Sleeping with pets

Steve is featured in a new article at the Washington Post on the pros and cons of sleeping with pets. Read the full article here.

In some cases, the co-sleeping decision is clear. It’s never a good idea, for example, to share a bed with a new puppy: Dogs need to learn how to sleep by themselves in their crates first, says Steve Brooks, a dog trainer and canine behavior expert. “If I get a new dog, I want him to learn that it’s okay to sleep in a room away from me.” Brooks also would want to make sure that the dog is potty-trained, knows basic commands, such as “sit” or “down,” and understands that entering the bed is by invitation only.

The Washington Post

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Canine Spring Safety Tips

Now that Spring is here, I am eager to spend more time outside with my dog. I plan to take her on long walks, hikes, to dog parks, dog-friendly cafes and to play fetch in our backyard. What can I do to keep her safe outdoors?

I recommend learning policies and laws before venturing on an outdoor excursion … practice K9 training with an emphasis on loose-leash walking and “coming when called”. On hikes, use a harness or collar that won’t slip off, like a Martingale collar and 6-foot leash (required by law in most cities and states). While passing other dogs, try to hug the side of the trail that allows the humans to pass while keeping dogs on the opposite side — safely apart.

If legally permitted and when confident my (microchipped) dog “comes” when called, I let them off leash on a hiking trail but never out of site. When a fellow dog walker approaches, I call my dog and hook the leash until the path is clear.

Play at a park burns energy but not all dogs actually like dog parks – watch for fear and avoidance behaviors like hiding behind their human, tail tucked or ears back. Playtime with a neutral-tailed, loose body doggie is great, but domi- nant humping, face biting, or if one dog is IN distress means it’s time for you to step in. Dog parks put your pooch at greater risk of intestinal parasites, coughs, flu, sore muscles, and even fights — if you spot a dog with a high, erect tail, hard stare, bullying other dogs or being ignored by their human, it’s time to leave.

Canine Cafe Manners: Teach a down/stay, provide physical or mental stim- ulation and a potty break prior to taking your pup to an outdoor café. Never tie your dog to the table or chairs; instead, place the end of the leash around your wrist. Check for toxic crumbs and ask your dog to down/stay when the server comes to your table. Bring a mat for your dog to lay on and have fresh water available.

Carry a walking stick and beware of mountain lions, bears waking from a winter slumber, birds of prey or coyotes roaming. Fill a backpack with doggie booties, life vest, sunglasses, sunscreen, water container to avoid overheating, treat pouch, favorite toy, poop bags and canine first aid kit.

Remember to enjoy the outdoors and take time to smell the flowers!

Spring’s in the air, your dog is aware.
Flowers in bloom, birds singing tunes.
Kids flying kites, skateboards and bikes.
Long days before dark.
Walks, hikes … dog parks.
Canine spring safety tips I shall bark!

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Doggy Kennel vs. Pet Sitter for Holiday Travel

Q: The holidays are arriving and we will be doing a lot of traveling. We have two young dogs, ages one and two. They get along great. What would work better — hiring a professional pet sitter or boarding them at a doggy kennel while we travel? I want to make sure they don’t experience separation anxiety and feel safe and happy either at home or at a boarding kennel.

Doggie care should not cause separation anxiety, although, if your dog already has separation anxiety, they may not be able to tolerate being crated or kenneled. On the other hand, sometimes being around other dogs with human supervision 24/7 can ease anxiety.

Before you pack your bags for holiday travel, consider these tips:

Boarding Kennel Tips: The most important factor to evaluate is the staffs’ qualifications; kennels can vary dramatically when it comes to training, safety and quality of care. Ask for referrals and tour the facility. If you are denied the opportunity to see where the dogs are kenneled, go someplace else. Set up a “trial” visit before you leave for the holidays. Don’t be afraid to ask questions of current clients picking up and dropping off; people love to talk about what’s best for their pups!

  • “Allinclusive” or “a la carte”? Consider pricing, policies, and pickup/dropoff hours. Can you drop off/pick up any time, or only during certain hours? Do they provide a web cam service to observe your dogs, giving you peace of mind that the facility is delivering on its promise?
  • Is there 24hour care? How are pets monitored; what is the dogtohuman supervisor ratio?
  • Is there an outdoor play area? Are dogs separated by size and temperament during playtime?
  • Do dogs get alone time to chill and rest, or are they in a group the whole time? Many dogs get overwhelmed and need their own space.

Pet Sitter Tips: If you decide on an inhome professional pet sitter, my numberone tip is to get referrals. It’s also important to consider whether your dogs like the person. Set up a “trial” to ensure doggy sitting is ideal. Create a contact list with Vets’ info and a 24hour veterinary number and address. Include an emergency backup person if the sitter has an issue.

  • Set expectations: twice daily walks or supervised in the yard for potty and play?
  • Confirm they will spend the night at your house to reassure you and your pups!
  • Are they experienced in caring for your dog’s breed and temperament?
  • Experienced feeding and dispensing medications?

If neither option is ideal, consider my first choice and take your dogs with you. It’s a great way to bond, and there’s nothing like having your whole family with you during the holidays!

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Beaches, Boats, and Lake Safety


Q: My family loves spending time at the beach and in our boat. We would love to have our newly adopted dog join us. He is about one and is friendly and well behaved.

MOST PUPS LOVE TO GO TO THE BEACH … Before you go, consider your dog’s experience in water, listening skills, breed, age, and health when taking them for a water adventure. Not all dogs swim naturally … some have webbed feet — perfect for a swim — while K9’s with short snouts (brachycephalic) are not the best swimmers. Lots of dogs really don’t like to swim, while others are so excited they swim to exhaustion!

As a Certified Professional Dog Trainer, I advise that before taking your dog to the beach, teach a solid recall and stay. I highly recommend that every pet owner learn K9 First Aid & CPR and watch for signs of heat stroke or hypothermia. A doggie visor is a good idea for light colored dogs with pink noses and fine hair because they are sensitive to harmful UV rays.


Check leash laws regarding dogs at State and local beaches.
Never been off-leash? Use a 20-30-ft. (non-retractable) leash to test the waters.
Always bring fresh water and bowl.
Bring doggie sunscreen, an umbrella and even doggie sunglasses.
Carry a First Aid kit with saline solution (rinse sand if it gets in the eyes).
Teach your pup to wear booties… If the sand is too hot for you, it’s too hot for Fido.
Cool to warm (65-80) water temps are best.
Rinse your dog off after swimming and check paws and coat for foreign objects.
Use a properly fitting doggie life jacket with handles on top for easy lifting.
Talk to your Vet about sea-sick pills.
Give Fido a potty break before boarding a boat and bring a pee pad for emergencies.

Casting a fishing line…? Beware of sharp hooks. I once had a dog dive for the bob- ber on the end of my line (thinking it was a fun toy). Luckily, his “come” command was so good that he flipped a U-turn and swam safely to shore.

Remember to have fun but never force your dog into the water.

Keep Fido away from ingesting blue-green algae or drinking lake, pond or stag- nant water to avoid exposure to parasites and amoebas. Don’t let your dog eat raw fish or crabs that wash up onshore or drink salt water as excessive amounts can make them sick. Beware of riptides or fast-moving water. Watch for wildlife, mos- quitos and fleas and ticks too!

Gradual exposure to water is always best … just like kids, canines should never be unsupervised near water.

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Don’t panic, help is on the way


Q: My dog turns into a panic puddle whenever we need to take him to the veterinary clinic. He seems to know during the car ride and goes crazy. What can I do to calm him down?

If your dog perceives the vet clinic as scary (due to a prior bad experience) or too exciting with all those scents, submissive urinating may occur. The good news? Most dogs can overcome this issue. Building confidence is key. Use positive reinforcement to teach tricks and obedience skills. A confident dog usually won’t piddle or panic in the car. During the confidence-building stage, you might even consider using a Vet that makes house calls.

Use gradual exposure and counter conditioning to the car & Vet

The best way to keep your dog calm is to take them to the Vet when they don’t have to go. Drive to the clinic and sit in the parking lot. Love on your dog, feed amazing tasty dog bites, play a safe game of tug in the parking lot, and then drive home.

Repeat driving to the Vet—but this time, get out of the car and offer treats and love to your pooch. On the third trip, take them inside the Vet’s office and give a favorite treat or toy. Have the staff feed your pooch A-list treats and give your pup some love!

Car & vet anxiety calming Tips:

    • Thunder Shirt: acupressure points help dogs relax
    • Car crate or doggie seatbelt
    • Calming CapTM: cuts down vision (they can still see but its less scary)
    • Rescue Remedy: eases panic, terror, and feelings of losing control
    • Canine Appeasing Pheromones (collar or spray): provides well-being and reassurance
    • Lavender Oil: reduces anxiety (combined with massage)
    • Squeeze Tube: Brooks’ homemade salmon pâté, peanut butter, cheese …
    • Ask your Vet about CBD or anti-anxiety meds

Watch for signs of submission before they tinkle: curling up, putting their ears back, flopping on their back, or crouching down. At the first sign of submissive behavior, immediately ignore, turn, and walk away. As you observe the submissive display dissipate, acknowledge and comfort your dog.

Potty mistakes will happen, but you never want to punish your pooch, as it tends to make the problem worse. If you catch them in the act, try to get them outside immediately. Don’t throw a fit or put their nose in it; avoid bringing attention to it!

Remember to manage water intake before getting in the car and drive with mellow, relaxing music. Be sure to arrive at the Vet early, wait in the parking lot and have the office call you when it’s time or arrange to slip in the back door. Offer treats and a potty break before entering. This way, your dog will be acclimated and unafraid of the experience.

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Digity Diggin’ Dog

Q: What can I do about my dog’s determination to dig in the backyard. It looks like a gopher invasion with all the holes! He also digs before circling in his doggy bed, causing rips to the cover. Help!

Digging is an exploratory behavior and instinct plays a role. Dogs in the wild dig to build a den to protect their puppies. Terriers (earth-dog) and dachshunds were bred to dig and hunt for prey.

Try to figure out why they are digging: attention, bored, anxious, fearful, lacking mental or physical stimulation, trying to escape under a fence, or to stay cool in summer or warm in winter? I think most dogs dig because it’s fun!

Digging is self-rewarding; the more a dog practices, the worse it can get.

Whether your dog is burying a bone in the backyard, or circling their bed, they’re just trying to create a comfortable place to lay and claim a safe spot. You should see how much tossing and turning I do in my bed to get comfortable!

When my dogs are in the yard, I’m the playground monitor so I can spot digging at the start. I call “come,” reward them for coming, than redirect to another activity. If they don’t come, that means training is necessary. Once I have a better recall (usually) that’s all it takes.

The best deterrent for digging is to place garden rocks or bury bricks where you don’t want them to dig. Once they hit the hard surface, they usually stop. You can also bury your dog’s poop (they don’t like to dig there).


  • Create a digging pit (or sandbox) and let your dog dig to China! Encourage digging in that spot only.
  • Teach a foolproof “come”. If you catch your dog digging elsewhere, call “come” in a happy, non-threatening voice. Praise your pup and redirect back to the digging pit or to a behavior incompatible with digging (retrieve game, interactive toys. etc).
  • Become more exiting to your dog than a gopher!
  • Make sure your dog’s physical. mental and emotional needs are being met at home.
  • Management, supervision and exercise are key!

For dog beds, keep nails trimmed and use a cover. I let my dog dig in his bed to get comfy, but if he continues to interrupt my TV show, I calmly say “lay down” and offer a chew toy.

What’s the upside of digity dogs? Digging keeps nails short and will tire your pup out!

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How to calm your k9

Q: I love my dog, but she is anxious and stressed, especially during thunderstorms, at veterinary visits, and when meeting people. What can I do to help her be calm?

Use a thunder shirt or anxiety wrap to help your dog relax and feel safe. Changes in barometric pressure can petrify your dog and act as a trigger to the sound of thunder. When a storm hits … turn on the lights and turn up the TV to drown out the noise of thunder.

  • Slowly desensitize to thunder with a recording of thunder sounds by starting at a low volume and increasing over several weeks, massage your pup with lavender scent in the air to provide a sense of calm and reduce anxiety. Deliver treats if her fear has subsided enough to eat stress free.
  • Spa Music helps canines relax. I find this the most underrated method for calming a dog with anxiety. Go ahead … sing, dance, and act silly to show that you are not worried.

Canine Calming Tools:

  • Defender Cape: decreases static electricity sensitivity of the charge
  • Thunder Shirt(R)
  • Anxiety Wrap
  • Calming Car’: cuts down vision (but they can still see)
  • Dog-Appeasing Pheromone Collar: relaxes, gives a sense of well-being and reassurance
  • Rescue Remedy: helps with panic, terror and the feeling of losing control

Ask to wait in your car and have them call when it is your turn.

At the Vet, use an Elizabethan collar (when they are not injured) and she will concentrate on what is around her neck rather than worrying about other dogs in the waiting room. Fill a squeeze tube or 3/4-inch non-toxic garden hose with healthy, sticky food to redirect away from distractions or fears.

Take them when they don’t have to go… Drive to the clinic, sit in the parking lot, feed them amazing, tasty treats and then drive home. The next day, do the same thing, but get out of the car and treat and love your pooch. On the third day. take them inside. give a treat or meal, have the staff feed A-list treats and give her some love. Now the Vet is a safe, familiar place to visit!

Teach a solid sit: dogs cannot jump if they are sitting.

Keep greetings calm in tone and body language and coach guests to calmly pet only if all four paws are on the floor. When the doorbell rings, put your dog’s favorite toy in her mouth or keep her behind a baby gate with a prestuffed Kong(R) when guests enter.

For dogs with high levels of fear or anxiety including shaking, drooling, panting, stiff, urinating, whining, trying to escape. etc. talk to your veterinarian about pharmaceutical intervention as they can do wonders, especially if paired with training and behavior modification.

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How to tire out your pup

Download a PDF of Steve’s column here.

Q: My Labrador retriever never seems to tire out. I can play fetch with her for an hour and she still wants to play. I take her to the doggy day care three times a week and she plays happily all day with the other dogs. But at night, she still has energy to burn. She is almost two years old. What can I do to tone down her activity level?

Doggy day care is fun but doesn’t seem to tire out pups as much as mental stimulation. Try including a dog savvy person that will take your dog for a run (alone) and include obedience training on walks. Throwing a ball, delivering a treat, or spending time with your dog isn’t always enough; it’s quality that counts!

True hyper-activity in canines is rare. In fact, many overly active dogs are anxious, stressed, in need of obedience training, or desperate for an emotional connection with you. Dig deep and connect … talk to your dog, work on eye contact and reward for being calm and focused. Really mean it when you say, “good dog”!


Obedience train with a focus on “stay” and practice impulse control exercises. Before throwing their favorite toy, ask for a “sit”, wait for eye contact, and then throw the toy. For more advanced fetch training, wait 10 seconds before sending them off to retrieve. Apply rules to your game of fetch and turn the games on and off on your terms; only “crazy” on demand. Try setting up a chill station for your dog!

Brooks’ Canine Energy Expenders:

  • Agility training
  • Automatic ball launcher
  • Chase the garden hose
  • Diggity Dog Digging Pit
  • Dock diving
  • Stuffed KongTM with food
  • Tug-of-Toy (controlled)
  • Dog Paddle
  • Flyball
  • Kibble hunting
  • Sniffing games (Nose work) – toy hunt!
  • Slow feeder / puzzle
  • Treadmill (supervised)

Signs of anxiety and attention seeking include: jumping, pawing, whining and barking. These behaviors can be put on cue and allowed only when you ask for them. Ignore attention seeking and teach positive behaviors that are incompatible with unwanted behavior.

Anxiety Aids:

  • Beef liver (cooling food) can help calm
  • Dog-appeasing pheromones
  • Lavender massages
  • Rescue Remedy
  • Spa music (helps mellow)
  • Thundershirt(R)
  • Turkey (tryptophan) has a calming effect

Remember to improve your emotional connection with your dog, and never punish; punishment only increases anxiety. Keep greetings low-key. Consult your veterinarian if your dog has too much energy to rule out any underlining medical issues.

Keep in mind that labs were selectively bread for high-energy activities and require lots of supervised activity!

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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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