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Training 911 – Back to School

posted March 29th, 2015 by
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Training 911

Training 911

by Khara Criswell, MA, CPDT-KSA, CNWI


Back to School, Fall Activities


Since your kids have gone back to school, your pet might feel left out. Some pets experience anxiety and wander out of their yards to follow their little owners to school.


One helpful tip is to leave a T-shirt from your child in the bed where your pet sleeps at night. In the morning before you leave for work and kids leave for school, you can do some training with your pet. Practice waiting with the food bowl or at the door.

Wait at the Door

1.Stand in front of the door (any car door will work too) with your dog inside the house. Say, “Wait.”

  1. Start to slowly open the door. Whenyourdog moves forward, even just a tiny bit, quickly close the door, preventing him from going through it. You can use your body to block the dog from going farther .
  2. Good timing is important, so be sure to close the door the instant you seeyourdog start to move forward.
  3. If you close the door, start to slowly open the door again. Continue to quickly close the door whenyourdog moves forward until he stays put for a couple of seconds with the door open about a foot. When this happens, say, “yes!” and “good dog.” Then toss a treat in his direction.
  4. Next, say “free” or “ok” or whatever you wantyourrelease word to be to let your dog know his job is done. Open the door all the way and let your dog walk out of the door. (You want your verbal cue to release your dog from the wait position, not your body movement.)
  5. Restart the exercise from the beginning.

Also, provide plenty of enrichment activities, such as interactive toys you can place your pet’s kibble in—Kong, Nina Ottoman toys, Zane’s interactive toys, Squirrel Dude or Football Dude. Give your pet some chew toys because chewing reduces stress in a pet.

As fall parties begin, make sure to keep the human food away from your pet, especially candy and gum. Create a safe space for your pet to retreat to and relax when the house gets hectic. This is especially helpful during Halloween when the kids’ costumes can be scary to your pet. If your dog has a crate, make it into a fun place for him to hang out. You can teach your dog to go to his spot.

Mat Train

  1. With a treat in your hand, tell your pup, “Go to your mat,” in a cheerful tone of voice and point him toward the mat.
  2. Pause a second or two (one-one thousand, two-one thousand), then lure your dog onto his mat by putting the treat up to his nose and slowly moving it over the mat. If you move your hand too quickly or too far away from his mouth, he may give up and lose interest.
  3. As soon as your dog has four paws on the mat, give the treat.
  4. Tell your dog, “down/sit.” Give the hand signal or lure him if he needs helps. When he lies down, give him the treat. Continue to give treats to keep the dog on the mat. After a few seconds, tell your pup, “OK/free” and allow him to get up.

Repeat steps 1 through 4, gradually increasing the amount of time you ask him to stay on the mat.

Pick some time during the week that the family gets involved with your pet’s activities, like going for a walk during the evening, playing fetch, a game of “find it,” hide and seek (recall), or just getting petted on the couch will be enough to calm the dog and the kids down after a long day of school.

Two books/resources I recommend to my clients with kids or who are thinking of having kids are “Living with Kids and Dogs” by Colleen Pelar and “Happy Kids, Happy Dogs,” a paperback by Barbara Shumannfang.

With a little work, every family member including your pet will be adjusting well with the season’s change.

Training 911 – Stop the Jumping!

posted February 8th, 2015 by
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Training 911

Training 911

by Khara Criswell, MA, CPDT-KSA, CNWI

STOP THE JUMPING! You come home from work, and your dog is so happy to see you, he leaps into the air and hugs you. You then realize his paws are covered in mud or something worse.

Instead of requesting a sit or touch, you yell at the dog for greeting you. Maybe you yell “Down” or “Get away!” but the only thing the dog hears is the tone and inflection in your voice. What is a responsible dog owner to do to eliminate the jumping?

There are a number of ways you can teach your dog not to jump. Remember, do not hit the dog or step on the dog. When you start training, you should start with the highest value reward first—for most dogs, a treat or a toy. You can take away the treat and use other rewards when your dog has learned the opposite behavior.

I usually tell clients they can decide if they want 7/10 to 10/10, meaning if I ask my dog to sit 10 times and the dog sits 8 out of the 10, I have an 80 percent sit rate with my dog. An important point to remember is, keep the training consistent. Here are some options:

Option 1:

  1. Your dog jumps up; you leave the area. Go into the nearest room or outside the house and shut the door only for a second or two.
  2. When you come out, approach your dog. You can ask for a sit or touch; if the dog doesn’t jump up, you mark or say “good girl/boy.” (If you have a clicker device for clicker training, use it in this step.) Next, you give the reward—a “treat/toy/pet/verbal praise.”
  3. If the dog jumps up, repeat the leaving of the area.

Option 2:

  1. The dog jumps up; standing like a tree, arms crossed, say, “Off.”
  2. Allfour paws are on the floor. Now you can pet him or her.Kneel down to the dog’s level.
  3. Ask for a sit. Mark or say “good girl/boy/clicker” and give the reward with a “treat/toy/pet/verbal praise.”

Option 3:

  1. The dog jumps up; lean into your dog’s space and say, “Off.” (Some dogs may not like you in their inner space. Do not do this with strange dogs.)
  2. Allfour paws are on the floor. Now you can pet him. Kneel down to your dog’s level.
  3. Ask for a sit. Mark or say “good girl/boy/clicker” and give the reward with a treat/toy/pet/verbal praise.”

Option 4:

  1. You come home from work or walk into the house, your dog jumps up. Turn your back and start talking aloud or walk over to a window and describe what you see.
  2. Allfour paws are on the floor. Now you can pet your dog. Kneel down to his or her level.
  3. Ask for a sit. Mark or say “good girl/boy/clicker” and give the reward with a “treat/toy/pet/verbal praise.”

Option 5:

  1. You are letting your dog inside the house from being outside. As soon as the dog sees your hand on the door handle, he starts to jump up. You take your hand off of the door handle, and when the dog is calm, you put your hand back on the door handle. Play this game until the dog is calm when you are touching the door handle.
  2. If the dog jumps up when you start to open the door, then close the door. You slowly open the door. If the dog gets too excited, you can close the door. Once the dog is calm, you can open the door to let the dog in. Mark with “good girl/boy/clicker.”

Option 6: Premack Principle

According to, Premack’s Principle, or the relativity theory of reinforcement, states that more probable behaviors reinforce less probable behaviors. Essentially, if your dog wants the reward, he or she will perform the desired activity required by you to get to that reward.

You teach your dog to jump up and get excited by dancing around or tossing a toy. When the dog jumps up, mark “good girl/boy/clicker” and give a reward with petting only.

Then, you immediately ask for a sit. Mark or say “good girl/boy/clicker.” Reward with a “treat/toy” and ask for the hug or jump up again.

Eventually, you will fade the treat/toy reward, and your dog will sit for a hug/jump up.

Option 7: Hand Target

While facing your dog, hold your finger or your open hand a few inches away from the dog’s nose.

When he or she sniffs your hand or the target to investigate, mark or say “good girl/boy/clicker” and reward him or her with a treat.

Repeat several times, and then move your hand to the left, right, up and down. Each time the dog touches the target, mark or say “good boy/girl/clicker.” Next, reward with a treat.

When the dog comes running over to jump on you, stick out your hand; your dog should stop to nose-touch it. Mark or say “good girl/boy/clicker.” Reward him or her by petting or with a toy.

The important thing to remember is consistency. Before long, the jumping days will be over, and you will find a better behaved pooch in your home.

Training 911

posted November 11th, 2014 by
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by Khara Criswell, MA, CPDT-KSA, CNWI


Aroo, woof, woof, yelp, yelp… Oh my, you’re home!  Why won’t you feed me dinner now?

I don’t like that dog! Did you hear that sound? Stay away from my owner!

This is our house!  Every time the doorbell rings, I must tell my owner.


Aroo… when are you coming back?

This might be an interpretation of what your dog is saying when he barks. Did you know there are five different types of barking: 1) excitement barking, 2) frustration barking, 3) watchful barking, 4) learned barking, 5) separation anxiety barking. Telling the difference might take some record keeping, such as a barking chart.

In the barking chart, you can track: where you are and the date, time barking starts, time barking stops, how long it lasts, how the barking sounds, where the dog is located, what the dog is barking at, and what the dog is doing (movements, etc.) Once you get this data, you can interpret the type of bark and what your dog is trying to communicate.

Solving the barking can take different avenues. For the excitement barking and frustration barking, you will want to stay calm and not yell at the dog. When you raise your voice, the dog might think you are barking with them, so keep your voice a neutral tone or whisper.

Teach your dog to go to a place (go to a mat), to sit, fetch or play the “find-it” game. When the dog does another behavior, remember to mark it “good dog” with a reward, toy, praise, treat or anything else your dog finds fun.

Watchful barking can be solved by using your dog’s kibble or a high value reward, such as a treat or toy to come with the trigger. Scenario: I walk my dog on leash and another dog or skateboard is coming the other way. My dog is going nuts on leash. I would keep walking and say “good boy” and feed my dog treats as we walk by the other dog or skateboard.

During this scenario, I would give some distance between my dog and the other dog or skateboard. Eventually, I would pair this with a “watch me” or “touch,” then “good boy” and a treat. I’m teaching the dog that the thing is not that scary, and he does not need to be watchful for me.

Learned barking is something us humans have conditioned the dogs to do. Doorbells seem to be the best learned barking we teach our dogs. Solving the doorbell can be two-fold.

One way to solve it would be to desensitize your dog to the doorbell by going to your local hardware store and picking up a doorbell with two push buttons. Put one of them on your front door and the other one in the house with you. You will randomly hit the house button.

You have options: 1) do nothing while your dog is barking, and when the dog takes a breath say “good dog” and reward, using treats, toys, or your dog’s kibble; 2) you can say “thank you,” “who wants hot dogs?” or any other phrase and walk over to the back window or kitchen and give out treats; 3) you can say “go to your spot,” and when the dog goes to the spot, say “good dog” and reward on the spot, not from your hand.

Be consistent and your dog will learn that the doorbell means good things will come. You will eventually wean off the treats, but you will never wean off the marker “good boy” or reward of toy or praise.

Separation anxiety barking is when you leave the home or come home, and the dog starts talking. You should make a list of triggers, such as putting on shoes, getting the keys, etc.

As you put on the shoes, or grab the leash, just have a seat and do nothing. You are trying to teach the dog that just because things are occurring doesn’t mean you are always leaving.

Keep it up, and you will be on track to a quieter household!

Training 911

posted October 27th, 2014 by
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by Khara Criswell

There is puppy breath in the air as spring arrives.

Tiny, wet noses and little tails come bounding through the grass. Trying to decide which one of these bright-eyed doggies you want to take home, you are overjoyed with the noises each puppy makes. At OKC Pets, we always advocate “Adopt, Don’t Shop.” But if you are set on a certain puppy, breed and have determined to buy, please ask yourself some important questions first.

What do you know about the breeder? Have you met the parents of the puppy? How old are the puppy’s parents? Are there any health issues? Good breeders would not sell to pet stores or have a variety of dogs available. They would only allow breeding from dogs in good health and in a reasonable age range for producing healthy offspring.

How were the puppies whelped (inside/outside)? If exposed to inside whelping, the puppy will most likely be familiar with sounds around a house. If the dog has been kept outside, the puppy will need training to overcome common household sounds.

How old will the puppy be before you can take it home? There seems to be a trend to release puppies to their new owners at 5 weeks old. This is unacceptable according to the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior (AVSAB). Puppies start the weaning process around 4 weeks. Giving the puppy extra time to wean off the mother boosts the puppy’s immune system. 

During the 4- to 8-week period, the puppies are learning socialization skills with their mother and siblings. The puppies develop bite inhibition, learn how to play with other puppies, begin housetraining and learning how to settle. If you take a puppy at 5 weeks of age from its mother, the puppy is at a greater risk for anxiety, chewing, barking and housetraining issues.

What is your lifestyle? Are you an outdoor or indoor person? Do you prefer quiet evenings, or does some activity excite you? If you choose a puppy that is shy or quiet and place him or her in a household that is on the go, the puppy will experience some anxiety from all of the constant commotion.

If you take a Labrador puppy and place it in the home that is quiet, the puppy might end up in a crate most of the day from being too overzealous. It doesn’t mean the Lab puppy won’t eventually calm down, but for the first three years you will have some training issues. The purpose of getting a puppy is for companionship, so why put stress on the relationship?

Can you provide proper socialization and stimulation? When you bring home your new puppy, you want to have enrichment activities for the puppy, such as interactive toys with a variety of textures. You also want to create a space for your puppy. Early socialization is important for the development of the dog. 

You want every interaction to be positive with the puppy. This can be provided by positive experiences like setting up puppy parties, where you gather your friends around for food and games.  People come into the home and interact with your new pet. You can go for happy visits to the veterinarian and groomer. You carry your puppy into these places and feed your puppy its meal there.

Let him experience the sight, sounds and smells of these places. And start looking for puppy classes. You want to find classes that offer a full range of socialization skills, including meeting new people, places, sounds, etc.

To learn more, the ASPCA website offers an informative article on socialization and advice for when puppies should head off to classes. (Search keywords “Socializing Your Puppy.”) With a little work, your new puppy will be ahead of the curve. 

Creature Comforts

posted October 21st, 2014 by
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Penny Nichols and her team of volunteers bring therapy animals to those in need across the Metro through the non-profit Creatures and Kids, Inc.

Creature Comforts

By Kayte Spillman


Penny Nichols took a professional calling to train animals and turned it into a passion to connect those animals with at-risk kids and others who would benefit from the kind touch of a gentle animal.


In 2001, Nichols began the work of starting the nonprofit Creatures and Kids, Inc., which trains animals and handlers to interact with children, youth and even adults in therapy settings. Now, nearly 13 years later, Nichols, who serves as director of operations , works with about 30 teams of animals and handlers in training and certifying dogs, cats and other animals to conduct therapy work.

She and her team of volunteers and animals also work with various other organizations to provide therapy animals for different programs.

“I wanted to see what animals could do for people,” Nichols said. “I wanted to see how utilizing therapy animals could help develop positive character qualities in youth.”

She wanted to start a training program in the community where she lives to impact the lives around her. And she is certainly accomplishing that goal. Recently, she took trained therapy dogs to a juvenile detention center to work with young men involved in the system. Purposefully, she took a dog that was a little shy and nervous to be around all the young people.

“I asked them what they thought about the dog, and they all said, ‘She looks scared,’” Nichols said. “And, I said, ‘You’re right; she is.’”

Nichols then proceeded to show the boys how to touch the dog and properly handle her, and before the session was over, the dog was happy and confident to be part of the group.

“And the young men were proud that they were able to help her,” she said. “She walked in with her tail down, but she left with her tail up. Any time you can have the animals help children by giving them that confidence, hope or a purpose like that, it is really something meaningful to them—and to me—to watch.”

The nonprofit supplies animals and trainers to different groups and events around town such as the VA hospital, schools, individual counseling and the Oklahoma City Metropolitan Library System’s Reading with Dogs programs. She says she sees the animals making an impact in every area they are able to serve.

“I see differences all the time,” she said.

Kenny and LuGene Jones, along with their 2-and-a-half year-old Golden Retriever Maddy, went through Creatures and Kids training starting when Maddy was just 9 months old. Now, and for the last year and a half, they take their certified pooch to the VA hospital every Friday.

“It’s good for us; it’s good for her,” Kenny said. “We’ve had some emotional times with some of the vets. Maddy is very close to some of them. They love her, and they thank us for bringing her down and letting them see her. The whole back half of her starts wagging when they start talking to her.”

Every Tuesday, the team visits the Midwest City Library, and Maddy participates in their Reading with Dogs program.

“When the kids are reading to Maddy, she will just sit there for a little bit and then just lay down,” Kenny said. “Sometimes, she will get up close to them and nudge them if they aren’t petting her enough.”

Nichols said she sees the most change when children or adults with autism interact with therapy animals. She says it gives them a way to connect with people and the world around them that they didn’t know they could do before the animal arrived.

“It is amazing to see them grow because they are able to communicate in ways they’ve never been able to do,” Nichols said.

Marla Galbraith, who is the director at Speech Therapy Professionals in Edmond, works with Penny and Creatures and Kids and agrees that therapy animals can greatly impact special needs individuals. She, along with Josephine, a 10-year-old Bassett Hound, conducts therapy with a wide spectrum of children and adults, many with autism.

“I don’t know how they do it, but somehow these dogs know how to calm these kids down,” Galbraith said. “They will be having a meltdown, and Josephine will go and just lay by their tummy or foot or head, and she will bring them out of their meltdown. They will start to calm down and then begin to smile and pet her.”

She said she had a young boy who was    a client and, because of his autism, was terrified of dogs to the point of being a danger to himself if presented with an animal. Through therapy with Josephine—first through photos, then seeing her from a distance and finally through actual physical contact—the boy is so confident around dogs now that he has a dog of his own.

Creatures and Kids works to train and create certified Therapeutic Animal Interaction/Intervention teams, and they train more than just dogs. The group has had many different types of therapy animals—dogs, cats, miniature horses, llamas and alpacas, rabbits and even ducks.

“We’ve even got a chicken,” Kenny said.

Nichols said the training ensures both animal and handler are up to the challenge of therapy work.

“Training gets the human in the right mind and the dog in the right mind,” Nichols said. “It is a learning process for both of them.”

And it doesn’t take long for volunteers to see the benefits of their time.

“When you see that smile and see those changes that the people are making by spending time with your animal, it’s pretty rewarding,” Nichols said.

The need for therapy animals is great, she says, and Creatures and Kids is always looking for people interested in getting involved, whether they have an animal to train or not.

“If you have an animal or you have an interest, give us a call,” she said. “That’s what we need. If we don’t have the people and the animals, we don’t have anything we need to serve the people we serve.”

Even as popular as Josephine is with her clients—she has her own Facebook page—Galbraith is quick to clarify what is making Creatures and Kids so successful.

“If it wasn’t for Penny, none of this would be possible,” Galbraith said. “It just wouldn’t happen.”


posted July 15th, 2013 by
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by Mary Green

Q.  I have two dogs, Bubba and Charlie. Charlie is my problem child. We live in an apartment complex where there are lots of dogs. Charlie is apparently barking a lot when I’m gone. I know it’s him because I didn’t have any problems with Bubba before Charlie came along. He’s a Terrier mix, about a year old we think, and I’ve had him for about three months. Does he have separation anxiety?

A.  Separation anxiety is a diagnosis that your veterinarian might make based upon Charlie’s behavior. The first thing to do is schedule an appointment with your veterinarian about Charlie’s problems. Many times, what the pet owner believes is separation anxiety is really just a situation where the dog can’t be left alone and unsupervised.

When a dog has separation anxiety, he will exhibit behaviors such as: panting, salivating, vocalizing, pacing, destructiveness, chewing on his paws, flanks or tail; he may urinate or defecate, and may not eat food left for him. The dog appears to be anxious, stressed and uncomfortable. Also, he may scratch and claw at doorways and thresholds or attempt to escape from confinement.

Dogs with “home alone” problems may do some of these same behaviors, but they don’t act anxious. They may not like being home alone and do destructive things and bark, whine or howl, but they will usually eat food that is left for them and play with their toys and whatever else they can get into! If it looks like they had a party while you were gone, they probably did!

If your dog has “home alone” problems, there are steps you can take to help him be more comfortable and calm while you’re gone.

Crate training or confinement training: Reduce the space that your dog has available and restrict him from off-limits areas. Gradually acclimate him to the crate or confinement area and use it sometimes when you are staying home.

Interactive toys: Stuffable and chewable toys, like Kong toys, are wonderful for keeping dogs entertained. Other food delivery toys that are not designed for chewing, such as the Buster cube or Kong wobbler, can provide much mental stimulation and self-reward for clever dogs.

Exercise: Be sure that your dog is getting enough exercise when you are home. Address the need for both physical and mental exercise. A tired dog will nap a bit while you’re gone!

Calming aids: Some dogs are helped by herbal calming treats, aromatherapies, classical music or talk radio. There is a product called DAP (Dog Appeasing Pheromones) that comes in an electrical outlet plug-in design or a collar that the dog wears. Discuss the use of homeopathic supplements with your veterinarian before you try something new.

Environment change: Close the curtains, open the curtains, turn on the TV or radio, or leave it off! Do something different than what you have been doing. Reposition the crate or place it in a different room. Sometimes just moving a dog closer to a heat or air vent or moving them farther away does the trick.

If your veterinarian does diagnose Charlie with separation anxiety, he or she may opt to prescribe medication. Medication alone is not the long-term solution, so behavior modification training will have to happen.

Q.  How can I teach my dog to swim?

A.  How great that you want to teach him! First, ask him if he wants to swim, and where he would like to swim. He may want to frolic at the edge of the pool, or on a step, but may not want to get his whole body in it. He may want to run into the lake or pond, where it is a gradual increase in depth, and splash around on the shore but may not want to jump off the dock or boat.

Put him in a vest! Life jackets or floatation vests for dogs have come a long way and are necessary for all but the most experienced and proficient swimmers. Prices range from around $25 to $75. If you are attempting to teach him how to swim, and he panics, he can cause harm to himself and to you. He is much less likely to panic if he has the vest on and doesn’t go under water.

Try to get him to swim to a toy that he likes. There are some great floating toys available for dogs. Most dogs tend to do better if they have a purpose for swimming! You may also have some luck getting him to swim toward a treat. I know personally that Charlee Bears dog treats float!

If you have a pool in your yard, please teach your dog how to get out of it. It’s imperative that you have a ramp or steps. You can purchase ramps specially designed for dogs that can be left in your pool all the time. Also, remember pool covers are responsible for many dog deaths each year, so don’t assume that your dog will stay off of your pool cover.

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