Author Archives: ajasage

Halloween Tip: Keeping dogs away from the front door

So. . .we’ve already given the important reminder to keep holiday treats away from your four-legged crew. What else should you do to keep your critters safe during this upcoming holiday? Keeping your pets away from the front door is another big one!

With mass amounts of tiny humans (. . .and some big ones!) that will be knocking on your door next week, a lot of dogs can get stressed out. Not surprisingly, this can be a big holiday in which dog owners may find their pup on a bite hold. We’ve actually helped our share of private clients gain control as a result of incidents that have occurred on Halloween.

So, what should you do? You can safely keep your pups crated, gated, or otherwise in another room, so as to keep them calm and not reactive every time the doorbell rings. This helps for dogs that are reactive, and also helps those pups that are inclined to dart out of the front door when it’s opened. (Yes- we can help control that, too!) An alternative may be to sit out front and greet all the cute little ghouls and gobblins as they approach, and eliminate that door reactivity all together!

Last, if you’re ready for your pup to share in some Halloween fun, join us at Jen-Nic Pet Foods (515 Baltimore Pike, Bel Air, MD 21014) on Oct 28! The Humane Society will be there with adoptable pets, AND there will be a costume contest!

Have you had a behavioral problem that you don’t quite know how to resolve? We’re here and LOVE to help! Ask away, and your question may be featured in an upcoming newsletter!

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Dog training: keep it simple.

Some training friends were around from out of town recently. This is always a good experience because as trainers, it expands our knowledge base, and keeps ideas fresh. Among many things I was able to take away from this, one I’ll share with you all: train for “as much as needed, as little as possible.”

What does this mean? When you’re teaching behaviors to your dog, you want to bring the amount of handling that your dog will need to learn, without overwhelming them. (Or yourself.) You always want to adjust your technique to accommodate your dog’s specific needs, there is no cookie cutter method to training! Some dogs need more hands-on work, some dogs need more hands-off work. Additionally, some dogs learn best with more repetition, some dogs learn best with less. As a novice, you’ll need to do a bit of trial/error to know what works best for your particular dog, which is where a skilled trainer comes in handy. Knowing how to read a dog and what it needs, we can make the best suggestions to have success with “as much as needed, as little as possible.”

Whew! That should make training easier. Right?!

Have you had a behavioral problem that you don’t quite know how to resolve? We’re here and LOVE to help! Ask away, and your question may be featured in an upcoming newsletter!

Vaccination Information

Disclaimer: This article is based on my educated opinion, from research I’ve done. It should not replace your need to research and talk to your vet about what is best for your dog and your situation.

Vaccination requirements in Maryland, as well as most states are limited to the Rabies vaccination, although there are many other vaccinations that are recommended and that you can choose from. Vaccinations may be given as independent injections, or as combination vaccines.

The most common optional and highly recommended vaccination for puppies, is the Parvovirus vaccine. It’s typically given as a combo vaccine, which vaccinates against five potentially deadly viruses for puppies. (Adult dogs can get them, too, although the severity of the disease is not as great as it is in puppies.) The five diseases that the combo vaccine protects against are canine distemper, hepatitis, adenovirus, parvovirus, and parainfluenza. This vaccine is typically recommended to give to puppies as early as 4 weeks of age, and boosters are given throughout puppyhood, and an additional booster at one year of age. Recent studies are showing the effectiveness of the booster to last up to seven years! Additional diseases may be covered in similar parvo combo vaccines, such as leptospirosis (more on this, later), although these combo vaccines are generally not recommended, depending on who you’re talking to.

There are also vaccines that protect against potentially deadly or life altering bacteria, such as those that cause Lepto, and Lyme’s Disease. It’s important to note that Lepto and Lyme’s Disease can effect people, as well. As some of you may know, I recently had a dog pass away due to complications of Leptospirosis, a bacteria transmitted through other infected animals. (In our case, my dog Dojo was infected from exposure to rats in our alley. He was a healthy six-year-old dog.) Because these vaccines protect against bacteria, their effectiveness is not as long as a vaccine that protects against viruses. As with many vaccinations, these only protect against a small portion of the strains of bacteria, and are not without risk. If you choose to have them administered, it is recommended for your dog to receive them yearly. It is also generally recommended that these be given as independent injections, separate from other vaccines. This is to increase effectiveness, as well as to prevent complications. It is typically not recommended for senior dogs to receive these injections because of risk of complication.

What vaccines should your dog receive? Well, that’s completely up to you! (With the exception of the rabies vaccine.) Do your research, speak to your vet, and make the decisions that are best for your household. Because the dogs in my home are currently 7 and 12 years old, they currently get vaccinated for rabies, only. Even though I recently had a dog pass away due to Lepto, I’m still on the fence about this vaccine, and am weighing risks/benefits and speaking with my vet with regard to vaccinating Red, my 7-year-old, against this and possibly other diseases. As a senior at 12, Star will not be receiving vaccines, other than rabies.

Have you had a behavioral problem that you don’t quite know how to resolve? We’re here and LOVE to help! Ask away, and your question may be featured in an upcoming newsletter!
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Nature VS Nurture: Puppy Socialization

When it comes to the question of “Nature VS Nurture” there’s no easy answer. The best answer is usually: BOTH. Dogs are born with an innate temperament, which is generally influenced by their breeding. We also influence how they respond to the world around them.

Quickly, let’s talk about temperament and learned behavior. Temperament is something your dog is born with. This cannot be changed, and is “the card they’re dealt.” Some dogs are naturally more outgoing, some dogs are naturally more fearful. This is normal, and important for you to be aware of, as knowing your pup and his tendencies will enable you to choose the best training and socialization path. Next, learned behavior is how we influence our dogs. This can be HUGE! Your puppy (and dog!) is constantly learning, and everything is training, whether you intend it to be, or not.

So, how can we best set our puppies up for success? Early socialization is key. Once your vet has cleared your pup to explore the world – go for it!! Get your pup to the park, take her to play dates, sign up for a training class. Learning from other dogs is super beneficial at this time. Go anywhere and everywhere with her! Thankfully, before your pup is ready for the world, there are some things you can do at home, too! Expose her to new textures – hard wood flooring, tile, carpet. Expose her to new scents – food, grass, flowers. Expose her to different chew items – tendons, pig ears, bones. This last one will be big as your pup starts teething, too! A great rule is 100 experiences in 100 days. Get creative, and have fun with it.

There’s no such thing as over socialization. Especially if you have a pup that’s less confident, you may be fighting against nature to help him out in this area. If you have a breed that has tendencies to guard, you’re going to have to work extra hard early to be sure those behaviors are kept in check. So. . .know the nature, provide the nurture, and enjoy your pup!

Have you had a behavioral problem that you don’t quite know how to resolve? We’re here and LOVE to help! Ask away, and your question may be featured in an upcoming newsletter!
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Understanding Fear Aggression

It was an accident. It was just a ‘nip.’ It didn’t break skin. He just snapped at the air/leash. Sound familiar? Biting (let’s call it what it is) happens when we live our lives with animals. It’s important to not minimize it, and to understand why it happens so that we can prevent it!

Did you know that most dog bites are a result of fear based aggression? Did you also know that scared dog can be much more dangerous than a confident dog? The idea that only confident or outwardly aggressive dogs bite, is a common misconception.

Scared dogs typically give signs of discomfort in a situation before acting in an aggressive manner. Wide eyes, lip licking, removing themselves from a situation, and even growling, are all early warning signs that something is not right with the situation. Respect the dogs space if you see these things. If there are children involved, ensure that the children know to respect the dogs space, as well.

Now, what else do you do? If you have ever experienced these behaviors with your own dog, it’s important to seek professional help. This will not only ensure your safety and the safety of others, it will ensure that your dog is living a happy, comfortable life! With fear aggression, it’s important to note that any harsh corrections and physical punishment can make fear problems worse. In turn, this will make the aggression worse. Taking a slow approach to building the dog’s tolerance to fear triggers is key. Leadership from the people in the dog’s life is also important! Coddling a fearful dog can also make problems worse, as it can force the dog into the leadership position; a role that most fearful dogs are not capable of handling.

What can Mutt Magic do to help? We can schedule an initial in-home evaluation and lesson, to determine what the best course of action will be for your specific situation. From there, our Confidence Course is often a GREAT tool! Held at the Humane Society of Harford County, this is a group training course that is specifically designed to help your shy or fearful dog overcome fear, and build tolerances to key triggers. Upcoming Confidence Courses may be found, here!


Ever have a dog with a behavioral problem, and you don’t know what to do about it? Check out this success story. . .there is hope!

Hi Aja,

Success!  Primrose is going down the stairs every time!  I have all three dogs in my room at night and in the morning I get up, ignore them and just go downstairs.  At first, Primrose was the last one to come down, but now she just goes down whenever she can.  I fed her the first two days on the stairs and by the end of the second day, she went down the stairs with the older dog with no hesitation!  Primrose used to go upstairs alone during the day and whine to come down.  Now she isn’t even going up there during the day unless I go.  She must have been going up alone to get away from stress before.  I’ve really made everyone aware that she has anxiety issues and to work with her.

Your advice and knowledge was very helpful.  I’m still playing the games with all of the dogs and I have the Thunder Shirt too.  The “touch” training has helped to keep the dogs from being so demanding.

Thank you again for your help!


Catherine, Primrose, Sansa and Tuki

Need help with your dogs? Contact us!


Exercising your dog may soon be illegal in Baltimore.

Does your dog use a backpack to burn extra energy on a walk? How about use a treadmill or weight pull equipment for sport or conditioning? These items may soon make you a target in Baltimore. Not only that, but with new laws already in place that have recently removed judicial review from animal matter hearings, if you’re targeted, there’s very little you can to about it, too. (Read more about that, here.)

According to CBS Baltimore, City Council is trying to make these items, and others, such as break sticks- commonly used to break up dog fights, considered “dog fighting paraphernalia,” and posession of them a crime, punishable by $1,000, and up to 90 days in prison. (For the record, some of our local shelters use break sticks to safely break up dog fights as needed, without injury.)

Why is this a problem? As someone that addresses 100% behavior modification training these days, adequate exercise is often a challenge for owners of working breeds, terriers, and others. I recommend dog treadmills, and weight pull training and equipment to clients on a weekly basis, or more often! Read “Weight Pull Saved my Dog-Life” by Kristina Vakharia, a friend, client, and city resident, to learn the benefits of such training. Additionally, there are legitimate competitive sports that utilize this equipment, such as APA weight pull, among others, which have competitions locally.

As with many other things, making these things illegal for outlaws (who, by definition, aren’t going to care about the laws, anyway) really only effects the responsible owners out there. For those of us who choose to have high maintenance dogs, maintaining their needs may get that much harder! Start writing City Council now. Be sure they’re aware that this equipment is NOT just for dog fighting, and that you’re not interested in seeing this law come into effect.

Office of the City Council President, 100 N. Holliday Street, Suite 400, Baltimore, MD 21202

Coucil President: Bernard Young,

District 1: James Kraft,

District 2: Brandon Scott,

District 3: Robert Curran,

District 4: Bill Henry,

District 5: Rochelle Spector,

District 6: Sharon Middleton,

District 7: Nick Mosby,

District 8: Helen Holton,

District 9: William Welch,

District 10: Edward Reisinger,

District 11: Eric Costello,

District 12: Carl Stokes,

District 13: Warren Branch,

District 14: Mary Pat Clarke,

New Dog Introductions

Selecting an appropriate new dog to bring home, as well as selecting new playmates for dogs in your household always requires introducing the dogs. There are a few points to remember to ensure that all new greetings are as successful as they can be. A few general rules to keep in mind are: 1. Male-Female pairs tend to do better long term; 2. Adult dogs that get along initially will typically continue to do so; and 3. Walking the dogs together before greeting can greatly improve chances for appropriate greetings, especially with dogs that are selective.

Male-Female pairs are best because there will be less competition between the dogs. In a pack, there is always an alpha male and an alpha female. (Of course, in your pack at home, you should be the dominant leader, although that’s another topic all together!) Keeping opposite sex pairings can reduce dominance scuffles, which can be intense. In multi-dog households or playgroups, it’s best to determine who the top dogs are, and keep a watchful eye to be sure that other dogs do not challenge this role.

Contrary to the popular myth, adult dogs are better new additions! Getting a puppy to have it “grow up” with the other dog or with the family greatly increases the risk that the puppy will challenge an adult dog as he/she matures. If you select a new addition to your household as an adult and your current dog is receptive from the initial greeting, chances are that the roles will not be challenged in the future because both dogs are mentally mature. Mental maturity in most dogs happens between the ages of 2-4 years, which often depends on the breed and the individual dog.

Now . . .you think you have found the perfect match. It’s time to introduce the dogs! Start on neutral territory, and do not allow the dogs to greet right away. Take the dogs on a long walk side-by-side to start. The longer the walk the better, as greetings will be less intense if the dogs have burned some energy. As you’re walking, take turns having one dog walk in front and the other behind. This will give both you and the dogs the opportunity to watch behaviors. Plus, it will give the dogs an opportunity to pick up on the other dogs scent.

Once the walk is over, as the handler, you must make the decision if it’s the right time to let the dogs greet. Happy, but relaxed, posture is key. Do not allow the dogs to greet head-on; this can present a challenge to some dogs. Head-to-tail, or a sideways greeting is better, as this allows the dogs to learn each others scent. With loose leashes, allow the dogs to approach naturally; you should notice one or both dogs veering slightly to one side, with bodies curved. If the dogs are pulling toward each other with tight leashes, more walking may be needed.

Some dogs are able to meet with new dogs quickly and easily, while other dogs may need more time to get used to a new household or playgroup addition. This depends greatly on the individual dog, with breed and gender playing a role in this as well. Always know your dog and his/her reactions, anticipate responses, and watch behaviors for the best new intros.

Have safe introductions, and enjoy your new addition!

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Supporting justice in dog ownership! By: Aja Brown

Some of you may know, I am a (now) former member of Baltimore City’s “Animal Matters Hearing Panel.” (AHP) For over five years, I helped to decide the safety of dogs in their communities after dog bite incidents. The AHP hears cases of these incidents, prepared by animal control, and has the ability to determine if a dog is not at fault for the incident, is dangerous but can go home with corrective actions to ensure the community’s safety, or if the dog is vicious and must be humanely euthanized.

I would like to tell you why I submitted my resignation to this panel, which provides a useful service that not all cities/counties have available to it’s citizens.

In the past, all decisions that the AHP made were able to be appealed. The process WAS similar to that of a court case: the first appeal went to the health commissioner, and any second appeals would go to the District Court of Baltimore City. Thanks to City Council Bill 14-0442 that was passed, the ability for judicial review has since been removed.

Why is this important? Well, in Maryland, dogs are your property. The AHP has the ability to make decisions with regard to your property and it’s disposition. (Read: your dog can be taken, and euthanized.) While vicious dog hearings must be, not all decisions made by panel members must be made in a group. Certain decisions, such as your ability to own an animal in Baltimore (if in question) can be made by a single panel member. Panel members are appointed by the health commissioner, and not all members have the same amount of animal expertise. The AHP experience level that existed yesterday, may not exist tomorrow. While I believe that the decisions made during my time on the panel were fair and just, that doesn’t mean that I am never wrong.

As it stands now, if the panel is wrong and an individual wants to appeal the decision, it goes to the health commissioner. The very person that appointed the panel in the first place. A person that, with all of her experience, is not someone adept at interpreting animal behavior, or the law. From there? The end. Judicial review is gone. Justice is inhibited. The way the law is now written, nothing more can be done. As fair and correct as I may think my decision making is, taking away another person’s rights and removing due process is not something I will support. This is the reason I have resigned from the City’s AHP.


Questions? Comments? Please share your thoughts. . .

To shave, or not? Shedding your dog’s winter coat.

Not a behavioral topic, but one appropriate for the season. For those that have been receiving our newsletter long enough, you know that heat safety is a topic that is important to me. It’s one I address every year as the temperatures start to rise. If you haven’t heard my summer safety tips before, sit tight- this is a good one! Should you shave your dog leading into our HOT summer?

The answer depends on your dog’s coat. Dogs with a short single coat (pit bulls, boxers, great danes, etc.) do not need a summer shave. They’re wash and wear! Dogs that sport a longer coat are a different story. If your dog has a long single coat (poodles, shih-tzus, bichons, etc.) shave away! I’m sure they’ll be happy to be rid of the extra hair, and there will be less chance for burrs and mats to get stuck. Now, here’s where it gets tricky: If your dog has a double coat (short or long) DO NOT SHAVE! Examples of dogs with this type of coat are- golden retrievers, german shepherds, and pomeranians.

It is a service that some groomers offer, but shaving your double coated dog is more harmful than helpful in the summer months. Why? Double coated dogs have layers of hair for a reason. The outer layer protects your dog from the sun and the heat. That layer actually keeps your dog cool! The inner layer is designed to keep your dog warm and dry- this is the layer you want to address by stripping. Blowing or combing it out are appropriate. If both the layers are shaved down, your dog not only has no sun protection, but no water protection, either. When shaved, the outer layer is no longer dominant, and there will be more chance of attracting burrs and mats. With the undercoat exposed, your dog is essentially wearing a sweatshirt in the summer. No fun! Last, your dog is going to have to work harder to grow out his or her coat and may struggle to have the proper balance in the winter.

So, the answer really depends on your breed of dog. But, if you have a double coated dog, the easy answer is do not shave! Hopefully everybody finds this informational. If you have a shave-down appointment for your double coated furry friend, make the change to a blow out today!

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