Tag Archives: anxiety


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! http://muttmagic.com


The benefits of infant-prep training

I’ve been teaching infant preparation in-home dog training  courses almost since the beginning of Mutt Magic. What have I learned now that there’s a two-legged addition in my own home? Well, for starters, I’ll probably never have the “The dogs will be fine; they know you’re pregnant,” attitude. While I’m sure the dogs did know, I wish would have spent more time preparing them. It’s been a tough adjustment for them, and not one that happened overnight.


Thankfully, the infant prep curriculum is strong, despite my former lack of personal baby knowledge! Teaching things like waiting at the tops/bottoms of stairs until released, as well as boundary training, and avoiding baby items on the floor are must-have control techniques and are included in the course, among a few other commands. Trust me when I say, you don’t want to need to train these things with a newborn infant in the house! I’ve actually had some clients use many of the techniques in this course to help with control of their dogs when aging family members visit, as well. Nothing’s worse than having your pack trip your grandma on the stairs!!


If you’re interested in our in-home training courses to help introduce new family members of the human or canine variety, please contact us!


Weight Pull Saved My Dog-Life!


Kristina with Brutus & Argo

As a naive and amateur dog owner, I made the mistake of rescuing a second dog without really understanding the first. Within 4 months, I had two young, male dogs in my house with more energy than I could handle. Although feeling like I had made a huge mistake, I couldn’t imagine sending a pup back to the shelter.

Then comes in Mutt Magic….

Aja evaluated my crew and told me that I needed to gain control of my dogs and give them an outlet for their energy. I remember her saying, “that energy has to go somewhere and right now they are negatively directing it towards each other”. With Aja’s help, she taught me how gain control through obedience work and loose-leash walking.

However, once I had the basics, our regular exercise routine was not enough; my dogs still yearned for more.

Aja introduces weight pull…..What is weight pull, you ask?

It is a physical activity where a dog wears a full body harness to pull weight. The harness is crafted to fit across the dog’s chest which is a canine’s powerhouse for pulling. It also crosses along the back to distribute the weight evenly. The dog is not harmed in any way because the harness is supporting the dog’s natural strength. Any breed is capable of weight pull as long as they have a properly fitted harness. In fact, weight pull is an international competitive sport. However, I practice for conditioning.

What are the benefits and why do I say weight pull saved my  dog-life?

1. Burn off the energy: Aja said I needed to see physical fatigue during our walks not just panting dogs. When we get home, my dogs sprawl out on the floor with a look of satisfaction. All their energy has been exerted leaving them calm and free from mental anxiety giving me more control in the house.

2. Walking with a purpose: my dogs know that when it comes time to pull we are on a mission and no one is stopping us! They walk looking straight ahead, they know our path and where we are going. They also know that they will be rewarded with K9 Kraving for dinner.

3. Fully body workout: dogs by nature are always on the move even though we’ve turned them into couch potatoes. My dogs pull 30 – 40lbs and walk between 2-3 miles. This is known as drag weight pull. By keeping them active with regular exercise it promotes good health and longevity.

4. More bonding time: Obviously, I get to spend GOOD QUALITY time with my dogs during their walk. In addition, my dogs stay separated from each other most of the day but after our training we all get to spend time together.

It’s been 9 months since we took in our second rescue and about 8 months since we started working with Aja. Had it not been for her help in obedience training in combination with adequate exercise, we might not have been able to keep both of our pups. So if you’re looking for a way to train, bond, or exercise, weight pull may be for you. Just make sure that you get the right equipment, learn the right way to start the training, and always use a leash when drag weight pulling!

Happy tails!




Most dogs, like most people, are natural followers. In fact, humans have bred dogs to follow our leadership for thousands of years. Even if you’re not a natural-born leader, your dog needs you to learn to be one for his sake!

Many behavioral problems are a result of a lack of leadership in the home. (As you well know I’ll say: The rest are likely a result of a lack of exercise!) Leadership related behavioral problems can be seen in anxious dogs and dominant dogs alike. In fact, a simple lack of leadership that can magnify fear, anxiety, dominance, and many other common behavioral concerns. Leadership is essential for a newly adopted dog, as well as one that has been in your home for years.

So, what are some actions that you can take to become a better leader for your dog? An easy start is a “Nothing in Life is Free” program (NILF, for short). This means that your dog must work for everything that she gets. It can include sitting and waiting for food (being on a feeding schedule, if free-fed), performing obedience for affection and/or treats, having a handler enter/exit doors first (This includes being let into the yard!), and staying off of the furniture. These are some simple, but highly effective, changes that can be made. The best part? They won’t take extra time in your daily routine!

One more note to make regarding leadership: It’s important to remember that in a pack of dogs, it’s always the submissive dog to initiate play and interaction from the other dogs. (Watch them at the dog park, it’s true!) Because of this, be sure that your dog is the one to initiate play time with you, and not the other way around. If you initiate ball play, you’re inadvertently putting yourself in a submissive position. Wait for your dog to request play time or affection. From there, you have the choice to play or not- and now you’re the leader. Simple!

Visit us online: www.muttmagic.com OR www.baltimorecrateescape.com

Controlling your dog in-home with new visitors

A very common question I receive is, “How do I control my dog when people come over to visit?” The best training techniques I can suggest would be to pattern train boundary training and target training. Commonly used in our classes, the “Place” and “Touch” commands are a great way to teach your dog what is expected during the excitement of a new visitor. When pattern trained (always performing them in that order- “Place” and then “Touch”) this further engrains the lesson in your dog’s mind.

Starting with “Place,” which is the command we use for boundary training exercises, you will teach your dog that he needs to remain in his area until he’s released. This will allow your guest to come in and settle, while your dog manages his excitement levels in his own area. You may learn how this is done by visiting our YouTube video, online. (Links at the bottom of this article)Next, once your dog is calm, you will work on the “Touch” command, which is what we use for target training exercises. This shows your dog what is expected in a proper greeting.

The combination of these commands can prevent problem behaviors resulting from both fear, and excitement. Of course, if your dog isn’t already familiar with these, she won’t remain in “place” when you go to the door tomorrow, but working these commands daily and building distractions regularly is the way to go!

To get started, you may view how-to videos on our blog, here!

Everyday dog needs

Some dogs are content with simple provisions of food, shelter, and our affection. Of course, these are the basic necessities of pet ownership. However, most dogs need more than this, and failure to provide the other essentials can make for not only an unhappy and disobedient dog, but a sad owner, too! If you’re the lucky one whose dog waits patiently by the door for you to get home, feed him, and give him a pat on the head, kudos. If not, please read on for important tips on how to fulfill another three of your dog’s needs to keep him well balanced in the home.

The number one thing that many dogs could use more of is exercise. Aside from keeping your dog trim, healthy, and in good shape, the appropriate amount of exercise can also keep behavioral issues from surfacing. A great example of this is Star, a now 6-year-old rescue dog that came into my home when she was 1.5-years-old. When she arrived, I was heavy into biking the dogs using a Springer. Star would get several 4 mile runs along side of my bike per week. Somehow, she was arriving home from her runs just as energized as when we left, however. As she was settling into her home here, she developed sores on her feet from chewing on them. After ruling out anything medical, I bumped up her exercise routine. Now, after her runs, we would play ball in the yard until she was visibly tired. Her sores healed and she was now a relaxed, happy dog. The 4 mile runs weren’t enough for the 1.5-year-old Star!! Thankfully for all of us, most dogs don’t need this excessive amount of exercise. Thankfully for me, the 6-year-old Star doesn’t need that much anymore, either! The sores on her feet are a great example of how an unfulfilled exercise need can manifest into a behavioral problem, however. Behavioral problems aren’t all like Star’s. Some dogs may bark, whine, fuss with housemates, chew, or otherwise be destructive around the house. Many of these behaviors can be corrected by more exercise.

The next need that dogs benefit from, is discipline. This is not to be read “punishment,” because discipline has a very different meaning. Most dogs, like people, don’t desire to be the leader. They are much more happy and content with structure, and being given a clear role in the household. If they are forced to take on this leadership role (even if it’s not intentional!) many problems can develop. Anxiety is one great example of many behavioral issues that can benefit from additional discipline. Anxiety  is something that is being seen more and more in our pet dogs. In fact, it is being seen to the extent that it is being medicated. Of course, there are dogs out there that are simply imbalanced. However, a lot of the anxiety cases that I see can be remedied with more discipline in the home! What exactly does this
mean? Beginning a “Nothing in life is free” (NILF) routine with your dog in the home is a great start. With this, your dog needs to earn everything that she gets. This means that in order to receive even the basics- food and affection, she must do something. The task and reward should be balanced. For example: sitting, waiting as a food bowl is placed on the ground, and giving attention, earns the ability to be released to eat a meal. Such strong discipline is not needed to earn a pat on the head. It is one of your dog’s basic needs, however, and discipline can fix certain behavioral issues.

The last need to be addressed (for now) is that of mental stimulation. Smart dogs get into trouble. It’s true!! If your dog is not being mentally challenged, he may decide to challenge himself, and that rarely ends with a happy owner. Some dogs need more stimulation than others. Thankfully, the range of options to entertain your dog is almost endless. A food or puzzle toy for your dog to work on while you’re away is a good idea for some, while other dogs may benefit more from the interaction they get with you in a training class. Some may need the interaction of a dog walker or daycare during the day. There are even dogs out there that will need to learn something new every week to keep them out of trouble. . .if you own one of these guys, you’ll know it! In these cases, you have the rare ability to get truly creative with entertaining your dog. If you run out of creative energy, picking up a “dog tricks” book can jump start you into a one-dog circus act that will surly keep your dog (and house guests) entertained.

As we all know, most of our relationships with our dogs are very complex in nature. I like to sum it up by my favorite quote, by an unknown author: “He is your friend, your partner, your defender, your dog. You are his life, his love, his leader. He will be yours, faithful and true, to the last beat of his heart. You owe it to him to be worthy of such devotion.” Often, it is a lack of one or more of the needs discussed that can lead to kinks in the relationship with our dogs. Thankfully, the fixes are within our abilities. Train safe, and be well.
Aja Harris


Mutt Magic Training




Target Training: The “Gateway” Training Tool

Target training has been used for years in animal training. From dolphins, to lions, to dogs, it is a great exercise to stimulate an animal. You can use the following information to help you teach your dog (or cat!) to target. The possibilities of what you can develop this skill into are endless!


Start by scenting your hand, or an item of choice. A “target stick” is used by some while teaching targeting foundations. A target stick is often a stick with a ball at the end of it. You may use any item, however. Encourage your dog to investigate the scent. Once thier nose touches, say the command “touch,” while simultaneously rewarding. Repeat this until the dog is spontaneously touching regularly. Once your dog is offering the behavior, you may begin to use the “touch” command before you expect it. 


Where to go from here? You can transfer your targeting to various items, once your dog understands the exercise. Tell your dog “touch” while your hand is near the light switch to guide them into turning the lights on and off for you. (Say “lights,” or something of the nature once he touches the panel, to associate a new command with the task.) You may also teach your dog to close doors, answer the (corded) phone, or even spin in circles to a moving target. The possibilities are endless!


Have fun, and be creative with targeting this summer. It is a great mentally-stimulating activity that is good to practice indoors on hot days!

Separation Anxiety: Causes and Solutions

I am often asked about problems with separation anxiety, and it seems to be a problem that more owners are noticing in thier dog lately. I think, now that this problem has a name, we are quick to jump on the idea that our dog may suffer from it. So- what exactly IS separation anxiety?

Separation anxiety is when a dog has a negative reaction to being left alone. These reactions may range from light stress (drooling, urinating) to full-blown destructive behaviors (chewing through walls and doors). This typically will manifest shortly after being left; dogs that exhibit negative behaviors when left for longer periods are often demonstrating boredom, or attention-seeking behavior.

Finding a solution to this problem lies in knowing the cause. It has been my experience that dogs with separation anxiety are anxious overall, at any given time, not only when left alone. What can you do when you are available to reduce your dog’s anxiety levels? Exercise is always #1 with most behavioral problems. Social and enrichment activities can also produce positive benefits for anxious dogs. These may include activities such as walks in new locations, visiting the dog park, interactive games, and even the use of food toys. Anything that is mentally and physically stimulating can reduce stress and anxiety! Further, supplements added to the diet such as flower essences and turkey can also produce a calming effect. Flower essences can also be purchased as plug-in scented oils, as well as infused collars for additional benefit- lavender and chamomile are recommended.

Now, what to do when you leave. . .IGNORE YOUR DOG!!! Do not give any goodbyes when you leave, or hellos when you arrive, for that matter. Follow the “don’t look, don’t touch, don’t talk” rule. For severe cases, changing your routine when you leave can help- if you grab your keys and then your coat, and then your wallet, change the order. If not already doing so, crating your dog can help protect your home as well as the safety of your pet. Crates are often a place of sanctuary for dogs, although in some dogs, crates also induce stress. A decision may have to be made in regard to the severity of the problem and the safety of your dog when you are not home. For dogs that are known escape artists, there are additional solutions as well.

Overall, your goal is to reduce the amount of anxiety your dog experiences on a regular basis. It is my personal opinion to stay away from behavior modifying drugs in these cases, as they can have severe adverse effects. For specific questions regarding your dog, please contact Aja, at: aja@muttmagic.com

Fear-aggression, anxiety, and other doggie problems. . .

Leadership is the answer!

Most dogs do not want to be aggressive or defensive. They are much more happy and content with having structure, and a clear submissive role in the family. What happens when this role is not clear in your dog’s mind? Any number of things could go wrong, and this is the leading cause for fear-aggression and anxiety. There are several things that you can start, which will help to re-establish you as the leader in your home. This will allow your dog to let his guard down, and RELAX!

Begin with a “Nothing in Life is Free” routine (NILF). This means all food, treats, toys, and affection, MUST be earned. Free-feeding is out of the question, and the dog must sit and wait for food, being released to eat. Treats should be given sparingly. Treats must be well-timed, and for something special- like a long down-stay under distraction, etc. Toys are allowed, and interactive toys are preferable- something that you can play with your dog (ball, tug, etc.). These should also be earned, and should be picked up at all other times. Even your affection should be earned- do not pet your dog when he demands attention. Rather, ignore this behavior, and give affection for appropriate, calm, submissive behavior. Last. . .if your dog is allowed on the furniture, STOP! Normally, dogs on the furniture is not the end of the world, when they’re invited, but when there is leadership confusion present, this is absolutely a no-go.

So, let’s say you’re consistently doing all of the above. Your dog is calm, more confident, and submissive. Hopefully this has resolved any problem behaviors that may have occured in the past. If not, it is VERY important to consult with a professional, as the behavior may have progressed into something habitual, and will need some training. All hope is not lost, and your dog can be rehabilitated, it may simply need some more intense work. Aja Harris, with Mutt Magic, has extensive experience with this, and can help you and your dog regain the relationship you’re meant to have.