Making the most of life with your dog here in Palo Alto

12/15 is “dog lovers day” at Stanford basketball with discount tickets

Posted on December 12, 2012

Stanford Athletics reached out to let us know about DOG LOVERS DAY  at Stanford Women’s Basketball, this Saturday, December 15th, as the Cardinal take on the University of Pacific at 7pm at Maples Pavilion.  Visit to purchase discount tickets for just $5.  Besides the fact that Stanford Women’s Basketball is ranked #1 in the nation, you can enjoy special dog-related entertainment at this event.

Halftime will feature an agility dog demonstration by the Bay Team.  The Bay Team is a non-profit Bay Area club devoted to canine agility training and trials (competition).  Enjoy entertainment throughout the game with various canine-related activities, videos and more.   While they haven’t opened Maples Pavilion to dogs, you can bring a dog toy to donate to the Humane Society of Silicon Valley, participate in contests, and watch the agility show at half-time.  If you’re not familiar with agility, it’s a terrific option if you have a high-energy, high-drive dog that you would like to find a fun way to work, without getting into something more specific like scent work.

Training tip: don’t ask your dog to be less than he is

Posted on December 4, 2012

Now that it’s the holiday season we are reminded of a wonderful line from The Sound of Music in which Julie Andrews, Maria, says about Christopher Plummer, Captain von Trapp: “I can’t ask him to be less than he is.”  First, if you haven’t seen the movie, or not in a while, it’s fabulous and full of beautiful sentiment that will fill you with the holiday spirit, even though it’s not a Christmas movie per se.  Second, it’s worth thinking about this quotation with respect to our dogs.

If we reflect a moment on what noble and loyal creatures they are, and how they were bred for hunting, herding, ratting (yes that’s what terriers do) or whatever, we should credit them for their willingness to adapt to the town lifestyle we lead here in Palo Alto in order to serve as our companions and please us.  Yes our dogs may have foibles, like jumping up on people, getting in the garbage, and other issues we may need to address.  But we need to approach these challenges in the spirit of appreciating how much our dogs are already giving us by adapting rather well actually to the extreme environments that we put them in — such as living in an apartment, or having us gone most of the day at work or at school, etc.  Our point is that when you are dealing with a behavior issue with your dog, don’t lose sight of the forest for the trees.

Approach dog training with a spirit of respect and compassion for your dog, in terms of appreciating how much they are already giving you that is positive.  And realize that usually the behavior issue that frustrates you is a symptom of larger issues, in which we are asking our dog to be less than who he really is, by not fully utilizing his capabilities and not giving him the opportunity to actualize his genetic makeup in the world.  So next time your dog does something naughty, have some perspective.  Your dog is not the problem — it’s a sign that you need to work on enabling his proper place in the world, and these issues will tend to resolve themselves with a little work once there’s a larger vision and leadership tone coming from you.  That’s why we ask, what is your wish list for you and your dog?  Form a positive vision and work towards it together, patiently.


Food scraps, zero waste and your dog

Posted on November 8, 2012

We’ve read that the City of Palo Alto is working on a program for composting food scraps, in order to become a Zero Waste community. One suggestion for dog owners is to consider working towards zero waste of food scraps by improving their dog’s diet. Of course, you need to rule out chicken bones, chocolate, grapes, and all the various food hazards for dogs. At the same time, instead of buying expensive food that seems to aspire to human-quality cuisine for dogs, you can set aside a bowl for food scraps each day and mix those into your dog’s bowl with their kibble or whatever they are fed.

We no longer waste unfinished sandwiches, oatmeal, rice, stew, or whatever else has been on the menu. We mix this in the kibble to boost its food value. You would be surprised how much gets wasted each day in a typical family once you start setting it aside. Your dogs will be very pleased to be included in the family cuisine. We’ve been told that dogs actually eat this way in some other countries, and if you look back over time, the compact between mankind and canines has been for dogs to be sustained on whatever the humans have had around to provide them. Dog food was not invented until a clever Englishman came up with the product in the 19th century, and the rest is history. Here’s a nice history of dog food from the Terrierman’s blog.

Today of course the dog foods are high quality, scientific and nutritional, but at the same time we don’t feed our children from a feed bag blessed by a scientist and are pretty sure we meet their nutritional needs. There are a lot of views on what to feed dogs, including those who make dog food from scratch, as well as the raw meat folks, and we’re not advocating any particular approach as this is rather a religious issue for some people (although again raw meat has been a treat but in no way the staple of domesticated dogs). Your dog’s stool will tell you how he is tolerating his food, whether store-bought or from scraps or scratch. We just offer the suggestion that you can repurpose many scraps, improve the nutrition of your dogs at no cost, reduce garbage waste, and make them quite happy in the process.

Training tip: is your dog leading a cat lifestyle?

Posted on October 4, 2012

One of the challenges of dog ownership is that dogs require a lot of time and attention. But this fact is also the source of the vast psychic benefits that come from having dogs, namely that they are devoted and loyal companions who live to serve us and brighten our day. The problem can be that in today’s world, our busy schedules sometimes cause our dogs to be left alone longer than they can reasonably tolerate given their nature as dogs. So often I am asked to address behavior problems that we find are merely the symptoms of the larger problem, i.e., that the dog is being asked to lead a cat lifestyle, and the dog is not doing so well with that.

What is a cat lifestyle? If you know cats, I don’t have to tell you, and fyi I have cats and am a cat lover. if you haven’t had a cat, basically you should know that a cat is kind of a like a roommate, someone whom you share space with, have some good times together, but otherwise you both are quite happy being independent. The cat relationship with mankind is this: you have food and shelter, so I will kill whatever rodents might be on your property in exchange for being allowed to hang around. Now today, we may not use cats for this purpose, but that’s the time-honored deal with cats.

Here’s a fun article about dog versus cat IQs in the Huffington Post by Joan Liebmann-Smith. The salient point for this discussion is that dogs are much more social than cats and need the social interaction of their pack relationships with you and others to thrive.

So if you get a dog, and try to leave it alone for long periods of time, your dog will likely show behaviors that are in protest of this arrangement. A cat, on the other hand, can be left alone with food and water and a litter box while you go away for the weekend. So it’s useful to ask ourselves, are we honoring the canine in our life by enabling them to live a dog lifestyle, or are we trying to put bandages over the problems that arise because we are asking them to live like cats.

So here are two very basic, common-sense tips for enhancing your and your dog’s lifestyle, and thereby avoiding many behavior problems:

1. If you are gone for the day at work, hire a business like Smilin’ Dogs (no affiliation) or a dog walker or some other service to get your dog out and about so they have a social life, get exercise, and of course get to relieve themselves. If you ask for my help, I will suggest you spend your money first on enabling this routine (on a daily basis!) rather than getting my help for a problem that comes from not having your doggie day-care issues addressed. I do half-day obedience and socialization trainings, so some people use me for one of their “day-care” slots, but I must emphasize that finding a daily affordable routine is paramount rather than hiring someone to fix a problem inherent to your living arrangements.

2. When you are not at work, try to take your dog wherever you go. You love your dog, and your dog loves you, so you will both be happier. Of course you need to walk your dog and do all the usual things, but my point is try to rethink and radicalize your own lifestyle to include your dog more. It might be possible to take your dog to work, or commute with your dog and drop him at day-care near your job. When you are off work, run your errands with your dog and include him in your social life. Your dog would rather sit in your car while you go to the store or party then be left at home, period. Ideally you start frequenting businesses that allow you to bring your dog in, or using an outside patio if it’s an eating establishment. But the bottom line is, think of your dog as your shadow, and include him in your life whenever you can. It will transform the both of you, guaranteed.

Penny on the road!

Summer plans with your dog

Posted on June 29, 2012

Now’s the time to think about what you and your dog will be up to this summer.  Will it be going on vacation with the family, or enjoying the longer daylight by spending more time together outdoors?   Do you have any new training or behavior objectives for your dog?  Here are some ideas to think about.

Baldwin estate bench

Decide to Travel with Your Dog.  If you make the decision to travel with your dog, then you will find yourself undertaking to work out your plans to make that a reality.  It may be that you need to adjust your plans somewhat, but where there’s a will there’s usually a way.  For example, you might decide to drive rather than fly, if your dog doesn’t meet airline requirements.   Of course, if you need to leave your dog at home for trips that fall outside a canine’s travel sphere, there are a lot of terrific options these days, so your dog will probably have a great time without you!

The choice to vacation with your dog can also affect what you do and where you stay, quite possibly for the better.  For example, if you decide to drive, you might then go for a scenic route rather than the quickest highway destination.  And you might then research and find accommodations that take dogs, including dog-friendly camp sites.  You can alternate between dog-friendly places and kennels too, so having your dog doesn’t limit where you can stay.   Also many kennels these days take the open doggie-daycare approach.
Lake Tahoe dogs

We go to family camp near Lake Tahoe every year, and they don’t take dogs.  So now I board our dogs in town and take them out to hike with me every day.  Because of that, for myself I am now doing longer and better hikes, with the joyful company of my dogs.  This year my adult dog Lady got to teach my young dog Penny about how to go on hikes, how to swim, and how to meet other dogs in that context.  Penny learned so much from getting to be just another dog on the dog-friendly beaches of Lake Tahoe, where no one is stressing about what your dog looks like. We enjoyed pet-friendly Kiva Beach and Tallac Historic sites with our dogs at South Lake Tahoe.

Lily Lake dogs

Explore Dog-Friendly Options Here.  Now is the time to expand your horizons with your dog here in town.  You may have a set routine of where you go for walks and the like, so why not use the nice weather to discover some new things to add to your repertoire?  At Town & Country Village, for example, there are quite a few restaurants with outdoor seating. You can grab a salad at Calafia Market A-Go-Go or a burger at Kirk’s Steakburgers, and sit outside with your dog.  Or you can get something from Trader Joe’s and just grab a bench.

Also try running your errands with your dog — Palo Alto Ace Hardware gives out doggy treats, as does Books Inc. Palo Alto.  So try something new where you can take your dog. It’s great for their socialization and their simple wish to be with you, always.   It’s great for you because perhaps you will walk or ride your bike, and certainly you will chat with more people as dogs are such a nice calling card.  Give your dog a job by buying them a dog backpack, and have them carry your water and other stuff for you.  They will be very proud of themselves.

Work on Some Stuff.  If your dog has any issues that are holding you back from trying more things this summer, then make it your plan to start working on them.   Check out the AKC Canine Good Citizen test criteria, and see where you stand.  If your dog is just great, then try giving him a new job or teaching him something new for fun, or taking him somewhere new.  If your dog has some trouble with people or other dogs, don’t hide out — get to work on it.  There is a lot of shame that people carry around their dog issues, which needs to be let go of.  Recently I ran into an acquaintance in the parking lot outside a bakery, who had his dog in his car.  I said, do you want our dogs to meet?  What I got was a long discourse on how his dog was people aggressive, and how they weren’t told by the vet that the dog needed socialization as a puppy and all the problems with the dog and how it wasn’t their fault.  I said okay no problem, let me know if you want to work on our dogs together!  In other words, I absolve you, it doesn’t matter why you are where you are, and let’s just move forward.

So one way or another, take your dog out and give them the repetitions they need in the world to be a good dog citizen, with lots of food or other rewards, but do it in a safe way, so there’s no stress on you or on other people, as besides being a bummer, that stress can easily transfer to your dog and thereby defeat your whole effort.

Postscript: By the way, a muzzle is a training tool, not a scarlet letter.   I find that even some people I know with working dogs have an emotional issue with using a muzzle even when it’s to load their dog into a helicopter, and I think this is telling of how we are all susceptible to anthromorphizing our dogs.  It’s not a judgment that your dog is a bad person if you have it wear a muzzle in some circumstances; in fact it shows that you’re a conscientious and sensible dog handler.  
I often carry a muzzle just in case it might be useful — for example to set a human at ease when my large powerful dog meets their small dog, even though the small dog is the one barking and lunging from the owner’s arms.   That said, it helps to announce that your dog is wearing it as a training tool, in order to educate people, or else they might assume your dog is that bad person. I’ve had a number of people think that another useful tool, the Gentle Leader halter is a muzzle (it’s not, it’s like a halter you put on a horse or sheep to lead them), so often people just need to be informed and put at ease. 

Training tip: what you allow you encourage

Posted on April 9, 2012

It’s good to have some basic Zen-type principles in mind when working on your dog. It can be overwhelming at times training a dog and working on different behaviors and commands. I like this tip “what you allow you encourage” as a general precept. It reminds you that whether or not you are intentionally working with your dog at any given moment, they are there learning from you. So if you allow them for example to jump in your lap without permission while you are watching TV, then that is a behavior they learn is okay, i.e., to run over your space without being invited. It might be cute as a puppy, but it teaches a lack of respect, and dogs are all about body language and personal space. Better to encourage a different behavior, such as having them lie at your feet, so they learn to stay with you but in a submissive and respectful posture.

So ask yourself, if you are feeling that things are a bit chaotic with your dog, what behaviors are you allowing that you would prefer not to encourage? Then you need to draw the line and do something about it, which may take work until it becomes the routine, your status quo, but it will be worth it. For myself, it takes time with multiple dogs, including a Rott puppy, to line them up for a peaceful entry or exit through the door. But if I fail to do this, then I am fostering chaos and creating a world where dogs barge in and out of doors. You can’t be in a hurry all the time living with dogs, and that, I submit, can make your life better too, especially in our busy Silicon Valley world.

Lady Palo Alto dog training

Palo Alto animal shelter up for closure?

Posted on March 29, 2012

There have been a few news stories about the potential closure of the Palo Alto animal shelter, such as this one by Gennady Sheyner posted on Palo Alto Online.  

Without getting into the politics of budget cuts, I can only say it would be a shame to lose this dedicated community service.  Sometimes you may not know what you’re getting from city staff, but here it’s unambiguous in terms of the animal control officers, adoptions, spay and neuter, and vaccinations.  I do think they make it too hard to adopt these days, but that’s another story.

I was also concerned to read in comments to this related story, an interview with Sandy Stadler, head of animal services, that Stanford sends strays to a shelter in San Martin.  Since we’re close to campus, if that’s the case, it’s a concern that a dog that gets out could end up trucked down there away from the caring nexus of our community.  I hope we can come up with a creative solution on this one!


Coonhound Palo Alto

Sleepless nights for concerned citizens.

Weimaraners against Palo Alto animal shelter closure

Weimaraners A-Gainst Shelter Shutdown (WAGSS) Super PAC spokesdog and founder Weimaraners Together Forever! (WTF!).

Time with aka time on your dog

Posted on March 20, 2012

In training there’s a phrase “putting time on your dog,” which means working your dog around a particular discipline for a period of time.  It’s not rocket science that consistency and time-on-task are key elements of any training routine.  Of course, many short sessions are better than one long one, unless your training exercise is an advanced one geared to address a training challenge over an extended period of time.

Anyway, this concept of “putting time on your dog” is a way to think about what you actually do in “spending time with your dog.”  Being with your dog is the foundation of your relationship, from which everything else flows.  And when you spend this time together, you are in fact putting time on your dog in honoring the most fundamental part of the human/canine relationship.  My point as a training tip is to link the two concepts in your mind, as the dog’s essential role and source of fulfillment is in spending time with you constructively, that is, by serving you.  So how can we be more deliberate in asking and allowing our dog to serve us?   Think about putting time on your dog in various ways as you go about your daily life.  This can be as simple as having him lie at your feet while you watch TV, or taking him with you in the car to go to the store.   Of course there may be behavior issues that need training or correction in any of this, but the mindset should be focused on the positive, i.e., developing the ideal relationship with your dog, not on the negative.

No pet for you?

Posted on March 17, 2012

If you missed this dog-related article in Slate about the rigors you can go through these days in adopting a “rescue” dog, you might enjoy it.  Author Emily Yoffe has a wonderful sense of humor.

Back in the 1970s we adopted a lab mix from the Palo Alto pound, basically by walking in their, picking her out, and leaving with her. More recently, I went in with my little boy to try to adopt a bunny, and the process was somewhat different. I have had rabbits in the past and am actually fairly knowledgeable about them. We went through the whole interview process, and it was pretty funny that they wouldn’t let me have the bunny until they spoke with my husband on the phone to confirm he was on board. They were kind enough to to give me a pass on interviewing my teenager though! The bunny is living happily in his own enclosure in our backyard.  On the plus side, he was already tame, and came neutered and microchipped, which is pretty fancy for a bunny.

On a related note about the Palo Alto animal shelter, it’s a great place to get your dog or cat’s shots done.  They have a weekly shot clinic on Wednesdays from noon to one p.m. that is inexpensive and convenient.  “No appointment is necessary, but please call before coming to one of the weekly vaccination clinics, to confirm that one will be held on that particular Wednesday.”  More info here on the Palo Alto animal shelter’s site.

The Bunny


Posted on March 9, 2012

Welcome to Palo Alto Dogs, our blog about making the most of life with your dog here in Palo Alto.  Our focus is on honoring the timeless relationship between dogs and humans, and exploring meaningful ways to live out that experience more fully here in our busy Silicon Valley world.