How to calm a dog down

relaxing dog - Jake

How to Calm a Dog Down

We love or dogs ever so much, and our dogs live for our affection for them. There are times, though, it seems no amount of affection will alleviate the stress and anxiety that can overcome our four legged friends. When our presence alone is not enough to give them comfort, it’s helpful to have other tools and knowledge to us understand how to calm a dog down.  A better understanding of the cause of nervousness will help us keep our pooches calm and comfortable.

A variety of stimulating situations can be the cause of stress, or a singular trigger can result in a nervous dog. Some examples of triggers may be:

  • Separation anxiety
  • Being highly susceptible to outside stimuli
  • Unfamiliar dogs or people or too many of them
  • Conflicting roles
  • Underlying health conditions
  • Loud noises such as fire works or thunderstorms

The challenge of how to calm an anxious dog comes in the variety of symptoms and learning to recognize them. It helps to have a sense of familiarity with your dog’s typical behaviors and responses to be able to recognize the triggered responses. The clinical signs of stress include the following:

  • Trembling or shaking
  • Panting
  • Pacing
  • Whining or barking
  • Frequent prolonged yawning
  • Licking the lips excessively
  • Loss of appetite
  • Hyper-vigilance
  • Hiding or escape behavior

For the professional vet or experienced dog owner who can recognize them, there are also some evident physiological effects from anxiety that may include:

  • Increased salivation or drooling
  • Unwillingness to take water or food
  • Accelerated heart rate
  • Dilated pupils
  • Rapid blinking
  • Excessive grooming
  • Shedding
  • Skin lesions

It’s important to note that we are discussing nervous or anxious dogs and will touch on naturally hyperactive dogs.  There’s a difference between being fearful of outward influences such as thunder and being bored so feeling like eating a couch is the right thing to do.  Both situations can be addressed by means and methods of calming your dog and helping them to relax at times they would otherwise be scared, nervous, or bored. Reducing your dog’s anxiety is possible.

We’ll take a look at how to calm your dog down during in several scenarios.  They may not be a perfect match for your situation but what is discussed should be useful regardless.

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relaxing dog - Jake
Relaxing dog – Jake

My experience with nervous dogs

I have seen all these signs as I have cared for many dogs through the years. The one trigger that seems to create the most instantaneous stress is the loud report from fireworks. Thunder is just as troubling as it can seem so threatening to the poor pooch as it’s unexpected and there’s now way to tell where it’s coming from.  One of our Pit bulls, Rusty, was afraid of nothing except thunder storms.  Later on this article I’ll detail how we addressed that with him.  Today he can sit through the flashing lightning and booming thunder without a care in the world.

Several of our dogs suffered every year through about a week of the July 4th celebration. It is never just one night, right? They’d go through the panting and trembling, drooling and accelerated heart rate. Sedatives didn’t help although they slept will the following day.  Closing the windows, pulling the drapes closed, and turning up the music and/or using white noise helped and for an unconditioned dog, that is probably the best approach.  This article will share how to work on conditioning your dog over time so there is less nervousness during these times.

I have seen the stressful behaviors on walks when other dogs approach, especially when the other dog walker assumes our meeting along a sidewalk is an invitation to visit. This is great when training a dog that is not anxious, but can become a tense or even dangerous situation with a nervous dog.

The key to success is being the calm and assertive (Cesar’s words) pack leader.  Much of this gets easier when you assume the calm and assertive pack leader role. If you are nervous or anxious, your dog will pick up on it.

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Dog and owner

The most important thing is you

The most important aspect when it comes to calming down your dog is you.  Your dog needs you to be the calm and assertive pack leader so raising your voice, spanking, or becoming nervous yourself will not improve the situation.

If you’ve owned dogs for any length of time, you know they pick up on your energy.  If you are new to dog ownership, this is something you must learn.

If your dog is afraid of storms, and you find lightning terrifying, you will have practically zero chance of calming your dog during a lightning storm.  People need the conditioning first.  Cesar says he spends as much, or more time, conditioning dog owners as he does the dog.  I’ve found this to be entirely accurate.

How you respond to the nervous dog is important.  The first inclination is almost always to love on them and hug them through the tough times.  It’s what we, as humans, do with our dogs.  But during a storm, for example, when the dog is nervous, hugging them actually isn’t the best approach.  Doing so will encourage that kind of behavior rather than helping your dog deal with it better next time.

Hugging your dog through the storm is not the best approach

It’s a tough act.  Remaining calm and assertive – impassive even – when your pooch is trembling and terrified.

Regardless of the specific case, there are some things that are important upfront.  Most important is that you understand that approaching this in a calm and assertive manner is key.  If you are nervous or upset, your pooch will pick up that and this becomes more difficult for both of you.

Always approach this (and really everything else) as the calm and assertive pack leader.

It’s also important to understand the triggers that cause your dog to become nervous or hyperactive.  Is it storms? The doorbell ringing? A yelling kid?  You coming home? Knowing the triggers is important as we’ll use those triggers as a basis to begin to solve the problem.  How you react to the triggers and how you react to how the dog reacts to the triggers is important.

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scared dog

How to tell when your dog is nervous or scared

I almost didn’t add this section as many of the symptoms are obvious and if we know our pooch, we’ll know when said pooch is anxious.  However, this page is also intended for new dog owners who may not know their dog well or perhaps just hasn’t been around dogs a lot.  With this in mind, I felt it’s worthwhile to outline some of the behaviors you’ll see when your dog is nervous.

It’s important to note here that just because we can’t see, hear, or smell something to be nervous about doesn’t meant the dog can’t. Your dog’s smell and hearing is far better than yours and although his eyesight might not be, they still pick up things we don’t notice.  I cannot count the number of times my dogs have alerted me to an individual walking down the road, or a deer deep in the trees that I didn’t notice.  So don’t be too quick to write off your dog’s nervousness as there’s a good chance he has picked up on something you have not.

Some signs we see in our pack that indicate nervousness follow:

  1. Trembling

This is one of the more common ones and probably the most obvious.  If your dog is shaking or trembling, your dog is most likely scared of something.

  1. Won’t leave your side

If your otherwise independent dog is all of a sudden attached to you at the hip, there may be something bothering him.

  1. Pacing

Many dogs, whether they are normally active or couch potatoes, will take to pacing when anxious.  We see our dogs do this from time to time and the really telling signal is when they pace, go lay down, and about 2 seconds later they are up pacing again.  This indicates that your dog is anxious about something.  They are trying to figure it out but can’t even lay down to rest as it prompts them to get back up and continue walking around.

  1. Hypervigilance

That’s all I could think to call this one.  You know what I mean.  Your dog is peering through the window intently, maybe shaking, maybe growling, and won’t leave it alone.  You look out and quite possibly don’t see anything but there’s something out there that has caught your dog’s attention.

  1. Licking

One of ours, Blitz, licks her front legs continuously when nervous.  We know something is up when Blitz is licking her front legs.  It’s a good bet a storm is on the way or there is some sound we aren’t quite picking up

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 Puppy dog visiting veterinarian

Talk to your veterinarian

I would be remiss if I didn’t advise a conversation with your veterinarian.  If you’ve been seeing the same vet for a period of time, that vet knows your dog better than anybody else and can provide science and experience backed advice.  Each dog is different, there is no doubt, so specific advice for your specific dog from a professional who knows your dog best is always the best approach.  Generic advice, such as what is included in this article, should always be tempered and weigh alongside what your vet advises.  Err on the side of listening to your vet.

It is useful to rule out any underlying medical issues that may be at play while your dog is under stress. Identifying triggers can start with taking note of the signs and symptoms and when these behaviors occur. You can then schedule a visit with your vet to discern the cause and decide on a remedy.

Consulting with your vet is the first best method of ensuring you are doing all you can for your nervous dog. Even when you rule out all probable causes, you have the option to consider anti-anxiety medication. If you are averse to resorting to medications, consider seeking the help of an animal behaviorist.  We’ll cover both in this article.

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How to calm your dog down during storms, fireworks, etc

As mentioned earlier, when the lightning is flashing, the thunder is booming, and the winds are whistling, dogs that are afraid of storms will either seek isolation or you will not be able to get them off your lap. Ideally the dog has a sanctuary spot to go such as a crate, comfortable bed, or favorite room.  In times of anxiety, your dog will prefer to be in your lap, under your feet, or in it’s sanctuary spot.  Note that this safe spot is the dog’s retreat during nervous times and is a strong reason why that spot should never be associated to any kind of punishment.

Should you love or hug your dog through the fear?

Our inclination may be to hold them, pet them, baby talk them.  But that is the wrong approach.

Bear in mind that any time you do the above, you are encouraging the same behavior next time and you really aren’t helping your dog overcome the nervousness or anxiety.  You could say you are encouraging it.  They act scared, they get hugs.  Note, this is not the same as counter-conditioning described below.  Hugging elicits a behavior response while counter conditioning is targeted and unavoidable involuntary reactions (salivating, for example).

Think of dogs in the wild during a storm.  Would the pack leader coddle a scared dog?  No, it would go on about its business as though there is nothing to worry about and the other dogs in the pack would pick up on the fact that there is nothing to worry about.  You’ll do well to mimic this.  As the pack leader, you must remain calm and assertive, even to the point of being impassive.  Doing so will teach your pooch that there is nothing to worry about.

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How to prepare your nervous dog for storms, fireworks, or other loud noises

Preparing your dog to not be nervous during storms is the preventive approach and highly encouraged.  There are several approaches to take.  We recommend doing all of them over time and you’ll see your nervous dog gradually become less nervous in situations that cause them anxiety

Prepare your dog using several approaches at the same time

We have a couple of rescues that are brother and sister Pit Bulls named Rusty and Rocket.  When we found them they had been on the street for what appeared to be a pretty good length of time and both were pretty nervous. They have since turned into wonderful companions and now realize they have nothing to worry about so have calmed down considerably.  Rocket, the female, is afraid of absolutely nothing.  Big brother Rusty, however, used to tremble during thunderstorms.  We’ve had them for about 10 years now and for the first 8 we could do nothing to calm him.  We started studying how to work with him and came across the concept of desensitization.  Nothing new here at all, I think we were just late to the game.


Desensitization works like this:

  • Find out what your dog is afraid of
  • Gradually, over time, expose your dog to varying degrees of his fear at such small levels it’s almost imperceptible.
  • Increase this exposure in terms of frequency and levels over time
  • Work on this consistently, with patience, over time. Think in terms of weeks or possibly months of gradual exposure, not days or hours.

…that’s about it.  Pretty easy stuff.  The key here is that you must be patient and you must be in tune with how your dog is reacting.  Do not force it and do not get upset if progress isn’t being made as fast as you want. You have to do this at the dog’s pace, not yours.  Also, remember that if you get upset, your dog will pick up on that and it’ll be that much harder to make progress.

Two things we did.  First, we recruited his sister Rocket.  The two are just about inseparable anyway and we figured her calming influence would be helpful.  We also bought a CD of thunderstorms and rain sounds.  Interestingly enough, this is intended to help humans meditate.  I’m sure you can find a download of it these days but there are plenty of inexpensive CD’s to choose from as well.

We played this at low volume throughout the day while Rusty was playing, eating, resting, etc.  It became a constant backdrop to our daily lives and was surprisingly relaxing for us humans as well as the rest of the pack.  We thought he would be unnerved at first but he wasn’t.  He completely didn’t care.  So over time we increased the volume and when we could see it was affecting him, we backed it down a bit and then just kept up the constant barrage of low level storm sounds.  This went on for weeks, by the way.  I’m not implying we did this all in a day or two.

During those weeks, we had actual storms that came and went.  We live in Georgia and the storms are severe.  I can remember waiting anxiously as the weather forecast called for the first big storm after we had started Rusty’s desensitization, wondering how much progress we had made.  As it turned out, practically zero.  Rusty was terrified as always.

But, we weren’t going to give up so we continued with the backdrop of thunder and storm sounds.  We humans had actually come to appreciate it as well.

In the end, I can only say that at some point, and I’m not sure when, Rusty’s desensitization just seemed to kick in.  One storm he was afraid, the next he wasn’t.  At all.  He just didn’t care.  I can only attribute it to the constant effort and exposing him to the backdrop of storm sounds as there is simply no other explanation.  Today, he’s fine.  We still listen to the CD from time to time but for our own relaxation and enjoyment.  The sounds meant to help humans meditate are pretty good at calming dogs also.

The process above can be used for anything that your dog is afraid of.  Fireworks?  Go through the above but with sounds of fireworks or explosions.  Probably won’t be as relaxing to you as our storms sounds were to us but I’m confident the result will be comparable.  I feel like the key here is to expose your dog to it all the time, or as often as possible.  Very low levels while the dog is sleeping seems to work as well as at more obvious levels throughout the day.

Counter Conditioning

No, this isn’t about how your dog can get onto your kitchen counter in any kind of condition.  Counter conditioning is the act of continuous reinforcement with “good things” to help your dog overcome something.  Importantly, the “good thing” here must cause an involuntary reaction, not a behavior.  The obvious one to shoot for, and the easiest, is salivating.  What makes your pooch salivate? Good treats!  The idea is that you associate salivating with the scenario that causes them anxiety. Feed them treats they love during the “bad times” and they’ll come to associate those bad things with good treats.  Remember Pavlov and the bell?  Same concept.

The idea behind counter conditioning is to condition your dog over time to associate something that is feared to delicious treats.  If those are dog calming treats, that’s even better.

Lets take storms as an example. If you know storms are to be moving through and you know your dog will be anxious, at the very first sign of wind, thunder, lightning, or rain you should begin giving your dog his favorite treat and continue doing so throughout the storm.

Note, this can amount to a LOT of treats so keep calorie count and general health value of the treat in mind.

When the storm stops, the treat stops.

Another storm, start in with the treats again.

Over time, your dog will associate storms with the treats – he’s been conditioned to not fear the storm. He’s now thinking in terms of delicious treats rather than scary lightning.

Two critical aspects of counter conditioning are time and consistency:

  • Time – you must start with the treats early, before the dog has become fearful of the storm. Start too late, when he’s already scared and he will associated the treats to fear instead so be early on this rather than late
  • Consistency – you must do this for every storm.  Every time.  No exceptions.  Until your dog is truly at ease in a storm.  The counter conditioning process is easy to relapse from if you skip “sessions” or learning opportunities.

If you pooch is afraid of physical things rather than noises, the process is a bit different, but the underlying concepts are the same.

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Calm your dog down around physical things, like the trash truck

Unless you want to buy or download sounds of a trash truck and play them around your house 24/7, we need to find a different approach.  From a very basic perspective, the intent should be the same, however.  Frequent low level exposure over time, increased at a pace that is acceptable to your dog.  If Fido freaks out when the trash truck comes around, then we need to expose him to more trash trucks.  And probably not just trash trucks but any large and loud vehicle.  School buses, semi trucks, heavy equipment such as bulldozers, etc.  Exposure to any of these types of vehicles in a comfortable way will help him desensitize.  It’ll be a good deal more effort than playing music at the house, but the outcome is worth it.

Think of places where large vehicles are constantly in motion and that you can stand on the periphery with your dog so you aren’t up too close.  I’m thinking school bus yards, truck stops, landfills, busy intersections, etc.  Since we’re talking about a lot of traffic, I recommend a very sturdy leash and harness to ensure there’s no chance of him running off.

Don’t start right up in the mix of things. Take him to the very edge where he can observe but not be nervous.  Have some treats handy and be patient, it’ll take time.  If you have chosen a busy intersection, hang out a few streets back where there is less traffic and just play with him or let him sit and observe.  As he settles in, move a bit closer…literally a few steps.  If he gets nervous, back up a bit.  Eventually you’ll find the sweet spot where he’s watching the traffic but not nervous.  When he stops watching the traffic, it’s a good time to move a bit closer.  If he’s not watching it, he’s probably not afraid of it, so move a bit closer.

If you’ve chosen a different place such as a landfill or bus yard, use the same approach. It always feels like a landfill is an interesting place because of the size of the vehicles that come through and the smell.  To us, not a pleasant odor but to dogs, it can be heaven so they are getting the stimulation from the smells they love while also gaining visibility, hearing, and proximity to very large vehicles.  So take a trip to the dump (you don’t need that chewed up couch anyway) and take your nervous dog with you.

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Calming toys

There is a wide variety of toys that are designed to help calm your dogs.  These are great in that they become little buddies for you dogs and if these toys live in your dog’s crate, for example, this will elevate the calming affect of your dog chilling in his crate. These toys can have pheromone emitters, heartbeats, heat packs, and other things to help your dog overcome it’s nervousness.  We use these and highly recommend them.  They aren’t great for chewing dogs so keep that in mind but they make great additions to crates or other safe sanctuaries for your dogs.

Our favorite is the one made by SmartPetLove – the Snuggle Puppy behavioral aid toy.

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Medications and chews to calm your dog down

We use these quite a bit. Calming chews are great in that they are enticing treats for you dog and they just work. As treats, you want to make sure they are safe and healthy for your dog so be sure to check the ingredients to make sure there is no corn, no wheat, no soy, no GMO, etc.

Calming dog chews are good to sooth nervousness or anxiety in the types of situations above but they have also proven effect for things like motion sickness, leash pulling, etc.  So not just for nervous dogs during thunderstorms, but they also do well to calm your dog in many other scenarios as well.

You can find a large assortment of calming chews.  We find these are these to work well.  Again, each dog is different and may react (or not react!) differently so  you may want to try more than one:

PremiumCare calming treats for dogs  – 8,000+ reviews

Zesty Paws calming bites for dogs – 5,000+ reviews

NaturVet – Quiet Moments Calming Aid for Dogs – 3,000+ reviews

VetriScience Laboratories- Composure, Calming Behavior Support Supplement for Dogs – 3,000+ reviews


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Aromatherapy to calm a dog down

Aromatherapy for dogs

  1. Does aromatherapy work for calming dogs down?

History and science suggests that it does.  Bear in mind that your dog’s sense of smell is highly evolved and their canine brains are hardwired to connect scents to experiences.  Some fragrances have been shown to have a more calming affect than others.  Lavender, in particular, has a strong affect and can calm an otherwise anxious dog.

  1. How do I use aromatherapy to calm my dog down?

You’ll read a number of methods, from rubbing essential oils on the dogs skin to a more passive approach of having full time diffusers throughout the house.  We go with the full time diffusers as we have seen that it seems to have a noticeable approach over time.  Note that we are also engaging in other active calming practices at the same time so I cannot point my finger at aromatherapy (or any of the others) and say it has had the most affect.  However, when we run out of the diffusers, we see a noticeable difference in the anxiety levels of our naturally nervous dogs.

Many advocate rubbing diluted essential oils right onto the dog.  It makes for an enjoyable session for human and dog alike.  Rubbing the oils into the neck, behind the ears, etc will work wonders for their mood and their levels of anxiety.

  1. Are pheromones a part of aromatherapy?

They can be.  Quite a few products on the market today are available and many vets recommend them.  We use them as well.  Pheromones are a good alternative to giving your dogs medicine to affect their anxiety.  Our experience shows that pheromones work well over time and, as discussed above, are effectively used in diffusers throughout our household.  It’s a good hands-off and passive approach.

  1. Dog-Appeasing Pheromones (DAP)?

I have taken to using some touch with my most nervous dog that replicates how mama would have cared for him as a pup. It has made this dog more affectionate toward me. In similar fashion, there is a synthetic chemical available that is based on a hormone that is produced in lactating dogs, the mama, in other words.

It is known as a dog appeasing pheromone (DAP), which is a hormone that transmits the calming effect on puppies and encourages the bonding between mother and baby. You can get this chemical in a collar or as a plug-in diffuser with replaceable vials. While humans cannot smell it, it has been proven to work with puppies. It is not clear whether it has the same effect on adult dogs that are anxious although some owners say they have had success with it.  As mentioned a few times already, each dog is different so it’s probably worth testing it out.

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Music therapy for dogs

Music therapy to calm your dog down

Music therapy is a another great approach to calming your dog down.  We discovered this quite by accident when we left a jazz station on as we left the house one day.  When we came back, the dogs were noticeably less energetic.  When we return to the house, we’re normally met with energetic bursts of affection.  You know the deal.  When we came back and had left the jazz music playing, their response was different.  We actually thought maybe they had done something so thought they were in trouble or perhaps even sick. That’s how different the response was from what we normally saw.

It took us awhile to realize it was the music.  At the time we chalked it up to strange dog behavior but noticed the correlation again later.

I’m not saying or even trying to imply that a good Miles Davis track is going to turn your Jack Russell into a lethargic and unresponsive pup.  Not at all.  Just that in our case, we happened to see a marked difference when jazz was playing and we continue to take advantage of it this day.

Given the above, we are strong believers that music therapy for dogs works.

You can find a lot of products on the shelf for this, many made by very well known brands.  However, our thought on this is that each dog may react differently to different music so it may be a trial-and-error thing to find the right music for you.  Cycle through your Sirius/Spotify/Pandora play lists.  You might find that Buffy reacts differently to Billy Idol than Fido does.  (hey, I’m an 80’s guy!).

I’m not sure you need to run out and buy a music therapy playlist for $49.99 – I’m sure you have music in the house or at least the means to bring some music in.  I’d say go that route and see what works.  If you are really pressed to drop a few greenbacks on this, head on over to your favorite Amazon page and type in “dog music therapy”.  In fact, I did it for you.  Just click here and you’ll land on Amazon with the search results all ready to view.

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Wearable Items for Alleviating Stress

The “I love my dog market” is huge and growing daily.  There are products on the market for everything you can think of and many you can’t – all for your dog.  We tend to take them all with a grain of salt until we see significant positive reviews (in the thousands) and have tried them ourselves.  Below are a couple that work.

The Thundershirt

The Thundershirt is an anti-stress item for your dog that is basically a tight-fitting jacket.  It is designed to wrap around the body to mimic a swaddling effect. This same concept is used for people who experience stress. The weight of the cover is comforting. However, this is something that should be avoided for more significant stressors, such as when you leave them alone. You can possibly induce fear if your dog suddenly finds he wants nothing to do with this garment.

Calming collars for dogs

Here’s a new one – I find these interesting.  Take the above about pheromones and essential oils and combine it into a wearable and you have the calming dog collar. If you are a fan of helping your dogs become less anxious passively over time, then this is an excellent approach.

Given the strength of a dog’s senses in terms of smell and pattern recognition, I’m a strong believer in the approach of using fragrances and pheromones so am also a big believer in the dog calming collar.  We will be doing a separate article on this shortly.

The general concept here is that the collar it emits calming pheromones that, since it’s on your dog’s neck, are easily taken into the dogs system. Some have little refillable containers but the one I find most interesting is the type that is simply activated by your dogs body heat. Put it on, and it just works.  It can be worn in addition to his regular collar.  As mentioned before, every dog is different so this may work well on one dog but not the other.  At about 15 bucks, it’s a fairly inexpensive thing to test out.

Our favorite calming collar can be found on Amazon here.

Calming caps for dogs

I don’t much care for these but they are a “wearable” so feel it’s worth bringing up.  We know how blinders used on working horses limits their vision thus reducing the stress response. With horses, they have little defense from threatening attackers, which is why their eyes magnify everything. With your dog, you can get a calming cap that helps limit the visual stimuli while still allowing them to see. When the cap is applied with gradual care to avoid sudden panic, it serves to limit your dog’s sight without desensitizing them to the purpose of the cap. We’ve never tried this one as just the images of dogs wearing them makes me not want to try it.  If you try it and see success, we’d love to hear about it.

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Exercise dogs to reduce stress

Exercise to Reduce Stress

We humans benefit from the relaxation that results from exercise, and your dog can benefit the same way. The physical activity relieves tension. Taking a walk or playing fetch helps stimulate serotonin production. This is the same hormone that helps us humans feel relaxed after working out.

Sometimes, dog anxiety is nothing more than a lack of exercise. Getting out and burning off the pent-up energy goes a long way to help alleviate nervous tension and even ease separation anxiety. Being outside also provides a means of distraction. Dogs are migratory by nature. They thrive on exploring the grounds and checking out the smells their many nasal receptors can detect.

I find it interesting that simply going for a walk works wonders to calm you dog.  I often find my dogs are every bit as calm after a moderate walk as they are after 30 minutes of fetch or swimming.  There’s less physical exertion but more “paying attention” and focus on what you, the owner, want and are doing.  I believe this focus serves to calm them down a good bit as well.

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Dog massage

Doggie Massage

If you have enjoyed the effects from a good massage, then you know how soothing it can be.  Massages are a great way to calm a dog down. Long, slow strokes or circular movements with the fingers and hands all over your dog’s body help activate cellular function. You can apply the same method of constant contact and continuous massage as delivered by a professional masseuse.

Animals are immediately receptive to the soothing effect of touch. For that matter, studies show that petting your dog or cat calms your own nerves. Massaging your dog is a win-win situation. It can calm the both of you.

Add essential oils to this massage to elevate the soothing results for you dog.

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Puzzle Toys and Food Toys

Dogs love to play. We do not always have the kind of time to devote to their need for attention. That is why I am grateful there are puzzle toys and food toys available to help redirect a dog’s focus into productive play. These devices offer the necessary preoccupation that provides a distraction from the stress that can trigger anxiety.

These are toys that roll around as they play with them. It calls upon their ability to master the capture if it rolls away from them. The food toys have a place to hide a tasty treat that requires a dog to use their ingenuity to retrieve it. Typically made from resilient material for those who love to chew, these devices hold a dog’s attention and gives them a satisfying distraction.

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Animal Behaviorists

In many ways, our dogs benefit from some of the same treatments humans use. Among these is behavior modification. If your regular vet thinks it could help, he or she can refer you and your pup to a board-certified veterinary behaviorist. This is an approach that helps to change or reprogram your dog’s emotional response to the offending situations.

The animal behaviorist never uses devices that deliver pain as a preventive measure. Not only are devices such as pronged collars or electric shock collars dangerous, but they are more likely to reinforce more fear and anxiety, the exact opposite effect you need to establish. Anxiety can grow into something that just keeps getting worse unless it is addressed while it is manageable.

The behaviorist is a specialist who has completed a residency of at least three years in clinical behavior medicine. They are board-certified experts in treating dogs for such issues as fear, anxiety or aggression. You can access a directory of all the currently board-certified veterinary behaviorists through the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists website.

***Link needed to vet ACVB website***

Wrapping it up…how to calm a dog down

The science shows us that stress has a negative effect on health. This is the same for your pooch. Further, the ongoing stress of living in fear or enduring an anxiety disorder can produce illness and shorten the lifespan. That does not mean giving up.

Solutions may not always be quick or easy, but wouldn’t you want the same consideration of a patient and loving care giver? With love and devotion, the right tools and professional help, both you and your dog can enjoy a healthy and happy long life together.

Finally, while there seems to be interest in pursuing CBD products for how to calm an anxious dog, the experts do not recommend this as a remedy until more studies are conducted regarding their effectiveness. It is not possible now to speak to the potential adverse effects.

The best advice in general is to be supportive and patient. Back to the top


Can dogs eat garlic?

Is garlic safe for dogs - garlic cloves - onions

Can dogs eat garlic?

In a word, no. Or at least, they shouldn’t.  Dogs metabolize some foods different than humans and garlic is one of those.  Actually, foods in the allium family, to include onions and leeks, can affect dogs in ways they do not affect us so it’s a good lesson in not everything we eat is good for our dogs.  So the question of can dogs eat garlic should be met first and foremost with a solid no. But, along side that mandate, there are some apparent contradictions to consider:

  • If they shouldn’t eat garlic, why are there garlic pills for dogs?
  • I’ve heard that garlic can be an effective treatment for fleas.
  • I’ve fed Fido garlic bread before and he’s never had a problem with it.
  • I always share my garlicky spaghetti with my pooch and she loves it and she’s fine.

So if the answer is no, dogs should not eat garlic, what gives?

Can dogs eat garlic cloves

How much garlic is toxic for dogs?

Herein lies the problem.  Garlic in small doses will most likely do no damage.  But, each dog and each dog’s size will determine what that amount is. As a general rule, we see in studies that it takes about 15-30 grams of garlic per kilogram of body weight to be the level at which harmful changes are seen in a dog’s blood.  So if you have a a 5 pound dog, which is about 2.2 kilograms, that dog will need to ingest about 30-60 grams of garlic to be in danger.  When you consider that a common clove of garlic you buy in the supermarket is about 5 grams, you can see that your dog would have to eat quite a bit to be in danger. But it’s not just the raw amount.  Different dogs metabolize garlic differently so what’s safe for one 5 pound dog may not be safe for another. There’s also the duration of time over which the garlic is eaten.  If eaten over a period of days, the same amount can still be problematic so it doesn’t have to be eaten all at once.

A few more considerations:

  • Age of the dog.  Garlic will affect puppies to a greater degree so should never be fed garlic.
  • Pregnant dogs?  Never feed them garlic.  We do not know how it affects the unborn puppies and since there is no proven health benefits, there’s really no reason to do it.
  • Other medications?  If your dog is taking other meds, they may interact badly with the garlic
  • And lastly, the breed of dogs.  Studies show that the Akita and Shiba Inus breeds are more susceptible to garlic toxicity than other dogs

Why do so many say that garlic is good for dogs?

Usually to sell something, to be honest.

Here’s the deal. Garlic is immensely beneficial for humans.  We love our dogs.  We want our dogs to be healthy and live a long time.  We decide that what is good for us is good for them, which is where this train of thought’s logic falls off the rails.

Not everything that is good for us is good for them.  It is undeniably true that a little bit of garlic won’t hurt.  It takes a good bit to cause any harm but, as with chocolate, grapes or avocados, why take the chance? There are far better treats, far better vitamins, far safer alternatives than “small amounts of something we know can be deadly in the wrong amount”.

Why take that chance?

Can dogs eat garlic bread

What about garlic bread? My dog eats it all the time and he’s fine?

We’ve discussed how much garlic it takes to harm a dog and there’s very little chance you’re putting that much garlic on your garlic bread.  So it’s not the garlic that’s a problem here, it’s the butter, salt, and whatever else you have on there.  A piece of garlic bread is fine for most dogs but I wouldn’t make it a habit (for your dog or for you!).

We often hear “can dogs eat [fill in the blank]” so are working on a series of articles to discuss these topics. We’re working on a string of topics around “can dogs eat…”.  Please see our articles here:



Are olives bad for dogs?

Can dogs eat black olives - Blitz

Olives are undeniably good for us, but what about our dogs?  Do they gain the same benefits by eating black olives as humans? Are black olives good for dogs? Can dogs eat black olives and, if so, what are the pros and cons?

If your main concern is “my dog just ate an olive, or many olives and I’m concerned”, the short and quick response you’re probably looking for is that your dog will most likely be fine.  A few questions to take into consideration:

  • How many olives did your dog eat?
  • Were they canned or pickled and therefore high in sodium?
  • Were they pitted? Is there a chance your dog ate a lot of pits?
  • Were they stuffed with anything?
  • Were these olives, perhaps, on a slice of pizza with a lot of other ingredients?
  • Were they garlic stuffed or perhaps soaking in garlic? If so, this can be serious as garlic as been shown to be dangerous to dogs because of how they metabolize items that come from the “allium” family.  How much garlic it takes to be dangerous to dogs depends heavily on the size of your dog.  Typically it takes a lot of garlic to make a dog sick, far more than you would find in stuffed olives, but why take a chance?  Long story short, if there was a lot of garlic involved, call your vet.
  • Was it actually a slice of pizza or perhaps olive tapenade and therefore more than just olives?

Barring something odd, such as Fido ate a whole bowl of non-pitted, jalapeno stuffed pickled olives, he’s probably going to be just fine.  Watch him for unusual behavior.  Call your vet, of course, to be sure but if it was a single olive, or perhaps one or two, there’s no reason your dog wouldn’t be completely fine.

A major consideration here isn’t so much “did he eat an olive, or 5” but “did he eat an olive pit, or 5″.  The olive pits are seeds and will normally be passed through the digestive tract without harm but too many can result in blockage and this is a case for extreme care (and an immediate call to your vet).  Also, olive pits are exceptionally tough can can chip your dog’s teeth.  If your dog actually chews up the pits rather than swallowing them, they can release toxins into your dogs system.  If there is any chance of your dog eating a lot of pits, call your vet.

That’s the short and sweet answer. For more information, please read below.

What is an olive?

Let’s take a look first at “the olive” to see what it actually is.

First, the olive is a fruit, not a veggie and as has a seed that is called the pit.  Think of cherries or apricots.  Same concept.  They grow on trees and have pits. A primary difference is that cherries and apricots are sweet whereas olives are painfully bitter when freshly picked.  Olives aren’t ready for consumption until after they are processed.  The difference between black, green, and purple olives (really, any color) is when they are picked.  Green olives are picked early in the season so are less ripe while black olives are picked later in the season.  All are picked from the same trees.  So, trivia answer for you there, there are no green or black olive trees.  They all come from the same tree.

Now we know what an olive is, lets take a look at a couple of aspects.  First, are they good for dogs?  Then, are they bad for them?  Then, should you feed your dog black olives?

Can dogs eat olives_ Roxie wants to know

Are black olives good for dogs?

Yes, absolutely, but with caveats.  Primary among them is how many your dog eats.  If one or two, there’s only good that will come of it.  If more than that, your dog may experience tummy problems and end up with diarrhea, which is bad, of course.  So in moderation, they are fine.  Some dogs will tolerate them better than others.  Some may get sick after eating only a single one so best to start small and just test it out.

Olives are naturally high in vitamins K, E, and A which are just as good for dogs as they are for us so again, in moderation, olives are good for your dogs.

Are black olives bad for dogs?

No, not if they are the right black olives.  However, feeding your dog black olives that are heavily processed and perhaps stuffed with a filling such as cheese, garlic, or jalapeno will affect this.

Pickled or canned olives are usually high in sodium so care should be taken here.  Keep in mind that an amount of sodium that doesn’t bother you at all may have a much more intense effect on your dog.  Excessive sodium will dehydrate your dog and, of course, this isn’t what you want.

Should I feed my dog black olives?

Although they are packed with nutrients and in moderation will cause no harm, there’s really no reason to feed them to dogs.  You can find a lot of well made dog snacks that serves just fine and save those tasty olives for yourself.

If you do want to share one or two, no problem.  Make sure there is no pit and rinse the olive to remove any brine or salt. Then, enjoy an olive or two with your four legged friend!

My dog just ate a slice of pizza with olives on it – what do I do?

I feel like this is the more likely underlying question.  Your dog accidentally ate some olives and you want to know what to do.  Well, if it was a slice of pizza, what else was on it? If it was a bowl of olives that you had sitting out, were they pitted?  Were they processed and so potentially high in sodium and other additives?  How is your dog behaving right now? Is he drooling? Is he acting funny?  All things being equal, your dog is probably going to be fine. There’s nothing inherently wrong with a dog eating an olive.  It’s all those other considerations to take into account (how many, processed or not, high is sodium, pits, were the olives stuffed with something, etc).

Can dogs eat olives - Rusty is curious

Final thoughts

We often hear “can dogs eat [fill in the blank]” so are working on a series of articles to discuss these topics. We’re working on a string of topics around “can dogs eat…”.  Please see our articles here:

Lastly, as I re-read this article, I realize I focused entirely on black olives.  There is no real difference between a dog eating black olive or a green olive.  The results, concerns, and considerations will be the same as wondering if can dogs eat black olives.

How to introduce a new dog into your home – 13 topics

Bruno the boxer puppy posing

how to introduce a new dog into your home - the definitive guidebook

Rescuing a dog, either from a shelter, a foster home, or from the street is an exciting, stressful, confusing, frustrating and eminently fulfilling experience.  As a reader of this article, I’m going to make the bold assumption that you are either considering it or have already done it. How to introduce a new dog into your life is something we are asked frequently by friends so we wanted to create this article to help them and others.

My wife and I have rescued quite a few over the years so we wanted to put this article together as a means of helping those that are working through some aspect of a rescue, adoption, or fostering.  I want to get right to the heart of this, so won’t share those details up front but if you are interested in our story, it’s at the bottom of this article.

A word of caution – rescuing, adopting, fostering a dog is not for the faint of heart and should not be considered lightly.  The new addition to your family is every bit as demanding as a new baby(we’ve had babies, grand babies, and dogs and it’s a toss up which is toughest to raise).  This innocent little character will cause you to laugh and cry, give you fits of hysteria and bouts of depression, increase your exercise level and your stress level, teach you the meanings of all the different colors of dog poop, lead you to read books you never considered before, and all the while doing so with a cute “tilt the head” look that you just can’t help but love.  It’s an investment in time, money, and energy that should not be underestimated. Good food, shots and other vet bills, exercise, and love – that’s what it takes and some of that costs money.  It is a labor of love (with huge rewards) that you have to be prepared for.  Don’t step into this lightly.

How to introduce a new dog to your family - Bruno puppy
This is Bruno, the boxer puppy. The picture further down the page shows him a bit more grown up.

We started out creating the below information to be presented in a sequential manner but in the end, it’s just not that easy. The items below can be taken piece by piece but if you start at the top and work down, it’ll make sense and might actual do a fairly decent job of mapping out the journey.  I think, the end result is more of a list of items we’ve learned over the years more than a step-by-step process.  A step-by-step process didn’t work out very well.  It’s a lot of information, to be sure, but you didn’t think this was going to be easy, did you?

The information below is lengthy so we’re adding a table of contents at the top.  The items are listed in an order that could be considered sequential but in actuality, there’s no such thing. Every situation is different.  Feel free to pick and choose the topics that are of interest.  At the end of each topic will be a link to bring you back to the table of contents that looks like this:

TOC - how to introduce your dog to your family

Bringing the dog home – allow some decompression time

Bringing the dog home is a sensitive and critical time.  Don’t rush anything. Your dog will probably require peace and quiet more than anything else early on.  Let him decompress for awhile before asking too much of him.

Your new dog will need to chill out a bit.  Having a space of their own to do this is critical.  Good food and water is, of course, a requirement and you should also consider a few chew toys to help them pass the time.  If, like Jake in the picture below, a nice leather couch is available…all the better.

relaxing dog - Jake
Jake relaxing

Don’t “show them off” to all of your friends and family.  They need some peaceful time to adjust.  Do not throw a “welcome home” party. This is not something the dog will understand and will most likely only cause increased anxiety.  A festive party like this, although well intentioned, is really only fun for the humans.

Give them all the quiet time they need. It may be more than you expect so don’t force it and don’t pressure them to socialize

Be prepared for stomach issues

The food you feed them most likely won’t be familiar to them and it may (most likely will) cause upset stomachs.  You know what this means. There’ll be some cleanup involved so get a good supply of paper towels, clorox cleanups, and maybe some masks.

If you are able to mimic what the dog’s meals were before you got him, so much the better. Mimic that and slowly transition to the type of foods you will be feeding him. If this is a rescue, however, you may not know.  In just about every instance of ours (picking up strays off the street) there was no way for us to know so we feed them bland diets at first and then slowly introduced better and better food.

Where the potty?

The dog needs to know where it’s acceptable to go to the bathroom.  Before even bringing the new dog into the house, take him for nice walk around the property so he can get the feel for the land and encourage him to use the bathroom in the best spot.  Early attention to this matter will be helpful down the road.

If this is a puppy or perhaps an older dog that has never been potty trained, you’ll want to place an emphasis on this.  Crating can help here too as dogs just don’t want to potty in their crates so will hold it.  Aside from crating, extra attention is needed here to look for signs of needing to go potty and then taking the dog outside as needed.  Praising them for doing their business outside is a good idea.

Back to TOC - create a relaxing environment for your new dog

Creating a welcoming space for your new dog

Give them a “room of their own” so they can adjust at their own pace in a comfortable area with few distractions or perceived dangers.

We strongly recommend crating (detailed below) but if you can’t or don’t, it’s best to create some kind of area that is the dog’s and dog’s alone.  A washroom, laundry room, spare bedroom, etc. In this case, be sure to dog proof the area.  Extension cords should not be plugged in and accessible. Any item that could be harmful if chewed on should be removed.  This room should be equipped with some kind of bed for the pooch to sleep on.  We have found that the “chew proof” elevated beds are very good.  We have aggressive chewers that have ripped beds to shreds (that rhymes!) and they have not bothered to chew these up.

A key here is that the dog’s space should not be in the main traffic area of the house. The dog needs some peace and quiet. But, by the same token, you want this space to be within sight of where the people in the house are.  So you wouldn’t want to lock him up in the garage where he can’t see anybody. If you have a mudroom that has visibility into the main area, or perhaps a laundry room, these are great.  Don’t close the doors but set up a gate to keep the dog in but also provide visibility and hearing into what is going on throughout the house. This will give him a place to chill, but also let him get used to the sights and sounds of his new home. A see through gate will also allow an introduction to other pets in a safe manner which also lets you see how all animals react.

As a human, we all have things to do in our own “rooms of our own”. Your new dog shouldn’t be any different.  Safe chew toys are a great addition to your dog’s new area.  These also serve as very good rewards for your dog when they agreeably go into the crate and lay down.  Rudy (below) finds his new bed much better than his previous digs – he’s lovin’ his new life.

Rudy the rescue dog relaxing on his new bed
Our most recent rescue, Rudy. Beautiful dog and great companion. So glad he came to stay with us.


We strongly recommend crating dogs. For those that have never done it, it sounds mean and maybe even downright cruel.  For those of us that transitioned from that kind of belief to actually doing it, we know it’s simply the best approach.  Dogs love their crates.  It’s where they go when they are tired, fearful, or just want some time along.  Don’t you have a favorite go-to place?  We’ve had one rescue (Rudy, pictured above) who simply would not take to crates and, I think, he has some bad memories of them.  When we crated him, he literally tore it apart. There was no “leave him there and let him get adjusted” process.  The crate was demolished.  So Rudy, out of all of our dogs, does not have a crate.  But, you know, he has our laps, our couches, my favorite chair, etc.

Put the crate somewhere out of the way but yet where the main areas of the house can be seen. The dogs want their “away space” but want to see what’s going on at the same time.

The size of the crate is a critical aspect. Too large and it’s less comfortable and may lead to the dog going potty in the crate.  Too small and they can’t get comfy.  The crate should be large enough for the dog to stand up without hitting it’s head, turn around, and lay comfortably.  It’s not meant to be big enough to exercise in.

Let your new dog decompress for awhile. Let him chill in the crate or room.  Don’t try to force him to socialize. That will only make it harder for the dog as well as for you.  Let him adjust to his new surroundings, maybe get a meal or two, and recognize that there is no danger in his new home.

Back to TOC - establish a routine for your new dog

Establish a routine to help them feel at ease

A routine will help the dog adjust to her new surroundings.  Think about how kids are. They just do better with a routine, right?  Your dog is the same way.  A routine builds confidence and reduces stress for your dog, two things that will help build the foundation for a good transition to your home.

Feed them in the same place at the same time every day. If you choose to feed twice a day, make it consistent.

Go for walks at about the same time each day.  As the dog becomes more and more used to you and it’s unfamiliar surroundings, you can vary the route but in the beginning, it’s all about establishing routine and patterns. Stick to the same route until the dog shows a better level of comfort and then deviate a bit.

Turn out the lights and go to bed at the same time each night.  This is for Fido, not you.  If you are crating the dog (hopefully this is the plan and it works out for you) then establishing a nighttime pattern of getting snuggled into the crate and turning down the lights is an excellent approach.

A part of “routine” is how the dog is trained over time.  What words will be used to “sit”, “stay”, “get off the dang couch”, etc, etc.  Make a list and share it.  If one person is saying “off” and another person is saying “down”, it’s tough for the dog to understand and frustrating for the humans involved.  Make a list. Share it. Enforce it.

Back to TOC - fun and easy interactions for your new dog

Fun and easy interactions to teach and bond with your dog

Early in the process, you should think about training sessions for your new friend.  This isn’t so much to train them as it is to get them used to you and to give you the chance to bond.  Few things build trust better than snacks and, when given as rewards for training, this becomes another building block in the foundation of trust you are creating.  Your new friend might not want to jump on the trampoline like Bruno is doing below, but how do you know unless he tries it out?  Great fun for Bruno!

Bruno the boxer on the trampoline
Bruno on the trampoline. Side note – this is the puppy from the earlier picture.

Day two or three, depending on the pooch, is a good time to start mixing it up a bit.  Spend time with her, have some treats and start sharing them freely.  Maybe start teaching her to “sit” on command. Basic training is something for her to focus on, interact with you, and learn that good things (treats) come from you.  Since you’ll be sharing these treats more readily than normal, it’s a good idea to select a treat that has high nutritional value.

I’m a big fan of Cesar Millan and one  of the things he spends a lot of time educating dog owners on is the importance of walking your dog.  It’s great exercise and allows for very strong bonding.  It also establishes the pack order and gives the dog a sense of belonging.  Establishing a pattern for walks will do this as well as build trust with your new dog.  Also, oddly enough, a medium length controlled walk seems to tire your dog out more than an equal amount of time spent chasing balls. I don’t fully understand it but it’s true. Try it out.  Don’t skimp on the walks.

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How to introduce a new dog to your family and other humans

Unless you live alone, at some point you’ll have to let other humans interact with the new dog.  It’s entirely fine, recommended in fact, to lay down the rules before allowing this to happen.  The rules are simple. Be calm, don’t force the dog to do anything, don’t hug, don’t kiss, and if the dog shows signs of agitation then walk away calmly.

As the dog shows increased comfort levels, and this may be a few days or it could be immediately, slowly let other folks in the house into the dog’s area.  Ensure they move slowly and remain calm.  If the dog pulls or runs away, they should leave.  The dog will let you know when it is ready.

Instruct the folks who will be meeting to dog to let the dog set the tone.  Do not kiss, hug, or pick the dog up.  Just spend time with it in a very calm and relaxed manner.  Just sitting there and sharing a few high nutrition and tasty treats is a great way to make the introduction easier on the dog.

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How to introduce a new dog to your other pets

If you have other pets, at some point they will have to be introduced.  This is a critical and, depending on the dogs, can be a dangerous time.  A calm and assertive manner is critical. If you are stressed out over it, they will pick up on that and the overall stress of the situation will increase.  As mentioned before, Cesar Millan routinely opens the gate and allows a new dog into the midst of his pack.  No fear, no stress, and it just works.  I’d recommend having a small air horn in your pocket as they are amazing at breaking up scuffles.  Be ready to use it but don’t use it too soon.

The dogs will sniff and circle and establish the pecking order. That’s natural and you have to let them do it. Bruno and Baron (below) have established a pecking order alright. Looks like Baron is in charge.

Boxer and Dachshund puppy sleeping on couch
Bruno (again, the puppy from the earlier picture) and Baron, the new dachshund…getting along nicely.

If you do have other pets, you’ll want to keep them separated from the new pooch for maybe 4 or 5 days. During this time, the new pooch is acclimating to her new surroundings. If you have set her up in a “room of her own” with a doggy gate, it’s a great idea to allow closely supervised visitation after the first day so the other pets can say hello through the gate.  Allowing them to see and smell each other makes later introductions easier and gives you an early view into how this may eventually play out.  Do they growl?  Is their hair up? Do they look agitated?  Then you’ll want to introduce the other pets very carefully.  Are they friendly with their tails wagging?  The actual introduction may be easier (but don’t let your guard down).

After the formal introductions and your new pooch has been socializing with other pets, it’s still best to maintain your new dog’s space as it’s space alone. It may need a place to retreat and regroup.  With this mind, don’t let the other pets into this space for the week or possibly longer depending on how the socialization goes.  The AKC has great information on introducing dogs to each other.

Back to TOC - vet visit for your new dog

Visit the Vet to make sure your dog is healthy

You need to know if the new pooch is healthy and, if not, what you are up against.  Do not skip the vet visit. It’s critical to know everything about your new best friend.

This is a bit of a touchy one.  It’s not should you do it (of course you should) but when should you do it?  Our stance is as early as possible.  A rule of thumb is to not deviate from taking the dog home after initially picking it up (from the pound, rescue, foster home, etc) but rather get it into it’s new home as quickly as possible.  The one valid departure from this advice is a trip to the vet.  If you can set this up on the way home, it’s a good approach.  Get it out of the way early so you don’t have to interrupt the dog’s first week at his new home.

You’ll want to check for worms, heartworms, lice, etc.  Telling the Vet that you have just rescued the pooch is pretty much all you need to do. A good vet will run the necessary tests to completely check the new dog out.  This is going to cost a few bucks but, as I said earlier, that’s part of the deal.  Skipping the Vet visit is in nobody’s best interest.  I would not consider adopting, rescuing, or fostering if I could not afford to take the dog to the vet. That would be irresponsible.  This is particularly true if there will be other pets or children interacting with the new dog.

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Thoughts on reprimanding your new dog

Allowing your new dog to adjust comfortably is the name of the game and that won’t happen in an environment where the dog is yelled at, spanked, kicked, etc, etc.  In all aspects of working with a new dog, a calm demeanor is the most effective approach.

It’s normal to be upset to find the pile of dog poop in the kitchen, or your favorite baseball glove chewed to shreds.  Of course it’s frustrating.  But reprimanding a dog for this is often counterproductive.

Yelling at them, or “rubbing their nose in it” for pooping on the floor, in my not-so-humble opinion, teaches them to hide it better next time but does absolutely nothing towards teaching them to hold it until they go outside.

When considering the best approach for how to introduce a new dog into your family and life, it’s far better to withhold the reprimand and instead calmly take them outside so they can potty, or give them a substitute chew toy and remove the item they have been chewing on.  For that matter, remove ALL items they shouldn’t be chewing on and this won’t be a problem anymore.

Back to TOC - patience and encouragement while welcoming a new dog into your home

Patience and Encouragement with your new dog

Dealing with a new dog is a lot like dealing with kids.  You may not have kids but you’ve dealt with them before.  Regardless of the level of frustration, patience and encouragement is always the best approach.  It’s tough, of course, but if you can get to the other side of that the result is worth the effort.

If you place yourself in your dog’s paws, it’s easier to understand what may or may not be helpful during this delicate time.

Try to envision, from the dog’s perspective, what “makes sense” to them.

Chaos, loud noises, lots of people picking the dog up/trying to pet, inconsistent routines, scolding, yelling, spanking, etc, etc. With all this going on, would you be able to adjust to a new situation?  These are all things that will make the transition more difficult.

It’s always best to be calm and assertive (trust Cesar Millan) and the results will speak for themselves.  It takes as much education for the pet owner as it does for the pet.

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Understanding your new dog’s history

You can’t always know this.

In fact, often you won’t but it will have a critical impact on how you introduce a new dog into your life.

If you have picked up the dog from the pound or have rescued him from the street, you probably have no way of knowing her history. If you are fostering or perhaps you took the dog from a family who could not keep it, you might have some insights into the dog’s past, which can be quite valuable.

Regardless, keep in mind that there are things around the house the dog may be inexplicably scared of and it may make absolutely no sense to you.

One dog we rescued, my favorite of all time, was a Pit Bull named Jake.  He was fearless.  Nothing bothered him at all.  Until he saw a broom, then he freaked out and ran away to hides.  A mop?  No problem.  Swiffer? No problem.  But a broom just terrified him.  Jake was my best friend for many years and I shuddered to think what caused him to be so afraid of brooms.

Another example is Rudy, our most recent rescue.  Very much like Jake, Rudy isn’t afraid of much except yard rakes.  Here’s a dog that has literally tried to bite a running chainsaw and he also attacks my riding mower without concern. But when he sees a rake, he cowers.

So again, keep in mind that there’s a good chance some things will bother your dog and it may make no sense to you but is very uncomfortable for them. What do you do?  Do you try to “fix it”?  I’d advise no.  I just kept brooms away from Jake and rakes away from Rudy.  It’s easier and way more comfortable for them.

Back to TOC - Separation anxiety and your new dog

Separation anxiety for the new dog

A dog bonds with it’s owner and this is both natural and fun for both.  When they are removed from each other, the human feels it but we are conditioned and experienced in dealing with that feeling.  Some dogs aren’t.  It’s important to understand that separation anxiety is normal in many cases.  With work, it can be minimized and sometimes eliminated altogether but it something you may have to work through it.

If you think about where the rescued dog came from, she may have had a strong bond with her previous owner.  Even an abused dog loves her owner.  Unconditional love, it’s one of the things that dogs are great at.  So your new pooch may be missing her former owner and you have to work through that.  Some of the crazy behavior you see early on may be a symptom of that.

Another great thing about dogs is that they can forget easily if the situation helps them to do so.  Give them love and attention and before long that bond will be with you instead of her former owner.  This may mean the separation anxiety peaks when you are not around, but that’s something you can work with over time.  Far better for her to miss you than for her to miss her former owner. Below Rascal is waiting for our daughter to come home from school. She spent most of her days right there and every day her arrival from school was a joyous occasion for Rascal.

dog separation anxiety

If they bond with you quickly (that’s sweet!), they may not like it when you are gone. If they had bonded with another person or animal previously, this can be doubly difficult as they will have a more difficult time bonding with you and they will be missing the animal/person they bonded with previously.  Only patience and understanding works here and, as with everything else, you are going to have to work at it.

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Your new dog may make a few escape attempts

Some dogs have a strong tendency to bolt out of any open door, pry themselves through any gap in any gate, or leap over seemingly “tall enough” fences.

You have to be on your guard here until you know your new dog’s tendencies.

We have dogs that can easily jump our fences but choose not to.  They just don’t.  We also have a dog that you would think wouldn’t be able to jump the fence but he will when the impulse strikes him. If he sees a deer outside the fence, he’s gone before we can react and, I’m fairly certain, before he really even thinks about it.  He has no impulse control whatsoever.

Depending on the temperament and the history of the dog, he may try to escape.  This is something you’ll pick up on early on.  Fencing, of course, is recommended but also a keen eye on the front door to make sure the new dog doesn’t bolt outside when you aren’t expecting it.

Walking a dog that likes to try to escape should be done with a harness instead of only a collar to provide better restraint without causing injury.  Any dog that pulls on a leash should be walked with a harness as it’s safer on many different levels.

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Our dogs so far – the Hurtt family unofficial dog rescue story

As a side effort to this, since I mentioned above the dogs that my wife and I have rescued over the years, I went through an exercise to actually record them. It was fun and sad at the same time but I also realized there were far fewer than I thought.  At the outset, I thought that we must have rescued about 50 or so but in reality, it’s far fewer.  The fact that they tend to live so long means we have a lot at any given time so it just seems like a lot more.

My wife and I sat down and counted up how many dogs we’ve we’ve invited into our family over the years.  The grand total was 28 but I suspect we missed a few and it seems like there’s more.  We feed them well and ensure regular Vet visits so they tend to live a very long time. We had a Bernese Mountain Dog that lived to be 16. The life expectancy for a Berner is only 8 years.  Since they live so long, we tend to have a lot of them around at any given time.  The most we’ve had at any one time was 22 but that was a bit of a fluke as from a pair we rescued (Hercules and Binky), Binky was pregnant and presented us with 9 additional puppies a few weeks after the rescue so we rescued two that day but those two turned into eleven a few weeks later. But, hidden behind that fact is that we already had eleven rescues at the time.  Eleven already plus eleven more: twenty-two dogs!  The good news is that Hercules and Binky were full blooded labs, so the puppies were in great demand.  We gave each one away for free after vetting the potential owner thoroughly. We’re still in touch with most of them today and we are sent a lot of pictures of the dogs hunting, playing, or just laying around the house.  Those puppies made a lot of folks very happy.

If you’re interested, here’s a breakdown of our past and present pack members:

  1. Buffy – Schnauzer:  Not a rescue, my wife had him before she had me.  This guy was not friendly!
  2. Chelsea – Doberman (our first rescue)
  3. Coco – Doberman (Chelsea’s puppy that we kept) (rescue)
  4. Mookie – Bernese Mountain Dog: Rescued when we saw him tied to the front porch of a house in the desert with no food or water. Mookie smashed every life expectancy chart ever made, living to 16.  Life expectancy for Berners is about 8.
  5. Oscar – Dachshund:  He adopted us. Literally walked into our garage one snowy day, curled up and went to sleep and never left.
  6. Rascal – some kind of terrier thing:  Gifted from a litter a friend had
  7. Daisy – Staffordshire Terrier:  Rescued from the mean streets of Decatur, Georgia
  8. Rex – Schipperke:  Also rescued from the mean streets of Decatur, Georgia
  9. Bruno – Boxer:  Our son brought this one home.  I said “no, we have too many already”, and he never left.  Loved this dog dearly.
  10. Roxie – Unknown breed. She’s red:  Rescued from around Atlanta somewhere.
  11. Jake – Pit Bull: My best friend until his untimely passing.  Rescued on a cold, misty morning from a ditch alongside a graveyard on an abandoned road.  Died of cancer after an operation and treatment.  He was only six when we lost him.
  12. Cody – Rottweiler: Like Oscar, Cody adopted us.  He walked up to the house, introduced himself, and never left.  Never had a Rottie until him and now we absolutely love the breed.  Cody lived to age 12. In his final year he developed cancer.  He went through treatment that extended his life for about a year. It was worth every penny paid and mile driven.
  13. Baron – Dachshund:  Oscar (mentioned above) was killed by a neighbor dog.  Baron was bought about a month later.  We do love the Doxies and the house wasn’t complete without one.  He’s getting up there in years now, he’s about 12.
  14. Rusty – Pit Bull:  Rescued with his sister Rocket from the mean streets of Conyers, Georgia
  15. Rocket – Pit Bull: Rescued with her brother Rusty from the mean streets of Conyers, Georgia
  16. Hercules – Giant (132 pounds) Black lab: Rescued in Conyers along with his wife Binky
  17. Binky – Black lab: Rescued in Conyers along with her hubby Hercules.  She was pregnant and added 9 puppies to our pack a few weeks after bringing her home
  18. Ginger – Lab, Hercules and Binky’s puppy:  Of the nine puppies, all were given away (well vetted) but Ginger adopted me personally and didn’t want anything to do with anybody else.  Her and Jake were my very best friends.  She died at age 3 due to stringy chew toys.  I miss her terribly.
  19. Blitz – Pit Bull mix thing:  Gifted from a foster home after I lost Ginger and Jake (my two best friends) during a tough couple of months
  20. Rudy – Boxer/Pit/Mess: Rescued from abusive owner
  21. 8 other puppies in addition to Ginger from Binky’s litter

Our current pack includes Rusty, Rocket, Roxie, Baron, Blitz, Rudy, and Binkie.

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That’s a log of information!  I hope you found it worthwhile. Please bookmark it and check back often as we will be updating it from time to time.  The process to introduce a new dog into your home and family is fairly static but new things can and will be added as we learn more, experiment more, and adopt more.  Happy adopting!!


introduce a new dog - the definitive guidebook


Are Pit Bulls dangerous?

Rusty - pit bull

The Pit Bull

We have about 25 years of experience adopting and raising Pit Bulls and want to share some insights into what they are like.  We’ve had several and have loved every one of them.  We’ve had them as puppies, we’ve rescued them as adults, we’ve seen them born and we’ve seen them die.  End to end, start to finish, we’ve loved every Pit Bull we’ve had.

They are the sweetest lapdogs, show ridiculous amounts of loyalty, provide excellent deterrent to burglars, and with their goofy looks and crazy antics, will provide years of entertainment and love.  It’s cliche these days to say that the news has presented them in a bad light but it’s worth repeating.

Are Pit Bulls good dogs?  Undoubtedly yes, they are.  However, a lot of responsibility and accountability falls into your lap when you bring one home.   Unless you’re ready for 10-12 years of taking care of the pooch, don’t even start.

So what do you get with a Pit Bull?  What can you expect of your Pittie? A faithful companion who is wonderful with kids and adults alike and who will become a peerless watchdog.

Jake and Rocket - two pitbulls sleepingWhere do Pit Bulls get their name?

You hear them referred to as “Pit Bull”, “PitBull”, “Pibble”, “Pittie”, etc.  To be completely accurate, any of these name are more accurate described as a type of dog rather than a breed.  You refer to Shepherds or Spaniels as a given type of dog, but the specific breed would be a German Shepherd or an Australian Shepherd.

By definition, there are actually two distinct breeds most often referred to as Pitbulls:

  • American Pit Bull Terrier (you’ll see this as APBT quite often)
  • American Staffordshire Terrier

You’ll also find a couple of breeds that look very similar but aren’t quite the same. These include the Staffordshire Bull Terrier and the Bull Terrier.  Looks similar but not the same.   And we are only talking about pure breeds here – mix up one of the above with a Boxer or perhaps a Lab and the results get confusing very quickly.  The problem in the media is that any time a large aggressive dog does something bad, it is labeled as a Pit Bull and the stories start.

But where does the term Pit Bull come from?

There’s a good bit of discussion on this and nothing is certain but the most likely dates back about a thousand years when they were used as “bull baiters”. This was a time when they were called in to bite a bull on the nose and hold on for dear life until the humans could regain control of the bull.  Whenever humans needed a helping hand with an ornery bull, they would call on the “soon to be named Pit Bull” for help.  As time went by, folks thought this was an interesting sport and ended up pitting riled up bulls against these dogs with bets to see which dog could hold on the longest or even bring the bull down.  Imagine the 60 pound dog besting a 2,000 pound angry bull.  They are tough dogs, to be sure.  More time passed, dog fighting became popular and people started blaming every aggressive event by any dog anywhere on Pit Bulls.  The rest, as they say, is history.

Famous Pit Bulls through history

I love to talk to folks about the history of the Pit Bulls – most don’t realize they have a long and quite distinguished history.

Of particular note, they used to be called “nanny dogs” because they were so very good at, and trusted to, take care of small children!  If you wanted a dog that was good with kids and adults alike, you got yourself a Pit Bull.

Remember the Little Rascals and that silly dog with the circle around it’s eye?  Pit Bull.

Sergeant Stubby, the most decorated dog in the World War I actually captured a German spy and held him until American Soldiers could take him.  Stubby was promoted to Sergeant for this gallantry

Miscellaneous facts about Pit Bulls

  • Their jaws do not actually lock, they are just very strong.  How strong?  Depending which list you look at, they are about 5th or 6th behind other dogs such as the Rottweiler, Bulldog, German Shepherds and a few more.
  • In temperance tests, where dogs are rated based on how much abuse or irritation they can take before they lash out at a human, Golden Retrievers rank as the most tolerant of all breeds.  Any guesses as what is the second most tolerant?  Yep, the dreaded Pit Bull.
  • Pit Bull puppies prefer the company of humans over their parents a full two weeks earlier than any other breed.  Yes, this is a test of some sort.
  • Aggressiveness towards humans was an undesirable fate and was bred out of the Pit Bull. Their history often put them into circumstances where fights had to be broken up by humans. They are bred to allow that without inclination to attack humans.
  • Pit Bulls make good watchdogs mainly due to how they are perceived.  However, they are naturally human friendly and will go to great lengths make human friends.  Keep this in mind when you expect them to guard your valuables.
  • Pit Bulls are some of the best fence climbers around and yes, that is a competitive event.  Good thing to remember when building your fence.
  • Due to their sensitive natures, many Pit Bulls find themselves employed as Therapy Dogs
  • Pit Bull puppies are the cutest of all canine breeds.  This is a scientific fact and cannot be disputed.

Are Pit Bulls good watchdogs?

They are a great deterrent.  Nobody in their right mind and most in their wrong mind are not going to willingly mess with a Pit Bull.  Just seeing a Pit Bull in a window or playing in the yard is enough to incent even the toughest criminal to move down the street to the next house.  So they look the part but can the play the part as well?

We’ve had quite a few and none were afraid of a tense situation. They leaned into it rather than away from it.  When strangers do come to the door (very sorry Mr. UPS man), they are greeted with either vicious barking or, even worse, that low toned growl.  Once those people are welcomed into the home, however, the PitBulls will be their best friends.  We like to say that as long as they are on the right side of the door, they’re OK.  As long as they are, their biggest concern will be how to get that 65 pound Pit Bull out of their lap.

Are Pit Bulls dangerous?

They are big, strong dogs with lots of teeth so yes, they can be dangerous.  However, I may have mentioned it already, it’s all in how they are raised and how they are treated. This is really no different than a German Shepherd or Poodle.  Mistreat any dog enough and it can become dangerous.  Larger dogs do more damage and make better news stories so you’ll hear about them more. You are more likely to be bitten by a Chihuahua than a Pit Bull but how newsworthy would that be?  I’m not downplaying the tragedies that have taken place with Pit Bulls and other large dogs.  Rather I’m saying that any dog can be dangerous if raised badly, mistreated, or socialized poorly.

Are Pit Bulls naturally aggressive?

If you take into account their history of baiting bulls and later being bred to fight other dogs, could you blame them if they were?  Given that, however, I can say with certainty that I’ve seen Pit Bulls that didn’t have an aggressive bone in their body.  But that is rare in my experience, and again, will depend on how they are raised, how they are treated, and how they are socialized.  It’s interesting to watch Cesar and how his Pit Bulls react to people and dogs – absolute calm.  Why is that?  Because Cesar is the pack leader and he’s calm and in control.  Pit Bulls are still “just dogs” and crave a pack leader.  If you’re the pack leader (and you better be), then they’ll follow your lead.

Why do Pit Bulls snap?

As with just about every question like this, it’s worth noting that Pit Bulls aren’t the only dogs that “snap”, meaning attack or bite unexpectedly.  And really, “unexpectedly” is the key point here.  If you have raised your Pittie and have spent the time to know and understand him, you’ll know his mannerisms and be able to instantly detect when something is off.  You’ll recognize the signs leading up to what could end up being a bad encounter.  Your lovable, friendly Pit Bull will “snap” for the same reasons any other dog will snap.  Fear, injury, mistreatment, frustration, food aggression, etc.  These will cause your Cocker Spaniel, your Poodle, your Great Dane, and your Pit Bull to “snap”.

Is the Pit Bull a good companion?

Rusty the PitBull with reading glasses.

Yes, they are.  As with any dog, how it is raised will go a long way to determining what kind of companion it will be. But, even when raised badly, there are numerous accounts of Pit Bulls becoming the very best of companions.  The stories of the dogs that were caught up in the Michael Vick crap are heartwarming to read.  It’s titled “The Lost Dogs” and can be found on Amazon here.

Pit Bulls are high energy dogs so love a good romp in the yard, a thrown frisbee, or a walk down the road.  They’ll reward you along the way with crazy antics, silly expressions, and lots of love.

The Pit Bull as a protector

We have never been in a position to need actually protection from any of our Pit Bulls but I have absolutely zero doubt they would have done so if needed.  When playing with the kids, for example, they usually stood guard and if the laughing or the yelling got a little too intense, they’d let me know I needed to tone it down a bit. Never dangerous to me, but the message was clear.  I cannot imagine what they would have done to anybody that actually may have tried to hurt anybody in the family.  Would I consider them good protectors?  Yes, absolutely.

Do Pit Bulls drool?

Not really.  They’re pretty easy in this respect.  One of our Pit Bulls, Rusty, gets a bit drooly during feeding time but that’s about it. If you find yourself with one that drools, a neckerchief is a great remedy.  All of our dogs wear them, even the ones that don’t drool.  It’s gotten to be a bit of a contest to see who looks the best and has the coolest neckerchief.

Are Pit Bulls good with kids?

Yes, exceptionally good.  We have a 3 year old granddaughter and often have numerous other kids around the house.  The Pitties love it when company comes over so they can get some extra exercise.  They’ll run the kids ragged, or the other way around sometimes, with nary an aggressive tone or raised hackle to be found.  We’ve not seen a single instance where we thought any of the kids were in danger around any of our Pit Bulls. I know, I know, I’ve read the papers and seen the news footage – they can “snap” with no warning.  Well, so can people, so can poodles, so can birds.  It’s just not something we spend time worrying about.

Are Pit Bulls good with other dogs?

We have a lot of dogs. We’ve had more in the past (as many as 22 at one time) but we have always had Pit Bulls mixed into that crowd of dogs.  In all of this time, we’ve only had one that has been aggressive to other dogs and that is only when food is involved.  We’ve found he’s food aggressive, but not aggressive to other dogs as a normal thing.  As long as we keep them separated when feeding, there is no problem.  They sleep piled up on each other, they play in the yard together, everything is fine.

One of my favorite pictures shows two of our Pit Bulls and our Rottie sleeping together on a couch.  One of those Pit Bulls is Rusty, the food aggressive one.  Rusty is the one on the right, that’s his sister Rocket in the middle and Cody is on the left. They look pretty comfy and friendly to me. The real problem, as I see it, is where am I supposed to sit?

Pitbulls and Rottweiler together

Another important point about the picture above is that they were sleeping like this. Rusty loves a good photo op so he posed, but they were all sleeping before I took the picture.  Dogs will not sleep when stressed out or nervous.  They only sleep when they are fully content.  This is a picture of three typically very strong Alpha dogs all completely comfortable with each other.  It’s kind of amazing.

So are PitBulls good with other dogs? I’d have to answer that with a bit of caution and say “usually”.  They are known to be aggressive towards other dogs but often that is a result of their upbringing or just plain old abuse.  I would take this on a dog-by-dog basis to make that determination.I would not give a universal thumbs up or thumbs down on this one.

Are Pit Bulls aggressive

I’d say no more than other dogs and, as I’ve said many times now, this depends heavily on how the dog was raised.  There are several types of aggression to consider.  Aggression towards other dogs, towards humans, around food, when afraid, etc.  Each dog will react differently so it’s hard to nail down any breed and say “yeah, that’s an aggressive breed”.  That being said, however, Pit Bulls are powerful dogs so even a slight bit of aggression is too much.  We’ve had quite a few Pit Bulls and since they were all rescues we can guess that they probably had reasons for being aggressive and yet they are not.  I’m not saying a Pit Bull can’t be aggressive or won’t fight, of course.  It happens and it’s damned scary when it does.  Just that in my experience, for the most part, they are not.

How long to Pit Bulls live?

We’ve had several, as I’ve mentioned and in our experience, with good care and a loving home, Pit Bulls can comfortably make it to about 12 years or so.  After that, we start to see problems and they can go downhill fast.  And there’s nothing worse than seeing a once active Pit Bull sliding downhill.  Still, as they grow older, they tend to calm down a bit and become more and more loving. They grow old gracefully in this respect.

What’s it like living with a Pit Bull?

In our experience, it’s a joy to live with a Pit Bull. Of  all the dog breeds we have had living with us, the Pibble remains our favorite. As long as you remember that you have a big, powerful dog that can be aggressive, and you take steps to minimize that aggression, you’ll be fine and you’ll have a companion that simply cannot be beat.  Although I have so many dogs, I still envy the new Pit Bull owner that gets to explore these fascinating breeds for the first time. They are in for some pleasant surprises.  To go back to the original question of “Are Pit Bulls” good dogs?  Yes, they are.

Are Boxers good dogs?

Bruno the boxer with tennis ball

The Boxer

His name was Bruno and he was a nut.  If you’ve ever had the pleasure of living with a Boxer, you’ll know what I mean.  There’s something about a Boxer – their antics, their expressions, their energy – that makes them unique and just downright fun to spend time with.

Bruno the boxer puppy posing

Bruno was, as you can probably guess if you’ve been reading this site much, a rescue.  My son brought him home as a very small puppy when he was maybe a few weeks old.  He was the cutest thing but, we had too many dogs so I told my son to take him back.

We couldn’t keep him.

Yeah, right.

He was 12 when he died and I loved him every minute of every day we had him.  I’ve never been so glad to have my son disobey me.  I don’t remember the specifics of how he came back but I’m sure it was something along the lines of “they’re gone now, I can’t take him back” or something like that.  Whatever the case, Bruno stayed, of course.  Was he a good dog?  Are Boxers good dogs?  Yes.  The best.

Is a Boxer a good watchdog?

I’ve come to believe that there are two types of watchdogs.  Those that deter people from bothering you just on their looks and those that actually would do some damage should somebody break into the house.  Bruno was the former. The sight of him would deter a burglar.  But, once in the house, I’m pretty sure Bruno would have brought the burglar a tennis ball and would have only wanted to play fetch.

Is a Boxer a good companion?

Yes, absolutely.  They are energetic so if you are a couch potato, they will get you off the couch to go outside and play fetch/swim/jump/frisbee/golf/whatever, and all at the same time.  Did I mention they are energetic?  When inside, Bruno was content to sit in your lap and watch TV, maybe have a bite of your hamburger and a sip of your soda.  He might prefer TV shows you weren’t watching so he’d change the channel when you weren’t looking.  Kind of like living with a perpetual 5 year old kid.  Actually, I think a 5 year old kid is a perfect comparison.  But, you know, one of those 5 year olds that are fun to be around.

The Boxer as a protector

Well, probably not.  None of us were ever in a position to need protection from Bruno so I can’t say for sure but I’m fairly certain he would have found something else to do.  There are always balls to fetch and besides, those humans are pretty good at taking care of themselves.  Boxers, to be sure, can be trained to be excellent guard dogs and protectors, there is no doubt.  I’m just saying that Bruno – untrained Bruno – was not.

Do Boxers drool?

Yep.  Also, Bruno had an embarrassingly long tongue.  When he yawned, that thing just rolled out and almost hit the floor.  Between the ridiculous tongue and his Boxer face, yes, he drooled.  Bruno was a member of the neckerchief club. We tie bandanas loosely around the necks of our droolers to keep things clean (somewhat).

Are Boxers good with kids?

Bruno was great.  Our son was, I think, about 15 when he brought Bruno home so our daughter would have been about 9.  We also have a steady stream of family and friends through our home and Bruno was always oddly courteous and careful around them.  Usually one to jump or run or just do anything crazy at the spur of the moment, he never would when there were young kids around.  He seemed careful.

The really nice thing about Bruno, and other Boxers, is that they can easily match the kid’s energy levels.  Want to go outside and run?  Boxers will run the kids until they (the kids) drop.  Turn them all loose in the backyard and the kids will be begging for a break.

Bruno the boxer with dachshund puppy

Are Boxers good with other dogs?

During the time we had Bruno, we also had, at one point or another, two Dachshunds, several Pit Bulls, a Rottweiler, a Schipperke, a couple of Labradors, and one red dog that is still with us that we still don’t know what she is.  I never saw Bruno get in an actual fight and very, very seldom ever heard him growl or see his hackles rise.  When the other dogs did tussle, he would find something else to do and stayed out of it.  Bruno was an incredibly strong dog as most Boxers are. I’m glad he had this attitude where he just preferred to get along with everybody.  The only time I ever saw Bruno actually encounter trouble was when Binkie, our female lab with an attitude, decided she was mad at him for some reason and chased him around several acres, her nipping at Bruno’s butt and him trying to keep out of range. He was fast and led her on a large circle of our property and ended up at the back door, scratching to be let in.

Are Boxers aggressive

As with any breed, there will be some aggressive Boxers but I believe that’s the owner, not the breed.  Raise them right and there’s no reason for them to be aggressive.  Since owning Bruno, I’ve went out of my way to meet other Boxers and Boxer owners. Every person that I’ve met that I would consider a caring and affectionate dog owner that has a Boxer, the Boxer is not aggressive.  Make sure they get enough exercise (they need a lot!) and there’s no reason for aggression.

What is the average lifespan of a Boxer

Bruno made it to about 12 years which is fairly long for a large dog.  The going lifespan is about 8-10 years though, so you’ll have a decade to hang out with your energetic and hilarious buddy. Bruno grew old gracefully and never got tired of the tennis balls and frisbees he found, right up to his last days.   Bruno had a few medical problems but nothing serious.  Boxers are susceptible to a number of ailments, however, so you’ll want to keep him up to date on his medical visits.  Also, know that cancer (how Bruno died) is the #1 killer of Boxers.

So are Boxers good dogs?

Bruno the boxer puppyHaving a dog rescue, you end up with dogs that you would have never otherwise considered owning.  Bruno was in that category. Until him I never really gave Boxers a second thought.  But, a decade or so later, I’d own another one in a heartbeat.  They are fantastic dogs, great friends, energetic playmates and just downright funny dogs to have around the house.  Yes, they are good dogs!

What’s it like living with a Boxer?

Pure joy.  Here’s a dog that is a visual deterrent to burglars but doesn’t have a mean bone in his body, an energetic playmate for the kids, an amiable companion if you just want to sit and watch a movie, and a dog that gets along with other dogs just fine.  I would say that if you live in an area that is confined in terms of how much your Boxer could get out and run/play/romp/wiggle/tussle/jump/spin/flip/flop/fetch then you might want to reconsider.  These are dogs that love to run so the best situation is where they can do so freely and often.  We have acres of land so Bruno could run to his heart’s content, and he did, every day.  I cannot imagine Bruno without the adequate space to do this. He may have been OK but then again I feel like that would have been depriving him of something he dearly loved.  So really, space to run and patience to put up with their crazy antics are the two main things I think you should give consideration to when considering bringing a Boxer into your life.


Is chocolate bad for dogs?

Dog eating chocolate

I’ve been around dogs my entire life and one thing I’ve heard often is that they shouldn’t eat chocolate.  “Chocolate will kill a dog” is an oft repeated phrase I remember from my youngest days.  But why? Is chocolate dangerous for dogs? If so, how much?  Do different types of chocolate pose a different risk? How can chocolate be toxic for dogs when it tastes so damn good?

The short answer is yes, chocolate is dangerous for your dogs and in surprisingly small amounts.

The long answer is a bit more complex.

What makes chocolate dangerous to dogs?

Chocolate, and other cocoa products contain “theobromine”.  This is the compound that makes chocolate, the darker the better, a healthy snack for humans but potentially lethal for dogs.  The same compounds that cause euphoria in humans can lead to vomiting, diarrhea and worse for dogs.  It’s important to understand that darker chocolate contains higher concentrations of theobromine than lighter chocolates.  Milk chocolate, for example, has far less theobromine than dark chocolate or cooking chocolate.  Still, keep in mind that for smaller dogs, as little as four ounces of milk chocolate can be fatal.

Given this, it’s obviously best to keep any chocolate away from dogs of any size.  When cooking for holidays such as Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas when those dark chocolate cooking squares are used, extra caution must be taken to keep that chocolate out of reach of dogs.  If chocolate chips are spilled on the Chocolate is toxic for dogsfloor when you’re cooking those delicious cookies, don’t let Fido clean up the mess.  Get every single chip up.

Theobromine is easily digested and metabolized by humans but the metabolism of dogs where this is concerned is much slower, consequently the toxic effects have more time to build up and can cause vomiting and diarrhea quickly and often result in what has been called a “theobromine high”, where the dog exhibits severe hyperactivity.  This is often attributed (incorrectly) to a sugar high.  A dog that has eaten any amount of chocolate and the goes into fits of higher than usual activity may be suffering from early symptoms of the theobromine toxicity build up.

Symptoms of chocolate toxicity in your dog

A big part of this problem is that often the dog eats the chocolate without you being aware. They find a few chips that fell on the floor or they pull something off a counter.  Or perhaps a toddler is sharing.  The point is that it is often not possible to know exactly how much the dog ate.  After a dog eats chocolate, you are likely to see a number of symptoms.  Onset of any of these are a signal that the dog’s life is in danger and immediate action is required.  Do not delay, do not wait to see if the dog gets better.  Take immediate action, even to the point of an immediate trip to the vet.

  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Muscle Tremors
  • Rapid breathing
  • Seizure
  • Muscle rigidity
  • Hyperactivity
  • Irregular heartbeat

How much and what type of chocolate is too much?

Any type and any amount is too much.  I’ve seen people give dogs chocolate chips as a reward when training.  Why take the chance?  This is playing with fire and there is no reason to do it when perfectly good alternatives exist that pose no risk.

Chocolate is dangerous for dogs

So how much?

It’s been reported that a single one ounce square of dark chocolate can be fatal for a dog of around 40-50 pounds.  There will always be folks who claim this isn’t true because they give their dog chocolate all the time. They’ve been extremely lucky.  I’ve also seen reports that as little as four ounces of light milk chocolate can be fatal for a small dog.  Of course, for small dogs the reaction time is faster so your timeframe to help the little dog out after eating chocolate are more limited.

At a more technical level, 100-150mg of theobromine per kilogram (2.2 pounds) of your dog’s body weight is considered toxic.  As a quick reference, a 10 pound dog is is about 4.5 kg so using the above levels of theobromine as the danger zone, the following table can help:


Dog weight in pounds   Amount of theobromine that is toxic
10 pounds 1,000-1,500 mg
25 pounds 2,500-3,750 mg
50 pounds 5,000-7,500 mg
100 pounds 10,000-15,000mg


Here’s a sampling of how much theobromine can be found in common chocolate items you have in your house


Item Serving Size Theobromine content
Rich Chocolate Ice Cream 1 cup 178 mg
Chocolate pudding 1 cup 75 mg
Hershey’s milk chocolate bar 1.5 oz 64 mg
Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup 2 cups 32 mg
Baking Chocolate 1 cup 1712 mg
Dark chocolate candy bar 1 bar 810 mg
Dry cocoa chocolate baking powder 1 cup 1769 mg


When you look at the above table and see that a single Reese’s Peanut Butter cup has about 32 mg of theobromine, you may think that’s below the threshold so it’s ok.   And, it might be.  But again, why take the chance when there are so many excellent alternatives that are undoubtedly safe?  Also, you know how dogs are.  They get a taste and they want more.   Just don’t go down that road.  There’s not a single good reason to take that risk.

What to do when your dog eats chocolate?

A lot of this depends on the size of the dog, the amount of chocolate consumed, and what kind of chocolate.

Try to figure out what type of chocolate it was.  If you can find a wrapper, that will be very helpful.  Also note how much was eaten if you know.  These two bits of Dogs and chocolateinformation will be very important for your trip to the vet.

Small dogs should be taken to a vet immediately regardless of how much chocolate was consumed.  This is the safest approach as for small dogs, relatively small amounts of chocolate can be very dangerous.

For larger dogs, you have a bit of breathing room.  If you know for sure that only a small amount was eaten, and you also know what kind of chocolate (remember, darker is worse in this case), then you may be ok just keeping an eye on the pooch and watch for symptoms (listed above).  Inducing vomiting is recommended if you catch the dog within 2 hours or so.  Beyond 2 hours and inducing vomiting won’t help much.  If you catch your dog red handed, or red pawed I guess, then the single best thing you can do is to induce vomiting to get that chocolate out of the dog’s system.

As far as the different types of chocolate, as mentioned previously, the darker the chocolate, the higher the concentration of theobromine and therefore, the more dangerous it is for dogs. Dark baking chocolate contains about six times as much as the lighter milk chocolate found in candy bars.  The point here is, a single one ounce piece of dark chocolate can introduce six times as much theobromine into your dog’s system so the symptoms will onset much faster and be much more severe.

So is chocolate dangerous for dogs?  Undeniably so. Can dogs eat chocolate?  Given the gray area (how much, what kind of chocolate, how big is the dog, etc), many owners feel they are safe but again, why take the chance?  There are plenty of alternatives that are 100% safe so go that route instead.

We often hear “can dogs eat [fill in the blank]” so are working on a series of articles to discuss these topics. We’re working on a string of topics around “can dogs eat…”.  Please see our articles here:

Remembering our lost friends

Rainbow Bridge

We were given this on a memorial card when we had our first dog cremated.  It made us cry then and still does whenever we read it. Having lived with a lot of dogs throughout the years, I hope that when my time comes, I get to re-meet them all on the other side of the Rainbow Bridge.  If you haven’t read it before, get a box of Kleenex and read on. If you have, well, same thing.  Feel free to share this with anybody that needs to read it.

————————-Rainbow Lady

The Rainbow Bridge (please share)

Just this side of heaven is a place called Rainbow Bridge.

When an animal dies that has been especially close to someone here, that pet goes to Rainbow Bridge. There are meadows and hills for all of our special friends so they can run and play together. There is plenty of food, water and sunshine, and our friends are warm and comfortable.

All the animals who had been ill and old are restored to health and vigor. Those who were hurt or maimed are made whole and strong again, just as we remember them in our dreams of days and times gone by. The animals are happy and content, except for one small thing; they each miss someone very special to them, who had to be left behind.

They all run and play together, but the day comes when one suddenly stops and looks into the distance. His bright eyes are intent. His eager body quivers. Suddenly he begins to run from the group, flying over the green grass, his legs carrying him faster and faster.

You have been spotted, and when you and your special friend finally meet, you cling together in joyous reunion, never to be parted again. The happy kisses rain upon your face; your hands again caress the beloved head, and you look once more into the trusting eyes of your pet, so long gone from your life but never absent from your heart.

Then you cross Rainbow Bridge together….rainbow heart

What are Rottweilers like?

Cody - Rottweiler

Meet Cody, the Rottweiler

…or as we often called him, the Not-weiler because we was nothing like we expected a Rottie to be.  We have since changed our perceptions on this and understand them to be the sweetest and most gentle dogs around.  So what do you get with a Rottweiler?  Are Rottweilers good dogs? What can you expect of your Rottie? A faithful companion who will become the best watchdog you can imagine.

How Cody came to live with us

We were outside, playing with all of the other dogs and a rather large, beautiful Rottie just walked up our driveway, went into our carport, laid down and went to sleep.  He didn’t bother any of the other dogs.  Later, when he woke up we fed him and he just never left.  He quickly became the alpha dog and got along great with the rest of the pack, humans and canines.  We like to think that he adopted us.

Is a Rottweiler a good watchdog?

We’ve only had a single Rottie so all of my personal experience stems from that. We had a friend down the road who used to walk hers past our house daily so I had the chance to talk with her about “Axle” on occasion and our experiences were similar.  Rottweilers make excellent watchdogs, plain and simple.  The first thing to consider is what the sight of a Rottweiler does to a potential intruder.  I’m always of the mindset that an intruder chooses the path of least resistance and a house with a Rottweiler is not that. There’s a house down the road or around the corner or in a different neighborhood that does not have a Rottweiler so it’s an easier target.  Just the presence of Cody in our house, I have zero doubt, prevented any thought to intruders coming around our property

Cody the RottweilerAside from looking the part, Cody was also quite alert and would let us know when anybody came around.  As long as that person was on the other side of the door or window, Cody was not their friend.  When folks came into the house, though, and Cody saw that we welcomed them, his demeanor changed.  It didn’t always help our visitors however, as they saw him as a Rottweiler so were usually a bit anxious until Cody sat in their lap or curled up at their feet.  When that same person went back outside, Cody was no longer their friend.

Is the Rottweiler a good companion?

This was perhaps the most unexpected part for us about living with a Rottie although after considerable research it is something that Rottie owners know well. They are amazing companions.  They are as lovable as a dog can possibly be, gentle with children, and loyal through and through.  They get sad when you leave and will spin in ungainly and seemingly impossible circles when you come home. They will snuggle on the couch with you to watch a movie, or snuggle with another dog on the floor for warmth and companionship.

The Rottweiler as a protector

I never saw Cody actually have to protect anybody, but on the occasions he felt that I was playing or rough housing with my wife or kids too much, he was quick to insert himself between us and give me that low growl that let me know he didn’t like what I was doing.  When you get a warning like that from a Rottie, you just can’t help but tone it down a bit.  I can only imagine what he would have done to anybody that was actually trying to hurt one of them.  I have no doubt Cody would have fought to the death to protect any of us. Would I have considered Cody a good protector?  Without a doubt.

Do Rottweilers drool?

Yep, or at least Cody did.  At first it was always keeping a towel handy.  Later, we tried tying a scarf around his neck and this became his lifelong drool protector.  Of course, it also became quite fashionable as we would buy more and more colorful and outrageous scarves and he loved every one of them.  He showed a real sense of pride when we tied a new one around his neck. He seemed to actually parade his new scarf in front of the other dogs.  Like just about everything else with Cody, it was cute.

Are Rottweilers good with kids?

Yes, yes, and yes.  We found Cody to be the most gentle of any big dog around our youngsters and, since we now have a 3 year old granddaughter as of the time of writing this, Cody was around since she was born and alway showed a keen interest in what she was doing, maintained a respectful distance from her, but was ever watchful over her.  It was actually quite a sweet sight to see, this 90 pound Rottie being so gentle and caring around her.  And not just the granddaughter. Our niece and nephew and their crew of friends always welcomed and enjoyed Cody into their circle and made him a part of anything they did.

Are Rottweilers good with other dogs?

We run an informal rescue and during the time we had Cody, we also had (from smallest to largest) a Dachshund, a Schipperke, a red thing we don’t know what she is, three Pit Bulls, a Boxer and several labs (one was 120 pounds).  Cody got along with all of them.  There were scuffles to be sure and one of our Pit Bulls is food aggressive so we separated them during feeding times, but other than that they played well together.  We got a new puppy about a  year before Cody past away…Blitz…and Cody and her became fast friends.  Some of our earliest pictures of Blitz are of Cody with Blitz’s entire head in Cody’s mouth, playing of course.

Our Dachshund, Baron, latched onto Cody early and they were fast friends from day one.  Cody was Baron’s protector and you could often see them romping in the yards together, having a great time.  Nap time found Baron often snuggled up under or around Cody.  It was cute.

Our three Pit Bulls had a kind of love/hate relationship with Cody.  Cody was like that guy in high school that was the perfect athlete, great looking and all the girls loved him.  Rusty, our Alpha dog Pit Bull feels the same way about himself so he and Cody squared off a time or two and eventually ended up with a mutual respect and left each other alone.  Rocket, Rusty’s sister, loved Cody and often snuggled and played with him. Our third Pit Bull, Jake, was an oddity in every respect and despite a knock-down drag-out fight early on where they earned each other’s respect, they later became pretty much best friends and spent a lot of time together.  Two male dogs, notorious for being “mean” and/or “tough” dogs, spent the later years playing and having a great time together.  They are both gone now.  I hope they are still romping through fields with each other on the other side of that rainbow bridge.

Are Rottweilers aggressive

No more than any other dog.  The most aggressive dog I’ve ever had was a Schnauzer. That damn dog bit for absolutely no reason.  But, you don’t see that in the news because it doesn’t sell as well as “Rottweiler mauls postman”.  So “aggressive” is a tough term to deal with. A mildly aggressive Rottie could cause a lot more damage than a maniacally aggressive Dachshund.  Are Rottweilers, as a breed, aggressive?  I’d have to say no.  Again, this is the experience of a single rescue Rottie who had a lot of reason to be aggressive, and simply was not.  Also, again, talking to many other owners of Rotties, this simply is not the case and is something most of us have learned incorrectly from movies and TV shows.  That’s not to say that a Rottie doesn’t become aggressive or that they don’t fight.  They do, and when they do it’s a terrible sight.  A little known fact is that the Rottie, not the Pit Bull, has the strongest jaw muscles and the hardest bite of any dog.  So yes, they can do some damage and so should be raised in such a way that they are not put in positions where they feel they need to.

What is the average lifespan of a Rottweiler

Cody lived to be about 12 which is a couple years longer than the average Rottie.  He remained healthy and active right up to the end and never really had any problems at all.  He got stung on the face by a bee once which was pitiful.  But overall he led a bit of a charmed life where he had constant companionship, lots of room to roam and run, a pack to lead and humans to take care of.  He even died in a noble sort of way.  Our daughter and grand daughter hadn’t seen him for awhile.  They came to visit, took him outside in the front yard for some play, although Cody was, at this point, not much up for play he did try. When they brought him back into the house, he simply laid down in our foyer and quietly passed away.  To us, it was clear he wanted to see our daughter and grand daughter just one last time.

Are Rottweilers good dogs?

Well, Cody certainly was and every single other person we have talked to about their Rotties tell the same tale. Rotties are the best.  Of course, you’ll see in the news where a Rottie wasn’t such a good dog from time to time but I blame the owner, not the dog and certainly not the breed.  For that matter, I think this applies to all breeds.  We’ve had a lot of breeds that are notorious for being dangerous or aggressive and we’ve found that with proper care and friendship, and a strong alpha leadership stance that puts you in absolute control of the pack, any dog, regardless of breed, can be a good dog.

What’s it like living with a Rottweiler?

I cannot say enough good things about our experience with Cody as he was simply one of the best dogs we’ve ever had in every aspect. I’ve talked with many other Rottie owners and the sentiment is always the same.  If you are on the fence I would urge you to make the leap and go for it, you will not be disappointed.  As long as there are people in the house for the Rottie to love and look out for, and there’s a bit of a yard for him to romp around in, you’ll be choosing a companion that will be your best friend for about 10 years or so.

The 10 Commandments – for the pet owner


The 10 Commandments for the pet owner

As you may know by now if you’ve read very far on this page, my wife and I run an informal dog rescue. We’re very good at rescuing them but very bad about letting them go or finding new homes for them.  As a consequence, we have a lot of dogs.  Sometimes they get on my nerves. Sometimes they do stuff that defies any kind of explanation and sometimes maybe I’m just having a bad day and don’t want to deal with them.  When I do, I keep the below in my thoughts.

1. My life is likely to last 10-15 years. Any separation from you is likely to be painful.
2. Give me time to understand what you want of me.
3. Place your trust in me. It is crucial for my well-being.
4. Don’t be angry with me for long and don’t lock me up as punishment. You have your work, your friends, your entertainment, but I have only you.
5. Talk to me. Even if I don’t understand your words, I do understand your voice when speaking to me.
6. Be aware that however you treat me, I will never forget it.
7. Before you hit me, before you strike me, remember that I could hurt you and yet I choose not to bite you.
8. Before you scold me for being lazy or uncooperative, ask yourself if something might be bothering me. Perhaps I’m not getting the right food, I have been in the sun too long, or my heart might be getting old or weak.
9. Please take care of me when I grow old. You too, will grow old.
10. On the ultimate difficult journey, go with me please. Never say you can’t bear to watch. Don’t make me face this alone. Everything is easier for me if you are there, because I love you so.

You’re doing it for this guy…


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