Tag Archives: Training

Pit Bulls in Shelters: The Pit Bull Problem in the USA

Pit Bulls in Shelters: The Pit Bull Problem in the USA

Currently in the United States, pit bulls make up a considerable portion of the dogs in shelters. Some estimates put the number at 40% to 60%, but I have seen statistics as low as 20%. While accurate numbers are hard to come by, one only needs to look at adoptable animal listings in their area to discover that most pounds and shelters have many, many pit bulls in their kennels looking for homes.

What is a Pit Bull?

The pit bull is a group of dog types originally descended from the crossing of bull-baiting dogs and terriers. (http://love-a-bull.org/resources/the-history-of-pit-bulls/). Currently, there are a few dogs within this family of breeds, including the American Staffordshire terrier, which is recognized by the American Kennel Club, the American bully, the American pit bull terrier, and the Staffordshire bull terrier. All of these breeds come from the same original stock, and all are muscular, tenacious dogs with a propensity to animal aggression. Many argue as to whether or not the above dogs should all be considered pit bulls. I think it is reasonable to class all as pit bulls, in the same way the Malinois, the Laekenois, the Tervuren, and Groenendael are all called Belgian Shepherds, even as the Malinois is being moved more toward a schutzhund and police dog and other varieties are being bred for other tasks such as the show ring.

US Pit Bull Population and Shelter Population:

I have seen many different numbers on what percentage of the US dog population is made up of pit bulls. The most commonly stated number is 6% (https://dogbitelaw.com/vicious-dogs/pit-bulls-facts-and-figures#:~:text=Pit%20bulls%20are%20less%20than,of%20the%20country’s%20canine%20population.) It must be recognized that this source is adamantly anti-pit bull, but with this being said, even pro-pit websites seem to use this statistic (https://pawsomeadvice.com/dog/pit-bull-statistics/#:~:text=15%25%E2%80%9320%25%20of%20dogs,the%20breed%20is%20quite%20broad.) Still, I wonder if the number of pit-bulls is higher than this, simply because I tend to see A LOT of this type of dog. Anti-pit bull activists have interest in reporting a low number for the total pit bull population, as then the number of attacks become more significant. Still, there is a huge variety of dogs in the USA, and most are not pit bulls, but I suspect the number may be closer to 8 – 9%, especially in certain regions of the country.

An article by the ASPCA from 2014 states that the dog most commonly relinquished to shelters was the pit bull type dog. (https://web.archive.org/web/20190731184541/https://www.aspcapro.org/blog/2014/05/15/filling-pit). This lines up with my own experience when searching for a new dog. I started off my search by looking at shelters, only to discover that the vast majority of shelter dogs are pit bulls. The shelter I adopted Raina from 12 years ago, is now entirely made up of pit bulls, when at the time of her adoption I don’t remember even one pit bull being on the shelter’s floor.

When researching for this article, I decided to look at Petfinder’s listings. Now, these numbers need to be taken with a grain of salt: shelters seem woefully inadequate at labeling their dogs correctly. For example, I saw several German Shepherd pups labeled as Pumi mixes, and several pit bulls labeled as Affenpinscher crosses. Shelters commonly list pit bull type dogs as lab mixes or just plain old mixed breeds. Additionally, the numbers are not mutually exclusive of one another: if a dog is listed as a golden retriever pit bull mix, I believe it would register in both categories. Even with these things considered, the number of dogs labeled as “pit bull terriers” on Petfinder’s site (looking nationwide) is staggering. The website lists 17,434 pit bulls as up for adoption. Compare this to Labrador Retrievers, which make up 14,320 of the dogs registered on Petfinder as up for adoption. Considering the fact that Labrador retrievers are the most popular breed in the United States (https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/dog-breeds/the-most-popular-dog-breeds-of-2020/), one would suspect they would make up the biggest percentage of dogs in shelters if no other factors were at play.

In summary, I think accurate numbers on the total population of pit bulls are incredibly hard to ascertain, but what we can know is that they are not a rare type of dog by any means, and that pit-bull type dogs find themselves in shelters at a higher rate than many other popular breeds of dog.  

Why Do Pit Bulls End up in Shelters and Pounds?

There are many, many reasons as to why pit bulls are so commonly found in shelters. Here, I will give some of the reasons I have come across, along with some of my own theories.


Many apartment complexes do not allow pit bulls, along with a myriad of other breeds, including Cane Corso’s, Rottweilers, and German Shepherds. (https://www.apartmentlist.com/renter-life/breed-restrictions). As such, when people move, they might be forced to give up their dog. Still, Rottweilers in 2020 ranked at number 8 in popularity by the AKC (https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/dog-breeds/the-most-popular-dog-breeds-of-2020/), and my simple Petfinder search only showed 1,261 available Rottweilers being up for adoption. German Shepherds are the 3rd most popular breed by the same AKC source, and my Petfinder search produced 5,963 homeless GSDs. So, by no means are Rottweilers and German Shepherds rare breeds, but they are not finding themselves in need of a homes to the same extent that pit bull type dogs are. From this, I really doubt housing breed restrictions are the sole reason pit bulls are ending up in shelters as such high rates.

No-Kill Shelters:

There was a time when any pit bull type dog that entered a shelter or pound was basically guaranteed a death sentence. I could not find the article, but several months ago I read a piece in which a shelter worker talked about how in days gone by, pit bulls that entered shelters were automatically euthanized. Now, with the no-kill movement, this doesn’t happen. Pit bulls may seem to be more common in shelters simply because they are not being killed on sight. There are obviously good outcomes from this, as more friendly, adoptable dogs are being saved. I talk a little bit more about the problems with this below.

Irresponsible Owners and Misconceptions of the Pit Bull Type Dog:

This is largely based on my own readings and observations, but I believe the biggest reason pit bulls find themselves homeless is because of irresponsible owners and misconceptions about these types of dogs. Many stupid, ignorant people buy and indiscriminately breed this dog type. These people are not looking to better the breed, they are looking to make a quick buck. Consequently, the pups have the worst genetic package possible. Unsuspecting dog lovers, who are uneducated on breed traits, buy these pups to give them a good life. These owners think breed characteristics are non-existent, and they don’t have the foggiest clue on how to handle a dominant, strong breed like the pit bull. The dog grows into a monster, due to poor bloodlines and poor rearing, and ends up in the shelter system.

The misconception that a dog’s personality and temperament is completely dependent on rearing and environmental factors is one I often see touted by well-meaning dog lovers, most often when talking about pit bulls. While this sounds nice, it is totally inaccurate. If this were true, we wouldn’t even have dog breeds, we would simply have a basic, domesticated dog that could be trained to do anything. There would be no Labradors bred for seeing-eye dogs, no bloodhounds bred for search and rescue work, no Border Collies for herding sheep. One could just take a husky and train it to herd livestock, or take a Golden Retriever and train it for protection work. Faced with these scenarios, it become obvious that breed traits do exist, and the argument that they do not is a silly and ridiculous proposition.  

Pit bulls were selectively bred for aggression for generations, plain and simple. The ancestors of the pit bull were bull baiting dogs. This bull baiting history is where these dogs obtained their desire to bite and hold (Dog: The Definitive Guide for Dog Owners). When bull baiting became illegal, these bull dogs were crossed with terriers to compete in the sport of ratting. Eventually, they began to breed the dogs to fight other dogs as well (http://love-a-bull.org/resources/the-history-of-pit-bulls/). As such, pit bulls tend to be more aggressive than breeds such as the Golden Retriever. With this, it is understandable why so many people who may be able to properly raise and train a Golden Retriever may be completely unable to handle a pit bull or related breed. Even well-bred pit bulls, American Staffordshire Terriers (Am Staff), can become dog aggressive at any point in their life, as noted on the AKC website:

It must be noted that dog aggression can develop even in well-socialized Am Staffs; an AmStaff should never under any circumstances be left alone with other dogs. (https://www.akc.org/dog-breeds/american-staffordshire-terrier/)

Considering even well bred pit bulls should be expected to develop some sort of aggression, one can imagine the bad outcomes when poor breeding practices are in place.

The indiscriminate breeding of these dogs is a huge issue. It is estimated that 80% of pet dogs in the US are spayed or neutered (https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/news/is-spaying-neutering-always-the-best-choice/#:~:text=It’s%20estimated%20that%2080%20percent,branded%20an%20irresponsible%20dog%20owner.), but many suspect that the number of pit bulls that are spayed and neutered to be much lower. It seems many pit bull owners are reluctant to spay and neuter their animals, even when the service is free (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5VuFHZeZ0kA) Some estimates put pit bull spay and neuter rates at as low as 25% (https://newspaper.animalpeopleforum.org/2011/10/01/editorial-the-shelter-killing-of-pit-bulls/). I don’t know what the accurate number on the spay and neuter rates for pit bulls is, but I assume it is lower than the rates at which other dogs are spayed and neutered, simply because so many of these dogs are ending up in shelters. This trend certainly does not represent responsible, well-controlled, limited breeding practices common in many other breeds.

Indiscriminate breeding can be an issue in any breed of dog, but is especially bad for pit bulls. When collies saw a surge in popularity, poorly bred dogs were known to be aggressive and nippy. The same thing happened with German Shepherds and Cocker Spaniels during different time periods. Each of these breeds was bred for a variety of tasks, not just aggression. In the case of pit bulls, aggression was the desired trait. Take this foundation and add current poor breeding practices to the mix, and what one is left with is a disaster. This disaster is being seen in the flooding of shelters with pit bulls and pit bull mixes. These dogs often have a variety of behavioral problems from bad breeding and bad rearing combined.

To top it off, the worst offenders are not being euthanized, but instead “rehabilitated” because of the no kill movement (https://www.vin.com/vetzinsight/default.aspx?pId=756&id=7218009).  Frankly, I believe too many aggressive dogs, pit bulls and unrelated mixes, are passing through the shelter system and being sent to live in unsuspecting homes when they should be humanely euthanized. These dogs are returned when bad behaviors rear their heads, and the cycle that should have never started goes on and on. Good pit bulls with good temperaments should be placed in loving homes with owners who know how to handle dominant breeds. Pit bulls, or any dog for that matter, with serious behavioral issues should be humanely euthanized and never adopted to the public.


The state of shelter pit bulls is a very sad one. Too many of these dogs are being produced by irresponsible people and are being sold to individuals who cannot handle a strong dog with aggressive tendencies such as the pit bull terrier. The only way this problem ends is with people spaying and neutering their pit bulls, and people who are not prepared to handle this type of dog not buying them in the first place. Along with this, shelters need to euthanize dogs with serious behavioral issues so more healthy, stable dogs can be adopted out.

Puppy Blues with an Australian Shepherd Puppy:

For anyone who has ever endeavored to raise a puppy and has been fortunate enough to not experience the puppy blues, I applaud you. With Maple, I had a very serious case of the puppy blues! Maple is a typical puppy: bouncy, bitey, and bad, and after having well-behaved adult dogs for over ten years, I was not mentally prepared for how much work Maple is. I have had her for a little over 2 months now, and my puppy blues are basically gone. Here, I am going to talk about what the puppy blues are, what I experienced, and most importantly talk about the fact that the puppy blues do go away!

What are the Puppy Blues?

The puppy blues refer to the feelings of guilt, regret, dismay, depression, frustration, and sleep deprivation that come along with having a new puppy. Many people (like me) aren’t even sure they like their new family member. Puppies are baby animals with no impulse control and razor sharp needles for teeth who explore the world by biting everything. As such, many people become overwhelmed when a new puppy comes into the home, and experience many of the emotions listed above.

Don’t feel guilty about having some of these thoughts! Puppies are a ton of work. The day you bring your puppy home, your whole world changes, and that shift can make anyone feel down.

When Maple came home, I was surprised at how stressed and frustrated I was over the situation. I have cared for dogs for 15 years and have been through many ups and downs with them. Lady and Oscar had health conditions in their later years, and close to the end Lady required around the clock care. While giving her this care was tasking emotionally, I never felt frustrated with her. Being that I had cared for Lady, along with other sick pets over the years, I felt I was ready for the commitment of raising a puppy. It was shocking to experience feelings of wanted to get away from Maple. She was my new pet, and I had waited so long to get her, but once I had her I was always waiting for her to take a nap so I could just step away for a minute. I felt so guilty, why didn’t I like being around my own puppy?!

 I personally feel the hardest part of dealing with a new puppy’s antics is the fact that the bond isn’t established. Caring for a pet with tons of needs is easy when there is a deep love between owner and dog. But with a new puppy, it can be hard to bond. It is hard to love something who bites your hand each time you try to pet it but cries when you walk away. Some people might instantly bond with their new puppy, I just didn’t. Looking back, it took time to bond to most of my pets; the bond only instantly happened for me with Raina. So, if you feel as if you don’t like your new puppy, don’t worry, you are not a terrible human being! Bonding takes time, and it takes some people longer than others.

Bringing Home Maple:

As stated above, I was shocked by how much Maple May bites. Raina was the rare pup who never mouthed or chewed anything other than her toys. Also, I was not prepared to handle a puppy who didn’t know when she needed a nap. Maple gets overly-tired, and when that happens, she is impossible to deal with. For the first week, I had no idea why she would get into fits of chasing me, jumping on me, and biting my clothes and hands hard enough to tear and break skin. Then, I read a little bit of other people’s experiences, and discovered that she was probably not sleeping enough. Sure enough, next time she got in “alligator mode,” I popped her in her crate, and after five minutes of throwing a hissy fit, she crashed and slept for over an hour.

For the first month, I really didn’t like Maple. I know that sounds horrible, but it is not as bad as it sounds. I felt protective of her and I would have done anything for her if she was sick. In short, I didn’t dislike her, but I did not like being around her.

Does it get Better?

Yes! Maple is by no means a well-behaved dog yet, but I am not nearly as stressed as I was the first week she came home. While she has improved in some areas, the biggest change is that I am bonded to her now. I love her, and I am happy she is in my life.

As for how long it can take, it just depends on the owner and the puppy. I had Maple for over a month before one day I was playing with her and I realized I was actually playing with her because I enjoyed her company. Prior to this, I was counting down the minutes I spent interacting with her, ready for her to need to be put down for a nap.

Tips to Help it get Better:

  • Don’t compare your puppy to previous pets! This puppy is an individual, it’s not fair to expect them to be something they are not.
  • Forced naps! These are a life saver. Many puppies should only be up for an hour or two at a time, and then they should be taking a nap. Remember, puppies should be sleeping 14 – 18 hours a day.
  • Remember your puppy is just a baby. When I get really annoyed with Maple, I remind myself that she is just a puppy and that she hasn’t been on this planet very long. It really isn’t fair to expect a puppy to behave when they don’t even know what behaving is. When puppies bite, whine, and poop on the rug they are not being bad, they are just being puppies. It is up to us to teach them how to live in our world, and learning for them takes time.
  • Google “puppy blues” and read about what other people struggle with. It really helps to go on dog forums and read other people talk about the hard parts of bringing home a new dog.
  • Get away from you new dog. Remember to take time to get out a bit. Even leaving the house for an hour or two helped me so much. If you can, have a friend come over and spend time with the puppy while you take a break. Most people love puppies, so it is a win-win situation.
  • Crate Train. Once your puppy is crate trained, they are much easier to put down for a nap. When the puppy is in his/her crate, you can step away from them without worry that they will get into something bad.
  • Training classes. Puppy kindergarten is a great place to see that there is no such thing as a perfect puppy, and that you are not a failure of a pet parent. Most people in puppy school will be going through the same things you are, and not feeling alone is very powerful for changing your mood and emotions.

I hope these tips help. Adding a puppy to your life can be really difficult, but also incredibly rewarding. Stick it out, put the work in, take breaks, and someday your bad puppy will turn into a great dog!

The Koehler Method: Should I use it on my Puppy?

The Koehler method of dog training has been used for many, many years to train a great number of dogs. It has fallen out of favor in recent years because of its dependence on corrections and complete avoidance of food and toys in training. While effective, this method is largely thought of as cruel and inhumane by today’s standards.

In this post, I will discuss what motivates the dog with this method, whether correction-based training is effective or not, and my personal tips for someone who wants to use the Koehler Method. I will not be using this method on my new pup Maple. While I will use corrections when necessary, I like using food and toys in training, and I think dogs enjoy their training more this way as well.

What is the Dog Working For?

Many, many people who support correction-based training do so under the premise that the dog should work for the relationship and love for his master, not for food or toys. Let me make this clear… when using this method, the dog is obeying to avoid the correction, not purely because he loves his person so much. Sure, he might like getting petted for a job well done, but if that were enough the choke chain and leash wouldn’t be needed. When dogs are trained with food or toys, they are also working for that reward, not purely because they love their handler. From my own experience, with time some dogs do work for the owner purely for the joy of working with their person after being trained on food and toys, but most will still want the occasional treat or game for motivation.

Does the Koehler Method Work Better for Some Dogs than Others?

I think correction-based methods work better on some breeds than others. This type of training will probably completely destroy certain dog’s self-esteem. Personally, I theorize that many more dogs probably would do poorly with this form of training in today’s world than the dogs of fifty years ago, simply because dogs are probably being bred who respond well to positive reinforcement as opposed to corrections-based methods. A Belgium Shepherd that comes from a long line of dogs bred, raised, and trained for personal protection – where dogs are often trained with corrections – is a very different animal from a Cocker Spaniel that comes from a long line of house pets. But, this is just my theory.

Also, puppies tend to respond better to positive motivation, and because they are so young and immature, it is important not to expect too much from them.

Is the Correction-based Training more Effective than Positive Reinforcement?

This is purely my opinion, but I would say in some cases, yes. With the Koehler Method, the dog will be trained within 13 weeks to the point of off-leash obedience (at least, this is the claim). Typically what I have noticed is that trainers who set hard and fast timelines of when a dog will reach a certain point use tons of force and corrections in their training to reach these results, whether they are using the Koehler Method or electric collars. Koehler’s method does not take into account different breeds in the claim of off-leash obedience in a relatively short period of time. Most positive trainers recognize that some breeds are harder if not impossible to train to be reliable off-leash with positive methods. These breeds include sighthounds, scent hounds, and huskies. Amusingly enough, these same people say that positive methods are just as effective if not more effective than correction-based training such as Koehler’s method.

Does this make it better? I would say it depends upon what you want and how the dog handles the training. I used an electric collar (but not the Koehler Method) to train my dog, Lady, to be reliable off-leash. She was stubborn, confident, and took corrections pretty well. Training her not to run off was imperative, as she was an escape artist when we first brought her home, and she would bolt through doors and try to get out of her collar. After training with the e-collar, she was able to enjoy being off lead in the yard and when I took her to woods near our home without leash restrictions, and we were able to enjoy the peace of her not taking off every chance she got. Lady additionally was not food or toy motivated, so training was always a challenge.

With Raina, I didn’t feel comfortable with the amount of force that would probably have been required to get her trained to an off-leash recall, because her prey drive is even stronger than Lady’s, and she is scared of loud noises. To get her to a point where she would listen in the occurrence of a scary sound was something that would probably require a huge amount of force, and I feel would have damaged my relationship with her, as she took corrections more to heart than Lady ever did. Also, Raina does not actively try to back out of her collar or bolt through doors. So, for me I am ok with her only being off-leash in fenced in areas. Also, Raina doesn’t have the same desire to be off leash in an un-fenced area the same way Lady did, so the trade off isn’t worth it to either of us.

Take into consideration how you think your dog would respond to heavy handed training, and if you are comfortable with using such force, possibly at the cost of your relationship with the dog. Also keep in mind the dog’s safety. If a dog is at risk of being hurt or killed because of their behavior, more corrections and force may be warranted. Generally, when raising a puppy, positive training can be used since you can avoid severe problem behaviors that often necessitate lots of corrections, but every dog is different.

You Think you need to use the Koehler Method?

If you want to use the Koehler Method, I would at least have these suggestions.

  • Make sure the dog preforms the behavior without a correction before adding corrections. It simply isn’t fair to the dog to be corrected for not doing something when they don’t understand what is being asked of them.
  • If you have to use the choke chain extensively (ie. If the corrections are not having much of an impact), please try a prong collar. Prong collars do less damage to the dog’s neck muscles than a choke chain, and I have heard some state that they do less damage than even a regular flat collar, due to the way pressure is evenly distributed across the dog’s neck. But remember, the correction needed on a prong is much, much less than what is required with a choke chain, so start with extremely light pressure on the leash when using a prong until you discover what the minimum correction is to get your dog’s attention.
  • Don’t use the method expecting a quick fix. This method, like any training method, requires one to spend considerable time working with the dog. On koehlerdogtraining.com, the author notes that the owner must be prepared to spend 45 to 75 minutes per day on training. The site states that it will take 10 to 13 weeks of consistent training to get the desired results. No matter what training method you use, you are going to have to put the time into your dog if you want results.
  • If you just got the dog, take some time to bond with him/her first. I can’t help but feel that one shouldn’t start off the relationship with their dog by correcting them constantly. It just doesn’t seem like a good way to build a bond. I would recommend taking 2 weeks or so getting to know the dog first before starting this type of training. Obviously don’t let the dog be a brat for 2 weeks, but don’t start obedience training with this method right away before the relationship has had time to be established.
  • Wait until the dog is 6 months old. This is Koehler’s recommendation as well. Don’t use this method on young pups! While some dogs may be mature enough at a younger age, err on the side of caution here. Also, beyond the mental maturity of the dog, a young pup’s neck is more likely to be hurt when he is younger than 6 months.
  • If you want to do competitive obedience, this probably isn’t the best method for you and your dog. Today, obedience competitions seek for dogs to be intently staring at their owners during many of the exercises such as the heel. In my personal experience, this level of focus does not happen in dogs trained purely with corrections.
  • If you have a tiny breed, I would recommend against this method. Most tiny breeds have delicate necks, choke chains and possibly prongs are not likely to be safe. When in doubt, ask your vet.
  • DO NOT use Koehler’s recommendations to fix different behavioral problems. Koehler recommended very cruel methods of ending behavioral problems such as digging and barking. Do not use these methods, there is no reason to use them, and these will most certainly destroy or severely hurt your relationship with your dog and would be absolutely abusive to any dog or puppy.

For more information on the Koehler Method, check out my post here, where I discuss some of the controversial aspects of this method.

Thanks for reading!

Always take into consideration your dog’s individual personality. Different methods work for different dogs and different situations.

Adding an Australian Shepherd Puppy to a House with Other Pets

Adding an Australian Shepherd Puppy to a House with Other Pets:

It has been over 10 years since I have raised a puppy, and Maple, my new Australian Shepherd puppy, is only the second puppy I have ever owned. All of my previous dogs other than her and Raina came to me as adults. As stated in an earlier post, Maple is very different from how Raina was as a puppy. Raina was a very easy puppy, and Maple is quite the handful. Here are my experiences so far with introductions and how I plan to deal with some issues I am currently experiencing with Maple, along with things I wish I would have been aware of before bringing her home.

Maple and the Cats:

While Maple is my first Australian Shepherd puppy, she is not my first herding-type dog. Lady was a herding mix, and she adjusted to life with our cats very well, but like Maple’s interactions with the cats so far, it wasn’t always smooth sailing. Maple wants to chase the cats in the worst way, and I think this is an important point to make. Much of what I read of Aussies said that they do well with cats for the most part, but I really think it depends on the dog and the cat. I think Maple would be doing well with a neutral cat, but Tiger, the elderly calico, goes out of her way to get in Maple’s face, and then swat and hiss at her, so it has been tricky to teach Maple to leave her be. Here is what I have been doing and what I plan to do:

  • Management: this is honestly the biggest part. Maple is just starting to seem to have some impulse control development at 15 weeks of age, so up to this point when Maple is out, Tiger is away, and when Maple is in the crate Tiger has free run of the house. Thankfully, Tiger is not as active as she once was, so she sleeps most of the day anyway. She has a bedroom that is her room that the puppy is not allowed to enter. This is SO important for other pets in the house, especially older cats and dogs.
  • Teaching “leave it:” This is going reasonably well with using a toy as the object Maple must leave. I have mostly been doing this motivationally up to this point, and I have avoided using it when the cat is present simply because I think Maple does not have enough self-control to comply.
  • When Maple matures a little, I am going to introduce leash corrections to enforce the “leave it” command. I plan on using a prong collar when she is old enough to wear one.

While it has been tricky dealing with Maple’s desire to chase cats, Lady was also very insistent on chasing every new cat that came to live in my home, and she learned to leave our cats alone. Almost in the same way, Raina wants to chase cats she doesn’t know, but she is very good with the cats of the house, and is friends with one of them. So at this point, I think the combo of Maple being a herding dog and being an immature puppy is making things difficult, but I am confident she will learn the rules of the house. Still, I would recommend people wanting to add an Aussie to the family to be aware that they WILL try to chase cats, and potential owners must be ready to manage the environment and make sure their cat has a safe space to escape to that is completely off-limits to the pup.

Maple and Raina:

Maple wants desperately to play with Raina, and she flat out ignores Raina’s growls to back off. This means that in addition to managing Maple’s access to the cats, her access to Raina is also managed. Here is what I have been doing so far:

  • When Raina is around Maple, I give Maple a high value chew, and this keeps her pretty occupied most of the time. As with all things, when Maple is overly tired this really doesn’t work, and at that point the only thing that will calm her down is a forced nap.
  • This is something else to keep in mind when introducing a puppy into a home with an older dog. Raina is 12, and she really doesn’t want to put up with an annoying pup in her face. It is imperative the older dog can escape the puppy. Raina likes going in the basement, and the puppy doesn’t go down there. I know, it might seem weird, but between the de-humidifier and other appliances down there, there is plenty of white noise to block out noises such as gun fire, fireworks, and thunder, and Raina has many noise phobias, so the basement is a place she goes on her own. Also, my room is a favorite of Raina’s, and the puppy doesn’t go in there. These escapes are so important.
  • Along with Raina’s own space, I also spend time with Raina without the puppy around so she knows she is still my best bud. I was originally planning to walk Raina everyday, just her and me, but the slipped disc stopped that until a couple days ago when the vet gave her the ok to go on short walks again.
  • Raina always comes first. When I get home, I greet Raina first, and I have visitors do the same. I feed Raina first and put her out to potty first.
    • Note: with going out to potty, I would take them out at nearly the same time early on since Maple had a bit of a weak bladder. Now that she is a little better at holding it even when excited, she stays in her crate while Raina goes in the yard when I get home from outings, except for first thing in the morning. At that time, I wake up earlier than when I just had Raina, and Raina likes sleeping in, so for this trip, Maple technically goes out first most mornings, but Raina has no objections.
  • When I take Maple out for socialization, I give Raina a food stuffed toy or chew-type treat to keep her busy.  
Make sure you spend plenty of time with your other pets when introducing a new puppy.

Something important to keep in mind is that your older dog may suddenly become very needy when a new dog is introduced. I felt comfortable introducing a puppy to the mix largely because Raina has been very independent most of her life. I often joke she is like a cat that needs a daily walk. Sure, she would previously want to walk, want to play a bit, and want some petting, but she was always the kind of dog that would get up and walk off if petted for more than a minute or two. Raina is rarely cuddly, preferring instead to simply be around me, but she has never needed to be in my lap. Since bringing home Maple, Raina has become very needy, and she constantly gets in my face and wants lots of attention. So, even if you have an independent dog, expect their needs to escalate when bringing home a new puppy of any breed.

Overall, Maple is making improvements from her first week home, but we still have a long way to go. Don’t let your pup be obnoxious to your other pets, and make sure all pets have safe spaces to escape. This stands true for any puppy, but can be extra important when raising a head-strong Australian Shepherd pup!

Behavioral Euthanasia: When it’s the Only Option Left

In this post, I am not going to tell anyone if they should or should not euthanize their dog for aggression issues. I am going to share the story of my hound dog, Cooper, who I had to euthanize due to his aggression toward members of my family. I hope this post will help someone else facing this difficult decision.

Cooper’s Story:

Ever since I was a child, I loved hound dogs. I love pretty much every type of dog, whether it be a mutt or a purebred, but I was always strongly drawn to the hound group when the conformation shows would come on the TV on Animal Planet. I would watch all the dog shows on Saturday mornings, first with my dog Lady, and then with Lady and Raina. When the hound group would run around the ring, I was continually enthralled. I know they might not seem special to some, but I just love the floppy ears and jowls on hound dogs, their silly baying sound, and their desire to forever have their nose to the ground.

When I was 13, I remember seeing a large stray hound running through our yard, and I remember secretly hoping I could keep him. Now, growing up loose dogs often would come through the neighborhood, but they rarely stayed long. I already had 2 dogs, but I couldn’t help but want this one too. As the months rolled by, he started to hang about the neighborhood more and more, and it became obvious he didn’t have an owner looking for him. It just so happened that when I would take Lady and Raina on their daily walks, he started to follow along, and he eventually let me pet him.

As the time went by, this dog, who I named Cooper, began to stay in our yard or the neighbor’s yard and wait for me to come outside. We started putting food out for him beyond the normal scraps my parents would toss out for the critters. My parents really didn’t want another dog, as we already had a couple along with several house and outdoor cats. Then one day, after months of Cooper following me, Lady, and Raina around, Cooper bolted in our house when he heard a firework go off… Cooper was scared of loud noises, as we discovered that day. After that, Cooper became one of our official dogs. We got him a license, he walked with me on a leash, and he slept in our kitchen on a large white comforter.

For the first several months, Cooper was a good dog. He was pretty quiet for a hound, he never tried to bolt outdoors, and he was housetrained relatively quickly. He walked well on leash, he was super chill at the vet’s office, and he left our cats alone. He got along well with our other dogs… well, Raina didn’t like him, but she is picky about who she likes. The worst thing he did was stealing and destroying shoes, but putting those away was an easy fix. Also, he loved to counter surf, but putting food away stopped this. Overall, he was a good boy, and I was very excited to have another dog.

Slowly, traits of Cooper’s personality began to show that we were not originally aware of. He began to growl at certain visitors. This was easily fixed, though, as we simply put him outside when company came over. This went on for quite a while, until one day Cooper began growling at my mother. As the months went by, he also began growling at my brother. These instances came out of nowhere; my family wasn’t mean to Cooper, and he almost seemed to be in a trance when aggressive. Eventually, he lunged at my brother, and we had him humanely euthanized nearly 3 years after he joined our house.

What We Did:

Prior to making the hard decision to put Cooper to sleep, we tried to work on Cooper’s issues. We would have my mom give Cooper his meals and special treats. We took him to obedience school, hoping the trainer would have some advice, which he really didn’t. I tried making sure we had clear rules, so Cooper would know we were the leaders in the house. He was never aggressive with me. I could take away his favorite bone or toy, put my hands in his bowl while he ate, and pretty much do anything to him, and he would simply wag his tail at me and wiggle about like a puppy. When he would growl at others and I would scold him, he would seem confused, like he didn’t know why he was acting out in the first place. Knowing when Cooper was going to become aggressive was impossible, as the incidents were random. Sometimes, he was perfectly fine, and other times it was like he just switched into a different dog. My mom would say he was like having Jekyll and Hyde in the house.

Cooper and his pal, Oscar.

What Caused Cooper’s Issues?

I will never know the answer to this question. Perhaps he was abused, or maybe he was just born with an unstable temperament. He did come to us with shotgun pellets under his skin, a piece missing from he ear, arthritis in his elbow, and he was blind in one eye, so I have always speculated that he was mistreated prior to joining our house. Whatever the cause was, there was no clear way to modify his behavior and make him into a trustworthy dog.

Making Hard Decisions:

The choice to euthanize a dog for aggression issues is not an easy one. While it might seem like a clear-cut decision from the outside, it is incredibly difficult to put an animal down, especially an animal that is physically sound. Cooper was approximately 6 years old when we put him down, and he didn’t have any major health concerns, but emotionally he wasn’t stable.

Despite Cooper growling at my mom, even she felt bad about having to euthanize him. When he was calm and well-behaved, which was most of the time, she would just say, “Why can’t he always be like this?” For anyone who has/had a dog with random aggressive outbursts, this is the question, but we can’t talk to dogs and ask them why they do what they do, and frankly, I think that dogs with this type of random aggression don’t know why they act out. Some dogs have specific fears, such as men with beards or hats, or strangers. But what causes a dog to go after people he lives with day in and day out who are never mean to him?

Many people who we talked to about the situation had opinions on what we should do. Some people said my brother should find his own place after Cooper lunged at him. So, apparently to some people, kids should be kicked out of the house when a dog is going after them even though the person didn’t do anything to warrant the dog’s aggression. Also, apparently the growling at my mother was a non-issue to these individuals as well. One person in particular thought we should take him to the dog pound or a shelter instead of euthanizing him, as this person believed a dog should never be put to sleep for non-medical reasons. This to me seems much crueler, as this would put someone else in the position to adopt and grow to love Cooper, only for his aggressive tendencies to surface after the bond had been formed.

No one we spoke with suggested euthanizing him. Every book and article I could find said that “any dog can be trained.” Concluding that euthanasia was the only option was extremely difficult, and I felt like a complete failure to my dog, and that I was betraying his trust. That is why I am making this post. Hopefully, someone in my same position will read about Cooper, and find some comfort in the fact that they are not alone, that euthanizing a pet for aggression does not make them a bad person, and that sometimes training, love, and structure isn’t enough. If your or your loved ones’ safety is at risk, hard decisions need to be made to keep you and your family safe, and sometimes that means euthanizing a dog who becomes aggressive for no reason.


I will not sugar-coat this: the guilt after putting Cooper down was terrible. It was hard to even properly grieve losing him, because I felt I didn’t have the right to grieve since I was the one who made the decision to put Cooper down. I had nightmares for a long time after euthanizing Cooper. Possibly worst of all, is that I felt guilty about being relieved that I didn’t have to worry about him hurting my mom or my brother. I felt guilty that I was more relaxed without the tension in the house of Cooper making life hell for my family.


Yes, I regret that my wonderful dog needed to be euthanized for aggression, but I do not regret my decision, as it was the right one. I am so thankful I didn’t dump him in a shelter and not disclose his aggressive tendencies for someone else to go through the same hurt I did. It was incredibly painful to be there when Cooper was put to sleep by our vet, but I am thankful I was there with him in his final moments. I am thankful that Cooper never actually bit anyone. I do regret not euthanizing him sooner, as it was wrong for my mom and brother to have to live for over a year with a dog that would randomly growl at them for simply walking about in their own home. It also wasn’t fair to Cooper, as he had to be in a crate whenever I wasn’t around to make sure he didn’t follow up his growling by biting someone. I regret that I couldn’t change his behavior, but I also don’t think anyone could have helped him. For reasons I will never know, Cooper was mentally broken, and sometimes, training can’t solve the problem.

I still miss Cooper and will always be thankful for my time with him. Like all my wonderful dogs, I learned so much about love, loyalty, and devotion from him. Unlike my other dogs, from his life I learned the painful lesson that some issues cannot be fixed, and the right thing to do is often the hardest. I hope his story can help someone else facing the decision to euthanize their aggressive dog. While nothing takes away the pain of losing a devoted pet, hopefully Cooper’s story can ease someone’s guilt who has to part with their dog for the same reasons.

Life with Maple: Raising an Australian Shepherd Puppy

Life with Maple:

Everybody’s first days and weeks with their puppy are going to be a little different, as every puppy is unique. Here is my experience with my Australian Shepherd puppy, Maple, up to 15 weeks of age.

First day:

We picked up Maple and had a 3-hour drive with her home. She did very well with the car ride and slept most of the way. Upon coming home, she met Raina. Their interaction was uneventful. Raina really did not have much interest in the pup, and when she did initiate play Maple got spooked and rolled over! The cats seemed confused by her, but not very effected.

The biggest issue on the first day was peeing. Maple did NOT want to pee! I took her outside multiple times, but she just didn’t want to go. Little Maple May finally went late in the afternoon. She also wasn’t very hungry, but she ate a little and finally drank some water. She did not like being left alone, and seemed quite upset that her littermates were no longer with her. She did very well sleeping through the first night. Overall, she seemed overwhelmed in her new situation.

First week:

I was planning to document how each day went individually, but Maple is quite the handful, so that did not happen! Also complicating matters is the fact that my older dog, Raina, developed a pinched nerve this week. So, between Raina not feeling well and the Maple being extremely exuberant, this first week was challenging to say the least.

As an Australian Shepherd, Maple is VERY mouthy. Prior to bringing her home, I read about how mouthy Australian Shepherd puppies can be, but I was taken aback by just how much this puppy likes to bite. Her worst moments are first thing in the morning. It is as if she recharges all night and awakens a tiny alligator, ready to grab whatever and whoever is in her path. The spray bottle helps somewhat, but when she is really in the zone the best solution has been putting her in her playpen crate (the play pen didn’t work for long, she learned how to climb the sides).

Also, she despises being left alone, but this can be pretty typical for an 8 – 9-week-old puppy. Thankfully, she is progressing well with her crate training, and is slowly getting used to being on her own from time to time. Relatively quickly she seemed to understand that when I take her outside, she needs to pee, but she still does not completely understand that she shouldn’t pee in the house, so housetraining is a work in progress.

People say that these dogs need both mental stimulation and physical exercise. This is absolutely the case! Maple needs lots of playtime, but she behaves and settles the best if she also gets mental stimulation in addition to physical exercise.

Week 2 and 3:

Maple’s personality has come out more and more. She is very strong willed, and constantly wants to go after the cat, Tiger, as well as Raina. True to being a puppy, in particular an Australian Shepherd puppy, Maple still likes to mouth, bite, and nip. Of particular trouble is that Raina still is having issues with her back, and she does not like being confined, but confining her is necessary so she heals. Rotating time with the puppy and with Raina has been challenging, but making matters easier is the fact that Maple is crate trained, and will sleep in her crate now for at least an hour at a time without issue.

Forced naps are an absolute necessity! Maple gets very, very bitey and uncontrollable when she gets too tired, and she doesn’t know if she needs to sleep.

15 weeks old!

Maple is now 15 weeks old! Time has gone by pretty quickly, and she has grown considerably in the past several weeks. She is probably about 22 – 23 pounds, and is very strong even though she is only about half of her adult size. She will let me know when she needs outside, and she hasn’t had an accident in at least two weeks, but I watch her closely and don’t leave her in fully carpeted areas unattended, so I am not sure if she would hold her bladder if she had access to carpet. She started puppy kindergarten last week and had her second lesson today. Currently, she knows sit, down, stay, shake, and come, but she is not completely reliable with any of these, as she is just a pup and her attention span isn’t the best.


  • She was crate-trained at around 10/11 weeks.
  • Between 13/14 weeks she was able to sleep through the night.


  • Maple doesn’t like to sit still… ever. She was vomiting many of her meals, mostly because she would eat and run around if given the opportunity. Now, I keep her in the crate for at least 15 minutes after feeding, and this seems to stop her from throwing up her dinner.
  • Always wanting to get Raina: I have discovered that if she is involved with gnawing on a spiral bully stick, she will leave Raina alone. Other than that, I have used gates to keep them apart, or should I say, keep Raina safely away. Raina likes to walk right over and stand where Maple’s tether reaches, and then she gets upset if Maple pounces her. Maple doesn’t seem to get that a bark and growl mean, “leave me be.”
  • Maple’s mouthiness has been tough, but she has slowly but surely been improving.

Comparisons to other dogs:

Even owning dogs for the past 15 years, I was not prepared for just how much work an 8-week-old Australian Shepherd puppy would be. Raina came to me as a puppy, but she was already 12 weeks old, and I am starting to realize just how much of a difference there is between an 8-week-old and a 12-week-old puppy. Raina, I now believe, was also and exceptionally calm puppy. She did not mouth at people or try to destroy the furniture. She never had any issues with being put in a play pen, and if Raina was told not to do something once, she stopped and never tried it again. She went after the broom one time, I told her no, gave a pop on the leash, and that was the end of that. Raina also had an exceptionally long attention span; from a very young age she would focus on training for 20 – 30 minutes at a time. Unlike this, Maple is a typical pup, 5 – 10 minutes is her maximum limit. One issue I did have with Raina was the fact that she was very difficult to house break. Raina just didn’t seem to understand not to potty in the house, but other than that, she was a very easy puppy.


Maple is a bit leery of new situations and people. She comfortably sits in a crate when visiting stores, but was initially nervous to walk about on the ground. With more exposure and trips, she has become more confident with this. New people are hit or miss; she is chill with some people but tries to avoid others. Overall, she does not run up to new people, but upon second meeting she will get excited to see familiar, friendly faces. This is an area she is similar to Raina in, as Raina also has always preferred her family, and has never been super eager to meet new people. Unlike Raina, she has done pretty well with loud noises thus far, as we had some bad thunderstorms shortly after bringing her home, and she really didn’t seem fazed. She doesn’t like the vacuum cleaner, so we are still working on that. Car rides have gone very well so far, with her only becoming car sick once, and she is always happy to get in the car, where she sits calmly or sleeps in her crate.

I can’t speak to how helpful the crate has been for car rides, as well as socialization. I took her over a family get together, and Maple seemed a bit overwhelmed. I brought her crate with us, and she quietly settled in there and took a nap when she had enough of the new people and dog. This is just one of the many benefits to using a crate, as once trained to it the dog will generally see it as a safe space.

What I have learned:

A puppy will be a puppy, don’t expect too much from them, they haven’t been on the planet long, and they don’t know their place in this world yet! This was a hard thing for me to get used to after having nothing but adult dogs for over 10 years, and having extremely well behaved dogs for the past 8 years. I was getting frustrated with Maple, and I had to take a step back and realize that she is just doing the things that the vast majority of puppies do. Don’t take their biting personally, and when they really act up, it is probably because they need a nap.

The Koehler Method: Dog Training or Dog Abuse?

Who was William Koehler?

William Koehler was a dog trainer for over 50 years. During his career, Koehler trained dogs for the army, Walt Disney Studios, and wrote 6 books on the subject of dog training. While he passed away in 1993, his training methods are still used by many today. Koehler’s techniques are effective, or else he would have not been so successful in his career. Although Koehler’s method works, it is criticized by many for its excessive use of force and harsh corrections.

The Koehler Method:

The Koehler method of dog training relies heavily on the use of the leash and choke chain. I have not read all of Koehler’s books, but I have read The Koehler Method of Dog Training. In the introduction, this trainer makes it very clear that he is not a fan of using treats in training, which he refers to as the “tid-bit training technique.” He does encourage the owner to profusely praise the dog when the dog obeys so the dog knows he has done well.

Koehler emphasizes early on in his book that most dogs do not want to do as they are told just to please their masters; rather, they need to be taught the consequences of not obeying. It is true that most dogs don’t want to do as they are told simply to please their masters, but there are ways of teaching behaviors that use motivations that are meaningful to dogs.

One issue for people with puppies who wish to use this method is that Koehler recommends beginning training once the pup is at least 6 months of age. Since most people get new puppies when they are around 8 to 10 weeks of age, waiting this long wastes a whole lot of valuable time that could be used to introduce the puppy to training.

This method of dog training begins with teaching the dog to be attentive to the owner on a long line. Basically, you have the dog on a long line, and you move about. If the dog is not paying attention, they end up getting checked by the long line. This attentiveness training sets the foundation for the basic obedience commands.

The basic obedience commands are taught through use of the leash and by manipulating the dog into position. As stated above, no food rewards are used, even when teaching new behaviors. Excessive force is recommended when ‘necessary.’ For instance, if a dog is reluctant to sit, Koehler advises training with the dog next to a fence to avoid the dog’s ability to struggle. Then, he recommends that the owner “put a lot of downward pressure on the rear and sufficient upward pressure on the leash to make his breathing quite a chore. Don’t ease up until he weakens and sits.” (The Koehler Method of Dog Training). Needless to say, it is much kinder and just as effective to teach a reluctant dog the sit command with a food lure or through clicker training.

When teaching the down command, Koehler once again uses lots of force and corrections. For dogs that don’t want to lay down on command, he recommends being in front of the dog, so if the dog doesn’t obey a correction can be given. If the command is given and the dog doesn’t listen, but moves to the down when the owner gets into the position to issue a leash correction, he states that this should be corrected as well, as the dog obviously is trying to avoid the correction without obeying as soon as the command is given. Sadly, he fails to consider the real possibility that the poor dog simply hasn’t learned the word ‘down’ yet but recognizes when he gets a harsh correction and is trying to avoid the pain. This theme of harshly correcting the dog before the owner is certain that the dog knows what commands mean is seen throughout the book and is unfair to the dog. Why should a dog be corrected for not obeying a command when the dog didn’t know what the command meant in the first place?

Controversial Aspects of the Koehler Method:

Koehler’s training requires the use of either a choke chain or a prong collar (he seems to prefer choke chains). Both collars are considered inhumane by many. Choke chains in particular can damage a dog’s windpipe, but people who quickly snap the leash and release the pressure, which is recommended by most trainers who use a choke chain, may limit damage to the windpipe. I had also previously read that lifelong use of a choke chain can damage the muscle on a dog’s neck, and I believe this was when the collar was correctly used. So while damage to the windpipe may be avoided by correctly using the collar, muscle damage can still result. Prong collars and choke chains both provide uncomfortable (possibly painful) stimulus to train the dog, and some people are against the use of any such tactics when handling dogs. Personally, I think that prong collars and choke chains can be very useful, particularly the prong collar, but I don’t like the way Koehler uses them.

The use of the choke chain is not the most controversial aspect of Koehler’s method. When training the recall, Koehler recommends a throw chain, which is flung at the dog when he does not come on command. But this is not the only time this trainer suggests physically punishing a dog into behaving. For dogs that bark when left alone, Koehler recommends beating the dog with a leather belt. If a dog is difficult to housebreak he advises taking the dog to the place where the accident happened and smacking the dog while holding his face at the mess.

One of the most disturbing recommendations of Koehler is when he advises owners to dunk their dog’s head in water to break him of digging holes. Koehler states that if a dog digs a hole, that the owner should fill the hole with water, take the dog over to the hole, and dunk his head in the water and hold him there until the dog really feels that he is about to drown. Needless to say, I don’t know many people who would feel comfortable doing this to any living creature, let alone a beloved dog.

When justifying his methods of correcting bad behaviors, Koehler mentions that often times if the dog does not learn to stop doing the said behavior, euthanasia is the only option left. While behavior problems can result in a dog being given up to a shelter or put to sleep, there are many gentler methods that won’t damage the relationship between dog and owner that are very effective. Koehler ignores this, and offers his harsh punishments as the only alternative.

Overall Thoughts on the Koehler Method:

Corrections can be very useful when training a dog. I have used electric collars, prong collars, and other forms of correction when training my dogs. The trouble with Koehler’s method of training is its over reliance of corrections and the use of abusive measures for many problem behaviors. All the training techniques revolve around some sort of physical punishment, whether that be the use of a throw chain, choke chain, or a leather belt. While such forceful methods can be VERY effective, they can also be very damaging to the dog, and can create problem behaviors in the dog, such as fear and aggression. For dogs with behavioral issues, Koehler’s solutions are nothing more than animal abuse. Many effective, humane techniques of dog training exist, but they are not to be found in the Koehler method.

With this said, I do want to mention that I think Koehler was doing what he thought best. Several of the recommendations in his book for dogs with severe behavioral issues are abusive, but I believe he thought his solutions were the best way to prevent dogs form being killed over training issues. So while I do whole-heartedly disagree with many of the methods, I think he did his best to save dogs from being abandoned or killed for behavioral problems. Today, we have better ways and more options in training, so no one should have to resort to such harsh tactics.

There are many ways to train a dog. The Koehler Method may be effective, but it can also damage the bond with one’s beloved pet.

Koehler’s book is an interesting read for anyone who wishes to see just how far dog training has come, but not the book I would recommend as a “how-to” manual to produce a well adjusted, happy dog.

If you enjoyed this post, please check out: The Koehler Method: Should I use it on my Puppy?, where we further delve into the Koehler Method. 


The Koehler Method of Dog Training