Tag Archives: dog behavior

Let dogs say no

Since when are dogs expected to allow anyone to do anything to/with them? Take away their food bowl. Let anyone pet them. Allow other dogs to get within sniffing distance. How about we let dogs say no?

Pictures of a Boston Terrier puppy to illustrate let dogs say no

Our first dog was a Boston Terrier named “Spunky.” He was a fantastic dog, a phenomenal best friend for two little girls. He was well-mannered, gentle, and lived up to his name. When we would try to do something to him, like pet him when he was eating, our mother would say “How would you like it if someone did that to you?” So we wouldn’t. On his behalf, our mother said “No!”

Boundaries are good

Dogs are amazing, smart, adaptable critters. They also do better when new stuff is introduced slowly, other beings respect their boundaries, and they’re allowed to be themselves.

Most dogs also give clear indicators when they’re uncomfortable or frightened. There are usually many clues before a dog will bite or snap. If a dog is licking its lip, turning its head away, or you can see the whites of their eyes, they’re sending a message that they’re not comfortable. It does the dog a disservice to allow whatever’s happening to continue.

As dog trainers, we tell all our students that distance is your friend. If your dog isn’t comfortable with something, back off until they relax. If the event that made them uncomfortable is one they need to get used to, do it gradually. One sure sign that a dog is doing okay is if they’ll take treats from you. When you reach their comfort boundary, they may stop taking those morsels.

It happened in the shop all the time. Dogs would come in thinking they were someplace where bad or scary things happen. We gave them the time, and distance, they needed to get used to the idea of “trying on” harnesses. Some dogs never got there. That’s okay – we just guided their owners for the fittings.

We told you not to do that

We’re reminded of a series of incidents with our bookstore cat, many years ago. A good friend of ours brought each of her four children to the shop. And, when each one was about four or five years old, they would be petting Merlyn, the cat. He was a typical cat – he loved pets until he didn’t, and then grabbed your hand with his teeth to let you know he was done. 

We knew Merlyn’s signs of “enough!” very well. And we told the children “That’s enough, now. Merlyn’s tired of being petted.” And, in turn, Merlyn grabbed their hands. He never broke skin, but he did leave dents.

And each child went running over to their mother, crying “The cat bit me!” And each one heard “What did you do?” Obviously, if it hadn’t been a friend, we wouldn’t have let it happen. But we knew how our friend would react. It was important to her that her children learn to a) listen and b) respect animals.

Let dogs say no

Strangers don’t have to pet your dog. No matter how little, fuzzy, and cute your dog is. You and your family are the only ones your dog has to put up with. Tango, Fran’s 13-year-old Brussels Griffon, didn’t like much of anybody but Fran. It was important to us that he change, so we did it gradually. Everyone he met was given a handful of treats to toss on the floor near him. Then a little closer to them. Then, step-by-step, take the cookies from their hands. Over time, Tango grew a bunch of cookie-people friends. Now he’s the sweetest old guy. And anybody is allowed to pet him. But it worked because this dog was allowed to say “no!”

Enjoyed this post? Click here to sign up for the weekly newsletter and never miss another!

How much should dogs sleep?

Is your dog a sleepy head? Are you worried about it? The truth is that dogs sleep more than people do. 

The average dog needs between 10 and 15 hours of sleep every day. Puppies need even more.

Not lazy at all

One of the concerns we hear from our dog training students is their dogs are “bored,” and sleep out of boredom. The truth is a bit different. After a training game, or any kind of exertion, dogs need a nap. That’s the way most predatory animals are built. They have periods of intense activity, then dogs nap. 

When you think about it, it makes sense. Intense activity uses lots of calories. For predators, this would be hunting. Then eating. Then napping. As if every day were Thanksgiving!

For dogs, that could be playing fetch, going for a walk, or even playing dog-training games. Asking our dogs to think is just as tiring as physical activity. Remember when you were in school and were really tired after tests? Same thing, but training games are lots more fun.

Let it sink in

Boston Terrier Dog sleeping
Booker (Boston Terrier) napping

Dogs sleep for both physical and mental rest. They need the down time to process things they’ve learned. That’s one of the reasons puppies need so much sleep – up to 20 hours a day. Growing takes a lot out of a pup. So does thinking.

Research has shown that dogs learn more, retain that learning better, and are more confident when short training sessions are followed by longer breaks. 

Let sleeping dogs lie

There’s no reason to be concerned if your dog sleeps most of the day away. They don’t need constant entertainment or stimulation. 

That’s why we’re not huge fans of the doggy day care concept. Dogs don’t need to play all day. The constant activity and excitement floods their systems. That makes it even harder for them to relax. 

If you do need to use a day care, try to set limits on the amount of time your dog is expected to be active, especially with other dogs. Some “down time” during the day will help him learn to settle when at home with you.

Old dogs sleep a lot

Older dogs, like puppies, may need more sleep. And they sometimes give us a fright when we try to wake them. Either they don’t hear as well, or they sleep deeper, but it can take some doing to wake an old dog from his nap. 

When your old dog does awaken, give him a moment to get oriented and figure out what’s going on. Whatever dreams they were having, it may take a bit to get focused. That’s where we are with 13-year-old Tango now.

That contrasts with young, healthy adult dogs who can startle from sleep into instant attention and barking. We’ve got that, too. Simon (3) and Booker (9) our Boston Terriers can go from snoring to watchdog-at-attention in nothing flat. It can be startling if you were napping, too!


Dog dreams

Every dog person asks the same question at some point. As you relax with your dog napping next to you, you notice paws start to twitch, little “wufs” coming from them, then more actively almost running in their sleep. Do dogs dream?

Just like us

It turns out that dogs do dream. Dogs hooked up to instruments to measure their brain activity show the same sleep patterns as people. That includes periods of REM (rapid eye movement), when dreaming occurs, and phases of non-REM sleep. 

Brains are more active during REM sleep. Next time you’re watching your dog twitching, or vocalizing during a nap, check to see if it’s accompanied by eye twitches. It’s kind of unsettling to see, but it’s normal.

What’s it all about

And researchers speculate that dog dreams reflect their days, just as ours do. So if your dog saw a squirrel in the yard, it’s entirely possible that his dream adventure has him chasing squirrels in dreamland, too. When you see them smacking their lips and dream-chewing, chances are their dog dreams are of yummy snacks. If you play training games with your dog, sleep is when all the stuff they learn is processed and solidified. Sleep is essential to learning, for dogs as well as people.

A Boston Terrier and French Bulldog sleep together in a tan bed, dreaming dog dreams

Of course no one has access to the actual content of dog dreams, so scientists are extrapolating based on the similarities to human findings. Considering how people’s dreams tend to be disjointed and, sometimes bizarre, it can be unsettling. The part that makes us a bit sad is knowing that dogs have nightmares, too.

We can only imagine what the stuff of dog nightmares might be. Based on what we know of dogs, their nightmares probably involve being alone. Dogs aren’t really good at alone. We know that when our dogs have a particularly severe episode, softly stroking them and talking gently seems to soothe them. 

Let sleeping dogs lie

Most dogs sleep about 18 hours a day, According to the sleep studies, they go through the phases of non-REM and REM sleep several times during the night. And there seems to be a difference in the sleep cycles of small vs. large dogs. Smaller dogs cycles are shorter.

It’s complete speculation on our part, but it makes sense to us that small dogs have to be more alert than large ones. Large dogs seem to be less wary of their surroundings than little dogs. There are so many things in the world that could harm small creatures. It makes sense they need to be more cautious.

Dog dreams

Research on dogs always seems to result in conclusions that they’re similar to people. Is anyone surprised?


The dog who doesn’t cuddle

What do you do with a dog who doesn’t cuddle? 

It’s a dilemma we’ve been coping with since early July, when a foster French Bulldog puppy came into our lives. There are many breeds of dogs that are naturally more aloof. French Bulldogs, and any breed classified as a “Companion Dog” would never be classified that way. 

Too friendly would be a more apt description. One of the reasons Hope’s Torque doesn’t have Obedience titles up the wazoo is because, when he was younger, he was unable to “Sit for Exam.” He was absolutely convinced that the hand reaching out to touch the top of his head needed to be licked and the judge would welcome enthusiastic greetings. He was mistaken, but remained unconvinced.

The dog in front of us

One of the precepts of dog training is to train the dog in front of you. That means not loading old baggage onto the current dog. See who this dog is and adjust to him. 

Image of an eager white and black French Bulldog illustrating a dog who doesn't cuddle.

There are lots of reasons the foster puppy isn’t like other dogs. He spent many formative weeks sick with a deadly virus. After a week in ICU, he spent many subsequent weeks in isolation. He didn’t have the benefit of a full-time “pack.” For his own safety and the recovery home’s, it just couldn’t happen.

This puppy never learned to relax around other dogs and people. When he’s awake, he’s active. He’s busy, nosy, exploring, chewing, annoying, and exhausting. He’s also sweet, fun, smart, biddable, and a little sponge, learning at a great rate. But he’s never relaxed outside of a crate or exercise pen. 

Project not a pet

When most people look to adopt a dog from a shelter or rescue, they are probably looking for a pet, not a project. But most dogs from shelters or rescues have a history. They may not be from abusive situations, but their known circumstances have changed, and that’s usually not a good thing. 

The ironic aspect is that most newly-adopted dogs use “company manners” for the first few weeks. They don’t understand they’re home to stay. It takes about six weeks or so for the dog’s true personality to emerge. By which time the family loves the dog and is completely committed. So they take on the project that is the dog in front of them.

Commitment to change

We weren’t sure how to cope with a Frenchie who has no particular training issues, but social shortcomings. It’s relatively easy to train a dog to be calm. He can do that. But it requires our constant attention and training. Even if all the other dogs are sacked out, snoozing. He can’t. Torque would like nothing more than to cuddle with him, but the puppy has no experience and doesn’t know how. 

The two keys we preach as dog trainers are patience and consistency. Sometimes it’s hard to be patient. And the guilt is a bit overwhelming. This puppy is crated for many hours a day. Our lives can’t be paused to watch the puppy all the time. We carve out chunks of time to let him be a puppy; playing with toys, with the other dogs, going for walks. But the “down time” just isn’t there.


The puppy’s recovery continues, and he still requires lots of sleep. Almost dying takes time to get over. And in the wee hours of the morning, when Hope opens the crate door, he belly-crawls over to lay his head on her arm for a few minutes. And that very precious time gives us hope for the dog who doesn’t cuddle.