Monday, 22nd December 2014.

It’s fitting that I had the experience I had today while walking with Hawk in Coolidge Corner. Since she came to me at 5 months of age last August, I have posted many photos and entire albums of Hawk’s Socialization Adventures on my Facebook page. Next week, May 20-26, is National Dog Bite Prevention Week. With nearly 5 million dog bites reported every year, it is the mission of many dog trainers and behavior consultants to promote dog behavior education to children and adults alike.


Residents of Brookline and surrounding communities in Boston know how busy Coolidge Corner can be on a mid-Saturday when the weather is gorgeous. It was the third time Hawk has been on a walk there and, as before, our outing started with me doing my banking at Brookline Bank. After leaving the Beacon Street branch and heading to the intersection with Harvard Street, I pulled to the building side of the sidewalk and asked Hawk to sit as the first throng of people approached. Of course, being the very pretty girl that she is and behaving so well, we attracted the attention of a few passersby. Lucky thing for Hawk was that she got to see someone walking with a cane, others hustling by and a runner before we had a delightful conversation and greeting with a woman in a wheelchair. Notable is that she engaged me from 8 or so feet away and asked permission to greet Hawk.


Hawk window shopping!

Hawk was initially startled by the toy lamb in the window at Magic Beans in Coolidge Corner.

Once on Harvard Street, the activity level increased substantially. I walked with her at my side and slowed to allow folks to pass us in the ‘lane’ they were already in and meandered around others so to give Hawk wide berth to those who were unaware that we were near. She was curious enough to want to go into a shoe store, a hair salon and even got startled by a stuff lamb while window shopping. As we passed the Arcade Building at 316 Harvard Street and made our way to KI (Kehilath Israel) it was evident that Hawk needed a breather- that is, to get off the pavement to allow her to sniff the earth.  New experiences, no matter how exhilarating, are stressful for dogs just as they are for lots of people.


We sat for a bit on the temple stairs then Hawk wanted to get moving so we crossed the street to the grassy area in front of Devotion School. This provided Hawk with lots of new inputs– people lying on the grass, bicycles, skateboards and a family with children picnicking. My ‘standard operating procedure’ when I see children playing in the distance is to let her see them and watch while I give her a loose leash and when she’s no longer watching, we move on. I do the same with other novel stimulus. The goal– owner/handler obligation actually– is to let dogs see people, places and things and decide for themselves/show us what they can handle and no more (as we say, keep them under threshold).


By the time we made it to Babcock Street, Hawk really needed open space so that’s what she got. She also had a brief greeting with a black lab named Jack. The owner was (initially) disturbed when I told him that Hawk is deaf saying, “Poor thing.” Of all the special needs that a dog could have, being deaf or partially deaf, is a best case scenario in my mind. As I told him, Hawk is spared having to endure all sorts of unpleasant noises and thus, has a measure of decreased stress. Her greatest benefit is that of living with me. I am her advocate through and through. I see in my dog what others do not.


Our socialization adventure was a success! Additional novel inputs for Hawk included the olfactory buffet of all sorts of food coming through open restaurant windows; crowds of people passing; a few dogs; a 4 or 5 year old child whizzing by on a razor; and a stroll through Brookline Booksmith (one of Szap’s favorite Coolidge Corner destinations all those years ago when we lived there). It was what happened outside of the Booksmith that caused me to write this piece.


Once outside the store I resumed a conversation that started before we went into the book store, I stood with Hawk with our backs to the street and parked cabs so that passersby would not be coming straight at Hawk but rather, from the left or right. I saw to my left a young man looking at Hawk and walking intently to her. He stopped short at about two feet (give or take a few inches) from her and crouched down then extended a hand under her chin. He did everything right except for ONE thing, ONE VERY BIG THING that so struck me that I addressed right then and there, in the moment.


It wasn’t that Hawk had a negative reaction. It was that he did NOT ENGAGE ME before greeting MY dog.  He did not allow me to have a say in the matter.  For that, I launched into teaching mode.  He likely perceived ‘lecture’.  Oh well.  It’s the price he paid for the trespass he committed, in my opinion.


In my dog behavior education series I call The Kids & Dogs Project and in each and every dog training class I teach and in many if not all dog behavior consultations I conduct, I emphasize that dog owners must be willing to look out for their dog’s behavioral health. In dog bite prevention programs throughout North America, children are taught to ASK for PERMISSION from the dog’s owner or handler to greet the dog.


Is it really  too much to ask ADULT  ‘dog lovers’  to do the same?




Posted on Saturday, 19th May 2012

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We all have some baggage we carry with us through life.  Dogs do too.  It’s just life that puppies will not get all their needs met and, sooner or later, will have a behavior issue or two.  Rather than live in the land of  ‘woulda  shoulda  coulda’,  do something about it.  It’s better to try than to let the monster get bigger and bigger over time….

One of my all time favorite quotes is~



A  sampling of   The   Missing   Links  Monthly  Workshops  held 730-845pm on the  first   Tuesday  of   each   month   at   No Bones About It   1786 Beacon Street   in  Brookline.


Does your dog shake and tremble at the vet or resist going into or being handed over to the dog groomer?  Do they have to muzzle your dog to give a vaccine? Does your dog have to be restrained by three strong men to have her nails clipped?  Do Over Handling & Grooming


Is your dog terrified at the slightest sound?  Have you changed when you take your dog outdoors because s/he bolts to the end of the leash even when you can’t hear a peep?  Noise sensitive dogs have an especially difficult time living in the city.  In My Dog Can Hear A Pin Drop In Another County seminar, I offer insight into the counter-conditioning and desensitization process that has lessened the trying times for many dogs over the years.


Does your dog attack the vacuum cleaner so you have to wait until your dog goes out for a walk to clean your living room rug? Does your dog shy away from every stranger s/he sees on the street?  Learn how to help your dog to not just endure and deal with handling but to have less overall  stress in I Ain’t Afraid of No Ghost.


If your dog is perfect except s/he barks at the sound of the  doorbell when you have visitors over,  check out What’s Pavlov Got To Do With My Doorbell?


If you wonder when oh when will you stop having to  use all those treats to train your dog, I’ve got the missing pieces of the dog training puzzle for you in this overview of HOW DOGS LEARN workshop I call Leaving the Bait Bag Behind.


Check out my seminars listing and sign up for a 75 minute session that will give you more than a little peace of mind and something to work on at home and not in a dog training class.  It might just be the best $25 you’ll ever spend on anything dog training (that is, of course, if you do your homework)!  You will most likely find that the information provided in these specific sessions will be applicable to other situations.



Posted on Saturday, 7th April 2012

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Isn’t play one of the primary reasons why we share our lives with dogs? That’s my take on much of why people love dogs so much.  That and the abundant  love they have to give.


The value of play for dogs is often under-estimated and, as with kids, especially  overlooked is spontaneous play at home.  Dogs today seem to have more down-time than their counterparts in previous generations.  Many dogs are  locked in crates until their people return to free them.  Don’t get me wrong.  I promote the use of crates and absolutely use one with my dog.  There’s just a line to be drawn as to too much down time as it can lead to dogs shutting down or becoming too much of a hassle because they are overly aroused when finally freed to run and jump and be care-free.


What can playing games with dogs TEACH dogs about people? What can playing games with dogs TEACH people about dogs and dog behavior? The good news is A LOT and playing games with your dog  doesn’t have to break your energy bank or your real bank.  Dogs, like people, learn about themselves and others. Games build confidence, trust, cooperation and set limits. Games can actually make training a lot less tedious for you and a whole lot more interesting for your dog. Games can enhance your bond and mutual understanding.  Playing games with your dog can reduce your dog’s stress.  Yours too.


What games?  While there are always new games  being created for dogs and their people, some are the very same games you might have played when you were a kid.  I know they are the same games I played as a kid  many long years ago.  It’s sort of a nothing is all that new under the sun sort of deal.  You’ll find all over the web today that dog trainers have trademarked training techniques and games of old  or are branding themselves by  using or renaming those same old time tested games.  Games like hide n seek, name game, find it, watch or look at me, look at thatfetch (and retrieve) and more are commonly used games that  engage dogs proactively in the process of their training. Playing games with dogs allows for the transfer of information as in the oft given advice to jolly talk your dog (Bill Campbell of BehavioRx  in Grants Pass, OR) through unsettling experiences.


Are there games you shouldn’t play with your dog?  I don’t know of any surveys of dog trainers but I am asked this question with regularity. Trainers may respond differently in answering this question  depending on the behavior of the dog and the family setting.  The primary culprit game referred to when asked this is tug of war.  My answer is always, of  course you can play tug (the ‘new’ name for tug of war)  with your dog.   Just as with the games people play,  playing tug (and all games)  requires that you enforce consistent rules.  Protection dog trainers have a long history of having exquisite control due to the game aspect of bite work training.  Agility and flyball competitors use tug to focus and rev up their dogs before and cool them down after competing.  Dog owners can do the same thing.


What about wrestling with your dog? Here’s my exception to the rule– it’s not just about whether to wrestle with your dog but  if and when you engage in this intensely physical game that many dogs absolutely love. Quite simply, if you have children, wrestling with your dog is probably not a good idea. Children imitate what they see happening in their homes and elsewhere. This could be devastating for the entire family…  That said, I have worked with many families with dogs in which dad regularly wrestled with the family dog and not a single person was ever hurt. In these cases,  I ask that dad do so when the children are asleep.  It has been the perfect way to spend some close contact bonding time between men and their dogs.


In most modern dog training programs,  games are used to  instill self control on the part of the dog.  Teaching self-control to dogs  makes them easier to live, especially as adolescent dogs.  Simple skills that are hugely beneficial to dog owners include settle (aka, doggie zen, chill, chill out and chill out fido)  and placement cues (not commands anymore!)  known as mat training lends to the traditional use (not the teaching methodology!) of the nightly (any time really, indoors and out)  down stay.


Mostly though, games with dogs are what they were originally intended for with people. Games are for fun. Games are for life.  Training should always be fun and educational for you and your dog!





Posted on Saturday, 7th April 2012

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Hawk E. Wilkinson

Hawk joined us on August 20th.  She was then just 5 months of age.  She’s deaf. I knew that before getting her.  We don’t really know her breed inputs so we’re calling it as we see it.  She was listed as an Australian shepherd mix.  She looks and acts more  like the border collie though and I definitely see the touch of the Akita  in her as reported by her original owner. What we do know is that she was born on March 22nd just outside of Atlanta, GA where she lived in a yard until she was 13 weeks old.


I learned about her from a client who saw her on Craig’s List.  She thought immediately of me as being ‘the only person she knew who could give this dog a great life’.  I too am glad Hawk found me.  Her deafness is the least of my concerns.  I fear for what might have happened to her if someone without my experience had adopted her.  Just loving her wouldn’t be enough.




Szap is watchingI have lived with dogs most of my life– at one time during my childhood, we had seven dogs (more on that in another post).  Not one was even remotely like Szap.  HE was perfect in every way – a hard act to follow for sure! Hawk is already a great work in progress.   She is my new journey.   Had I not had my walk with Szap along with a decade and a half experience working full time with people and their dogs, I might not be prepared for the work ahead with Hawk either.

Unlike many who rescue dogs, I have been lucky to have access to the rescuer who also had knowledge of the owner.  While Hawk certainly missed out on a few things in her home of origin, the rescue process  also contributed to her trials and tribulations. From my ‘research’,  I see evidence–not just correlation but causation– of this in two glaring issues.  One, she struggles with time alone and being apart from me and, two, she has  specific handling issues.


Hawk’s  separation distress is due to the reality that, during her critical socialization period (3-12 weeks),  she had just one person in her life and was surrounded by her family of dogs. She was one of 14 dogs – seven adult dogs and seven puppies from two litters – and thus, she had not spent any time totally alone during the first 13 weeks of life.  This is frequently the case for dogs rescued from points south and west AND the reason why I and other dog behavior consultants strongly recommend that dog owners choose puppies that have had alone training started long before 12 weeks of age or to gradually implement home alone time with each and every rescue dog.


While in the home of origin and in rescue, Hawk must have had lots of petting and close contact time with people because she really enjoys a good massage! Her specific handling issues were revealed during her first dermatology appointment.  She wants to take flight from anyone who is holding anything white in their hands- the bigger ‘it’ is, the stronger she resists. This translates to cotton balls, gauze pads, paper towels, bath towels, etc.  I attribute the development of these panic responses to the lack of early socialization in her home of origin along with the assembly line vetting process of the rescue machine. The story of how she was taken from the yard (and everything familiar) and the experience at the vet hospital lent to Hawk’s  specific fear of people holding towels. Towels and other such accessories are predictors of danger and the inevitable violation of her ‘person’.


Hawk is a lucky dog,. For one,  her owner sought help for his puppies and dogs and the great people in rescue did what they had to do to save her. She is also a lucky dog because I knew from the get-go that I had my work cut out for me. I  AM the LUCKY one because Hawk is with me.  Our journey has already afforded me with many gifts.  As the saying goes, ‘experience is life’s greatest teacher’.  For many years, I’ve emphasized the need for dog owners to consider life from their dog’s perspective, that is, how the individual dog experiences life with people.  I’m walking in my clients’ shoes and gaining perspective on living with a dog that has some behavioral issues.  I thank the universe for the blessing.




Posted on Thursday, 5th April 2012

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As has been the case for several years now, I clicker train client dogs in and from their homes.  Why clicker training? Because training with the clicker builds reliability into the process.  With clicker training, the dog is the learner and thus, dogs are more likely to retain clicker trained behaviors and behavior sequences.  What this means is that the dog knows what is being asked of them independent of the teacher once the behavior is made fluent.  Fluency is achieved with repetition that results in a rich behavior reinforcement history in multiple environments.

My current Stay Home N Train clients are 4- 8 month old puppies and young (under 2 year old) dogs that are driving their owners crazy.  I have room in my schedule for two to three clients at a time.  Typically, I work with the dog for 30-45  minutes two or three times per week for 6 to 8 weeks.  This is straight up dog training and some of these clients also join one or more of my dog training classes in Brookline.

Occasionally, I work dogs through behavior modification plans that I devise in my in-home behavior consultations.    I work with these dogs for two to three months or more  depending on the specific behavior problem or problems.  Regardless, the process involves you the owner(s).   Many people have watched me while I work with their dog and then practiced with my supervision.

Feel free to call me at 617.803.4086 to see if  Stay Home N Train  is right for you and your dog.  For more information, go hereThis personal dog training service is only available  in Brookline, Newton, Watertown, Belmont, Waltham and Weston. 

Posted on Tuesday, 13th March 2012

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Remember, everything goes back to early socialization and learning.  Can you bathe, brush and medicate your dog? Can you trim your dog’s nails? If not, please do not expect a stranger – the groomer, vet, vet tech – to do it without stressing your dog. You are who s/he knows best and hopefully trusts the most. Please make a genuine effort to teach your dog to accept such handling from you in the safety of your home.

Positive early experience trumps all later behavior modification. If you rescue a dog as an adult dog and they have never been handled, expect some issues at the vet and groomer and possibly at home and out and about with you. Get into a dog training class as soon as possible- though, not just any dog training class! Experience matters and may make the difference in the quality of life  you get to share with your second-(or third or more)-chance-at-life dog. Using clicker training, the process of behavior modification becomes crystal clear to handler and dog. With clicker training, there’s no need to worry about making mistakes– nothing bad, or all that bad, happens if your timing is off here and there as opposed to traditional dog training techniques that use physical corrections to teach dogs.  To be productive in training, keep sessions short – 2-3 but not more than 5 minutes–  and upbeat and fun with the dog fully engaged (or at least  as much as s/he can be at the time). Above all, realize that taking your time (clipping one nail a night over a two week period) is better than holding your dog down and forcing him/her through intimate handling that may prove to be painful as well as scary.

Posted on Tuesday, 13th March 2012

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From my perspective, training a deaf dog isn’t all that different than training a hearing dog.    A variety of positive reinforcement dog training methods are easily used in training deaf dogs.   Lure-reward techniques are often used to prompt dogs to sit, stand, lie down, and even walk at your side on leash or off.   Modern dog trainers understand how to dogs learn and thus, take the time to be sure that the dog (the learner) truly knows the behavior before attaching a verbal cue (aka command to some).   With deaf dogs, visual cues  such as hand signals along with other environmental cues are used to elicit a specific behavior or behavior sequence.   For the most part, the goal in training hearing dogs is to fade visual cues in favor of verbal cues.    Much to the surprise of many people, including clicker trainers (at least those new to the field of dog training), deaf dogs can also be ’clicker’ trained.   A clicker is a handy, portable device used in marker training.   Deaf dogs cannot hear  traditional box clickers but they can see and feel other means of marking behaviors.

Over the years, I have taught several owners of deaf dogs to train their dogs.  I now live with a deaf dog.  It’s a walk a mile in my shoes’  experience that, even as a long-time dog trainer, is hugely illuminating.  My girl, Hawk, was born deaf or, at least, mostly deaf.  She is my demo dog in all of my dog training classes. Her training is coming right along!

Posted on Monday, 12th March 2012

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The APDT- Association of Pet  Dog Trainers – has declared January as their Train Your Dog Month.  As a longtime professional member of APDT, I decided to add some new dog training classes in my January line-up.  These classes are held at No Bones About It in Brookline MA 02445–

Small Dog O - a dog training class for dogs under 25 pounds starts 730pm on Monday, January 23rd

Intro to Nose Work - a scent detection class starts 730pm on Friday, Janaury 13th. Curious?  Visit my class page to see my YouTube videos. 

In addition to my  ‘Sunday School For Dogs’  line-up of puppy foundation, adolescent dog, good dog and rowdy rovers group dog training classes that start on January 8th, I meet one on one with clients and their dogs in  ‘After School’ Behavior Consultations  Sunday afternoons and evenings in Brookline. Other program offerings include the following:

The Missing Links Monthly (Dog Training & Behavior) WorkshopI Ain’t Afraid Of No Ghost ~ Learn how to help your dog to cope with his or her fear of noises and every day things. Register for 730-845pm Tuesday, Jan 3rd today. 

The Kids & Dogs Project usually meets 3-4pm the FIRST SUNDAY of EACH MONTH at No Bones About It in Brookline, however, we will meet on  January 8th due to the holiday!

Puppy Head-Start   always meets the SECOND TUESDAY of EACH MONTH at No Bones About It in Brookline. Register for the 730-845pm, Tuesday, January 10th session today!

Ask Vera always meets 3-4pm  the THIRD SUNDAY of EACH MONTH at Cause To Paws in Brookline. Call 617-738-7297 to reserve a seat to get answers to your dog and cat behavior questions at this FREE seminar on  January 22nd.

Dogs & Storks Seminar 4-6pm Sunday,  January 29th.  This seminar is for expecting families with dogs get ready for life with baby. Register today!

Let the training begin!

Posted on Saturday, 31st December 2011

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I’ve told my clients many times over the years to not trust products produced in China.  What do you think happens to millions of chickens  culled the last time we heard about bird flu in China?  That’s also where the melamine that was the source of the 2007 pet food recall came from.  Here’s what the FDA reported in November this year.

Posted on Saturday, 10th December 2011

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Winter seems to now be on its way to the northeast.   If your dog does NOT like having his or her feet touched, it’s a good idea to work on helping your dog to accept you touching them now.   Many – not all – dogs are intensely bothered by the ice melting products such as rock salt because it burns.    If you can’t touch your dog’s feet, you won’t be able to put boots or wax or anything else on them to keep them from burning and otherwise not enjoying winter.   To get help in teaching your dog to let you touch and put boots, etc on all four feet, check out  The Missing Links Monthly Dog Behavior & Training Workshops held at No Bones About It at 1786 Beacon Street in Brookline.    At this workshop, you will learn how to deal with your dog’s fears– that’s what it likely is… that your dog is uncomfortable and afraid of letting you or anyone touch his or her feet.   There are products available to help reduce or eliminate the burn– mushers’ wax, pawz, muttlucks, ruffwear and more. Many of these can be purchased at No Bones About It while you attend the workshop!

~Vera Wilkinson CDBC, CPDT-KA

Posted on Saturday, 10th December 2011

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