My Smart Puppy

with Dog Expert, Sarah Wilson

June 26, 2020
by Sarah

My Favorite Treat Toy: PetSafe Sportsman Football

Hands down, this is my favorite treat toy set up for pups and adult dogs. It lasts a long time, is easy to use, and engages your pup for a solid 10-20 minutes, depending on your pup.

When you need to occupy your dog, this does the trick.

Here’s what you need:

  1. PetSafe Sportsman Football – For most dogs I use the medium size, shown here. Amazon doesn’t carry these but Chewy’s does: LINK

2. Natural Balance Regular Biscuits – These fit perfectly in the medium size and are sturdy enough that they don’t break as you insert them.

This is the lamb and rice, which is fine for most dogs. If your dog is sensitive they also have fish or bison biscuits, too. Here’s the Chewy’s Link and here’s the Amazon option (pick the “All Breeds” option): Link

Setting this toy up for your pup takes a couple of seconds — max. Take one PetSafe Sportsman Football insert one Natural Balance biscuit and you’re done!

It’s also easy to clean out, which many treat toys are not. Because of these fine qualities, I always have a “biscuit ball” or two around the house.

Here’s Daisy enjoying her “Biscuit Ball”.

January 31, 2019
by Sarah

Great Puppy Chew: Benebone

Benebone durable dog chewRecently, Pip tried a Benebone. She likes it – a lot. So do my canine houseguests.  The slight upward arc of one of the legs makes it easier for dogs to handle and, apparently, to get at just the right angle.

Right this instant, six-month-old Pongo is delightedly chewing on one and has been for over 5 minutes. Good puppy!

When Pip is in the mood to chew, the Benebone is her go-to choice walking past previous favorites to find it. I’ve waited a few months to write this blog to makes sure that pattern wasn’t just about novelty but was actual preference. It’s preference. So, Benebone joins my list of durable dog toys.

Benebones are a bit “softer” than the old favorite, Nylabone dura chews. I’ll be interested to see if that subtle amount of “give” causes fewer dental problems with susceptible dogs. At the time of this writing, there are no complaints of broken teeth over on Amazon, as there are for other hard chews. The complaints that are there are about lack of dog interest but that can be resolved by teaching your dog to enjoy them.

Check out made-in-the-USA Benebone toys—chicken, peanut butter or bacon flavor—both regular and mini sizes as well as several new shapes. Let me know what your dog thinks.

January 19, 2019
by Sarah

Three “M”s for Canine Weight Management

More than 50% of America’s dogs are overweight, a problem that eats away at both the length and the quality of their life. No one wants that for their companion but many people are stymied by both exactly how their pet got this way and what to do about it.

Here are three simple tips for how to help Spot slim down:


When I asked the owner of an overweight Labrador how much she fed her dog, she answered, “One cup twice a day.” I asked her to show me the cup. It was a coffee mug that actually held two cups of food. She was shocked. Apologizing directly to her dog, she tossed that mug out as I stood there.

TRY: Using an actual measuring cup. Look at your dog’s body, not the dog food bag, to decide how much to feed. When you run your hands down your dog’s body his ribs and backbone should be easily felt. If not, it’s time to review his meal plan. Each dog is unique and may need much less food to stay fit than a bag might suggest.

Want to add some extra low-cal treats to smaller meals? Try mixing in some plain green beans or squash, plain canned pumpkin, or plain sweet potato, but chat with his veterinarian beforehand to double check if that is a good idea for your dog.

AVOID: Leaving food out all the time. Two meals a day works best for most healthy adult dogs. Watch those treats! Find low-cal options and break them up. A dog is just as delighted with a quarter of a cookie than a whole one. Be even more watchful with small dogs! Feeding them too much is just incredibly easy when their meals are measures in teaspoons, not cups!


Dogs are generally world-class loungers and overweight dogs can take resting to near Olympic levels. Heavy dogs need to get moving but they need to do so safely.

TRY: Talk to your dog’s veterinarian first but aim to increase activity by 25% each week until you’re up to an hour or more a day. The best low-risk exercise for over-weight canines includes walking on leash, swimming, and hill walking.

AVOID: Activities that demand racing around, spinning or scrambling. Fetch and dog parks can be a blast but they can also put a great deal of strain on an overweight dog’s body. Keep those activities as a goal to enjoy after the pounds come off. Short games of fetch played up a slight incline and play dates with calm, gentle dogs can be good intermediary steps for many dogs.


If you want your dog to look different, you have to make his life different. Look for ways to add both activity and interest into his day to motivate him to move and keep moving.

TRY: Feeding meals from food dispensing toys. Such toys allow you to load your dog’s meal inside then your dog has to work to get it back out. This keeps your dog entertained and active while meal time is prolonged. Smaller meals are less noticed when fed from such a toy. There are many brands, some of our favorites are: IQ Treatball, Kong Wobbler, Omega Paw Tricky Treat Ball, Everlasting Treat Ball, and Busy Buddy Twist ‘N Treat.

AVOID: Making life too easy for him. Even small changes like calling him to you  instead of going to him when you want a pet fest, leaving a favorite toy out of reach so he has to get up to get it, leaving a couple of small, low-cal treats hidden in the house or yard so he has to work to find them can add to his daily calorie burn.

Results take time. Feeding less and exercising more is usually the answer. It’s not a complex equation but it is a good one. Make it a project you do with and for your dog. You’ll be adding years to his life and life to his years. Now that is love!

Other articles to help your overweight dog:

Good Games for Child and Dog

The Foundation of Following: Five Off Leash Games

by Sarah Wilson

Author of handbooks: My Smart Puppy (book with DVD) and Childproofing Your Dog

December 4, 2018
by Sarah

Ouch! Teaching Your Puppy to Take Treats Gently

The young puppy lunged toward the treat. His human pulled her hand away quickly. She looked at me. “He takes them so hard. It hurts! How can I get him to be more gentle?” This is a common question: How to train your dog to take treats and leave your hand in one piece.

There are many methods and tips. Here are my favorites:

  • Do not pull your hand away. I know, those puppy teeth hurt but pulling the treat away tends to make them bite harder and faster next time. Wish it did work; it would be an easy fix. (If you are concerned about your safety or your dog breaks your skin, please stop all treat work and get immediate help from a qualified dog pro.)
  • Use less exciting treats. For real food hounds, use pieces of their kibble.
  • Training after meals can make things a bit easier.
  • Hold treat in your fist then present that to your dog. Gentle licking or patience = hand opens, treat is given. Any teeth on any flesh = hand stays closed and presses forward (read next tip).
  • Press your hand forward slowly if you feel teeth on my hand. Doing this causes your dog to move back a bit (either to step back and move their head back). This is a smooth, steady move not a rapid or harsh shove. When the dog moves back a bit, try again. Causing the dog to give ground, even a few inches, is the single most effective thing I have found for this issue.
  • Until your dog is reliably gentle, don’t have children give treats by hand. Even if done from a flat hand a child can be understandably frightened and that’s a bad dynamic. If you want your child to do some training with treats, tether the dog to something sturdy by a flat, buckle collar. That way the child can lob a treat to your dog for a job well done without worrying about getting hurt.

Be consistent and persistent about it and most dogs will quickly get the point.

October 30, 2018
by Sarah

Is My Puppy Shy or Deficit? The Biggest Clue

deficit dogsMilo came to me after being a food-trial beagle for the first 11 months of his life. At such trials, to ensure that the dogs only eat the food provided, they never go outside,  take a car trip, or get a chance to be alone.

When Milo arrived, it took him 45 minutes to build up the courage to peek out of the open door of his crate. We then began our journey together. He taught me, more than any other dog, the difference between a deficit dog and a shy dog.

  • Deficit Dogs
    …are genetically-stable dogs who have had limited early socialization. With work, they can recover from that lack to become pretty darn confident-in-the-world companions.
  • Shy Dogs
    …are genetically-shy dogs who will exhibit shyness with or without socialization. All dogs are better with socialization than without but socialization only makes a dog as good as they can be, it doesn’t make them a different dog. Shy dogs are likely to exhibit significant fearful reactions in any even mildly startling situations for their entire lives.

What’s confusing is that, early in the process, these dogs can appear very much alike. There are differences; here’s what I look for: resilience.

A deficit dog, once he has settled in, will appear normal, not shy, on home turf. He will be happy, social, and confident with few extreme reactions to sudden, known sounds or seeing known people once he has conquered his initial reaction. Milo had not seen a vacuum cleaner, heard a dishwasher, or witnessed anyone take a shower. He had a lot to take in. But every time he figured something out he got more confident, displaying fewer and fewer stressy, shy reactions; that resilience is deficit-dog typical. They can get over something completely then never look back. Their confidence tends to snowball, reinforcing the next confident choice nicely.

Shy dogs are sensitive everywhere. At home, a sudden sound or surprise can send them into hiding. They may well shake or tremble their entire lives. They may never adapt to some people, sometimes even family members. Example: Years ago, there was a Lagotto Romagnolo who came to the kennel several time a year and each time he arrived he had to be reintroduced to the same friendly staff. Each time he was as concerned and stressed as the first time. That’s a genetically-shy dog – not resilient at all.

A deficit dog in a similar situation would, typically, be shy on the first visit, less shy the next and then bound in with a happy grin after that.

It took Milo a long time to get beyond that limited start, but each time he conquered something it was conquered. Sure, he had surprises and back-slides, but those were never the main trend nor did they linger. He just kept improving toward his genetically-stable potential. If you stop working with a deficit dog, they tend to hold their improvements and may continue to improve as their confidence builds.

In contrast, genetically shy dogs will tend to backslide without constant work. It’s a long march to more confident behavior. If you stop working with them, that confidence starts to slip away as they revert back toward their personal normal.

Shy dogs can make wonderful companions but don’t expect them to become non-shy dogs; love them for who they are. Deficit dogs can, over time and with help, become non-shy dogs, which is an astonishing, memorable journey to take with an animal friend.

October 18, 2018
by Sarah

To Gollum: Dogs Who Covet

Gollum: verb
To obsessively and compulsively covet without the ability to enjoy that which you covet.
Derived from: Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings

Pip gollums toys in her crate. Every week or so, whenever I notice that her private stash in the back of her plastic kennel has grown so large that she is forced to sleep pressed up against the gate, I get down on my hands and knees to unload her wares. Here is a list of her most recent collection:

3 stainless steel bowls
3 Kongs
1 Kong-like toy
1 Twist ‘n Treat
1 Everlasting Fun Ball
1 Bad Cuz toy (dehorned by chewing)
1 fleece off a small Wubba Toy
1 hard Nylabone (only sort I use)
1 sterilized bone
1 Everlasting Fire Plug (with a thin ring of treat still left)

Note that food (something Pip enjoys at all times, in all forms, in any amount) remains in the fire plug. That proves golluming. If this was out in the livingroom, she would make short work of any deliciousness available, but once it is in her hide away, she cannot. All she can then do is watch over it, lie in front of it, ward it from imagined dangers.

Note also how many toys can be AWOL without me noticing, which means I have a lot of dog paraphernalia around. So golluming is not a response to scarcity, nor is it because there is household tension over stuff. Around here there is always something else for a dog to play with. My other dogs could care less about who has what. Only Pip cares and she cares all the time. If I allowed it, it would take up her entire day.

And that’s the thing about golluming anything: it’s an inside job. The succinct definition is anytime the item owns the owner you have golluming. Pip gollums.

October 17, 2018
by Sarah

Best Puppy Treats: Treats You Won’t Regret

Beat treats for puppiesThe puppy was sick; an upset stomach. All over his crate. 🙁  Asking my upset client what treats they had been using, I instantly knew why their pup felt lousy: the wrong treats. This dedicated puppy person had used rich, adult-dog-sized treats to reward their small pup during training. The results were…memorably messy.

What are the best puppy treats? I’m so glad you asked. Here’s what I use, in my order of preference.

  • Pup’s own kibble

    Using a portion of his own food can be some of the best puppy treats. They won’t cause extra water drinking or tummy upset as richer or new-to-the-pup treats can. True, kibble may not tempting enough for every pup but if you have a Hoover-hound (a puppy who eats everything with equal gusto) then using their own kibble can work well.

  • Other small-breed kibble

    Many companies make “small breed” kibble meaning the pieces are really small. Get as small a bag as you can. Remove a bit to use as treats then put the rest in the freezer so it will stay fresh longer. Some pups find unusual foods more exciting and will work enthusiastically for them.

  • Mild, kibble-like treats

    Wet Nose Little Stars are some of the best puppy treats; a great choice for medium/large pups. Each treat is tiny, made of excellent ingredients and delicious to most pups (or so they tell me). They are, however, way too big for tiny pups.

  • Breakable Treats

    I love these treats because I can break them into the right size for the dog I am teaching. Wellness Mini Puppy Treats easily break each one into 4-6 smaller treats. So a little goes a long way. Other favs that can be broken or torn into much smaller bits : Jerky Treats and Solid Gold Treats.

There are many options on the market—more all the time! What’re the best puppy treats? Tiny ones that your puppy loves. Find those and you’ll be able to be generous without causing digestive issues and that, let me tell you, is well worth taking the time to find!

October 9, 2018
by Sarah

Are You Treat Dependent? Quick Quiz


Treat Training a PuppyThis bubbly woman had been treat training with her puppy for months. They had gotten the basics down well…when all was calm. When distracted, this had started to break down (as it generally does) and, by the time I was called, we had typical treat-focused adolescent dog behavior happening. Meaning, when the treat was the most interesting thing around, the puppy did awesome. When anything else interested the puppy more than the treat, the pup focused there.

This is a standard phase for many people and dogs so I said my standard line, “Time to put away the treats for the basics.”

The woman looked shocked (maybe even a bit horrified).

I realized had two beings who had become treat dependent and my guess was that the puppy would get over it much faster than his human.

Can you relate to feeling that dog training has to involve treats? Treats are wonderful tools for teaching, clearly I’m a big believer, but they are just one tool and certainly aren’t the only tools. Nor are they the best tool in every situation.

Are you treat dependent? Take this quiz:

I feel like I must have a treat in my hand before I give a command.
Yes or No?

If my dog doesn’t respond, I show him the cookie or get a better cookie.
Yes or No?

When I deliver the treat,  I don’t usually praise or touch my dog.
Yes or No?

I do not believe my dog would work “just” for my attention or praise, I believe treats are required.
Yes or No?

If you answer yes to most of these, it may be time for you to kick the habit (or at least adjust the habit). If you want your dog to work for your praise, you must offer it warmly, sincerely and in a way your dog enjoys. And you must be ready for an adjustment period as you both become a little less food-focused and more socially engaged.

Save those delicious treats for your dog’s best efforts, for the hardest tasks, and for new tricks. Give praise and petting and sometimes a treat for the rest. Move ever toward the very best your dog can offer and offer your dog the very best of you and watch things improve.

And they will.

February 12, 2018
by Sarah

The Road to Puppy Hell… Oven Mitts and Hand Puppets

I wear these,” the man said proudly as he held up both hands in thick quilted oven mitts. “He was hurting me,” he continued, looking down at the small, white, smiling pup at his feet.

I nodded while inwardly I sighed. Good intentions but wearing padding while playing with your pup is not a positive plan. In fact, when training protection dogs to bite and bite hard, people wear thick suits to protect themselves.  (As shown here.→)

Wearing such protection encourages the dog to bear down as hard as they can and encourages the person to egg the dog on. Unfortunately, that was exactly what happened here. The man gleefully “attacked” the pup with the oven mitts, causing the dog to leap up, latch up and shake the mitt as hard as he good. The man laughed, praising the dog for what he perceived as “hysterical” play-aggression.

Why was I called in? The dog was biting the kids hands—hard—during play. And now I understood why.

What the man had taught his dog was that it was okay to bite as hard as he could during play and that the more excited he became, the harder he could bite.

The first thing I did was relegate the oven mitts back to cooking duty. We need to help our dogs learn to be careful with their mouths — not rough.

I haven’t thought about this situation for years until, as I was scrolling through new dog toys over on Amazon, I came across hand puppet dog toys made for “attacking” a puppy or dog. Any playful human will be making the sound effects that go with it working the dog into a frenzy of excitement and, as seems likely, encouraging the dog to “attack” as hard as they can.

Bad “game”.

Add these to the “Don’t buy, Don’t use” shelf with laser pointers, then go buy fun interactive toys and maybe a tricks book to teach calm, productive play and games. I want you to have fun with your dog, just not fun that’s going to come back and bite you.

Christmas Puppy

November 30, 2016
by Sarah

Is a Puppy a Good Gift?

Christmas PuppyMaybe a friend or family member has recently lost a dog or has been talking about getting a dog. Is a puppy a good gift?

Your heart is in the right place but let me say, emphatically, no!

A puppy or dog is a big commitment and a very personal choice. If you really think this person wants a companion, make a fun gift of some puppy gear with a note promising your assistance with the process. THAT is a fantastic gift!

That way you can get the joy of giving and they can get exactly the dog of their dreams, if they are truly ready for one.

Maybe your kids have been asking and asking and you think they are ready for a puppy to care for.

Let me save you the suspense, they are not. Few kids (and even some adults) are not ready to care for a puppy. So if you want to get a puppy for the family understand this will very probably be your job nearly entirely. And if you persist in trying to force their care you can create easily create a dislike in the process.

Dogs are wonderful. I adore them – always have and always will. They also change your life, last much longer than most marriages and are expensive. If you want a wagging tail in your world knowing all that then congrats! But don’t buy an actual puppy as a gift for another adult or as a lesson in responsibility for a child.

Dogs make wonderful family members but lousy “gifts”.