Tag Archives: dog training

What scares your dog?

Everybody’s afraid of something. It may not be the level of a phobia, but we’ve all got them. So do most dogs. What scares your dog?

Stairs scare Hope's dog Torque

Torque, Hope’s French Bulldog, is afraid of stairs. He’s also afraid of being upside-down. No tummy rubs for Torque – ever! She freely admits most of it’s her own fault. She didn’t carry Torque around much when he was a puppy, because she carried her older Frenchie around too much. Teddy always wanted to be “uppy!” 

Torque was more than six months old before he’d even attempt stairs. He also didn’t jump up on furniture for at least that long. And then his Auntie Pam and her very-attractive Frenchie girl Lily came over. And sat on the couch. Torque got the hang of it quickly that day. And he’s been a regular couch-potato ever since.

Dealing with dog fears

If there’s something that frightens your dog, how should you deal with it? Most people’s natural inclination is to make soothing sounds and pet their dogs. Unfortunately, it’s probably not the best thing to do.

To dogs, being sympathetic and rewarding them (petting is a reward) reinforces that the thing is, in fact, something to be scared of. It validates their feelings as accurate, and cements it as something to be wary of. 

Instead, it’s a better idea to encourage your dog to try it, check it out, sniff it, and become familiar with the object. “Let’s go see!” is a better response than “Oh, poor baby!” If your dog is reluctant to approach the object, don’t force them. Instead, go over to it yourself and look at it, showing interest. You can even give your dog a treat for taking a step closer, and each closer approach.

Intangible fears

If your dog is startled or afraid of something that’s heard and not seen, like thunder, you can still help them overcome the fear. The next time there’s a thunderstorm, have a bowl of your dog’s favorite snacks handy. Whenever you hear a peal of thunder, calmly hand your dog a treat. You don’t even have to say anything. Just associating the sound with the “cookie” will do the job. 

Most dogs are pretty quick at “transferring the value.” If thunder means “I get a treat” instead of “the world is ending,” pretty soon thunderstorms won’t be a problem. It may take a few storms to figure it out, but you may be able to speed the process. If you can find a video or audio recording of thunder on your phone, you can “schedule” a storm to happen whenever you have a few minutes to train your dog.

Promises made

Rewarding your dog for overcoming fear is a promise made. Hope has little bowls of treats at both ends of the stairs. Torque still isn’t crazy about them, but he’ll trundle up the stairs for that guaranteed treat that’s waiting for him. 

He’s still afraid of rolling over on his back. We haven’t really tried to train him differently.

Torque had to learn to climb stairs by himself. At 28 pounds, there was no way we were going to carry him up and down forever. But aside from “roll over” being a cute trick, it’s not really a necessity. 

Whatever scares your dog, your best option is to treat it casually. If it’s something to overcome, find a way to familiarize your dog with the frightening thing. We’ve all heard the old saw “familiarity breeds contempt.” And that’s just fine. We’d rather our dogs ignored stuff than were scared by them. 

Do you enjoy your dog?

We saw a social media post from a dog behaviorist friend that got us thinking. She said that few people enjoy their dogs. We thought it was an odd thing to say – until we read further. After all, dogs are supposedly our best friends, our companions, and members of our families. So – do you enjoy your dog?

What it means

Are you able to live your life with a calm, even-tempered companion dog? Can you welcome family and friends into your home with minimal fuss and without worry? Is taking a walk with your dog a source of stress, or a pleasant way to spend time together?

We realize that the majority of our friend’s contact with dog owners is through her work – people who need her help. But it makes us wonder if her point is valid. We wonder how many people spend time and energy managing their dogs instead of enjoying them. It’s one thing to have a trainable dog who just needs some manners. It’s another to have a dog that requires constant management.

How did this happen?

Part of the problem is the cacophony of voices preaching “adopt, don’t shop.” The loudest ones also seem to believe that every single dog should be saved, fostering the “no-kill shelter” concept.

In theory, that’s a noble goal. In practice, it’s impractical and dangerous.

Personality counts

Few shelters and many rescues don’t do temperament testing on the dogs they take in. And most people, wishing to do the “right” thing, visit a shelter and fall in love with a dog that may not be a good fit for their family. Instead of a pet, they wind up with a project. 

That’s not the way it’s supposed to be. Dogs should enhance our lives, not add stress.

And when people realize the situation is untenable, they feel like failures if the dog must go back to the shelter. 

Case in point

Many people don’t realize, and shelters don’t publicize, the fact that dogs are generally on their best behavior when first adopted. Once they start feeling secure, their true personalities start to emerge. People who think they’ve adopted a calm, well-mannered dog can find themselves with a naughty whirlwind. 

That’s fine, as long as everyone’s prepared to deal with the dog as it is. But what if the emergent personality isn’t a good fit?

A lovely family came to our dog club’s Beginner Obedience Class with their newly-adopted medium-sized dog. The dog was an unknown quantity, having arrived at the shelter only three days before her adoption. As the weeks passed, the dog’s true personality was revealed as she became more secure in her adoptive home. And it wasn’t good.

The family included three children under 10 years old. The dog was reactive to sudden movement. And loud noises. The dog’s reactivity included lunging and snapping at the children. It was heartbreaking for the family when, heeding our advice, they returned the dog to the shelter. 

Thank goodness they listened. It wasn’t the right home for the dog. And not the right dog for the family.

Personality counts to enjoy your dog

There are terrific shelters and rescues that emphasize placing dogs where they’ll thrive. They get to know the dogs’ personalities and find the right fit for each animal. That’s why a shelter or rescue will ask you a million questions you don’t think are any of their business. They’re trying to be matchmakers, with a forever outcome. You’re entitled to a nice dog that suits you. You should enjoy your dog.

Seek out places that get to know the dogs. Or find a reputable breeder of purebred dogs in a breed that fits your lifestyle. They’re not hard to find – you just have to know to look for them.  

Dogs have chores, too

Dogs have chores, too

Some people enjoy the chores that make a house a home. We wish we were among them, but, for the most part, we consider housework to be a necessary evil. We want a comfy home, so we have to put in the work to make it that way.

Since they are members of the family, our dogs have chores, too.

Picture of a dog doing chores - Tango putting his toys away

What they can actually accomplish is limited by their complete lack of thumbs. Even if we ask them to “go get” something – it has to be something that we don’t mind gets covered in dog slobber.

All of our dogs know “put your toys away” games, and we play at least once a week. It’s not really a “chore” – since we dump the toys out for them to put back in the bin. It’s a dog training game we all love.

Not really useful

Ever since Hope’s French Bulldog Dax broke a tooth “helping” with the vacuuming years ago, the dogs’ assistance is pretty much limited to being cute while we work. Because we don’t really want them:

  • Chasing the dust mop
  • Licking the dishes while we fill the dishwasher
  • Trying to “kill” the evil vacuum
  • Playing tug with the dust cloth

And of course it’s always fun trying to move the furniture while the dogs are jumping on and off. We didn’t really want to clean behind there anyway!

Reason for chores

The dogs’ actual specialty is giving us a reason to do the housekeeping. Like when you hear the unmistakable sounds of a dog being sick at four in the morning. You may not actually have planned to clean the rug that day, but now it’s on the agenda. 

None of our dogs have long fur, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t accumulate if we attempt to ignore it. So the floors get attention.

And just because we don’t have picky eaters, doesn’t mean they’re tidy. Either eating or drinking. Oddly, one of the dogs (not mentioning Simon’s name) doesn’t understand the concept of closing his mouth when he’s done drinking. The puddles he makes are just water, but they still have to be cleaned.

For the ones we love

We may not like doing housework, but making a nice home for the ones you love is motivation enough. Even if they never notice, or care. We know.

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.