When should I start training my puppy?

I’ve never raised a child, but I have witnessed the miracle of birth when I whelped three litters of puppies.

This is Brandy and her 9-day old puppies. Their eyes have not yet opened, and their ears are not fully developed. But, they have learned to use their nose to find mom and their source of food. They have learned to use “touch” to find one another after a satisfying meal and to stay warm by snuggling together.

This is Mother Nature, or instinct at it’s best. Brandy is not teaching them anything here. She is calm and relaxed and not micro-managing her pups.

However, she is communicating with the puppies with her body language. She is standing up so she doesn’t crush the puppy beneath her. She is not dotting over the other two pups to stay close to her.

She is letting them learn through trial and error. This is a training session.


The pups are now 4-weeks old. They have full use of all their senses, and they are developing their coordination skills. They have distinct personalities and are learning how to act and function in a pack structure. They are also learning how to work out their differences.

The pup on the left is playing rough and he’s growling. He is a little too full of himself and he’s escalated his energy to borderline bully behavior.

The one on the right let out a little “hey, that hurt” kind of yelp. The pup on the right started to move forward so the “aggressive” pup stood up to prove it is bigger and stronger and more dominant.

Well, Brandy didn’t like that!

“Uh oh! Momma is gonna whip me now.”

As soon as Brandy approached, she began to discipline the exuberant pup. She hovered over her child in a very Dominant position. The pup is on his back in a very Submissive position.

Brandy is not using excessive force. She is not barking (yelling) or showing any out of control/frustrated behavior. She is simply using her calm and relaxed body language to communicate to the over-excited pup, “Settle down.”

Brandy is showing Pack Leader qualities.

This whole series of events lasted about 20 seconds. That was a training session!

Brandy didn’t let undesirable behavior go uncorrected. She didn’t use the excuse, “He’s just a puppy; he’ll grow out of it.” She didn’t try to distract him with a cookie or praise. She delivered a swift correction with just enough discipline to get her point across. She wasn’t heavy-handed.

She was confident, calm, and most of all: FAIR. And the pup understood!

Which brings me to this picture. 

This is a 5-month old pup. After leaving the comforts of her pack at 8-weeks old, she also left behind a life of structure, rules, and discipline.

What happens without a Pack Leader to continue teaching a puppy? The puppy begins to make its own decisions which are often undesirable by their human families, such as jumping, biting, and demanding attention.

This picture demonstrates how I am mimicking the action of her mother. I am calm, relaxed, and most of all: FAIR.

I’m not driving the puppy into the floor with force. My right hand (extended index finger) is simply preventing her from tucking her tail between her legs in fear. She doesn’t need to be afraid. I’m not going to hurt her.

My left hand is lightly resting on her neck. Notice how her hind leg is up in the air – looks just like the puppy’s leg in the picture above, who is being disciplined by Brandy.

It’s a sign of submission. “Yup, I got it. I’m waving the white flag.”

Am I asserting my dominance? Yes. Is the puppy being submissive? Yes.

Is this cruel or harsh treatment of a 5-month old puppy? Not at all.  Is she too young to understand what I am teaching her? Nope.

Does this form of training make sense to her. You better believe it.

And, living in a household with rules, structure, and fair discipline is going to make her a happy, well-behaved puppy, and a much-loved dog for many years to come.

So, it is NEVER too early (or too late) to train your dog. Your dog will thank you for it 🙂

Teaching People and Helping Dogs.




A child’s smile is all I need

A boy and his dog, Luigi

I was recently asked by a client, “Is dog training just common sense for you because you make it look so easy?”

After a contemplating pause I answered, “Yes and no. It is now, but only because I’ve been doing this for over 10 years. It didn’t come naturally; I made a lot of mistakes early on, but I learned from them.”

Over the past few months I’ve had one of the most challenging “cases” of my career. It’s also been one of the most rewarding!

Big dog? Little dog? Aggressive? Fearful? Rescue?

None of the above. You see, it’s not the varied issues Luigi has that cause me to ask myself, “Am I really making a difference?”

My mission for The Problem Pooch is: Teaching People and Helping Dogs. I am always confident that, at least for a few minutes, I was able to Help The Dog. However, I am never sure if I was effective in Teaching The People.

Did I explain it so it makes sense to them? Were they listening? Will they follow through? Are they going to give up? Is it too much work for them? These are examples of the questions that race through my mind after EVERY appointment with EVERY client – not just the difficult ones.

If you are a regular Facebook follower of The Problem Pooch you are somewhat familiar with Luigi’s plight to find a permanent home. Luigi is a male Anatolian shepherd who is nearing his first birthday, and has not had an easy time of life. To be brief, he is a complicated and misunderstood dog.

Now, I hope you will stay with me here. I have felt a strong spiritual connection to Luigi. It’s beyond my comprehension; I just trust my proverbial gut instinct to do all I can for this boy.

So when I received a text message from his owner that his euthanasia appointment had been made, I was crushed! “Am I really making a difference?” I felt like I had failed Luigi. I lost sleep, but our spiritual connection called to me, “You can do more, Peter.”

I don’t have an answer. I can’t save every dog. I’m so sorry, Luigi. You don’t deserve to die. I’m sorry.

My wife pushed me to dig deeper and try harder than  I thought could give Luigi. It worked because a potential resolution came to me: I reached out to a past client, whom I had helped before with their female Anatolian, Maggie.

Her family agreed to take Luigi. His life was spared. He was given a third, maybe a fourth chance to live.

I spent many un-billed hours helping Luigi adjust to life with his new family. It was the least I could do for the family, in gratitude for saving his life. Luigi began to thrive and began transforming into a different dog – he was happier. But remember, Luigi is a complicated and misunderstood dog.

After several weeks, his new family wanted and needed to re-home him.

Dammit! I failed again. Am I really making a difference?

Once again, Spirit spoke to me. “Stop being a dog trainer. Live your motto: Be Kind. Be Thankful. Be Significant. Peter, just be a friend.”

I stopped instructing. I stopped teaching. I stopped being a business owner. Rather, I asked questions and I listened intently. I held late-night text conversations with Luigi’s owner. I didn’t make suggestions; I offered ideas.

I was simply the person my parents raised me to be, and not a dog trainer.

The end result: Luigi’s family is implementing a new strategy and giving him another chance to be a loved and welcome part of their family.

I saw a Facebook post this morning from Luigi’s mom which had the 2 pictures I’ve included in this post.

I received the answer to my question, “Am I making a difference?”

Pardon the cliche, but a picture of a child’s smile is worth a thousand words (and all I need.)

Be Kind. Be Thankful. Be Significant.


Note: photos used with permission.

A girl and her dog, Maggie.







A Title Does Not Equate to Quality

When I first started The Problem Pooch in 2006 I believed that I needed someone else to validate my self-worth as a trainer.

I maintained my membership in the International Marine Animal Trainer’s Association (IMATA), I joined and became a certified member of the Association of Pet Dog Trainers (APDT), I subscribed to the Better Business Bureau (BBB), and there may be some others that I am forgetting.

It didn’t take me long to realize that the people (and dogs) I was helping didn’t care about any of those organizations. I chose instead to abide by my own code of conduct, by-laws, and adhered to my own mission statement.

I exercised my value system of integrity, compassion, and patience; a value system that was taught to me by the most important governing body: my parents.

“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” That was, and still is, my modus operandi.

Word-of-mouth is my work credentialing badge. A satisfied client refers me to someone else who could use my help. I have a great deal of pride in my work of Teaching People & Helping Dogs. I balance it with a lot of humility when a family invites me into their home.

For every single appointment I have, being a decent human being is more significant than my experience in understanding and modifying a dog’s behavior. For example, I am not a dog trainer when I allow a toddler to crawl on me and hug me because she misses the affection of her father, who has been out to sea for 5 months. I am not a dog trainer when I help a grandson overcome a long-standing fear of dogs, thereby producing tears of joy in his grandmother.

I didn’t learn those skills by attending a canine school, or by reading an article in a quarterly magazine of the APDT, or attending a two-day seminar.

I don’t teach group classes. I don’t teach agility or fly-ball or tricks and games. I don’t hold the title of Canine Good Citizen Evaluator. I am not “certified” (by the way, there are no federal or state regulations that require licensure.) I don’t train dogs how to be a good: bird-hunter, seeing-eye dog, bomb-sniffer, sheep-herder, etc. Those are not my specialties.

There are dog training options available that operate with a different business model and are less expensive than my fee. However, I believe I provide more-than-fair value for my service as a dog trainer and a giver of peace-of-mind. Earning a family’s trust is more important to me than the bottom line on an income statement.

I may not be the best option for someone who is seeking a dog trainer. And I’m okay with that. I understand the “different strokes for different folks” mentality. For those who have placed their trust in me, I am honored that you chose to work with me. For those who have referred me to others, I am grateful. For those who thought about or are thinking of working with me, thank you for your consideration.

Be Kind. Be Thankful. Be Significant.




Tips For Finding A Lost Dog


Get Help From Your Community

  • Call your local Animal Control Facility.
  • Notify your neighbors. Put your ego aside and knock on their door!
  • Use social media. Create a Facebook page so people can easily communicate with one another and you.
  • Make a HIGHLY VISIBLE & EASY TO READ poster to put on telephone poles, trees, and local businesses. People driving in their cars can’t read small print.
  • Notify all nearby veterinarians (even if it is not your vet.) Someone may pick up your dog, and bring it to the closest vet.
  • Click on this link

A Dog’s Nose Knows

  • Dogs “view” the world through their nose, ears, then eyes.
  • Grab all dog blankets, towels, and beds and put them outside.
  • Put a dirty shirt, sweat pants, socks or something that smells like YOU, outside.
  • If you have another dog or a cat, rub them down with a towel and put it outside.
  • The goal is to bring the familiar smells of “home” outside to give them a landmark.
  • If you have another dog, bring your dog with you when searching for lost dog.


  • Dogs on the run are going to eat quickly. They don’t know when they will eat again.
  • Dogs will also eat and run. They will always want an easy escape route if trouble comes.
  • Therefore, putting food in a stranger’s back yard is a better idea than putting it on the back deck of their home.
  • Dogs are creatures of habit and love routines. They will return to where they found food before.
  • Keep putting food out. You want to reduce the distance they will travel to find food. Create a routine.
  • They will likely develop a territory and not stray very far from it (within a couple of miles.)

Using Instincts

  • We can’t hope to understand why a dog took off, or why it won’t come back.
  • Don’t waste time beating yourself up trying to figure out “why?”
  • As time passes, your dog’s natural instincts will kick in. It may begin to lose its domestic habits. The friendliest dog may  growl and act aggressive towards strangers. It may turn and run away from you.
  • It may be in survival mode. It may behave with pure instinct, where everything is a competitor and a potential predator.

When Spotted

  • Do not look directly at dog (eye contact can be threatening.)
  • Do not take a direct approach toward the dog (predators take a straight line.)
  • Drop your head and shoulders – a sign of peace (predators keep their heads up and forward with confidence)
  • Do not talk to the dog or encourage it to come to you. Your excited, high pitch voice will show nervous/excited/and anxious energy.
  • A scared and hungry dog will NOT trust you. It will run the other way.
  • Turn your body perpindicular to theirs. (Dog language – I mean no harm.)
  • Drop down to the ground if you have too, even lay on ground. (I am no threat. Humans don’t usually lie on ground. It may invite curiosity.)
  • If it comes close, be slow and deliberate in your actions. Quick, snatching type behavior will fail. Dogs are faster than we are and they will run.

Building Trust (with food)

  • You may not have an opportunity to get the dog to come to you at first.
  • Be patient. Keep following these directions.
  • You want the dog to trust you, not fear you.
  • I like to use pepperoni slices to help lure a dog. It is a high value reward that most dogs (even if fed table scraps) don’t often get. They are also small enough to keep a dog’s interest without making it full.
  • Toss a slice towards the dog. Again, do NOT look at it or encourage it. Just give it food.
  • It may not take it right away as it is fearful. Give it time.
  • Toss another piece and another. Let the dog think. Let the smell wander up to its nose. Let it eat quietly.
  • Toss more pieces, however, make the distance shorter, making it come closer to you.
  • Take your time and be patient if the dog is eating. Don’t break the trust by moving too fast.

Final Thoughts:

  • Don’t give up. Don’t lose hope. Don’t stop trying.
  • I have experienced the joy of bringing 2 dogs “home” that were not my own.
  • The dogs were on the run for 6 weeks and 3 weeks, before they were ready to come home.
  • It is emotionally difficult. There are highs of a sighting, and lows with no sightings.
  • You may need to use a Save-A-Heart trap (similar to those for raccoons and other critters.)
  • I don’t care what your religious beliefs are, but have faith in something bigger to help bring your family member home.
  • Be grateful and thankful to the volunteers and strangers who are helping you. A simple thank you can go a very long way to having an entire community help you.
  • Don’t hesitate to contact me if you have questions or concerns. I will do the best I can to help.

Contact Me

  • If you have questions or need me to clarify a direction, please feel free to contact me.

Shadow was on the run for 6-weeks, during a brutal Fall in Connecticut. I was fortunate to have rescued him and reunited him with his family shortly after this picture was taken.

The ORIGINAL Problem Pooch


I heard a familiar sound coming from the kitchen. “Someone” was rustling through the garbage can again.

I knew it wasn’t Steele because he was resting on his favorite spot, the living room sofa. So, it had to be Albert.

I entered the kitchen and my newly-rescued Samoyed, Albert, was gnawing on a pork chop bone. I grabbed the end of the bone. “Albert. Dro…Ow! Drop it! Ow. Dammit! Ow.”

Albert wasn’t letting go. And with each re-grip, his teeth punctured my hands with brute force and left me bloody and bruised. Again.

He walked away and peacefully finished enjoying his possession. Again. You see, It was the second time in less than a week that Albert got the best of me.

Albert was a street thug. His ears were deformed from untreated ear infections. He could barely hear. He had cataracts that clouded his vision. He walked uncomfortably as a result of an improperly healed broken front leg. He was a mess of a dog, to say the least. And Steele, our young and energetic Samoyed, was not fond of the 12-year old (although the rescue group said he was 5-years old) bully either.

After tending to my wounds and talking with my wife, Cathy, I returned to the crime scene with a phone in my hand. I had a difficult call to make: we were going to return Albert.

I dialed the number to the rescue group. It rang and rang. I waited, what seemed like forever, for someone to answer.alb-jan-2-2003a

Albert limped into the kitchen with his ears down and looked me directly in
the eyes. He softly vocalized in his familiar pattern, “Ruff-Ruff… Ruff-Ruff.”

I didn’t hear a bark. I heard, “I’m sorry. I’m sorry.”

I hung up the phone, fell to my knees, and started to cry. Albert calmly nuzzled his head underneath my aching hands. “Ruff-Ruff.”

“I hear you old boy. I know you didn’t mean it. It’s all you know, huh? You won’t be on the streets anymore. I promise.”

Cathy came into the kitchen. “What’s wrong? Are you okay?”

“I can’t do it. I can’t give up on him. He needs us.”

“Oh, thank God! I don’t want to get rid of him either. He’s had a hard enough life. We can’t send him back.” Cathy started crying too and our tears fell into Albert’s fur, but he didn’t mind.

He was home.We gave him a second chance to smile.

Be Kind. Be Thankful. Be Significant.