Category Archives: awareness

Dog, Dog, Dog…Where are we going?


Complacency has its charms. 


For dog years and weight gain.

To create a desired easy-going dog,

Can kinda work.



I can’t just wait for a surprise destiny.


Should I or should I not face.

To create the fulfilled potential of a dog partnership.

Consistently building.



Where are we, dog and me, going?


Knowing the direction, avoiding false paths.

To create something more than ever before.

Resiliency and tenacity.


Guster Longjaws (1 yr old) being silly with his leash.


What about you? Have you thought it through? Did any of your dogs do anything special? Will this current dog be more than those prior pooches?

There are as many reasons for having dogs as there are people with dogs. There are many reasons why having a dog(s) can make you happy. Think carefully … the way it makes you feel, the friends you meet, how you feel, the achievements, the competition, how happy your dog is to do certain things and where you get to go. Write them all down and prioritize everything.

Now make a list of all the things that bother you about having a dog. Write down the things you dislike because they are scary, or things that are just a pain, or that don’t make any sense to you, or that really tick you off. Write down anything that bothers you about the sport you would like to be involved in (are involved in). Then rank those in the same manner, from the worst to the least offensive.

Now (with the two lists) you have a mini summary of the pros and cons of your dog-owning relationship. Now it is time to determine the connections.

Would you hop in a car and drive around aimlessly for years and years without a final destination in mind, without so much as a GPS to get there? That is absolutely what many people do in getting a dog. They have not established a dream and have not established any goals (roadmap).

So what do you really like about doing with your dog? Can you think about an aspect that you could pursue to maximize the pleasurable experiences while minimizing your dislikes? Would the challenge of competition, the peace of hiking, the camaraderie of team sports, or something you hadn’t even considered before satisfy those cravings?

Once you have sharpened your focus on where you want to go, nothing is insurmountable. It just takes real love of where you are headed, a motivation to get there, and some planning for the steps that will lead you to your goal. Take some time, sit down and find your direction.


Reinforcement Gone WRONG


Often a chain of actions grows a behavior. Barking, whining, jumping up, mouthing, excitement at the doors … are very commonly increased by chained events and unfortunately most of the time the person doesn’t realize that they are growing the behavior instead of reducing it.

So if your dog is doing something you don’t particularly like and you don’t know why it’s getting worse. Take a look back. Usually two steps of actions back and you then will spot the behavior/reinforcement cycle.

What then? Put more steps into the cycle or take out a step right before or after the dog’s usual action. Example: in the above cycle the dog barked, woke the person up, then got affection or maybe play time outside. Options: 1. ignore barking (earplugs) and wait until it completely stops before getting out of bed … stay neutral (non-reinforcing) until several preferred things have been offered by the dog, or 2. Schedule wake up time earlier, before dog would usually start to bark or whine, then reinforce quiet behavior immediately, or 3. dog barks, you wake up and go to bathroom and dog follows quietly and lays down (no speaking), you go to other room and dog is asked to do a series of behaviors … sit, down, do trick … then gets rewarded with pets and praise (with this, you may be just growing a longer chain, but usually not).

In our house, Jazzie goes over by the stairs and leans against the wall when she wishes to go outside. Or if I’m using the computer, she puts her head on my thigh and waits. I see her there or feel her chin, get up and go outside with her and play flying disk games. Lately she’s been increasing her requests. Why? Because the reinforcement of the game. Why was I playing the game … because it’s winter and I have to get dressed to go outside and so for efficiency sake potty plus game.

Since I don’t want excessive requests … I let her out, said nothing, waited for her to go potty and turned around and came back inside. She didn’t need to go potty, so it was just a game request.

I like her go outside reminders, because sometimes I can get overly involved in reading or work, but I don’t want to have to let her out too frequently. So we just won’t play her favorite games outside unless I’m the one who initiated the trip outdoors. I expect this will reduce her requests. We’ll see.

Have you discovered unintended behavior chains?



New Puppy – Great Beginings

IMG_6813Three months ago I got a new puppy. I named him Signal, Siggy … Freud … Sig and he’s great! Fast learner. Active. Agile. Motion attraction. Amazing bounce … and likes pretty much everything.

Would he be a good choice for everybody? For sure not, probably too fast a learner, too active, too agile, too likely to chase things and too much bounce.

What kind of criteria do you have for choosing a new pup? How well have you followed it in practice? Do you have certain things you plan on doing with your dog? How have your last dogs been? What didn’t work for you? These are all questions worth answering before getting a new pup.a

Just like in training or planning anything I had my ‘have to haves’ and my ‘likes, but not necessary.’ My needs included a medium large dog (aiming for 50-65#), people and dog social (before I have had more aloof dogs and they suit me, but maybe not my dog training class atmosphere). Excellent conformation, score well on puppy temperament test and I had a handful of breeds that would be likely good choices. The parents should be excellent examples of their breed and consistent with what I was wanting. I preferred a non-black dog … but only because I do photos and videos and black is hard to see details, expressions or even body parts sometimes.

IMG_6834abSo he’s all black. Rich, very black, black. He’s a doodle, which hits the people and dog social, and size range. I’ve known his mom, an AKC registered, 45#, standard poodle named Ruby, since she was a couple of months old.

Five months, the age where most people think … “whew, potty trained, better start doing some other training.” If you’re in that group I do have a dog basic obedience class coming up in January. Sig will be going … he’ll be my demo pup. Reportedly the other pups in his litter are kinda wild. I’m not surprised since active, quick and agile pups tend to get that way if they aren’t handled skillfully. We were visiting the vet clinic yesterday afternoon to put up flyers and practice puppy skills and Sig is the calmest one they’ve seen.

Which is nice to hear about ‘the dog trainer’s pup.’

But, you know, that’s not really true. What’s true is he’s had practice and knows what is expected and so he can be calm. Clarity produces confidence. He’s still very much a puppy. His mask of self-assurance and self-control can crumble if over-faced.

He has been in puppy kindergarten, he goes weekly to agility as a ring-side spectator, we do errand runs to town and practice what he knows in all sorts of parking lots and I do training sessions with him a minimum of three times daily (three meals … three opportunities to train). Yesterday I started the process of going inside dog friendly establishments because the more practice he gets, the better he’ll be. The other reason I was waiting to enter public buildings is he has nervous or submissive urination and I wanted to be sure we had that under control before stressing him.

I’ve come to the conclusion that nervous pee-ers are a lot like scared pups. Oh, body language is very different, but they need less eye contact, less verbal interaction, and no, or minimal, touch from unknown people.

Sig is cute and waggy. He looks very inviting and people want to come up and grab both sides of his face and cuddle. That’s way too much! Even if I tell them just one hand, just brief … they don’t seem able to listen.

So I just say no and block them. I don’t need random strangers creating bad rehearsals for my pup. I want good rehearsals. This temporary problem isn’t going to become a lifelong habit.

Both places we went into yesterday … were great.  Dry floors.  Of course, I did potty breaks before entering (an empty bladder is less likely to leak under stress). And anyone longingly staring, we just moved on and ignored.

Even the best choices of puppy are going to come with issues … I didn’t mention that we’re working on stopping the mouthing, and the jumping and the picking up everything reachable and…IMG_6881


Learning Zone – dogs

A stressed dog will not absorb training.

A stressed person will not absorb training.

If you and your dog are in your comfort zone, really in your comfort zone, you’re probably just repeating the habits, repeating the things that you’ve already learned, already done, many times before. That’s why they are comfortable. Same environment, same people/animals, same games, same, same…

Learning happening here? Not unless something changes.

Learning takes you out of your comfort zone, but not too far out of it. It should make you slightly nervous, somewhat frustrated … still you’re willing and in control.

So what happens if you hear/see a handler whose dog was being difficult and she’s proud because she showed him who is boss?

The somewhat stressed handler still felt she was in control, and she felt accomplished. But what about the stressed dog?

Photo by J. Renzoni
Photo by J. Renzoni

So the dog ended up in sympathetic nervous system (fight/flight) mode. What does that mean for the next time? Now does it become clear why it’s likely the same problem will be repeated? Why so many dogs trained in this way wash out …

Think about it.


Easy Dog training is not so easy

CGCclass 023a
American Bulldog/Mastiff cross offering behavior – leash loose and handler ready to reward. Note observer (Bella), she’s the neighbor’s dog and she likes to watch classes. Photo by D. Renzoni

Easy and quick dog training is an oxymoron.

Quick knowledge, fast solution and nobody needs to learn anything, but the dog. Try it, what harm can it cause? Who cares about research?  Neighbor said it or multiple studies confirmed it… who wins? Well of course, the neighbor/cousin/friend does, in their random ‘expert’ mode. Science … what science?

Why? Science is all about theories and creating a study and checking. Neighbor/cousin/friend is all about absolute testimonial on a very limited scale (one dog, two dogs, an imaginary dog or a dog seen on video). But somehow people believe testimonials more and are willing to do and allow punishment as a first line of action. I do find that incredibly ugly.


CGCclass 014
These guys are making great progress! But in general, we often miss the chances to reward the behaviors we like best, by being unobservant or preoccupied. Dogs learn how to get what they want  – jumping up, grabbing … stealing things because it works for them.

What does the science (lots of science) say … ‘Every living thing learns to improve its condition.’ Reward ensures that a behavior will be done more frequently in the future.  Yummy stuff in the garbage – tip it out and eat it (ding, ding, ding – big reward! Behavior will be repeated). Punishment will/can suppress/reduce a behavior. Punishment never creates new behavior (but it can increase fear, increase the punished behavior, anxiety, aggression, apathy and slow learning). Yell NO at dog as he grabs child’s Barbie doll, and dog may drop it and decide not to grab it in the future or… think that grabbing Barbie is one of the most exciting games ever. Other common event: puppy barks or bites and is sprayed with mouth freshener spray, and dog may stop and/or… become afraid of hands or spray sounds or certain scents or…

Learning is a complex topic, which probably is why so many are so confused about how to approach training, and which is also why so many end up training the opposite of what they wanted and then blaming the dog for being uncooperative or stupid and/or … blame themselves for being a bad dog trainer or lacking enough time to have a dog ….

The relationship between the person and their dog is a constant learning process. Given that this process, at least on the part of the person, takes place mostly at an unconscious level, the resulting picture is rarely how you imagine it.

If we think about, for example, walking on a leash it becomes quickly clear that reward and punishment are consistently connected. If the dog doesn’t react, starts sniffing, lunges forward, then most handlers will try pulling him forward or backward (this is positive , +, or aversive punishment). Hence not going forward or going forward too much is what is punished. If the dog walks better, then jerking or pulling are no longer used. This is a negative reward (rewarded by taking the pressure away).

What happens if the leash just stays tight? The dog is not rewarded, but punishment continues for his hard work when he feels pulling pressure on his neck. In this way the dog will become more and more numb to collar pressure, he is being punished continuously through the never-ending use of leash control.  Another confounding factor is the oppositional reflex (you pull, then I pull also, like tug-of-war). Then it is usually a case of ‘He likes to pull’ and so ‘has to have’ a prong collar or choke collar or harder jerks or a harness to save his neck.

Tension on the leash ensures continued pulling, but it also increases the risk of reactivity to dogs, etc.
Tension on the leash ensures continued pulling, but it also increases the risk of reactivity to dogs, etc. Fear of reactivity increases tension in the handler … a closed circle of events.
CGCclass 021
Loose leash, attentive and relaxed dog … nice pair. Reactivity becomes unlikely.

This ignorance by handlers of the dog’s most basic learning behavior is what creates one of the greatest problems in having a dog and using a leash. Based on excessive attention given to hanging on to their dog, it is possible to overlook what is actually being told to the dog when walking on a leash.  The removal of pressure has everything to do with training and learning. The giving of a reward when the dog is in the position you want them to be has everything to do with learning.

People have such a hard time releasing pressure, that I often would rather not let them have a leash at all or use a hands-free leash, so they can’t pull on it while they are trying to train their dog where they want them to walk. It comes down to the human handler creating a habit for herself/himself and the dog. Sticking strictly to the rules so the learned behavior becomes the norm.

The flow of info between a dog and person is called communication. Most dogs are totally confused or begin to switch off, because they are getting contradictory signals. In the house these rules apply … sometimes, in the yard these rules apply … sometimes and the rules change daily. Recently a person told me she wanted to have a rule where her pup didn’t go into the kitchen, but currently his food/water are in the kitchen, and his gate keeps him in the kitchen when she leaves, hmm?

Dogs quit trying when there is no way to know what is expected. Symptoms of ‘switching off’ include; sniffing, zoomies, turning away, quickly leaving, not listening/’selective deafness’, no eye contact by the dog … etc.

To avoid this trap we must get used to handling our dog in a consistent way and build up our dog’s trust in our ability to control/offer rewards.

Only if you have a clear picture in your head can you decide whether a behavior is the one you want or not.

Imagine that you are learning something new and you are punished for every mistake you make … you will quickly give up trying to find out how to do it.  Goal:  No punishment when learning.

This game is 'can you put your feet on this?' Each thing, each effort the dog makes is rewarded, otherwise it is amazing how well they can avoid putting their feet on objects. Games like this build trust and build confidence for the important stuff.
This game is ‘can you put your feet on this?’ Each thing, each effort the dog makes is rewarded, otherwise it is amazing how well they can avoid putting their feet on objects. Games like this build trust and build confidence for the future important stuff.

Emotion memory. During training a dog doesn’t only learn the proper cues/commands, but he also memorizes the emotions connected with them. If you are using a lot of punishing actions/sounds, the dog will always recall these negative impressions when you signal or say these cues. From this point of view, its easy to see why many dogs have no motivation to work or learn new things from you. FYI video yourself training something new to check it out – most people use a lot of punishing actions or sounds (no, oh oh, disappointed tones and dog’s name …).

As far as possible, ignore the wrong answers and praise the right ones so that the “cues/commands” are not poisoned at an early stage with bad emotions. If you are having trouble with a cue like come or sit or the dog paying attention when you say his/her name, it is likely you have poisoned the cue – change to a new one and don’t poison this one.

When a dog does not recognize what you want he will try everything to find a solution … set it up so the right solution is likely to happen and wait …   Goal: Set it up and wait.

Divide the movement into small steps and your dog will learn more easily. These small learning steps will also help you to figure out any questions for your dog as simply as possible. Take time to think about it from your dog’s point of view.  Train individual cues one by one if possible (example a good retrieve includes a sit, stay, cued release, run out, pick up/solid hold, tight turn, speedy return at speed equal to the go out, release of item on cue from preferred position).

Easy dog training is not so easy. It takes thought and learned habits. If your neighbor/friend or even veterinarian suggests do ________  to your puppy because he barks or bites or doesn’t want to be restrained. Consider the situation from your pup’s point of view – has he been rewarded often for the preferred behavior? What is he likely to do if you follow the suggestion? Will he trust you more afterwords? In other words, will your relationship improve? What will you do if their suggestion makes the behavior worse because now your pup is more afraid, more anxious, more aggressive and less willing to learn things from you?


**note the details of learning are simplified for this blog … the theme of learning is a complex topic which includes significant terminology and concepts with various definitions.  See  for more


Dog Training Prompts – rewards or reprimands

Very easy to train dogs, learn back chaining quickly too. Photo J Renzoni
Very easy to train dogs, learn back chaining quickly too. Photo J Renzoni

Both a friend and my daughter have had trouble with the use of cues when trying to stop wildness, goofiness, grabbing stuff and general misbehavior. They both are transition trainers having had a past in training traditionally. But some of the stuff we knew as traditional trainers doesn’t work the same way when we’ve turned the training model good-side-up.

So often dog trainers recommend using a known command to stop a dog from doing something that is not wanted. This recommendation was and still is appropriate if the dog was trained with punishment and negative reinforcement, because then the command is tied with a reprimand.

But in positive training most commands (cues) were tied with rewards, so many times the cue becomes a reward in itself. What is rewarded is repeated…meaning the ‘naughty’ behavior gets rewarded by following it with a command like sit or down or come or…

Ah, light bulb moment perhaps?

Know cues are rewards for these two...    Photo by Jeanine Renzoni
Know cues are rewards for these two… Photo by Jeanine Renzoni

Still there’s the behavior we don’t want to occur. Distract (in a low key manner) the dog or Manage the dog so he/she can’t do whatever it is the next time or Fix the problem by training.

How to distract – this depends on what is happening, of course.

But here are some ideas –

  • slow down
  • stop or hold completely still
  • replace with toy or other activity – smoothly and with no excitement
  • turn face away or look away removing attention
  • slowly turn away
  • leave
  • shuffle your feet
  • sigh or yawn
  • move your hand or body
  • relax your shoulders
  • cough
  • use your ‘non-reward marker’ phrase or word
  • let’s go cue
  • light touch to hip or back (like a little tap)
  • bang/noise (if your dog is sound sensitive keep it softer – and hide that you’re the source)
  • collar grab (if you’ve worked on desensitizing collar grabs, or if it’s an emergency)
  • pull dog away (this can trigger an outburst, which is not a desired response) but we’re getting down to the have to remove zone

Then, depending where you are in your training or re-training a low key reward is offered for the dog’s right choice. You have to decide how soon or how much of the wanted behavior has to be given. Initially, just stopping whatever they were doing and beginning the wanted action should be good enough to get the offer of a low-key reward. The hard thing for most people is their need to command the action when it’s best for the dog to make the choice to manage themselves. The other hard thing is holding back the joy when their dog chooses the right thing (I mean when there’s only one step between the naughty and the right thing. Why? because some dogs chain things together and will start doing the naughty, then the right thing to get the super joy). Just get a bit more space in there and you should be fine and can be a happy maniac…

I think the back chaining phenomenon is more likely in these instances because the dog is already doing it … reward, cue, ‘naughty behavior’, cue, reward and that’s why the handler’s are so frustrated.

I saw a recent post about always rewarding your dog when he comes to you no matter the amount of time or detours. Hmm. I aim to reward only average or better. On less than average I aim to be neutral, but certainly not punishing. If I reward less-than-average performance then I will get more less-than-average performance. This is true of all the behaviors we would like to see our dogs do for us. And dogs learn the back chain on recalls too – go out a little too far, get called, whoopee! Go out too far again… Be aware and you’ll spot the shaping strategy they may be using on you. Then you can turn it back around so you’re the shaper and they’re the shape-e.

Good luck training and lucky you if you’ve got a back chaining dog … think of the chains of behaviors you could get. Fun.

Here, pup-pup-pup, Come, Whistle, beep

IMG_4976How well does your dog respond to your signal(s) to come?

So what do you have? When does it work? When doesn’t it work? How well? What’s the risk/benefit?

What do you want?

What’s your plan … what three things can you do today?


I’m glad you’re thinking of a plan. I hope you’ve included some more data gathering, because it is likely the picture of the problem isn’t as complete as it could be. The better the picture the better the planned solutions.

How can you make yourself more rewarding (after all you’re competing with squirrels, doggy friends, the thrill of the chase, pee mail, etc). But then again you give the food — ? does your dog know you give the food or does he think it magically appears in his dish for no reason and no effort on his part?

Do you play games of recall or is it always let’s go in now, fun ending I’m calling you…come here or else!

How is a come here built?

A come here can be built using the naturally occurring rewards of daily life –  rewards are only rewards if the dog thinks they are rewards. I bet you have no trouble getting your lab to come outside, or come to dinner or come play but maybe the come back inside, kennel up, take a bath is a problem?

How could you change these ‘not come, not fun’ options into something more … something with possibilities?

It takes knowing what your dog likes and being willing to create some games in boring places  or the end of dog fun in the past. And playing them when coming isn’t an immediate issue, so you have time to engage in the play and surprise them with rewards.  Coming and doing is just part of the game you’re playing with your dog.

Let’s not set ourselves or our dogs up for failure to start with –manage them with a long line or fenced area. Avoid letting them run off and have fun without you while you yell, “Come” and they decide the word “come” basically means nothing to them. Note if you’ve done that a lot already…start planning a new word and new set of signals to use, which have not been poisoned by previous training efforts.

Short, staccato words are used by dog trainers world-wide to signal a recall. Breeders traditionally call out, “Pup, pup, pup!” The smooch or kiss noise works well. Words often used: here, to me, treat, front, wit-wit-wit, com’ere…choose ones you wish to use, but at this point only use them when you are 90% or more sure your dog is going to come. Connect them to the things your dog likes to do or get. You can choose for general use (non-critical) and special use (this is the high-test version). The high-test version will be paired with great rewards almost all the time (that’s how it remains ‘high test.’)

Signals used: Whistles – short staccato repeats or low to high repeats or high-low-high. Hand signals – a hand sweep like you were signaling a person or car to move towards you, or hand target – dropping your hand to your side palm towards the dog. Some people snap their fingers or clap their hands and crouch. You leaving – movement away from the dog draws dogs along.

Chase and action – dogs are drawn toward movement. Moving away, running away, adding flapping of fabric or cheerful sounds will increase the dog’s desire to chase (come toward you). So running or walking fast away from the dog will bring the dog towards you. Standing still or moving towards the dog will slow him or even encourage him to move away from  you.

Common come games (start in low distraction zone, then with success there move on out to grass and other distractions):

Round-robin recall: one person then the next person calls and rewards the pup/dog. A ball can be used to energize this game if needed. Also the person being left can move to a new place or even hide so the dog needs to find him in the next round.

Hide and seek; when pup/dog gets distracted by smells, hide (make it easy at first) and reward when they find you. Or have one family member or kids hide and you and pup form the search and rescue team. Or hide a favorite toy have the pup find it and then you run away with pup following, then play tug.

Restrained recalls; one person lightly holds the pup back, other person gets about two steps away and then starts kiss noise and running away. First person releases pup to chase, reward when he catches. Or use leash looped around post as the restraint to be released (one person version) as pup starts to try to get to you.

Cookie in the corner: Treat placed several feet away, pup released to get it, then person makes noise and dashes away, pup gets second reward (treat/tug) when he catches the person. Or walk up to where treat will be placed and then back away (both you and pup), send pup to get it, turn and chase you for game with toy.

Call away from other pups: Good rewards needed, make noise to get your pup’s attention, do move away/dash, reward for pup getting to you and release to go play. If you need a leash to start the process, use only to pull pup slightly away from other pups, then release any pressure and at same time encourage pup to you. Note the more engaged the pup is in playing with the other pups the more difficult it is for him to hear you or consider leaving the play. So keep the rounds close together and be very engaging.

Sit/Stay/Come: Tie it to other cues you’re teaching. This can also be Sit/Tug/1-2-3 Come/Tug or Down/Tug/Down/Come/Tug

What if your pup won’t play? Better rewards needed and make sure you’re not doing something that the pup doesn’t like – example; patting them on the head, grabbing them, hugging them, or being too loud for sound shy pups. Observe/video and evaluate.

Each of these games can be made harder, have alternate versions, have more cues added in, have more and more distractions used … but avoid ratcheting it up too fast and with each step up, drop back on the criteria for reward (in other words, if it’s harder in one area (distraction or duration), don’t expect the same level of perfection in the other areas). So in the house you can hide in various rooms and call the puppy successfully, but when you go outside the treats need to be better and you don’t hide as completely the first time or two. But it is true, the games must increase in difficulty if the aim of amazing recalls are to be achieved.

What if your pup is too rowdy and wild if you run or play excitedly? Calm it down, turn and face them or take some steps in their direction as they rush in to you. Keep your voice lower. Quit moving and wait for calm, then reward. Add a sit or any extra cue they know. Make the game harder to solve. Note; you do want them to be able to tolerate your running without them biting at you, so do short bursts and stop with any excessive goofiness.

How much do you need to practice to get it to the level of being able to call them off a running squirrel? Well, it depends. If they’ve practiced running after something and had lots of thrills about it, you will need to really work your way up and up the distraction ladder. It also depends on how quickly you call, or whether they’ve committed to the chase and are unlikely to hear anything.

Generally a minimum of 9 weeks of practice will vastly improve your recall, then monthly practice sessions continue for the rest of your dog’s life to keep the level up there. And if you are consistent about them checking for permission to do things — go play, go sniff — it will work very well.

What about using a shock collar? Or other punishment? The definition of punishment is something that causes suppression or extinction of a behavior, so you may be able to stop something, ie. stop the chase. But the risk is there are always, always, side-effects to punishment … fear, aggression, anxiety, shutting down, slower learning… So evaluate the risk/benefit and know you will be dealing with side-effects and it’s a gamble as to how much or what ones – like your dog not trusting you enough that they won’t come near you, fear of having their neck touched, aggression towards people/dogs/animals that is at a much higher level, freaking out, shutting down…

From studies of people using punishment, the understanding of this cause/side-effect was lacking and mostly they thought the punishment reduced the problem. They didn’t connect the other unwanted side-effects to their own actions. Thus they often repeated or escalated the punishment aspect. Unfortunate.

If you do the positive repetitions and manage the dog to avoid the unwanted behaviors, then if after consistent and persistent effort you decide you need to add punishment because the risky behavior is too risky, you will, at least, have a foundation of a positive relationship. Good friends seldom expect the worst from each other, and broken trust, can be rebuilt.

Unfortunately, when I get called after most punishment experiments, I see people who wanted a quick fix,  who did not have the dog’s trust, and now problems have magnified greatly. The whole relationship is on the edge.

The science of the different approaches; negative reinforcement (adding something the dog doesn’t like, which is removed when he does the thing you want, and so negative reinforcement increases the likelihood of doing what you want) … this includes pushing, pulling, pressure, nagging, threats and then the immediate release of those. This approach activates the flight/fight, rage centers in the brain, which is why using this can be risky emotionally for both parties.

Positive reinforcement (adding something the dog likes when he does what you want) … thus waiting for the action of offering what you want or part of what is wanted and then rewarding with food, praise, petting, games or anything the dog finds valuable. This approach activates the seeking circuitry in the brain, the same area that searches for food, fun, play and sex.

Consistent and persistent practice: Think several thousand recalls, with lots of layers of building this cue and think of new ways for fun practice monthly throughout the life of your dog. A start-up practice is  setting  up a schedule of daily games, having good rewards immediately available, and being prepared. Each session can include up to 20 recalls in about 5 minutes of play … if you are persistent it whips by in fun sessions. Record what you do so progress can be judged and new possibilities tried.

You want amazing recalls, don’t you?

The three things I’m doing today are: 1. tug/toss/recall games in the workshop, 2. Sit quietly and reward by  ear rub for check in – Obie, 3. Recall and send past treats on the ground (mat training) – Jazz

Harm or Help

In this era of finding dog abusers everywhere. The era of making unsubstantiated or poorly researched claims on social media. The era of ‘not’ doing the right thing?

I saw this post on a northern Wisconsin city Craig’s List .

Here’s the photo from the post. Kind of ironic, don’t you think?

image 1

The Header said, “Dog left in car!!!!!!!!” And went on , “R… (location removed) at around 1pm dog left in car for over an hour. Its not hot out today but inside of a car with the windows up, no air conditioning or water seen anywhere. Its hot and humid. This person should have their animal taken away from them. I dont know who the the owner was but judging by the rhinestone collar on the dog I will assume its a (swear removed) .. and I dont mean the dog….”

Wait a minute …It was partly cloudy that day, breezy, with a high temperature of 50 at 4pm. Look at the dog.  She’s wondering why this person is staring at her, she’s not panting or looking overly hot in any way, and I suggest if she had gotten territorial over this stranger … then what? Look at the front dash, do you see where the sunshine stops? The car is parked so sun isn’t shining into the front tan seat, not far from trees (although leafless as yet). And this side door seems to have dappled sunlight on it.

Estimated Vehicle Interior Air Temperature v. Elapsed Time
Elapsed time Outside Air Temperature (F)
70 75 80 85 90 95
0 minutes 70 75 80 85 90 95
10 minutes 89 94 99 104 109 114
20 minutes 99 104 109 114 119 124
30 minutes 104 109 114 119 124 129
40 minutes 108 113 118 123 128 133
50 minutes 111 116 121 126 131 136
60 minutes 113 118 123 128 133 138
> 1 hour 115 120 125 130 135 140
Source: Jan Null, CCM; Department of Geosciences, San Francisco State University
This table is the results of a study that is cited over and over, but what re-posters don’t usually say is, this data was gathered on clear sunny days in a dark sedan. So worst case scenario, in a dark sedan, on a clear sunny 70 degree day, the car could get as hot as 113 degrees in an hour. Which, even though hot, is not a death sentence for most dogs, and neither is 45 minutes at around 100. But it wasn’t 70, it wasn’t a clear sunny day.

An upper 40s partially sunny day is not an over-heated car at risk dog, but this observer believes there is animal abuse going on because the dog was? what? sitting comfortably in a car for an hour without a water dish? And name calls the owner? I don’t know if there was something more going on here, something about being at a resale shop, having this type dog or/and having a rhinestone collar on the dog – an extra level of nastiness. Of course, sarcasm alert, this well fed (OK McD’s in evidence), healthy looking dog ‘ought’ to be taken away, to join the excessive number of bull terrier-type dogs at risk in shelters.

This is a threat. This is bullying. This isn’t whistle blowing to help someone. This isn’t reasonable. So I flagged the post and then thought about whether reposting any part of it promoted the threatening aspect of it.

  1. What should be done if you think a dog is actually in danger of overheating in a car? First observe instead of assuming  – dog panting heavily or tongue curled frantic and car in direct sun, windows shut, front window not shaded and outside temperature warm to hot?  Immediate and dire risk – call the police or animal control. Seems risky, but dog looks fine (please don’t go face up to the windows of a car and stress out the dog) – attempt to find the owner – go into the store or restaurant the car is parked outside of and start asking people. Yes temperature rises fast, but there’s no reason to think the dog will rapidly collapse from heat stroke if the temperature inside the car rises to 100.   You just don’t like it – well then you can blog about it or post your ideas on facebook, but don’t threaten people or call them names or think that taking their fur family member away is doing good. What about breaking into the car? well that would be illegal and the dog might bite you and then have to be quarantined and have behavioral training to get it over the experience. In that case you would not be helping anyone.

2. Can a car get too hot on a 40-50 degree partially sunny day?  No. We have data that says there is up to a 40 degree rise in temp on clear sunny days in dark sedans in full sun. That means that less sun, lighter colored cars, shade, windows open with breeze all mean less of a temperature increase. Dogs tolerate 80 and 90 degrees with no problems – so the answer on this would be no. And the 70 starting temp on the chart might be a clue as to where the usual temperature danger zone lies.

3. Do dogs have to have water available at all times?  Does any land life form have to have water access at all times? Do you?

4. And is bringing a dog along with you to wait in a car somehow mistreatment? There is the argument that leaving your dog home keeps him safe. That’s safe physically, but what about mentally. What about the desire dogs have to be with their person and their love of riding in the car to go someplace. One of the most common reasons for re-homing dogs is not having enough time for them … and this fear for safety takes away ‘car time’ with the dog. What about the people who have dogs along because it helps them feel safe and happy?

I took my dog for a car ride on the same day as this post, we went hiking. She and I got into my car  after it had been sitting in the sun for hours, it was nice in there, I didn’t feel the need to open any windows even though I had my jacket on. But lately I’ve felt I can’t safely take my dog along with me on errands because of the above type of ‘do-gooding.’ You see, my cattle dog wouldn’t take kindly to someone peering in or trying to get her out. Not kindly at all.

My hope remains that if police are called for this type of non-issue they will at least show common sense, or talk to their canine unit, who is also in a car, often with rolled up windows and a sign that tells people not to approach the car. My hope would be that more and more stores would invite dogs in to shop along with their person.

My fear is, with enough general pressure about possible safety hazards, dogs will have to stay home instead of being able to come along for car rides.  There will be laws passed banning leaving dogs in vehicles altogether or passed to let people, who want to intervene, break in to free your dog. And they will be lauded as saving a life, and you will have to try to prove that they didn’t, while paying for the shelter boarding and legal fees of your seized  best- friend dog.

How would you feel if you saw a picture of your dog, in your car on Craig’s list with a post saying you shouldn’t own a dog?


Why One Key Trainer for the Pup? – a planner and a sleuth to figure out what’s going on…

Hi everyone.

It’s springtime in Wisconsin – snowing out and getting colder today,  going the opposite direction of warm and nice, just like sometimes occurs in training classes. I thought I’d talk about the reasons for having one key trainer (and making sure everyone else in the household assists and is consistent with the training process).

This topic comes up when I have a puppy or dog in class who, instead of progressing all the way through, begins digressing or becomes more attention deficit instead of becoming better at focusing. Or if the canine becomes apathetic about learning new things. Or more aggressive or fearful when it should be going the other way. Then something isn’t right, something is bothering them – either physically or about the process.

So why does this happen? (we’ll omit the physical, since that needs to be discussed with the vet if anything seems off about their health).

*Maybe the importance, the loyalty to the trainer isn’t high enough… Maybe the food or games aren’t tied to you enough. Maybe there’s not enough engagement in the process — it’s all about the delight in the process. Maybe luring is used too much and not faded.

*Maybe there’s too much criticism – or old-style training using force. That is very deflating for the relationship. Maybe control is trying to be achieved by shouting or jerking or hitting when the dog is over-excited at home — many dogs get higher and higher in their response when this is used.

*Maybe the thing the dog loves most is not what his handler is ever offering or maybe they are offering, as a reward, something the pup doesn’t even like (like being petted on top of his head). They need to figure out a REAL reward.

*Maybe the act of being un-attentive gets better rewards or more attention or more action from their trainer. Sooo then digression or ADD gets reinforced = what’s reinforced increases.

* Maybe during non-training time they are getting rewarded (by family, environment) for things that are contrary to the training goals.

*Maybe the mechanics of offering a reward is a problem. Quick/immediate rewards are great when first teaching a behavior, but then the time between the ‘do’ and when the reward comes needs to be lengthened and secondary reinforcers built-in.

So why one lead trainer? Someone needs to sleuth out the real picture, find out the pieces and put them together. Someone needs to decide what will be trained and how and be consistent. Someone has to (as Bob Bailey said) Know what you have, know what you want and create a plan to get there. Getting too worried about the perfect why of the problem won’t help, because we won’t ever really know truly why will we.

Reggie with his fleece tug.
Reggie with his fleece tug-no stuffing in this toy.                                                 Photo – Jeanine Renzoni

Back on Wester Ave…I just gave Reggie, (the almost 10 yr old Parson Jack Russell) a stuffed toy to disassemble. I buy them a the local resale store for $.50. He enjoys destroying them extremely much. I think I’ve been too hesitant about letting him have them, although when he first came to us almost two years ago he was random in his tearing up/stuffing removal activity. I lost a two quilts and almost a couch pillow. Which led to removing tennis balls as an indoor toy (he would hide them and then tear through stuff to retrieve them), limiting options for destruction, and encouragement for retrieving games, and always closed bedroom doors (no access to bedding). And lots of training – tricks, basic cues, agility.

He’s stuffing the pieces of the toy under a dog bed and pushing it around, but not trying to rip through anything. Yay! More disposable stuffed toys in his future, maybe one each week or two?


Training successes, dead-ends? Have you gone to a training program, had success and then something went side-ways?