Thursday, June 25, 2015


Our furry munchkin, Leopold Snuggles, aka 'Leo', was a 6 week old stray that we adopted from a rescue organization when he was between 10-12 weeks old. He was a super social and happy puppy who bonded instantly with us and our two year old. The two of them were (and are) best buds. Then around 14-months, he began exhibiting aggressive behaviors towards people and other dogs. His behavior on the leash began to deteriorate as well. We couldn't take him anywhere with us anymore, he was anxious about everything, and even bit two dogs (one very badly). His leash skills got so bad that we couldn't walk him anymore. And Leo is one of the most athletic dogs we have ever seen, so no walking just caused more anxiety, as he couldn't get any energy out. If we tried to have him in the front yard with us and a dog or person walked by on the other side of the street, Leo would go crazy! He also started becoming more anxious with our son. We debated on what to do as we have a little guy at home who Leo was giving some strong warning signs to. Calling Kari was our last attempt to keep Leo a part of our family. 
Kari was WONDERFUL from the moment she arrived. Leo took to her right away, and we could see how trainable he actually was within that first visit. She discussed with us the reasons behind his behavior and how to correct each behavior with positive methods only. No need for a prong collar or shock collar, and we were very relieved. Within the first month of working with Kari and following her behavior plan, we were able to walk Leo in the driveway and he was no longer afraid of people walking by.
Leopold Snuggles 

After three months or working with Kari, our big success is that we can take him on 15-20 minute walks.  He does so well on the leash now. We even walked him in the middle of the street while two dogs were on both sides on the sidewalks with Leo completely ignoring them!  We know we still have a lot of work to do with him, but we now know that Leo can stay a member of our family and that our son will be able to grow up with Leo at his side.  
Jamie and Todd, Denver, Colorado

Monday, April 27, 2015

Interdog Aggression: Persey Graduated Today!

Persey graduated from her training sessions with Kari today.  As we said goodbye for now to Kari, and her dog Paisley, there were definitely a few tears all around.
We adopted Persey, a pure-bred golden retriever, at 6 years young.  Initially Persey was skittish and shy, had a history of severe fear aggression with other dogs, and being overly eager with humans, greeting them with jumping and a bit too much enthusiasm.  She came to us already on anxiety medications, and had already had punishment-based training with a shock collar. On her second day with us, our friends arrived to visit with their dog, Gryphon.  Although wearing a soft muzzle, Persey was out of control, and immediately went after Gryphon.  That’s when we knew we needed professional help.  We were determined to help Persey feel safe and happy in her new home and be able to have a few dog friends.
We hired Kari and she came to visit Persey for our first session.  She diagnosed Persey has having intense fear aggression and anxiety.  Partly related to genetics, prior training methods, inappropriate food, and not the right medications.  On the first visit Kari came up with a plan for change in meds, food, brain exercise, and routine.  She taught us how to keep Persey safe and distracted when encountering other dogs.  She recommended no attempts to meet other dogs until her confidence increased and her anxiety decreased.  She said it might take many months or years, which was hard for us to hear, as we are not the most patient people.    We were anxious to have Persey make friends with Riley, our niece’s dog and frequent visitor.
During her next several visits, Persey was able to meet Paisley, Kari’s chocolate lab, and started gaining confidence with her.  It was so great the first time Paisley and Persey could walk down the road together.  She quickly settled into her new daily routine, started exploring more with lots of tail wagging, and we were in love.  Next came her introduction to Riley (a large, leggy chocolate lab).  Using the same patience and confidence building, anxiety reducing approach, they were soon fast friends, and able to walk together without problem.  With Kari’s suggestion we  introduced  them inside by using a pet-gate to separate them.  Imagine our delight when recently they were able to be together in our kitchen, gate and leash free!
Persey and Riley
Gryphon returned for another play date:  what a difference!  Using the same techniques again, there was no lunging or aggression.  They made friends after a few minutes, and down the trail we went.  Since then they have been able to walk together, and Persey hosted Gryphon for a lunch date in our kitchen that went off without a hitch.

We know now that with the right structure, routine, and cues, Persey can enjoy a confident and happy life, and have a few best friends forever.  It did take several months, but because we went slow and steady, we were successful.  Thanks to Kari and Paisley for showing the way, we couldn’t have done it without them!

Friday, April 10, 2015

Fear and Genetics in Dogs

In Colorado, we are lucky to have several puppy rescues that transport puppies in from other Western states, including New Mexico, Kansas, Wyoming, Oklahoma, Utah, and Texas.  These puppies face certain euthanasia as rural areas don’t have high rates of adoption. But rural areas do have a high number of un-altered dogs who continue to add to pet over-population.  Most of the dogs from rural areas are herding or livestock-guardian mixes: Cattle Dogs, Australian Shepherds, Anatolian Shepherds, Great Pyrenees, German Shepherds, etc.  all of which are known for their herding, guarding, shyness, and somewhat reserved/fearful behavior.  I call these puppies ‘reservation dogs,’ and they comprise about 60-70% of the dogs I work with on a daily basis.   The behaviors are genetic, both in the breed characteristics and from the puppy’s parents and grandparents, therefore it is no surprise that these puppies grow up to be shy, fearful, reactive, and scared.  Many of these dogs don’t do well in the city, as the sights and sounds are too much for them to handle.
Here are some of the genetically pre-wired behaviors reservation dogs may have and of course, not all dogs of each breed will have every characteristic. However, this is a short list of potential behaviors to consider when adopting (source- Wikipedia):
Australian Cattle Dog- Herding Dog: energetic and intelligent with an independent streak; reserved with people it does not know and naturally cautious in new situations; attitude to strangers makes it an excellent guard dog when trained for this task; good with older, considerate children, but will herd people by nipping at their heels, particularly younger children who run and squeal; forms a strong attachment to its owners, and can be protective of them and their possessions.
Australian Shepherd- Herding Dog: may show reserved and cautious guarding behaviors; kind, loving, and devoted to those they know; loyal to their owners, and are rewarding dogs if treated well; protective of its property; inclined to bark warnings about neighborhood activity; intelligent, learns quickly, and loves to play; a bored, neglected, unexercised Aussie may invent its own games, activities, and jobs; does best with plenty of human companionship; require a minimum of 2–3 hours a day of play, exercise, and attention.
Great Pyrenees- Livestock Guardian: confident, gentle, and affectionate; territorial and protective of its flock or family when necessary; general demeanor is of composure and patience and loyalty; strong willed, independent and reserved; attentive, fearless and loyal to its duties; will patrol its perimeter and may wander away if left off  leash in an unenclosed space; protects its flock by barking, and being nocturnal, tends to bark at night unless trained against such behavior.
Anatolian Shepherd- Livestock Guardian: independent and forceful; responsible for guarding its master's flocks without human assistance or direction; rugged, large and very strong; these traits make it challenging as a pet; intelligent and can learn quickly but might choose not to listen; likes to roam; not recommended for living in small quarters.
Border Collie- Herding Dog: require considerable daily physical exercise and mental stimulation;  very demanding, playful, and energetic; may develop neurotic behaviors in households that are not able to provide for their needs; infamous for chewing holes in walls, destructive biting and chewing on furniture, and digging holes out of boredom; may not be good with young children, cats, or other pets due to their strong herding instinct; can be motion-sensitive and may chase moving vehicles.
Kuvasz- Livestock Guardian: intelligent, aloof and independent; intensely loyal; instinctive need to investigate strangers and protect its owner; not usually interested in meaningless activity, such as tricks; experienced handlers only.
German Shepherd- Herding/Working Dog: highly intelligent, active, and self-assured; willingness to learn and an eagerness to have a purpose;  curious which makes them excellent guard dogs and suitable for search missions; can become over-protective of their family and territory, especially if not socialized correctly; not inclined to become immediate friends with strangers.
Belgian Malinois- Herding/Working Dog: active, intelligent, friendly, protective, alert and hard-working; energy levels that are among the highest of all dog breeds; excessively high prey drive; can be destructive or develop neurotic behaviors if not provided enough stimulation and exercise; enjoy being challenged with new tasks; known to be easy to train, due to their high drive for rewards.

As you can see, many of the breed characteristics above include ‘reserved’, ‘cautious’, ‘protective’, ‘high prey drive’, and ‘will nip at heels’.  While these behaviors are normal to the dog, they may be unwanted in a family, or in day-to-day life.  It is imperative that new adoptive pet parents understand these behaviors and set their puppies up to succeed in all situations. I have had the opportunity to work with thousands of these genetically fearful puppies in the past 22 years, and I have adopted 2 reservation puppies from New Mexico myself.  Every adopter, including myself, has very good intentions with socialization, desensitization, and training, and it was different even for me to experience these behaviors, as I have only had Siberian Huskies, Great Danes, and Labradors before.  However, many of these reservation puppies are intrinsically ill-equipped to process a lot of confusing environmental stimuli at once and then those good intentions can be disastrous.     Many of these puppies grow up to growl, snap, and bite because of their breed characteristics. It doesn’t have to be that way if humans understood their ‘genetic’ predisposition better.
There are a few important things to remember if you adopt a fearful puppy or adult dog:
1). Reservation dogs need training that is different than other puppies.  The focus should be on building their confidence and helping them to cope with scary environmental things slowly instead of putting them in situations that will make them more scared.  ‘Flooding’ can be detrimental to their psychological well-being.
2). Behavior is always context specific. Your puppy is going to behave differently in certain environments: friendly at home, and scared at the vet; running around happily in the backyard at home, or hiding under your legs at the pet store.  It is crucial that you take ‘context’ into account when analyzing your dog’s behavior. 
3). Behavior is individual to every single dog. Just because you had a wonderfully behaved German Shepherd when you were growing up, doesn’t mean that the one you adopt today is going to be the same way. Every dog is different even if they are related.  We are different from our siblings, and we have the same parents, too. 
4). Training must be done when your dog is not afraid, adrenalized, or stressed, and your puppy must always feel safe at all times.  If your puppy’s brain is in full-blown fear mode, she cannot learn. She can only shut down, or suppress her stress, which will make her fear and anxiety worse in the future, and may cause more aggression. 
5). Punishing, forcing, leash correcting, yelling at, squirting, throwing things, or shocking your puppy is not going to help her.  It will inevitably make her more afraid, or worse, more aggressive because she feels pain/fear.  Punishment increases stress, it’s as simple as that. She may ‘behave’ after getting shocked, but only because she’s afraid of getting shocked, not because she’s less fearful or stressed. 
6). Growling is not bad!  Please do not punish your puppy for growling, as it is the most appropriate warning a dog could ever give.  If he growls, he is telling you he’s scared, and then its up to you to help get him out of the situation and/or redirect him.  If you punish your puppy for growling, he’ll stop growling i.e. stop warning, and guess what? Then he’ll go straight to snapping and biting as a warning. 
7). Fearful, shy, stressed, and aggressive puppies need professional help in the form of dog-friendly, positive, confidence building behavior modification. Please call a positive dog behavior professional, and please stay away from punishment-based or ‘balanced’ dog trainers, as both use fear, corrections, and intimidation in their training.  
8). Dog behavior is not about being dominant or alpha, and shouldn’t be characterized as such.  If you try to be ‘dominant’ over your dog, you will make him scared of you and more anxious about his environment.  Dominant dogs are calm, stable, friendly, and confident.  Fearful dogs are anxious, shy, shut down, reactive, and can be aggressive.    
Whether you adopt a reservation puppy, or rescue a fearful adult dog, there are many things to consider when training and socializing.  Every dog is different, and his or her individual needs and genetically pre-wired behaviors should play the biggest part in how you teach, desensitize, and work towards building confidence and social skills. If you have any doubt, please hire a professional so you don’t inadvertently make things worse.  If you make one wrong step, or try to work through fear and anxiety on your own, it could have dire consequences for your fur baby.    

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Her name is Heidi because she hides (or used to!)

My boyfriend lost his beloved shepherd mix. “Lulu” in December of 2012.  He half-heartedly looked at other dogs throughout 2013, but Mike always had an opinion about our selections- too similar to Lulu, not similar enough to Lulu, it was a prime number on Tuesday in a leap year, you name it.  One day, I sent Mike a link to this picture and said “I know I said I wouldn’t send any more pictures but here’s ‘Cherry’."
Heidi at the shelter
I don’t even know why I sent him this picture.  Anyone who is remotely fluent in dog language will tell you that this puppy is terrified by her first 10 weeks of earthly experiences.   But boys will be boys and I was greeted with a text of  “Can I borrow your crate?  Do you want to meet a puppy?”   So, we ended up at the shelter 10 minutes before closing and we couldn't find her in the kennel.  The shelter staff assured me that she’s there but in a 3x5 run, where can you hide?  Turns out the answer is under the cot in the back corner.
“Cherry” was renamed “Heidi” by Mike’s niece because she hid under and/or behind any available surface.  Then Mike had to go out of town and he was going to board her in a traditional facility.   Knowing Heidi and how soft she was, I knew that experience would scar her in ways that even the most diligent owner could not help a puppy recover from.  Instead I called Kari and asked if she would help us with a shy puppy. 

To say Kari 'helped' Heidi sounds so trite and hollow.  Kari did an intense 10-day 'stay & train' at her home, which was so much less stressful than a boarding kennel.  Heidi became fast friends with Kari's Lab, Paisley, and having another dog around really helped Heidi learn to play and not be scared of other dogs.  With Kari's patience and guidance, Heidi developed coping skills so that she was confident to handle the world around her.  Kari desensitized her to scary things, helped her feel safe while she was training, and gave her so much love she didn't want to come home.
Paisley and Heidi 
In fact, after the time with Kari, she jumped in a raft and went on a white water rafting trip with Mike.  Heidi spent 10 days with Kari when she was 16 weeks old and it ultmately and profoundly changed the trajectory of her life.  Kari’s not a 'miracle worker' or a 'dog whisperer'.  But she used dog-friendly, positive, confidence building techniques to lay the majority of the foundation for Heidi to become trusting, confident, and happy.  After that, it was up to us to do the work to build that bond and trust with Heidi.  If you do that, the results will blow your mind and your puppy will thank you for the rest of her life!   Katy and Mike 

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Lola the Great Dane Learns to Love her Sister Again!

"I first went to Kari’s group training classes after I rescued my older Great Dane, Riley, from Big Dogs Huge Paws.  Kari immediately connected with us and her training became simple and second nature for us.  Riley has done wonderfully, and is the perfect dog.

Three years later, we rescued a younger female Dane from BDHP, and named her Lola.  About a year after Lola arrived, we started experiencing aggression and behavioral issues directed towards Riley.  I was at a loss of what to do and began to wonder if both dogs would ever be safe in our house. I decided to commit and dedicate the energy required to make our house safe for both of my girls. 

I reached out to Kari again to provide guidance as I knew we needed professional help. kari suggested in home training over the course of a few months.  She diagnosed the issues and laid out a very prescriptive and detailed plan for us to work on.  She gave us the training and support we need to provide a harmonious and safe environment for both of my girls.
Without this training, I cannot imagine what decisions I would have had to make.  Both Lola and Riley are living together peacefully again, with daily management and direction, but the stress level has diminished greatly.  We are very thankful to Kari for giving us hope, and helping us so we didnt have to re-home one of our babies."  ... Kristin

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Gus, the German Shepherd gets a Sister!

About 6 years ago, I worked with a fearful German Shepherd, Gus, and his moms, Heidi and Jill. With their patience and guidance, Gus became a different dog.  He's on the Wag & Train website for his accomplishments, but they just sent me an email with an update.  I LOVE UPDATES!  AND- they got a new puppy and listened to my recommendations for introducing them.  I love it when people listen to me! :)   Heidi has been a wonderful reference for me since then, and I am happy to report, Gus is still doing fabulous. Yay! 

"Hi Kari - I just got a request for a reference from a potential client of yours and thought I should update you on Gus.  He's doing great - and I can't thank you enough for helping us help him!  We moved to Southern California about 18 months ago, and it's been a change for us all.  After all those years of only walking Gus through Englewood under the cover of darkness, he's now been able to enjoy miles and miles of walking trails here in California.  We spent the first year in a suburban neighborhood, with three horrible untrained barking tiny dogs next door to us - and it didn't phase Gus at all.  After the first day we had no issues with him and fence charging, and he pretty much ignored the terrors next door.  We were able to walk him during the day (!) with kids, and dogs everywhere with no issues. He doesn't bark at dogs as we pass their yards, and he also got to spend time at the beach near our home.  He still wasn't really ready to be friends with anyone but Elias, but he's been boarded numerous times and seems quite popular there!
Gus and his baby siter, Isa
About 6 months ago we wanted a bit more "space" so we moved out to Joshua Tree, California, where we have 5 acres of fenced in space, and both Gus and Elias loved it - living the indoor/outdoor life with a huge yard to play in and lots of area to run after balls! Unfortunately, and sadly, Elias had his third bout of cancer, and this time the lymphoma won.  We were devastated and decided that after 18 years together, it was time for Jill and I to have one dog for awhile.  That lasted about a few months, and we realized Gus was terribly bored.  We spent some time deciding how to best introduce a new dog, and what type of dog (puppy, adult, etc..) and finally gave in to Jill's ongoing adoration of Siberian Husky's and found an 8-week old female in a rescue.  
And because of what you taught us we did the introduction right.  The puppy
spent several weeks separated in the kitchen by a gate from Gus.   We
introduced them in small increments over several weeks.  Now the puppy belongs to Gus... and he's discovered how exhausting a baby can be! 
He's the most patient and wonderful dog with her - she crawls all over him, bites him, pulls at his tail, chases him, or follows him everywhere and he just wants more!  Hard to believe when a few short years ago we had a dog we had to muzzle to keep from lunging at any dog in the vet's office, and the dog I thought would go out the front door after a dog on the sidewalk.   He's become even more wonderful - loves people,
tolerates other dogs, and loves life.  He loves hiking in the desert and the mountains, walking in the city, and going camping.  He's still afraid of thunder, but otherwise he's happy, well-balanced, and just a joy to have in our lives.  And I just wanted to take another opportunity to thank you - as I tell everyone who asks about you - what you taught us in three sessions changed the life of our dog, and we couldn't be happier!  So, Gus says thank you as well - and here's a picture of him with his new baby Isa! Hope all is well with you - and thanks for everything!"  Heidi and Jill 

Monday, November 10, 2014

November Succes Story: OAKLEY

"Don’t let the cute face fool you, this boy was a hot mess when we adopted him in May of 2014. We got him from a rescue organization and knew going into it that he was a bit of a problem child, but wanted to him a chance.  When we first got Oakley, he was so awful on a leash, lunging at every dog and barking at half the people we encountered, that we didn’t even want to walk him. He also got very aggressive with people coming in the front door and couldn’t relax around strangers. When he nipped at friends and picked a fight with a dog twice his size at daycare, we were referred to Kari for help. Thank goodness! From the beginning, I appreciated that Kari has a ton of experience working with dogs like Oakley and can recognize and address the root issue – in this case, extreme anxiety. I also loved that she only uses gentle techniques and had many simple and straightforward things we could implement to start working on Oakley’s behavior. Over three months we changed a lot of simple things in Oakley’s day-to-day life like the way we feed him, the way we walk him, teaching him commands, and giving him a natural herbal supplement. This approach worked well with my personal philosophy of trying non-pharmaceutical approaches for (human or animal) behavioral issues before medicating. All of these measures have helped to build Oakley’s confidence and calm him down so he can let his sweet, goofy personality shine.  Now, just 6 months into Oakley-ownership, he relaxes and socializes happily with friends just minutes after they come over and walks like a champ on a leash. When strangers stop you in the park to tell you that your dog makes everyone else look bad, you know you’re on the right track. And now that we're expecting a baby, it's even more important to have a dog who fits in our family.  We fully understand that Oakley will probably always be a bit of an anxious scaredy cat and little crazy with people knocking on the door and coming in.  However, with dedication and Kari’s help, it’s absolutely possible to see amazing, positive changes.  Thank you, Kari!"  Kendra and Oakley