Monthly Archives: June 2019

Crispness and anxiety: Is there a relationship?

I’m on a roll with this crispness topic!

I have talked about the importance of being crisp in training.  Crispness provides clarity to our dogs which in turn reduces frustration and allows our dogs to feel confident in their situation.   I want my dogs to know when they are working, when they are relaxing and about to work, and when they are not working at all -at which point I want to see them sleeping.

Sleeping in public?  Yes, dogs sleep in public perfectly well – if they know that is expected!   And how does one communicate when it is time to sleep? When dogs know nothing else is going to happen and when they are crated with reduced stimulation (covered) then sleep comes naturally, because that’s what dogs do when nothing is happening!

Crispness in training allows dogs to conserve their energy.  It naturally teaches them to sleep when the time is right for sleeping.

But there’s more to it. In addition to giving you a crisper performance when you are working and helping dogs sleep when there’s no reason to be awake, crispness provides huge emotional benefits as well. Specifically, crispness allows a dog to be mentally calm – clarity provides that.  And the opposite of mentally calm?


I believe we create anxious behavior in our dogs by feeding them randomly and not providing clarity about when they are or are not able to earn reinforcement.  So how might this work?

Well, let’s say you want something.  A lot.  Money! And the person who has the money gives it to you on occasion.  Sometimes you get money for clear and specific behaviors. It is obvious to you! Let’s say you are learning the task of filing.  Every time you file something correctly, you are handed money. Yay!  Your filing skills improve and everyone is happy.

But there’s another thing.  Sometimes you get money when you are waiting at your desk for your turn to file. You look over at your instructor, she smiles, and then she walks over and hands you a dollar. Yay!  So… does that mean that looking at the instructor gets you dollars?!   Maybe, yes!  or…maybe No?   Because often, looking at your instructor does nothing at all.

Being a clever learner, you conclude that it’s more complicated than that. So you start trying stuff out to figure out what causes what.

What happens if you look at your instructor and shift in your chair? Does that earn you a dollar? No! How about if you look at your instructor and then look down at your desk? Does that get you a dollar? Yes! It did. On this occasion.

Okay fine, so now you think looking at the instructor and then down at your desk gets your a dollar. But it doesn’t. You try it out and this time, nothing happens. So you sigh in frustration, mostly because you haven’t decided what to do next and, voilà! A dollar shows up.

So is it looking at the instructor?  Sighing?  Something else? You really want those dollars – you are highly motivated to get them!  And yet, you have absolutely no idea what to do and because you are so motivated, it doesn’t occur to you to take a nap.  You have a puzzle to solve!   And yet, the solution to the puzzle doesn’t exist. It’s random.   But you don’t know that, so your brain works overtime trying to solve it.

The one thing you are not doing is relaxing. Resting. You can’t because you want those dollars and you do not have any clarity about how to get them. And anxious behavior?  Motivation plus lack of clarity creates anxiety.  Or at least contributes greatly in those who are already prone.  Obviously, erratic behavior with our dogs does not always cause anxiety but it sure isn’t going to help in a fragile individual.

Does that describe your dog?   If you have a dog that loves to work, never seems to know he’s “off”, demand barks and offers behaviors at all random times, cannot sleep in a working space and shows anxious behaviors like panting, circling, whining, demand barking, or throwing behaviors within the context of work (crating, working spaces, etc.)  do your dog a kindness and figure out if you’re contributing. Fix it, and see if it allows your dog to relax.

So does this mean all anxiety is caused by our training choices? Of course not. Anxiety has many roots and in some cases, nothing short of medication and serious behavior modification will make a difference, presumably because the dog’s wiring is such that anxiety is the default.  However, kind and supportive structure can be exactly what is needed to prevent problems from showing themselves altogether in an “at risk” individual.

Structure is a good thing. It tells your dog what to expect and when to expect it. It is a kindness and it is highly compatible with choice – which you choose depends on the time and the context and the needs of the dog.

But what if you don’t have a problem?   Your dog works well when you want, rests nicely on a mat, and sleeps in a crate.   Then you can ignore this. You’re doing great!

Give it a shot and let me know what happens.

I’ll teach my “Redefining Leadership” webinar again on August 1.  While not specifically about crispness, you can certainly learn quite a bit about my perspective on the matter.   The webinar will describe structure, choice, and evaluating the correct option for your dog under different circumstances. And yes, crispness is a piece of this puzzle.

Hopefully I’ll see some of you there.  If you want to be notified when it is available for sale, consider signing up for our FDSA newsletter.

The post Crispness and anxiety: Is there a relationship? appeared first on Denise Fenzi's Blog.

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5 Ways to Keep Your Dog Calm on the 4th

(and All Summer Long)

While many of us humans look forward to 4th of July picnics and fireworks, the holiday can be traumatic for our dogs, who typically find the evening’s ear-piercing crashes and booms confusing or downright terrifying.  

And it’s not just festivities on the 4th that make summer a stressful time for dogs. From frequent thunderstorms, trips and visitors to being separated from you when you go away on vacation, there are many reasons our furry friends experience increased anxiety during the summer.

Fortunately, there are some simple, effective ways to soothe your dog’s nerves and keep summer fun for everyone.

1. Stay calm.

Dogs are keen observers of their humans’ behavior, and will pick up on even the slightest change in mood and emotion. While you should try to comfort and reassure your dog, be careful not to overdo it, such that you add to their alarm. Reacting to your dog’s anxiety with nervousness of your own can make the problem worse.

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Doing Time in the Waiting Room

It’s June, and northern California, so we’re here (probably) for a foxtail. My tenant left the side gate to my office/house open, and Odin was out in the (unfenced!) front yard for anywhere from 10 minutes to an hour – grr! I looked up from my computer when I heard the sound of vomiting and glanced around me to find the source of the sound. I simultaneously noticed that Odin was not lying on the office couch with Woody as per usual and that the vomiting sound was coming from the front yard. I stood and looked out the window, and there was Odin, puking on the front lawn.

I went out and called him, and he looked up at me miserably, giving a weak tail wag. “I don’t feel so good!” I brought him in the house and got a fork, with which to poke through the vomit, to try to determine what he ate that was making him throw up. It looked like it was entirely comprised of his breakfast kibble and a lot of grass – fortunately, no sign of rotten things or chicken bones or rat poison. But then, over the next couple of hours, he kept having strange hiccuping sessions, with moments of gagging. It could be that his esophagus is just irritated. Or it could be he has a foxtail stuck in there somehere. Only one way to find out.

You can’t wait with foxtails. The longer the grass awns have been in a dog, whether between his toes or up his nose or down his ear, the more damage they cause. If you can get them out on the first day, the bill will be less. So here we are.

Also here: An old Labrador, lumpy with (presumably, I hope) lipomas. He’s shaking with anxiety and balking a bit, and his owner gives the leash a rough yank. Oh, c’mon. Why do people do that at a time like this?

I watched a lovely black and white Standard Poodle, immaculately groomed. She’s pulling for the front door, and her owner stops for a moment and says something to her in a quiet voice. She immediately stops pulling, circles back to his side, and they resume their walk to the front door at a sedate pace. That’s better.

A lady sits near us, waiting to pick up her dog. Odin strains to reach her, wagging his tail. She smiles and asks if she can pet him. “He’ll jump in your lap!” I warn her, laughing. “He will kiss you on the lips!” He does just that as she giggles and wraps her arms around him in a warm embrace, and he buries his head in her chest. “I have had my rescue dog for six years, and she’s never let me do that!” she exclaims. Wow. I can’t even imagine.

We had a three-hour wait for a room. After observing Odin’s hiccups and hard swallowing, the vet sedated Odin to examine his throat. Four hours and a nap in my car later I picked up a still dopey pup; the vet hadn’t found anything besides irritated tonsils, but at least we know. Life with dogs!

The post Doing Time in the Waiting Room appeared first on Whole Dog Journal.

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Barkwells, Asheville, North Carolina

Asheville is an Appalachian city, not too big and with a progressive and welcoming feel. Best of all, it’s full of dog-friendly places, including Barkwells®, our editors’ pick for best stays. A true dog/human retreat, Barkwells offers fabulous, well-appointed cabins, each with a kitchen and fenced-in yard; the property itself is completely fenced as well. There are lots of opportunities for off-leash socializing, making new friends and taking a plunge in the large pond. There really is no place quite like this. In town, check out Asheville’s dog park, browse along the Urban Trail and, for longer hikes, explore Chimney Rock State Park.


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The evolution of puppy dog eyes

Dogs have evolved new muscles around the eyes to better communicate with humans. New research comparing the anatomy and behavior of dogs and wolves suggests dogs’ facial anatomy has changed over thousands of years specifically to allow them to better communicate with humans.

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Patrick McDonnell’s MUTTS Comics Special Appearance

Patrick McDonnell and Earl

The Bark’s favorite comic strip is celebrating a birthday—Patrick McDonnell began drawing MUTTS 25 years ago and to mark this special occasion, we have the honor of publishing new and favorite MUTTS strips in The Bark magazine and in our weekly enewsletters. Perhaps you’ve missed your daily dose of Earl, Mooch and Ozzie in your local newspaper … well, you can catch up with the gang right here. Enjoy what Peanuts creator Charles Schulz called “one of the best comic strips of all time.” And if you are not already signed up to receive our weekly enewsletter, it’s easy to do at


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Take Your Dog to Work Day: 7 Tips for a Successful Office Visit

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The Changing Role & Responsibility of Rescues & Shelters

There may have been a time when schools only needed to be charged with teaching students reading, writing and arithmetic. But as society changes schools become responsible for instruction that either used to be provided at home, or represents a new field of study. When I was in high school we had a choice of […]

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An Ill-Advised Weight-Loss Program: Bowser’s Story

Bowser was a sweet, lovable, and very fat Beagle. Instead of weighing a healthy 30 pounds, he was a whopping 50. Bowser’s veterinarian examined him in June and prescribed weight loss. It was recommended to his owner that Bowser’s food be changed to a metabolic diet, he stop receiving hourly treats, and he start exercising.

His well-meaning owner felt terrible. He hadn’t realized that Bowser was so overweight. Determined to help his canine friend get in shape, he took Bowser on a run. Unfortunately, Bowser, unlike his owner, was not a runner. He was terribly out of shape. He kept up gamely for the first mile, but somewhere in the second, he collapsed. It was, after all, June in the southern U.S.

Bowser came to our ER on a stretcher. He was panting uncontrollably, stretched out on his side. He had been vomiting, and he had severely bloody diarrhea. His belly was covered with bright red spots. The thermometer read 111 degrees.

Our emergency team jumped into action immediately. An IV catheter was placed and cooled fluids were started. A fan was pointed at Bowser, and towel-wrapped ice packs were placed along his belly and in his armpits. An oxygen mask filled with ice chips was placed over his nose.

Bloodwork showed that Bowser was already severely affected. His white blood cell count and blood sugar were low, and his blood wasn’t clotting properly. His liver and kidney values had already shot up as a result of the shock and organ damage, making his prognosis guarded. His owner was devastated. He had never intended to cause his dog any harm, and he told us to do whatever we needed to do to save his friend.

Bowser spent four days in the hospital with intensive care. He was given two plasma transfusions, many liters of fluids, and kept on antibiotics. Despite how severely he was affected, Bowser recovered. After four days, he went home with his loving and grateful owner to begin his weight loss journey at a much slower pace!

The post An Ill-Advised Weight-Loss Program: Bowser’s Story appeared first on Whole Dog Journal.

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The Anatomy of Seduction: Raised Brow Puppy Dog Eyes

New research shows that domestication has altered dogs' facial musculature.
Photo by Ryan Walton

Dogs and humans communicate quite well. We’re pretty good at reading what they want and what they’re feeling, and they’re very good at reading us. This reciprocal understanding of shared emotions, many of which function as “social glue,” isn’t all that surprising given the close association of dogs and humans during the process of domestication.


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