The Official Team Unruly Holiday Gift Guide!


The holiday season is upon us once again. How does this keep happening?! …. oh. Annual, you say? Okay.

Here at TU, we never seem to have much trouble coming up with ways to spoil our dogs. In fact, NOT buying them gifts is the much greater challenge. We also know a lot of dog-loving humans, though, and they can be a little trickier. We put our heads together and came up with a couple of good options for the dog-owned humans in your life.

1. Paws in the Patch Ribbon and Title Bar Holders.

This item is on TU member Danielle’s personal wish-list! It can be hard to find a good way to show off all those shiny ribbons your pup has earned. These snazzy ribbon holders can be customized with a silhouette image or a photo and your dog’s name, and will keep your ribbons hanging neatly. You can also get holders for agility title bars, too. These holders would make a great gift for any dog and handler team!

2. Friendship Collars and Bracelets

What is most important in life? To have fun and look good doing it! TU member Michelle found these cute matching collar and bracelet sets. They’re very reasonably-priced and come in lots of cute colors and patterns. They even have a “holiday collection” and the sets come in little Santa sacks!

3. Custom Pet Nose Print Necklaces

Looking for a slightly pricier gift for a special someone? This website offers custom nose print jewelry. Just like a fingerprint, your dog’s nose print is unique. These nose print pendants would be a lovely way to keep your best friend close to your heart at all times. They would make a particularly thoughtful gift for someone with a sick or elderly pet.

4. Cuddle Clones plush pet replicas

Sometimes you want to squeeze your pup and he’s just not in the squeezing mood. Or maybe you want to jam him in a suitcase to take on a trip but you heard the TSA frowns on that sort of thing (… as well as the ASPCA and all other animal welfare groups and reasonable people). Never fear! For the low, low cost of “more than any person should ever spend on a stuffed toy, ever, but I really want one anyway,” you can have a one-of-a-kind stuffed toy replica of your pooch! You just submit a couple of photos of your pet, choose from some otherĀ options (like ear and tail position), andĀ bam – you got yourself a squeezable, packable, lovable pet plushie.

5. Dog Breed Puzzles

Let’s get back to some gifts TU members could actually afford. Lindsay C. recommends these dog breed puzzles. The link shows a German Shepherd, but a bit of searching on Etsy will turn up many, many more breeds. These puzzles look great on desks and bookshelves, and some Etsy sellers also have them available as Christmas ornaments. Check out all the other animals available, too – aardvark, anyone?

6. Wine

Do I really need to explain?


TU readers: any other suggestions? Please share your links in the comments – we would love to learn about other gift options!

Risk and Reward: The balance between trust and caution in dog training.

Getting a second dog was a risk. It didn't work out perfectly, but it DID work out - totally worth it.

Getting a second dog was a risk. It didn’t work out perfectly, but it DID work out – totally worth it.

At some point in my life — I can’t pinpoint exactly when, and it was probably a gradual transformation anyway — I became pretty risk-averse. It surprises me to acknowledge just how worried and safety-conscious I am, because I didn’t expect to grow up this way. I really respect people who are bold and adventurous and I want to claim those traits for myself, but when it boils down to it, I’m just… not. Oh, I like to travel and try new things, I’m outspoken and career-minded and I want great things for myself, but I’m also very, very anxious and tend to check and double-check myself a lot.

I don’t know if it was just a twist of fate that saw me end up with an anxious dog or if there’s some sort of causal mechanism there (I don’t like to dwell on it), but that’s what happened: I have a dog just as anxious as I am, and together we are greater than the sum of our anxious parts. He does things that make me anxious, I tense up, he gets more anxious, I flail like Kermit and we shut ourselves away from the world. At least, that’s how it was until I started working with a great, force-free trainer and started to make some real progress on Cerb’s reactivity (and my reactivity to his reactivity; all great dog-trainers are human-trainers, too).

One of the biggest battles was finding the balance between trust and caution. Over and over again, I would hear trainers tell me “Trust your dog.” They would see me choke up on his leash when we passed other handlers and their dogs, or see me start pulling him away as we approached a trigger without ever giving him the opportunity to information-seek and make his own decision. I had a bad habit of always expecting the worst of Cerberus and, in one of those tricksy self-fulfilling prophecy kind of things, I was guaranteeing that the behaviors I expected were the behaviors I saw. I thought Cerb would bark and lunge at that dog over there, so as soon as he spotted it, I tensed up on the leash, communicating to Cerberus that *I* was worried about that other dog and perhaps he should be worried, too. He would bark and lunge, I would feel vindicated (and sad and stressed), and next time I would tense up on his leash even more. Things were getting worse, not better.

I had to trust Cerberus to make the right choice, but that required two things: teaching him that there was a better choice than barking and lunging, and giving him the opportunity to make that better choice. I could achieve both of these things using a combination of the Control Unleashed and BAT methods, and Cerberus quickly improved (and continues to improve, as this is a lifelong commitment, not a quick fix).

Trust is only one side of the equation, though. Yes, I fall too heavily on the cautious side, and I’ve explained why that was counter-productive when dealing with my reactive dog. Too much trust, especially when paired with a deafness toward your dog’s signals of discomfort, can be disastrous. When my trainers told me to “Trust my dog,” I took their advice, but only as far as I felt comfortable.

I have written before about the importance of being your dog’s advocate. The trust-caution balance is another place where this comes into play. I advocate always working with a professional on these issues, but even when working with a professional, you must still stand up for your dog. *You* are the one who lives with him, who walks him, who observes him day in and day out. The professional is a skilled individual who has come into your lives but sees only a fraction of what you are dealing with. If a professional asks you to do something that you don’t feel is safe for your dog, you *must* say no. It is better to move slowly and cautiously than to rush into something and end up setting your dog back or, worse, hurting him, yourself, or someone else. Communicate with your trainer: explain how this task or exercise makes you feel worried or why you think it will be too much for your dog, and see if there’s a way that you and the trainer can modify the exercise so that your dog can succeed.

The damage that can be done if you fail to take the proper safety precautions can not be overstated. A bite history can change a dog’s life forever, even if it was a minor bite or there were exacerbating circumstances; I can tell you that nobody cares that your dog doesn’t like men in hats or was having a bad day because he encountered another dog on your morning walk. A bite history could result in your dog being labeled an aggressive or dangerous dog. It could get you evicted from your rental property or increase your home insurance rates. You could be required to build more secure fencing or to walk your dog in a muzzle. You could be sued, your dog could be seized and euthanized. This is before we even consider the fear and pain experienced by the victim, be it a dog or a human.

As the owner of a bully breed, I am particularly sensitive to the risks. I know that my dog would not even have to put his teeth on someone. As a large, muscular, blocky-headed dog, his barking and lunging is enough to be seriously threatening, and I have no desire to be reported to the authorities for having a dangerous animal. I have no desire to lose my dog or to put him in any situations where he feels he needs to defend himself. Therefore, I have sought out the professional help we needed *and I continue to take all the necessary safety precautions*. I trust my dog in controlled training settings where there is little risk and much to be gained, and I make sure that I have management strategies to use in less controlled settings, like our neighborhood walks or visits to his veterinarian. I use a high-quality leather collar and leash, I stay aware of our environment, I use our CU and BAT training when we do encounter triggers, I stay attuned to Cerberus’ body language, and I do not let people or other dogs rush up to him.

Every owner needs to find the appropriate balance between testing boundaries to make training progress, and being cautious and respectful of a dog’s limits. The cost of being too cautious could be slower training progress or perhaps making some fear issues worse; the cost of not being cautious enough could be a training setback, an injury, or even a fatality. In general, I recommend that you:

1) Work with a professional in a controlled environment. Just having another set of eyes, ears and hands available can be helpful for managing your dog and the environment, and a professional trainer or behaviorist will be able to help you read your dog’s subtle signals that he is worried. A trainer can also help to give you confidence by showing you how to teach your dog that, rather than bark and lunge, he can communicate to you in some other way and *you will listen to him* (this is important!) and get him out of an uncomfortable situation.

2) Be your dog’s advocate and trust your gut; know when you need to say no, even to the professional. If a training task makes you uncomfortable because it’s too much, too fast or you think that your dog will fail, ask your trainer if you can make some modifications so that you can work slowly up to the full task. There’s no harm in breaking a task down into manageable pieces.

3) In my opinion, always err on the side of management and safety. The consequences of being too careful are better (if only slightly) than the consequences of not being careful enough.

Happy training!