More About Dog Breed Groups

Love dogs, but don’t know how to choose or where to start? A little education can go a long way. Dog were originally domesticated to help humans thrive and survive. All over the world dogs were selectively bred to highlight the qualities that were desired: hunters wanted dogs who would retrieve game, farmers wanted dogs who help them herd their flocks. The American Kennel Club (AKC) list dog breeds by seven specialized group. The first thing to discover are the many unique qualities dog breeds possess. Here’s a quick look at the AKC breed groupings:

Sporting Group: Dogs in this group were bred to aid man in hunting fowl (wild birds). Conditioned by nature to retrieve, these dogs can be trained to gather birds from the field or water, or they can simply stay at home and make excellent companions, fetching tennis balls, slippers and the morning paper.
Hound Group: The breeds in the Hound Group like following fast-moving game, and this penchant has made them a big hit in hunting circles. In addition to their keen noses or sharp eyesight, the hounds’ easy-going, at times, stoic personality has endeared them as family pets. The three types of hounds are sight hounds, scent hounds and large game hounds.
Terrier Group: Losing is not in a terrier’s vocabulary. Own a terrier, and one word springs out at you immediately – determination. Terriers take a bite out of life and don’t let go. The two types of terriers are vermin hunters and fighting breeds.
Working Group: This classification needs little explanation. Though more varied in job description than the other groups, the breeds in the Working Group have one thing in common: Throughout the centuries, they have performed specific jobs that have benefited humans. In the Working Group, you find sled/draft dogs, personal protection dogs, rescue dogs and estate guarding dogs.
Herding Group: The function of breeds in the Herding Group is to, well, herd livestock. These dogs are a hard working lot who, in most cases, work under the direction of a shepherd. This group can be broken down into two types: sheepherders and cattle herders.
Non-Sporting Group: Many of the dogs in this group were originally bred for specific, but because dog work is hard to come by these days, these dogs have become companions. Unlike other breed groups, the personalities of the dogs in this group vary widely because they were all originally bred for different tasks. Before considering any of these breeds, consult breed-specific books and speak to a veterinarian to get a truer sense of what the breed you’re looking at is like.
Toy Group: Many of the breeds in this group are miniaturized versions of working hunting dogs. Too small to work, these breeds have perfected the art of being adorable. Needing little exercise (though they definitely need exercise), they are perfect for apartment dwellers and older people. Playful and devoted, they demand constant affection and attention.

Temperament Testing a Puppy

A puppy may be the only relative you can choose! Here are some quick tips to ensure the one you bring home has a temperament and personality to love for a lifetime.

Honest Appraisal Take a quick look at yourself before you peer into a puppy’s eyes. Are you mellow and tolerant—even bemused by a puppy’s normal impulsive antics? A spirited pup might brighten your life tremendously! Are you driven to perfection and want a dog to reflect your vigor and enthusiasm? You’d do best with an intelligent dog who is eager to follow your lead. Are you easily frustrated, or already pinned down with so much responsibility that a low key dog would suit you better? No matter what breed you choose, you find a range of personalities within the very same litter. High drive, sweet and soulful, or laid back—a quick assessment can help you to make the right decision.

Look Before you Leap Watch a puppy or group of puppies in their natural setting before you interact with one. How do they act with each other and with stimulations in their environment. The puppy who is alert and attentive to every noise, stimulation or movement will act similarly in your home. A puppy who enjoys rough play has a different personality then the one content to play alone or who cringes when ambushed. An active puppy will need more direction; a puppy who is content to play with toys while the other puppies jump about may be more laid back in your home, and a sensitive puppy will need more reassurance and attention.

One-on-One Bring your puppy into a quiet room if possible. (If in a new setting, give the puppy a few minutes to sniff about before you engage him.) Spend some time interacting with him. How does the puppy approach you? If excited, does he calm down quickly or start to nip? Offer him a treat- how does he react? Now play with a toy—is he showing interest? Pretend your at home and see how the puppy reacts to normal disruptions…standing apart from the puppy, pretend to trip and fall, shout at someone in the distance, drop your keys… Does the puppy get wild, ignore you or get scared? Copy the chart offered in my Puppies for Dummies book, and take notes. Though your heart may lead you to quick decision, the choice to adopt a puppy is a tremendous one…so consider it wisely!

The rewards of a well thought out decision can enhance your life for a decade, or bring tremendous heart ache. Do your homework ahead of time—you’ll be glad you did!

Dog Park Etiquette

Finally, we’re experiencing warm, dry days! It was a long winter and everyone — kids, dogs, puppies and grownups — are itching to get outside. This seems like the perfect time to talk about dog parks.

Dog parks are a great place for dogs and dog lovers. Your dog gets to run around with four-legged friends and you get to hang out with like-minded dog people. To make sure that your visit goes smoothly, follow these basic rules of dog park etiquette.

Follow the Rules. Though each dog park is set up differently, they all have list of rules to ensure everyone enjoys their time at the park. Take the time to read the rules – usually posted at the entrance — and please respect them.

Look Around. Before letting your dog out of the car, look around. Are the dogs getting along? Keep your eyes peeled for the bully—just like a schoolyard, there are always one or two tough guys (or gals) who think it’s fun to terrorize the other kids. A dog park can be unsafe if these poorly socialized dogs are allowed to run free. (continued on next page)

Come Prepared. Most parks have water and poop bags available, but it’s always wise to bring your own supply. Some dogs don’t like to drink out of the communal water bowl, so bring your own water dish, too.

Reinforcements. Bring a supply of food rewards and favorite toys. Offer one whenever your dog returns to you. Your dog may be well behaved at home, but the freedom and fun of a dog park will test his listening skills.

Know When To Go. Some days will be perfect – your dog will meet nice friends, you’ll bond with the other pup parents and your dog will sleep like a log when you get home. Other days, the bullies will be running the park, no one will laugh at your jokes and your dog will throw up in the car. That’s ok. Just leave. And always leave – right away – if any dog (maybe even yours) is being aggressive. While it’s rare, serious dog fights have erupted at dog parks.

For more information, read my article “Know A Good Dog Park?.”

Dog Phobia

Why are some children afraid of dogs? And what can be done about it?

Sometimes, it’s simple. The parents are afraid of dogs. That one is easy. But other times, it’s not so clear. Some kids seem to have an innate fear that can’t be traced to mom’s anxiety or dad’s overprotectiveness. What can be done to ease these fears?

Many small children don’t experience dogs in the flesh. They see them in books and on television and these dogs are usually very well behaved…sometimes to the point where they talk.

Then reality strikes. Unless properly trained, most dogs will greet a child as they greet other dogs, through facial interaction and intense sniffing. Wait! This isn’t what Scooby does! This kind of highly personal greeting often startles children and adults alike. Hands are waved. Voices are raised. Things deteriorate.

It’s important that parents and dog owners prepare for a peaceful encounter with children.

If you have a dog, instill calmness and respect in the presence of children. Teach the directions down and stay or, at the very least, learn how to brace your dog into a steady sit position. Do this by kneeling, clipping your thumb over his collar (with your thumb pointed to the floor) and holding your hand across his waist. Leave the area if your dog is too excited, fearful or aggressive.

Prepare kids for meeting dogs. Keep initial meetings short and controlled. Let the meeting progress at your child’s pace.

If your child is still afraid, talk it out. Ask questions. “Can you talk to me about your fear? Are you afraid of big dogs, small dogs, black dogs, white dogs…?” See if you can narrow it down. Be respectful, sympathetic and supportive.

Let you child know you’re okay with their fear… and that you will protect them. Don’t belittle the fear or try to cajole your child out of it. If a dog is making them afraid, ask the owner to get the dog away. It doesn’t matter how nice the dog is. If your child is afraid, that’s the priority.

If the fear is a full-fledged phobia, accompanied by hyperventilation and mind-numbing panic, discover your child’s red zone: the distance from the animal he or she must keep in order to feel safe. Five feet… ten… twenty? Find a well mannered dog that you can visit together and work to lessen that distance.

Plan a family adventure to an enclosed dog park or show. Let your child know that working through the fear is a team effort and that you’ll watch the dogs from a comfortable distance. Lift your child onto your shoulders to give her a sense of height and power. Keep communication flowing and your sympathies high.


Teaching Your Dog to Walk on a Leash

In the long, intertwined history of people and dogs, the leash and leash walking are relatively new inventions, designed for convenience and safety. Humans walk in straight lines, confident in the belief that they are in charge because they are holding the leash. But restricted, linear walks are unnatural to dogs, who prefer to meander and explore. Dogs pull on the leash in an effort to increase the meandering. Humans pull back to increase the restricting. This combination of pulling away and pulling back puts pressure on the dog’s collar and he starts to choke and feel very, very anxious.* Here are some quick tips to make your walks more pleasant:

* Roaming ahead teaches your dog that he is walking you. He’ll make directional decisions and react to other dogs, people or nuances. Teach your dog to walk with you, not in front of you.

* When walking near roadways or crowds use a hand held or hands free lead. Long or retractable leashes encourage pulling and reactionary behaviors such as barking, lunging and jumping.

* If your dog pulls, consider using a No-pull harness or Head Collar or correction collar to shape cooperative walking skills. Speak to a professional to help you select what might be most appropriate for your dog.

* Use treats and rewards to encourage your dog’s attention. Consider using a clicker to highlight the moments your dog is paying attention to you.

* If a sight or sound distracts your dog do not look at your dog or respond in the moment: stay calm, setting the example by simply ignoring it. Walk faster and encourage your dog to follow you.

Dogs spend a lot of time hanging around the house – it’s safe and comfortable but a bit limiting. Share the world with your dog by learning how to walk together.

*Excerpt from Sarah’s syndicated column on the Bedford-Katonah Patch.

Play Training The Come Command

Come is difficult request: you’re asking your dog to leave something they’re enjoying and return to your side. While some dogs are responsive and prioritize their owner’s request, more act like self-absorbed children. Getting frustrated won’t help: staying positive will. Remember these tips as you begin to work on this command.

* The command “Come” is equivalent to shouting out “Huddle!” The ultimate invitation to reconnect.

* Staring while calling a dog can be confusing. Imagine my calling you to the kitchen in a foreign language: no matter how loudly I spoke or how often I repeated myself it wouldn’t be any more clear if I stood there staring at you.

* Start using the command when your dog approaches you: when he comes for meal, reward or affection say “Come,” and praise him. The command will highlight positive interaction instead of confusing separation.

*Use other words to call dogs to the car or indoors, such as “Car” and “Inside.” Use a treat cup to encourage a positive association.

* Play train this command. A light, happy approach is much more successful and lasting than heavy-handed, domineering, fear-based methods.

* Use a long line if exercising your dog in an unconfined space.

Looking for more Quick Tips on teaching this important command. Refer to Sarah’s Teach Yourself Visually Dog Training book for more on this command and others!

Understanding Separation Anxiety: Thorns to protect the rose

Can an undernourished, mistreated puppy overcome his fear and confusion to find love and understanding?

Though I rarely take phone calls while I’m on the road, I put Karen on speaker phone and let her talk. Referred by a close friend, she clung to our conversation like a life raft and revealed her dilemma.

Her niece had found a stray puppy and was taking it to a shelter. 

Learning to Give: Teach Your Dog To Share

Does this sound familiar? Your dog is holding a sock. You grab for it. Your dog makes a move. You make a move. Chaos ensues.

One of the most important lessons you can teach your dog this summer is to share: to spit out whatever is in his mouth. I like to use the word “Give.” Here’s how to play this new game!

Put some treats in a cup. Shake the cup and reward your dog when he begins to recognize the sound. If your dog isn’t nuts about treats, substitute a desirable toy and purchase several duplicates.

Avoiding Frustration: Worst Mother of the Year Award

Like everyone, I try to do my best by my kids.  Most of the time, I’m mindful…considerate of their budding feelings as I gently remind them of “society’s formula for living.” I’m cool with the slow progression of “fine motor skills,” though I do insist that my six-year old use a fork at the table.  I remember the thrill of jumping into autumn leaves, but street-side piles in our Katonah village hamlet are off-limits. As a parent, I feel that I’m fair-minded, loving, patient…a good mom. That said, the other night I awarded myself the “Worst Mother of the Year” trophy. Of course this isn’t the first time I’ve placed so highly in this ongoing, self-imposed competition—and I’m sure it won’t be the last—but here’s what happened. It all started with the floppy brown dog.

Struggling to Relax: Yoga and Agility

I recently took up yoga. Friends promised I would love it. I’d feel more limber, more relaxed. There was even a pose called Downward Facing Dog. How could I resist?

I bought a mat and signed myself up. The first few minutes were fine. We closed our eyes and sat cross-legged—the Lotus pose. Look at me! I thought. Doing yoga! Why, this is relaxing. And with that, the instructor gently suggested we do a sequence of moves called the Sun Salutation. Then Warrior. Cobra. And the final straw—the One-legged King Pigeon.

Is there a Woman Fleeing Yoga pose?

Understanding and Appreciating: What Children (and Puppies) Really Want

My son is almost two years old and he has a toy chest full of goodies: colorful, safe, interactive, educational, appropriate. And he walks (almost) right by that chest and heads for his two favorite playthings: a one-quart saucepan and an ornate brass candle snuffer. Both are metal, cool to the touch and satisfyingly noisy. If he could talk, I know he’d tell me “Listen Mom, forget the stuffed animals and plastic gadgets…just hand over what you’re holding.” It’s all he really wants.

Surviving the multi-pet household: Winky Saves the Day

Yesterday was the first full day of Lindsay’s summer vacation so I decided to do something memorably fun. I packed my little family into the van for A Water Park Adventure. Forty-five highway minutes away, it came highly recommended by some fun-savvy neighborhood kids. It was hot—but not too hot–and my kids love water…it sounded perfect. We left early to be right at the head of the line: get in, get wet, get home for Bodie’s one o’clock nap.


The day before had been a sunny 69 and as I drove around from appointment to appointment I dreamed of taking my youngest puppy—my two year old son somewhere special the next day. Just me and my boy: Mommy and me time to make up for my absence. The little thumbnails on my IPhone promised another sunny day. It was settled—we were going to Muscoot Farm.

Forgetting to actually look outside I got the kids dressed in shorts and tee-shirts, packed the camera, and was half way to drop off my daughter at school before I noticed the clouds.

Resource Guarding: School Budget

What does the school budget have in common with an aggressive dog? Two words: “resource guarding.”

In the dog world, resource guarding is a problematic behavior in which a dog uses aggression to guard possessions. Dogs have long lists of desirable, protection-worthy stuff including—but not limited to–food, toys, comfy beds and favorite people. Some dogs feel so strongly about their possessions that they growl and bare their teeth. Some even bite.

Aging and Separation Anxiety: Older Dogs Need Sympathy, Too

Meet Riptide, a twelve-year-old unaltered Jack Russell terrier who arrived at my training studio riding shotgun on the center console of his owner’s Chevy truck.  Dan emerged from the driver’s seat, whistling his aging comrade forth, and then yelling loudly as he wandered across the street and into the neighbor’s yard.

A few things were clear from the outset: Riptide was not an average student, and Dan was not my typical leash-in-hand client.

Trick Training: A Conundrum

There are few things that excite me as much as working with a “Trick Dog.”  Of course everything we teach dogs is a type of “trick”. However, a dog who is energized by challenges beyond the ordinary sit-stays : a dog who loves to learn to “Dance”, “Jump” or give a “Paw” …this type of dog is like a fresh mound of clay in my hands.  With clients I select a trick or two to enhance everyday life. “Fetch the diaper” is a big hit with the parent set, while “Jump through a hoop” is a winner with the 7-12 year old crowd, and everybody would far prefer their dog dance when greeting than claw for attention, but………….


Yesterday, Balder, Bohdie and I sat on a bench outside the grade school, waiting patiently for my 7-year old daughter, Lindsay, to emerge from the building. Finally, she appeared and dropped the bombshell: she wanted to make the ½ mile walk home — alone. I struggled to maintain my cool at this very literal leap towards independence but I managed to croak out a very nonchalant “Sure!” – even though I wasn’t. 

Moving Out: Life’s Reassurances

In less than 3 weeks, we’re moving out of the house I’ve raised myself in. For almost 16 years, I’ve lived in and loved my little village home. The memories that I’ve packed so tightly into it – of my kids, my husband, my dogs…pretty much my whole adult life – will follow me to my new home, but I look at all the boxes and I can’t help but feel nostalgic, emotional, a little sad and seriously, seriously tired.

Obsession Toys! Teaching your dog to behave in a Sarah Minute…

As a dog trainer, I’m blessed to work with both dogs and people—two of my favorite species!  I spend most days interpreting dog or puppy behavior, and coaching people to teach their dog English as a second language.  Dogs, like young kids, want desperately to be a part of things.  They excite, sometimes over-enthusiastically, to every day transitions, like people coming to the door or family members leaving.