Do you need a behaviorist?

Many people ask me if I train dogs. The answer? No….and yes.  Training techniques are essential to what I do, but my services stretch far beyond regular obedience training. In fact, it’s an unwritten rule of thumb that if I need to teach more than two basic training measures, I prefer to refer the client to a trainer — for their own benefit. It saves them money and will provide a far more appropriate service for such clients.

So how do you know if you need a behaviorist or a trainer? Well, essentially, if you have already taught your pet basic behavior skills: sit, stay, down, off, etc. or if your pet’s behavioral issue is of more concern than a trainer typically deals with, you will likely benefit from consulting with a behavior professional. For example, does your dog jump on people when they come in the door? If you have already taught him sit and stay, then you may need a behaviorist. On the other hand, if the dog has not yet been taught how to sit/stay on command and mastered these commands, then it may be preferential that you first discuss this with a trainer. Similarly, a dog or cat that is eliminating in the home may not have been housebroken properly. However, if he/she has already learned to eliminate outside or in a litter box and begins displaying inappropriate elimination despite having been cleared of medical issues by a veterinarian, you will likely have better success as a behavioral client versus obedience training.

Other examples of  behavioral issues that are beyond that of a basic obedience trainer include fear- and anxiety-related behaviors. Such is the case with the dog that has been diagnosed by the veterinarian with separation anxiety. Similarly, a dog that is storm-phobic is not going to respond to obedience training in the midst of his/her anxiety. Animals that display behaviors that are of a compulsive nature (eg. tail-chasing, flank licking/chewing, acral lick granuloma/dermatitis, and more) will likely benefit from behavioral intervention. These issues are not addressable through obedience training methods.

These are just a few of the many problems that can be tackled through behavioral measures. Furthermore, a behaviorist will work hand-in-hand with your veterinarian and trainer to make sure that your pet receives the most appropriate and comprehensive care possible. When an elderly pet experiences symptoms of cognitive decline, a veterinarian’s expertise is necessary in intervening on the medical level while the behaviorist can help the owner deal with and minimize or eliminate the unwanted behaviors that come with the disorder.

Do you need a behavior professional’s help with your pet? If you still aren’t sure, just ask! I am happy to discuss your situation with you and direct you in the most appropriate path for your pet.

Photo credit: http://shameyourpet.com/2012/10/20/i-eat-all-beds/

breeding, Uncategorized

The thing about breeding…



This is Durango. He is a rescue that I adopted at approximately 1 year of age. He’s got a lot of terrier in him, but I don’t really know what else. No, he cannot participate in dog shows, but that’s ok. He wins first place in my heart. No, I don’t have a fancy name to tell people that discloses his genetic history. That’s ok too. I have just as much fun telling people how I came up with the name Durango. What’s more, I am perfectly happy with a mixed breed dog that is healthy and happy to have a fur-ever home with me!

As a behavior professional, I often encourage folks to consider adoption rather than purchasing an animal from a breeder. I get a variety of reactions — some folks that will seriously consider the option, and others that won’t. For those that don’t, it seems that they view adoption as a more risky option. They view the adopted pet as they might think of a vehicle on a questionable used car lot. The former owner didn’t want the animal…so there must be something wrong with it. This could not be further from the truth!

Yet, the myth prevails that purchasing a dog from a breeder is a superior option to adoption. So what is the truth?

In an attempt to educate the public on breeding issues, the AKC has put forth some information on their web page. The article presents some discussion on genetics and breeding, most notably discussing genetic defects and how they are passed on. They state that diseases that are dominant (for the breed) need only one single abnormal gene and even if only the sire or dam has the gene, it will continue to show up in successive generations. Devoting a brief paragraph to this and a brief paragraph to a recessive genetic abnormality, the article barely touches on other types of genetically inbred conditions that can be the cause of serious illness in a dog. The question I am left with is whether the AKC and other organizations of its kind are really concerned about genetic inbreeding as it pertains to the health of the individual dog.

In fact, this piece states that selecting a mate for your dog should be “based on an understanding of how the animal’s genes contributed to its looks and of how those genes are passed on and expressed.” And the article continues to make the point of knowing the pedigree in order to “..produce a litter with the qualities you desire.” The implication is that the look of the dog (according to the AKC standards) should be as much considered as the possibility of genetic abnormalities. Unfortunately, this is a double message. If the concern is not to inbreed debilitating genetic traits, then the AKC must consider reforming their pedigree requirements. Additionally, if a dog is completely healthy, lacking genetic defects, why is the AKC not promoting that over the breed specific requirements for show and for AKC certification?

It is sad that this article is nothing but a glossing over of an extremely important topic. It is all too sad that an organization which is able to have great influence upon breeding is not fully disclosing the measure of genetic problems within [particular] breeds! Admittedly, I have not read their entire breeder’s guide and have not fully scoured the AKC website, so to be fair, there may be more information than I am giving them credit for. However, it would seem to me that on the web page called “A Guide to Breeding Your Dog – Step 5: Know Your Genetics” this information should be more than cursory. I would argue that THIS is the page upon which many warnings and stringent guidelines should be posted for potential breeders.

Breeders are generally looking to produce dogs that follow AKC guidelines. Unfortunately, guidelines that consider looks over healthy genetics are not good for the animal. Consider this: brachycephalic breeds can experience great difficulty breathing (eg. pugs), short-legged breeds can experience painful back conditions (eg. dachshunds), and other breeds such as labrador retrievers are quite prone to hip dysplasia.  In fact, certain breeds are known to be at high risk for health problems. This is often due to inbreeding that occurs in order to create pups with certain and exaggerated characteristics. Unfortunately, this practice is not only unhealthy for the dog, it can be costly to owners.

So, it is my recommendation that prospective pet owners strongly consider the option of adoption. Mongrels and mixed breeds are often healthier overall. However, not only is their health a consideration. It is important to have a pet that meets the needs of the family. Shelter workers and rescue organizations are more than happy to help you find a pet for your specific needs. They have a vested interest in making sure that the homeless pet finds a forever home — and that means making the right “match” between owner and pet. Besides, wouldn’t it be great to give a home to a pet that needs one?

A Guide to Breeding Your Dog – Step 5: Know Your Genetics. (2014). American Kennel Club. Retrieved from:  https://www.akc.org/breeders/resources/guide_to_breeding_your_dog/step_5.cfm


General training and resources, Uncategorized

Project Trade

Carolyn Kocman, Pet Behavior Specialist, LLC has been approved for participation in the Project Trade initiative, hosted by the Pet Professional Guild. Below follows a description of this cutting edge initiative and the discounts offered to my clients.

project trade logo

How Would You Like to Trade Your Old Dog Training Equipment for Great Discounts?

We want to swap great discounts on our most popular services FOR your choke, prong or shock collars or any other qualifying pet gear. By participating in “Project tRade” you can earn up to 15% off our most popular services simply by giving us old pet gear* you have laying around. It couldn’t be easier!

What is “Project tRade”?

Project tRade is the Pet Professional Guild’s (PPG) international advocacy program that promotes the use of force-free pet training equipment by asking pet guardians to swap choke, prong and shock collars (and any other devices that are designed to change behavior through pain or fear). Because we want all pets and their guardians to experience the huge advantages and long-lasting effectiveness of force-free training and pet care, we will give you great discounts on our most popular, effective, fun and pain-free training and pet care services in exchange for your old gear.

Effective, humane animal training and pet care methods are the foundation of any animal’s healthy socialization and training and help prevent behavior problems. Since a wide variety of equipment and tools are commonly used when training pets, the pet-owning public needs to be aware of the potential problems and dangers some equipment may pose. Specifically, the use of collars and leads that are intended to apply constriction, pressure, pain or force around a dog’s neck (such as ‘choke chains’ and ‘prong collars’) should be avoided. Distinguished veterinarians and behaviorists worldwide are joining the discussion and calling for the elimination of such devices from the training efforts of both pet owners and professionals.

What Do the Experts Say?

Respected veterinarian and thyroid expert, Dr. Jean Dodds, recommends against choke or prong collars “as they can easily injure the delicate butterfly-shaped thyroid gland thatsits just below the larynx and in front of the trachea. These collars can also injure the salivary glands and salivary lymph nodes on the side of the face underneath both ears.”

Bestselling author and canine behaviorist, Jean Donaldson, says: “These devices (choke and prong collars), when they work, do so to the degree that they hurt. With the advent of modern methods and tools they are irrelevant.”

According to veterinarian and veterinary behaviorist Dr. Soraya V. Juarbe-Diaz: “Using punishment to stop behaviors is not new. Notice I say ‘stop’ rather than ‘teach’ — I can stop any behavior, but I am more interested in teaching my students, animal or human, to choose the behavior I want them to perform because they can trust me, because I do not hurt them and they are safe with me, and because the outcome is something they enjoy.”

PPG thus encourages all pet owners and pet professionals to embrace modern, scientifically based, training techniques and tools, especially the latest generation of no-pull harnesses which are free of the risks posed by traditional collars and offer far more benefits. So swap your gear and help create a kinder world for you and your pet!

To learn more just visit PetProfessionalGuild.com.

*qualifying pet gear = prong collars, shock collars, pinch collars, choke chains, citronella collars and the like.


The discounts offered for Project Trade are as follows:

Choke collars                                     10%

Prong collars                                      10%

Shock collars                                      10%

Scat mats                                             05%

Bark collars                                         05%

Boundary e-fencing                         10%


General training and resources

What’s the Point in Training?

jakey sepia


This is Jake. Jake holds a special place in my heart. He is my granddog.

Jake was rescued off of a highway in Virginia by my son and daughter-in-law, prior to their marriage. He was infested with ticks and very thin. His owner didn’t want him. No one did…except my dear son and daughter-in-law. They wanted him. Unfortunately, they were not in a position to have a dog live with them, as they were in college and living on campus in dorms. Poor Jake was only about a year old at the time. He wasn’t prepared to be on his own — no dog is, no matter how old. So guess who ended up raising him for the next two years? Yours truly. And although I have been bitten multiple times, I have never once regretted it. Jake is a dear, sweet dog with a very sad story.

Jake apparently spent most of his time outdoors. He was fearful of loud noises. Jake had also been abused and had a fear that manifested in a variety of ways. I know this because one day while I was sewing, I reached for a yardstick in the corner. Jake immediately jumped to the other side of the room, cowering in fear. My heart broke. How could anyone hurt an animal?

As I mentioned before, Jake has bitten me. Several times. He didn’t want his toe nails trimmed the first time. But Jake has had prior experiences that have caused some reactivity in him. It took a long time for him to trust. He has come a long way since those days and he does require an understanding owner. Enter my son and daughter-in-law. He lives with them now. He is always happy to see his “grandparents” but always happy to be with his rightful owners.

I introduce Jake to you because I want you to understand. Dogs come with issues. Some come with simple issues that are fairly easily resolved (yes, we did have him neutered right away). Others come with more difficult issues. In Jake’s case he came with both. Biting was a difficult issue because it took some time to understand when his reactivity would kick in and how to handle him in the meantime.

One thing I know: no matter how many issues a dog has, basic training can help. It helps because once the dog knows how to obey certain requests — for example sit or stay — it becomes easier to deal with some of the more complicated issues. One command that my dogs are familiar with is the word “off.” This particular command comes in quite handy. They know that they are not allowed on the couch. However, the little one sometimes forgets when he is excited. I tell him “off” and off he goes! This is such a simple thing, but basic training goes an even longer way.

Dogs that experience deeper behavioral issues, such as anxiety, can be taught to perform certain behaviors during stressful circumstances. My friend and fellow behavioral consultant specializes in thunder phobic behaviors. Her little dog was not particularly appreciative of the chirping of the smoke alarm during the night, so she promptly went to the soundproof hovel that was made for such circumstances and spent the rest of the night there.

Pet training can provide many happy hours between owner and pet. Dogs, cats, and other pets benefit from the structure of the time, the challenges of learning, the rewards for appropriate and wanted behaviors, and the time of bonding with owners. Owners not only get to enjoy time relaxing with their pets, but they reap the benefits of a well-behaved pet — which is the end goal.

Please know, however, that money spent with a good, force free trainer will reap a lifetime of rewards. So if you are inclined to seek out help with some basic or even advanced training skills, please look for a force free professional. You can look for a force free trainer here.

If you are concerned about particular behaviors that your pet is demonstrating, please feel free to call, text, or email me. If it is simply a training issue, I will let you know. However, if your pet needs a different approach that goes beyond training, I can help you with that as well.