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How do I help my dog feel better about visitors?

Remember to never ever punish the dog for her fear/aggression towards strangers. No yelling, startling, leash yanking, hitting, etc..

SecondAs the benevolent leader, your are responsible for your dog. If anyone tries to touch your dog when she is upset, step in front, block that person from touching your dog. If the person doesn’t want to listen, then either remove your dog (no snatching or yanking) or politely ask the visitor to leave.

Since your dog has already formed a negative association with visitors, I suggest that you and your roommates come to an agreement that you not have any guests over for 1 week. This will give your dog a little time to de-stress while you get to work on a non aversive way to help her with her issues.

The Book Scardey Dog more thoroughly explains how these stress hormones can build up and why it’s important to allow a de-stress period.

Since you know your dog is going to get upset about visitors, don’t have her out when visitors arrive. Ask your visitors to call from their cells as they pull up to your house/apartment. That way:

1. This will give you time to put your dog into her crate or another room and she won’t associate the crate with a bad thing – visitors. Not at first anyway. Be sure to acclimate her to a crate if she isn’t used to one.

2. The doorbell won’t get her all revved up

Something else that might help. When you know somone is coming over, take your dog outside. Let her greet the visitors outside then walk in the residence togther or let the guest go in in first then let the dog in. If this upsets her then go back to management – keeping her away from scary people.

Teach an alternate behaviorI would start with just the doorbell and teach the dog an alternative behavior. Teach your dog to “go to place” or “go fetch” or “go to crate” or “go get your toy, ” or “ sit.”
Then put it on cue with the door bell. You don’t want the dog to see YOU ring the doorbell. Your roommate or another friend can help with this. Remember to teach any and all commands using positive reinforcement only. Using aversive methods to train then asking for those commands can invoke negative feelings towards the strangers.
No yanking, yelling, pushing, etc.. Actually, don’t use your hands at all.
I believe that Patricia McConnell’s book “The Other End of the Leash” has more details on this.

Desensitization and Counter Conditioning
Get your dog used to people coming over through desensitization and counter conditioning. Always start below threshold and make it fun. If at anytime, the dog gets upset, then you have moved too fast and the exercise will be counter productive.

To start below threshold, the first visitor will be the roommate. Have your roommate pretend to be a visitor and go through your routine – like “go get your toy.” Treat (really really good treats like baked chicken) the dog or have the roommate give the dog a sit and treat the dog. Always provide some type of alternate behavior so the dog won’t feel like she has to resort to barking and growling.

Then go through this with each roommate

After this works well with the roommates, try a calm friend whom the dog is comfortable with. Stay below threshold and keep doing it until the dog is happy. This could take minutes, days, weeks.

Then with a friend who is a little less known but who isn’t upsetting. Once you move to unknown people, for safety’s sake, you as the pet parent should be giving the treat instead of having the guests do it.

More info in References below on how to continue to do this.

If you have guests who are unwilling to help you with this, don’t force them into it. Ask politely, if they don’t want to help, then put the dog away. If they refuse to follow your instructions then put the dog away or ask them to leave.

Other People
Don’t allow anyone to:
Pet your dog on the head
Touch your dog when she isn’t ready to be touched
Pet your dog roughly
Wrestle with your dog
Encourage jumping up by patting their chest, etc..

Don’t allow anyone to reward undesirable behaviors like jumping up, barking, etc..

Positive Reinforcement Works
Some people might tell you that positive reinforcement doesn’t work.

Behaviorist and author Jean Donaldson says that people can’t execute a method incorrectly then blame the method. Positive Reinforcement when executed correctly does work. Negative reinforcement might work with some dogs but:
1. It hurts your relationship with your dog
2. It doesn’t always work and in many cases it will make your dog much much worse.

You don’t have to take my word for it. Just read the works of people who have studied animal behavior, who have advanced degrees in animal behavior, who do seminars all over the world. Remember that TV is for entertainment. Books are for education.
Everything isn’t about dominance

Behaviorist and author Ian Dunbar says that suppressing a growl is like removing a ticker from a time bomb. So “correcting” your dog when she barks or growls just teaches her to not give a warning next time. And she could bite without warning

Exercise, Exercise, Exercise
Are you working on ways to keep your dog calm yet stimulated and exercised? Does she go on long walks every day? Get training lessons? Do you reward calm behaviors through out the day?

Calming Remedies
Check with your vet on using some things that might help your dog be more relaxed
Bach Flower essences
Valerian Root
Dog Appeasing Pheromone
These may or may not be good for puppies.

Something to consider
This shouldn’t be an issue, but it is. Many people are more leary of pitties than other breeds. A chihuahua growling or nipping might be funny, but a pittie doing the same thing is scary to many people. Scary enough that your dog could be reported as vicious. Then you are stuck with legal bills trying to defend your dog. Worse case scenario, you don’t want Animal Control seizing your dog.
Keep her safe. Don’t let her get herself into trouble.

Just in case something does happen, make sure you have shot records on hand and easy to find at all times.

Is this the best environment?
If your dog is a bit nervous, Is a place that has lots of people in and out really a good place for her to live? If things get bad for the dog, are you able to move out?

Professional Help
Professional help is always a good thing. Just be aware that anyone can legally call him/herself a trainer. Be sure to interview the trainer about his/her methods. Anyone who talks about “correcting” the dog after she starts barking should NOT be used. Anyone who talks about using the leash for “control” should not be used. I’m not saying the dog shouldn’t be on leash because she should, but she should NOT be yanked.

Speaking of the leash, make sure the dog can’t slip her collar. A properly fitted martingale collar would be safer than a buckle collar. A professional can help you with this.


Barking: The Sound of a Language by Turid Rugaas. Start here. It’s a small book and can be read in one setting

Patricia McConnell – “The Other End of the Leash” – has some good info on door greetings and lots of other great info. Read this one next.

Patricia McConnell – How to be the Leader of the Pack and Have your Dog Love you for it.

Patricia McConnel – Family Friendly Dog Training

Patricia McConnel – Cautious Canine

Ali Brown – Scardey Dog – this has info on dogs who are scared of other dogs but the principles can be applied

Leadership and Dominance:…ars-ago-i.html

Benevolent Leadership:…eadership.html

Managing Behaviors:

How do I get my dog to like other dogs: This is for dogs but it has good info on counter conditioning and desensitization. Just replace “dogs” with people.…ther-dogs.html

Kitchen nightmares – More good info on CC&D:

Teach your dog to sit: A hands off – non aversive way to teach your dog to sit:

Reward Calm Behaviors:

Things Humans Inadvertently teach their pets:

Stopping Unwanted behavior before it starts:

Inside looking out:…oking-out.html

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How to treat your best friend

There is absolutely no need for you to hurt or scare your best friend. Anyone who says positive reinforcment doesn’t work, probably is not implementing it correctly.

Please please do not hold the snout closed, don’t squeeze the lips, don’t hold the tongue. This does not teach soft mouth nor “no bite” it might teach the dog to be afraid of your hands.  It could also make yoru dog hand shy with everyone.   They you might wind up with a fearful adult dog.  And fearful adult dogs can bite when approached to quickly or grabbed at by a stranger.

Please don’t listen to any advice that is just a repeat of television shows.  TV is for entertainment and ratings – not education.  So please do not listen to advice about alpha rolling, dominance, pack leader, showing who’s boss etc..

There is  a reason why the screen on those TV shows flashes “Do not try this at home” – because the techniques are extremely unsafe.

Please absolutely no alpha rolling, leash yanking, hanings, no leash corrections (same as yanking, jerking).  There are better ways to treat your best friend.  Please no shock collars

If someone says it doesn’t hurt, it probably does:

Please don’t be mean to your dog by rubbing his nose is his potty.

Additionally, there is absolutely no reason to yell or scare the dog. This causes reverse housetraining.

  This is just cruel.  Just let the dog out at least every hour and praise highly when he goes potty.

More info below

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Good Cop Bad Cop

I was walking one of my dogs on a nature trail and we came upon another dog and his humans coming towards us from the opposite direction.  

The dog was a little reactive so the pet parents (and man and a lady – maybe spouses, I don’t know), pulled the dog over to the side.

The lady rubbed the dog and talked soothingly to him and let him know everything was going to be alright. At the same time,  the man talk very sternly, admonishing the dog for reacting.

I thought to myself: “that must be one confused dog!”

Dogs who live with more than one human caretaker are quite lucky in a lot of ways, but when the human caretakers aren’t on the same page when it comes to training, the dogs’ training, even their mental well-being can suffer.

Author, Patricia McConnell, discusses this issue in her book Family Dog Training.

All caretakers must discuss what words, what techniques will be used, then all must agree to be consistent.  If Mom tells the dog “down” when she wants the dog off the couch and Dad tells the dog “down” when he wants the dog to stop jumping and daughter says “down” when she wants the dog to lay down, the dog isn’t going to know what down means.

While family members are working on being consistent, try not to be mad at the family dog for not complying with requests.  The dog isn’t being defiant or stubborn, or “dominant.” The dog simply doesn’t understand what you want.

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if you want a calmer dog, practcie better time management

Matt-Matt’s appointment was at 4:30. I checked my watch: 2:00 PM. Plenty of time to get there. I sat down to read and before I knew it, it was 4:00 PM. Only 30 minutes to load the fur baby into the car and get to the vet.
When Matt-Matt saw the leash and harness, in typical Matt-Matt style, he barked and bouced around.
What to do. I could wait for him to calm down but then I’d be late for my vet appointment.
Well, I can’t inconvenience my vet because of my poor time management skills.
I threw a leash on Matt-Matt in between bounces and we get to our appointment on time.
I made it to the vet on time, but I also rewarded Matt-Matt’s excited behavior. If I needed to leave the house at 4:00 PM, and I knew I had a hyper dog, I should have started picking up his leash no later than 3:00 PM.
If you want a calmer dog, practive never rewarding her for excited behavior.
If your dog jumps on you. Look up, say nothing. Pet her when all 4 feet are on the ground.
If you rdog spins around in circles when you pick up the leash, put the leash back down, sit down and read until your dog calms down. If you get back up and your dog spins again, then sit back down. This might take a while at first, but soon you dog will learn that he doesn’t go for a walk until he is calm.
See more on rewarding desireable behaviors in this video:

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Twinkies in Class

Twinkies in class

The teacher gives the students a note to take home to their parents/legal guardians:

“We will be practicing reward based learning in class tomorrow.  We will give out twinkies for correct answers.  Because we want your child to be highly motivated to learn, please be sure he/she does not eat breakfast before coming to school. Also be sure to reduce the size of her/his dinner accordingly. We will be giving out lots of twinkies and we don’t want your child to gain weight while learning.”

A little far-fetched no?  Then why do we practice this same procedure when training our pets?  Those who have attended a formal training class know that I’m talking about.  The instructor tells you (rightfully so) to reduce your dog’s regular kibble so he/she doesn’t gain weight and to not feed your dog before class so he/she will be hungry and willing to learn. Great advice.   But one thing we need to look out for is what we feed our dogs during training. You don’t want to replace his healthy at-home meal with treats that are laced with sugar, preservatives, artificial coloring etc..

Pet parents are lucky because a lot of things that dogs love are actually good for them – unlike human kids.

I’m actually very lucky (with one of my dogs at least). Matt-Matt will take anything I hand him – even in a highly distracting environment. He is happy to take his own kibble from me, vegetables, fruit etc.. He is even happier to take freeze dried fish, baked chicken, or a grilled sirloin.

Take a good look at that supermarket or pet store treat that you are feeding your dog.  Dogs do not need honey, sugar or salt to make something taste better.  If manufacturers have these items in the food it probably means that it has been so highly processed that all the real flavor is gone. Not only are these snacks physiologically unhealthy, they can also have an effect on your pets mental well being.   Do you feel better or worse after eating a carb heavy or sugar heavy snack?  Your dog might have the same issues.

And what’s the deal with the artificial colors? Does your dog really care if that sugar filled snack has the same color as bacon?

So, you’ve made the decision to carefully review your dog’s treat labels.  While you are at it, go ahead and take a good long look at the ingredients in your dog’s everyday kibble. Don’t just look at the wholesome pictures of fresh meat, fruits and veggies on the package.

A great unbiased dog food review site is

You can click on Index at the bottom of the page to see a list of food reviewed:

Or click reviews to search for your dog food:

A good friend recommended this book to me:

Dr. Pitcairn’s New Complete Guide to Natural Health for Dogs and Cats

I’ve only read the first couple of chapters.  I’m not endorsing or opposing anything in the book.

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Snappy Poodle

Question: My Toy Poodle is Snappy. What do I do

Dog aggression should be addressed as soon as possible. Especially if children are in the house. If the behavior is not addressed, it will only get worse.

Dogs are much faster than humans and it’s important to know that you can’t snatch your hand back from a dog quickly enough to avoid being bitten. If a dog wants to bite, he/she will. If a dog snaps, that was a warning. Not a biting attempt.


But if the dog is giving you a warning, the dog is likely to bite in the future if warnings are not heeded. And dog bites must be taken seriously. Small dogs can do damage and even the tiniest break in skin can cause a serious infection. A infection can happen even if dogs and humans are up to date on vaccinations


The absolute worst thing you can do in the case of dog aggression is to counter with aggression. Never yell, hit, slap, poke, yank, jerk, alpha roll, etc.. This will make the situation worse.


.One of the best things you can do for dog aggression is spay/neuter.

See Cathy Rosenthal’s article on preventing dog attacks:


The dog must be up to date in his/her rabies shot. This is extremely important. Rabies is always fatal in dogs and almost always fatal in humans. If a human is bitten and needs medical attention, the doctor will have to report the incident to animal control. A dog without a rabies certificate will probably be taken by Animal Control. A dog with a certificate might also be taken.

Humans should be sure their tetanus vaccinations are up to date.


Please continue reading for more details:



Until you figure out the root cause and work on that cause, the safest thing to do for everyone is management. Children can NOT be near the dog and children must never ever be with the dog unsupervised. If the behavior is serious or getting worse (if the dog is charging) then children can’t be in the same room as the dog.

Until the issue is resolved, humans must avoid things that make the dog snap.


Does the dog snap when she is in Mom’s lap? Then she can never be in a humans lap. Or any elevated surface for that matter – sofa, bed, chairs.

Does the dog snap at people when she has food? Then never bother her while she is eating.

Does the dog snap when she is touched on top of the head? Then don’t touch her on top of the head.

Does the dog snap when people put their hands her face? Then don’t put hands in front of her face.

Doe she guard her toys? Then don’t bother her when she has a toy. Don’t give her raw hides or large bones until the issue is resolved.


Videos on managing behaviors:



No matter what the cause of biting, spay and neuter is always a good thing.


This will NOT automatically fix the problem, but most experts agree that a dog who isn’t a slave to his/her hormones is a happier, healthier, less stressed dog.


Some people have reported that immediately after surgery, their dogs’ temperament improved tremendously. This is probably atypical.


Spay/Neuter plus other techniques can be successful though; and spay/neuter can most likely speed up the effects of other techniques.


There are many other great health reasons to spay or neuter your pets. Besides, dogs with aggression issues probably shouldn’t reproduce anyway.


Don’t delay. The earlier the dogs are fixed, the better. The longer the dogs have their sexual hormones, the more the undesirable habits become ingrained. Here is a very informative post about hormones and fighting:


Your regular vet is the best place to get this done. But any vet can perform the surgery. If money is an issue, contact Animal Control or Animal Defense League. Their prices can be as low as free depending on income level, and other circumstances. See the low coast spay/neuter link for more info:

Talk to your vet

In addition to spay/neuter surgery, have your vet do a full medical workup

If the dog just started snapping, then a physical ailment could be the culprit. Many issues could make a dog become aggressive – like a thyroid condition, pain from an injury or arthritis, etc..

So far, we have discussed management and spay/neuter. These two are imperative for a safe environment. A full vet workup is important to rule out any issues and a dog should get a checkup every year even if no problems are not apparent.

The rest of the info below will actually depend on why the dog is snapping.

Once you have management the situation temporarily, got the dog checked by a vet and fixed, you will have to find a professional. Because kids are in the home, this is not an issue that you can deal without the help of a professional.

Picking a Trainer/Behaviorist

If you use a behaviorist to help you figure out the problem, be sure to thoroughly interview him/her.


Under no circumstances hire a trainer who advocates any type of punishment after the fact. No leash corrections, no yelling, no shock collars, no hitting, alpha rolling, poking, kicking in the butt, etc…


Actually, don’t use any trainer or behaviorist who would have you use your hands in any way to solve the problem.


You need a professional who will examine the home life of the humans and the dog and find ways to prevent snapping long before it happens.


Run away from anyone who offers quick-fix solutions. Ask the behaviorist about classical and operant conditioning. If she/he doesn’t seem to know what that is, then do not use him/her.


Don’t be taken in by anyone who “talks with authority.” Just because someone sounds like they know what they are talking about, it doesn’t actually mean that they do.


Anyone can call themselves a “trainer” or “behaviorist.” There is no governing body that checks this. So be careful. There are trainers who get certified but this is not mandatory. You can ask the trainer what organizations he or she is a member of. Here is one site that lists trainers who have gone through their certifications: Association of Pet Dog Trainers. Note: being on the list doesn’t mean a trainer won’t use negative methods (which you need to avoid) and not being on the list doesn’t mean a trainer is not good. It’s just one tool to use. If you use a trainer from a major chain or franchise ask the trainer what type of continuation training he/she has received since being certified by that chain.

I repeat: A professional is imperative in this matter. Until you get find a good trainer, here are some things you can work on:

Be a Benevolent Leader

All humans in the household must establish themselves as benevolent leaders.


Being the leader doesn’t mean being mean or yelling or scaring or putting your hands on the dogs harshly. It means letting the dogs know that you will protect them and take care of them. It means that all good things come from you. Don’t put the dog in a position where she feels she must “protect” you.


Some dogs might snap because they are being “protective” but many dogs will snap or bite out of fear.

If the dogs know that the humans are in charge, if they know that they can look to the humans for protection, they will be less scare


Leadership Articles:



The dogs must know that you control the resources. Do not allow free-feeding. Actually, as you establish yourself as pack leader, you might consider not using bowls at all. Hand feed the dogs separately (only if not food aggressive). Ask for a behavior before feeding i.e. sit, lay down. If the dogs have not learned some basic commands, then you can just wait until the dogs are calm before feeding. Do not feed them when they are jumping around, barking, etc.. More about establishing a calm household later.


Other ways to make the dogs work for their food:

Broadcast it out in the yard so that they have to search for it. Make sure they see you putting the food out.

Once you have established that food comes from you, you can put the dogs in one room or another part of the yard, then hide the food then let them out to search for it.

Food puzzles – like a kong or other food dispensing toy. See this video for a cheap food dispensing toy:

 Here are my dogs with food puzzles:


Always be ready to step in front of danger or perceived danger so that the dogs will see you as their protector. This could be something as simple as not letting visitors or strangers pet your dogs too roughly

Life Isn’t Always Fair

Teach the dogs to cope with disappointment. i.e. She can’t always get a morsel of your food when you are eating dinner.

Nothing in Life is Free

In addition to working for food, the dogs should also work for petting, for walks, for rides, to go outside etc.. Make the dogs sit or lay down or at least wait until they are calm before giving them anything that they enjoy

Read Doggie Body Language.

Watch your dogs closely for signs of stress, aggression, etc.. and be ready to redirect long before any snapping occurs.

Reactivity, aggression

(more about stepping in and redirecting later in this document)

stiff body

high and stiff tails

quivering stiff tails

a tail that wags at the end and not at the base

“hard” eyes



tight lips

lips forming an “O”

Weight shifting to front legs

curled lips


teeth showing

ears forward

One dog putting his head over the shoulder or back of another dog

One dog humping another dog

One dog putting his paw on another dog

Hackles up


Fear, Anxiety, Stress

Wide eyes

lots of white showing in the eyes

Grimacing (it looks like a smile but isn’t)

Weight shifting to back legs

Tail tucked

Legs or whole body shaking

lip licking

sweaty feet

running nose



Maintain Calm

You can maintain calm by rewarding calm and ignoring excited behavior. Yelling, scolding, physically correcting hyper behavior will at best make the behavior worse. .

See my video on rewarding desirable behaviors.

See Kikopup video on teaching calm:

Calm Petting

Pet the dogs in long slow strokes. No vigorous rubbing. Never pet on top of the head.

Keep humans calm

No running and rushing about. Practice good time management so you are never in a rush to get to work, etc..

Keep talking at a minimum

Especially excited chatter

See my article on remaining quiet as I leave the house helped to reduce my dog’s anxiety:

Feed Quality Food

Too much sugar, carbs, and preservatives can make a dog hyper and agitated — which can lead to snapping. Review your dog food at

Do not feed any wheat, corn or soy. Many advocate no grains at all. Makes sure the diet is high protein. Make sure any treats are also high protein and healthy.

Homeopathic Remedies

Check with your own vet or a homeopathic vet about some natural remedies for maintaining calm. Here are some homeopathic remedies that have been suggested by some experts (be sure to check with your vet before trying any of these. Tell your vet about any medications that your dogs are already on)


Bach Flower Essences

Lavender Essence

Valerian Root

Dog Appeasing Pheromones


As soon as you see trouble – like a stiff tail, happily call the dog and engage in a game of fetch or do something fun to make the dogs they were about to snap.


See video on stopping unwanted behavior before it starts:



See Kikopup video on a positive way to interrupt undesirable behavior:


What NOT to do

Never yell, or use your hands or any part of your body. Try not to scold. This might just teach the dog that bad things happen around the other certain people, and it could increase the level of aggression.

Obedience Training

It can sharpen and focus the mind. Creating a more relaxed, balanced and calm dog. And a calm dog might be less likely to snap.

.And once the dog is trained, you can put the dog in a down stay when you see her about to agress (or use some other training tool)


When picking a trainer to help with obedience training, use the same guidelines as picking one to help with the fighting. Don’t take a class unless it’s fun and enjoyable for you and the dogs.



Other things that can mentally stimulate your dogs and create calm and focus:

A change of scenery – take them for rides and walks

Exercise is extremely important and running around the back yard is great for that. But dogs need so much more. Twice a day walks will help a lot. They could also use other mental stimulation

This is a great blog post that addresses this issue:

Examine Home life

Dogs are very perceptive and will pick up on any stressors in the home. Is there tension in the home? A new family member? A family member who has left or passed away? An illness in the family?

Other Things That Can Cause Tension, Frustration, Aggression:

Electric fences, hot wire fences, shock collars, prong collars

Let the dog live as a family member

See cathy rosenthal’s article on dogs who normally bite aren’t family members:

Prepare for baby long before baby arrives

Cathy Rosenthal teaches a pets and babies class

Article: Pets and New Babies:


I have mentioned several remedies that will require expenditures. Especially fencing and doors to keep the dogs separate. If money is tight, consider all the things that are less important than your dogs. Click the link for suggestions.


All of the above definitely looks like a lot. But don’t be discouraged. Start with the most important stuff like spay neuter and management then start trying some of the other things one at a time.

Some of the above suggestions can be practiced while you are watching TV or reading a book. Take all the data in pieces. Don’t try to look at everything and get overwhelmed.

Even if it does turn out to be a lot of work, the fur kids are worth it. They’d do anything for us.

Best of luck to you!


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