Author Archives: Kelly Gorman Dunbar

Fearful Dog Tips

Fearful DogFearful dog behavior can be quite a challenge to live with and witness. It’s both frustrating and heartbreaking to watch a fearful dog navigate a world populated with scary sights and sounds. Our hearts go out to these poor shy creatures that are often even afraid of their own shadow. But what to do? How does one go about making a shy dog more comfortable in her environment? Is it okay to comfort your dog when he’s feeling nervous? Should you ignore the behavior?


In this interview, dog trainer Amy Cook answers these questions and provides empathic insight into life with a shy canine. Amy is a shy dog specialist who is also working towards her doctorate in Psychology at the University of California, Berkeley with a focus on the human/canine relationship. She is also the owner and moderator of the Shy-K9s Yahoo Group, which is an excellent resource for people who are dealing with fearful dogs.


In this interview, Amy and I chat about the origin of shyness, what defines it, the trial and tribulations of living with a shy dog, and how to best address shyness or fear from a behavioral standpoint.


Is a shy dog born or made?


What are the chances that a shy dog will make a full recovery and overcome her fears, and to what degree?


How do you integrate a shy dog into your home and how do you build trust in your relationship with your fearful dog?


Most importantly Amy wants everyone to know that it is not really possible to reinforce fear and make it worse. Fear is an emotion and emotions cannot be so easily manipulated or contrived operantly. A frightened dog deserves comfort and a safe place to hide and peek while you do your best to resolve the issue via classical conditioning and training, which will take some time, patience, and understanding.


Please listen to the podcast below to hear Amy answer the questions above and more. If you’d like to learn more about fearful dog behavior and training, or have a shy canine and would like to reach Amy directly please join the Shy-K9s group on Yahoo.



Shelter Dog Training And Behavior Is Enhanced By Playgroups

shelter dog playgroupsShelter dog training and behavior is enhanced by playgroups in many ways and Cindy Bruckart of the Multnomah Animal Shelter, an open-admission, official Open Paw Shelter, is here this week to tell us why playgroups are good for shelter dogs and how to go about doing them in a safe and manageable fashion.

Shelter dogs are often quite pent up, as they generally spend about 23 hours a day in a kennel environment, often with lots of frustrating stimulation going on right outside their kennel run door. While manners training, practicing household skills such as settling and chew toy training, and continued socialization are very much top priorities when deciding what sort of environmental enrichment to provide for shelter dogs (see for more info), playgroups may be incorporated as one ingredient in a wellness program for maintaining or creating healthy, adoptable shelter dogs.

Exercise provides a much needed outlet for amped up dogs, but it also provides an opportunity to build confidence for shy dogs and some much needed cheer for dogs displaying signs of depression.

That said, a shelter dog playgroup should not just be a willy-nilly free for all. Cindy runs her playgroups bases on the SIRIUS Puppy Training methodology of incorporating training into play sessions. Doing so both blurs the line between training and play, to make them one and the same in the dog’s mind rather than mutually exclusive, but it also offers handlers a fantastic opportunity to use the super-high value reward of play and dog-dog interaction as a reinforcement for following their requests, such as recall out of playgroup or a brief “down-stay”.  In other words, there are lots of training breaks in the play session to maintain control and focus at all times.

In order to initiate shelter dog playgroups it’s essential to have at least one trained professional, who is experienced in both reading dog behavior/body language and in managing multiple dogs, involved in each session. Volunteers must be trained before participating and Cindy believes that the ratio of dog to human should be no higher than four dogs for each human helper.

In the podcast below, Cindy also talks about what kind of dogs are suitable for playgroups, lists the top three reasons to incorporate playgroups into your shelter dog training and behavior program, and shares a heartwarming story about a shelter dog who’s life was turned around, and likely saved, by the opportunity to grow and shine outside of her kennel.

If you’d like to learn more about shelter dog playgroups please visit Regarding Rover for a full schedule of Cindy’s two-day seminar offerings all across the U.S.

Training Companion Dogs For Sport And Competition

Training companion dogs for sport and competition

Sandra Mannion and Havoc Competing in AKC Rally

Training companion dogs for sport and competition may seem a bit like barking up the wrong tree. After all, you see your dog as your best friend and got a dog so you’d have sidekick for strolls in the park, car rides, and life’s various adventures, right? So signing up for a series of classes and spending endless hours of practicing specific skills and routines that have nothing to do with your every day life may seem tedious at best.

San Francisco Bay Area dog trainer and behavior counselor, Sandra Mannion, believes that the notion there is a big difference between pet dogs and working dogs is a myth, because every dog was created for a purpose. Many of the sports available to dogs today are versions of standardized tests that were originally designed to showcase a breed or type of dog’s specialized abilities.

There are sports and competitions for nearly every activity that dogs were originally bred to do. Gun dog trials and dock diving games for retrievers, scenting competitions for hounds, herding trials for collies and shepherds, and so on.

There are even companion dog sports such as rally, obedience, and the canine good citizen test which award titles you can earn to show that your dog is well mannered and excels at being a good companion. These sports highlight basic behaviors that would benefit any dog living in our human society with all of it’s non-doggy expectations and rules. Skills such as focusing on the handler, coming reliably when called, and staying in one spot when required, and not pulling on leash are useful in every day life, so it’s not far fetched at all to try your hand at training your companion dog for sport, in fact it will only enhance your communication and relationship with your dog.

Sandra feels that integrating competition into your companion dog’s routine is a good idea because many pet dogs are underutilized with their natural inclinations and energy left untapped. If a dog’s inherent skills and impulses aren’t appropriately channeled and given an outlet, problems may ensue. Like a pressure cooker, that energy that is being generated must go somewhere!

Sandra argues that beyond basic classes (which she feels are absolutely necessary) it’s important to honor your dog’s history and genetic predispositions from the beginning by providing a fun outlet for her inclinations. Doing so will help you gain appreciation for where those (sometimes to us) annoying habits that are actually a long-standing extremely useful part of your breed or type’s heritage come from and why they exist.

Sandra’s favorite part of her job is helping people realize the amazing potential their dog has when they get past the “behavior problems” their dog is exhibiting and learn to use the dog’s energy and enthusiasm that was previously going in the wrong direction and put it somewhere productive. This leads to rewards beyond their expectations as they watch their dog develop and excel. This fresh perspective often saves relationships that were going down hill and ultimately keeps dogs in their homes with people who have a new appreciation for the amazing creature we call our best friend.

In addition to discussing the benefits of training companion dogs for sport and competition, in the podcast below Sandra and I also cover the top three things all dog owners should consider before bringing a dog into their lives in order to get the most out of the relationship and to produce a happy, well adjusted dog. For more information about Sandra, please visit her website








Circus Tricks for Dogs

Circus tricks for dogs with Francis MetcalfCircus tricks for dogs? Indeed! Recently I had the privilege of chatting with renaissance man and circus dog trainer extraordinaire, Francis Metcalf, of Friends of the Family Dog Training.

Francis is someone I’ve known for nearly 20 years now and I can honestly say he is a uniquely gifted man who always advocates for dogs. They love him. Adore him. Can’t get enough. When Francis walks into the room my dogs act like it’s Christmas morning; and it is, because he always gives them the gift of his full attention and works to make every interaction with dogs as positive and and fun as possible. I’ve not met anyone quite like him in dogs.

In this podcast, recorded in the cozy confines of his european-styled training clubhouse where we sat by a roaring fire and sipped wine, Francis and I first cover his early career and how he first got into dog training. We chat about his first dogs and his first Belgian Malinois, Turbeaux (a dog legends are made of), as well as his introduction to the fine sport of French ringsport.

In the second half of this conversation Francis talks about his circus class, a class that’s taken the San Francisco Bay Area by storm! Circus class teaches dogs to be confident and comfortable with their bodies while also teaches people to take the time to enjoy the process of dog training. The motto of the class is, “Try, try, try!” Rather than focusing on perfect performance, this class is all about learning to enjoy the process. Francis wants people and dogs to enjoy the ride! And because circus class is not about competition or life and death issues, people learn to relax when communicating with their dog. They learn how to be animated and fun to draw dogs out and build focus.

Circus class is also an excellent parallel class, meaning in doesn’t interfere with any other training your dog may be doing, but rather, the skills learned seem to enhance performance in other realms, be they basic manners or agility or nose work.

I had such a fun time creating this podcast, and I hope you have a blast listening to it too. Also, I hope it motivates people everywhere to get out there and teach their dogs some fun tricks.

Oh, one more thing… Francis is such an interesting character and has so very much to offer that my interview ran a bit long. I’m still learning how to audio edit and ran into some difficulties, so, while I did split this interview into two parts, it’s all in the same podcast. The first part of the interview introduces Francis to the Animal Cafe listening audience and is about 10 minutes long, I wanted listeners to really get a feel for the man himself before launching into his latest project… The fabulous circus classes that he offers to pet dogs to help make them the most interesting dog on their block.

If you’d like to learn more about Francis or his circus tricks for dogs classes please visit his website, Friends of the Family.

Happy listening!

Train Your Dog

Ian Dunbar January is National Train Your Dog Month so I thought I’d chat with the inventor of puppy classes and founder of the Association of Pet Dog Trainers (among many, many other things), veterinary behaviorist and author, Dr. Ian Dunbar.

Ian believes that the very best way to train your dog is to incorporate training into your daily routine. He also believes it’s important to consider the dog’s point of view when training, to gain insight as to what each dog in particular finds most enjoyable so that you may then use these favorite things (food, toys, people, or activities) as both distractions and rewards in training.

In this podcast, Ian offers several easy and enjoyable ways to honor both your dog and National Train Your Dog Month including his very favorite exercise “The Dog Walk”.

This exercise takes your average daily stroll to a whole new level. For example, most dogs love sniffing and exploring. Rather than getting annoyed when your dog wants to stop and sniff on a walk, why not intersperse little bursts of heeling, loose-leasing walking, and general attention, with the reward of a few minutes of sniffing and ranging. Now your distraction has become a beautiful life reward and you don’t have to tell your dog that sniffing is verboten.

Training in this way helps handlers to get the very best performance out of a dog because incorporating their favorite things into the teaching process provides as part of the motivation for doing our bidding (which may often including doing things for us that are not intrinsically rewarding for dogs).When you integrate fun into training the line between the two blurs and your dog will enjoy training in and of itself, rather than seeing fun and training as mutually exclusive.

Ian also talks about  his first dog Omaha, reminisces about his favorite dog book, and why he’d rename National Train Your Dog Month if it were up to him. He also implores you to please, train your dog!

Listen in and join us for this, and so much more!

Pet Behavior Consultant Steve Dale On Good Dogs And Cats

Pet Behavior Consultant Steve DaleSteve Dale is a modern day Dr. Doolittle, but with a twist. Instead of just speaking to the animals, he has dedicated his career to speaking for the animals via his many media venues. Steve is a pet behavior consultant, syndicated columnist, national radio host, and the author of two new ebooks, “Good Dog!” and “Good Cat!”.

I’ve always appreciated the common sense approach that Steve takes on even the most hot button issues among animals advocates. His vast knowledge of every pet-related subject possible, from pet health care to dominance in dog training, illustrates his pure passion and good will for all creatures. Steve always wants what is best for the animals, and they have no better friend.

Last week I was fortunate enough to chat with Steve about what is on his mind in the pet world these days. We discussed the idea of dominance in dog training, whether it’s okay to see dogs and cats as members of the family, how most of what we humans see as behavior problems in our beloved pets, really aren’t, and even how to avoid offending squirrels!

Steve also reveals the number one behavior question he gets asked in his role as pet behavior consultant at his Q & A newspaper column. The question that accounts for over 50 percent of all of the questions he gets.

To hear all of this and more, please join us in our eclectic conversation by listening to the podcast below. And if you’d like to ask Steve a question yourself he can be found in oh-so-many places but the best way to reach him is on his internet home: Steve Dale’s Pet World.