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Animal Behavior Counseling

Recent studies indicate the value of living with companion animals, such as lowering blood pressure and easing depression.  In return, animals thrive on the love and attention they receive from us.  Our goal is to enhance this bond by focusing on positive reinforcement rather than punishment.  Both you and your pet benefit from this approach, as the human-animal bond is strengthened.

Animals respond well to positive reinforcement, allowing us to change undesirable behaviors into desirable behaviors.  At AWC, we feel animals deserve our respect; therefore we suggest gentle treatment methods along with appropriate techniques.  This way, much can be accomplished without breaking the animal's spirit, but instead improving trust and communication.

Schedule a consultation at AWC to talk about your animal's behavior issues, and then learn how to gently correct the behaviors that are threatening the special bond between you and your pet.

Socialization is a Life Saver for Your Puppy

You just adopted your brand new puppy and you are in love already. Your parenting instincts are in high gear, you want to do everything you can to protect her and keep her healthy and happy for the rest of her life. A physical exam, vaccinations, parasite protection, lots of toys and finding the right food come to the top of your list. This is a great start, but to achieve all your dreams for this precious pet, we haven’t included the most important insurance of all: Socialization.

Do you know the number one reason puppies lose their homes and subsequently lose their lives? It is behavior problems, not infectious diseases, accidents or parasites. Unacceptable behaviors are the leading reason dogs under three years of age are relinquished to shelters where a high percentage will be destroyed. Experts in veterinary behavior around the world have studied the causes for behavior problems in young dogs, and they agree that the majority of the problem behaviors can be traced back to lack of appropriate socialization during the puppy’s sensitive period.

The Sensitive Period.  The sensitive period for your puppy is the first 3 months of life. During this time your puppy is the most open to accepting and embracing other animals, new people, new experiences, objects, sounds and handling.  Repeated, positive exposures will provide your puppy with the skills she needs to understand and interact successfully with her world. This is a brief, yet precious, period of time for your puppy. Socialization classes are an ideal opportunity to make the most of these few weeks.

On the other hand, improper or incomplete socialization can increase her risk of behavioral issues in the future including fear, avoidance, and aggression.  Frightening or painful experiences can produce life-long phobias at this age. After 16 weeks of age the puppy’s mind closes to novel experiences. Their brains are programmed to be very wary of unfamiliar individuals and experiences and the sensitive period closes.

The American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior (AVSAB) has issued a formal Position Statement on Puppy Socialization. Pointing out the critical role early social learning plays in a puppy’s success, the statement reads in part, “ For this reason, the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior believes that it should be the standard of care for puppies to receive such socialization before they are fully vaccinated.

Of course vaccinations are critically important to your puppy’s health, but the notion that our puppies shouldn’t be exposed to each other or the world outside their home until the vaccination series is complete is outdated and indeed dangerous to your puppy’s psychological development. Most puppies can start participating in socialization classes at 7-8 weeks of age after receiving a minimum of one set of vaccinations.

Socialization and Habituation. Socialization can be described as the process whereby an animal learns how to recognize and interact with the species with which it cohabits. In the wild this is likely to be limited to the animal’s own species, but for the domestic dog it includes other species such as man and cats. By learning how to interact with these the socialized dog develops communication skills which enable it to recognize, amongst other things, whether or not it is being threatened and how to recognize and respond to the intentions of others.

The socialization process starts at birth. Gentle handling and cuddling a newborn helps them learn to accept the manipulation of their bodies and to associate human touch with a pleasant experience. During the next 12 weeks they should be exposed to people of all ages, sizes and shapes. They need to see people in hats, with facial hair, wearing different clothing, and using a cane. These experiences will help them identify and be comfortable with all the different visual manifestations of humans.

Well socialized puppies have ample opportunities to play with other dogs. Their world needs to include interactive toys, novel objects, car rides, and visits to other homes. Encourage them to explore each environment and build self confidence.  All of these experiences are healthy and necessary for the next phase of learning:  Habituation.

Habituation. Habituation can be described as the process whereby an animal becomes accustomed to non-threatening environmental stimuli and learns to ignore them.  As she explores her world your puppy is being bombarded with information. She needs to learn who is a friend, does it hurt, can I eat it, is it fun, is it no big deal and can be ignored. We have all met dogs that seemed to over react to very common, non-threatening situations. They may have reacted fearfully, become over-protective, aggressive or hyperactive.  All of these behaviors result when a dog is improperly or incompletely socialized. These animals never had the chance to habituate fully to their world.

Socialization classes provide an ideal format for raising confident, well adjusted dogs.  Classes must be conducted by persons who are qualified trainers and held in a clean and safe environment. Puppies should be encouraged to explore and engage at their own pace. Teachers and puppy owners must use only positive reinforcement with praise and an abundance of treats. Most of all, you and your puppy should be having FUN!

The Animal Wellness Center is very proud to offer high quality, safe, fun and affordable socialization classes. Puppies between 7 and 16 weeks of age, having received at least one set of vaccinations and a de-worming treatment are eligible. Ideally, enroll your puppy when she is 7-8 weeks of age and then continue to attend weekly until she is ready to move into Puppy Kindergarten. This approach will maximize her learning experience during her all-important sensitive period.

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Training Classes

The Animal Wellness Center also offers classes to assist you in using positive reinforcement techniques to train your puppy, address any  behavior concerns and tighten the bond of affection and unconditional love between you and your pet.  All classes need to be paid in full at time of registration to hold spot and are non-refundable after two weeks prior to the start of class.

Early Puppy Socialization

Come join the fun!  Early Puppy Socialization is a 5 week class that will focus on socializing your new puppy to other dogs, people, and objects. Puppies will learn basic foundation skills such as:

•    Introduction to positive reinforcement training
•    Name recognition
•    The right way to introduce leash walking
•    And so much more!

We will provide a safe, controlled environment in which puppies are encouraged to explore and have fun.  This is an ongoing revolving class so there will always be new puppies and people.  Class meets once a week for one hour.  Each week will be a different series of exposures of objects, people and new behaviors designed to build their confidence.

What is Puppy Socialization?
Up until 16 weeks of age, your puppy’s brain is open to every experience they encounter. This phase of development, referred to as the sensitive period, allows the puppy to understand and accept his normal surroundings.  During this time your puppy is the most open to accepting and embracing other animals, new people, new experiences, objects, sounds and handling.  After 16 weeks of age, puppy brains are actually hardwired by nature to become wary of new things, making it much harder to shape them into a relaxed, friendly and confident adult dog.

It is extremely important to expose your puppy to as many new things as you can during their sensitive period.  

During this critical time, they should be exposed to people of all ages, sizes, and shapes.  For example, they need to see people in hats, with facial hair, wearing different clothing, using a cane or walker.  You need to provide many opportunities for your puppy to play with other dogs.  Their world needs to include interactive toys, novel objects, car rides, and visits to other homes.

When Should I Enroll My Puppy?
The class is open to puppies between 7 and 16 weeks of age, having received at least one set of vaccinations and a de-worming treatment. The goal is to get your puppy started right away and then continue into Puppy Kindergarten without missing a beat. Once you have finished the first 5 weeks you will want to continue to attend on a weekly basis until you graduate to Puppy Kindergarten.  This approach will maximize their learning experience during this critical period.  Early Puppy Socialization Classes are the perfect first step in helping your puppy become a more confident and well adjusted adult.

How Do I Get Registered?
Call us today at (763)420-7958 to learn more about the importance of early puppy socialization and our fun classes.  Cost is $80.00 for 5 weeks, then a $16.00 fee for each additional class you attend.  Want to try a class?  Cost for drop in is $19.00 per class.  Classes are held at 6:30pm on Tuesdays here at the Animal Wellness Center. Sign up today!

Puppy Kindergarten

This is a consecutive five week course for puppies that are 16 weeks to 6 months old when the series starts.  The class will meet for one hour each week and costs $120.00.  Puppy Kindergarten will introduce positive reinforcement techniques that help create a puppy that wants to work with you.  We will teach life skills like sit, lie down, introduction to the come cue, and loose-leash walking.  These classes will help build and maintain foundation behaviors like learning their name and paying attention to the handler in distracting situations.  Additionally, puppies will continue to work on their socialization skills with people and other animals.  Class is limited to 6 puppies.

Level One Training

This is a consecutive 5-week course for dogs that are at least 6 months old when the series starts.  The class will meet for one hour each week and costs $120.00.  Using positive reinforcement techniques, this class will continue the learning process from Puppy Kindergarten and/or teach new skills to older dogs.  We will teach sit, lie down, stay, come, leash manners, and other basic life skills.  Dogs who attend this course will work on their socialization skills with people and other animals in addition to learning fun new games.  Class is limited to 6 dogs.

Level Two Training with Introduction to Agility

This is a consecutive 5-week course for dogs that are at least 12 months old when the series starts and have completed Level One Training.  The class will meet for one hour each week and costs $120.00.  Using positive reinforcement techniques, we will refresh what has already been learned in previous classes in addition to working on various new behaviors.  These new behaviors will vary depending on what the class participants would like to learn.  This class will also include an introduction to agility equipment.  This is meant to be a fun outing and is not a competitive class.  One of the main goals of this course is to increase your dog's off leash skills.  Dogs who attend this course will also work on their socialization skills with people and other animals while learning fun new games.  Class is limited to 6 dogs.

Reactive Class

Is your dog nervous or unpredictable on walks?  Is your dog uncomfortable or overstimulated in new situations or environments?  Reactive classes are for dogs that need to build better skills for management in life situations.  Class size is limited to 4 dogs, and needs instructor approval.  Some reactivity issue may need to be addressed before practicing in a classroom setting.  This class will help you and your dog learn management techniques, read body language and identify triggers so you can be proactive instead of reactive.   This is a 6 week course and costs $160.00.  The first class will be WITHOUT your dog.

Private Consultation and Training Sessions

At home, private consultations can be arranged with Amy Sandmann.   Amy has trained with Victoria Stilwell Positively Dog Training and star of Animal Planet’s television series “Its Me or the Dog.”

"All parents know their child needs a good education, and the same is true for their dogs.  We need to teach our dogs to be good citizens and how to cooperate with us in a human world.  Our training philosophy is simple, give owners and their dogs the tools to live together in better harmony, this is achieved through Positive Reinforcement methods.  Reward based training is a powerful tool and will allow your dog to learn new behaviors quicker than you ever thought possible.  Our classes are highly instructional and really fun.  We have classes for dogs of every age. You and your dog will be happier because you will have a better understanding of each other.  Best of all, your bond will be deeper and stronger than ever before. Training classes may be the greatest gift you ever give your best friend.Amy Sandmann

Trick Training

High-five.  Fetch.  Jump through a hoop.  Spin, twirl, and take a bow.  There is no doubt that tricks are fun to train, and even more fun to show off to friends and family.  But they are so much more than just a good time!  Here are five things tricks can do for you, your dog, and your training.

1. It is a great way for dogs to get mental stimulation (exercise) A tired or mentally stimulated dog is a happy dog!

2. Teaching tricks will help build the communication skills between owner and dog.  It will teach your dog how to learn.

3. Teaching tricks will help the owner build a positive relationship with their dogs.  The dogs will WANT to do things for their owners.

4. Training Tricks will make your dog SMARTER!

5. Training tricks is FUN!!!!

This is a consecutive 6-week course for dogs that are at least 6 months old when the series starts.  The class will meet for one hour each week and costs $120.00.  Using positive reinforcement techniques, this class will teach a variety of tricks and will be a great way to spend time, have fun and play with your dog!


Behavior and Training Reading List Recommendations

Training Articles and Information

Use of Shock in Animal Training

Reprinted from The Pet Professional Guild


Evidence indicates that rather than speeding the learning process, electrical stimulation devices slow the training process, add stress to the animal, and can result in both short-term and long-term psychological damage to animals.  Electrical stimulation devices include products often referred to as: e-collars, training collars, e-touch, stimulation, tingle, TENS unit collar, remote trainers.  Top of Form

Some common problems resulting from the use of electrical stimulation devices include, but are not limited to:

• Infliction of Stress and Pain

Even at the lowest setting, electrical stimulation devices present an unknown stimulus to pets which, when not paired with a positive stimulus, at best is neutral and at worst is frightening/painful to the animal. Pets learning to exhibit a behavior in order to escape or avoid fear or pain are, by definition, subjected to an aversive stimulus. Studies indicated that dogs trained with shock displayed stress signals as they approached the training area and frequently work slowly and deliberately. In many instances, electrical stimulation causes physiological pain and psychological stress to the animal, often exhibited by vocalization, urination, defecation, fleeing and complete shut-down. In extreme cases, electrical stimulation devices may burn animal tissue.

• Generalization

For behaviors to become reliable in random environments, they must be practiced in random environments (called “generalization”). When using an electrical stimulation device to train, this means the animal must be repeatedly subjected to electrical stimulation for the behavior to become reliable. To maintain the behavior, the pet will need to be subjected to the electrical stimulation on a periodic but random basis. Often, the behaviors never become reliable when the electrical stimulation device is not present because, as part of the cue system, it is missing when the animal is not subjected to it. Therefore, in addition to being an aversive stimulus, electrical stimulation collars are ineffective if not worn frequently or even constantly.

• Escalation

If results are not immediately realized, many users of electrical stimulation devices will increase the level of stimulation, which often results in the animal attempting to escape or avoid the stimulus and even total shut down where it will refuse to perform. This creates a counter-productive paradigm in which little learning can occur. Additionally, some animals are”stoic” and may fail to show a pain response despite increased levels of electrical stimulation. Other animals may become habituated to the pain and endure it, causing trainers to increase the level and frequency of electrical stimulation. The pain and stress caused in such situations has a significant effect on an animal’s physiology, increasing cortisol levels and heart rate.

• Global Suppression, or “Shut-Down”

An animal repeatedly subjected to electrical stimulation for several different behaviors may go into a state of “shut down,” or a global suppression of behavior. This is frequently mistaken for a “trained” animal, as the animal remains subdued and offers few or no behaviors. In extreme cases, animals may refuse to perform any behavior, called “learned helplessness” and isolate themselves to avoid incurring electrical stimulation. This is counter-productive to training new behaviors.

• Suppressed Aggression

The use of aversive stimuli is counter-indicated in animals with aggression because they suppress aggression and it may resurface at any time, without warning, generally in a more severe display (Hiby et al., 2004). Using electrical stimulation to reduce behaviors such as barking, lunging and growling may suppress behaviors that warn of a more serious imminent behavior such as biting. Without ritualized aggression behaviors, people and other animals will have no warning before the animal subjected to punishment feels forced to bite. It is the PPG’s position that desensitization and counter-conditioning is the only ethical and effective paradigm in which to treat aggression in pet animals.

• Redirected Aggression

Animals subjected to repeated electrical stimulation may be respondently conditioned to associate the fear/pain of electrical stimulation with certain contextual cues in their environment. As an example, many dogs trained to honor the boundaries of an electrical boundary (also referred to an “underground” or “invisible” fence) will approach- a stranger on the other side of the boundary and encounter- the painful/frightening stimulus. Repeated instances of this will generalize to the dog fleeing or acting aggressively toward strangers on the other side of the fence in order to avoid the painful/frightening stimulus. Similarly, animals subjected to repeated electrical stimulation may act aggressively toward the nearest human or animal near them in attempt to escape/avoid pain/fear caused by electrical stimulation.

• Unintended Consequences

Electrical stimulation devices have not been studied in terms of health. There is currently insufficient data to determine whether prolonged use of electrical stimulation devices may pose a long-term health risk. However, there is clear data that electrical stimulation can cause burn injuries.

Recommended Reading:


Pat Miller, Whole Dog Journal, February 2006 Shock or Awe

Pat Miller, Simply Shocking in Whole Dog Journal 2/03


Coercion and It’s Fallout by Murray Sidman

Aggressive Behavior in Dogs by James O’Heare

Control Unleashed by Leslie McDevitt


Training Videos and Links

Dr. Sophia Yin "Dog Aggressive for Nail Trim" YouTube Video

Dr. Sophia Yin "Jack Russell Terrier Aggression When Blowing in Face" YouTube Video