I want to thank everyone, on behalf of myself and Junior, for all of the birthday well-wishes we’ve both received during the week. Of course, while my mother remembers the day I was born very well, with most dogs that don’t come from breeders with good records, their actual birthdate is always a matter of guesswork.

I know some people who celebrate their dogs’ birthdays on January 1st because that makes it much easier to remember their age. I know others who do it on Christmas or other big holidays. I picked August because it’s my birth month, of course, and it’s when the “Dog Days” of summer happen, so it seemed appropriate.

Things like birthdays are approximate enough that it’s not a huge problem if you have to pick an arbitrary date — but there are other cases when guessing or using “one size fits all” is exactly the wrong thing to do. This reminds me of an old saying.

That saying goes, “If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” It comes from the world of human psychology and refers to the idea that if doctors only had a drug available to treat psychosis, then every mental illness was treated like psychosis. It isn’t a theoretical idea, either. This was literally the case in the early 1960s when the phrase was coined.

In general terms, it refers to someone using a tool or technique that they’re familiar with instead of the best one for the job — like a lumberjack using an axe to shave or a demolition expert using dynamite to cook a steak. Yes, technically those tools would work… but they wouldn’t do the best job and, in the case of the steak, you could easily wind up going hungry while feeding all of the wildlife in the neighborhood.

When you use the right tool for the right job, nothing can beat it. If you have nothing but nails, then you want that hammer. If you’ve got nothing but a bunch of dogs that need to learn how to sit and stay, then get out the clicker. But, just like with tools, dog training techniques are not one-size-fits-all.

In order to properly rehabilitate a dog, you have to match the right technique to the situation. Using dominance will make a fearful dog worse; using nothing but positive reinforcement can make an aggressive dog more dangerous. But flip those techniques around, and you’re using the right tool for the job.

I’ve seen people get bitten while trying to calm down an aggressive dog using treats. I’ve also seen people do a full-on alpha roll to a small dog that just gave a little greeting bark to another dog. I’ll admit that this one is partly my fault if I haven’t emphasized it enough — an aggressive move like alpha-rolling a dog is only the right tool if you’re dealing with a dominant, aggressive, over-excited dog and, even then, only if you know what you’re doing and why. It should be just about one of the last tools you pull out of the bag, not among the first, and never on a dog that’s just over-excited or playful.

In case you’re not sure which tool or technique is the right one, visit for the answers. If you know how your dog is misbehaving but aren’t sure what to do about it, then check out the Help! My Dog Is… section at the top. Find the misbehavior and you’ll find the tools and techniques to solve it. Or, if you’d just like to learn more about my techniques, check out Cesar’s Essentials. These are my presents to you from Junior and me — for our birthdays, and all year round.

And if you’d like to make Junior really happy for his birthday, lend a paw to my PACK Project’s Fostering Hope program. It’s the right tool for helping homeless dogs and foster kids come together to help each other.

Stay calm, and remember that not everything’s a nail!


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