Visiting South America

[Updated 3/15/2020]

This winter I was fortunate to tour South America. The trip included following the HMS Beagle’s journey around this incredibly beautiful continent.  As we entered through the treacherous straits of Magellan, Dr. Tom Macan, the resident historian on our ship, read the dairy of Darwin’s accounting of this passage. After 18 days at sea I arrived in Valparaiso Chile, a very busy and large sea port.

In the 1990s, explosive detection Labradors using my Super Sniffer® method were introduced to this country. It was heartwarming to see Labradors still working the port and still using my methodology of training. When I say Labrador Retriever in the context of Chile, you need to think back to the first water dogs. They are small to medium dogs about 21-23 kilos in weight and 50-51 cm tall.  Their coats are rough and very weather resistant with web feet and thick tails. The expression is kind but the heads are not as chisled or refined as our modern Labradors in the States. Nonetheless, they are Labradors.  Most are black. I have only seen 3 yellows and no chocolates.

From the port town, we headed inland to the heart of Chile, Santiago, where I leased an apartment in the heart of downtown for a month to finish my latest book. The location was great as it is only half a block from a large park, 3 blocks from a main shopping and government area, and right in the core of Belle Artes — a place where students, artists, and an unusual mix of cultures and people hang out.  Chile has its share of stray dogs too, many of them abandoned purebreds.  German Shepherd and Labrador Retrievers are the most prevalent seen.

Street dogs have their favorite hangouts too and it turns out my. Apartment building had their own dog. He was a quiet black Labrador with a docked tail. His look was quite distinctive and he had an air about him I find hard to describe but it was certainly there.

I love to walk so right off I wanted to walk the hood and check out my new surroundings..  As I wandered into the “artists alley” not far away I started seeing artwork that featured the dog outside my apartment building.  It was quite good and had him wearing a red bandanna, which I learned was what the protesters wore. I was now more curious what the story was as I looked over all the things with his image on it; notebooks, decals, posters, hats, shirts, really anything you can think of.  It took me a while to locate someone that spoke English then I learned our black friend was a national hero.

If you haven’t heard there is a lot of civil unrest here in Chile amongst the working people against practices of their government.  Protesting has been going on for some time and its quite sad that they don’t seem to be making any progress.  Some of these protests are quite large and just before we arrived one such protest was held in our area of town. The police here are much more aggressive than in the USA and during the protest they went after a man who only shouting with their clubs. This black dog rushed to the defense of the person and stayed off the attack of the police while the people got away.  He instantly cauterized the movement so that now they shouted even the dogs have had enough!

The dogs still follow the crowds when there are protests which I witnessed first hand on International Women’s Day when tens of thousands women marched and protested treatment of women by the government.  The dogs who normally snooze all day and ignore everything around them, were up and prancing beside the protesters.

As I take my daily walks I also noticed that with all the pet owners walking their dogs there was no dog on dog aggression issues, with either other pet dogs or the street dogs. A variety of breeds are in my neighborhood and include Beagles, Burmese Mountain Dogs, Dalmatians, Pugs, Poodles, Yorkies, Chihuahuas, Border Collies, Boxers, Bulldogs, to name a few. All the dogs walked politely near their owners, no one pulled on a leash if they were on one. About half the time or more they were not on leash.  At a park at the edge of Belle Artes I discovered all the owners gather to chat, share beers and let the dogs play. There is no fencing, it is right off the busiest of streets, and yet everyone is fine.  It begs the question what is the difference I see here verses what I see in the States? Could it be that even though Santiago is a large city, the laid back attitude of the people is influencing the dogs? If I had to choose one word to describe both it would be relaxed.  Everyone was enjoying themselves.

I will be heading to Buenos Aires Argentina next and will be writing my next blog from there. In the meantime do as they do down here, get out with your dog, relax and enjoy.

From the Mouths of Puppies

By Debby Kay ©2018 all rights reserved

Ask any breeder, but especially those who breed retrievers, about storied they can tell of things puppies put in their mouths and you will be in for an ear full.  It’s not a bad thing as far the dogs are concerned. It is just something they do.  Dogs can’t use their hands like we do so they use their mouths and many of the annoying (to people that is) habits or behaviors seen are best viewed from that perspective.  I would like to talk about three of the most common complaints I get from people about their puppies “mouthing’ habits.

The first issue many people experience regardless of breed, is the one that technically is called bite inhibition.  Until a puppy learns not to bite down on everything in sight including your feet, hands, pants leg and any other body part that is handy, they think it is perfectly okay to it.  Watch a litter of puppies about 6 weeks old playing and you will see them grab each other’s ears, paws or tails as if it were a peanut butter treat. The recipient of the attack will scream loudly when this happens and the attacker will usually back off.  They are teaching each other bite inhibition.  When they go after adults, at first mom, in a likewise fashion, one of several things will happen. Many adults will just walk off and ignore the bad behavior. This is a great idea for people to follow too, since is opposite of what the pup wants-attention and someone to play with.  They learn quickly you are more likely to stay and play with them if they bring you a toy rather than grab your barefoot and chomp down.  Another thing is the mom will usually put her mouth around their muzzle and gently but firmly clamp down, the pup will squeal more from surprise than anything and the mom releases her grip and moves on. It is quick and without any further comment. To mimic the pup’s mom, I have learned to very quickly grip the muzzle in the same way and gently pinch their lip against their own teeth for a nanosecond and release. I don’t shout or say a word, like their mom, I just do it and they stop. I will then go and get one of their authorized play toys and redirect their attention to that.  I praise for the play.


The older Chihuahua here is correcting the lab pup for biting too hard using the best grip he can get on the pups muzzle.

I rarely have to do this more than once and the pups stop biting my hands and feet. Where I see many people fail is they are always offering their fingers to the puppy to chew on. When I point that out to people to they rarely realize they are doing it. So try to be aware of this in yourself and others around the puppy, since we don’t want to set the puppy up for failure.

What about the nervous chewer? This is the dog that must grab things and shred everything they put in their mouths.  This behavior can have complex origins which make writing a simple solution for this blog a bit complicated. But for the most part what I see with puppies is chewing such as this from not knowing what to do with themselves. That indicates to me there is a lack of clear direction from the person in the dog’s life as to what the role of the dog is all about. Setting clear rules, boundaries, and engaging with the dog when you are present is the best way to control this habit. Right now I am working with 4 young puppies who at 16 weeks already are figuring out when it is work time, play time and rest time and where to do each of these things. If the people are consistent the pups are more likely to pick up on things and learn quickly what works and what does not work.

The final mouthy dog problem I see which is really dangerous is the dog that will eat anything it can get its mouth on.  I have the vet bills to prove my experience with this issue and can vouch for how expensive this can be, so it is best to stop it before it starts.  Substitution is most effective way I have found to stop unwanted eating of things. Please don’t’ ask me why a dog would eat rocks, swallow socks, or cell phones, I have no idea but they do. In fact, if you do a quick google of things dogs have swallowed you would be surprised at the list.  So when I see a pup that likes to eat what it has in its mouth, I get them to swap it out for a more interesting toy or treat.  So instead of swallowing the rock bring it to me and I will exchange it for a nice treat. Not a bad deal as far as the dog is concerned. That works most of the time.  I also teach them self-control using a game that Susan Garrett has written about called Its Your Choice. The game basically is presenting food to the dog who only gets it when they back away from it, not go for it.  Even with some really hard cases it rarely takes more than 10 minutes to get a dog showing great self-control and not going after what it wants but waiting until you tell them it is OK. This behavior of swallowing everything in sight is not an easy one to deal with but should you see a puppy developing the habit try these two things and stay on top of the pup and hopefully you can get them past it.


Even sticks can be dangerous to a pup, maybe okay to retrieve if small and flexible like this one, but watch out for the chronic “eaters”.



Cool Tips for Hot Dogs

Summer is almost upon us and as the days heat up care needs to be taken to keep our dogs safe from summer heat hazards.  Are you prepared?  Here’s a brief run down of some cool ideas to ward off heat related maladies this summer.

  • Hydration: Never leave home with your dog unless you have water for them. There are many great carry along bottle arrangements available for dog owners today, I think I have bought nearly every one of them too. They are all great, most have some type of cap that doubles as a drinking cup. Frozen bottles of water work well too, as you hike they thaw but are still cool when you pour them out for your dog; just remember to bring along your collapsible dish if you do this. Plan the amount of water you take on the distance and time you will be out.Chi Drinking
  • Booties: Hot Beach Sand or hot pavement can cause problems for the pads of your dog’s feet. A quick test to see if it’s too hot for them to walk on is to put your hand down and hold it there for 30 seconds or more. If you can’t stand it then they probably won’t either. Make sure the booties you buy are well fitting and that you get your dog use to them before you need to use them. Ultrapaws are one of my favorites.lab booties on sand
  • Fans: If you are going to be stationary for any time you might want to have a fan set up just for your dog, particularly if you are going to crate them. Contractors I found have great portable fans that run all day on rechargeable batteries that are great for this purpose.  I added a solar back up to my set up and its stays charged all the time.
  • Shade Screens: Every dog owner should carry a reflective shade screen for their dog. These are easy to set up over a crate, over your car, as a tent over your sitting place, basically where ever you are you can have relief from the blazing sun. The reflective nature of the screens really keep it very cool for the dog and with your fan going all will be good.shadescreen over crate
  • Cool Pads and Collars: Great new items for dog lovers are the cooling beads in dog pads and collars. These work really well as I learned first hand when I was working dogs in Central America where the tropical temperatures where really high. My dogs had these in their crates as they were being transported allowing them to arrive fresh and ready to go.


Finally, I want to suggest to you to please PLAN your summer outing with your dog(s) in advance.  For example, I will plan on hot days to get the morning training lessons done before the sun fully rises while the temperatures are still relatively cool. I then end the session near a water source so everyone can cool off. This type of planning keeps everyone working strong and enjoying it throughout the summer. The 8 week old pups I have in training now figured out this strategy after only a few days and now I don’t have to say a word and they head straight for the water at the end of the session!

IMG_0091Splish Splash.

Little Things

Some of the best lessons I have learned about dog training came from my days working with pros in the field with hunting dogs.  The first lesson I learned from my father who kept and ran hounds was to work the dogs daily even if only for short times.  Most of a dog’s day is spent resting or passing the time chewing on a bone while waiting for their person to initiate some type of activity.  However small that time together is, that dog, my dad would say, will wait all day for and will cherish every moment. They will think about the time together with their person while waiting for the next occaision. Another lesson I learned from the field IMG_7185was to always plan out your training time ahead of time.  Go to training time with your dog, with your goal in mind. A little bit of preplanning on your part will have great payoffs in the long run.  Your training sessions should be building on each other, allowing the dog to progress and develop the skills needed for the ultimate task the dog is being trained for. To build you need a blueprint to keep you on task and accomplishing what you aim for.

For example, if my goal is train a puppy for someone as a service dog with public access skills, I know I have to ultimately have a dog that is solid on all aspects of obedience under all conditions. I can build the skills the dog will need to handle all conditions they might IMG_0295encounter in public by starting with small lessons at home. Each lesson I present to the dog is designed to prepare it for more difficult lessons later on as the puppy matures and learns the basics.  These lessons do not have to be long initially. Here is one example.

Yesterday my husband Sam and I each took a 10 week old puppy to the local feed store.  It’s a small store in our town, has cement floors, sliding doors, many different smells and not too many people. This is a perfect place for the pups first time inside a building other than our house.  Before the went into the store however, we made sure they were good at riding in the car, going “potty” on command, walking well on a loose leash and knowing the sit command to be petted.  Those lessons were taught at home on a daily basis for several weeks.  At the store, the first thing we did was “potty” the pups before we went inside. Once inside the building, we each walked our respective pup around to get familiar them with the smells. I never stop a puppy from smelling but I do required them to keep up with me as we walk around the store.  Their noses never stopped but that’s OK as they are pups and this was a first exposure.  When we met a person, the pup had to sit before being petted. Each puppy met at least 6 people and I am pleased they did not try to jump on anyone.   After about 15 minutes we were all back in the car and on our way home. For pups this age, I feel this an appropriate lesson in both content and time.IMG_2292

As these pups grow and mature those lessons will increase in difficulty and the length of time we are out but that is down the road. For now, all the lessons are kept short and as positive as possible.  I get excellent results with this approach I think for several reasons. First, there is a clear objective.  In the example above the objective was to continue to build on the loose leash walking but this time with higher distractions like moving doors, people walking around, and many new and interesting smells. Second, the length of the session is short enough it does not overwhelm the puppy. They are back in their crate with a bit of down time to “think about” what we just did and hopefully retain more of it because of that down time.

Last, there is plenty of in and between training times for the puppy to play and do puppy things on their own time.  All the programs I have set up for other schools and organizations have always included a healthy portion of exercise and play time. Not only does it keep the body fit but allows the dog to decompress from any stress or anxiety from the lessons.  I believe that not all dogs show their stress when training and those that tend to hide the telltale signs of it will often play the hardest and with the most intensity. In any case, I have observed that the play time keeps my canine students happy and willing.

For those reading this who are training their own service dog that last aspect of my program might be difficult to incorporate into your training. That is a problem I am often asked about and many people think it is not as important as I am making it sound. Perhaps so, but think about this. When people bring me their service dogs to help fix problem areas with the training or to try and determine why the dog has quit working or has slacked off in their performance one of the first things I do is let them have some free time with other dogs playing in the exercise fields we have on our farm.  That one act alone has changed the attitude of many of the dogs that have come here. The rest of the issues resolve very quickly, rarely do I run into what I would call major issues.  My point here is often without the balance of down time, training time, and free time dogs will get with bored, too tired or too stressed.  When we ask them to work for us in any type of service capacity we need to always remember that it is a blessing they are willing to share their remarkable talents with us and as a result we need to respect their need for balance in their lives.  Too often in today’s society people work far too much, spend far too little time relaxing in healthy ways, and little balance in their life between work, rest, and socializing.  I can see how easy it would be to drag the service dog into that scenario. Be aware and be proactive in keeping your dog on track.  Paying attention to those little things can be your key to success.

Here are some ideas to help you try to balance the little things in your dog’s life:

  • For every hour of training have at least the same amount of play time.
  • If walking, running or swimming a dog for exercise is a real challenge for you consider getting a doggy treadmilland use it on a regular basis.
  • Don’t be afraid to use your dog’s crate (their private space) to your and their advantage. Let them rest here for 30 minutes after any training session if possible. Science has shown this does help them to retain the lesson better.
  • Brush your dog regularly whether he/she needs it or not. The connection and stress reduction effect is amazing.
  • If you don’t have a training planlook for one that is already made up for you and follow it.



National Train Your Dog Month


January is a month set aside to remind people the importance of training your dog.  In some ways I would prefer socialize, educate and help your dog assimilate into modern human life over “train”, but for ease of writing let’s just stick with train.

What does that mean to you and your dog?  Maybe you don’t have very high expectations of your companion and you are perfectly happy if they hang out and at least don’t pee in the house or chew your shoes. But you are really missing out on a life enriching experience if you don’t engage further with your dog in something.  Dogs like people need to have their minds and bodies stimulated with some type of activity in order to stay healthy and vibrate. But beyond that the relationship and understanding you will develop with your pal will forever change your perspective on dogs, other animals, and even life itself.  Our dog companions are very much reflections of our lives.  How committed are we to some goal or ideal, how serious we are ourselves, how generous, friendly, happy, healthy we are is indeed reflected  by the way we interact with the dog by our side.  So take a look and be honest with yourself (and your dog) just where do you really stand on all this.

If you want to get started and have not ever done anything too much with your dog before you should start out with simple things, like a regular walking time in different places every other day, or at the least once a week.  My guys can’t wait for this time and will yip with joy when its time to go.  You can take a toy to toss for those whose dogs are retrievers or take some treats and try tossing them for your dog to find with his keen sense of smell.


Many training centers offer trick training classes and you’d be surprised how many of the tricks learned in class can be turned into helpful things the dog can do around the house.  If you like, there are several ways you can earn titles even by doing the tricks.


If your dog likes to use his nose sniffing things out, sign up for a scent training class.tara head in box Almost all the training facilities are offering it now and I guarantee your dog will thank you.  Sniffing fun is for dogs of all ages and breeds and the one thing they all seem to enjoy immensely.    Its a natural act for them so you don’t need a lot of training skills in order to have fun with your dog.

Another thing a large number of dogs enjoy is dock diving. This is an activity where the owner tosses a favorite retrieve item in a pool and the dog jumps from the dock to get it. During competition they will measure the distance and titles can be earned but there are a lot of places that offer it for fun as well.  It is not difficult to get an eager retriever to jump after the toy and it is surprising the many different breeds you see that enjoy it too.

These are just a few ideas to get started, but certainly not the only things you can do.  The point is do something with your dog, get out there with your dog and engage. Your dog will benefit greatly from it and if you keep it up, his behavior will continue to improve.  Well mannered dogs just don’t happen, you have to work with them every day, interact in a meaningful way daily, and keep doing it all their lives.  You asked your dog into your life and I feel you owe it to him to make it a good life by giving him the most important thing possible-something to do with you.  Happy training!






Smart Phones, Smarter Dogs, and more Smart Technology

I would not call myself a techno-geek but for an old lady I do try to keep up with things as the world changes.  Technology can be wonderful in many ways to make our lives better and can even help with training our dogs, especially our service dogs.  While I find my greatest satisfaction comes from getting my hands dirty in my garden or stroking a furry critter, I do try to incorporate the technology in my dog training when I feel it is appropriate.  With this blog I would like to examine a few things in that area that can help with training you might not have tried yet.

Smart phones are a great invention and I am still learning some of the many incredible things my phone can do for me. One simple feature for people training their own service dogs can use, is the alarm feature.  Setting an alarm, a simple task, can help you stay on track with your training program.  Its easy to get distracted so just go to your calendar and set up appointments with yourself for training time with your dog and turn on the alarm reminders.  While you are on the calendar plug in all the dates your dog gets heartworm, flea prevention and when vaccines expire.  I was appalled recently when I learned a client had let heartworm and all the vaccines expire on their dog that they had brought for breeding to my stud.  There is no excuse for this if you have a smart phone.

The phone can also help with training, as it is a great source of sounds.  I use several apps to create noises to help socialize pups or desensitize older dogs. All the apps I found were free too. No reason you should have a noise sensitive dog if you have a smart phone. And while you are training you can also be taking videos from your phone that can be reviewed later by you or another trainer to help with any training situation that might come up.  This is one of the best features of smart phones in my book.

Some other technology that is really useful are the new age electronic collars that have built in lights and tracking devices.  I have a lot of black or dark colored dogs and at night when everyone goes out for the last potty walk the light on the collar really comes in handy for keeping track of dogs.  Here is a link to one of my favorite eCollars that lights up.

c92af701-dd27-4b83-83b1-d9ee92d24d35The tracking devices are super nice too, they run on an app on your smart phone. What a great invention for helping to keep track of dogs, especially in my situation where we are on a farm in the country.  They are very easy to use and very reliable too.

Perhaps the best new thing to be tested so far is a new device that the service dogs wear on their vests.  When something happens to their owner they can pull a tag and the device will repeat, “ My owner needs help” until someone comes to help the distressed person.  There are other electronic devices being tested for dogs to activate to help a person but most of those are still in testing phases.  Dogs might not be able to speak as we do but this is one step closer to allowing them to “call” for help when they sense distress for their person.

I’ve also been doing a little digging into some research on breeding smarter dogs.  There is actually more work being done in this area than I first suspected and I find it quite fascinating. One thing that some of the research supports is that dogs that excel at a job will produce puppies that have a better than average chance of excelling at the job also. This is what has been referred to as Instinctive Intelligence. So dogs bred for example to be great sniffing dogs for many generations do this behavior on their own and require a trainer to just put a few rules to this natural drive to make it work for the partnership.  Another thing that scientists look at is what they call Adaptive Intelligence which is a quality needed for medical alert dogs as they need to learn and adapt to the changes of their person’s medical condition and solve problems presented as a result.  This is something that can vary within a given breed with some dogs having better adaptive abilities than others. This is also different than the dog’s learning ability when instructed by humans, which the scientists called Working Intelligence.  I feel that all three need to be present in a very high degree to in order to make a good service dog, especially a medical alert dog.Morgan and Ranger pups

Most breeders do not train their breeding stock to be service dogs and thus are not able to know to what degree the dogs possess these different levels of intelligence. This makes getting a puppy a very tricky proposition for a person looking for a service dog prospect.   I know one group I was asked to help with their breeding program, experienced greater success with future litters when they finally trained all their breeding stock. They were better able once doing this, to determine how to improve the breeding of future litters.  Smarter dogs are possible and are becoming more available as professionals are learning how to apply what science is discovering, to the practical world of producing better service dog prospects.

I would like to end with a favorite quote and some food for thought:

Quality is never an accident. It is always the result of intelligent effort. – John Ruskin



Being Prepared

So much of the news these past few weeks has been focused on the natural disasters happening all over the Atlantic and Gulf areas around and offshore of the US that it got me thinking about how prepared are we for the chance of a natural or nuclear disaster striking us.


I checked our Disaster Evacuation Kit and everything looks good, but after talking to a few experts I realized there were a couple of things I overlooked and it those things I wanted to share with everyone this month.


Get your service dog use to seeing first responders in all types of gear.

One thing that is really helpful to include in your evacuation kit is a list of all your pets and their microchip numbers.  If you and your pets are separated, which could and does happen in spite of best efforts, then you have something that you can pass out to rescue groups and animals shelters.  These groups will be scanning recovered pets and having the information that certain numbers have a traceable owner are really helpful to them.

I never thought to check with my county officials to see if our county had a plan for evacuating pets during an emergency.  We do in fact have a plan in the county where I live and it tells me what the official plan of action will be with regard to my pets if disaster should strike.  I urge you to become familiar with your county’s plan BEFORE something happens so you know where to go with your animals, where to look for them if you are separated, and how to support you county officials handling animal rescue if you so choose to get that involved.

Another thing that cropped up in regard to the theme of this blog this past month as I put many more thousand miles on my van traveling about the country is how little time people prepare their service dogs for emergencies.  People who are self training as well as many non service dog pro trainers helping those folks seem to forget to add in the exercises I feel are a necessary part of a good service dog schooling.

One lesson every service dog should have is how to react in and around first responders, ambulances, and the not-seen-every-day equipment associated with these people.  All the first responders that I have spoken with told me that if a service animal is well mannered and cooperative they have no issue keeping the dog with its person.


Learning to handed off to someone else.

At the first sign of trouble though they will hand the dog off to animal control as their first concern is the well-being of the person.  What this means is you need to practice doing out of sight handoffs to another person the dog is not too familiar with in multiple locations, you need to have other people walk your dog away as you lay down and fake a crisis, you need to have other people be able to tell your dog to do something and they do it willingly.  If you don’t practice this, don’t be surprised if your dog won’t do it.

Another important lesson is how to remain calm in a cage. I know a lot of people do not like cages, crates, whatever you want to call them. However, there will be times when your dog may end up in one and for that reason you should at least train them to:

  1. accept the cage
  2. willingly go into the cage on command
  3. stay there with the door open until told it is Okay to leave

This is not as difficult as it sounds.  Try tossing a treat into the cage at the same time you say a cue word for the dog to enter.  I like the word ‘kennel’ which to my dogs means “go into what I am pointing at”.   As soon as your dog enters and turns around, close the door and wait for them to sit. When they do reach in and reward with a treat.  If they move or try to get out the door closes, if they hold the position they get a treat.  Soon enough the dog figures out that going into the cage and sitting until told to do something else is the way the game works. Mine will do happily many times, I think they rather enjoy the game.

I hope this finds all my friends everywhere safe and sound, in the meantime get prepared in case you do have an emergency.