Could You Please Repeat That?

By Michael Litzky, CPDT-KA

Dogs are excellent observers of the human species.  They can tell when we’re about to leave for work.  They know when we’re sad or upset.  They even predict when we’re leaving for vacation.  But they don’t speak English.  Or Spanish.  Or French.  Or Japanese.  Or…you get the idea.    

Believe it or not, the following video clip is probably a pretty accurate representation of what dogs hear when we talk:


Occasionally, dogs will hear a sound that seems familiar, and in that moment they will understand what we want them to do.  But those sounds get lost in the sea of conversation we usually send their way. 

When training, being consistent with how you talk to your dog is very important.  You must be consistent with the words and the tones you use.  You shouldn’t tell your dog “lay” sometimes and “down” others.  If you use “down” to mean stop jumping on your guests, don’t use it to mean lay down also.  Try “off” for the jumping.  Or just “lay” for lay down.  Consistency with the tone you use when saying these words is equally as vital to a dog’s understanding.  Dogs aren’t learning the words we teach them, they’re learning the sound of the word.  “Sit” and “Siiiiiiiiiit” are two different words.  I like to use the shorter tone, it cuts through the background noise better, and I make sure to always say it in a happy way.  Dogs like listening to happy people.  Nobody likes listening to angry people. 

Now, this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t talk to your dog.  I talk to my dogs all the time, usually in a fun and silly voice.  They may not know what I’m saying, but they do know we’re having fun.  However, when I’m using my training words, and I want to make sure I get my point across, the size of my vocabulary decreases considerably. 

Remember this the next time you get frustrated and long winded with your dog.  When you say, “Oh my goodness, I can’t believe you did this! You know better than to act this way, how could you do such a thing? And with my favorite sweater!”  Your dog is actually hearing, “Wah wahwah wah wah, wah wah wah! Wah wahwah wah wah, wah wah wahwah? Wah wah wahwah wah!”

Michael Litzky is the Owner and Head Trainer of Idle Paws Dog Training.  He is a Certified Professional Canine Behavior and Training Master Instructor and Behavior and Aggression Management Trainer.  He is also a Certified Professional Dog Trainer-Knowledge Assessed.  He has worked with thousands of dogs in all areas of dog behavior and obedience.

Dog Park Tails: The First Tail

By Michael Litzky, CPDT-KA

            Dog parks are a great source of socialization and exercise, two key ingredients for a well-balanced, happy dog.  However, it is also important to be aware of the risks and take appropriate precautions.  Dog Park Tails, a new, semi-regular feature on our blog, will help ensure your visit to the dog park is a positive one.  You’ll find advice for the dog park, as well as the occasional anecdote from our own dog park adventures.  We’re based in Atlanta, Georgia, and if you live in the area, you may also find helpful reviews on some local dog parks.  Now, on to the First Tail…

10 (Kinda) Quick Tips for a Fun and Safe Trip to the Dog Park

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1.    Absolutely NO treats, food, bones or high value toys inside the park.  Balls are usually ok, but make sure there are plenty available.  Bringing something tasty into a dog park will bring far too much attention from the powerful sniffers in the park and could very easily lead to a fight.  If you have trouble getting your dog to leave the park without treats, try practicing a come command while just outside the dog park fence.  You can use all the treats you want to strengthen the command outside the fence, then use praise and enthusiastic play to reinforce the behavior inside. 

2.    Keep moving.  Especially when you first arrive.  Dogs are more likely to stand or play near our feet, regardless of how much extra room there is at the park.  Nervous dogs will often glue themselves to their owner’s ankles.  Your dog will move with you when you walk around, which will help make them feel more comfortable.  When a dog feels restricted to one spot, they are more likely to react when scared.  Moving around can also help prevent owner-based resource guarding. 

3.    We’re talking about off-leash dog parks, which means all dogs should be…that’s right…off-leash.  Dogs on a leash feel restricted and more vulnerable.  This can increase their fear and make them more likely to react.  Off-leash dogs may also seize the opportunity to pick on a restricted, nervous dog.  If you are trying to socialize your dog, and they are not ready to be off-leash in the park, spend time outside the fence and allow them to watch the other dogs play at a comfortable distance. 

4.    NEVER carry or pick up a dog unless it is an absolute emergency.  The raised dog will feel extremely restricted, and as we’ve already discussed, that will cause the dog to feel more vulnerable and more likely to react.  And they’ll have every right to react, because the focus of all the nearby dogs will immediately turn towards them, as if they had a target on their back. 

5.    Dogs read our body language to help interpret different situations.  When you’re at the dog park, try to be calm, happy, and relaxed.  And most importantly, have fun!  If you’re having fun, your dog knows there’s nothing to worry about.  Even if there’s a scuffle, resist the urge to just start yelling.  A loud “Hey!” can be effective, used sparingly, but continued yelling will only worsen the severity of the situation.  Multiple people rushing in while yelling at the top of their lungs are basically telling their dogs to “Fight! Fight! Fight! Fight!”

6.    Supervise young kids at all times and make sure they do not run.  Most dogs will understand that adults aren’t interested in playing rough and tumble, but young kids are viewed as willing and ready playmates, just like the other doggie friends at the park.  If they’re excited and running…it’s game on. 

7.    Proper gate etiquette is very important.  This topic could be a whole list by itself.  Most incidents at a dog park will happen at or near a gate.  When entering the dog park, come in quickly, but make sure your dog isn’t too wild.  It’s not a good idea to let a dog full of energy, ready to explode, into a yard with a bunch of other dogs.  Try walking around outside the park for 5 or 10 minutes to let your dog calm down.  If your dog is inside the yard and likes to greet each new dog at the gate with a lot of noise and enthusiasm, redirect your dog’s attention away from the gate when another dog approaches.  Use a ball, enthusiastic praise and play, anything (except treats!) to get their attention.  The squeaky part of a plush toy, held in your pocket, can be a great distraction.  Finally, most parks will have a paddock area with two gates for entering and exiting.  When one gate is open, the other gate should be closed.  Never leave both gates open, or risk causing a doggie exodus. 

8.    It seems almost too obvious to mention, but personal experience requires it, you should pay attention to your dog.  If your dog is pestering another dog that clearly doesn’t want to play, you need to redirect your dog’s attention or hold them in place for a few seconds to allow the other dog to get away.  Don’t wait for the other dog to say enough is enough and over-correct your dog with a bite.  Similarly, if your dog is the one that is trying to get away, and the other owner isn’t helping or paying attention, it may be time to leave.  Trips to the dog park are for our dogs and there’s no reason to stay if your dog is no longer enjoying the experience.    

9.    Speaking of paying attention to your dog, please pick up their poop.  Even though you’re in a fenced in area, you still need to clean up after your dog.  Nobody else is going to do it.  Nearly every dog park will have plenty of poop bags and trashcans. 

10.    Small dogs stay on the small dog side.  Big dogs stay on the big dog side.  There’s a reason most dog parks are divided into at least two areas.  Dog breeds have an exceptionally wide range in size and strength.  It’s not fair for the Chihuahua – no matter how confident she is – to go paw-to-paw with the well-meaning, but overly-exuberant, Boxer.  Let alone a Great Dane or English Mastiff.  The injury risk is far too great.  Furthermore, some breeds have a strong prey drive that can be triggered when they see a tiny dog running out of the corner of their eye.  If your dog loves chasing squirrels, there’s a decent chance they will also enjoy chasing squirrel-sized dogs, who will likely not find it nearly as amusing. 

Michael Litzky is the Owner and Head Trainer of Idle Paws Dog Training.  He is a Certified Professional Canine Behavior and Training Master Instructor and Behavior and Aggression Management Trainer.  He is also a Certified Professional Dog Trainer-Knowledge Assessed.  He has worked with thousands of dogs in all areas of dog behavior and obedience.

Look Mom...I'm Flying!

By Michael Litzky, CPDT-KA

              There have been a lot of stories in the news lately about dogs flying in airplanes.  These articles have mostly centered on emotional support dogs, which is exactly what it sounds like – a dog that has been certified by a mental health professional as providing emotional support for their owner, usually suffering from some degree of anxiety, depression, phobia or other mental health related issue.  Emotional support dogs are allowed places that dogs would otherwise not be permitted.  Like on an airplane. 


              The Air Carrier Access Act (49 U.S. Code §41705) provides protection for these support animals and allows them to ride in the cabin of a plane.  (The Americans with Disabilities Act covers service dogs).  It is not difficult to certify your dog as an emotional support dog and many people are able to obtain a certificate online.  However, as we’re beginning to see, this easy, non-regulated process comes with a price. 

              An airplane can be a scary environment, just ask anyone with the common fear of flying.  (This is also another acceptable reason for getting your dog emotional support designation.)  For a dog with no experience on a plane, it can be downright terrifying.  You may have read that a passenger was bitten multiple times by an emotional support dog on a Delta flight last summer.  This incident, one of many, has led Delta and other airlines to reevaluate and change their pet policy.  Delta now requires owners to submit a Confirmation of Animal Training Form to verify their dog is “trained to behave in a public setting and takes [the owners] direction upon command.” 

              From a trainer’s perspective, this is great news, though not for the obvious reason of increased business.  These dogs NEED training.  Not just for the sake of the other passengers, but also for the well-being of the dog.  Proper socialization and exposure to variables the dog will encounter in an airport and on an airplane is essential.  An owner’s ability to get their dog to listen, not at home in an easy environment, but somewhere the dog will be over-stimulated and distracted, is a must.  If owners fail to properly prepare their dog to fly, benefits like this will continue to become more regulated and eventually taken away. 

              Along these lines, and I cannot say this strongly enough, anytime you are in a public environment you should PICK UP YOUR DOG’S POOP!  I am constantly amazed at the indifference of people who just leave the poop on the ground, sometimes within feet of a dog poop station with bags and a trashcan.  We will lose the ability to bring our dogs to public places if irresponsible owners continue to allow their dogs to eliminate in these areas without cleaning up the mess.  But I digress… 

A bathroom for dogs at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport

A bathroom for dogs at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport

              It doesn’t matter why you want your dog to fly in the airplane cabin with you as an emotional support animal.  You understandably do not want to put them in cargo or you can’t afford the additional fee.  Maybe you genuinely suffer from severe emotional difficulties and need them with you.  Regardless of the reason, you should train before you fly.  You don’t need to train your dog to be a fully certified service animal, which can take months, if not years, and cost thousands of dollars.  Even a basic training course, whether one-on-one or in a group setting, can be the difference between an emotional support dog behaving on an airplane and one becoming famous for all the wrong reasons.  Airports are doing their part – you can often find a fenced in area for dogs outside the airport as well as actual bathrooms designated for dogs inside the terminal – it’s about time we did ours. 

                        49 U.S. Code §41705




Michael Litzky is the Owner and Head Trainer of Idle Paws Dog Training.  He is a Certified Professional Canine Behavior and Training Master Instructor and Behavior and Aggression Management Trainer.  He is also a Certified Professional Dog Trainer-Knowledge Assessed.  He has worked with thousands of dogs in all areas of dog behavior and obedience.

The World Isn't Black and White, Even for Dogs

By Michael Litzky, CPDT-KA

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               There are a few facts that everyone knows about dogs.  Their sense of smell is significantly better than our own.  They bark.  They have fur, which they sometimes shed.  And of course, they don’t see color.  Well, that last one isn’t true.  Dogs are capable of seeing lots of different colors.  
               Most primates, including humans, have trichromatic color vision.  We, like our chimpanzee cousins, have three different types of cells in our eyes that interpret color.  These cells are called cones.  You may remember learning about cones and rods in science class.  Dogs and many other non-primate mammals have dichromatic color vision, with only two types of cones.  While we may not be able to ask a dog what it’s like to see the world with dichromatic vision, there are some people we can ask.  Over 4% of the population is color blind, most commonly as a result of having only two of the three types of cone.  They too have dichromatic color vision.  Does this mean they don’t see any color?  Of course not.  They’ll tell you they can see a myriad of colors, but sometimes they have trouble distinguishing between certain ones.  The most common form of this condition is red-green color blindness, which happens to be the form that is most similar to a dog’s version of dichromatic color vision.  Red-green color blindness causes the colors red, green, brown and orange to look similar to each other.  While this definitely explains some of the outfit choices of my color blind friend from college (hey Jarrod!), it doesn’t give us the whole picture when it comes to dogs.    

               We have around 6 million cones in our eyes.  The fovea, the center of our retina that focuses best, is made up entirely of cones.  Dogs have far fewer overall cones and they do not have a fovea.  Instead, the center of their retina consists of 20% cones.  The rest consists of rods, which are better at detecting dim light.  It’s one of the reasons your dog can see better at night than you can and why it’s easier for you to see faint stars in the night sky when you don’t look directly at them.  This reduction in cones means the colors that dogs see are noticeably duller.  To fully understand how that affects their color vision, think about the last time you were outside at dusk, just after the sun went below the horizon.  The light outside is dim and colors are muted and harder to distinguish.  You may not initially be able to tell the color of someone’s shirt until they walk closer to you.   Bring your color blind friend along and ask them to describe what they see.  That may be the closest you get to understanding how your dog views the colorful world around them.  You can then tell your friend that comparing them to a dog is not an insult…except maybe to your dog. 

               So dogs do in fact see color!  But they see fewer colors than we do, and the colors aren’t as distinct and vibrant.  Still, that’s a far cry from living in a world of gray.  Two of the colors dogs see the best are blue and yellow.  You’ll notice these are the colors that we use for our Idle Paws Dog Training logo.  That didn’t happen by random chance.  Dogs are more likely to react negatively to things they can’t see as well, and we wanted to make sure they can clearly see our shirts – blue with yellow and white lettering – when we come for a visit.  It all comes back to training in the end!

Neitz, J., Geist, T., & Jacobs, G.H. Color vision in the dog.  Vis Neuro, 3, 119-125 (1989)

Michael Litzky is the Owner and Head Trainer of Idle Paws Dog Training.  He is a Certified Professional Canine Behavior and Training Master Instructor and Behavior and Aggression Management Trainer.  He is also a Certified Professional Dog Trainer-Knowledge Assessed.  He has worked with thousands of dogs in all areas of dog behavior and obedience.

One Man's Trash is Another Dog's Treasure: A Brief History of Dogs

By Michael Litzky, CPDT-KA

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               Dogs have long been labeled as man’s best friend.  In the 1700s, it was recorded that King Frederick of Prussia used this term about one of his beloved dogs, and even requested they be buried together.  In 1821, the phrase was first recorded in print when the New-York Literary Journal published the following: 

                    The faithful dog – why should I strive
                    To speak his merits, while they live
                    In every breast, and man’s best friend
                    Does often at his heels attend.  

               While this early adulation was likely well received by our canine counterparts, it by no means marked the beginning of our beautiful BFF relationship.  In fact, humans and dogs have lived side by side for far longer. 

               Initial theories about the origin of dogs at one time placed their divergence from wolves at more than 100,000 years ago.  While some argue this is still the case, many of the methods used to make these initial determinations have since proved faulty, and most experts agree this original estimate is no longer accurate.  We know that around 30,000 years ago, in the south of France, a human child and a large canid animal walked side by side in what is known as La Grotte Chauvet-Oont d’Arc, or the Chauvet Cave. 

               However, most modern evidence suggests dogs first noticeably came onto the scene around 15,000 years ago.  It was at that time when humanity began to develop agriculture.  With agriculture came populations of people permanently living in one location, which led to central areas where garbage was collected.  Some of our best archaeological finds come from these prehistoric landfills.  It is believed dogs began as scavengers, taking advantage of these centralized and easy to access sources of food. 

               These proto-dogs, the common ancestor to modern-day dogs and modern-day wolves, likely split into two types.  One that was less fearful and more tolerant of human beings.  And one that was not.  The former continued to use cooperation and tolerance to integrate themselves into human society, eventually becoming the dogs we know and love.  The latter continued to avoid these human encampments and their residents, a natural response for most animals, and now make up the population of wolves we see today. 

                Around 5,000 years ago, a few distinct dog breeds began to develop.  References to specific dog breeds can be found in Greek and Roman literature.  In the Odyssey, Homer gave a detailed description of Odysseus’ dog, Argos.  Over 2,000 years ago, a Roman farmer named Marcus Varro recorded tips on training and raising puppies for herding.  However, it wasn’t until the late 1700s and early 1800s that most modern day dog breeds were created, nearly all of which were bred to perform a specific job. It was at this time when competitions involving pointers, setters and hounds became popular.  Many consider this the time of dog obsession. Something to consider the next time your energetic dog misbehaves.  They were bred to work and need plenty of mental and physical exercise.  Engage those idle paws and everyone will be happy

A village dog resting, but watchful.

A village dog resting, but watchful.

               If you want an example of what the earliest dogs might have been like, consider the many village dogs around the world.  Sometimes referred to as pariah dogs, these are free-ranging dogs that live outdoors in rural towns and villages.  Nobody owns these dogs and they go where they want, when they want.  Though they may seem like a nuisance, the people in the area often help take care of them by providing the occasional meal of leftovers.  It is a symbiotic relationship as the dogs help reduce the vermin and rodent population in the area.  These dogs often have a uniform physicality and are likely to be medium sized with brownish coloring. 

                Currently, nearly 40% of all U.S. households have at least one dog.  That’s more than the number of households that have cats, or birds, combined.  Our love affair with canis lupus familiaris continues to grow and there’s no end in sight.  Our obsession certainly hasn’t waned and it is no doubt a great time to be a dog and a dog lover!

Fischman, Ken, The Tracks in Chauvet Cave (January, 2012)

Grout, James, Dogs in Ancient Greece and Rome

Michael Litzky is the Owner and Head Trainer of Idle Paws Dog Training.  He is a Certified Professional Canine Behavior and Training Master Instructor and Behavior and Aggression Management Trainer.  He is also a Certified Professional Dog Trainer-Knowledge Assessed.  He has worked with thousands of dogs in all areas of dog behavior and obedience.