Wednesday, September 21, 2016

“Dominance” in Dog Training and Behavior, Explained

Guest post by Nancy Frensley, CPDT-KA, CAP2, CNWI, CGC Evaluator, Senior Behavior and Training Manager, Berkeley Humane

Dog trainers sometimes still talk about a dog being dominant or dominating. This terminology has affected how people behave toward their dogs and is thankfully, falling out of use. The term is common among biologists who primarily study species in wild settings. It has a use and a precise definition in that context. It describes how a specific species or sub species controls resources in a domain and it can describe population dynamics.

People sometimes excuse their dogs' rude behavior toward other dogs by saying, “He’s alpha.” And some famous trainers have recommended ways to get dogs to change their behavior by “dominating them in physical ways. These are moves that all too often get used for every behavior an owner doesn’t like such as not coming quickly enough or barking at another dog.

Dog trainers, many of whom had been military dog handlers during World War II, were quick to pick up early theories about the dog/human relationship, which were loosely based on observations of captive wild wolves and how they behaved toward each other. This led observers to the believe that “dominance” was a personality trait.

It was thought, at the time, that if we just mirrored a wolf pack with our own dogs, We could solve all behavior and training problems. Dog owners were instructed to go to the mat with their dogs and always win, no matter how exhausting it might be, and people dutifully did so, pinning mystified and frightened dogs to the ground until they gave up (or bit the owners)

Using these theories put both trainers and pet owners into conflict with the dogs they loved. The whole misguided movement resulted in the widespread use of abusive training techniques which have rapidly been replaced with dog friendly training through positive reinforcement and games. These are much more palatable to both the dogs and the people involved and gets better results in the long run.

There is a very easy way to view dominance when referring to companion dogs and their people. Dominance, in biology, is the control of and access to resources. We humans control most of our dogs’ resources and control access to just about everything our dogs want. We determine when and where the dog eliminates, what resting surfaces he can use, when and what he eats and how he greets strangers. That makes us, by default, the dominant species.

We can decide how we use this status and don’t have to do anything extra to prove that we are, indeed, the dominant species in this relationship. We can choose to be kind, to train in a dog friendly way and be gentle & compassionate while setting the boundaries needed for our dogs to live with us in a human society.

And have you noticed, nobody talks about dominating cats?

Berkeley Humane's training philosophy and testimonials are on our website, as is a list of upcoming dog training classes.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Share Your Happy Stories!

Calling all happy adopters!

"Happy adoption stories? They are definitely talking about us."

This very blog's raison d'être is to showcase the joyful adoptions that happen weekly at Berkeley Humane. Our Going Home series lets adopters share, in their own voices, their perspectives on how pet adoption changed their life. We hear from adopters days, months, sometimes years after adding a cat or dog to their household, which gives us a broad look at the lifelong importance of sharing life with a loved pet. 

Lily and Frankie: snuggle partners for life.

We just can't get enough of these post-adoption stories. So we're asking you for yours — and offering a free photoshoot in the bargain!

Head to our Happy Stories page and share your Berkeley Humane adoption story. Your story could inspire others to adopt pets in need of homes. And you might win a professional #LookingFurLove photoshoot!

Photoshoot winners!

Monday, July 18, 2016

Intake is a community process

Ever wonder how our pets find their way to adoption through Berkeley Humane?

In a sense, Berkeley Humane’s adoptable animals are a special, curated selection of animals that we believe would be a great fit in the right home. We focus our attention on relieving overcrowding at other shelters in Alameda and Contra Costa counties. Each week Berkeley Humane staff collaborates with these shelters in a process called “intake” to identify adoptable pets as well as injured animals who might thrive under our excellent medical care.

    1. Intake step one is to visit a partner shelter
    There, we discuss how Berkeley Humane can help them with potential overcrowding and whether any of their animals would be a good fit for us. Occasionally a Berkeley Humane veterinarian offers expert medical advice to help us determine which animals might benefit from our excellent on-site vet care — for instance, our new radiograph helps us diagnose injuries that other shelters might not be equipped to discover.

    2. Step two is the all-important evaluation process
    Every animal at Berkeley Humane has passed a behavioral assessment to gauge traits like friendliness to humans, tolerance for being handled, tendency toward overstimulation, general health, and, for dogs, their sociability with other dogs.

    3. Step three is transferring the animals to Berkeley Humane.
      A great deal of community service and partnership drives our intake process. One of our closest partners is Berkeley Animals Care Services (BACS), located just a mile away from our shelter. Adult animals, whether surrendered or stray, must be held for a while at a public shelter like BACS. After the mandated hold period, Berkeley Humane steps in to help. An exception is made for litters under six months old. Few shelters have the resources and the community support to provide round-the-clock care to underage kittens, for example, so it can benefit the kittens to come directly to Berkeley Humane.

      “BACS and the animals it brings in are a huge priority,” says Berkeley Humane Pet Program Manager Carly Skonnord. “We both mutually benefit.”

      On a sunny day in late March, Carly drove to BACS in a roomy van with plenty of space to transport multiple pet carriers. Her goal was to bring back two young cats, including a three-month old kitten with undiagnosed dental/cranial issues. Berkeley Humane’s veterinary staff guessed that an infection from a broken jaw might be the culprit. That might be the best case scenario, as kitten bones are still growing at three months and the jaw might heal itself.

      “It could be anything at this point and we don’t yet know what our treatment options are,” said Carly. “There’s only so much you can safely do with a kitten’s mandible. But our new radiograph machine gives us the best shot at helping her.”

      Carly Skonnord, Pet Program Manager, holding Tippi

      This injured kitten (who would get the moniker Tippi later that afternoon) is a perfect example of the community service that Berkeley Humane provides.

      “When it comes down to it, we have the technology and resources to give the kitten her best shot,” explained Carly. “It’s our moral responsibility. With an injury this uncertain, bringing her to Berkeley Humane is best for BACS, best for the kitten, and best for the community.”

      As Carly carried the kittens through the halls of BACS, staff paused to talk to her. Most expressed joy that Tippi would receive diligent medical attention and get a great shot at a loving home. All of them said goodbye to the kittens. However briefly they may have worked with these animals, they knew and cared about them.

      “Staff at BACS is so great to work with,” said Carly. “They are so compassionate and professional.”

      Tippi expressing herself as she settles into Berkeley
      Humane after transferring from BACS
       Back at Berkeley Humane, the newly-named Tippi and Chuck settled into new homes. They explored their fresh towels, new toys, and clean litter box. Later that day X-rays would confirm Tippi’s broken jaw (not that this stopped the extroverted kitten from meowing for attention from all the vets in the room). Surgery would remove a necrotized bone fragment.

      “We wanted her to spend an additional week or two in foster care before putting her up for adoption to make sure she was healing well, and she did great!” said Carly. “She wasn’t in as much pain, which allowed her to eat more freely. She put on a lot of weight, which she needed desperately. Now she’s nice and plump, and is very playful and cuddly. Basically, she now gets to be a normal, healthy kitten!”

      Tippi was deemed ready for adoption — and she went home almost immediately. Read more about Tippi’s successful journey to adoption in this East Bay Times story.

      Tippi fully recovered and preparing to go home with her adopter

      In the month Tippi spent in Berkeley Humane’s care, she was a perfect illustration of how Berkeley Humane collaborates with the community, provides expert medical care when necessary, and helps pets and adopters find each other.

      Every week Berkeley Humane helps pets find homes. Some, like Tippi, first receive medical care. Help us help animals! Consider donating today so that we can help more adoptable animals like Tippi overcome injuries and go up for adoption.

      Friday, July 15, 2016

      Going Home: Molly the cat

      There's no set timeline to true love! 

      Sometimes you're ready for a new pet — but don't find the right animal right away.

      And sometimes an animal is suitable for adoption but doesn't meet the right adopters. 

      Carina Alia Earl knows all about waiting for stars to align. She got in touch with us on Facebook to tell us how happy she and Molly the cat are together:

      Lazy afternoon with my little lady from Berkeley Humane. Love my Molly (formerly known as Hyacinth) who was waiting for a home for almost a year.

      Don't overlook the black kitties. You might be missing out on the greatest love of your life.

      Thank you for letting us know that Molly's wait for a home was worth it! She looks so cozy in your arms.

      Looking for your stars to align? Come visit us this weekend!  We're also gearing up for Bark (and Meow) Around the Block, our exciting annual block party, where we hope to find homes for even more animals (and not just dogs and cats!). We'll welcome over 20 Bay Area animal rescue groups and feature over 100 adoptable animals. Get ready for a great party!

      Wednesday, July 13, 2016

      Dogs Playing Together: The Good, the Bad, the Ugly

      Guest post by Nancy Frensley, CPDT,CAP2, CNWI, CGC Evaluator, Senior Behavior and Training Manager, Berkeley Humane

      One of first things adopters from Berkeley Humane want to do is take their dogs to a dog park. It’s easy to assume that all dogs both want to play with other dogs and have the right temperament and social skills to do so. However, everyone will benefit by considering a few things before beginning this particular adventure.

      Pixie and Cinnamon chase a friend. Photo by Pär Winzell.
      Until puppies reach maturity, between the ages of eighteen months and two years, most of them enjoy playing with other dogs. Good dog play can teach young dogs valuable lessons. Play enhances bite inhibition, develops communication skills, and maintains friendly responses to other dogs. As they mature, most dogs become less universal in their desire to play.

      Even though some parts of each puppy’s play style are inherited, each of them goes through distinct developmental periods during the first two years of life in which social and play styles are formed. Puppies (under four months) can be very rude but are generally tolerated by adult dogs as well as their human parents. Between the ages of about five and eighteen months, almost all puppies start to push their boundaries with both people and their own kind. In addition, puppies experience distinct “fear periods” during this time of their lives. Unsupervised play as well as harsh corrections can cause pups to develop fear as well as the inappropriate play styles of chasing, body slamming and persistent wrestling; styles that can lead to aggression problems.

      Photo by Pär Winzell
      Most dogs reach full maturity at about two years. After that, they are less likely to engage in play with dogs they don’t already know and may become more reserved with people as well. Most are content, at this point, to play with previously established dog friends. Sometimes, they lose their desire to play with dogs entirely. Dogs adopted as adults have often had limited social exposure and may never enjoy playing with other dogs.

      From the very first day, you should carefully monitor all your dog’s playtimes. By supervising, you can shape your dog’s play style for the rest of his life. The most important part of supervision is being able to recognize when play is appropriate and when it is not. The second most important part is being able to interrupt questionable or inappropriate play and call your dog away before it goes bad.

      There are three kinds of dog play—good, questionable, and totally inappropriate. Here’s how to tell them apart:

      Good dog play.

      You don’t need to interrupt this play. The dogs are monitoring themselves.
      • Healthy play is balanced. There is a lot of give-and- take. Both dogs are clearly having fun. 
      • Dogs have loose, relaxed bodies, and their movements are silly and inefficient-looking.
      • Chase games exhibit a sense of sharing. But, if one dog is being chased into hiding or is becoming defensive, interrupt the play.
      • Both dogs are making friendly play gestures. These include play bows, turning and hitting with the hips and both dogs stopping when things get too rough.

      Questionable dog play.

      You should always interrupt this play before it goes too far. Any of the following behaviors can lead to a fight.
      • Wrestling can be appropriate but is questionable and should be interrupted if more than two dogs are involved, or if one dog is always on the bottom.
      • Tug-of- war if one or both dogs become possessive.
      • Stalking postures. These postures are not play behavior. A stalking posture is significantly different from play bow and is often the first stage of a body slam.

      Rude and totally inappropriate dog play.

      This “play” is not play at all; it is aggressive behavior and must always be stopped. After you intervene you have a good opportunity to play one-on- one with your dog while he settles down. Rude behaviors are:
      • Neck biting and collar grabbing.
      • Excessive barking and harassing another dog. Rude puppies often do this relentlessly at adult dogs that do not want to play.
      • Body slamming. This is only fun for the slammer.
      • Pinning. Bull breeds do this routinely, but others do it, too.
      • Mounting other dogs. Both males and females do this and it is almost guaranteed to start a fight.
      • Snapping. A dog that is scared or aggravated may snap; so may a dog that is guarding a toy or a bone.
      • Standing in a “T” position (head over another dog’s shoulders). This is never play; it is always a challenge. Don’t let it happen at all.
      • Ganging up. Two or more dogs ganging up on one.
      • General over-arousal, resulting in a case of the crazies, growlies, or snappies.

      If you cannot call your dog away quickly and effectively as soon as play becomes questionable use a long line (20’-30’) and practice calling your dog with rewards every day. Once you call your dog away from play, give him time to calm down before releasing him to play again. If your dog has gotten into a scuffle, stop all interactions with other dogs for the remainder of the outing.

      It’s everyone’s responsibility to supervise their dogs to keep play friendly.

      Photo by Pär Winzell

      If you have questions about your dog's behavior, please feel free to email Learn more about Berkeley Humane's training approach, led by post author Nancy Frensley, and peruse our list of upcoming classes under Nancy's expert guidance.

      Wednesday, July 6, 2016

      Going Home: Riley and Cameron

      While treats, toys, and fuzzy blankets might not be at the top of Maslow's hierarchy of canine needs, there's no denying that it can be fun and rewarding to spoil our pets. 

      When adopter Yue Lin got in touch with us on our Facebook page, she showed us an adorable new way to honor her Berkeley Humane-adopted dogs:  

      Riley and Cameron are both from Berkeley Humane and recently got their own pillows:) 

      We had some questions about these awesome crafts, and Yue obliged us:

      Dear Berkeley Humane, I got the pillows at Crafty Wonderland on a recent trip to Portland. They are made locally by an artist. Well, I just couldn't resist:). Thanks again for all you guys do! Riley and Cameron are the stars of our home. Here they are on a typical day:)

      That's a special pair of dogs that deserves a special set of pillows, Yue! Thank you for this glimpse of the happy life you share with Riley and Cameron.

      Looking for your own dog to spoil? From puppies to adults, we have a variety of personalities available for adoption right now. Come visit us Friday through Sunday, 11-5.

      Tuesday, March 8, 2016

      Volunteer Appreciation: Judy Cohen

      Superstar volunteer Judy Cohen combines her dedication to animals and decades of administrative experience to support Berkeley Humane's financial and HR office.

      Judy retired in 2014 after a long career working for the Peralta Colleges. She began as the financial aid administrator for the old Vista college, spent 22 years as the Financial Aid Supervisor at Laney, and then closed her career in the District Office as Director of Financial Aid for all four colleges.

      After such a busy and stimulating work life, Judy knew that she wanted to keep active in retirement. In addition to enjoying the outdoors, swimming and hiking, Judy also makes volunteering a regular part of her life. She says:
      I decided long before retirement that I wanted to volunteer. Knowing how much I love all animals, it was my daughter who suggested Berkeley Humane. I've lived in the Bay Area for over 40 years; familiar with the work of Berkeley Humane, I thought it a great way to help as well as keep myself active and thinking. I attended the orientation and volunteered to be in the administrative offices. I thought so many volunteers would rather work within the shelter, but with my background I could really help the most in the office.

      Judy ended up volunteering in Berkeley Humane’s finance department, using her decades of experience to file, enter data, and wrangle numbers like a pro.

      Berkeley Humane is so grateful for Judy’s expert support and cheerful presence. Roxy Rogalski, Berkeley Humane’s Accounting and HR Manager, had this to say about Judy’s work in the financial office:
      Our finance department consists of two employees and Judy! Judy does everything from creating our annual files, boxing everything up, matching reports, inventory… you name it, and Judy does it. She always has a smile on her face, a wonderful sense of humor, and is always willing to step in and go above and beyond.

      “I love working for Roxy and Ellen [Monroe, Director of Finance and Human Resources],” Judy continues.“And best of all, I get to visit with Ellen's awesome dog, Sami and treat her with carrots.” 

      In addition to her regular hours in the financial office, Judy also volunteers at Berkeley Humane special events. One of her favorite experiences has been the Grumpy Cat event in January 2015, when the mobile adoption unit was revealed. “So many pets and children,” she recalls: “Grumpy [was] such a rock star.”

      Image courtesy of the Furrtographer.

      Grumpy Cat grudgingly receives the adoration of her loyal subjects. For more pictures of the event, visit our Facebook page.

      Photo credit: JennyDee Photography
      The Mobile Adoption Center (MAC) is a custom-built 26' RV that allows Berkeley Humane to extend its life-saving mission beyond its brick-and-mortar location. 

      Judy herself is a devoted cat lover. She looks after three cats: Winnie, a Norwegian Forest cat; Fina, a Maine Coon mix; and Mister, a one-eyed feral male whose friendship Judy has been cultivating for almost eight years. 

      At last, Judy says, 

      “Mister has accepted as his ‘human.’ He lost sight in his eye about seven years ago after what appeared to be a fight with a raccoon. I fed him antibiotics folded in cream cheese and he recovered. Now we are good friends, but the other females are wary of him. I can pet his head and he even comes into the kitchen in the morning to say hello. He thinks the yard is his private castle.”

      Fina and Mister (black cat). In a rare
      congenial moment, Fina
      and Mister actually share a lounge chair. 

      Judy and her 17-year-old Winnie, her "true love."

      Judy: "Winnie... my Norweegie!"
      If Judy wasn't busy enough, she also volunteers at the Albany Senior Center, because "adults need support too!" She is the treasurer of their fundraising unit, the Friends of Albany Seniors, and a member of the "Friends" board. She is also considering taking on yet another volunteer role, perhaps with veterans.

      Beyond her volunteer work, Judy says: "I am married to a super man, now together for thirty years, and feel so fortunate to live in such a beautiful area and close to my lovely talented newly married daughter and the best son-in-law on the planet. I walk their dogs."

      In closing, Judy had this wise advice for those interested in volunteering: “Wherever you volunteer, make sure it is from your heart.”

      Thank you Judy, for all of the work that you do at Berkeley Humane and in your community!

      If you're feeling inspired by Judy's story, there are plenty of ways for you to get involved. Says Jenn Suzuki, Berkeley Humane's volunteer coordinator:
      Passionate and committed volunteers are vital to our success, and are integrated into every area of our operation. Whether it’s walking dogs, cuddling cats, working with data, or chairing an event committee, there are countless ways for volunteers to get involved. 
      Have a special skill? Lots of love for cats and dogs, and an eagerness to do what you can? Learn more at