Dog Toys: How to Pick the Best and Safest



For dogs and other pets, toys are not a luxury, but a necessity.

Toys help fight boredom in a dog you’ve left alone. They can also provide comfort. And toys can even help prevent your dog from developing certain problem behaviors.

Although cats can be pretty picky about toys, dogs are often more than willing to play with any object they can get their paws on. That means you’ll need to be particularly careful when monitoring your dog’s playtime to prevent any “unscheduled” activities.

How to make sure your dog’s toys are safe

Many factors contribute to the safety or danger of a toy, and a number of them depend upon your dog’s size, activity level and preferences. Another factor to be considered is the environment in which your dog spends his time. Although we can’t guarantee the safety of any specific toy, we can offer the following guidelines.
The things that are usually most attractive to dogs are often the very things that are the most dangerous. Dog-proof your home by removing string, ribbon, rubber bands, children’s toys, pantyhose and anything else that could be swallowed.

Toys should be appropriate for your dog’s size. Balls and other toys that are too small can easily be swallowed or become lodged in your dog’s throat.

Avoid or alter any toys that aren’t “dog-proof” by removing ribbons, strings, eyes or other parts that could be chewed off and/or ingested. Discard toys that start to break into pieces or are torn.

Take note of any toy that contains a “squeaker” buried in its center. Your dog may feel that he must find and destroy the source of the squeaking, and he could ingest it. Supervise your dog’s play with squeaky toys.

Check labels for child safety. Look for stuffed toys that are labeled as safe for children under three years of age and that don’t contain any dangerous fillings. Problem fillings include nutshells and polystyrene beads, but even “safe” stuffings aren’t truly digestible. Remember that soft toys are not indestructible, but some are sturdier than others. Soft toys should be machine washable.

Image result for dog with dog toys

A note about rawhide

If you’re thinking about giving your dog rawhide chew toys, be sure to check with your veterinarian about which ones are safe and appropriate for your dog. Because these toys may pose choking hazards, only give them to your dog when you’re there to supervise. Also, be aware that many rawhides are byproducts of the cruel international fur trade. For a humane alternative, consider toys made of very hard rubber, which are safer and last longer.

Dog toys we recommend

Active toys

  • Very hard rubber toys, such as Nylabone®-type products and Kong®-type products, are fun for chewing and for carrying around, and they are available in a variety of shapes and sizes.
  • “Rope” toys are usually available in a “bone” shape with knotted ends.
  • Tennis balls make great dog toys, but keep an eye out for any that could be chewed through, and discard them once this happens.

Distraction toys

  • Kong®-type toys, especially when filled with broken-up treats—or, even better, a mixture of broken-up treats and peanut butter—can keep a puppy or dog busy for hours. Only by chewing diligently can your dog get to the treats, and then only in small bits. Check with your veterinarian about whether you should give peanut butter to your dog. Be sure to choose a Kong®-type toy of appropriate size for your dog.
  • “Busy-box” toys are large rubber cubes with hiding places for treats. Only by moving the cube around with his nose, mouth and paws can your dog get to the goodies.

Comfort toys

  • Soft stuffed toys are good for several purposes, but they aren’t appropriate for all dogs. Here are a few tips for choosing the right stuffed toy: 1. Some dogs like to carry around soft toys, so pick one that’s small enough; 2. Some dogs want to shake or “kill” their toys, so choose one that’s large enough to prevent accidental swallowing and sturdy enough to withstand the dog’s attacks.
  • Dirty laundry, such as an old T-shirt, pillowcase, towel or blanket, can be very comforting to a dog, especially if the item smells like you! Be forewarned that the item could be destroyed by industrious fluffing, carrying, and nosing.

How to get the most out of your dog’s toys

Rotate your dog’s toys weekly by making only a few toys available at a time. Keep a variety of types easily accessible. If your dog has a favorite, like a soft “baby,” you may want to leave it out all the time.

Provide toys that offer variety—at least one toy to carry, one to “kill,” one to roll and one to “baby.”

“Hide and Seek” is a fun game for dogs to play. “Found” toys are often much more attractive than toys that are obviously introduced. An interactive game out of finding toys or treats is a good “rainy-day” activity for your dog, using up energy without the need for a lot of space.

Many of your dog’s toys should be interactive. Interactive play is very important for your dog because he needs active “people time”—and such play also enhances the bond between you and your pet.

By focusing on a specific task—such as repeatedly returning a ball, Kong, or Frisbee® or playing “hide-and-seek” with treats or toys—your dog can expel pent-up mental and physical energy in a limited amount of time and space. This greatly reduces stress caused by confinement, isolation and boredom.

For young, high-energy and untrained dogs, interactive play also offers an opportunity for socialization and helps them learn about appropriate and inappropriate behavior, such as jumping up or being mouthy.

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Thinking of Joining the Pet Industry?

By: Jaime Hall

Here’s Why You Should…


Starting a business in niche markets can seem risky and intimidating, but this is one industry that is available for saturation. A lot of interest and finances are being funneled into the pet industry lately, making it an increasingly accessible market to join. Here are the top reasons why:

1) It can withstand a recession

While most industries risk going out of business during times of economic downfall, the pet industry is one that seems to resist this negative impact and continues to maintain its profitability.

Young businessman with hands on back of his head worried because of business failure

2) Profits are predictable

One of the riskiest red flags of joining a niche market is the risk of one-time-only or seasonal customers. Luckily, the pet industry is one that attracts repeat customers again and again while also maintaining year-long demand. This predictable demand decreases logistic and economic risk and allows for streamlined sales forecasting.


3) It has a growing customer base

The pet industry includes not just pet food, toys, and other tangible products but also pet services, both of which have experienced growth in demand in recent years. There has also been a steady rise in the number of pet owners in the US, which is currently tallied at 65% of all US households. This means there are not only more pets that need food, grooming, daycare, etc. but owners are also spending more money in each of these areas.



4) It has a decreasing cost of goods sold

With an increase in the number of pet-related businesses, there has also been a decrease in the cost of goods sold for the pet industry. This means that you can now get wholesale pet goods at a price lower than ever before.


Electric grooming table by ComfortGroom, $699.00







Electric grooming table by PetEdge, $1,614.99



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5 Common Mistakes Pet Groomers Make

By Aditi Vora of The Booker Blog


The Yorkshire Terrier of show class

Flickr image via [email protected] Gray


The beauty of the pet grooming industry is the large community of like-minded small business owners that have a passion for animals, grooming, and creating the best possible experiences for their customers. However, we’ve also noticed that the community also experiences similar challenges when it comes to keeping their business competitive.

For pet groomers, we’ve identified 5 common mistakes their business may be facing:

1. Lack of an Online Presence

We understand that, as a pet groomer, your expertise lies in services you provide, so building an online presence can feel foreign. Make sure you’re considering the following online assets:

  1. Creating a website
  2. Building a social media presence, ex: Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, Linkedin
  3. Listing in online directories
  4. Customer feedback and online reviews


2.  Not Knowing How You Acquired a New Customer

There’s no greater feeling than winning that new customer. However, without knowing where that customer came from, you might be missing out on where you should be focusing your marketing and advertising efforts. How customers find you is critical to your business growth and success. The right business management tool can give you the tools you need to track how each appointment was made.


3. Not Knowing Your Client’s Preferences

Customers like to be remembered. Particularly when it comes to a pet owner, they want to make sure their dealing with a groomer that has detailed accounts of their pet’s preferences and past services. Investing in a CRM (Customer Relationship Management) software can give you an immediate view of each of your clients’ pet records including their names, types of cuts, and products they usually purchase.


4. Manually Managing Business Tasks

Chances are, you didn’t go into your grooming business looking to do the everyday drudgery of administrative work. With the right software, you can automate tasks like appointment confirmations, get snapshots of your daily schedule, and integrate your point of sale.


5. Not Marketing To Your Existing Clients

With 80% of your future profits coming from just 20% of your existing customers, it’s important to keep them in mind! Remember to build a loyalty program to keep your customers coming back to your grooming salon.



Flickr image via haven’t the slightest


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Film Celebrates the Value of Rescue Dogs

By: Jaime Hall


Giusi Barbiani
Flickr Image via Giusi Barbiani


If you now or have ever owned a rescue dog, you know first hand that these precious animals often end up being the ones to rescue US. Nothing can replace the bond that an animal and owner experience when their love is based upon more than just a friendly trip to the pet store. Rescue dogs come to us frightened and wounded with much need for loving care, but they can also offer their own unique love and care to owners who may not even realize they need it. However it was that you and your beloved rescue found each other, the new film Rescue Dogs wants to share that story and celebrate the wonderful world of rescue dogs.


Flickr Image via Gloria


The film’s plot follows Charger, a rescue dog, and his owner Tracy whom are faced with an evil corporation that wants to tear down the pair’s beach restaurant in lieu of a golf course. Through a comedy of errors and mishaps, the humans find they themselves can be rescued by their very own rescue animals. The story was inspired by the real-life rescue dog of the film’s writer/actor, Jordan Rawlins, and director, Michael Anderson. But it’s not just a film—it’s a movement! Rescue Dogs will benefit rescue shelters and dogs across the country by engaging in partnerships with them during the film’s release.


In order to help rescue dogs find homes and introduce viewers to the delight of taking in a rescue dog, the team behind Rescue Dogs will participate in a number of philanthropic strategies by doing each of the following; 1) Partner with a reputable rescue organization in each of the cities where the film will be opening; 2) Hold live adoption events during the film’s opening weekend; 3) Donate money from the film’s success AND their personal funds to various partner charities; 4) Promote owners to share the stories of love and generosity that brought them to their rescue dog. To submit your rescue dog’s story to be featured in the film’s credits, visit the Rescue Dogs “share” page and include your story along with a photo of your rescue dog.
Nothing says “holiday miracle” like sharing a better life with a pup-in-need, so consider making a donation to your local rescue organization this holiday season and be sure look out for the Rescue Dogs premier in early 2016!



Image via Rescue Dogs
rescue dogs


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10 Reasons Your Dog Needs to Go to Stores

By: Carol Bryant, Fidose of Reality




Do you take your dog to PetSmart for retail therapy? Does he or she get excited on arrival like our dog does?

“I train German police dogs. They send them to me, with all this formal training, they are prepared to defend and protect, but they are clueless when it comes to walking into a pet supply store. So I take them to PetSmart® to start getting them used to everyday life, the feeling of the floor on their paws, and how to socialize with people in the general public.”

Those are the words of an acclaimed nationally known dog trainer, who a few years ago, shared those words with me during an interview on how to properly socialize a dog. There are at least 10 reasons that all dogs need to go to stores like PetSmart, and the aforementioned is but one of them.

The folks at PetSmart are celebrating the arrival of the complete line of Natural Balance® products in their stores. My dog shops at PetSmart at least weekly (and takes me along to pay the bill), so we headed to our local store for some treat scouting, socializing, and fun with a Mommy and Me day. It is a fun way to bond with your dog, but there are some serious reasons, too, that going to stores like PetSmart is good for your dog in general. How many of these can you relate to?

(1) Getting Acclimated to Car Rides: Few things are more disheartening on a dog-friendly vacation or road trip as when a dog is fearful, has gastric upset, or becomes nervous far from home. Slowly adjusting your dog to how fantastic a car ride can be is the key to success. Never force or make a travel fearful dog to “face their fears.” This will only reinforce fears, can lead to extreme anxiety, panic, and cause an accident. Using Pavlov’s principle, if the only time a dog experiences the car is to see the vet, both vet and ride can become unpleasant experiences.  Slowly increase the amount of time a dog spends in the car. I started with Dexter many years ago by riding to the end of the street and back and then celebrating with treats and play time when he did it. Do the same thing at PetSmart: Upon arrival and once in the store, be happy and make it a positive experience. Take treats with you.

(2) Potty Training on Various Surfaces: Prior to entering any establishment, I make sure my dog does his potty routine and at least does a pee break. By training your dog to urinate on a variety of surfaces, including grass, gravel, rocks, wood chips, and even cement, it really will benefit you and the dog in the long run. Take it from a page in this dog journeywoman’s diary: There is no greater joy than pouring rain, no rest stop in sight, and a slab of concrete readily available ala roadside. My fur-boy and I even have a code word to initiate: go-go-go. When he hears those three magic words, I know the process shall begin and both mama and son can take shelter from the storm or snow.

(3) Learn About Treats and Food: By visiting PetSmart, you can ask associates about the various treats and dog foods available to ensure the formulas and ingredients are right for your dog and his or her needs. Case in point: My dog has some food sensitivities, so I appreciate having someone on hand to answer any questions I might have. Dexter tends to pick his own treats out, as you can see below, but he may not always know what he can and can’t eat. In fact, he would sometimes love to just rip into a treat bag right in the store. Uh, clean up: Aisle two?!

(4) Socialize with Other Dogs: The more community and socializing you can do with your dog, the better. Dogs who see other dogs, in a controlled environment, can sniff each other and say hello are more inclined to accept those dogs, not bark at them, not be fearful, and learn to be kind to fellow canines. PetSmart is usually a hub of activity on weekends, so while you stop by for treats and food, walk the aisles and say hello to fellow dog moms and dads.

(5) Try Before You Buy: How many toys have you purchased for your dog that end up in the “I no longer play with it pile?!” By taking your dog with you to the store, your dog can give a toy a trial run, so to speak. I squeak toys, rattle them towards my dog, and see if he has a genuine interest in them.

(6) Interact With Strangers: Do you want your dog to be wary of people or social and unafraid of new people? Being immersed in the sights, sounds, and hubbub of a retail experience are great ways to get a dog used to strangers.

(7) Train for the Canine Good Citizen (CGC): My dog was awarded Canine Good Citizen status by the AKC  and it happened purely on a whim. He never took a class to train for it, we didn’t practice the specific elements of the test previously, and only on prompting of family and friends did we decide to try it. The fee is $10 to test. Normally there are no distractions in the vicinity when the dog is being tested. However, since the testing occurred at a very busy pet expo, there were a lot of distractions. What better way to get a dog used to passersby, other pets, and noise than at a store like PetSmart?

(8) Bonding Time: I am a dog mom. I like love it when folks call me a dog mom and I never grimace, furrow a brow, or correct them. In fact, a sense of pride swells over me. I am not alone.  Dog moms should celebrate and dog dads, too. Want to bond with your dog? Have a mommy/daddy and me day: Do all the things that make your dog happy. On our recent visit, we picked up a bag of Natural Balance Duck and Potato Limited Ingredient Treats and Dex loved having the goodies! The Wall Street Journaleven revealed “PetSmart Thrives Treating Owners Like Pet Parents.” We’re not losing our marbles, we’re being embraced and converted to dollar signs, for wag’s sake! Continue your dog with a romp in the park, a drive-through for a quick burger, a ride around the area, and maybe even a picnic for your dog and his friends.

(9)Photo Ops: Purely fun, but I admittedly get some of my favorite photos while having a retail therapy time with my dog.  Yes, I take photos with toys and fellow dogs, and when the holidays roll around, I love interacting with the other pet parents. Santa photos last year took a twist and we even got photos in store with a Frozen theme.

(10) Give Back: The fundraising arm of this blog is Wigglebutt Warriors®, and year round we encourage dog lovers to give back. PetSmart registers are equipped with a feature to give back to pets in need. We generally pay for our purchases and then when prompted, give a few extra dollars to pets who are not as fortunate. While in store, there are always folks gathered around the cat adoption area, and friends of ours even adopted a cat from PetSmart. There are some things that money cannot buy, but giving to a pet in need is one of the most feel-good things you can do.


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Professional “PhoDOGraphy” Tips

By: Jaime Hall

Getting a portrait of your dog
Anyone who owns or works with dogs knows the struggle of trying to get them to sit still for a photo, a near-impossible feat. Many might agree with us that dogs just seem to know when there’s a camera present, and often begin to misbehave accordingly. Well, that struggle is now over with thanks to Elias Weiss Friedman’s new book, “The Dogist: Photographic Encounters with 1,000 Dogs” in which Friedman portrays some of the most alluring “phodography” to date and also outlines professional tips for taking the perfect shot. Below, we have excerpted these tips from The Dogist so that you, too, can get the perfect shot.



1. “Establish basic trust between yourself and the dog. Let the dog smell you.”

Approach all dogs with an open-palm stance and underhand gestures to let them know you have friendly intentions.

2. “Get down to the dog’s level.”

Going along with the tip #1, approaching dogs from a level closer to their own will also help them identify friendly intentions.

3. “Have something the dog wants, like a treat or toy.”

We’re pretty sure last night’s leftover steak will do the trick.

4. “Move that thing around the lense.”

Creating an association between the treat/toy and the camera lense will get them looking in the right direction.

5. “Learn to bark and make strange noises to get different facial expressions.”

We promise that perfect shot will be worth all of the odd looks you will receive.

6. “Underexpose for black dogs.”

Our darker furry friends often get hidden in a photograph because they blend in with the darker background. Solve this by simply underexposing for these pups!

7. “Have patience. Every dog is different and some may require more time.”

Just like us!

8. “Practice, practice, practice. I still learn something new everyday.”

Over time, these tips will become habitual.

9. “Don’t wear anything you wouldn’t want a dog toenail to go through.”

This one’s a given.

10. “Reward a dog’s efforts with a pet or a treat.”

Don’t forget to reward yourself too!


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Grooming For Cats: Do cats really need to be groomed?

By Green Acres Kennel Shop


Many cats do keep themselves quite clean, the exception often being obese or geriatric cats, however all cats, even short-haired ones, can benefit from some grooming assistance. Long-haired cats, which are designed by humans, not nature, must be combed regularly to prevent matting, particularly on their backsides and undersides.

If you have a kitten, getting them accustomed to being brushed will most certainly payoff in the long run. You should start right off by introducing them to brushing for very brief periods of time, interspersed with play and treats. This will help them to adjust to and tolerate being combed and handled. Remember, it is always important to end each session on a positive note!

How do I comb my cat?

There is no question that combing a cat can be a challenge, particularly if they were never habituated to it as kittens. What is important to remember is that you do not have to comb your entire cat in one sitting. Just do a section a day until your cat becomes comfortable with grooming. You must vary the sections however as the whole cat does need to be groomed.

The type of tool that you will need to brush your cat will depend on your cat’s coat length. Typically we recommend a comb for short-haired cats and a comb and slicker for long-haired cats. It is important to speak with your groomer or pet care professional to determine which tools are necessary for your particular pet and to learn how to use them properly. Cats have very delicate skin and may be easily scratched if grooming equipment is used improperly.

What about bathing cats?

While it is typically not necessary to bathe a cat, occasions do arise such as illness or fleas that make bathing essential. With the exception of the Turkish Van, most cats do not enjoy the water, which can certainly make it more difficult to bathe a cat as compared to a dog. That having been said, many cats do learn to tolerate it. There are a couple of tricks to the trade. First, know your cat. It is important for you to be aware of how your cat is likely to react. Also, always trim the cat’s nails prior to putting water on them and be able to bathe quickly; a cat will not tolerate you taking your time. And be very careful not to get water in the cat’s face, as this will surely create a negative experience for both you and your cat.

Do cats get cold more quickly after being bathed?

It does seem that cats get cold easily after a bath, possibly because of their lower body mass. For this reason, you should always have a towel handy to immediately wrap the cat in. Also, this towel can help to prevent your cat from leaping out of your arms and hiding somewhere. We do not recommend trying to dry the cat with a dryer, rather be sure to have the house or a room very warm and use the towel to absorb as much water as possible. A nice sunny spot in a warm room is ideal. Be sure that your cat remains in a warm place until it is completely dry.

Does my cat need its nails trimmed?

Nail cutting is a personal preference. We typically do not recommend clipping the nails of an outdoor cat, as they require their nails for protection and to aid in climbing. If your cat has adequate places to scratch, they will often naturally shed their nails, however this is not true for all cats and if you have one that has a tendency to catch their nails in the rug as they are walking along you may need to cut their nails periodically.

Cutting a cat’s nails is not as difficult as it sounds. Typically they have clear nails with a very distinct hook so it is easy to see the location of the vein thus making it avoidable. Gently squeeze your cat’s foot to expose the nails and, using cat nail clippers, simply clip off the tip of the nail.

If you are considering declawing please visit our website on Inappropriate Scratching.

When I tried to cut my cat’s nails I made her bleed, what happened?

If you cut too deep into your cat’s nail you will hit a vein, more commonly known as the quick. If you hit the quick you can use styptic powder or cornstarch to aid in clotting. Quicks can bleed excessively at times but it is rarely a serious matter. If you are concerned that you cannot stop the bleeding or about infection you may wish to contact your veterinarian.

As animals age, do they need more frequent grooming?

We do find that as our pets age they no longer shed as efficiently and do need to be brushed more often. This is true for short-haired cats as well as long-haired ones. Another thing that we observe is that animals that are overweight also do not seem to shed properly.

How often should my cat be professionally groomed?

The frequency of grooming varies depending upon the breed of the cat and the amount of time spent at home in grooming activities. Some cats never need to see a professional groomer in their entire lives. Others need grooming every four to eight weeks. What is really key here is how much you are willing and able to brush your cat at home. You should discuss this with your groomer or breeder when you obtain your cat and make a decision as to how you wish to proceed. If you do not want to maintain your cat’s grooming needs at home you can schedule regular visits to the salon.

What do I do if my cat is matted?

The first thing that you should not do if your cat is matted is attempt to cut the mats out with scissors. Frequently the mats rest on the skin and cats’ skin is very thin, thus easy to wound. Often cats are left with gaping holes where people attempted to cut out mats. If however you have determined that there is space between your cat’s skin and the mat, you can try to gently work the matt out using a comb. A severely matted cat will most likely have to be shaved. This can be done by a professional groomer. The goal however is to get your cat in before things get to this point.

Do cats ever need to be sedated for grooming?

Unfortunately some cats do require sedation for grooming and if this is the case, your cat should be groomed at your veterinarian’s office. Any time an animal is sedated, there are other risks involved and should they have an adverse reaction to the anesthesia your veterinarian will be equipped to handle the situation.

If you have already taken your cat to a groomer and sedation has been recommended, it may be worth scheduling some time to talk to a different grooming facility to get another opinion. Anytime that sedation can be avoided it should be.

When a cat is extremely matted and is very difficult to handle sedation may be the only course of action. Behavior is a huge reason for a cat needing sedation for grooming. Unlike most dogs, it is very difficult to “work” a cat through a grooming. Once they have had enough, they are done. For this reason, it is even more imperative that these cats are not allowed to get into this condition in the first place.

How long will it take to groom my cat?

The length of time that it takes to groom a cat varies on an individual basis. It really depends upon the breed of cat, the condition of the cat, the behavior of the cat and what the grooming is to entail. We typically have people drop their cat off in the early morning and they are usually ready to go home in the early afternoon.

What if my cat has fleas?

If while being groomed we determine that your pet has fleas we will give them a flea bath. It is very important that a shampoo specific only for cats is used and under no circumstances should a flea shampoo for dogs be used on cats because they are much more sensitive to the toxins in flea products than dogs. For more information on fleas, please refer to our website on this topic.

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Why Don’t We Adequately Socialize Young Puppies With People?

By Dr. Ian Dunbar 


Dogs may be taught manners and basic obedience at anytime in their lives. However, training puppies is just so much fun and so, why wait? Similarly, behavior problems may be resolved at any time in a dog’s life but of course, they are annoying and frustrating for owners and so, why not teach good habits from the outset? Temperament problems, however, must be prevented during early puppyhood because rehabilitating adult dogs is complicated and extremely time-consuming. For example, whereas It takes just a few days, or a week at the most, to resolve incipient signs of shyness, fearfulness, intractability, or aggression towards people in a two- to three-month-old puppy, it would take several months to resolve similar problems in a five-month old adolescent and one or two years to rehabilitate a fearful/aggressive eight-month-old, (provided that the dog is not dangerous, i.e., has never actually harmed a person). Even then, the adult dog will never have the confidence that it could have had if given adequate socialization as a young puppy.

Without a doubt, the most important aspect of dog husbandry comprises raising dogs to thoroughly enjoy the company and actions of people, especially children, men and strangers, i.e., raising “bomb-proof” dogs. Confident and friendly dogs can have the time of their lives and enjoy meeting and interacting with household visitors and friends and strangers on walks, in parks and at picnics. However, a dog that’s afraid of people has a miserable quality of life for life. Living in a world of people, every day the poor dog has to confront his biggest fear — people. Or, the dog is put away when visitors arrive and seldom taken on walks. This is all so sad, especially given that fear and aggression towards people are so easily preventable with adequate early socialization.

Dogs are altrical and require some time to develop and socialize. However, there are still urgent time limits. Puppies must be socialized before three months of age and sadly, many breeders and owners are missing the boat. Prior to eight weeks of age, puppies need to be safely and gently exposed to as many different environments as possible and to interact with and be hugged, handled, handfed and trained by at least 100 people, especially children, strangers and men and then, by at least another 100 people during the first month in their new homes. Amazingly, neonatal handling alone can desensitize nine of the 12 most common subliminal bite triggers.


Predictable and Preventable

We know that insufficient early socialization causes hard-to-reverse changes in brain function and anatomy, leading to temperament problems later in life, such as fear and aggression towards people. We know these problems are difficult and time-consuming to attempt to resolve in adulthood, yet may be so easily prevented with ample early socialization and handling. We know that socializing puppies with people is as easy as it is enjoyable. And so, it has puzzled me for years why far too few breeders and owners adequately socialize young puppies. In fact, so few kennel-bred puppies get to meet and socialize with more than a handful of people, yet at eight-weeks of age, the Critical Period of Socialization is nearly two-thirds over!

Certainly some breeders devote plenty of time and energy socializing their litters with oodles of people. But most don’t. Why don’t all pet professionals (breeders, pet product retailers, veterinarians, trainers and shelter/rescue personnel) inform prospective owners that when they purchase a puppy they have a choice? Either people may purchase a puppy that is already well-socialized, or they may buy a pup that has grown up in relative seclusion and is highly likely to become increasingly fearful during adolescence.

And once people have chosen a puppy, especially if it’s a sensitive, aloof, standoffish, or protective breed, why don’t all pet professionals inform new puppy owners that there is now an excruciating urgency to socialize their puppy (at home) with family, friends, neighbors and strangers during the remaining five weeks of the Critical Period of Socialization?

Regardless of what happened, or didn’t happen, in the breeding kennel, socialization with people is now by far the most crucial item of their pups’ educational agenda. A puppy’s future temperament is pretty much determined during the first three months of life.

So, Why Don’t We Adequately Socialize Puppies?

I think there are a whole slew of reasons why many breeders and owners don’t adequately socialize young puppies, or suitably mold their temperaments to individual tastes. Most people simply don’t see the point of socializing apparently sociable puppies and since the early warning signs of fear and aggression are often subtle and easily missed, no one realizes there is a problem. Other people think that it is impossible to change genetic heredity, that early socialization is too stressful, or they are afraid of disease, (especially parvovirus). Far too many owners think that their pup may be adequately socialized in puppy classes and other owners are in denial about developing problems — “She’ll grow out of it.”

WhySocialize Apparently Friendly and Confident Puppies?

Many breeders, veterinarians and owners simply don’t see the point of early socialization and handling because the puppies are easy to handle and already appear to be confident and friendly. In fact, many youngpups appear to be super-mega-confident and overly-friendly and so, why socialize sociable puppies? Consequently, people are predictably shocked when at about five-and-a-half to eight months of age, their friendly and socialized puppy becomes shy, aloof, wary, standoffish, protective, fearful, reactive and maybe aggressive towards people.

Of course puppies are confident and friendly and easy to handle. They’re puppies! All young pups should be universally outgoing towards people. Fear and aggression do not develop until later in life. Moreover, developing anxieties and fears of the unfamiliar or scary later in life is a normal and adaptive development process. Adolescent and adult dogs will generally accept species and individuals that they played with as puppies yet they will likely shy away from species and individuals that they did not have adequate opportunity to interact with as puppies. To prevent fear and aggression, the unfamiliar and scary of adolescence must become the familiar and commonplace of puppyhood.

The socialization process is deceptive because all puppies appear to be Mr. or Ms. Sociable at two, three and four months of age and so breeders, veterinarians and owners are unaware that anything is amiss.People are duped by their puppy’s confident and friendly demeanor, not realizing that the effects ofinsufficient socialization will not become apparent until later in life. But by then of course, it is pretty much too late for quick, easy and effective rehabilitation.

Early Warning Signs Missed

When puppies and young adolescents start to go off-track, the early-warning signs (evident as early as eight to 10 weeks of age) of future aggression are often subtle and easily missed and so, people simply do not respond quickly enough. For example, many owners fail to notice that the puppy is slow to approach some family members, that the pup ducks his head or backs off when reached for, or most important, the puppy does not play with and play-bite other puppies and no longer bites the owners. If the puppy is no longer biting, he cannot develop bite inhibition and when he bites as an adult, he will likely cause serious injury. Most adult dog bites may be predicted during early puppyhood and the prognosis (danger) of biting is pretty much determined by the level of bite inhibition.

Many owners think nothing of the fact that the puppy freezes or struggles when held. In fact, some owners consider struggling when restrained to be an annoyance, or a sign of a “dominant” dog that requires a heavy hand to teach him “who’s the boss” and so sadly, exacerbate the puppy’s fears. Without immediate remedial socialization, classical conditioning and progressive desensitization, puppies gradually but progressively become more fearful and eventually, reactive and aggressive. Again, this is normal development; becoming wary of unfamiliar animals, especially people, is a highly adaptive trait. Unfortunately, by the time the owner notices that their young adolescent dog has a “real” problem, the Critical Period of Socialization is long gone and now rehabilitation will take much (MUCH) longer.

You Can’t Change Genetic Heredity

The dog profession has long harbored an enormous bias towards genetic, rather than experiential, causes of behavior and temperament. For years, the notion has been that temperament is immutable and caused entirely by genetic heredity. However, my research in the 70s proved that temperament is extremely malleable in young puppies. A number of our pups underwent speedy and dramatic changes in temperament arising from their early social experiences.

SIRIUS® Puppy Training pretty much pioneered the field of temperament training. SIRIUS classes have always focused on molding puppy temperament — building confidence in shy and fearful pups, toning down bullies, calming hyperactivity and teaching puppies to thoroughly enjoy being hugged and handled (restrained and examined) by family members and strangers, especially children and men.

The Nature/Nurture debate has been going on for several hundred years — essentially, whether good dogs are bred, or raised. Personally, I wouldn’t waste time and energy arguing the issue. I would do both — breed the best and give them the very best upbringing. However, just because Jack Russells grow up to act like Jack Russells and Goldens act like Goldens, doesn’t necessary mean that the process is 100% due to genetic heredity. On the contrary, many other experiential factors, especially social heredity, come into play and have enormous effects on developing behavior and temperament. Simple cross-fostering experiments provide proof. For example, what would happen if a JRT puppy were raised in a litter of Goldens and a Golden puppy in a litter of JRTs? Most likely, the Golden puppy would learn to put up or shut up and the JRT pup would spend a lot of time lounging on her back, soaking up the sunshine, with her tail lazily a wag, only to occasionally get up to obsessively retrieve a tissue, twig, or ball.

My son, Jamie, offers a fine example of the relative effects of genes vs. environment. When he was four years old, I once asked him to introduce himself to a dog seminar audience and he said, “My name’s Jamie. I’m half Chinese and half English … but … I’m ALL American.” Not an American (USA) gene in his body but he grew up acting American because he grew up in the USA around American kids and their hobbies and interests. He hardly thrills at the English sounds of tungsten on pig bristle, or willow on leather. (But he does have a delightful sense of humor and cooks pretty good Chinese food.)

When we domesticated animals, we selectively bred for those that were more easily and quickly socialized and trained but we tend to forget that a domestic animal is not fully domesticated until it has been fully socialized and trained.

Yes, all breeds and types of dog are different but without a doubt, regardless of breed or breeding, the single biggest variable that affects a dog’s temperament and personality and hence, its value and delight as a companion, is whether or not it was adequately socialized, handled and trained as a puppy. Pick any breed or type you like, mixed breed or Malamute, pitbull or Pomeranian, collie or Chihuahua and consider two individuals: one that was socialized and trained as a puppy and one that was not.

Socialization is Too Stressful for Young Puppies

Puppies are highly unlikely to be dangerously stressed by “too much” socialization and handling. On the contrary, it is a lack of early socialization that condemns many puppies to a miserable quality of life. Anxiety towards people is excruciatingly painful for dogs, especially when forced to confront people every day. Also, living with an anxious or fearful dog is not much fun for their owners, who cannot enjoy walking their dogs and even have to put the dog in a different room when people visit.

When over-stimulated or overwhelmed, young puppies simply fall asleep (to solidify the experiences) and then wake up raring to go again. Neonatal handling may cause short-term, slight increases in corticosteroid levels but puppies that were handled regularly as youngsters experience lesser corticosteroid spikes when handled or confronted with novel or fear-invoking stimuli later in life compared with dogs that were seldom handled as puppies. Essentially, early handling sets the “hormonostat” and enables puppies to cope better with stress during adulthood.

Risk of Parvovirus Infection

There is no need to expose a young puppy to any risk of parvovirus infection when socializing puppies with people. Prior to three months of age, puppies may be safely socialized in the breeding kennel, or in their new homes, provided that outdoor shoes remain outside. Rather than taking puppies to the people, bring the people to the puppies. Have puppy parties four nights a week, wherein all guests, especially children, men and strangers, gently handle and train the puppy. (When you have a young puppy, your social life will improve as well.)

We must triage the various aspects of socialization — socialization with people, socialization with dogs, and exposure to different physical aspects of the environment. Socializing puppies with people is extremely urgent, beyond important and completely safe, whereas socializing puppies with other puppies/dogs is less urgent, less important and may carry a minimally greater risk of parvovirus infection. Nonetheless, there is simply no scientific evidence that puppy classes cause an increased incidence of parvovirus. The real risk of parvovirus infection comes from puppies, with little or no immunity, sniffing the ground in contaminated areas, such as low-income (low-vaccination) public spaces and of course, veterinary clinic car parks. Even so, parvovirus infection is seldom fatal with appropriate treatment.

We Can Adequately Socialize Our Puppy in Puppy Class

Puppy classes are truly wonderful but they offer too little too late. Puppy classes are not a place to socialize barely socialized puppies. Instead puppy classes provide a safe forum for socialized puppies to continue socialization under the watchful eye of a trainer on the look out for warning signs of incipient temperament problems, especially fearfulness and aggression towards people, so that they may take immediately remedial action.


Some owners notice warning signs but ignore them, or they euphemistically excuse the puppy’s behavior, thinking that it’s no big deal. The Springer Spaniel that gave me the light-bulb moment for the notion ofsubliminal bite stimuli was described to me by the owners as: “She takes a while to warm to strangers”, “She’s not overly fond of children”, “She’s a bit hand-shy”, “She’s a bit tricky around her food bowl” and “We thought she would grow out of it.” Absolute denial! No she won’t grow out of it unless you help her. She is anxious and she’s crippled inside! She hurts!!! And so, pleeeeeease do something to resolve her fears and anxieties right away. If you do nothing, she will not get better; she’ll get worse. Behavior and temperament never stay the same. Behavior and temperament are in a state of constant flux and are always changing from day to day depending on experiences.

I feel so sad when I think of the number of times that I just wished I could turn the clock back for owners of fearful and aggressive adolescent and adult dogs and give them advice so that they could produce a dog as lovely and as bombproof as our American Bulldog, Dune. Yes, he was well-bred but also, he benefited from a social upbringing that was second to none.  He was happily friendly and accepting to babies and toddlers, men and boys, strangers and street people, kittens, puppies, chickens, goats, horses, deer, squirrels, little dogs, big dogs, overly friendly dogs and unfriendly dogs. And the fun we had with him and the moments and memories he left.

Prevention is the only way — early handling, oodles of classical conditioning and lots of puppy parties with lots of people, especially children, strangers and men. Socialize your puppy to the max. And if you have a breed that has been described as being sensitive, aloof, standoffish, or protective etc., your puppy requiresmore socialization, not less.

Above all, please remember that neglecting to socialize puppies with people is probably the most abusive thing that we can do to dogs. The effects are crippling and stay with the dog for a lifetime. To paraphrase Frederick Douglas, “It’s easier to build strong puppies than to repair broken dogs.”

All the relevant information for breeders, new puppy owners and veterinarians is available at including two of my books — BEFORE You Get Your Puppy andAFTER You Get Your Puppy — that may be downloaded for free. Please download these two books and email them to every doggy person and dog professional that you know.

To help prospective owners locate puppies that are already well-socialized, SIRIUS® Puppy Training is compiling a US database for breeders who are taking the time to raise their litters according to the SIRIUS® Minimal Mental Health Guidelines for Puppies. This is an opt-in program and any interested breeders should contact [email protected] and we’ll provide you with the behavior guidelines.



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On The Table

By Mark Kalaygian

Grooming tables and lifts are among the most important pieces of equipment in the pet salon, which makes careful selection, safe operation and regular maintenance vital.

While they may look like simple work surfaces to the uninitiated, grooming tables are among the most important pieces of equipment in the pet salon. These fixtures are the center of much of the action within the groom room, so they must be able to stand up to the rigors of constant use, while providing as much efficiency and comfort as possible to the groomer. To meet this need, table manufacturers have incorporated a variety of features, such as electric and hydraulic lift systems, that have elevated this vital piece of equipment well beyond a simple surface.

“The grooming table will be one of the most significant purchases for a business, and investing in a high-quality product that will be durable and look professional sends a strong message to clients,” says Brian Gomen, sales director at Shor-Line, manufacturer of the Elite Grooming Table.

With that in mind—and given the fact that this equipment may require a significant monetary investment—it is essential that groomers select the right table for their situation. According to Billy Chen, vice president of sales for Comfort Groom, it all starts with determining the groomer’s space limitations. “The groomer should decide on table size first,” he says. “Are the furry clients mostly large, small or a combination of both? Is the groomer a mobile groomer that is restricted on the size within the van?”


Comfort Groom Accordion Lift Table


Comfort Groom Ultra Low Z-Lift Electric Grooming Table

Chen says that Comfort Groom, which manufactures the Ultra-Low Z-Lift Electric Table and the Accordion Lift Electric Table, typically recommends a standard 24-in. by 42-in. table for most situations, because of its versatility in accommodating a variety of dog breeds. However, for groomers who have more space and usually handle large dogs, a  24-in. by 48-in. table sizes may be more appropriate.

“Weight capacity is also important,” he adds. “You want to be able to have a table that can support up to a minimum of 300 lbs. This shows that the table is strong and can lift tables from small toy breeds up to large breeds.”

According to Gomen, selecting the right grooming table ultimately comes down to providing the safest experience possible for pets.  “Animal safety is the number-one trend in grooming tables,” he says. “We have continuously improved our products to put the animal handler in the best position to keep the pet as safe as possible. Also, we have the only CSA/UL-certified grooming table. A pet that has a good, safe experience keeps coming back.”

Jeanne Caples, director of operations at Forever Stainless Steel, agrees that a pet’s safety and comfort should be among the top considerations when shopping for a grooming table. “One of the most important features is a comfortable surface for the dog to stand on,” she says. “A hard surface can result in a dog constantly shifting position to get comfortable. Another must-have is a durable grooming arm or restraint system that is resistant to bending when pulled on by a large dog. Most table safety issues are related to either a large dog pulling the grooming arm and tipping the table, or a dog falling from the table surface while restrained. Use of a durable, stable table, a heavy-duty grooming arm or restraint system, and a quick-release system for restraints will help prevent these problems that can lead to disaster.”

Of course, the need for safety and comfort extends beyond the animals in the salon. A groomer’s ability to work safely and efficiently must also be considered when evaluating the many bells and whistles that come with today’s grooming tables.

“The biggest challenge in choosing a grooming table is understanding how to balance the features and benefits of the table with the needs of the grooming salon,” says Gomen. “A well-designed, durable table makes it easier and less physically challenging to groom more animals. The safety features both protect you and the pet, as well as allowing you to work both safely and efficiently.”

While it may be relatively easy to meet the needs of a single groomer who works alone, a busy salon with multiple groomers can present more of a challenge. “We understand that grooming businesses will have several groomers, and they may vary greatly in size and grooming style,” says Gomen. “That is why we have foot-controlled electric adjustment on our most popular tables.”

While a table’s lift system can go a long way in making the grooming process safer and more efficient for the professionals using it, Caples points out that the incorporation of a lift does not automatically make a table safe to use. “Choosing a table that remains steady while in use and does not shake either while lifting or with the shifting weight of the dog is paramount to a good, long-term relationship with a lift table and safe grooming,” she says. “While it may seem very desirable to have a table with an extreme range of high or low elevations, it is important to be sure that such features do not detract from the overall stability of the table.”

Caples also says that having the right table accessories can also help foster a safe grooming environment. “A well-organized workspace can result in much safer, more efficient grooming,” she says. “A variety of grooming table accessories exist for this purpose, including the Professional Grooming Caddy by Kennel Gear.  If all the tools and products needed are within sight and within reach, a groomer can concentrate on the dog on the table without having to turn or look away.”

Once a grooming table is being used in the salon, ongoing maintenance becomes paramount; and this process is obviously made more challenging when lift systems are involved. For example, Chen says a common mistake made in grooming salons is forgetting that an electric motor is underneath a table surface that is being washed. “Always make sure to clean with caution and try to avoid exposing moisture to motors underneath,” he says. “Another important maintenance step is to try to clean up any fur around the motor and foot pedals.”

To help in this regard, Chen recommends that groomers who have the budget for it, consider buying a table—such as Comfort Groom’s Accordion Lift Table–that incorporates some type of shield over the lift system, to both keep fur from getting into the motor and protect the groomer from any of the exposed mechanics underneath.

At the end of the day, Chen says that finding a supplier that is willing to stand behind its products should be a groomer’s top priority when making a final decision on their table purchase. “It is most important to select a table that has good reviews and is backed by a structural lifetime warranty,” he says.

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