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.

Science and Dog Training.

By Debby Kay ©2017 all rights reserved

Summer, for me, is a time to enjoy a cool drink on the porch during those relentless hot afternoons that the East coast of the United States experiences. It also gives me a chance to catch up on reading books I’ve meaning to get to. I’ve noticed a trend lately where many people are now referring to science in their writings but not always in ways that do either the science or dog training justice. I am also seeing a lot more trainers advertise “science-based” training and I feel this is a topic that needs clarification.

I was educated and trained as a research scientist and worked many years in the laboratory, and later in administration of several Federal research programs. Working in this environment teaches you to observe, how to identify things that don’t make sense or work to accomplish what it is suppose do. As scientific discoveries are made, others build on those foundations and continue to move the science forward. This is not cheating or stealing others’ work, it is using knowledge of what was discovered, tested, and shown to be a true fact and moving forward and expanding upon that knowledge. That is the way it works in science.

Certainly, many things studied in the scientific community have greatly advanced dog training, dog breeding, and overall dog ownership. While this is true, there is also misuse of this information on many fronts. The biggest misuse I see is taking a work or its conclusions out of context. Scott and Fuller were two major contributors to our understanding of socialization and its impact on dog behavior among other things. So many times, I hear people say you cannot separate


Pups chasing their mom

a mom and her puppies before the age of 49 days because that is the magic number they published. There is no problem taking puppies earlier or later depending on the circumstances and the breed involved. In fact, since that early 1960s work by these two researchers, many others have looked at the various aspects Scott and Fuller established and have elaborated on it, improving our understanding of dogs even more.[1] What has not happened is dog lovers keeping up with the changes in the science.

Many trainers are so eager to try new things regarding scent training, for example, that they don’t bother to completely test their theories out before advertising that dogs can do this, find this, or alert to this or that. So many times, I have seen trainers claim that dogs are sniffing out a medical condition in a person only to test and discover that the alerting the dogs are doing is based more on their keen observations and less on discernable scent changes. I don’t feel it is proper to claim a dog can detect something by smell if you cannot properly isolate or capture the components of the scent for the condition you are asking it to alert to. How can you prove that the dog is alerting to the smell if you can’t even prove you have the stuff he is supposed to be smelling?

While on a recent trip to California to learn more about some bacteria that is causing concern with farmers, one of the first things I ask is can we get a good source of the bacteria? Will it be consistent with what is causing the problem? Also, I need to be assured before I start any new scent detection project that the sniffing will not harm the dog. I hope to be able to obtain some grant money to continue researching the effectiveness of dogs in helping to isolate this bacteria. In the meantime, I will continue to learn as much as I can about it before I ever begin to teach a dog to sniff for it.

I know the average person does not want to spend time reading through very long, dry, and often complex scientific papers to extract a few pearls of facts to use to improve their dogs’ lives and training. However, you can take away from science a few things when training your dog, regardless of what you are training for.

  1. Scientists are good observers and look at all angles of their subject. Watch your dog and observe what he does on his own. What makes him happy? How does he entertain himself? How is it different when you are in the picture?
  2. Don’t keep doing things that don’t work. If you are in a training program and your dog’s behavior is getting worse or he is extremely unhappy, stop and re-assess.
  3. Don’t be afraid to test a theory out, but get all your facts first. Ask for help from more knowledgeable people if you are out of your comfort zone.
  4. Show respect for the work of others, but keep things in context. Not all methods of training work with all dogs or breeds—and you have to keep that in mind. Most trainers are honest and will tell you they don’t work with certain breeds or with dogs that are not, for example, food motivated. Also don’t mix methods and expect good results.
  5. Build on the work of others, but remember to share what you discover so the process can continue to grow for the good of our dogs.

Enjoy your summer with your dog(s) and remember to watch for signs of dehydration and heat stroke. Stay cool!

Arthur Jr sleeping

[1]Just one example recently published is:



Mothers and Messages

Happy Mothers Day to all the ladies who read this blog.

This Mothers Days was very special for me as my favorite Labrador, Cookie, had a picture perfect delivery of ten healthy puppies. She was kind enough to finish up about an hour before I was to catch a plane, so while I was upset at leaving her at least I did not have to worry about her delivery while I was gone. I left on time for my seminar with Natural Pets Dog Training in Lafayette Indiana. This seminar, hosted by Natural Pets Nutrition and Dog Training, was packed full of information with a series of speakers in addition to my presentation on Medical alert dogs. One of the bonuses of the weekend was a private tour of person in front of sign for Wolf ParkWolf Park about 15 minutes north of Lafayette.   This sanctuary for wolves was started by the late Purdue University researcher Dr. Erich Klinghammer, and continues today as a primary study and educational outreach center on wolves.
I was fortunate to be able to talk to Patricia Goodman, one of the senior investigators who have been at Wolf Park for over 40 years. Pat is a wealth of knowledge on the ethology of wolves and I found her discussion on this topic as well as canid behavior very enlightening. For those not familiar with the science of ethology it is considered the objective study of animal behavior under as natural conditions as possible. There is also I learned a component looking at how this helps the species in evolutionary adaptation. The main thing is ethologists do not try to interpret what the behaviors mean, they simply observe and record. These observations are collected into Ethograms and it from these records that later analysis is done.

This is different from what you find most dog trainers doing, which is behaviorism. Behaviorism looks at the same thing but the focus is on trained behaviors and in more of a controlled setting. There is no attention on evolutionary adaptation in this case.

There is great value to everyone who deals with animals of any kind in knowing what their behaviors mean. It is only through the observations of these behaviors that we learn about our animal friends. What I personally found of particular value was a story shared about an incident with a visitor and two of the wolves.

A young visiting high school student was allowed to go into the pen to visit the wolves with 2 senior staff present. The pack consisted of the alpha male and alpha female, 2 other young female wolves and three littermates who were about nine months old. These wolves had been hand raised by humans except for the two young females who avoided humans. A male came up to her and started to play. The young girl was playing back and it appeared that all was friendly as all signs of the wolf’s behavior was that of what we dog people would call a “play” bow. During this interaction one of the non-hand raised female wolves started to circle behind the young visitor when one of the senior staff noticed this and called out to the girl to watch out behind her. At that very opportune moment when she turned her attention away, the male wolf leaped up and attacked the girl, biting her in the knee. The girl turned around and faced the male who backed off and the staff was able to get her out of there. Her injury was not serious.

Does this sudden change from play to attack sound familiar to some of you dog trainers that are dealing with agadult bisongressive dogs? You think that the dogs are playing but are they really? In this case, the conclusion was that the male wolf was not playing at all, but rather was testing the young visitor and waiting for his opportunity to attack. In fact as our group toured around we discovered a herd of bison on the farm, where investigators have allowed the wolves to approach the healthy bison in order to observe hunting behaviors. Wolves do not attack healthy strong bison, this has been well documented in their wild state; they go rather for the weaker of the animals in a herd. What the ethologists have observed is the same type bowing behavior in front of the bison, as was witnessed with the young visitor in the story above. It is felt this is really indicative of a ready stance, not a “play” bow, and is more of a test of whomever the wolf is facing, to see if they are strong or weak and whether there is an opportunity to attack.

What is interesting to me is the sudden change in the wolf’s behavior from play to aggression. I have seen this in dogs but unfortunately did not have video rolling at the time as the wolf park people did (they always have a video going when people are in with the wolves) but I suspect there were probably subtle cues from the dogs as well. As I have been talking to quite a few trainers these past weeks I am hearing more about aggression issues with our dogs. This makes me wonder about the underlying causes. Could it be the same as the wolves; are the dogs testing whomever they are “play” bowing to and were not really “playing” at all?

Some people have suggested that breeders are not being as careful with the temperament considerations when breeding and there is a decline in stability of temperament due to that. This is certainly a real possibility but cannot explain all of the issues.

Others have suggested that increased stressors in our modern environment are taking their toll on the temperaments of the dogs especially the family pet. Dogs are increasingly left alone for long periods of time, have less physical exercise and outlets for their natural activities and are under more pressure to be on their best behavior all the time with less time to just be able to act like a dog. This too is a real possibility that could contribute to increased aggressive behaviors.

What the wolf project has shown, is not until behavior is properly analyzed can any interpretation be offered. Far too often dog owners and even trainers are too quick to jump to conclusions about the cause of a particular behavior of a dog, especially when it deals with aggression at any level.

So perhaps we can take a clue here and make sure we understand what signals are dogs are giving us, learn how to give cut off signals, and give clear messages ourselves to our dogs so there is no misunderstanding of our intent.