Zen and The Art of Soup

In the 80’s there was an oil painter on PBS named Helen Van Wyk… yes, believe it or not, there were other TV oil painters besides the iconic Bob Ross. Van Wyk specialized in still life and portraits, but she was also interesting to listen to. What stood out to me was the signature tagline she said at the end of each show. She’d tell you what the next episode would be about and then say, “Or, I will teach you how to make soup.” I always took it to mean that blending colors is analogous to blending flavors, some being stronger than others. Perhaps she saw soup differently. Either way, that phrase stuck with me since I was a child, only to resurface 40 years later while wandering down this rabbit hole to seek a better understanding of how chemicals in a dog’s brain react to various types of training, which I will elaborate on in a moment…so hold that thought!

Dog Emotions and Doggy Motions

Dogs share many of the same emotions we do, we just communicate them differently. For example, a human may express happiness through words, smiles, and laughter, whereas a dog will use body language in a series of touches, licks, jumps, wiggles, and of course, wagging that highly specialized conveyor of emotion, the tail. 

But where do emotions come from? What makes us feel emotion? How can we help dogs and ourselves feel natural and calm in a chaotic world? 

My hope is to shed light, albeit a relatively minuscule and humble light, on what may be the most massive elephant in the room when it comes to dog training and human/dog relationships.  The Brain.

How do you see a dog? 

Over thousands of years, individuals, civilizations, and cultures have viewed dogs through different lenses. Some say dogs are “man’s best friend.” Some consider them a triumph in domestication and utility. On the other side, there are people who see them as dirty parasites that can bite you while others see them as just simple animals, beneath humans. Depending on the lens a dog is seen through, a concept of dog relationship emerges and a respective type of dog training evolves. Dog training is a history of extremes, ranging from purely positive reward-based methods on one side to tragic and methodical abuse on the other.

I have never rushed to label my training style. One might say it is relationship based, but really I just have a single goal and it’s a simple one: I want a calm dog.  The tricky thing about calmness is that to achieve it you have to be aware of the things that calmness is not, and then stop doing those non-calm things. Another way is to continue doing those non-calm things until you exhaust yourself, collapse into a heap, and finally realize calm.  

With that said, if calmness is the absence of action and reaction then we need to know what causes us to act and react in the first place. For that, we look to the following:

Instincts are hardwired actions and reactions to the survival of a species. They include the instinct to seek food, avoid danger (fight or flight), reproduce, care for the young, and form social groups.  

Emotions are complex internal feelings that come from thoughts, experiences, and associations. It is debated as to how many emotions there really are but for the sake of this writing, we will consider the basic 6 emotions of Happiness, Sadness, Anger, Fear, Disgust, and Surprise. All six are believed to be felt by both humans and dogs.

Behaviors are the observable expression of emotions and instincts. Going back to our happy dog example, the dog feels happy emotions when seeing someone, and the behavior is wagging the tail. 

While instincts, emotions, and behaviors are distinct from one another they all share a fascinating commonality. Chemicals! Specifically, neurotransmitters and hormones. In order for Instincts to be acted upon, Emotions to be felt, and Behaviors to be observed, they all rely on specific chemical messengers released at just the right moment. The chemicals can influence emotion and behavior. Fun fact! Dogs and humans have the same neurochemicals.

So what does this have to do with Dog Training?  

Well… quite a bit.  Every style of dog training past and present, from positive to negative, humane to inhumane, are all working with emotions and neurochemicals flowing through a dog’s nervous system whether the trainer is aware of it or not.  

But before we get lost in the weeds, I want to focus on just two polarities found in the dog training world, the sensation of Pleasure and Pain. For ages, humans have been using these two polarities to train dogs. Some are all pleasure (reward), some use pain (punishment), and some use a combination of the two. However, none of these methods realizes the kind of dog that I want. A calm dog.  

Let’s consider the extreme results of pleasure and pain. If we go to extreme pleasure we see addiction, which is a loss of self-control and anything but calm. If we go to extreme pain we see aversion, which is fear and aggression, once again…not a calm state. So where can calm be found? I would say it is found in the absence of both. The moment we move away or towards anything we begin to move away from calm.  

In the case of dog training, we must first observe the dog and the environment they are in. While the dog may be reacting to various things around them, we cannot help them achieve calm by introducing even more stimuli from our own hands. 

One of my favorite zen quotes is “Muddy water, let stand, becomes clear.” – Lao Tzu.  

Or, as Alan Watts put it, Muddy water is best cleared by leaving it alone.”  

So what does this have to do with soup?

Imagine a bowl of soup. With this bowl of soup, you can add various flavors (spices) to increase its taste. But here is the tricky thing about soup… you can’t simply remove a flavor once it’s been added. You can try to balance by adding other ingredients, but it can never go back to the way it was before. Once it is in there…it’s in there. If you continuously seesaw between ingredients you risk making the soup inedible. You can also try adding a neutral ingredient like water to thin out the flavor…but your soup bowl is only so big. The moral of the story… know your ingredients, don’t add something you can’t take out, and don’t rush… good soup is best prepared over time.

With the soup analogy visualized, let’s consider a dog’s mind. At any point in time, our dog’s brain is automatically responding to its environment by releasing various different ingredients (flavors) into its mental soup bowl. We have no control over that, we also don’t have a complete picture of exactly what emotions are being felt and when. With those limitations understood… What kind of ingredients would you add? Pleasure, Pain, or Neutral?

When training dogs, one should avoid adding even a drop of pain or fear into the soup by their own hand. If a dog is already reacting aggressively because it is afraid or lacks confidence the last thing one should do is punish it for reacting, which only adds more fear. They already have those ingredients in their soup! That’s like trying to reduce saltiness by adding more salt!  On the other side, I would avoid shoveling treats down their throat in hopes that pure pleasure will somehow distract from the pain. It may seem to create a positive effect in the short term, but all it is really creating is an addiction. So what is the great neutralizer?

Time. (I know… nobody likes that answer…)

Time heals what reason cannot – Seneca the Younger

Behavioral problems do not happen overnight and do not go away overnight. A dog stuck in a neurochemical whirlpool can be a sad, confusing, and frustrating thing to watch. It is hard for pet parents to see the way out when they are desperate for calm. It tends to lead folks towards avoiding many environments altogether, which is a lonely place to be. 

The good news is that dogs want to return to calm, they want the mud to settle and they want to live an engaging life in the world with you. But we must slow down, observe our dogs, and be mindful of the environments we are placing them in. We can’t change the world to prevent our dogs from reacting to it, but we can change how we introduce them to the world. 

Like soup… like painting… it’s an art.


All written content is Human Generated/ All images are A.I. Generated

Your Dog’s Predatory Nature

One aspect of dog training I love is the opportunity to work with many different types of dogs.  Every dog has a unique story, but they all have something in common…the remnants of their ancestor’s predatory instinct. 

Wolves and other canids have what is called a Predatory Motor Pattern, which goes as follows: 

  • ORIENT (sniff out the prey)
  • EYE  (get prey to freeze in place)
  • STALK (slowly approach to get closer and gain advantage)
  • CHASE (exhaust prey to collapse)
  • GRAB-BITE (catch prey)
  • KILL-BITE (kill prey)
  • DISSECT (underbelly
  • CONSUME (organs are consumed first because they are most nutritious)

This pattern has been essential to survival for hundreds of thousands of years. Like dominoes, ‘Orient’ naturally triggers the next step in the sequence until prey is caught and ‘Consumed’. If they fail to catch any prey then the process starts again. The success rate for wolves, by the way, is about 15%

Then modern humans came along

Over the past 14 thousand years, humans have been MANipulating this Predatory Motor Pattern to create various types of dogs for multiple types of jobs.  In typical human fashion, we favored some aspects over others. For instance:

  • Hunters wanted a dog to ORIENT > EYE > STALK > CHASE > GRAB-BITE. But stop at KILL-BITE
  • Shepherds wanted a dog to ORIENT > EYE > STALK. But stop at CHASE.
  • People with a rat problem wanted a dog that loved to GRAB-BITE and KILL-BITE all day long.

However, in today’s world

Most folks simply want a companion, a goodwill ambassador to walk beside them calmly through life, and by all means…forgo the KILL BITE!

That said, being a companion and goodwill ambassador in today’s world could be the most challenging job yet because all dogs still have this powerful sequence firmly in their DNA. Just ask any squirrel… they know your dog!

Photo by Marcin Wojna

Drive, Persistence, and Doggedness

Every part of this Predatory Motor Pattern needs energy to fuel the sequence and in dog training, we call that force Drive.

Drive describes a dog’s persistence. Depending on where that drive is focused begets a certain type of dog.  

  • Hounds are more driven to ORIENT(sniffing) and CHASE. 
  • Herding dogs are more driven to EYE and STALK. 
  • Retrievers are more driven to CHASE and GRAB-BITE (softly) 
  • Terriers are all about that KILL BITE, just watch a Yorkie shake a toy to death and dissect for the coveted squeaker.
  • Supermutts could have the entire sequence or any combination thereof.

Humans did not train any particular instinct into or out of the dog. Certain parts of the Predatory Motor Pattern were altered by selectively breeding dogs with heightened drive energy in desired parts of the sequence. The best sniffer/chasers were bred with other good sniffer/chasers and Hounds came into being. The best Eye/Stalkers were bred with other good Eye/Stalkers and Herding Dogs came into being. I really oversimplified this process, but that’s a general concept and for the most part, it was successful!  Right?

Well, we now have a bit of a problem

We now have various types of specialized dogs with massive drive energy flowing through incomplete Predatory Motor Patterns and very few jobs available for which they were specifically designed. If you think that sounds frustrating, you’re right! A dog is happiest when it is living out its purpose and we must provide our dogs with the opportunity to exercise their specific purpose. In short…it’s their mental health.

Now I’m not proposing owners of terriers buy rats for disembowelment fun, but we should consider their needs in regard to how and why we play/train with our dogs. Below are some common games and toys we already use that can satiate each aspect of the Predatory Motor Pattern. Which ones does your dog naturally gravitate toward?

ORIENT: Sniffing new territories. Hide and Seek. Find It games hiding treats or toys.

EYE:  Eye contact exercises with treats and toys as well as incorporating eye contact into your training and playing. Socializating with other dogs and people.

STALK:  Dogs will sometimes play this with other dogs, but we can also incorporate a favorite toy that a dog has to ‘wait’ to pounce on. Flirt Pole. 

CHASE:  Fetch and retrieve, lure sport, frisbee, and Flirt Pole. Dogs will also play chase with other dogs.

GRAB-BITE:  Fetch, tug-o-war, stuffed toys, tennis ball.  Chew toys that offer resistance. Flirt Pole.  (I prefer this to be played in a specific context with the OUT command)

KILLBITE:  Plush toys with squeakers.  Toys that can be shaken and thrashed. (I prefer this to be played in a specific context with the OUT command)

DISSECT:  Toys that can be torn apart to remove the squeaker. Sticks, uncooked bones, antlers, animal part treats, and Kongs. (Monitor your dog if they tend to consume sticks and plastic. Dogs should also be positively conditioned to not be possessive)

CONSUME:  Find it games with treats and Kongs with food.  

Your dog may like to play specific games over others and that is OK!  Most likely they have a partial Predatory Motor Pattern.  My dog Belle for instance loves to ORIENT (sniff), CHASE (frisbee and balls), and DISSECT (remove squeakers from plush toys).  She is a hound mix and chasing squirrels and rabbits is her nature. 

People who enjoy dog sports, agility, and protection dog competitions, are more likely to prefer a higher drive dog for better performance.  I am the opposite, I typically want to use up drive energy as soon as I see it build, which I feel makes for a calmer, everyday dog.

A dog’s Predatory Motor Pattern cannot be trained out of a dog, nor should we try. It is literally what makes a dog a dog. I seek to reduce the energy that fuels the Predatory Motor Pattern by providing mentally stimulating situations to exhaust drive energy as efficiently as possible.

A tired dog is a happy dog and that makes for a happy human.

The Velociraptor Phase

For those of you with a puppy, considering a puppy, or had a puppy no doubt you have come across a meme that looks something like this. 

It may even be breed specific like this one for the Weimaraner…

Or this one for the Poodle…


And if you think it only applies to large breeds here is one for the Gentleman’s dog …the Boston Terrier…

Turns out this meme is used with just about every breed.  The months when the velociraptor comes out and the duration of its wrath may vary with the breed or type of dog.  A Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, for instance, may be very mild while a Belgian Malinois is just plain terrifying if you are not expecting it.

The velociraptor is a fun way to describe the not-so-fun parts of puppyhood which are the teeth and chewing. It’s almost a cruel joke of nature to create something that is absolutely adorable yet armed with the sharpest teeth on the planet.

So, what is this Velociraptor Phase and why do puppies and adolescent dogs go through it?  In short… they are learning. The curious mind of a puppy aggressively seeks to learn as much as they can while developing mentally at light speed. Evolution dictates that a puppy’s survival depends on it.

When we consider a young canid in the wild, anything and everything is available to chew on. Sticks, feathers, stones, dirt, animal skins, other puppies, and of course mom and dad’s ears and tails, are all up for grabs.  A dog’s main source of learning is through smell and when something is crunched in the mouth it releases even more flavor and scent. All of this intense learning occurs outside and the availability of these experiences is virtually endless.  New scents, tastes, and textures are everywhere to tease out the curious nature of a young pup’s mind.

Photo by Daniel Lincoln

This story has been replayed for hundreds of thousands of years in the wild, however, the concept of dogs living within four walls, a roof, and most importantly locked doors, might as well have happened just yesterday on the evolutionary scale of things.  While many dogs are quite happy to live indoors with us, they have to become conditioned to the concept, while at the same time being sure they are given ample opportunity to feed their voracious appetite to learn and explore.

Since we do not have the vast abundance of nature in our homes, all of our possessions inside are susceptible to a velocipuppy’s energy.  The problem is, unlike nature which heals over chew marks and embraces destruction and decay as part of a harmonic balance, our homes and the possessions therein are hoped to be preserved for as long as possible.  And while WE may know that, a puppy’s DNA does not understand and frankly, doesn’t care. Puppy energy is going to be expressed whether they are inside or outside. Nothing can stop it and nor should you try because the energy will simply redirect to something else like your arms, legs, and hands. The answer is found in the exploration of new and novel places.

When a puppy is outside and gets bored with a stick, it will go to the leaf, then the insect, then the blade of grass, then another puppy, then eat some dirt, then another stick, then a bone. Each interaction with these objects are not very long, because they are quickly distracted by the next new thing. Comparatively, the inside of our home can only offer a few things to explore in this way. Given that this energy must be expressed completely, it starts to become what we see as destructive.  Outside, chewing on a stick is not destructive, but that same energy applied to our couch is. 

A multi-billion dollar industry has sprouted from this dilemma in the form of dog toys and chews. However, no toy can hold a candle to being outside, exploring new scents, and having experiences in new territory.

The best part…these experiences are free, they just require our time.

Photo by Jamie Street

Your Dog can help with that New Year’s Resolution!

As the New Year approaches many will entertain the time-honored tradition of making New Year’s Resolutions. I wondered who started this practice thinking it was a relatively recent phenomenon but it is actually quite old.  Apparently, the first people to make New Year Resolutions were the Babylonians over  4000 years ago… and I would surmise they were the first to break resolutions too.  For kicks, I googled some of the classic resolutions that most people make, and these seem to be the most common.

Photo By Fabien Gieske

Your standard out-of-the-box New Years Resolutions:

  1. Exercise more
  2. Get organized
  3. Get more sleep
  4. Learn a new skill or hobby 
  5. Live life to the fullest
  6. Save more money / spend less money
  7. Spend more time with family and friends
  8. Less time on the phone
  9. Travel more
  10. Read more books

Just looking at this list I know I have fallen off the Resolution Wagon on just about all of these at one time or another, although I like to think I routinely “live life to the fullest” depending on my caffeine intake.  I still need to exercise more, I still have a stack of books that need to be read, my phone gets way more attention than it deserves, and our camping gear collected a little more dust inside the house than out on the trail this year. 

For many of us, we lose sight of our optimistic goals because well…. I’ll let Jeff Goldblum finish the thought…

It may feel so difficult to keep resolutions that you wish you had a personal coach to keep you on track.  Might I suggest you already have someone in your home right now!  Your dog!  

Dogs are lovers of routine and are better at being consistent than we are. Their level of persistence and dogged determination is unrivaled.  So why not incorporate your dog into your New Year’s resolution?

Let’s take a gander at that list again and see how our dogs can help us out

Exercise more:  Dog walks are a great way to start a new health routine and don’t require a gym membership!

Get Organized: Dogs are fascinated by the stuff we drag out from cluttered closets and garages.

Get More Sleep:  Belle has her place at the foot of our bed and is always ready for a snooze.  She is a great foot warmer.

Learn a New Skill or Hobby: Practice a new routine with your dog. There is always something new that can be learned by you both. Feel free to be a goofball, develop your own dance or create a new game.

Live Life to the Fullest:  Your dog has got your back and will happily show you how it is done every day.  Be present in the moment!

Photo by Chewy

Save More Money/Spen….: Ok your dog may not help you that much here, however, you are saving money on that Gym Membership by walking the dog!

Spend More Time with Family and Friends: Dogs are family and they want to be with you 25 hours a day.

Less Time on the Phone:  Your dog will happily absorb that spare time.  Granted you may feel inclined to post pics of your dog on social media.

Travel More: Heck yeah! Some of my most memorable adventures have been on road trips with Belle.

Read More Books:  If it involves sitting on the couch, then your dog is all about it.


Don’t let distractions trip you up!

Our lives are filled with many mini-distractions that come at us from all directions.  Your dogs may even put themselves between you and the distraction, demanding your attention!

Most important of all is to be kind to yourself if you get off track. Many of our best intentions are canceled before we even start because we “think” about it. Don’t overthink it, better yet, don’t think at all and just start.  Perhaps “Being more Spontaneous” can be number 11 on the list and with that, Dogs can support us there too.

Be well everyone. I wish you all the best of health, peace, and prosperity in the New Year!

Advanced Training~The Long-Down-Stay

In this video, Belle performs a Long Down Stay in a natural setting. This area offers plenty of distractions with squirrels, scents, birds, etc but we ask for Belle to forget all that and just stay in place until I return. This is a more advanced exercise that comes after we complete the basics of Socialization, Conditioning, and basic obedience commands. It is also important to practice our training in the real world, but in safe environments, outside of our homes and backyards. This is what we call proofing our training. Backyards and training in the house are great for learning a new concept, but the real test comes when we are able to perform in the real world, with all of its distractions.

Don’t get in a Rut Roh!

20220812_114542Everyone benefits from a routine and our dogs are no exception.  Dogs may even know our daily routine better than we do!  They wake up in the morning, watch us get ready for the day, see us check our phone… and stay on our phone…and stay on our phone…probably saying, “Dang what is up with the phone!”, and then FINALLY we grab the leash and go!   Granted a dog may not have an internal dialog, but the observations made by our dogs have a building effect over time.  My Belle, for instance, will bump her cold nose on my leg as a reminder to keep me moving in the right direction in the morning in case I get sidetracked.  Granted, I am well aware of her need to go out, but I totally understand her feelings.  If I were her I would do the same thing! 

Each step in our daily patterns is a series of links that occur before we even put the leash on. One step begets the next, until we have the moment when the desired experience has been reached. Over time dogs begin to anticipate what will happen on a walk and depending on past experience can become either jubilant, hyper, hesitant, or even defensive… and we haven’t even gone out the door yet. For instance, if our dog’s daily walk involves passing that one neighbor who’s dog barks viciously at everyone who passes by, then over time our dogs can come to expect it and some may seek ways to cope through tension, which if left unresolved can be expressed defensively, aggressively, or wanting to avoid it altogether.  On the other hand, if going out the door results in getting in the car to get some coffee and a puppachino, then that becomes an expectation, which builds excitement and positive anticipation.  


  The regular morning outing is a definite routine for many dogs, where the favorite bush is sniffed and re-marked, the same tree is checked for the squirrel, and then it’s back home to eat breakfast and fall asleep again! However, we should check every now and then to make sure we are not getting into a rut of the same ole same ole that becomes boring for us and our dogs. 


So shake things up with new small adventures!  Remember, dogs are hardwired to seek.  They get excited by what is new and adventurous.   A simple drive to a coffee shop and a walk downtown can be an adventure in and of itself.  Walking around the gas station after filling up the gas tank has a mind-blowing amount of smells and experiences.  We don’t have to search far to find interesting new things.   

Instead of the usual walk in the neighborhood, take a different path, go down the cul-de-sac you usually pass by, or better yet get in the car and drive to a new walking location altogether.  Even including them when taking the trash to the curb can be something new in the daily routine that is different and interesting. It is something you are doing together and that builds rapport and connection between you both. Finding ways to include your dog in the small adventures of your life will create new opportunities for interest and confidence, preparing you both for even bigger adventures down the road!IMG_20211210_124155_922


Being non-reactive to wildlife

Clouds are rolling in the distance and a whispering breeze smells of rain. A young male deer is relaxing downwind from Belle, but I doubt we would stir him if he caught our scent. These deer live in an urban paradise of slow traffic and well-manicured gardens, full of food, tended by gardeners who mumble about them under their breath. Belle definitely smells him though and if she were to chase after him he would most certainly leap away with his tail in the air. I told Belle to down and wait. Allowing a moment of calm to happen then called her towards me so we could walk on. At first, I was speaking a bit too quiet for Belle to hear me clearly, but once she did, she calmly gets up and walks away then gives me a look for confirmation. I give her a pat on the side for a job well done. Hounds were bred for endless chases and it takes work to blunt this drive, but it can be done. I am not a hunter by any means. If I shoot anything, it’s with a camera. But if I were to hunt, I would not aim for this result. Hounds were developed for massive energy to exhaust their quarry, run it up a tree, and tell the hunter where they are with endless loud bays that can be heard for miles.. However, more hounds are finding their way to suburban neighborhoods and cities and will never be on a hunt, So we must help condition them to be less reactive to this innate drive, for their safety and the owner’s sanity.

Top 4 questions asked by New Puppy Owners

Having a puppy is a special, but usually rare event in most people’s lives and because of that, it is easy to forget how much work they can be. Puppies conjure a unique mixture of emotions that range from total delight to abject exasperation, all while simply being themselves. I’ve had the privilege to work with numerous families and their puppies, and over time, I’ve noticed a trend in common questions or concerns when people call me for help. Here are the top 4.271494642_618640515877690_5245364180484836674_n

Where does all this energy come from? This question is usually followed up with “What was I thinking?”  Make no bones about it…puppies are work. And if it feels like you are hitting the ground running when you get one, it’s because you are.  One day you are enjoying a peaceful morning, quietly drinking your coffee…the next day you have a very persistent puppy ready to take on the world and blow up your Instagram feed (see my other blog post about the persistent nature of dogs). It doesn’t matter if they were free (by the way, there’s no such thing as a “free puppy”) or if they come from the most touted bloodlines, they all require a lot of consistent effort and time on your part to give them the best possible foundation in life.  I still marvel at how a little ball of fluff (with teeth) can turn our lives upside down AND it’s only been on the planet for a few months!

While there are countless writings on how to puppy proof your home, I think the most important thing is to prepare yourself mentally.  Puppy development is a marathon not a sprint. While we can easily get caught up in cuteness, we must remember that a puppy is only a puppy for a relatively short period of time. Some behaviors may be cute at 10 pounds, but will it still be cute at 80 pounds?  In the end, we are creating a well developed ADULT dog.  The adult dog is what you will be living with for a very long time.  When it comes to puppy development I consider both the physical and mental needs of your puppy while building it’s character and strengthening the bond between you. The time and effort you put in with your puppy will pay dividends for the rest of its life. 

When do I start basic obedience?  First, we should differentiate between obedience training and socialization and conditioning. Obedience training is mechanical, in that you give a command to perform a certain action and the dog “obeys.” Socialization and conditioning are providing safe and positive experiences, both natural and manmade, so they are less reactive to the world at large. Given a choice, most people simply want a calm, non-reactive, easy going dog and can forgive not having a perfect sit/down/stay. Overly structured “obedience training” during a young pup’s life can even risk setting a puppy back during key developmental stages.  This is why I am pro socialization and conditioning. 

When it comes to socialization, anything and everything is an experience: people, dogs, turtles, cars, trash, pinecones, statues, trees, different kinds of foods, bikes,you name it. Every experience provides another valuable piece towards shaping your dog. Many experiences are not planned. You may be on a walk and  something surprises you and your puppy. Learning how to correctly communicate with your puppy during moments of stress helps build trust and rapport between you both, which in the end, helps build your puppy’s character. My daily motto for a puppy is “What new thing can my puppy experience today?” Keeping in mind that while something may not be new to us, it is VERY new to them. Allow your puppy’s curiosity to be the guide to new things, on their terms, and you will both be richer for it.


Why so many teeth and when does the chewing stop?  Before there were dog toys, there were sticks, feathers, animal skins, bones, and other puppies to chew on. Anything and everything was up for grabs. However, in our modern, indoor worlds, puppies have to learn that we humans see things differently. We have expensive furniture, rugs, hardwood floors, pillows, TV remotes, clothing, shoes, and Roombas, and all of it is off limits for chewing. So we must remain mindful of this, be vigilant, and practice patient redirection of this very innate behavior towards more appropriate items. Once the baby teeth are out, around 8 to 9 months of age, much of the irritation that drives a puppy to chew will have dissipated. That said if a dog is chewing in a more destructive manner, we must look for the cause of this behavior and make adjustments where necessary.  


When will my puppy stop using my house as a toilet?  You will feel like you are going outside with your puppy all the time. Puppies and adult dogs prefer a companion to be near them when pooping because they are vulnerable in the pooping position. You are basically their lookout. So it is better to go outside with them rather than waiting at the door to let them back in.  Puppies also have small bladders which may not be proportional to their size as they grow up, so it takes time for everything to sync up.  

It is worth noting that before living in houses, dogs could “go” anywhere outside, but inside they can’t do any of that. To make it even more confusing, everyone else in the house, including the cat, fish, birds, and hamsters, get to “go” inside the house, but dogs need to take it outside. What’s that all about? So it can take time for puppies to understand the subtleties. Keep in mind that the more your puppy “goes” outside, the more it will want to “go” outside. It is a learning curve for everyone but eventually they do catch on. Be patient and enjoy the fresh air when taking your puppy out.

As I mentioned, these are the four top questions and concerns I seem to have when families welcome a new puppy into their home. Please don’t hesitate to reach out if you have more to discuss on any of these topics, or if you need assistance with anything outside of these issues! I’m always here to help you and your dog.

The Persistent Dog

If you look up the word “dogged”…you will see its very definition is “Unrelenting Persistence.” Some of you are undoubtedly saying with a sigh… “Yep, that is my dog”.  And here is the irony in that…we humans purposely bred for heightened levels of that very trait…persistence…for hundreds if not thousands of years. But first let’s go to where it came from, the wolf.

If you observe wolves hunting large prey, Bison, for instance, they will start by gathering around the herd, almost casually, which in and of itself is unsettling. Then they begin nipping at the heels to spook the herd to run. Once running you will see that the wolves are not trying to catch the prey…but rather just keep up with it enough until the weakest,  oldest, or unluckiest in the herd falls from exhaustion or trips.  An exhausted Bison that is too tired to fight back is less dangerous than one which is well-rested.  A wolf’s survival is fundamentally rooted in being more persistent than its prey.  Our hunter-gatherer ancestors, who most likely scavenged off wolf kills, over time developed hunting techniques of their own by injuring an animal with a rock or spear and then following it until it fell from exhaustion. We too had to out persist what we wanted to obtain. 

Persistence is a phenomenon found everywhere in nature.  The grass in your lawn is persistent, the dandelion growing in the sidewalk crack is persistent, water in a stream is persistently eroding rock…termites are persistently chewing wood, mosquitos are persistent, everything is persistent. In short, you must persist to exist.   

When humans realized the unrelenting persistence of the canid, it was quickly put to work helping us not only survive but thrive. As a hunter-gatherer we wanted a hound to hunt and bay all day, chasing its quarry to absolute exhaustion. As we became farmers we wanted a Shepherd Dog to stay vigilant and protect the flock while the Herding Dog was to tirelessly gather the animals and drive them to various locations.   As we grew into towns and cities, so grew the rat population and that gave birth to the Terrier, which was bred to be a tenacious rat killing machine. Even the fluffy toy breeds had jobs in the vermin department as well as being sentry dogs with a keen sense of hearing to alert the bigger dogs of possible intruders, hence the yappiness. However, as human ingenuity advanced at record speed, we entered a new epoch in the long history of humans and dogs.

Almost overnight, we have taken away many of the jobs respective breeds were designed for.  We as a species went from nomadic hunter-gatherers to farmers, to city-dwellers, and now we enter a world of Artificial Intelligence and Virtual Reality.  Hunting, by and large, has been relegated from “need” to “hobby”, which means less need for hunting hounds, spaniels, and setters. Technology has radically changed farming/ranching and while small family and hobby farms exist, the need for massive flock protectors has been greatly reduced compared to the population of various herding breeds we have today.  The rat-killing terriers have been replaced by mouse traps and poisons. Security systems and guns have replaced the need for heavily muscled protection dogs to guard homes and businesses.  So while yes there are fanciers and purest who still use specific breeds for the job intended, most are not…and this is creating a bit of a conundrum.  We, humans, have collectively pivoted as a species into a world of visually dominant technology where dogs can’t go and frankly…don’t want to go. We have taken hundreds of years worth of selective breeding, directing a dog’s persistent nature for various channels of work, only to do a complete halt and say… “Now be a good lap dog and watch funny dog videos on Facebook with me”.  Don’t get me wrong…I love a funny dog video as much as the next guy.  But my dog Belle couldn’t care less about that and will prod me with her nose to put down the phone, step away from the computer, and walk with her outside, persistently!  Her nature must be satisfied or else there will be distress. It is just that simple.

There are a number of causes for behavioral problems in dogs, whether it be past trauma, illness, or lack of socialization as a puppy… but a dog’s persistent nature, not being satisfied, is a big one.   While we all can’t go to the store and buy a herd of sheep for our Border Collie to chase,  a box of rats for our Yorkie to kill, or shoot some ducks from the apartment balcony for our Labradors to retrieve, we can still satisfy their nature. How you ask?

Say hello to the Cold Wet Nose! Yes, that thing we like to boop. A dog’s brain is heavily wired to the nose.  I would go so far as to say that a dog’s brain gathers more information through smelling than all of our human senses combined.  We must keep in mind that dogs do more than just run through the countryside, they methodically examine the world in great detail and with great persistence through the nose.  Allowing a dog to smell the environment is more important than walking great distances.  We must mentally tire our dogs! I want my dog to stop and sniff and take all the time she needs. This is why I am so passionate about exploring the world with our dogs, incorporating them into our lives outside the home. I want to help people and dogs have the confidence to explore the world around them together. 

It is truly wonderful we have reached a point where dogs are living inside our homes by the fire as members of our family. However, there has been a plot twist! The dogs we let inside our homes are pulling us back outside, persistently! Dogs have been by our side for over forty thousand years, helping us adapt and advance as a species. Now we are moving into Virtual Worlds, Artificial Intelligence, and Space Tourism and I feel our dogs are helping, once again, by doggedly reminding us, with pluck and enthusiasm…of our own human nature, which is Emotion. I feel the better part of grace is to honor this history we have with dogs and allow their well-developed persistence to wander in a fresh direction, a direction towards the mutual advancement of our mental, emotional, and physical health, as well as the preservation of the natural world from which we both came.

Rethinking the Dog Walk.

Walking with dogs started out many thousands of years ago… not as a chore, but for our mutual survival. Just as the coyote learned to listen and follow the raven to find carrion, the domesticated dog’s ancestors learned to follow us in the hunt and scavenge off the waste we left behind. It is also very easy to speculate that our ancient ancestors followed wild canids as they went on the hunt and scavenged off of them. Thus symbiosis occurred and a deal was struck to secure each other’s survival. However, there has been a drastic change to this arrangement.

We, by and large, lost touch with our wildness. We “evolved” (I use that term loosely) favoring a grid system of city block sidewalks over winding dirt trails with vasculated tree roots… the comfy chair, inside a large conditioned box, overexposure to the natural elements. All this change happened rather quickly and recently in the timeline of our relationship. While we are enjoying our “progress” (also using that term loosely) our dogs are saying, “Not so fast…this was not part of the deal we made!” Although our dogs appreciate the shelter, food, and free health care, they didn’t sign up for being in the house all the time with the only outdoors being just the backyard. Dogs live by the motto of Auntie Mame, “Life is a banquet, and most poor suckers are starving to death!”

Wild canids can have exceptionally large ranges. The wolf can cover a range of 50 square miles or more depending on prey populations and can travel up to 30 miles a day. A coyote can range between 5-15 square miles and travel 3-4 miles in a day. Foxes tend to stay within a 3-4 mile territory. Feral Dog ranges vary widely in size and can be influenced by the availability of food. Feral dog packs primarily dependent on garbage may remain in the immediate vicinity of a dump, while other packs depending on livestock or wild game may forage over an area of 50 square miles or more.

I give these examples of canine ranges to make a case for walking our dogs and exploring new territories. Our domesticated dogs, no matter the type have the same DNA hardwiring in their brain. The drive to explore, smell, and cover territory is critical to a dog’s mental health. Roaming is their nature and linked to feeling complete. A purpose full-filled. New and novel smells are what makes life interesting for a dog. It is literally Doggy News. When we confine our dogs to the indoors, or just the back yard, their territory is completely saturated in just their scent. It would be the equivalent of looking on your phone to read todays news, and all you see is a picture of your own face!

While this post is making a case for walking the dog, I am also making the case for our own well being. I remember when I went for my physical shortly after Belle came into the picture. The doctor asked me the usual questions along with, “Are there any new changes in your life”. I mentioned having a dog again and he made a note of it in his records. It dawned on me then that having a dog was seen as a positive impact medically. In prior visits he would tell me I should lose 10 pounds (I think he says that regardless) and while I never enjoyed jogging and repetitive exercise, I have always enjoyed hiking and walking. So each day we wander and I make a point to go different routes and change up the scenery for Belle. Belle takes moments to catch up on her pee-mail… I take moments to see new things… and…. I lost that 10 pounds!

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