Watching vs. Whispering

I met a cute little bean of a dog today. She ran right up to my car to greet me. A 15 month old 22 pound mix of a thing, with the most appealing face. I was actually there to teach her tricks. Not exactly my specialty but I was game. It turned out though that she was too nervous for most tricks.

While she didn’t hesitate to run up to me, and at one point even jumped into my car, she did hesitate when I touched her, and she flinched at any sudden movements, whether they were directed at her or not.

She has only lived with her owner for 3 months and the previous year of her life is anyone’s guess, but my guess would be that it was not too pleasant.

I did my usual out of the box training. Taught her to sit, down, stay and come in just a short bit of time. She learned everything very fast. I would break it down into steps and when I would move to step #2, she would jump to #4.

I couldn’t teach her any tricks that involved my putting my hands over her head (like rollover) – it made her too nervous. She was hyper vigilant, watching everything and everyone while listening to all indoor and outdoor noises.
How exhausting!

Mostly though I just watched. I’m not real big on whispering. For me listening is so much more important.

So I watched how she interacted with her owner. I watched her body language and his to understand what she was trying to communicate. Most humans spend so much time and effort trying to communicate TO their pets instead of WITH their pets.

When he asked her to sit she would take a step or two back and then sit. I’m willing to bet some bad things have happened to her while sitting close to people.

Don’t get me wrong, this man loves this dog and she loves him, that’s obvious; but they are only 3 months into a relationship and trust takes a while.

Sometimes when he would ask her to sit she would stand there and not move, just look at him. I could see very clearly where another trainer might label that as defiance and the ever dreaded “dominance” issue.

As I stood and just watched that for what seemed like the longest time, I noticed how soft the dogs eyes were and I felt the need to hold my heart and my eyes filled with tears.

What I saw was a dog who really, really wants to please “her man” but she was trying to figure out a way to stay safe at the same time.

I trust that she is smart enough and her owner is kind enough that she will soon figure out that she IS safe.


The Zen Litter Box

The Basics:

  • Cats have a better sense of smell than we do.
  • Cats are finicky about cleanliness. A clean litter box is one that will be used.
  • You can’t scoop too much. Two times a day minimum.

Tips for Multiple Cats:

  • Multiple cats need multiple litter boxes. Have one more box than you have cats. (2 cats = 3 boxes, etc.)
  • Keep the litter boxes in different areas of the house.
  • Scoop more than twice a day for multiple cats. Keep gallon baggies next to boxes. Scoop into bag, seal and then throw out at the end of the day.

What about the Box?

  • Ever use a “Porta Potty”? That’s what a traditional litter box smells like. Yuk! Lids off!
  • Try plastic storage boxes with flat bottoms and high sides. (Some cats are just “high pee’ers.” They don’t mean to make a mess; the box is just too short.)
  • Empty the box totally at least once a month and clean with a gentle non-ammonia cleaner.

The Scoop on Litter:

  • Whatever your cat likes is the best of course.
  • Do try a litter made of something other than clay. It’s better for your cat’s lungs and better for the environment.

Introducing a New Cat


Follow these tips to introduce a new cat in your home.

  • 1. Keep the cats separate for about a month. Keep the new cat isolated in a room with lots of toys, food, fresh water, and a liter box. Treat your existing cat as usual; just keep it out of the room where the new kitty is residing. After a week or so switch toys. Give the new kitty some of the existing kitty’s toys and vice versa. 

  • 2. Give each cat Rescue Remedy each day from the first moment you bring the new cat into the house. Rescue Remedy is a Bach Flower Essence that is a wonderful treatment for times of stress. You can get it at any health food store. Put a drop in each cat’s food. (You can try putting it in their water, but it’s preserved with alcohol so your cat may not drink it.) If your cat is willing, you can drop some right on it’s tongue, or even easier, put a dropper-full on your cat’s back. 

    • 3. At the end of a month let your cats together, but only when you can supervise them. They will actually have gotten to know each other a bit even though they have been in separate rooms. (If you are lucky, they started playing under the door!) Keep the cats separate if you cannot watch them, or at least listen for a fight. Break up fights by redirection. Use a cat toy on a pole; dangle and wiggle it in front of the cats until they are distracted. 

  • 4.You will be tempted to rush this process. Don’t! Cats do not like change, even if it’s for the better. Slow and easy is the way to go.

How Do I Get My Dog to Stop Jumping?


This is one of the most frequent questions I get asked about dogs. Large dogs get the short end of the stick on this one. If a small dog jumps on you and is at your ankles, not many people notice. A big dog jumping in your face is pretty hard to miss. A few things to try are:

  1. Teach your dog an incompatible behavior. Like a “drop dead sit.” You can’t jump on someone and sit at the same time! A good obedience class (like Zen Paws) is a great place to learn to sit with a lot of distractions (other dogs, people, cars, etc.).
  2. Make sure your dog is getting enough exercise. Most dogs need an average of one hour of aerobic exercise per day. A walk is not aerobic. Aerobic is heart-raising exercise! There is a common saying “A tired dog is a good dog!” Tire your dog out till she/he doesn’t have the energy to jump. There are a lot of ways to tire your dog out. Mental stimulation can help tire out your dog. Training classes are a great way to get your dog thinking and problem solving. There are some good toys designed for this as well. The Buster Cube is a great toy designed to stimulate your dog mentally.
  3. Until your dog has learned a sit, use “dog talk” to stop your dog from jumping. When your dog starts to jump on you, slowly move into its space. Watch your dog closely and you will learn the signs that it’s about to jump. When you see that, step slowly into (toward) your dog. In the beginning it may be like a dance. Your dog has jumped on you, has its paws on your shoulders and is walking backwards while you are slowly walking in your dog’s space all the way across the room. The next time you may only have to go halfway across the room before your dog gets down. Soon you will be taking one step forward and your dog will get down. Then you will just lean forward and your dog will stop the jump.
  4. Do not raise a knee to your dog’s chest!!! You could injure your dog this way. People’s natural reaction to a dog jumping on them is to lean back a bit. In dog talk this means, “jump on me.” Send a clear message that you don’t want to be jumped on by slowing stepping toward your dog.
  5. A word of warning, dogs often go through a “Tigger” stage where they stop jumping on you but still jump frantically up and down in front of you. This too shall pass.



Dogs chew. That is non-negotiable. All you get to choose is what your dog chews.

  • First ask yourself, “Have I met my dog’s basic needs today?”
  • Did my dog get enough exercise?
  • Is my dog’s food loaded with sugar? (Beet pulp, sorghum, corn syrup, grains. Trainers call food that is high in protein & sugar “rocket fuel.” It might be good for sled dogs, but is it good for your pet? Probably not.)
  • Do I have enough toys? You should have at least 6 toys, and a wide variety such as squeaky toys, balls, rope toys, stuffed toys, bones (as in a piece of a cows leg sterilized and packaged for sale at the pet store).

To Interrupt Chewing:

  • On objects, say “Oops” and redirect the chewing to a toy. Keep your house puppy proofed, with everything up and out of the pups reach.
  • On You, if your pup is chewing on you and bites too hard, yelp (really go for an Academy Award here) and freeze. When your pup let’s go redirect to a toy. Playing with other friendly dogs is a great way for your dog to learn “bite inhibition” and it does transfer to humans. Gentle guidance will leave you with a soft mouthed dog.

House Training


1. Name it – “Do Your Job”, “Go Pee”

2. Reward Instantly – The second your dog is done, give them a tiny bit of a treat (the size of a cheerio). Praise
your dog, “Good Girl”, “Hooray” and give her a kiss on the head or a pat.

3. Watch Like a Hawk – Never let a pup out of your sight. Keep your puppy in a crate (plastic), outside in a safe area or in your sight at all times. Use a leash to tether your dog to a stationary object such as the couch, while you watch TV and give him 5 or 6 toys to play with.

4. Interrupt – If you catch your dog peeing, interrupt with an “oops” and quickly rush them outside to finish the job. Don’t scold, scolding seems to teach a dog not to pee in front of you.

5. Clean Up – If your dog pees and you don’t catch her in the act, first feel free to yell at yourself “why in the heck wasn’t I watching my dog?” and then use an enzymatic cleaner like Natures Miracle or Simple Solutions to clean it up. Sounds simple right? Well it is. Don’t mistake simple for easy though! Most pups can pee faster than humans move, and keeping a pup in your sight at all times is easier said than done. Be gentle with yourself and your pup and you’ll both be trained in no time!

My Dog Is Great at Home …

I have been thinking of getting T-Shirts that say that. I hear that all the time. “I don’t know why my dog isn’t listening, he’s great at home”. “He sits at home every time.”

Yep! I know that one. I am great at home too. Not only am I kind and nice and patient, I am also tall and thin with long blonde hair. I’m not sure what happens when I leave the house. All of a sudden I am fat and fifty and have no patience whatsoever.

It’s easy to be nice and kind when there is no one around.

It’s easy for your dog to sit when there is nothing else to do.

But when your dog can sit with 10 other dogs around, 15 people, a fruit stand and a busy street, well, then you have a dog that can sit. One that will sit instead of chasing squirrels, cars or kids. One that will sit instead of run away.

That’s why a group class is so great. If your dog can learn to sit there it can sit anywhere. All it takes is practice.

Your dog can’t stay at home “being great” for the rest of it’s life and neither can I.

Perhaps with enough practice, I will be able to be kind and patient when surrounded by people. Who knows? Maybe I can even be tall thin and blonde.