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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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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