Posted by: matteoblanco | January 11, 2015

Something to Chew On

Something to Chew On

So there you are walking up down the toy and chew aisle at your local pet store and wondering, “What’s good and safe for my dog?” It can be confusing with so much to choose from and maybe you don’t know where to begin.

There’s a lot to consider when selecting a chew. For starters if you have a puppy you should know they are more susceptible to breaking teeth, but they’re also teething and have a great desire to chew.  Also you can apply a simple test and that is to try to dig a fingernail into the chew. If there is no give to it, there is potential for damage to your dog’s teeth.  If there is no give, no way to chew or soften it, your dog may fracture their teeth. I recommend consulting your Vet before selecting a chew that is just right for your dog. Every dog is different in what they like as well so your dog will decide what they do and don’t like. If your dog is an aggressive chewer you should steer clear of hard chews that have no give like Antlers or Nylabones. Always supervise when giving a chew as well. Finally, as a rule of thumb when the chew becomes small enough to fit in your dog’s mouth they should be thrown away as it can become a choke hazard.

Below I’ve listed some of the chews I’m comfortable giving to my dogs. With that said, these may not be a good choice for your dog. Virtually every chew on the market have some safety concerns and you should evaluate them before reaching a decision.

Adult Dog Chews

  1. Kong (The black colored Kongs are made for more aggressive chewers)
  2. Himalayan Chews
  3. Honest Kitchen Catfish Skins
  4. Bully Sticks
  5. Raw Knuckle Bones (From organic grass fed source) It’s best to choose non-weight bearing bones.
  6. Trachea Chews
  7. Goughnuts
  8. Carrots and other acceptable veggies and fruit. They can be frozen.

The following pose a greater risk as they are hard chews and thus there are greater safety concerns. These are not a good choice for aggressive chewers

  1. Antlers cut in half lengthwise
  2. Hooves

Puppy Chews

  1. Goughnuts
  2. Kong
  3. Carrots
  4. Freeze acceptable fruits and veggies like Bananas, Carrots
  5. Bake sliced Sweet Potatoes at low heat
  6. Create your own healthy treats and freeze them in an ice-cube tray.
Posted by: matteoblanco | December 12, 2014

Rainy Days Can Be Fun!

Rainy Days Make Me Happy!

I remember as a child in school looking forward to rainy days as it meant recess was cancelled and we were allowed to play fun games in class. Remember “Heads Up Seven Up?” Your dog may miss out on their daily walk on those rainy days but they can be just as enthused as me in grade school.

Here are some things you can do with your dog indoors, when exercising outdoors isn’t an option:


Mentally stimulating games and toys can be tiring for your dog! So exercise their brain by pulling out a food stuffable or dispensing toy.  Get a doggy puzzle/interactive toy (Like Twister by Nina Ottosson)!  One of my dog’s favorites is the Tricky Treat Ball!


Try playing a scent game or two with your dog! Get them on the hunt by hiding yummy goodness all around the house. When they find it, celebrate with them! “Go Find It” games are fun, and tiring.  You can even play hide and seek with them.  You hide, and encourage them to find you.  When they do celebrate as if they won the lottery!


If you have the room and it’s safe to do so play a little fetch indoors.  Or how about a fun game of tug?


Give your dog a long lasting chew like a Bully Stick or Kong.   They’ll love you for it!

Posted by: matteoblanco | November 5, 2014

Common Mistakes by Pet Parents

Common Mistakes by Pet Parents

We all make mistakes and that includes our dealings with our dogs. In fact I’ve made almost every mistake in the book in my past, before I knew better. So hopefully I speak from a position of humility. In today’s blog I’d like to draw your attention to five common mistakes made by Pet Parents in hopes it will help you steer clear of them.

Punishing a dog for unwanted behavior.

Whether it’s rubbing a dog’s nose in their elimination or spraying a dog with water when they do something you don’t like, positive punishment is something to be avoided. In lieu of punishing your dog, try teaching them what you do want them to do instead and manage their environment to prevent the practicing of the unwanted behavior. Take the route of redirection instead of correction.

Yelling at their dog, “No!”

“No” is probably the most frequently uttered word by Pet Parents to their dogs, and while it may suppress the behavior it really doesn’t tell your dog what to do. They may also learn that when you’re not around nothing bad happens to them, so they do the unwanted behavior outside your presence. I recommend teaching a positive interrupter instead. We should interrupt the unwanted behavior and redirect them onto what we do want them to do instead.  Teach an alternate behavior and reward that heavily!  Then take the necessary steps to set your dog up for success through proper management.

Not listening to what your dog is saying!

Dogs communicate to us but we often miss what they’re saying.   For instance, when a dog is sending off stress signals and communicating they’re uncomfortable with a situation listen and respond appropriately.

Not socializing a dog.

Many Pet Parents choose to keep their dog in isolation during the first few months of life out of a fear of their puppy getting a deadly virus. I fully realize the risk involved when your puppy isn’t fully vaccinated, but socialization is so important you can’t afford to put it off. There is a way to socialize safely, and consult a professional for help on how to do that.

A lack of exercise and mental stimulation.

Could you imagine how you’d feel if you were locked up in a house all day and night and never received exercise? You’d probably go crazy! Yet many dogs are in that situation. Not only is it unfair to the dog but also many unwanted behaviors are linked to it: digging, barking, and destruction related to boredom. Give your dog daily exercise, enrichment and mentally stimulating toys/chews. It’s good for them and you too!

Posted by: matteoblanco | June 20, 2014

Proper Etiquette on Walks

Proper Etiquette on Walks

There you are walking in your neighborhood and you run across the cutest dog you’d ever want to meet so naturally everything within you wants to head on over to say hi.  As you do you’re surprised by the dog’s reaction!  He growls or lunges at you!  Perhaps the thought that runs through your head is, “Well I guess that dog isn’t friendly!”  The reality is you made a big mistake in your approach that is all too common in today’s world.  In today’s blog I’d like to address proper etiquette when meeting and greeting dogs and strangers to hopefully lead to less encounters like the example I cited above.


How to Approach a Dog You’ve Never Met:

*   Always ask the owner if it is okay to greet their dog.  Never assume that it is.  Even if they say it’s okay, you’ll want to keep an eye on the dog’s signals.  For instance, if the dog is backing away or growling, they’re saying STOP I’m Not Comfortable!  Receive that communication and give them what they’re asking.

*  Allow the dog to approach you, rather than the other way around.  Turn the side of your body to the dog and avoid direct eye contact, while keeping your hands to your side.  This is less threatening to the dog and puts them more at ease.  Allow them to sniff and get to know you.  If the dog is showing no visible signs of stress, bend down to your knees and pet the dog gently.   Don’t make the mistake of leaning over the dog, patting the head or hugging them.  They really don’t like that as much as you do!  If at anytime the dog pulls away or is showing visible signs of stress stop and give them space!

*  If your dog is with you, it’s not a good idea to allow him/her to run up to say hi even if you believe your dog to be friendly.  Remember you don’t know the other dog or how they’re going to react!  Some dogs find that to be threatening and some are fearful of dogs they don’t know.  When a dog is on a leash they could feel trapped and unable to retreat, as they’d like, thus more apt to react in that situation. That’s one big reason your dog should always be on a leash when in public.  There are much better ways for a doggy introduction.


How to Handle a Stranger Who Doesn’t Abide by Proper Etiquette:

*  Have you heard about the Yellow Dog Project?  Dogs that wear these yellow ribbons around their collar are in need of extra space.  If your dog has that need for space, it’s a good idea to wear the yellow ribbon!  Some people don’t know what it means, but others will.   You can also purchase a vest, if need be, for your dog to wear that sends the message, “Dog in Training Give Me Space!”

*  The stranger may totally miss the stress signals your dog is communicating and rush up to say hi, so that’s why it’s important for you to speak up for your dog.   You don’t have to be rude about it, but simply get the point across to the stranger: “Please don’t approach my dog!”  Memorize and use those five simple words.   At times people will disregard your request and if that happens to you, simply turnaround and walk away.  They may think you’re rude, but in actuality they are!

*   When I was a police officer we had a saying that applies here, “Keep a high visual horizon!”  In other words keep your eyes up, as far down the road as possible when you drive!   I also like to keep a high visual horizon as I’m walking my dogs.  If I see a potential problem I’ll either turn around, or create space between them and us. Sometimes you can avoid an uncomfortable situation by keeping an eye out.

Posted by: matteoblanco | May 18, 2014

Common Questions and Answers

Common Questions and Answers

1.  Is it alright for dogs to sleep with you and be on furniture?

This is a matter of owner preference.  As long as the dog isn’t resource guarding their resting spot I see no problem in allowing a dog to be on the bed or furniture.  Be consistent with the rules of the house, so your dog isn’t confused.

2.  If my dog eliminates in the house should I rub their nose in it and scold them?

Never do this.  It’s quite likely such methods will lead to your dog becoming fearful of eliminating in your presence and go in a corner somewhere when you’re not around.  A much better approach is to reward your dog for eliminating where you want them to and manage their environment to avoid mistakes.

3.  Is it necessary to walk through doorways first, eat before your dog, or never allow them to walk in front of you?

Despite what you may have heard dogs don’t have an inward desire to rule the world or your household.  There’s no need to dominate or intimidate your dog.  In fact that can be detrimental to your relationship.  A healthy relationship is built on trust and kindness.  You’re dog won’t come to the conclusion they’re the pack leader if you allow them to eat first, walk through doorways first, or be ahead of you on a walk.  However, there are good reasons to have them wait at doorways and not pull you on a walk that have nothing to do with dominance.

4.  If I give my dog people food will that cause him/her to beg at the table?

No.  Teach them to go to their mat or bed while you eat your meals.  Being close to the dinner table is a temptation far too great for many dogs.  Feel free to give them people food, as long as it’s healthy for them.

5.   Is it ok to play tug with my dog?

Absolutely as long as there are certain boundaries and resource guarding is not an issue.   It’s not ok for a dog to put their teeth on your skin during tug, and they should be taught to drop the toy when the game is done.

6.   If my dog growls should I correct them?

Growling is an important form of communication and a needed warning.  If you discourage it, you may live to regret it.  For instance a dog may learn to skip the growl as a warning to back off and go straight to a bite.   With that said it may be necessary to address the emotion driving the behavior through counter-conditioning.  Seek a force-free trainer for help on how to do this.

7.   If I use treats for training will my dog learn to only respond to me when a treat is given?

Giving food to your dog for a behavior you want to see repeated is a powerful motivation and helpful in the learning process.  If you think about it we’re often motivated by rewards too!  Would you feel better if your boss gave you a pat on the back after a job well done, or a $10,000 bonus?  You probably didn’t have to think long and hard about that.  Similarly using what your dog loves in the training process serves as a powerful incentive and motivation.  Eventually the food should be given intermittently instead of every time, but don’t be fooled into thinking it’s not a necessary tool for the food motivated dog.


Posted by: matteoblanco | May 16, 2014

Tips for the Summer Heat

Tips for the Summer from Focused Dog!

As the temperature gauge is rising here in the Central Valley we’d like to take this time to underscore some do’s and don’ts to help your pet stay safe.

Don’t Do This:

*  Leave your dog in the car.  Even a quick visit into the store can be harmful to your dog in the Valley heat.

*  Walk your dog on hot surfaces.  Hot asphalt can do great damage to your dog’s paws.  It’s always a good idea to touch the surface you’re about to walk on to test it out.

*  Walk your dog in the hottest part of the day.  Choose to walk in the early morning or late evening.

*  Don’t overdo it in the exercise department.  If your dog appears too hot, most likely they are, so stop.

Do This:

*  Bring your dog indoors if possible and keep the temperature comfortable.  If that’s out of the question for you, make sure your dog has a nice shady, cool spot to rest in your yard.

*  Provide plenty of cool water.  Don’t make the mistake of leaving it in the direct sun.

*  As the mosquitoes are out and about, make sure your dog is on heartworm prevention medication.

Posted by: matteoblanco | April 27, 2014


Begging at the Dinner Table

There are quite a number of myths floating around these days concerning our dogs and one of them has to do with begging.  Does this sound familiar: “I don’t give my dog people food because I don’t want him to beg at the dinner table!”  But is that really true?

You might be surprised to know that many positive reinforcement trainers, including myself, give so-called people food to their dogs.  And my dogs don’t beg at the dinner table even though I give them  anything from boiled chicken, to fresh veggies.  I believe there are great health benefits associated with giving our dogs food that is unprocessed and in its natural state.   That’s why I have made the choice to do it.

If you don’t want your dog to beg at the dinner table or in the kitchen there are some simple steps you can take to ensure that doesn’t happen.  Don’t make the mistake of feeding your dog from the table, for starters.  Secondly, I’d recommend teaching your dog to settle/stay in a position away from where you eat.  Reinforce the stay, calm and quiet behavior by giving them a treat/chew/toy! When we sit down for dinner our dogs are in a settled position a good distance away.  They can see us, but are about 15 feet away in their case.  You can adjust the distance based on your dogs needs.   Teach your dog to settle on a mat or a bed, and over time they’ll learn that’s the place for them to be while you eat.  If your dog is whining while you’re eating it could be that they’re too close and the temptation is too great.  In some cases I recommend putting the dog in their crate or out of sight in another area of the house.

Another suggestion I would make is when you start training the settle in their new spot do so without food on the table.  Just have the family sit down as usual, but with no food around.  Over time you can gradually work toward the goal of having them in the same room, settled, and a lovely feast with the family.

As you’re making dinner, it’s also a good idea to have your dog out of the kitchen.  You can set up a baby gate or again teach your dog to settle in a location outside of the kitchen.

So feel free to give your dogs food that you eat.  As always I recommend researching what is appropriate to feed your dog and what is toxic or unhealthy.

Posted by: matteoblanco | March 2, 2014

Socializing a Puppy Safely

Socializing Safely

Those of you who are parents know that this is a dangerous world to be raising our children in.  We could point to the alarming trend of school shootings, or the very real danger out on the highways as they learn how to drive, or how about the risk of disease they face! As parents we’re concerned for their safety and rightly so.  We could take the route of never letting them out of the house while they are young, but I think you’d agree it would probably have an adverse affect on their social skills and development.  So as responsible parents we do our best to protect them, but we grant them some freedoms even though we know there are risks.

We face a similar dilemma as pet parents.  While our puppies are young they aren’t fully protected against the diseases we vaccinate them for until they have had all their shots.  However, if we wait until our puppy has all his/her shots before socializing, we’ve missed out on the most important time for socialization.

So what is a pet parent to do?  Well, you can take some commonsense precautions.  Below are some ideas of how you can safely socialize your puppy.  As you take these precautions the risk of infection is small.  As a parent you should weigh the risk and come up with a plan that you are comfortable with.  Keep in mind there is a much larger risk of your dog developing some serious behavior problems or even death later on down the road if you choose not to socialize in the early months.

Socialization ideas with minimal risk involved:

  1. Enroll your puppy in a well-orchestrated puppy socialization class.  According to the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior, your puppy should receive at least one set of vaccines at least seven days prior to the first class, and a first deworming.   You’ll also want to stay current on vaccines throughout the class.  Look for a class that is held on a clean and disinfected surface.
  2. Take your puppy on car rides.
  3. Setup play dates with well socialized dogs who are fully vaccinated and have no signs of illness.  You can set these up at a safe location.
  4. Invite some friends over for dinner. (It’s best if they are both male and female, various ages, races, sizes, and wearing anything from sunglasses to hats) 
  5. Allow your puppy to investigate and communicate through their nose and scent.  Take a puppy to a friend’s back yard, and make sure their dog is not at home.  Allow the puppy time to explore the garden/yard and dog’s scent, leaving messages of their own for the host dog to smell after you’ve left.   After doing this a few times this can lead to an introduction in person.  Both will recognize each other’s scent and likely be more at ease.
  6. Carry your puppy to Starbucks where you can meet and greet new people.  You can also take them into a dog-friendly store in a cart.

**  It's important to avoid areas where stray dogs or dogs without vaccinations may have been.   (Like the dog park or mountains)

** Disclaimer **

The suggestions above do involve some measure of risk of infection and Focused Dog recommends that before implementing these ideas for socialization you consult with your Vet, weigh the risk of infection versus reward of socializing, and arrive at a plan that you're comfortable with.

Posted by: matteoblanco | August 6, 2013

Quick Fixes

Quick Fixes


As Americans we want our food in an instant, and we get impatient if there are a few people in front of us in line at the grocery store.  In general, we really hate to wait!  One of the biggest challenges trainers face is convincing dog owners that dogs don’t always learn as quickly as they’d like.   Some in their impatience want to resort to inhumane treatments at such times.

I know of some people who have experienced very traumatic experiences, from the death of a child, to molestation, or abuse from a parent.  Can you imagine if they went to a counselor just after it happened, and the counselor said, “You’ll be completely healed and never have a negative feeling about the experience after this one session!”  Not only would that be foolish, but also it’s terribly misleading.   Likewise it’s foolish if trainers and owners think that a dog can rehabilitate or learn a new way of thinking in a short amount of time.  Just like people, every dog is different.  They learn at different speeds and don’t always respond to treatment quickly… or as quick as we’d like.

Many pet owners have expectations that are far higher than any dog can reach.  This has led some to resort to punishment.  They want a quick fix, so they purchase a shock collar, prong collar, or decide to use strong leash corrections.  What many don’t realize is taking the route of punishment can lead to very negative side effects!  In many cases it severely damages the relationship the owner has with their dog, causes more fear and stress, and contributes to a negative relationship with anyone and anything associated with the punishment.  In the end you may have suppressed the behavior you want to go away, but you may have done more damage than good.

For example, many people complain that their dog is barking in the backyard all the time.  They go out and purchase a shock collar.  More often than not I find their dog is telling them this: “I’m bored!”  Did they really treat the problem? The right thing to do would be to get to the root of the problem.  Your dog has needs, and it’s up to you to meet them!  Often in these cases exercise, safe chews, and more human interaction is part of the preferred treatment plan!

Recently I went to a movie with my family and we were all appalled by what we observed in the row ahead of us.   The parents had decided to take their little baby to see a movie full of scary action scenes.  The baby was clearly upset, and instead of taking the child out of the theatre, the Mom held her baby up and faced him toward the screen… as if that would make him stop crying!  I’m certain the child was scared beyond words.   I sometimes think pet parents try to treat fear related issues the same way… by trying to strike more fear into them.

As a force-free, positive reinforcement trainer I encourage people to address the underlying motivations that drive the unwanted behavior.   The best way to do this is through a gentle, loving, force-free and positive approach.  Rather than reach for a prong or shock collar, I recommend you opt for positive reinforcement that leads to positive results!   Force free training doesn’t always lead to overnight success, but it’s been proven effective!  Sometimes the longer path is the best path! We should seek to treat our animals humanely, and do what’s in their best interest, rather than allow our impatience to lead us to do something harmful!

Posted by: matteoblanco | April 24, 2013

I Dig It

I Dig It

Are you among the many frustrated owners who has a dog that is digging all over the yard?  About the time they’ve dug up quite a few plants/flowers I usually get a call. They ask, “Can you train my dog not to dig?”

It’s important to realize many dogs love to dig.  (Some breeds more than others)  Here in the hot Valley, can you really blame them for wanting to create a cool spot to lie down?  Others dig because they’re bored, or they’re trying to get that little gopher.  Sometimes dogs will dig to bury their bone/toy, and others just because it’s pure fun!  So the first thing to ask is, “Why is my dog digging?”  Your answer to that question will help you arrive at the solution.

If your dog is digging to stay cool, you might consider purchasing a small pool and fill it with a little bit of water.  Give your dog a cool and comfortable place to lie down, and make that a rewarding place to be by giving them plenty of reinforcement for being there.

More often than not I find that chronic diggers are bored and not exercised enough.  The obvious solution here is to give your dog plenty of daily exercise, enrichment and mental stimulation.  Give them some safe chews and food stuffable toys.   Make your dog feel like he/she is a part of the family by bringing them inside if possible.  Dogs crave our companionship and do much better when they’re near us.

For dogs that love to dig you might consider creating a digging box in a shady part of your yard.   Depending on the size of your dog, a 4’x6’ frame should do nicely.  Fill it with quality sand.  If needed you can spend time with your dog in the box, giving him treats and praise as he’s hanging out in there.  You can also bury one or two of his favorite toys and encourage him to find it.

The solution to this problem comes down to management more so than training.  That’s often the case when you’d like your dog not to do something in your absence.  I often tell clients, “Only give as much freedom as your dog can handle.  Set them up for success!”  When it comes to digging, that often means you’ll need to supervise them in the backyard, or have them contained to prevent access to digging spots when you’re not around.

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