Pet Parenting: Finding a great dog for your kids at the local animal shelter


It’s time for another installment of Pet Parenting! Local pet behavior counselor, Denise Holmes, who owns a local private counseling business Ain’t Misbehavin’, answers your most perturbing pet problems here.

The latest question:

Q: “We’ve decided to adopt a dog from the animal shelter. What’s the best way to introduce my 3-year-old daughter and 5-year-old son to our new family pet?”

A: I’d encourage you to involve your children in the adoption process. First, visit the shelter alone (kids tend to want every dog they see). Be sure to ask which animals are child friendly and only consider those.

weenie-tootsiedscn2762Select two or three dogs that you like, visit with them privately (out of their kennels). Check for things such as pain tolerance (pull the tail, poke his nose — gently, please), food/toy aggression, and restraint tolerance (give him a hug). Once the candidates get past these, it’s time to introduce the kids.

Let the kids meet each of the dogs you think might be appropriate and see who warms up to them. Hopefully, one of them will stand out and that’s YOUR dog.

Once home, be sure your pet has a secure place of his own and explain to the kids that this is “Rover’s Room” and they have to respect his space. I’d also involve the kids in his training and feeding so that the dog learns to respect them as part of the pack, and I’d start training as soon as possible.

Find a trainer who will work with you AND your children. Even the youngest is old enough to give simple commands such as sit, or play a game like fetch. These are important bonding exercises that will help everyone understand how to get along with one another.

Denise HolmesDenise Holmes loves animals and considers it her life’s work to help pets and their people live together in harmony. She trains pets through her business, Ain’t Misbehavin’ Pet Behavior Counseling. Denise also developed a product just for brand-new moms that’s available at some retail outlets around NWA. It’s a CD called My New Best Friend and features actual newborn baby sounds and is designed to help introduce the family pet to a new baby.

*Special thanks to Fayetteville mom, Carolyn, for the picture of her adorable dachshunds, Weenie and Tootsie.


Pet Parenting: How do I keep my neighbor’s dog out of my yard?


Dear Denise,

My neighbor’s dog is constantly coming into my yard and causing my dog to bark like crazy from inside the house. It drives me nuts. I like my neighbor and his dog, but not the situation. Is there anything I can do to discourage the dog from coming into my yard? Besides asking my neighbor not to let his dog out, of course! :)

Dear Mama:

If you live within the city limits, there is very likely a leash law stipulating that dogs must be confined in a fenced area or on leash. Filing an anonymous complaint is probably your best bet.

There are spray deterrents, but those are usually recommended for gardens and small areas, not the perimeter of entire yards. So, I don’t think it would work for your situation. I also suspect that your dog will bark anytime the neighbor’s dog is within sight, even if it’s not in ‘your’ yard. My dog, Henri, thinks he owns the sidewalk, too! Unfortunately, this isn’t a training issue; this is more a good neighbor issue.

I would suggest that you try to talk with your neighbor. If he does not have a fenced yard, perhaps suggest some sort of tethering system. A trot line between two trees and attached to a harness would be a safe and inexpensive alternative.

Another, less expensive alternative, would be an electronic system. It doesn’t have to be one of those high-dollar underground kind. There is a system that mailboxconsists of a box kept indoors, that establishes a 360 perimeter from the box. The owner sets the distance.

If you aren’t comfortable confronting your neighbor, then we are back to square one…reporting it. You could always stick one of my cards in the mailbox as a friendly suggestion. He might take the hint ;-)

I’m sorry I couldn’t be of more help on this one. Good luck.


Denise HolmesLove. Trust. Teach. CDP, Inc
“You are responsible, forever, for what you have tamed.”
-Antoine de Saint-Exupery

Pet Parenting: My cat won’t stay off the counter!

Dear Denise,

My cat won’t stay off the kitchen counter and it’s driving me crazy. I’ve tried using a spray bottle filled with water, but it does not seem to faze her. She gets down at the time, but gets right back up when I turn my back. Any other ideas for keeping her on the floor?

Thank you!

Dear Mama:

double sided tapeAs you’ve already discovered, punishment doesn’t work too well in this situation, and that is because the punishment is coming from you. If you aren’t there, nothing bad happens.

The solution to your problem is two-fold. First, you need to make you counters less attractive. In fact, make them super-no-fun at all. I’d suggest double stick tape. I know it’s a little inconvenient for you, but it should work.

When kitty jumps on the counter and her feet stick to it, she won’t like it. Just run a few strips across the counter when you leave the house. You can remove them when you get home, and you should only need to do it for a couple of weeks to instill the notion that the counter is sticky.

cat treeNext, you’ll need to make sure she has an alternative.

Do you have a high place that she IS allowed to be? If not, create one. You can do this in a number of ways, but the easiest might be to get a cat tree of some sort, and if possible, put it in the kitchen (at least for a little while), maybe by a window.

Then treat the tree with some Feliway pheromone spray, or rub it down with catnip if she likes that. That should attract her, and combined with the new yuckiness of the counter, she should prefer the new spot to the old one.

Good luck!


Denise HolmesLove. Trust. Teach. CDP, Inc
“You are responsible, forever, for what you have tamed.”
-Antoine de Saint-Exupery

Pet Parenting: That dog won’t stop barking!

Dear Denise,

My dog barks all day long and I’m worried my neighbors are getting annoyed. What anti-bark techniques or devices would you recommend? What about the sonic devices? I’m a little desperate.

Thank you!

Dear Mama:

Barking dogs can be a real barrier to harmonious neighborhood living. Thank you for recognizing that. I get asked all the time by my own clients how they can stop a neighbor’s dog from barking.

The easy answer to that question is to recommend a device that works. I really like the ultra sonic devices. They emit a noise only the animal can hear, so it doesn’t disturb the neighbors further. The noise is also emited when the dog barks, so it’s immediate and easily associated with the barking behavior.

I don’t really like shock collars, and oftentimes, the dogs either get used to the citronella spray, or the collar rotates and doesn’t target the face like it should.

dogwaggingtailUse one of these devices if you must, but I urge you to also try to address the reason for the barking. Some dogs bark for no reason, but very few. I’d look for reasons.

Is your dog getting enough exercise? Just because he’s outside in the yard all day, doesn’t mean he’s getting exercise. Does he get walked regularly? Regular walks can solve a multitude of problems.

Does he have things to do in the yard? Not just toys, but things that engage him. A kong stuffed with something yummy, a place to dig and find cool things (I have instructions for a digging hole on my facebook page), or even a tether ball tied to a tree, can give bored dogs something to do besides bark.

Another option is an occasional visit to daycare. Even just once or twice a week could be a nice change of pace, and most dogs come home from daycare very tired.

I really encourage you to address this behavior from both ends. Obviously, you need to stop the barking, or at least minimize it, but it isn’t fair to punish your dog for being a dog. Make sure your dog is being physically and mentally stimulated in such a way as to alleviate boredom. You may discover that the barking will diminish on its own when that energy is redirected.

Good luck,


Denise HolmesLove. Trust. Teach. CDP, Inc
“You are responsible, forever, for what you have tamed.”
-Antoine de Saint-Exupery

Animal behavior expert Denise Holmes helps solve pet problems in NWA

We get lots of comments about our Pet Parenting feature on nwaMotherlode.
What makes it so good is the practical approach that Northwest Arkansas pet behavior expert, Denise Holmes, takes when answering pet problem questions. She loves animals and it shines through in her answers.
We recently did a little Q&A with Denise and thought we’d share below. If you’re thinking about getting a puppy for Christmas, consider inviting Denise over to ensure (s)he becomes a fabulous member of the family, not a barking, accident-making pest :)
Q: How did you get started in an animal behavior career?

Purely by accident! I have always worked with animals, training my own pets, the neighbors animals, etc, and I was always good at it. However, my degree is in microbiology (i do have a minor in psych).

I went to school with the intentions of being a physician. After college, I was tired of school and had to be realistic about my study habits. I was looking for a job in pharmaceuticals, but there were a lot of changes going on in that industry at the time, and there was a lot of competition for jobs.

I knew it could take a few months, and when a friend suggested I apply for a job as the in-store trainer at a local large chain store, I did. This was way before Caesar had a TV show, and it had never occurred to me that something that came so naturally to me, was a service for which I could charge people. I had always just done it. When I left there, with zero intention of starting a business, my students came with me, calling me and asking me to finish their training. I felt I owed them that, so I did. Then, based simply on the referrals I received from those first few students, and the relationships I had built with local rescues and veterinarians, I started my business.

Q: You go to people’s houses to help with pet behavior problems, right?

Yes, I do, but I also offer a lot more (and not just with dogs). We can go anywhere the problem exists. I’ve worked at the park, the vet clinic, on the grooming table, you name it. In the beginning, I offered classes as part of my business, but this is just so much more personal. I really have the opportunity to get to know people, and customize a training program that gives families exactly what they want and need. And seeing the problem in action with my own eyes, gives me a much better perspective than relying solely on what a pet parent is able to tell me.

Q: What’s the most common problem that your clients in Northwest Arkansas have with their pets?

Potty training and door manners are the two things that seem to most frustrate people; no one wants a dog going in the house, and not having door manners is not only a nuisance to guests, but can be dangerous to the animal if they run into the street. I also get quite a few calls about aggression. However, I think in general, just establishing a basis of communication with another species can be difficult. I like to think I help translate. 

Q: Can you tell us about some unusual problems you’ve encountered?

I once had a client whose (little) dog was afraid to walk into the living room. They had tried everything they knew, but couldn’t solve the problem or figure out why the problem existed. We scheduled an appointment so that I could observe the behavior.

If you called the dog into the living room, it would run down the hall, then get real close to the wall and sort of ‘sneak’ into the living room. It only took a few minutes to realize that mounted above the fireplace was a replica of a Bald Eagle with wings and talons in full extension as if swooping in on prey.

I had them take the eagle off the wall and place it on the floor. We let the little dog sniff it, reluctantly at first, but then a little more confidently. I suggested that the mount stay on the floor for a few days, then they could try putting it back in place. Once the dog realized it wasn’t real, and it wasn’t going to eat him, the eagle went back on the wall and there were no more problems.

Another case that sticks in my mind was a dog named Gracie. She had grass allergies, but HATED to have her feet touched, and she was quite nasty about it. Over the course of many sessions, we able to teach her to plunge her feet into a water bucket and then dry them on a towel herself. This was one of those times when the solution wasn’t entirely clear when I first met the family, but ‘revealed’ itself over the course of time. We were actually working on something completely different when it occurred to me that we might be able to teach her to do that. I like it when that happens! It’s amazing what you can learn or figure out when you get to know the animals and their families.

Q: Can you share with us a few of the programs you’ve helped develop to help people and pets?

I have been very involved with animal-assisted therapy, even before beginning my business, but it’s not about helping people and pets, it’s about pets helping people, and it is something about which I am very passionate.

Animals can do amazing things. My proudest accomplishment is the work I did with Arkansas Children’s Hospital in 2000. They did not, at that time, have a visiting animal program, and the people who wanted one, were being met with resistance. I worked very closely with Esther Pipkin in Child Life, to help develop and coordinate a research project that would validate the impact animals could have on the children.

From the results of that study the TAILS program was created, and is now 12 years strong. I occasionally get the chance to go to ACH and watch the kids in the playroom interact with the dogs (they also do room visits, by ‘prescription’). Anyone who witnesses that knows the value of it; watching a child forget their illness, even for a moment, can bring tears to your eyes.

In NWA, I was very active in starting the Sit. Stay. Read! program at the Fayetteville Public Library. What began as an in-library referral-based (from teachers in the school district) program on Saturday mornings, is now in all but one Fayetteville elementary school, including St. Joseph’s. I am very proud of what Lolly Greenwood, and the Sit. Stay. Read! volunteers have accomplished. Emerging and struggling readers are being taught and encouraged simply by reading out loud to a dog! It’s really wonderful work, and I get very excited when I see that a new client might have the potential or desire to do therapy.

Q: Where can people find your CD that helps introduce pets to new babies/children?

My New Best Friend: The CD is available at Terra Tots in Springdale, through the Humane Society of the Ozarks (proceeds benefit the organization), the Freckled Frog in Little Rock, and through I suggest that if someone is expecting their first baby, they get the CD as soon as possible and begin working through the sounds and the recommended steps. It also makes a great gift if you pair it with a Kong, and some Comfort Zone (two products recommended in the instructions).

Q: Your tagline on your website is “Love.Trust.Teach”? Tell us why those three words are so important to you.

I truly believe that’s the way it is, that’s the order of things. You can’t teach anyone, anything if they don’t trust you, they just aren’t going to care what you say. But if you have an honest, genuine love for them, they will feel that, and they will, eventually and sometimes with work, trust you. I think it goes for humans and animals both, really.