Living with Coyotes in San Francisco

Please be a responsible pet owner so we can all live together on this earth.

Keep pet food inside! Ensure your garbage cans are secure.

Keep your dogs on leash. Carry your small dogs when you are not actively surveilling your surroundings.

If your cats go outside, let them out late in the morning and bring them in early in the evening (add a litterbox, a new scratching post, and new toys - including treat-dispensing toys! - to make your cat's transition easier).

If you encounter a coyote, stand up straight, yell loudly, and vigorously wave your arms. Toss lightweight sticks or small rocks towards (not at) the coyote. Stomp your feet. Look threatening. Continue until the coyote has left the area. Consider carrying a whistle to help you to scare off a coyote.

Coyotes are wonderful animals with amazing adaptability. With a little effort on your part, we can peacefully co-exist. Please give these admirable animals the respect they deserve!

San Francisco residents should report coyote sightings or incidents to San Francisco Animal Care and Control by calling (415) 554-9400 or emailing

SF Chronicle Article 7/18/17


Behavior Tip: Fireworks Phobia

Happy Fourth of July!

Independence Day is a wonderful way to celebrate summer and family.  Fourth of July festivities can be stressful for those of you with a dog who is fearful of fireworks. 

Fear of loud noises and flashing lights is an adaptive response for animals because fear can help to protect an animal from danger. Moving away from a loud booming noise may save your life! However, most animals will adjust to the sights and sounds of fireworks as they learn that no adverse events are associated with fireworks.

Dogs with fireworks phobia develop a persistent and excessive fear disproportionate to the stimulus. Some dogs have mild anxiety, while other dogs become severely anxious which can result in destructive, self-injurious, and aggressive behaviors. Owners may observe increased salivation, urination and/or defecation, vocalization, trembling, escape attempts, hiding, and vomiting. 

How can you manage your fireworks phobic dog?

  • Do not comfort your dog. It is natural to try to provide reassurance, yet this can inadvertently reinforce the fearful behavior leading to increasingly intense reactions. It is best to try to ignore your dog once you ensure his/her safety.

  • Do not punish your dog. Punishment will increase your dog’s anxiety and confirm that there is something to be scared of.  

  • Do not leave an anxious dog home alone during fireworks.

  • Keep your dog inside with windows and doors secured. Pull curtains closed to prevent seeing flashing lights. Try to settle your pet in the quietest room of the house. 

  • If your dog is comfortable in his/her crate, try placing heavy blankets over the top to lessen noises, but be sure your pet does not overheat. It is best to leave the crate door open because even dogs who are comfortable in a crate most of the time may demonstrate destructive and/or self-injurious escape attempts. 

  • You might also try draping heavy blankets over a table, especially if your dog has already sought refuge under the table.

  • Background noise may help. Turn on the television or play music (rap music may blend well with the percussive sounds of fireworks). Fans or radio static may help by creating white noise.  

  • Do not try to restrain an anxious dog because he/she may resort to aggression. Your dog can injure himself/herself or you in an attempt to escape restraint.

Although fireworks phobias are seen only a few days of the year, you should address this problem to prevent needless anxiety and potential injury. Both behavior modification and pharmacological intervention may be indicated. To discuss a possible solution for you and your dog, please contact me.


Training Tip: Understanding Negative Punishment

Negative punishment sounds like a horrible way to shape your pet’s behaviors, but it is actually quite humane and effective.  

It is crucial to understand what is meant by “positive” and “negative”, as well as what is meant by “punishment” and “reinforcement.”  In the context of operant conditioning (a type of learning) the terms “positive” and “negative” refer to whether you are adding something to the pet’s experience (positive) or removing something from the pet’s experience (negative).  “Reinforcement” can be either positive or negative, yet always results in increased expression of that behavior.  “Punishment” can be either positive or negative, yet always results in decreased expression of that behavior.  Using these definitions, “negative punishment”, is removing something in order to decrease the incidence of that behavior.

Jumping up behavior in dogs in a good example of how effective negative punishment can be when used correctly. Many owners try to teach their dog not to jump up by using the following techniques: talking, yelling, pushing, shoving, grabbing paws, and kneeing chests. Owners think they are using a positive punishment (adding something to decrease the behavior). What many owners fail to realize is that their actions give attention to the dog. The dog jumped up to seek attention. By providing attention, the behavior increases. Therefore, the owners are inadvertently using positive reinforcement (adding something to increase the behavior). Negative punishment is much more effective for this problem behavior. The dog jumps up, the owner removes herself (and her attention), and the behavior decreases because there is no reward. The owner can easily take a step backwards and turn away when their dog jumps up. I often call this the “cold shoulder.”

Negative punishment should not disrupt the bond you have with your pet. When you withdraw your attention, or yourself, in response to a “bad” behavior, do so for not much more than a minute. Prolonged social isolation may cause stress and anxiety. As with positive reinforcement, timing is important. You must remove the rewarding stimulus within a few seconds of when the behavior occurred.    

This week, try to ignore your pet’s pushy and attention seeking behavior. Notice if your pet’s behavior initially worsens. Pets will try harder using previously successful behaviors which resulted in attention. If you are consistent with ignoring their pushy and attention seeking behaviors, that behavior will eventually come to end.  

Let me know how it goes!    


Training Tip: Understanding Positive Reinforcement

Positive reinforcement is giving a rewarding stimulus (attention, food, touch, play) immediately following a behavior.  Hopefully this is done deliberately while training your pet, though often positive reinforcement is accidental, contributing to persistent unwanted behaviors.  Providing attention to a cat who is meowing and weaving between our legs while we walk, even if we are speaking sternly, reinforces this behavior.  Similarly, pushing a puppy who jumps up on you inadvertently rewards jumping up.  Remember, even negative attention is attention!

Timing is crucial when delivering rewards for behavior.  For example, a treat and/or praise offered at the back door after a puppy has urinated in the backyard rewards returning to the back door, rather than reinforcing the desired behavior by providing rewards immediately after proper pottying.  

One of the most important things to reward in any pet is calm and quiet behavior.  Take the time to approach your pet and give affection when you find them resting by themselves.  Bring a treat when they are reclining in their bed.  The more we reward our pets during these restful times, the more we nurture and develop this behavior.  

This week, focus on rewarding your pet’s calm, relaxed behavior for five minutes each day.  At the end of the week, notice if there is a difference in your pet’s overall demeanor.  Let me know how it goes!

Behavior Tip: Give Your Cat a Box

Cats experience stress frequently. Other cats are often the cause of stress, though owner interactions and environment can also be involved. It can be difficult for cat owners to realize their cat is stressed because cats can be very quiet and withdrawn when experiencing stress. Stress in cats can lead to many different behavior problems, including aggression, social withdrawal, over-grooming, inappropriate urination, urine marking, and other issues. Stress also plays a role in medical problems, such as feline interstitial cystitis, asthma, inflammatory bowel disease, gastrointestinal esophageal reflux disease, and other diseases. Research demonstrates that providing your cat with a simple cardboard box may significantly reduce its stress, which can help improve both behavioral and medical problems.  If you have a cat who you suspect feels stressed, provide some boxes for your cat in your house. This simple strategy is inexpensive and convenient.  If you still need help with decreasing your cat’s stress, consider contacting me for a free 30 minute phone consultation.  

Training Tip: How to Keep Your Cool

Yelling at pets for misbehavior is not a successful strategy and nearly always makes behavior problems worse by instilling fear and fracturing the bond between you and your pet. The American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior agrees that punishment should not be used as a first-line or early-use behavior strategy (see blog).  

Pet owners are often frustrated by their pet’s behavior.  Sometimes the pet owner’s expectations are too high, either due to the pet’s developmental stage or to inadequate training.  Pet owners may not realize that the pet does not understand the expected behavior or does not realize which behaviors are unacceptable.

I tell my clients that the only behavior you can change is your own behavior. Our behavior changes will lead to a change in our interactions with our pets, thereby improving pet behaviors. But how can you change your own behavior?

You can start by noticing when you are most likely to yell at your pet. What time of day is it? What did your pet do? What else might be bothering you? This can bring self-awareness to your own behavior and may help you prevent those circumstances in the future.

If you are about to lose your cool, use some proven strategies to calm down. Focus on your breathing, making your exhale longer than your inhale. Give yourself a time out by leaving the room and focusing on something else (or nothing) for a while. Play some relaxing music. Try categorizing items by color to engage a different part of your brain. Use your own favorite technique to restore calm. As long as your pet is safe, do not interact with your pet when you are upset.

Once those feelings of frustration and anger have passed, you can reflect upon why your pet’s misbehavior occurred and make a plan for how to avoid it, or how to handle it next time. Remember to have compassion both for yourself and for your pet. Think of ways to help improve the situation, rather than simply reacting to the circumstances.  

If you need help determining how to best help your pet, you can always start with a free 30 minute phone consultation.    

Behavior Tip: Play-Related Aggression in Cats

Play-related aggression is seen most often in kittens and young cats, though it may persist into adulthood. Usually human-directed aggression during play occurs in single-cat households where the opportunity to play with other cats in unavailable. It often involves predatory behavior, including stalking, pouncing, biting, and targeting moving objects (including humans). Sometimes boisterous play leads to human injuries accidentally. You might recognize body language in your cat which indicates that aggression may occur, including tail swishing, ears back, and a direct stare with large pupils. If you notice these signs, end the play session immediately.

Provide appropriate amounts of play for your cat so that individual play sessions might become less intense.  Be sure that you initiate all play sessions, not your cat.  If your cat attempts to initiate play, ignore it to prevent escalation of attention-seeking behaviors and aggression. You may need to leave the room and close the door if your cat is persistent. Try to provide enough play that your cat does not feel the need to initiate sessions.

Use toys which allow the cat to pounce and chase, like wands, cat dazzlers, and bouncy ropes. You can throw small toys for your cat to chase and capture. Experiment with different toys to see which your cat likes best. Rotate toys throughout a play session to maintain interest.

If you see signs of aggression while playing, stop the session and leave the area immediately. The message is that aggressive behavior makes the play session end. Do not use punishment because it could escalate aggression, inadvertently reward the behavior, or create fear of humans.

You may need to place a bell on your cat’s quick-release collar to know where your cat is and avoid sneak attacks. Carry a small cat toy in your pocket and throw it if you are being stalked to redirect your cat’s behavior onto an appropriate play item.

If your cat displays play-related aggression and you need help, consider contacting me for a consultation.  

Link: AVSAB Position Statement - Cesar Millan Response

Clients are often surprised to learn that I don’t support the training techniques demonstrated by Cesar Millan, the dog trainer who gained fame on TV. His training methods rely on outdated information. The use of forced based training and flooding result in increased anxiety, fear, and aggression. These are not compassionate techniques and can fracture the bond between dogs and their owners. Serious injury of animals and people can result. Warning signs of aggression can become inhibited, leading to increased risk of injury in future aggressive incidents.  

AVSAB, the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior, released a Position Statement following recent controversy in which a dog reportedly bit a pig on the ear.  Please read this document for more information.  



Behavior Myth: Dominance Theory

“She is acting dominant.”

“He wants to be the boss.”

“If I just show him who’s boss.”

“I am having such a hard time with her, I know I should be more dominant, but it’s not me.”

I hear these statements in general practice, during behavior consultations, over dinner with friends, and just about everywhere else.  

Dominance theory has saturated our culture’s approach to dog behavior problems. The dominance myth, however, is dangerous, leading to suffering of both dogs and their owners. This myth has its roots in outdated theories about wolf behavior, which were applied to a different species, the domesticated dog, with over 10,000 years of different evolutionary history.  

Most problem behaviors aren’t expressed because the pet wants to be dominant or needs to be dominated. Dominance involves a relationship in which one animal uses force or aggression for priority access to resources over other(s) who submit. Behaviors which are defined as “dominant” by many dog owners are not dominant, yet exist because the behavior has been inadvertently rewarded. For example, when a fearful dog snaps, the threatening person backs away.  

Most dogs who display aggression are fearful. When owners and/or trainers “dominate” them, their fear worsens. Perhaps there is an initial perception of behavior improvement because the dog is so frightened, but aggression in fearful dogs worsens with these techniques. Additionally, what is often recommended by those who prescribe to dominance theory are direct stares, alpha rolls, pinching, kicking, yelling, and other aggressive techniques. These confrontational methods are dangerous. Dogs can respond to these threats with aggression, which can injure people and other animals, no matter how big or small the dog is.

Science supports reinforcing the behaviors you want to see and ceasing to reinforce unwanted behaviors. Recognizing the emotional state of the animal and approaching behavior modification with compassion is important to strengthen the bond between you and your dog. Medical causes that might be contributing to unwanted behaviors need to be assessed. These techniques have proven success.

If you need help with your dog’s behaviors, start with a free 30-minute consult with me.

Behavior Tip: Other Dog Owners

It’s a story we’ve all told. You’re walking Dog, not in the dog park where you know Dog will have a problem, but on the sidewalk where there is a six-feet leash law. A dog approaches quickly from around the corner, unleashed, and Dog starts going crazy. You are straining to hold Dog back, and stressing about whether you’ll be able to control the situation or not. The other owner casually rounds the corner and says “oh, don’t worry, he’s great with other dogs”. Your blood is boiling - he might be great with other dogs but Dog is not. You chose this area because you are doing your best to keep Dog safe, and other dogs too. You scream at the other owner, or icily pierce him with a passive-aggressive spear.  

But what about Dog?

You respond in anger and frustration, and Dog thinks that this always happens when other dogs are around. To Dog, other dogs mean bad things happen.  

You have to let it go. You can not control the other owner. You can only control yourself. You must stay calm and leave the situation as quickly as possible. Focus on staying peaceful by exhaling longer than you inhale, smiling, even humming a happy little tune. The more calm you stay, the greater chance that Dog will be less aroused the next time you encounter a dog. It’s not easy, yet if you don’t modify your own behavior, you and Dog are going to have a harder time in the long run.  

In addition, try to have some compassion towards the other owner. They are not being considerate, yet they are not making things difficult on purpose.  

Give it a try. If you’d like some help managing your dog, consider contacting me for a consultation.  

Behavior Tip: Feline Scratching

Scratching is a natural cat behavior. Scratching is used for stretching and for conditioning the cat’s claws. The visible marks left after scratching and the scent from the cat’s feet provide information about their territory. Cats must be allowed to express this natural behavior, yet most owners are unwilling to sacrifice their couches or table legs.  

Directing scratching behavior to appropriate areas is possible, although with some cats you will need patience and creativity. Scratching posts should be tall and sturdy. Your cat should be able to stand on her back legs and extend her front legs high on the post without knocking it over. You may need to experiment with materials. Many scratching posts are designed for durability, but your cat probably prefers material which will tear during scratching.  Placement of the post is also important, because most cats prefer a central location.

If your cat is scratching on furniture, you will need to make these spots inaccessible or undesirable. You can try placing double-sided sticky tape or draping aluminum foil or plastic over the area.

If you are having a problem with your cat scratching, contact me for a free 30 minute phone consultation to see if I can help you.    


Behavior Tip: the Guilty Owner

Many dog and cat owners who seek my help say they feel guilty.  Whether they feel that they haven’t spent enough time with their pet, that they haven’t done enough training, or that they have put off seeking help for too long, pet owners are convinced that they have contributed to their pet’s behavior problem.  They realize that their pet is distressed and they are riddled with guilt.

Most dog and cat behavior problems are not created by people.  However, people can make any behavioral condition better or worse by the manner in which they interact.  Loving pet owners make mistakes, use inappropriate interventions, and fail to understand their pet’s behavior.

Blaming yourself for your pet’s behavior problem won’t help fix the problem.  Have enough compassion for yourself to realize that you always had the best intentions for your pet and your relationship with your pet.  It’s normal to feel guilty, but I encourage you to forgive yourself.  

Rather than dwelling on guilt and blame, move toward improving your pet’s distress and your relationship with your pet.  Seeking help is a powerful step toward creating a more harmonious relationship between you and your dog or cat.  You can learn new ways of interacting with your pet which will improve quality of life for both of you.  If you have been experiencing feelings of guilt, take a positive step by contacting me for help.

Behavior Myth: the Guilty Pet

Clients often tell me that their pet knows that he/she has done something wrong. People are convinced that their pet’s behavior indicates guilt. Yet pets don’t feel guilty about their behaviors. If dogs and cats engage in a behavior and immediately receive positive reinforcement, those behaviors will continue. If there is an adverse outcome to the behavior, the dog or cat will avoid that behavior in the future. Learning occurs immediately after the behavior, in less than approximately 3-10 seconds according to most research.  

As an example, Peanut, a 4 year old male neutered pit bull mix, liked to unstuff throw pillows when his owners were at work. It was fun! He got positive reinforcement for that behavior because he had a good time doing it. When his owners came home, they were upset by the mess and angry at Peanut for causing it. Since Peanut is a dog, he did not realize that the act of tearing up throw pillows was the problem because it had been hours since he had done it. Peanut realized that his owners were mad when they returned home and there was stuffing strewn around the living room, but he did not make the connection with his earlier act of pillow destruction. Even when his owners brought him to the fluffy stuffing and yelled at him, he had no way of associating the punishment with the act. His response when his owners came home and there was stuffing on the floor was to offer submissive behaviors to deflect their anger. He would cower, avert his eyes, and lick his lips.

Canine submissive behaviors include averted eyes, ears back, body low, tail between legs, and hiding. It is understandable that humans interpret these behaviors as guilt. Guilty humans behave in a similar way.

The problem with assigning guilt is that people assume that their pet knows what the problem is, but this isn’t so. Not only does this lead to a continuation of the problem behavior, but it can lead to aggression toward the pet, frustration, resentment, and relinquishment.

Luckily for Peanut, his owners got good advice. They set Peanut up to succeed by removing throw pillows from his environment and providing fluff-filled dog toys. Happy pet, happy people!    

Training Tip: Begging

Begging for food is a normal learned behavior of both dogs and cats. Pets can engage in staring, pawing, vocalizing, and jumping up when begging. Usually this behavior develops because the pet has been rewarded for natural solicitous behavior prompted by the odor or sight of food. Rewards for begging behavior can occur either accidentally when food falls from a table or counter, or deliberately when an owner gives in to the pet. Children and visitors can contribute to begging behavior. Intermittent rewards reinforce begging.

Most begging is a nuisance.  When a pet is causing injury during begging, the pet must be safely secluded in another room when food is being prepared or eaten.  

Begging is simple to fix in theory. The pet should never receive any food or attention for begging.  Remember that begging behaviors will get worse before they extinguish, which can take several weeks if perfectly implemented.

If you are having a problem with begging, start with a free 30 minute phone consultation with me.