Viewing entries in


Snap, crackle, pop! Why is my dog scared of certain noises?

Dear Zen Dog Girl,

This is Danielle (Wally's mom) we were in your puppy class almost a year ago now. We are close to moving into a house and once we do we would love to schedule individual training sessions. I really want to teach Wally that the street is a bad place. He is very good about staying close to me, but if he were to ever get out for any reason I am very scared he would go in the street. My brother in law lost his puppy about 6 months ago in the street because the landscaper opened the gate. We will definitely be extremely careful, but as a part of that I want to spend more time doing training with Wally.

However, the reason I am emailing you tonight is because Wally has developed a new fear. Any time we make a crackling noise he runs like the wind into the closet and hides in the hanging clothes. When we cook something on the stove, open a bag, or crack our knuckles he runs in there. He also does it when we put his food in his bowl, even if we try to do it quietly.

I am not sure what has spurred this behavior because we have only seen it for a week or two. Several months ago (about August or September) I roasted vegetables in a glass Pyrex dish, but I accidentally placed it on a hot burner, and it exploded all over the kitchen. We are thinking that may have scared him- but he has not been so scared of these little noises until recently. He is terrified of fireworks and thunder, which is understandable and we keep him away as best as possible. I am just baffled by this fear of opening a chip bag or his food bag, or cracking knuckles. Some noises, like opening a soda can he is not scared of. I hope you have an idea of what we can do to help him because he runs into the closet more than 10 times a day, just by us doing our normal things.

Thank You!

Danielle, Steve, and Wally

Hi Danielle, Steve and Wally!

So good to hear from you! Sounds like poor little Wally does need some therapy! We can set up a training session for whenever you like. In the meantime, here are a few things that you can start doing immediately. Begin by desensitizing and conditioning him to very "quiet" noises. It takes a lot of patience and time to desensitize dogs to scary, stressful stimuli, but Wally is still young and you are the perfect owner to work with him because you are patient and willing to do what it takes to make him confident and happy. Follow these three steps and Wally will be loving snap, crackle, pop noises before you know it!

Step 1: Even though it may be tough, resist all urges to coddle, cradle, pet and/or coo, "It's okay Wally!". It's our natural reaction to want to comfort our dogs when they are scared, but doing so gives them lots of attention for the behavior that they are displaying. When Wally is scared, he finds comfort by escaping into the closet and then probably waits for you to follow him there and tell him that 'it's okay' to act that way. His behavior will be positively reinforced if he gets attention for this. You want to make sure that you don't give any attention to his scaredy cat behaviors and you never ever want to follow him to the closet so that he can learn that tiny little noises aren't going to kill him. Also, make sure to observe your own reaction to a noise. By this time you have also probably been trained to hear a certain noise and then unconsciously look over at Wally worried that he will have a bad reaction to it. This small act may even be cuing him to react fearfully. Make sure that you always smile, be calm and be confident. When Wally doesn't display any fearful behavior to a noise, you can give him all of the love and attention in the world!

Step 2: Learn to recognize his threshold or tolerance levels to certain noises and then set up situations to work with him slowly by using clicker training. For instance, take a piece of paper, crinkle it a little bit and see what his reaction is to it. If he isn't startled, this is a good thing. You don't want to stress him out at all at this point. You want to start with a noise that he is very tolerant of and then build up the loudness based on his progress. If the piece of paper crinkling doesn't set him off, crinkle it, set it on the floor, and if he steps forward to investigate, you will click the second he takes his first step and then treat him by dropping the treat away from the paper so that he has to turn away from it. When he returns to investigate it again, click and treat away from the paper. Then crinkle the paper again and drop it on the ground. When he steps forward towards it, click and treat again. Keep doing this until he is able to walk all the way up the paper. Attach a cue to this, by saying, "check it out". Then you will be able to slowly increase the intensity of the noise by doing this type of exercise with other items that make noise. Make sure that you do not 'up the ante' too quickly and that you only proceed if Wally's body language is calm and happy. Look for good eye contact with you, tail held low and wagging, ears forward and not back. There should be no wincing, backing away, tail tucking or nervous signs like excessive panting, salivating or yawning. Set him up for success and just do a few repetitions a couple of times a day. You will have more success with several 5-10 minute training sessions spaced out throughout the day than you will with an hour long one once a day.

Step 3: Once Wally is feeling comfortable and confident with the slightest noises, start walking around your house making small noises like a small snap of your fingers, lightly setting a book on the table, touching a plastic bag etc. and randomly make the noise and happily say, "check it out!". Then nonchalantly drop several high value rewards (pieces of chicken, cheese, or any type of super smelly, yummy, soft treats) at your feet. Keep your treat pouch on you at all times around the house or place treat jars strategically around your house where you can easily grab some. Also, whenever you hear a noise that you know Wally is comfortable with, praise him and give him lots of attention for not reacting to the noise. Also, practice your basic commands (sit, down, look, touch, stay, leave it, go to bed, crawl, back etc.) with him everyday for at least 15 minutes. Get creative and play games with him or teach him a new trick everyday. Ask Steve to make a few quiet noises in the background while Wally is preoccupied with you playing the games. Build up his confidence all around and pretty soon Wally will be running towards noises!

It's great that you want to street train Wally and we will easily be able to teach him this during our session together. Go ahead and check out my article "

Doggy Street Smarts in 7 Steps

" for some helpful tips in the meantime. Looking forward to working with you more and I can't wait to see Wally's progress! Happy training!

Peace, Paws, and Love,

Zen Dog Girl : )


Thank you so much!!! We have been working with him the last few days and Wally is doing much better. Still nervous but he hasn't run into the closet at all! Thank you very much for responding! We will hopefully schedule a time with you very shortly!!!

Happy new year!!



10 Fun summer activities and events for you and your dog in San Diego!

Woohoo! It's summer time! Which means tons of play time outside with our favorite furry best friends! Here's some of our most favorite things to do with our dogs during the summer... 1) Go to a dog beach to dig in the sand and go for a swim! We love Fiesta Island, OB Dog Beach and Del Mar Dog Beach. At Fiesta Island and OB Dog Beach you can have your dogs off-leash any time of the day, but at the Del Mar Dog Beach you must have your dog on leash during the summer. Always remember to bring a jug of water for you and your dog and a small drinking dish. If you offer your dog fresh water, he'll be less likely to drink salt water, which sometimes ends up in an unhappy dog later. Lots of water will also prevent heat stroke. Have fun in the sun, but make sure it's not too hot!

2) Take your dog for a dip in a pool or go dock diving at a nearby lake. Grab a fun floaty buoy toy or a Chuck-It and tire your pup out in the pool. Especially if it's too hot for a dog job.  A tip for pool swimming, be careful of your dog's paws running around hot concrete. We've known a few dogs that get so excited playing fetch in the pool that they end up with raw paw pads. Also, watch out for bulldogs and flat-faced dogs near water. Bulldogs have been known to sink and flat-faced dogs may have a harder time breathing while swimming.

3) Check out San Diego Pets Magazine for upcoming summer events. We'll see you at the SD Doggie Street Festival on July 18th!

4) Off to yoga? Don't forget your mat and your dog! Give doga a try! Leash Your Fitness and Furry Foster are putting on a Full Moon Doga Yoga and Bonfire event tomorrow night, June 13 at 6pm at Mission Bay. More info here. We really hope that howling at the moon is involved!

5)  Plan a Puppy Potluck BBQ! Dogs are social beings and love hanging out with friends. Ask your dog owning friends to come over with one human potluck dish and one pet-friendly dish to share with the crowd. Ask everyone to bring their dogs on-leash and to let the dogs get used to each other slowly. If everyone is getting along brilliantly, unleash them and let them run around the yard.

6) Drink wine for a cause and bring my dog?! Wine not! Every Wednesday (4pm-9pm) starting June 18, bring your dog to The Wine Pub and enjoy wine, human food and pet food from their yummy menu. 10% of your bill will go to Furry Fosters. Round up a few doggy friends and make it a date!

7) Plan a stay-cation for you and your pup! La Valencia is beautiful, historical and dog-friendly! We recommend staying the night there, going to brunch at dog-friendly Cody's the next morning and then walking the Cove to see the seals and chase seagulls. You can also pick up a dog training book at dog-friendly Warwick's and go shopping at Lululemon, all with your furry friend in tow.

8) Try paddleboarding or surfing with your dog! Does your dog love the water? Get your dog used to the board by treating your dog for standing on the board on solid ground. Once your dog gets used to standing on the board take him out to knee deep water and gently push your dog into a wave. We recommend using really long, big soft top boards. The bigger the board the easier it is for your dog to balance. A life vest is always a good idea too!

9) Turn on the sprinklers and let your dog run around in them. Channel your inner kid and jump in there too!

10) Sunset beach strolls - need I say more? Nothing better than ending a beautiful summer day on the beach with your dog. True happiness.

Have a fun safe summer!

Peace, Paws and Love,

The DogZenergy Team


1 Comment

Puppy Play Biting

Puppies can be oh-so-cute and cuddly when they're sleeping, but sometimes they can go completely bonkers. We like to call this, The Puppy Crazies. It usually happens in the early morning or the evening at the most inopportune times- when you're just waking up, right before your morning coffee, or at night right when you get home from work and all you want to do is put your feet up or make dinner. Your puppy may have other ideas that involve running around the house at break neck speeds with his tail tucked under him as he runs like the dickens and growls at imaginary animals. Or he's trying to bite your fav work pants and put yet another hole in the them.  Or he's going after your hands and jumping up at you like you're a giant chew toy. For some people this can be downright terrifying. One time, I was called at 8:30 at night for an "emergency" session. I arrived at the house to find the new client warily eyeing her sweet 9 week old lab puppy that was quietly sitting in her crate like a little angel. Diane pointed at her and said that her puppy had been possessed by the devil and that she's terrified that her puppy is "aggressive" and will grow up to terrorize her household.  Diane was so disturbed that she asked me if I could find a home for her puppy because she's so scared of her. I asked her to let Rosie out of her crate to see what was going on. The puppy gently trotted up to me and started licking my hand while wagging her entire bottom. I started petting her somewhat roughly and playing with her ears and tail. Sure enough she got more and more hyped up and started biting my hands and lunging for my sleeve. The good news, is that this is completely normal puppy behavior.

Think about a litter playing together. The puppies are constantly biting each other, wrestling and playing tug with toys or each other's body parts. This is how puppies learn bite inhibition and learn whether or not they are biting too hard. One time I had the pleasure of puppy sitting a litter and sat there and watched them for hours. They would eat, poo, pee, play, sleep and repeat. I was watching two puppies play together at one point, and one of them was bigger and more assertive than the other. They were playing nicely until the big puppy bit his sister hard on her tail, and she let out a high pitched yelp and immediately ran away from him. He trotted off after her, but she refused to make eye contact and didn't engage with him any longer. He went to go play with another puppy and was noticeably much softer in his play and never went for the tail again. The moral of this story is 1) we need to take a page out of their play book, 2) we need to teach our puppies how to play appropriately with humans, and 3) recognize when your puppy gets the "Crazies" and direct your puppy into positive play.

Back to Diane and Rosie, it turns out that her kids and husband had been playing with Rosie by using their hands and roughing up her fur, rolling her around on the ground, and letting her gnaw on their hands. It was cute at first, but the behavior had been increasing and everyone in the family was now scratched up and somewhat afraid of her. Also, every time Rosie latched onto a pant leg, she would get a huge response from the kids because they would scream and drag her through the house as she tugged and pulled. Rosie thought it was great fun! Here was the training game plan for Rosie:

1) First off, we had to teach the whole family how to play appropriately with Rosie to burn off her energy when she got the Puppy Crazies. This meant absolutely no playing with hands and always playing with a toy. We also had to teach Rosie how to "take it" and "leave it", and teach her how to play fetch. This way, the play could be controlled and if Rosie ever got to over excited or started to bite pant legs, hands or arms, the game could be immediately stopped. Another trick is to play where there is a baby gate and to step over the gate and ignore your puppy when he starts to get out of controlled. A three minute time out usually resets their energy levels.

2) We also worked on handling exercises to teach Rosie to stay calm when being petted and held. Have you ever seen a dog pet another dog or squeeze them to give them a hug? I didn't think so! It's a very unnatural new behavior for a puppy to experience and requires them to be comfortable with you being in their space and being vulnerable. When you have a good hold on them, they feel trapped and can't get away which triggers their fight or flight response. If they can't flee, they'll try to bite and the first time that someone lets go of them because of being bitten, they learn that that works for them and they'll try it again next time. The behavior is then positively reinforced and will only increase. Teach your puppy to love being handled and held by handling him when he's sleepy and by giving him lots of tiny pieces of treats or kibble as you hold him. If your puppy struggles and bites, calmly hold him until he relaxes. As soon as your puppy relaxes tell him "good" and then immediately release him so that he learns that calm behavior gives him what he wants. You can also make a game out of the handling exercises by touching a part of your puppy and if he stays calm and does not go for your hand, click and treat with the opposite hand. Do this with very few repetitions all throughout the day and your puppy will be ignoring your hand and looking forward to being touched.

3) When your puppy bites you try not to pull your hand away quickly. If you are constantly quickly pulling your hands away, your puppy will learn that biting gets you to stop petting him. The quick backwards movement also reinforces the puppy's desire to keep going after your hands. Teach your puppy that biting does not mean that hands go away or turn into tug toys. Instead, give your dog a signal that it hurts by making a loud pitch yelping sound, much like a puppy would. Then stop playing with your puppy and ignore him. Remove yourself from your puppy by stepping over a baby gate or going behind a closed door. Wait for at least five to ten minutes, and then once your puppy has calmed down you can try playing again. Ask your puppy to sit and then toss a toy for him to play with. Work on playing drop it and take it, by working with two toys of equal value at the same time. Toss a toy, let your puppy play with it and then say, "Drop it," and present the other toy that you've been hiding behind your back. As soon as your puppy drops the toy he was playing say, "Good drop it!" and then say "Take it" and let him play with the new toy. This game teaches your puppy to control his energy, release objects in his mouth and only take things in his mouth from your hand when you invite him to. You can also use this technique when your puppy is latched on to your pants. The key with grabbing clothing is to never pull back because this increases your dog's desire to tug. Stay calm, show your puppy a treat or toy and tell him to drop it (don't always show him a treat though because you might just  accidentally reinforce the puppy's desire to grab your clothing, only do this the first few times your puppy does this). If you don't have something to distract your puppy from your leg, then gently and quickly remove your puppy's mouth from your clothing. The longer he hangs on, the more fun for him. Then redirect him to his toys. If your dog is extremely persistent, use a drag line (a leash that attaches to your puppy's harness that he drags around with him while you're home), so that you can quickly pick it up and restrain him from going for your clothing. Always redirect your puppy to his own toys or chew sticks to teach him that he can chew all he wants on those, but not on hands or clothing.

After a few days of positive play and no rough housing with hands, Rosie stopped lunging for hands and even started to initiate play with her family by bringing a toy over to them instead of jumping up and biting them. She absolutely loves to play fetch and will immediately drop anything in her mouth. She's very gentle and knows that putting her teeth on hands or clothing will immediately stop the game. Rosie is there to stay and everyone loves to cuddle with her.

There's a lot more to puppy biting and while this is an example of play biting, there are other forms of biting like resource guarding that need to be addressed by a professional immediately. Check back soon for tips on resource guarding. Names have been changed to protect the privacy of our clients.

Happy training!

Brittany : )


1 Comment


5 Tips for dining with your best!

Does anyone else feel weird going out in public without their dog? I certainly do! I'm completely codependent. One of my most favorite things to do, especially in La Jolla is to go out to brunch with my mom, Karen, or a bunch of friends. If I can take my dogs along, I'm even happier! Luckily, La Jolla restaurants are extremely dog friendly. The best dog friendly brunch spots in La Jolla are Cody's, Beaumonts, Barbarella's and Prep Kitchen. Not only are these restaurants really cute and really yummy, but they're also extremely dog friendly. Cody's and Barbarella's even have an adorable doggie menu and you can order your pup some hamburger meat, chicken breast or biscuits. All of these restaurants welcome dogs on their patios and even bring a water bowl to your table. To show our gratitude to these restaurants for allowing our furry best friends to dine with us, it's important to make sure that we mind our manners.

Here's 5 tips for having good doggie manners at the table...

1) Make sure that your dog is well trained and comfortable in a restaurant setting. Does your dog know a good down/stay? Will your dog settle and relax under your table for at least an hour? Will your dog ignore other dogs that walk by and not make a commotion? If not, practice at home at the dinner table by teaching your dog to lay under the table in a down/stay while you eat. Remember to release your dog at the end of your meal and reward with a special treat, a toy and/or tons of praise!

Geri dining at Beaumont's. He would like the steak and eggs.

2) Always keep your dog leashed and out of other diners' business. The wonderful smells are everywhere in a restaurant and your dog might want to check out the menu for you. Keep your dog close by your side as you head to your table and show off your dog's good manners by asking him to down/stay as soon as you find your spot. Select a table that is well out of the way from other diners and try to keep your dog out of the way of busy servers.

3) Never let your dog eat off of the restaurant's silverware, cups or dishes. That being said, chairs are reserved for human bottoms. Let's keep our dogs at our feet and drinking out of water bowls while at restaurants. At home, share a spoon if you will! ; )

4) Don't tie your dog to a table or a chair, I've seen dogs take off after a pigeon with a chair flying behind them and the chair ended up side swiping a BMW. Don't let that be you and your dog! Tie your dog to an extremely heavy table, to a tree or hand your dog to your friend if you need to leave the table.

5) Enjoy your dog's company and treat your best friend for being awesome. Bring your dog's favorite treats and casually drop a treat between your feet to reinforce your dog's down/stay. If you have a puppy who is new to dining out, bring a bully stick or other chew stick to keep him happily preoccupied while you eat. Otherwise, he might be very tantalized by all the sights and smells going on all around him.


I'm so used to taking my dogs out to restaurants with me that I feel like I'm missing something! Anyone else have any good dining out tips that we need to add? If so, add them in the comments section or on our Facebook page. We'd love to hear from you and your pup!

Happy training!

Brittany : )



Recipe for Creating a Cuddly Puppy

What you’ll need: 1 tired out puppy

5 cups of love

15-30 minutes of time

1 treat pouch

1/4 cup of soft, smelly, yummy treats

1 bully stick or chew toy


There’s nothing better than a sleepy, relaxed dog to cuddle with, but some dogs are not naturally the cuddly type. Dogs don’t hug and squeeze each other and they certainly don’t hold each other. Most dogs prefer to sleep by themselves and not in a dog pile. They definitely don’t give one another pats on the head. In order to teach your dog to be really relaxed and comfortable with being handled by everyone and anyone, it’s important to teach them to love being petted, hugged and touched all over. Taking the time to handle your puppy and teach him to be calm in someone’s lap, sit still for ear and mouth exams, and be comfortable with his paws being handled is extremely important for trips to the vet and groomer. It’s also an important way to bond with your new puppy and teaches him to be very calm when petted. A lot of dogs get overly excited when they are petted or given attention and end up jumping on people and getting out of control. By spending quiet, cuddly time with your puppy you will be positively reinforcing his calm, Zen behavior instead.

1. Make sure your puppy gets an appropriate amount of mental and physical exercise during the day. Puppies eat, poo, pee, play and crash, all day long. If you try to get your puppy to relax in your lap when he’s amped up and in the puppy crazy mode, he’s going to become mouthy and will resist the handling. Play fun games with your puppy and wear him out with a game of fetch or hide and go seek before you initiate cuddle time.

2. In a quiet place away from a lot of distractions, put your puppy in your lap or on the floor next to you. With one hand, lure him into a down with a piece of treat and while feeding the treat, pet your puppy’s back or shoulder with the other hand in a slow methodical way. Keep feeding your puppy tiny pieces of treats and slowly start to pet his legs and then start moving down towards the paws.

2. If your puppy gets uncomfortable or starts to bite your hand, stop giving treats, stop petting and remove your attention for a minute or two. Once your puppy calms down, try again and reward frequently for letting you pet more sensitive areas like his ears, paws, tail or the top of his head.

3. If your puppy is completely relaxed, floppy and enjoys being handled already, rub his belly and gently encourage him to lay on his back. A dog that is comfortable on his back is showing you that he is relaxed and totally calm and confident in you.

4. If your puppy is really mouthy, make sure that you have a bully stick or a chew toy to offer him whenever you want to pet and handle him. Whenever his is chewing on his toy and not on your hand praise him and tell him he’s a good puppy. Make sure you don’t get into a habit of letting him bite and then giving him a toy because you don’t want to accidentally reward biting behavior by giving him the toy.

5. Once your puppy is nice and relaxed, practice scooping him up in your arms and gently give him a little hug. If you doesn’t squirm, praise him and then immediately release him back onto the ground. If your puppy wiggles and starts biting your hands, make sure that you hold him so that he can’t bite your hands by gently holding him around his shoulders. Do not let go of your puppy while he is squirming, patiently wait for him to calm down and then tell him “good boy” and then release him. After a few sessions doing this, your puppy will learn that calm, floppy behavior is much more relaxing and enjoyable than resisting and struggling.

6. Just remember that dogs react to your energy level, your tone of voice and your body language. If you use an excited, high-pitched tone and “scruff” up your dog with vigorous petting, you will get him all excited and it will result in more biting. If you are calm, use a soothing low voice and pet him slowly with long or circular movements you will end up putting your puppy to sleep. Think about how nice and calming it is to get a massage and then use those same movements on your puppy. In no time your puppy will learn to absolutely love being hugged, petted and cuddled.

Below are old photos of me and Taj when he was a puppy. There’s nothing better than puppy breath and falling asleep together after a long day of fun!