Let’s Talk About: Kikopup’s (New!) No Pulling Leash Training Video!

While I DO NOT recommend going to YouTube for dog training tips in general – please don’t trust just anyone who happens to call themselves a dog trainer to give you humane, effective and non-fatal dog training advice – Kikopup is a happy exception to that rule!

Kikopup videos are posted on Youtube for free by Emily Larlham, a dog trainer based out of San Diego, CA, USA who believes positive reinforcement-based dog training advice should be free and accessible to all. The reason that I feel that Kikopup videos are humane, effective and note-worthy can be found in Larlham’s positive reinforcement manifesto. Her dog training methods incorporate psychological, scientific and welfare considerations into compassionate, consequence-based leadership by owners. The effectiveness of this training style is clear in her advanced behaviors and tricks videos!

Today, Kikopup released a new No Pulling! leash training video. (Larlham also has an entire playlist about loose leash walking, covering everything from basic advice to equipment and how to handle reactive or shy dogs on leash.) This new video is particularly great, in my opinion! Here are just a few reasons why I like it so much:

1. Larlham makes a great point about not assuming a dog has any idea of what you want them to do when you attach a strip of nylon to their harness. Loose leash walking is maybe the least intuitive behavior we expect from our pups. Thus, dogs require clear, consistent leadership and positive reinforcement to learn what loose leash walking entails!

2. Even for a dog that isn’t normally shy or reactive, it can be difficult for her to concentrate on their leash manners in a noisy, smell, car-, pedestrian- and other dog-filled environment. In the video, Larlham begins loose leash walking training in a non-intimidating environment so the pup can concentrate on learning. 

3. Despite practicing in a calm environment, some dogs aren’t going to be calm enough to take treats when you’re trying to positively enforce their loose leash manners out in the “real world”. Larlham uses “penalty yards” in the situation where a dog is too nervous to take treats: when the dog pulls the leash, she directs the dog to walk away from whatever the dog was pulling towards.

4. “Penalty yards” doesn’t mean yanking the dog back when it pulls on the leash. The goal of directing the dog away from what they were pulling towards is to teach the pup that pulling doesn’t get her where she wants to go. By encouraging the dog with positive verbal instructions or patting your leg, as Larlham says, and rewarding the dog when she chooses to come towards you, she’s (humanely) learning that she needs to follow her walker’s leadership while on leash.

5. Finally, my favorite part of the this video: Sniffing is as important as the walking during a walk. Larlham makes the great point that walking should provide both exercise and mental stimulation for a dog. As long as the leash is loose, it is perfectly appropriate for a dog to smell all the smells! Teaching your dog, “Let’s go!” after they have had a little sniff and rewarding them for following you is an important part of loose leash skills.



2014 Holiday Gift Guide: Dogs, Cats, Rabbits, Ferrets and Small Rodents – OH MY!

I hope everyone had a decidedly happy Thanksgiving OR a particularly nice regular Thursday if Thanksgiving isn’t your thing! Since the holiday gifting season will soon be upon us, I thought it might be useful to put together a quick gift guide for any pet lovers in your life.

I’m guess you don’t already need convinced if you’re reading this post, but here’s some persuasive facts about pet owners in the U.S.: in 2013, Americans spent $55.74 BILLION dollars on their pets. In 2011, 63.2% of surveyed owners considered their pets as family members. What I’m trying to get at is that pet parents spend a lot of money (and time and energy) on our pets because we love them dearly. Besides giving a pet owner something they will actually want and use, a pet-themed present can be a reassuring token of acceptance for any owners struggling with friends/family members who view their pet as a sub-par substitute partner/spouse/child/additional child (honestly, those people will never be satisfied!).

The theme of this gift guide is PRACTICAL! I’ve tried to collect a range of gifts for dog, cat, rabbit, ferret and small rodent owners that will actually be used and enjoyed. Not to say that a pet webcam with treat dispenser wouldn’t be an appreciated gift, but it may not be the most pragmatic present!

For anyone:

Do you know the pet owner who has it all? Or maybe a pet lover who isn’t quite ready to adopt a furry family member? Make a donation to an animal welfare agency in that friend’s name. Many local humane societies will happily accept cash or pet supplies (check their website for a wish list), or have items for sale with their logo.

Is your pet-adoring friend passionate about animal legislation? Donate to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) or the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS).

If you’ve got a friend that’s mad about a specific breed of pet (like Golden Retrievers or Bengal cats), check for local rescue groups that help those particular animals and make a donation in your friend’s honor.

As always, don’t just give your money away – do some research on any organization before you donate!

For dog owners:

If you’re not a dog owner yourself, I’d like to draw your attention to the fact that most dog toys come in different sizes depending on the size of the dog. It’s very important to get the correct size because too small toys can be ingestion hazards and too large toys could cause injuries like teeth damage.

Kibble dispensing toys (like the Tug-a-Jug or Kibble Nibble – read my review here) provide make mealtimes mentally stimulating for a pup while giving an owner time to make coffee/eat breakfast/get dressed in peace. No dog owner can have too many but it might be a good idea to slyly attempt find out if your dog-owning-friend has any already!

Refillable chew toys like Busy Buddy’s Jack Dog Toy or Starmark’s Everlasting Treat Bento Ball. These toys are great for medium-to-light chewers (dogs that are BIG TIME CHEWERS will likely be able to cheat by dismantling these toys). Or get refills, if you know your dog-owning-acquaintance already has one!

Another Kong. Sure, you’re dog-owning-compadre probably already has one but once they realize how convenient it is to open their freezer to TWO frozen, treat-filled Kongs, they’ll love you forever.

Finally, every dog owner could use more dog treats! You can get fancy and make some yourself (my pups really enjoyed these) or buy some. Keep in mind that many dogs have food allergies these days! Not sure about your buddy’s dog? Avoid treats with meat-based proteins and opt for peanut butter, fruit or sweet potato treats. READ THE INGREDIENTS – treats that are blueberry flavored (or similar) might still have meat products included!

For cat owners:

Many cat-owning households are multi-cat. Putting a few of these present ideas in a feline gift bag would be a super cute, affordable present that will hopefully appeal to all kitties in the home!

Cats thrive with mental stimulation just like dogs do. Kibble dispensing toys can be a great way for cat owners to add activity to even the most lazy cat’s day. My all-time favorite is the PetSafe Slim Cat Interactive Feeder but the Kong Active Treat Ball is a great option too. Read my full reviews here!

Something cat owners can never have too many of is toys! Wand toys, like this one from JW, can rev up a cat’s prey drive and provide some much-needed exercise. Assorted mice, balls (do your friend a favor and avoid the balls with bells inside) and other cat toys will always be appreciated.

A super fun tunnel can be a great way to make a cat’s playtime a little more interesting. It’s also a great accessory for cats who like enclosed places to hang out or sleep.

My final suggestion for cats may be a surprising one but: a chew toy. I bought one just to spend enough for free shipping on Chewy.com and have been totally shocked that my cats actually use it. Dental cleanings for cats aren’t cheap so anything that might delay them could be greatly appreciated by cat owners!

For rabbit owners:

Many non-rabbit-owning folks greatly underestimate buns! House rabbits live on average 10-12 years and they can even be litter trained! Rabbits are typically social creatures so bunny-owning households may have more than one rabbit. 

For rabbit owners, timothy hay  is an ongoing necessity for their rabbits’ digestive and dental health. It’s also a relatively cheap way to gift an oversized present! But seriously, timothy hay will never be unappreciated by a bunny owner. If you want to gift a fancier hay gift, oat hay is great for rabbits too and alfalfa hay can be given as a treat.

If you’ve never lived with a bun, rabbits are inquisitive and playful creatures. Just like cats and dogs, they enjoy a variety of rabbit-appropriate toys and treats, like barley biscuits and wooden chew toys. You can find some great options at the House Rabbit Society’s online market place (and support a great organization while you’re at it!).

Are you feeling crafty? Here’s a great list of bunny-approved crafting supplies: get to work! Check out Pinterest for inspiration.

For ferret owners:

Ferrets, like cats, can sleep 15-20 hours a day. But when they’re awake, they need a high level entertainment and enrichment. Ferrets love to tunnel under bedding and other things – all of this makes them easy to shop for!

Have you see ferrets play with toys? Like any kind of toy. It’s so totally adorable. It would be super cute to make a toy basket for a ferret owner with a few types of cheaper toys for their weasel friend!

If you’ve hung out with a ferret for any amount of time at all, you’ll know that they are enthusiastic sleepers. Thus my next present suggestion for a ferret owner: sleepy time cage accessories.

This playpen. I don’t think much else needs to be said – it’s a ball pit for ferrets.

For small rodent owners:

Many small rodent owners are older children and young adults, so gifting a small rodent-purposed present can acknowledge the responsibility that’s been taken on. These gifts also tend to be on the affordable side, so they could be group with a human-oriented present too!

Small rodents like hamsters enjoy burrowing in their bedding to sleep and, especially during the winter months, this fluffy bedding can make a ham’s bed extra cozy. This Shred-A-Bed also provides some enrichment for a small rodent, because they can tear the lightly compressed bedding fiber.

All rodents need to chew pretty constantly to maintain healthy teeth. There are many great and cheap chew toys available for rodents at basically any pet store, ranging from wooden baubles to straw houses to willow barbells.

Small rodents also frequently chew on their housing materials, so another useful present idea is cage accessories. Although these items take a lot longer to chew through than purpose-made chew toys, additional cage accessories can add variety for a small rodent.

Journal Article: How to Train vs. How to Teach

Title: Dog training methods: their use, effectiveness and interaction with behaviour and welfare

Authors: EF Hiby, NJ Rooney and JWS Bradshaw

Published: 2004 in Animal Welfare

General overview:

These authors distributed 600 surveys total in two counties in the UK in rural and urban dog-walking areas and veterinary facilities, and 326 were returned completed correctly and used for analysis. The surveys asked questions relating to information about the owner and the dog in addition to dog performance on seven basic obedience tasks, training methods used and undesirable behaviors. The use of punishment was associated with problematic behaviors like over-excitement and separation-related problems while the use of positive reinforcement only was associated with higher reported obedience. The authors note that while the relationship between problematic behaviors and the use on punishment is not precisely known, this work demonstrates that the use of punishment does not result in an obedient dog.

My comments:

This paper is, by far, one of the best written that I’ve come across so far. They authors did an excellent job describing their survey aims, how the analyses were performed and their results (both the basic demographic representations in their data and the interactions between training methods/obedience/problematic behaviors). In my opinion, the best part of this research was the limited scope of the question that the authors asked (and how they stated it explicitly in the article): “The aim of the current study is to document the use of training methods by the pet-owning community and investigate how these methods interact with both obedience and problematic behaviours.”

For me, some of the most interesting findings in this study were the types of behaviors that more owners reported using punishment or rewards only to tackle. For instance, owners 79% of owners reported using punishment when a dog chewed a household item while 79% of owners used positive reinforcement to train “come when called”. Few (12%) of owners used punishment during toilet training with their dog but “heel” training was more split (26% used punishment and 45% used rewards). I wonder if these proportions suggest that there are trends in how owners think to train certain behaviors. This is interesting because it may suggest that owners could benefit from a paradigm shift of “how to train sit/come when called/heel” to “how dogs learn”. (With the idea that learning how dogs learn would result in greater use of positive-reinforcement based training because it is the most effective way to teach dogs, per the current literature.)

The other significant finding that these authors presented was that owners who reported using punishment of any kind resulted in more separation-related problematic behaviors. It should be noted that the authors’ included any destruction/noise/elimination behaviors when left alone as “separation-related behaviors” because these behaviors are not necessarily separation anxiety. Problem behaviors that occur when owners are away can be attributed to many potential causes. The authors hypothesize the association between punishment and separation-related behaviors may result from that the fact that most owners aren’t animal behavior experts: incorrectly applied punishment could create an environment of uncertainty and confusion for a dog, exacerbating anxiety and conflict that are known causes for separation anxiety.


Product Review: Plato EOS Turkey with Cranberry Dog Treats

ProductEOS Turkey with Cranberry dog treats by Plato

Cost: $9-12 for 12 oz of treats

Available: Chewy.com and other online retailers; small/independent pet stores



My lab, Luna, developed food allergies at a young age (probably from repeated antibiotic regimes to combat recurrent urinary tract infections), sending me on a frustrating hunt for single protein dog treats. Plato makes all its treats in the USA and is one of the few companies that offers single protein treats without a bunch of weird ingredients at a reasonable price – I regularly bought their Original Meats Duck Strips for about two years. Fortunately for me, my pup and my wallet, Luna’s food allergies apparently resolved around her second birthday, so I’ve been able to branch out and try other treats from Plato.

I’m not sure if the EOS treat line is new to Plato but they are new to me! We’ve tried the EOS Turkey with Sweet Potato and are currently into a bag of the Turkey with Cranberry. Like the Duck Strips, these treats come in bricks about 1.5″x0.5″. They’re treats are very high in protein like the Duck Strips but the consistency of the treats is a little less dense and more fibrous, which makes them super easy to divide into small pieces. Both of my dogs love these treats as much as the Duck Strips (which are surely in their Top 5 Treats) but the EOS bags are a bit cheaper! I particularly like the Turkey with Cranberry because, given my pup’s past urinary tract issues, I try to stuff as many urinary tract health products into her life as possible.

While I REALLY like Plato’s EOS and Original Meats treats, I don’t recommend their Thinker Meat Treats line. All of these contain garlic, which is a toxin to dogs and cats. While there isn’t any information about its use on Plato’s website, I’ve seen other pet food companies say they use garlic in such small amounts that it shouldn’t be a problem for most pets (although individual pets and some dog breeds may be more susceptible) and garlic improves the food or treat’s flavor/smell. What happens when you feed a dog food with a little garlic in it, and also treats with a little garlic in it? If your cat food has a little garlic in it, is your cat going to get hemolytic anemia when she steals a piece of pizza that was basted in garlic sauce? My philosophy: there are SO MANY ingredients that you can add to pet treats/food to make it smell and taste better – like MEAT for instance, or rosemary, basil, oregano, lavender, sage, lemon mint, etc. etc. –  why use a known, albeit mild, pet toxin?

Winter Dog Walking Tips

In case you are trying, like me, to avoid canine cabin fever for as long as possible, here are some tips to make sure your pup is happy and healthy during the winter walking season!


1. Paw protection

Dog paws are not impervious barriers to winter cold, chemicals and other nuisances. Snowmelt chemicals can cause paw irritation and toxicity if the dog licks their paws, and cold sidewalks can cause chaffing and cracking. Dog paw protection is a must for winter walks!

For my dogs, high quality boots were a necessity. I like the Grip Trex ($70) by Ruffwear (and am currently trying out the Summit Trex model ($60) to see if it keeps snow out of the boot better). I’ve also read many positive reviews for the Muttluk’s All Weather or Fleece-lined ($40-60) dog boots. YES, $40-70 bucks is a lot to spend on dog boots but they are a worthy investment. I’ve put my dog’s Grip Trex boots through 3 winter seasons and besides protecting my pups’ paws flawlessly, they still look brand new. Cheaper alternatives aren’t going to do the job and probably won’t last as long.

Dog boots tip #1: You’ve really got to get the right size so the boots don’t come off easily but are still comfortable. Measure your dog’s feet according to the manufacturer’s instructions several times to ensure accuracy. And definitely check out the seller’s return/exchange policy before purchasing in case you need a different size anyway!

Dog boots tip #2: As with any new pet accessory or device, you have to introduce boots slowly and positively. Not many pups are going to be overly thrilled about having boots on for the first time in their lives, but (in my experience) they forget about their footwear disdain when they discover how much more comfortable they are outdoors.

While you’re introducing your dog to the wonderful world of dog boots (or if your dog just really isn’t going for shoes), there are several things you can do to keep your pup’s paws as comfortable as possible in the meantime! First, trim the fur between your dog’s paw pads. This will keep the fur from matting and clumping around snow, ice and snowmelt chemicals. Next, use a paw salve like Musher’s Secret or petroleum jelly to moisturize and minimally protect your pup’s paws from the element. Finally, thoroughly wipe your dog’s paws with a washcloth after every outside excursions, being sure to get in between the paw pads.

2. Coat protection

Depending on how cold it gets where you live, or if you have a short-haired, elderly, young or ill dog, a dog coat is also a great investment. There are some pretty hardcore coats on the market from brands like Ruffwear or Hurtta that will set you back $40-90 and some less impervious dog sweaters from other retailers like Target or Petco for about $20. A wet coat isn’t going to do your pup much good, so if your area experiences severe weather during the winter, opt for a more expensive, waterproof winter coat. If you’re just combating the cold and can avoid rain/snow/sleet all of the time, a cheaper dog sweater might cut it.

Cold, dry winter air is as rough on your dog’s skin as it is on your skin! Ask your vet if an omega-3 supplement could help keep your dog’s skin moisturized and healthy during the winter months (and beyond!). Lastly, it’s a good idea to wipe off your dog’s legs and underbelly after walks just like paws. You may even want to bring a towel with you during walks to remove snowmelt products or snow/ice from your dog’s coat and feet immediately.

3. Keep your dog on leash with a harness

Although hazards for off-leash dogs exist in abundance year-round, winter poses some particular risks for un- or under-supervised dogs. Toxic substances like snowmelt chemicals and antifreeze abound, and if your dog is zooming around off leash, you may not notice her gulp some rock salt or take a lick of an antifreeze spill. Chucks of ice, asphalt liberated from the street by snow plows and sticks are also items your pup shouldn’t ingest but might if left to her own devices. So play it safe and keep your dog on leash.

Clipping a leash to a neck collar is not an optimal way to walk your dog at any time of year because it puts strain on the dog’s neck, leading to breathing problems and eye issues as the result of increased intracranial pressure. It’s also, like, the least efficient way to control your dog’s position in space, which can really be an issue in winter when ground conditions aren’t ideal. Opt for a front-clip harness like the Easy Walk harness and carry a small bag of dog kibble with your to keep your pup by your side during distracting events.

4. Keep it short

No amount of gear and preparation will wholly protect your pup from winter hazards, so keep walks short by breaking your usual walking time into two or three shorter components that are spaced out over the day. Monitor your dog for signs of real discomfort, frost bite or hypothermia. Frostbitten skin will most common occur on extremities like the ears, tails and toes and can look pale or red, painful or numb, and swollen. If your dog is exhibiting shallow breathing or disorientation, get your dog inside immediately and check for a slow pulse – these are all signs of hypothermia and your dog should be taken to a vet ASAP.


ASPCA’s Cold Weather Tips

ASPCA’s Winter Skin & Paw Health Tips

VetStreet Article on Winter Dog Walking

Dr. Marty Becker on the necessity of dog coats and sweaters

Ruffwear’s Blog on the Dog Boot Dance

Journal Article: Can you measure stress in dogs?

Title: Manifestations of chronic and acute stress in dogs

Authors: Bonne Beerda, Matthijs B.H. Schilder, Jan. A.R.A.M. van Hooff, Hans W. de Vries

Published: 1997 in Applied Animal Behaviour Science

General overview:

The researchers sought to review the behavioral, physiological and immunological stress reactions that had been previously published and add to that knowledge base with their own researcher. The authors applied auditory stimuli to 6 beagle dogs (3 “test” dogs and 3 “control” dogs) in a variety of intensities and length. Additionally, the authors used 10 beagle dogs to test for stress reactions during 50 minutes of transport and in an unfamiliar environment. The dogs had behavioral and physiological measurements taken throughout travel to the testing facility or during the auditory stress or control situations. The authors found a wide range of physiological responses to supposed stressful events. The researchers suggested that more research into stress parameters for various behavioral, physiological and immunological reactions is needed. Furthermore, the authors recommend recording a variety of stress reactions in order to reduce differences between individuals, breeds, age, gender or previous life experiences when attempting to quantify the welfare of animals exposed to stress.

My comments:

Because this paper was about 50% literature review and 50% novel data, and because it was relatively old (17 years), I found this to be a highly, erm, fascinating read. Behavior researchers used to do some pretty sadistic things to dogs (i.e. shocking a dog with such a high voltage that the dog would, “urinate, defecate, scramble rapidly and vigorously around the compartment, emit high-pitched screeches, salivate profusely and roll their eyes rapidly with dilated pupils…”)! However flawed our currently animal research welfare laws are, they really are an improvement over…you know, no animal research welfare laws.

The literature review of this piece explained the historical efforts of animal behavior researchers to define which behaviors, physiological and immunological reactions in dogs were associated with stress. This research was probably fueled by the desire to define “stress” in dogs without any anthropomorphic influences. I thought it really highlighted the importance of “baby steps” in research: if you want to study stress in dogs, you must first define stress, determine how stress in manifested in the general population of dogs, and define measurable parameters of stress. Furthermore, if you want to say that stress is bad for dogs, you must first determine whether or not stress decreases the welfare of a dog! While these components might seem maddeningly insignificant, they are a requirement of understandable, reproducible, rigorous science.

The actual findings of novel research from this paper were not altogether interesting – which isn’t entirely surprising on account of the incredibly small sample sizes (6 and 10 dogs, respectively). The authors found a great variety in potential stress behaviors in these dogs, so they’re able to determine ranges for stress responses in any of the behaviors or physiological samples they measured. The authors also did not provide information about the dogs in regards to age, gender, neuter status, previous life experiences, etc., which could have offered some potential explanations for the variable stress reactions. It does highlight the need for more research into how individual differences between dogs could impact stress reactions and its welfare implications, I suppose.

Stress is an unavoidable part of canine life. If we can reduce stress on dogs, does this make their lives and thus welfare better off? This paper focused on the importance of linking stress to welfare implications. I am interested to read more about measurable stress reactions in companion animals!

To Leash or Not to Leash: Risk vs. Reward

When I see an off-leash dog walking next to her owner, I think, “Wow, I would never do that – that is so risky.” When I an off-leash dog sprinting towards me and my dogs while her owner A) is totally oblivious or B) trailing along yards and yards behind the dog, vainly yelling the dog’s name, I think, “I’m going to kick this dog in the face with an almighty passion if he tries to bite me or my dogs.” I love and respect dogs so I don’t particularly enjoy contemplating physical violence against a dog, especially when this situation is so easy preventable.

If you haven’t guessed already, I’m not a proponent of dogs being allowed off-leash in public areas that aren’t fenced in and purpose-built for off-leash dog play. For me, off-leash play is a question about risk versus reward.


Risk #1: Your dog causes injury

A loose dog can cause car accidents, fight with other dogs, bite an adult or child, or injure or kill livestock, among other injurious scenarios.

“Not my dog!”, you might say – but you’d be wrong.

Any living dog can and will bite in the right – or wrong – circumstances. The first recommendation from the ASPCA to prevent dog bites is to acknowledge that any dog can bite. Any dog of any size or temperament can be provoked, and as humans, we don’t always notice the provocation or warnings signs until its too late.

“But my dog is so friendly!”, you might say – but that’s not always the case.

Just because you dog tolerates your children, or some children, doesn’t mean she “likes” kids or that your dog will tolerate or like all children. The same goes so other dogs and adults alike!

Risk #2: Your dog is injured

An off-leash dog is relatively or completely unsupervised and unprotected. Your dog could be injured or killed by a fearful or malevolent human, attacked by another dog or cause injury or illness to herself by ingesting something toxic, rotting or inedible.

Risk #3: Your dog gets lost

No dog is 100% predictable and 100% obedient because dogs are not robots. While you dog may respond just fine to a recall command, you just can’t guarantee she’ll come when called regardless any distraction that comes her way. You love your dog, and you’d be devastated if she got lost. You do the math – an $8 leash is way cheaper than spending $35,000 recovering your dog!

Risk #4: Your off-leash dog makes public areas unpleasant for many people 

People have just as much of a right to expect dogs to be on-leash where leashes are required as they do to expect cars to stop at red lights. Some people are afraid of dogs, some people have dogs who are afraid of or aggressive towards other dogs and many people would rather your dog didn’t sprint at their children. These folks deserve to have fear-free access to public spaces where leashes are required! Finally, I know that this bad behavior befalls leashed-dog walkers too, but I frequently see owners of off-leash dogs turn a blind eye to their dog’s bathroom breaks. Dog feces are a public health and environmental hazard, people – CLEAN IT UP!



The rewards of being off-leash – namely, enrichment and exercise – can be gained in ways that substantially reduce the probability of these risks.

  1. Owners can utilize fenced-in dogs parks, fenced-in yards and secluded open areas.
  2. Owners can teach their dog a distraction-proof recall and other safety measures, such as “Stay” or “Down” at a distance
  3. Owners can socialize their dogs with other dogs, people (adults and children) and other distractions, like loud noises, skateboards, wheelchairs, etc.


The Bottom Line

It’s unfair for owners to ignore the risks off-leash activity in public area poses to their own dog as well as other people and pets, and disrespectful to others who use those public spaces.