Give a Dog a Bone, Just Dont Take it Away!

July 28, 2010

Give a Dog a Bone, Just Don’t Take it Away!

By Robert Forto, PhD

As a canine behaviorist at Denver Dog Works I see a lot of dog problems. I deal primarily with canine aggression and nothing can be more frightening than a dog that is possessive. I had a client whose dog was so aggressive if disrupted their entire family’s lifestyle.

The client approached me about two years ago and to this day I will never in my life forget this case: The family consisted of Two Adult Females, two pre-teen girls and two Shiba Inus. One of the Shibas was great but the other was Cujo from You-Know-Where. This Shiba, lets call him Max was so food aggressive that the family literally had to run upstairs and close the door while he ate. When feeding time came around the family set in motion one of the most elaborate and scary displays I have ever seen.

First they would lock the dogs in the laundry room and one of the adults would prepare the food while Max became more agitated and began to bite and attack the other dog. Once the food was prepared the lady would open the laundry room door with a string attached to the handle and hold a broom to ward off Max. Max would run at the lady full blast with its teeth barring while she fought off the dog with the broom as she fled upstairs with the rest of the family.

Max did not return to the bowl to eat, instead he would run around the house like the Tasmanian Devil and proceed to tear up anything he could; couch pillows, shoes, chair legs, everything, within minutes.

Max eventually went over to his bowl and ate his food and would calm down. This whole ritual would take about a half an hour. I observed the incident from the deck through the sliding glass doors. I can honestly say that I have never seen a dog more dangerous in my life. Before the feeding exercise Max appeared to be the perfect family pet laying at our feet while we talked and complied a history for the evaluation.

I never heard back from that family and I attempted calling them back several times to no avail.


Protecting valued assets is an important part of survival in the wild. While I agree that Canis Familiaris (the family dog) is far from being a “wild” animal they are still intrinsically wired that way deep inside their brains. In the wild, a dog that does not protect its valued assets is more likely to starve to death than one that does. Since possessiveness is normal behavior the owner should not punish the dog for it, instead we need to train the dog to think that good things happen when they give their valuables to us humans.

Some simple exercises to work on possessiveness are (not to be used with the example with a dog like Max, but maybe a dog that wont give up his ball, or looks at you “funny” when you take his bone, etc.):

1. Allow the dog to greet guests only when he is sitting. This is one of the tests in the AKC CGC Test, Accepting a Friendly Stranger.

2. Teach the dog “Give it or Drop it” and “Take it.”

3. Teach food bowl exercises (except with a dog like Max, of course) where you can take up the food bowl while your dog sits, you can put your hand in the bowl while he eats, etc.

If you have any questions on canine training or behavior, please give us a call at Denver Dog Works at 303-578-9881.


Dr. Robert Forto is a canine behaviorist and the training director of Denver Dog Works. Dr. Forto can be reached through his website at

Dominance Aggression

July 26, 2010

Dominance Aggression

By Robert Forto, PhD

Dogs do not see pack members as equals, instead, a hierarchy must be established to show which is of higher and lower rank to keep peace within the pack.  Any number of pack members living together, whether dog or human, must have an established hierarchy in the dog’s eyes, in order to get along.  This hierarchy, although flexible due to the level of motivation in a particular situation, is established and maintained through a variety of communication signals, through vocalization, body language and mute signaling.

When challenged, a lower ranking pack member must quickly demonstrate deferral or submission to the higher ranking dog, in order to avoid aggressive discipline and enforcement to the higher ranking dog. This aggressive enforcement is instigated by the lower ranking pack member failing to defer quickly enough to the higher ranking dog.  This aggressive display is called Dominance Aggression.

·         The dog is in the presence of a valued resource such as; the food bowl with or without food, human food, toys, bones, rawhide, garbage, stolen items, the owner, or sleeping place.

·         A person attempts to remove a valued resource such as those listed above.

·         The dog is approached.

·         The dog is spoken to.

·         The dog is verbally or physically reprimanded.

·         The dog is petted or handled or examined.

·         The dog’s nails are being trimmed.

·         The dog is picked up.

·         The dog is restrained.

·         The dog is disturbed while sitting or sleeping.

·         The dog is lying on an area perceived as a bed or den such as; couch, chair, owner’s bed, dog’s bed, blanket, under a table, etc.

·         A family member is approached, touched or spoken to by an outsider or other family member.

·         Human postures or communication perceived as controlling or challenging such as; direct eye contact, reaching or leaning over top of the dog, approaching or, speaking to the dog, verbally or physically punishing the dog, etc.

How Dominant Dogs Control Their Owners

·         Demanding food or attention.

·         Demanding to be picked up or put down.

·         Demanding play.

·         Being aloof when the owner offers attention.

·         Blocking the owner’s movements with her body.

·         Shoulder and hip slams.

·         Mouthing and biting.

·         Resisting commands.

·         Resisting discipline.

·         Resisting handling.

·         Protecting valued resources.

·         Growling, snarling.

·         Staring.

·         Mounting and pelvic thrusts.

·         Rarely exhibiting submissive body signals such as; lowering the body, looking away, rolling over.

How Owners Contribute to Dominance

·         Games without rules.

·         Allowing the dog to direct human behavior.

·         Rewarding demands for food or attention.

·         Allowing the dog on the furniture.

·         Inconsistency in training.

·         Lack of training.

·         Backing down from challenges.

·         Excessive attention and/or petting

·         Allowing the dog to invade their personal space uninvited.

When Is Dominance Aggression Most Likely to Occur

·         In dogs over one year of age.

·         In dogs bred from one or both dominant or dominant aggressive parents.

·         In intact, purebred dogs.

·         In confident, assertive, excitable dogs.

·         In breeds more prone to dominance ie; spaniels, terriers, toy breeds.

·         In dogs with a history of skin disorders or illness early in life.

Treatment for Dominance Aggression

The Re-Ranking Program

·         Ignore ALL demands. It is the job of the top ranking dog to make the decisions and direct the behavior of the rest of the pack.  By responding to the dog’s demands, no matter how subtle or insignificant, you are allowing the dog to perceive himself as a strong leader.

·         No freebees! The dog must earn absolutely everything of value from a drink of water to a car ride, by performing a previously taught command.

·         Remove all valued resources that elicit an aggressive response.

·         Follow the desensitization program for possessive aggression to prevent or cure possessive aggression.

·         Put the dog on a natural, non-performance diet.

·         Put the dog on a feeding schedule to make treats a more effective training tool.

·         All treats must be earned and used for training and rehabilitation only; it increases their value to the dog.

·         Never feed the dog while preparing or eating food.  In the wild, alpha eats first and can take food from anyone, by giving the dog your food, you are giving she alpha position.

·         Teach food bowl exercises to prevent or cure food bowl aggression.

·         Take back some territory in the home by not allowing the dog access, MINE! The dog must not have access when the owner is away. When the owner is home the barrier is removed and a leash is put on the dog.  If the dog approaches the barrier the owner will growl a warning, “OUT”.  If the dog crosses the barrier the owner walks the dog back out with the leash.

·         Less petting and attention will make the dog earn what she gets.

·         Ration games and only play them WITH RULES.

·         Make the dog hold a short down stay before allowing freedom in a fenced yard.

·         Leave a twenty to forty foot lunge line on the dog while enjoying free time in the yard, occasionally pick up the end of the lunge line and complete a recall.  When  the dog comes in, reward and release.

·         Do not allow the dog on the furniture.  A ten foot leash can be used for removal if she gets up with an “off” command (DO NOT grab her collar to for this correction.

·         Practice placement commands. Hold the ten foot leash, move away from the dog, give the command “come”, when she comes to you, reward and repeat three times.  Release with an “all done” at the end of the exercise.

·         Desensitize the dog to handling and restraint.

·         Teach the dog to “watch me” on command and to hold the eye contact for up to 30 seconds in the presence of major distractions, with the handler establishing and breaking the eye contact.

·         Begin a complete training program using positive reinforcement methods only to increase handler control over and respect from the dog.

·         Always reward good behavior and quick correct responses with something of value to the dog i.e.; treats, toy, game, walk, etc.

·         Teach the dog to “place” and “down stay” for up to thirty minutes, then release.

·         A gentle leader will increase handler control helping the dog to remain calm and focused.  It can be left on the dog indoors until control is established.

·         Use a ten foot indoor lead to increase handler control when necessary.

·         Begin training with the most dominant member of the family and gradually work your way down to the least.

·         List all the triggers for aggression.

·         Systematically desensitize the dog to each aggression trigger.

·         Use counter conditioning to replace unwanted aggressive behavior with a behavior that is incompatible.

·         Use creative avoidance to prevent aggressive episodes.

·         Use environmental management to ensure that the dog’s environment works for, not against, your rehabilitation program.

·         Never leave the dog unsupervised in the presence of anyone who is not a trained part of your rehabilitation program, especially children.

·         Once an obvious new hierarchy has been established you can relax with some of these rules, but if the dog begins to challenge again, even in subtle ways, take control back IMMEDIATELY.


Dr. Robert Forto is the training director for Denver Dog Works and The Ineka Project in Colorado. Dr. Forto hosts a weekly program, The Dog Doctor Radio Show every Saturday. Dr. Forto can be reached though his website at

Dog Law: Talking to Your Neighbors

July 22, 2010

Dog Law: Talking to Your Neighbors

By Robert Forto, PhD

Many of us that own dogs know that there is nothing more annoying that a dog barking incessantly at all hours of the day and night. What can you do?  Whats worse is that it is a terrible situation not to feel comfortable in your own home because you cant get along with your neighbors. This article will give you some tips.

How to Solve a Barking Dog Problem

Here is a checklist of actions to take when you are losing patience (or sleep) over an owner’s noisy dog.

  1. Ask your neighbor to keep the dog quiet.
  2. Try mediation, especially if you and the other neighbor have other issues.
  3. Contact animal control authorities and request that they enforce local laws restricting noise.
  4. Call the police.
  5. Bring a nuisance suit in small claims court.

While we hope that it does not come to number five on this list, talking to your neighbors may just solve the problem. Asking your neighbor to stop the noise is either ignored or botched by a surprising number of people. Perhaps it is not all that surprising; approaching someone, especially a neighbor, can be unpleasant and in some cases intimidating.

Talking to your neighbor calmly and in a reasonable manner is the first step to solving the barking dog problem. Even if you do enter into court the judge will ask that you at least attempt to come to a settlement or attempted to work out the problem in some way. You and I know that it costs money and quite a bit of time to take someone to court and nobody ever really wins. Even if the judge rules in your favor and orders the neighbor to stop the barking, you still have to live next door to each other right? So talking  to your neighbor is a no-lose situation, and if you approach your neighbor with a modicum of tact, you may be pleasantly surprised by your neighbor’s willingness to work things out.

Sometimes your neighbor is even unaware that there is a problem. If they work all day and the dog is left outside while they are gone, the neighbor may not even know that you are being driven crazy by a dog that the owner thinks is quiet and well-mannered. My advice is to leave a friendly note on your neighbors door and ask for a meeting about their dog’s barking. Keep the meeting low-key and in a friendly tone and don’t allow the meeting to escalate into name calling and threats. Remain calm, cool and collected.

The best advice is to be proactive not reactive and try your best to come to a common ground with your neighbor. Remember that it is important to work things out. You have to live next to each other, and I doubt few people move because of a baking dog. Do they?


Dr. Robert Forto is the training director for Dog Works Training Centers and is the host of a weekly radio program, The Dog Doctor Radio Show, every Saturday. Dr. Forto can be reached through his website at

Overview on Aggression Seminar held at Denver Dog Works

July 4, 2010

Overview Aggression Seminar held at Denver Dog Works

This past weekend Dr. Robert Forto, PhD, canine behaviorist, aggression expert held an aggression seminar.  The students in the class quickly learned that human ideals and labeling put dogs into categories that are not necessarily correct once the situation and the behaviors are observed.

For instance, many dogs are labeled as having fear aggression when the fear itself is not being identified and could be that the dog has never been exposed to whatever is making it appear fearful.  There are four critical periods that puppies go through and should be exposed to certain social situations at specific times of their young lives to ensure that they mature into well-balanced dogs no matter what their breed or intended use.

Dr. Forto, had quite a few examples of dogs with varying degrees and types of aggression, all of these dogs it was found in their detailed history reports lacked proper socialization and exposure in the first year of life.

One of the dogs, a Visla; a breed which is timid in nature was fearful of the new situation but literally looking her owner right in the eye for direction and when it wasn’t there she would use defensive flight/fight drives to stave off the danger of the unfamiliar situation. Sudden movements, looking too long, even lying by Dr. Forto’s feet and him slightly moving got a reaction from this Visla.  After the seminar was finished this dog learned some confidence by Dr. Forto teaching her handler to watch her dog and read her signals, become the leader she is asking you to be in her life.

Another dog who peaked my interest during the seminar was an eight year old Golden Retriever who during the second critical period of his life or 5 months of age, watched his canine mother attack and nearly kill a Jack Russell Terrier who wouldn’t leave them alone.  He watched his canine mother attack three other times in the first year of his life.  He was also “sheltered” from social situations involving other dogs, people, and places.  Dr. Forto had this beautiful Golden Retriever who is undergoing a lengthy board and train to take part in the seminar.  The dog reacted differently to male handlers than female handlers, but for the most part reacted in a calm non-aggressive fashion when the handlers remained calm and assertive utilizing his obedience training as a positive foundation and to redirect his energy toward what he viewed as a threat.

I encourage every dog owner, doggie day care staff member, dog park frequenter, dog trainer, or just observers to take this seminar.  It is an afternoon that will change your outlook on dog behavior and how we force human emotions onto our dogs inappropriately.  For more information visit Denver Dog Works or become fans of theirs on Facebook where they post events all the time.


Michele Forto is the Denver Dog Training Examiner, a certified canine trainer at Denver Dog Works and the co-host of the Dog Doctor Radio Show

Canine Behavior Consultations

May 27, 2010

Canine Behavior Consultation

By Michele Forto

At Denver Dog Works we are sought after throughout the country as the preeminent expert for canine aggression cases. With that said we also do things a bit differently than most dog trainers for basic obedience. Canine Behavior Modification Sessions are NOT Obedience Sessions. We also charge differently than a dog trainer. Typically dog trainers charge per session or in a block of sessions (ie. eight weeks for $500.00, etc.) A behavioral consultation is much different. We charge by the hour and we require a retainer. The reason we do this is simple: there is a tremendous amount of work involved behind the scenes and with the client in person. We charge just like an attorney would charge you, increments of six minutes. Remember you are hiring an expert not just a dog trainer that trains dogs for fun. Canine Aggression is serious business and you need an expert to help you in this difficult time.

Canine Behavior Consultation

A Canine Behavior Consultation is an in-depth scientific observation of a dog displaying unwanted or unexplained behavior.  Dr. Robert Forto, Ph.D. of Denver Dog Works is not only the training director with nearly twenty years of experience in training dogs, but also Denver’s foremost expert on aggression.

A Canine Behavior Consultation often begins unfortunately with an incident where your dog has bitten someone.  Very few times, has Dr. Forto been contacted prior to the bite occurring.  Usually he is contacted during an owner’s dog being quarantined by the local animal control.

When you contact Dr. Forto regarding canine aggression or behavior modification for your dog he or his staff will ask you a series of questions determining whether or not you are in need of a behaviorist or just a qualified trainer with specific behavior background such as separation anxiety.

When hiring an expert be prepared to pay a retainer and to be billed in hourly increments monthly for their services.  This is how Dr. Forto has established his business and reputation.  He values your concerns and expects you to value his time and his expertise.

I asked Dr. Forto, what happens during a Behavior Evaluation/Canine Behavior Consultation and this is what he said.

What happens during an Behavioral Evaluation?

You will be interviewed and asked questions regarding your dog and the problems you are concerned with:

  • Your dog’s daily routine and history with you
  • What your relationship with your dog is like
  • How your dog behaves in different situations
  • A description of the problem
  • When, where and how often the problem happens
  • What you have done to work with your dog’s behavior

We will observe your dog and see how he/she behaves

  • We do want to see how your dog reacts to us and get a sense of his temperament
  • We do want to see how your dog reacts to you and get a sense of his temperament
  • Observing the problem behavior may not be possible, desirable or needed

We will use this information to analyze your dog’s problem

  • Why the problem developed
  • What’s now motivating the behavior
  • What needs to be done to change the behavior

We will develop and write down a custom behavior modification plan for you

  • The plan may include changes to your dog’s environment and/or diet
  • The plan may require structured “training sessions” to bring out the desired behavior
  • The plan may require changes in how you react to your dog’s behavior
  • The plan will include tips and remedies

We will follow-up with you during the scheduled “training sessions” either in-home or office visits for the number listed on your behavior modification plan:

  • Answer your questions and observe the dog and his reactions
  • Make sure you are on the right track
  • “Fine tune” your custom plan
  • If your dog is participating in our board and train program you will receive weekly progress reports for the duration of his stay.

And this is just the beginning!  According to Dr. Forto, once he receives the initial evaluation from his staff, he then corresponds immediately with the client who has now received a 13-page questionnaire asking specific questions pertaining to their dog’s history.  He begins developing a treatment plan and schedules the first visit.  Dr. Forto is working with you from the moment he receives your case file and he continues to be available via email, phone, and in person.  Behavior modification does not get fixed at the snap of a finger, modifying a dogs behavior can take months just as modifying your behavior can take months. A typical behavior case can last three to nine months.  Although, you can see results after just one hour, modifying unwanted behavior and replacing it with wanted behavior takes time.  An aggressive dog must have his behavior managed and the treatment plan that Dr. Forto devises for you must be followed correctly in order for the modification to be successful. Once the treatment plan has been developed Dr. Forto then visits you a few times to check on your progress and then develops a maintenance plan. Aggression is never cured it is managed.

Dr. Forto is available for behavior modification, seminars, and workshops addressing aggression (and other canine behavior problems).  If you are interested in learning more about aggression or if your dog is in need of behavior modification you can reach Dr. Forto at through his website at

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Michele Forto is Denvers Dog Training Examiner and the business manager of Denver Dog Works. Michele can be reached through her website at