill it and refreeze it. The next time, actually go on an errand and see how your dog does.

Don’t lie to your dog

When people know their dogs have separation anxiety, it’s their tendency to “sneak out,” or try fooling their dogs. It’s a mistake. Aside from not really fooling anyone (including the dog), it’s a form of lying. Dogs don’t understand deception in any form. Attempting to fool them only breaks the trust your dog has. And like any trusting relationship, once broken it’s hard to repair.

Don’t make a fuss about either leaving or coming home. Your dog may take the cue from you – it’s no big deal when you leave. And it’s not a big deal when you come home, because you always will. You can alleviate or avoid separation anxiety by establishing a routine your dog knows.

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