How to have a happy (and safe) holiday with your dog

Q: We are so looking forward to celebrating the holidays with all the trimmings, including a decorated Christmas tree. How can we keep our energetic puppy from turning the holidays into the howl-i-days?

Whether you are entertaining at home for the holidays or going to visit friends or family … if you plan to include your dog (and who wouldn’t?) you will want to make sure your dog has a fun, safe holiday season. K9s can become anxious or excited in a holiday party atmosphere and, for this reason, need to be monitored. To combat jumping on guests or even knocking over the Christmas tree, the best thing to do is teach a solid “sit” “go to bed” and “stay” or try calmly delivering a favorite toy in your dog’s mouth when the doorbell rings to keep greetings mellow!

Get your energetic dog moderately tired before guests arrive with a walk, game of retrieve, or an interactive dog toy, but not so exhausted they are howling for the holidays.

Guests might unknowingly feed your dog toxic foods, overfeed, or even leave the front door open! Make sure your pup wears an ID collar and is microchipped in case she slips out the door. Request that guests ask before feeding your dog and offer safe, healthy treats so guests aren’t tempted to feed them the wrong food.

Teach your puppy a few tricks to perform for these tasty rewards! I like rewarding my dog for not hanging out under the table or in the kitchen, and instead holding a down/stay at the other end of the room and rewarding them for being calm.


Deck the halls … but beware of wires, cords, candles, tinsel, ornaments, and giftwrap. Be sure to secure the Christmas tree and avoid letting your pup pee on or drink water from the tree.

Avoid dangerous holiday delights and decorations including: alcohol, Allspice, chocolate, coffee, currants, grapes, leek, nuts, nutmeg, onions, pumpkin spice, raisins, rhubarb, shallots, yeast dough (raw), and Xylitol (artificial sweetener). Holiday plants such as mistletoe, holly, and poinsettias should also be kept out of reach.

Always have safe place for your dog to go if the party gets too festive or if your pup looks anxious, tired or cranky.

Last but not least, don’t forget to have fun! Dogs are very sensitive and in tune with your emotions and, during the holidays, many of us are stressed – our canine companions pick up on that stress. The calmer and happier you are, the calmer and happier your dog will be. Be sure to have fun this holiday season, and your dog will too!

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Training dogs for fun and safety in the water

Q: I love swimming, kayaking, and sailing. What can I do to encourage my dog to join me on these water adventures?

For water adventures, start on dry land. Training essentials in- Fclude: come, stay, go to a spot, up and over, walk without pulling, targeting, retrieve, sit on your lap, and accept being lifted. Provide water, shade (if the ground is too hot for your feet, it’s too hot for Fido’s), Vet-recommended sunscreen and a properly fitted life jacket. Doggie splash pads are a good alternative for canines who may not be water hounds.

Swimming: I taught my toy poodle mix, Uni, to swim at our new home in about six weeks (depending on the level of apprehension your dog has to water and time spent training; some take longer or never love the water, and that’s ok). Keep sessions short with plenty of breaks. As a dog trainer who does not advocate the use of force, I practice using positive reinforcement.

The trepidation your dog shows toward water indicates where to start training: right before they show fear.

Training sessions include a less intense version of the pool until the fearful reaction dissipates. Uni came two feet from the edge of the pool before becoming apprehensive; that’s where I started training:

  • Practice getting on a raft on dry land
  • Place raft in a shallow kiddie pool; deliver tasty treats and favorite retrieve toy!
  • Place raft with favorite toy in pool; reward increased interest
  • Target stick (touch with nose to move into positions) to approach water without force
  • Swim to edge of pool, ask to come as close as comfortable (Uni’s threshold: two feet); hold target stick (touch with nose); click and toss treat closer to the edge (never grab or throw a dog into water)
  • Instead of tossing treat, Uni would have to accept being pet while I delivered the treat
  • Call Uni to the edge to give a “kiss” (without grabbing him)
  • Sit on steps until he finally has enough trust to sit on lap

I exposed Uni to the pool, at such a low intensity, that it did not elicit an anxious or fearful response.

Before I knew it, Uni dove into the water to get his toy! His natural instinct of hunting waterfowl kicked in…now swimming is his favorite!

Kayaking & Sailing: Wearing a doggie life jacket, teach getting in and out (“up and over”) on dry land first, using targeting if necessary. Improve balance with discs, balls, bands, and K9 conditioning equipment. Practice leash skills on the dock or marina. Many dogs jump out at the first sign of wildlife, so ensure training is solid, even with distractions. Watch for signs of fear/anxiety: lip licking, yawning, tucked tail, ears back, whining, shaking (unless it’s cold or your dog is wet).

Water sports are not for every doggie so be happy with baby steps that your dog offers and don’t be afraid to lower criteria during training. Your dog may just surprise you!

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Play Etiquette: Pups and Seniors

Q: Help! My new puppy is super sweet, super cute and super energetic. And, she takes great delight in nipping the legs of my gentle older dog. I don’t want my older dog to lose her patience and growl or bite back What can I do to help my pup learn proper canine play etiquette?

Growling is actually a good thing! A growl is a warning. A growl is one way a dog communicates that they are uncomfortable. A growl is being patient. Without the growl, your older dog may fight back without warning, so be ready to intervene:

  • The instant you sense one of the dogs not enjoying themselves
  • Aggression or humping (older dogs with health conditions like arthritis may have a shorter fuse)
  • Excessive leg or face biting
  • If one dog is on their back for too long looking anxious or uncomfortable

It’s best to develop a relationship with your new pup before introducing them to other dogs in off-leash play fests! Each dog’s bond with you should be solid so they acknowledge their name, or better yet… come when called. When you sense trouble brewing, call back the canine that listens best.

Spend solo time throughout the day with each dog, not only for behavior management but to help build your human-canine bond. Work on getting your new dog to want to play with you more than the other dog.

Some dogs are very vocal when they play, which is not always a bad thing. It’s the silent dogs…the ones that are stiff and still that you need to worry about.

Signs that a dog is uneasy or on the verge of an aggressive outburst:

  • Tucked or erect tail
  • Ears back or forward
  • A hard stare or wide eyes

Signs that a dog is comfortable with play:

  • Jiggly-wiggly, relaxed, loose bodies and faces

Does your new dog display leg-nipping behavior only when you are present? If so, the dog may be doing it for attention. Work to modify behavior:

  • Teach alternative behaviors to herding/nipping including: come, sit, down, or retrieve a toy
  • Praise your new dog when they are not displaying herding behavior
  • Tire your puppy out before they play with older dogs
  • Work on teaching your pup a “leave it” command

Play this turn it on/turn it off game:

Practice revving up your new pup’s energy by playing wild with them, then two-three minutes later, stop the game abruptly and send them to their bed or a spot for a down/stay. Two-three minutes later, repeat the exercise. Be patient and consistent!

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Watch Steve on a new episode of The Security Brief

Certified Professional Dog Trainer Steve Brooks explains how to create a healthy relationship between children and dogs on a new episode of The Security Brief.

Here’s Steve’s segment on the show:

And here’s the full episode:

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Driving in Cars with Canines

My new article in the Winter 2016 issue of Fido Friendly Magazine was just released. You can see an enlargement of the page from the magazine or read the full text below.

Q: We are planning a three-day drive with our two dogs. We’ve booked Fido friendly hotels, but what advice can you offer regarding potty breaks, mealtime, and unexpected bad weather to keep them safe?

Check your reservation to determine size or breed restrictions, if your dogs have to be confined to a crate when unattended, and if the hotel supplies a “Caution: Dog in Room” sign.

Pack a doggy suitcase with essentials: first aid kit; vet contact and emergency pet hospitals; medications; vaccinations; food; treat pouch; collapsible water bowl and water; towels; blankets; favorite toy; potty bags; Martingale-style soft, non-slip collar, properly-fitting harness or head halter, 6-foot leash; and, if necessary, a crate and a muzzle for an emergency. Make sure microchips and tags are current. Check the forecast … pack booties (warm and cool temps), life vest, doggie sunscreen, and even shades!

Research crash-tested doggie seatbelts and car seats or use a cushioned crate secured to not tip over. Make sure your dog has gone potty before you depart!

For travel stress, try these to calm your pup:

  • Anxiety Wrap or Thunder Shirt: acupressure points help dogs relax.
  • Calming Cap: reduces vision (but they can still see).
  • Canine Appeasing Pheromones: relaxes puppies and adult dogs; Dog Appeasing Pheromones (DAP) are synthetic pheromones that mimic those released during lactation and give puppies a sense of well being and reassurance.
  • Lavender oil: dabbed on the collar to reduce anxiety.
  • Windows: reduce anxiety by not letting Fido see out the side window.
  • Drive calmly and play “spa” music in the car.
  • Peppermint, ginger, fennel, dill, cinnamon, and Coconut oil (use as directed) can soothe the stomach. True motion sickness is physiological, so talk to your veterinarian about any concerns.

Travel and road trips can throw off mealtime, so if you end up at a fast-food joint, share just a few bites. Order a plain burger or grilled chicken sandwich “hold everything” or bring tasty travel treats to share with Fido:

  • Carrots
  • Blueberries
  • Hard-boiled eggs
  • String cheese
  • Homemade yam, kale, or banana chips… to name a few!

When giving your pups a roadside potty break, keep distractions low and encourage sniffing and circling, as they are more likely to do their business. Most importantly, before entering your Fido-friendly hotel, find an appropriate potty area. You don’t want your first impression to be your pooch watering the lobby!

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Steve to appear on new episode of The Security Brief on Feb. 2

Fresh from their last appearance on the show, Steve and his rescue dog Uni will appear on a new episode of The Security Brief on Feb. 2. If you can’t watch the show when it airs, you can find it on YouTube one week after the air date.

Here’s a list of the show’s air times and stations in different cities:

Los Angeles, California – KDOC: IND – 3:00 AM
Houston, Texas – KUBE: IND – 4:00 PM Sundays
Detroit, Michigan – WADL: IND – 9:30 AM and 4:00 PM
Cleveland, Ohio – WBNX: CW – 6:00 AM
Nashville, Tennessee – WUXP: MY – 12:00 PM
San Antonio, Texas – KCWX: MY – 2:00 PM
Kansas City, Kansas/Missouri – KCTV/KSMO: CBS/MY – 12:00 AM
Beaumont, Texas – KBTV: FOX – 11:30 PM
Birmingham, Alabama – WTTO: CW – 12:00 PM
Bryan, Texas – KBTX: CW – 12:00 PM
Charleston, South Carolina – WCIV: MY – 12:00 PM
Chattanooga, Tennessee – WFLI: MY – 8:00 AM
Corpus Christi, Texas – KTOV: MY – 12:00 PM
Flint, Michigan – WSBF: CW – 11:00 AM
Fresno, California – KFRE: CW – 3:00 AM
Gainesville, Florida – WMYG: MY – 5:00 AM and 9:00 AM
Huntsville, Alabama – WHDF: CW – 2:00 PM
Madison, Wisconsin – WMTV-DT2: NBC – 11:00 AM
Mobile, Alabama – WFGX: IND – 12:00 AM
Norfolk, Virginia – WTVZ: MY – 2:00 PM
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma – KSBI: MY – 3:00 AM and 9:00 AM
Pensacola, Florida – WFGX: IND – 12:00 AM
Rochester, New York – WHAM.2: CW – 3:00 AM
Savannah, Georgia – WGSA: IND – 6:00 PM
Sherman, Texas – KXII: MY – 8:00 AM
Syracuse, New York – WICZ: IND – 11:00 AM
Waco, Texas – KWTX: CW – 12:00 PM
Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania – WQMY: MY – 7:00 AM

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Watch Steve on The Security Brief

Watch as certified professional dog trainer Steve Brooks shares tips for restoring trust and encouraging good behavior with rescue dogs on The Security Brief.

Here’s Steve’s segment:

And here’s the full episode:


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Water Safety for Fido

My new article in the Summer 2016 issue of Fido Friendly Magazine was just released. You can see an enlargement of the page from the magazine or read the full text below.

Q: I am blessed to have an eager-to-please dog who loves water play. You name it – the beach, pool and even backyard sprinklers. What are some ways to keep him safe and avoid him becoming too fatigued when swimming or fetching balls in the water?

Labs and portuguese water dogs love to fetch and will happily swim or dog paddle! Bulldogs and Pugs (short-snout) are not the best swimmers. Avoid throwing a dog in the water to teach them to swim; you may risk trauma and fear of water.

Don a doggie life jacket and teach your dog to “come” and “retrieve” a safe floating toy on dry terrain first. Next, sit in a kid-size pool with just a few inches of water. Deliver a tasty treat to reinforce fun!

Pool safety requires a clear exit strategy: place a blue or yellow flag or cone as a fixed object by stairs or ramps and teach your dog how to exit the water.

Pooches that beach-dive for tennis balls or swim in the pool for long periods can become fatigued, so take regular time-outs. Pups that lap up pool water, salt water or ingest too much playing with the hose may become victims of water intoxication (although rare, it can be fatal). Then there’s the risk of drinking pond water. Dogs can contract Giardia, an intestinal infection from a microscopic parasite found in standing water.

If your dog-tired pup is swimming or drifting towards danger, tossing a floating toy in the opposite direction can potentially save your dog’s life.

Start and stop water games: take five and rest in the shade with a small amount of fresh water.

I recommend every owner learn pet First Aid & CPR and watch for signs of heat stroke: excessive panting, disorientation, weakness, foaming at the mouth, vomiting, rapid heart rate, red tongue, pale gums-move your dog to a cool area and contact your emergency Vet.

When summer heats up apply doggie sunscreen and sunglasses and remember, just like kids, whenever canines are unsupervised around water, always use a cover or pool alarm, enclosed gate and training!

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Can’t we all just get along? How to teach your dogs to share toys, attention, and food

My new article in the Spring 2016 issue of Fido Friendly Magazine was just released. You can see an enlargement of the page from the magazine or read the full text below.

One note: my part of the text in the magazine is usually in blue, but this time it appears in pink due to an editorial error.

Q: We recently adopted a second dog from the shelter. The two get along fine most of the time, until the new dog attempts to play with a toy belonging to our first dog. She growls and lunges at him — a behavior we’ve never seen her exhibit. Why is she not letting him play with her dog toys and what can we do about it?

Dog-to-dog resource guarding is a normal survival instinct. It usually has to do with rank. To determine the best course of action, it would be helpful to know the breed, age, and any other “triggers” that incite aggression.

Do the dogs only fight over high-value items: bones, rawhides, pig ears, antlers — or human attention, sleeping areas and food? Have there been significant puncture wounds? Pay attention to body language: a hard stare or stiffened body mean the dog is ready to strike. Prior to your new dog’s arrival, was your dog around other canines with toys on the ground? In your case, the first dog exhibits a behavior called resource guarding.

How to fix the problem? Sometimes we can fix it; others only manage it. Due to factors like owner compliance, size of dog and safety, we may recommend the dogs not live together. But let’s first try desensitization and counter-conditioning techniques that curtail dog-to-dog resource guarding. The goal is to teach the guarding dog that when the new dog enters the room, good thing will happen!

I recommend you work with a Certified Professional Dog Trainer (CPDT) or Veterinary Behaviorist who understands how to use positive reinforcement. Start by being proactive using management — do not allow the dogs to practice this behavior. Management includes: keeping a leash on (never unattended), muzzles, baby gates, picking up toys, and playing with only one dog at a time. Lowering the value of the toys can also help decrease aggression.


It’s vital to train your dogs to: move to another room on cue, emergency recall (come) and down-stay. Whenever you sense trouble, call the dog that listens best. Training each dog separately to “retrieve and drop” will help them learn to share!

I’ve had success teaching the non-guarding dog to move away when the guarding dog approaches a favorite toy, which teaches them that the new dog’s presence is not a threat. You can also teach your guarding dog to perform a different behavior when they feel threatened, like going to another room to chew her toy!

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My latest article in Fido Friendly Magazine: Winter Couch Potato

Here are my tips on keeping your dog active in the winter months from the latest issue of Fido Friendly Magazine. See the full issue here.

Q: I don’t want my dog to pack on the pounds during the cold winter months by becoming a couch-lounging canine. What are some safe outdoor activities we can do together as well as a few we can do indoors when the weather is nasty?

Sitting on the sofa with your pooch may be a great way to bond (and lower your blood pressure) but so is exercising with your dog, which provides an ideal opportunity to bond with your pet while both of you enjoy the benefits!

If you’re heading outdoors in cold temps, dress your canine com- panion in a coat and booties to keep them warm and protect paws from toxic ice-melting agents on slippery sidewalks (but don’t leave booties on for long periods).

If it’s too cold for you, it’s too cold for your dog.

Northern breeds like Huskies with heavy coats fare better in nasty weather than a skinny Italian greyhound. To learn how cold is too cold for your dog; refer to Tufts Animal Care and Condition (TACC) scale.

Taking into account weather conditions and the age, size, and fitness level of your dog, some of my favorite outdoor exercises include: agility, Frisbee, Skijoring (dog sled on skis), herding, jogging, Schutzhund (pro- tection sport), Treibball (herding sport), tug-of-war, and three-paced walk.

THREE-PACED WALK: You & your K9 walk 30 seconds; jog, sprint, and repeat.
Benefits: Aerobic conditioning, burns calories, increases cardiovascular function.
BROOKS TIP: It helps if your dog knows how to heel and walk properly.

TUG-OF-WAR: Using a knotted rope, pull one end while your dog bites the other.
Benefits: Strengthens jaw and upper body, expends energy, burns calories.
Brooks Tip: Train to “drop it” and not miss the toy and bite your fingers.

What about when the weather keeps you and your doggie indoors? Try “downward dog” with Doga or how about dancing, hide & seek, sniffing and searching games like nose work? Even advanced tricks like piano playing can burn calories. I get great results with doggie push-ups or interactive games that are mentally and physically beneficial.

DOGGIE PUSH UPS: Say “sit”, then say ‘down’. Repeat for 4-5 reps. Ask for a “stay” and let your dog take a break while you do yours or try doing them together!
Benefits: Improves flexibility while reinforcing a foundation of training.
Brooks Tip: Teach your dog sit and down first. Praise or treat when they get it right!

INTERACTIVE GAMES: Using a puzzle game or treat ball, put a tasty mor- sel inside and have your pup chase, push or bat it around with their nose.
Benefits: Mental stimulation, physical interaction, and fun for owner and pets!
Brooks Tip: This also engages their natural inclination to hunt for prey.

It’s up to you, not your dog, to make sure they walk, exercise, and play to keep their bodies fit–even in the winter months!

Steve Brooks, (CPDT-KA), founder of Steve Brooks K9U has been teaching dogs a solid foundation of real-life manners, specializing in behavior problems for more than 20 years. 

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