Category Archives: dog behavior evaluation

Puppy progress (Siggy)

Siggy is a black, Golden Doodle, 27 weeks old.      photo: J. Renzoni

Siggy has reached, 6 months,  50#s, has grown up teeth, has had a tussle with Reggie (Jack Russell) and been told off by Jazzie (heeler) and Max (shepherd). Getting to be a big boy. His jumping ability is prodigious, his speed is considerable. He’s visited the horses several times and shows reasonable care about it, although I wasn’t on-board with the last tour. His own efforts at becoming a hunter/gatherer, he’s captured and dispatched a vole and climbed into the compost bin and fetched an orange peel out of it (it’s now more thoroughly covered).

He likes carrying large things … boxes, throw rugs, branches and jumping up on things … gates, raised garden beds and perches of any kind.

photo: J. Renzoni

All of the training we began with has grown, changed, adjusted with his needs and the differences he is showing now. But much of it is just a rule we continue to do each time … like sitting at doorways or at gateways to be released on through. His training is a game of choices … he makes the right choice and gets rewarded – for laying down, heeling, going to crate, fetching, tricks, settling on dog bed, coming … etc. I just counted about 25 cues, plus there’s a bunch of things we’re working on that aren’t named yet. Training comes in layers, in stages – one piece of learning makes it possible for the next piece. And if the foundation isn’t solid, neither are the next steps. Each piece, if played with, approached from many angles becomes better and better understood.  For example: sit … if you teach it at doors, from standing, from you sitting, from lying down, in the middle of tug or before and after, beside you, in all locations … then it becomes a clearly understood cue.

The same thing is important about recalls. With his added speed, confidence and capabilities comes the increased need to practice different levels of recalls … distance recalls on walks, recalls away from other dogs or people and recalls away from fun things he likes. However, if the basic games of coming here when there isn’t distance, when there are hardly any distractions haven’t been done … then now would not be the time to test it and fail.

The recall games begin close, begin with lots of quickly given rewards, begin with fun, but without distraction and without a likelihood of failure.

Photo: J. Renzoni

Now, with Siggy, I know how good his recall is, so I know when to ask and I know when not to ask. We’re getting to the point of a really brilliant recall, at all times. Now, for us, is the time to find out when it will fail, and use that to clarify expectations.

So many things he’s been taught, building on up. Training certainly isn’t done … actually never done, but he’s becoming a great dog.

Photo: J. Renzoni

He’s been my demo puppy for two classes, in a couple of weeks we’ll start the third class he’ll be involved in. He goes as a sidelines pup to agility classes (I use it as training time with active dog distractions going on).

photo: J. Renzoni

One puppy kindergarten class with 6 sessions is just not enough…whatever kind of dog you have. It’s a great beginning, but would you be prepared for life with only the info you got in kindergarten?

This week is Westminster Dog Show, I never went to Westminster, but I did do dog showing back in the 1990s, obedience and conformation. And I know most people don’t even consider doing competition, but one of the things competition teaches is how much effort is needed to get to the level of being able to do things really well as a team (dog/person).

I think we all want to be able to do things with our dogs … in order to set that up there needs to be clarity and understanding on the part of the dog, and the person needs to know the dog’s likes, preferences, fears and strengths and play to those. We can change things for the better, it takes a persistent, fun, building-layers effort.

Don’t stop, when you’ve just begun…


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


Dog Emotions

Signal at 8 weeks. Photo by J. Renzoni.

Emotion drives learning, it drives action, change, and behaviors. There are some emotions that are the same behavior from the canine … these are core emotions.

Anger or Rage = snarls, bites, escape physical restraint. The lower level of this is frustration, which is sparked by mental restraint.

Fear = freeze or run away, when survival is threatened in any way.

Social attachment/panic from abandonment = separation calls, basically “come back, don’t leave me” in barking, whining and howling.

Seeking or Anticipation = animal moves forward, sniffing and exploring to make sense of the world around us. Seeking is also wanting something good, and looking forward to getting something good, and curiosity.

There are three more positive emotion systems identified: Lust – description not needed, Care – maternal love and care-taking, and Play – the roughhousing all young animals do which is a sign of good welfare, because a dog that is depressed, frightened or angry doesn’t play.

Max and Signal seeking.
Max and Signal seeking – Max knows what he’s looking for, Signal, not so much.                         Photo: J. Renzoni
Signal has discovered the joys of horse apples. Photo: J. Renzoni

Rule of thumb: Don’t trigger anger/rage, fear and/or panic from abandonment if you can help it; do trigger – seeking and play.

Exception to the rule of thumb: Do trigger frustration as a way to train impulse control … ie., stay, wait at doors, gates, crates; and as a way to build resilience and tolerance to failures (willingness to keep trying when not understanding a training goal). So we do want dogs to understand that they need to wait to get something they like (freedom, toys, food, fun), and we also want them to keep trying to figure out what we want from them and not just give up and go find something else to do.

The risk is that frustration if too much becomes anger and rage.


Signal at 10 weeks. Many things are fun.
Signal at 10 weeks. Many things, including grass, are fun.      Photo: J. Renzoni
Smokey at 10 years.
Smokey at 10 years. Puppies might not be considered so fun.      Photo: J. Renzoni

I have a new puppy named Signal. He is ten weeks old, has wavy black hair, black nose and essentially black eyes. He would like to run after our cat, Smokey (10 years old, brown tabby, dog-wise). I have been preventing him, Smokey has been preventing him and sometimes his X-pen fence is preventing him.

This frustration has built up some bouncing and some barking and even a little dodging and weaving. Picture tail high, play bow with intermittent sideways puppy leaps. I am offering food when he’s quiet and looking, I’ve removed him from the scene, and I’ve distracted him, all to make sure the mental frustration doesn’t get too high. I want a pleasant relationship between the two of them.

The cat, has meowed, in an irritated way at him. No hissing or batting and I want to keep it that way, this pup seems like he’d escalate if that were to happen.

This morning when Smokey was doing his jumping routine for treats next to the X-pen. Signal got rewards timed to keep him occupied while Smokey did his thing and got rewarded for it. Soon the two will not think of each other as so novel.

Frustrating, yes. Leads to learning. Anger, no.


(To learn more about puppy training join the Puppy Kindergarten class, next one scheduled Oct 15th. See fb for more information).



Barking Help

Lot’s of you probably have had problems with your dog barking and the neighbors not being very generous about tolerating it. My daughter has just moved and her dog has decided, now in his second week there, he doesn’t like the situation very well. She, of course, has to work and so leaves him inside in his crate. She rents and has a fairly intolerant ‘pet agreement.’ So the situation is worrisome. Your situation will be different so different parts of this will be more important for you. Things that she is already using: Treat and Train remote reward and DAP collar. This is the email I sent to her.

Thinking about you and Obie…

For him to be quiet and content; he needs to be comfortable, he needs to accept confinement and not expect that any vocalizations or actions will get him attention and there needs to be a cost of behavior penalty.
1. Food, Water, bathroom and exercise  (timing of main food so that potty breaks are needed at right times)
2. Value for being in crate (crate games). Rewards for quiet. No excited greetings or prolonged leaving.
3. Avoid back-chaining = “I bark complain, then be quiet, then get attention” — you know when this is happening as this would grow problem rather than decrease it — it’s a timing and a level of reward/attention issue
4. Multiple strategies to inform him of the cost of his behavior – penalties = no eye contact, freezing or turning away, not entering building if he’s barking, covering crate partially/completely, uncovering when he’s settled (note you don’t have to be stuck outside if you enter – don’t look, don’t talk and immediately cover crate and wait for a good settle) just like at the cottage.
5. Change exit strategy to avoid triggers or/and desensitize triggers (put on shoes, pick up stuff, run out to car at times random)

From what I saw when you were here and Obie did something you didn’t actually want repeated … your preferred response is early and somewhat excessive reward for initial small increment of desired behavior repeated multiple times (so the reward back chained to all the pieces). The first cycle of this is fine (mostly I would expect more and reward with lower key approval), the second cycle and subsequent cycles should wait for more and better and if you aren’t getting that add space but don’t lower the criteria and don’t over reward. He can/should improve at a much faster rate.

What we practiced was calmness, greater expectations and low-key reward (no or low verbals) when changing from undesired behavior to desired – because we don’t want excitement attached to the undesired actions.

My thoughts are that the problems you’re encountering now are mostly: #1 food/potty #3 back chaining



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?

Dogs leaving work – or other stuff is more interesting than you

Other stuff is more interesting than you


Who’s the teacher? Being a student and trainer at the same time

Urrgh! It got my Irish up.

You must be mistaken. I would not just go sniff a Boxer's private parts. I am much too refined for that. I was investigating and you kept interfering with my important work and wanting me to jump over and go through tunnels. Mmmph.        -photo J. Renzoni
You must be mistaken. I would not just go sniff a Boxer’s private parts. I am much too refined for that. I was investigating and you kept interfering with my important work and wanting me to jump over and go through tunnels. Mmmph.                                                                                                                                   -photo J. Renzoni

Last night at agility basic class Obie decided to leave the course and me and go visit the dogs at the sidelines. The Duck Toller said, “Get out of here!” So he left. The Aussie’s people blocked him, so after a couple of hopeful dodges he left, but the Boxer … well he smelled real good and after some initial complaint didn’t seem to mind being smelled. That’s where I caught up and escorted Obie back to the course. We started one jump later so we didn’t have to look at the Boxer and that was fine that time.

Then we waited for our turn again and came up with a slightly different problem, but it ended at the Boxer again. And with slightly different variations we continued, sometimes with a great run, sometimes just at the Boxer.

I asked the Boxer’s person to block my dog, because he was having too much fun sniffing the Boxer. She made a slight attempt. Finally the Trainer came and stood in the way – problem slightly solved, at least for that rendition.

I’m a trainer, why did I have so much trouble figuring out I needed to change the set up for Obie? Which is funny because I predicted from the outset the draw of the dogs was a difficulty – he is very charmed by new dogs.

In this place I’m a student and so I’ve given up much of my training control, which makes me susceptible to following directions and cooperating even if on my own I would have changed things up. Also I wanted it to work and it did part of the time. Also I’m hesitant to give other students direction, because it isn’t my class. Also I know this class is more ‘reactive’ based than ‘proactive,’ but I still tend to cooperate. Urrgh!

Sometimes I think I need reminders like this to be more ready to take control of the situation when I’m acting as a student … of course the new piece of equipment we had just been introduced to was at the beginning of the run (so move that Boxer or block him).

Back to the real problem – dog leaving work. Obie likes food, likes tug, likes agility, but loves greeting new dogs, loves intense smells … and that’s a real problem. With the issues he’s had being noisy and upset being left in kennels (crates and outside runs) I put lots of value, games, food into his crate and kennel. I haven’t put as much into being with me (‘cuz he’s not my dog partially), but this whole thing of him leaving work is a big deal.

Plan: 1) Hand feed at least 50% of his meals with the majority of the hand feeding training being rewarded for returns to me in distracting environments (simple recalls are a no brain-er for him). We started out this morning with a loaded food cube (a game he plays vigorously) and me calling him away from it each second or third hit, clicking and rewarding and releasing him to ‘get it’ again.

2) Upgrade his delight in tug to ‘love it everywhere.’ He’s great in low distraction settings, but he’s not willing to commit to really playing if there are unknown dogs in sight … need to work up to that. We’ll start going to the park and see how far from the walking path we have to be to still play. Also go to the parking lot at the grocery or hardware store and see if we can play tug wholeheartedly.

3) Bring Jazzie down to the cover all and have turns doing some obstacles. Jazzie won’t tolerate irritating sniffing by Obie so there will not be a reward for him. Plus it will be good for Jazz to have to wait her turn.

Sometimes it takes a massive fail to trigger a plan. We’ve got a week of three times or more trainings until next class – wish us luck! Or a strategically placed Duck Toller.

I'm not sure that plan sounds ... wait a minute, a giant fail. Me?!!!    I do smell something good on the breeze though.                - photo J. Renzoni
I’m not sure that plan sounds … wait a minute, a giant fail. Me?!!!
I do smell something good on the breeze though.                                                          – photo J. Renzoni

What kind of training to do for your pup?

Home schooled puppy, puppy preschool, doggy basic, one-on-one with a trainer, web-based learning, board and train, specialized classes. There are actually a few options. One I didn’t include, and which seems all too popular, but not effective, is let the dog be a dog. This last one may or may not have an initial bout of house training and has the highest chance of needing to “re-home” him. Mostly, the shelter dogs I’ve worked with came with the above mentioned non-training system.

I've been training dogs for 46 years ... this is back in the 80s with Dago Red, he had completed his CD title and we were celebrating.
I’ve been training dogs for 46 years … this is back in the 80s with Dago Red (Airedale Terrier), he had completed his CD Obedience title and we were celebrating. He was a sweet dog.

Home schooled puppy – is the least expensive and has reasonable outcomes if you are a seasoned dog trainer. Libraries have dog training books, magazines; 4-H offers free training sessions; Internet has dog blogs and videos. Of course most seasoned trainers take their pups to several classes to get the pup used to the experience of having many dogs and people working around them. Myself – I go to puppy preschool, if I can find one, or have another family member handle the pup, while I run the class. I like 4 -6 pups in a class, and I like my pup to go to at least one of these classes – more if possible.

Puppy Kindergarten (pre-school) – is for pups with first vaccinations (usually 10 weeks – 18 weeks old). Good socialization and basic puppy handling is the goal. Puppies can learn huge amounts, they are little sponges, and comparatively easy at this stage. This is the time to have them meeting (good experiences) people and meeting other vaccinated dogs and pups. Doing well in this class is one of the best indicators of positive future interactions.

Basic Obedience class – is for slightly older pups and dogs who need the ground level training (basic cues – sit, down, come, loose leash walking, stand, touch/target, wait/stay, mat training and some tricks). I would only go to a positive reward-type class, because the traditional jerk ’em, negative system is counter productive and not nearly as fun. Mostly I home school all these cues well before I go to this level class and just use the class as a dog distracting environment, and also a place where I can see the gaps in my training. It’s hard to train new things in such an active/noisy/distracting place. When I put on these classes I keep the numbers down, usually only 4 dogs.

STAR Puppy and Canine Good Citizen (CGC) – are AKC programs with a set of prescribed behaviors that must be achieved to pass the programs. Star puppy includes 6 weeks or more of class during which accomplishments are checked off, whereas the CGC can have a class, but doesn’t have to, because it is a test of behaviors considered to show a well-behaved dog. I do offer these as I am an AKC CGC evaluator and STAR puppy is a great follow-up to puppy kindergarten.

One-on-one with a trainer – more expensive, but also much more focused and very attentive to personal needs. This works for those dogs who can’t tolerate a class situation or for those people who need more coaching than a class situation will offer. I’ve been the dog trainer for this a lot, but I’ve never been the student except with my horses – and for that I’ve done years of one-on-one. I like the immediate feedback, but you miss out on learning from others who may have a problem that you’ll have in the near future.

Web-based – I currently, and have for several years taken (paid for), web-based dog training courses. I like being able to watch and listen to International level instructors doing training. Also there are lots of free tutorials on YouTube, but the possible problem is being able to discern proper training methods … that’s true in person too. At least on the web you can freely do fast research.

Board and Train – the concept of sending your dog to a trainer and having them train him and then give him back to you. I do offer this, although I suggest people do the classes or one-on-one along with it because the relationship with the dog is very important. I think this is good for specialized training (water retrieves, agility, etc) or for people who really can’t handle their dog for whatever reason – time, physical. However, the dog learns to work with the person he is working with and so the relationship changes and grows. Plus young dogs are very malleable so even when they know something well, it can be altered based on the situation they find themselves in. It takes time and repeated behaviors for them to become habitual.

Other classes – Agility, scent training, trick/circus dog, hunting, intro to swimming … these I particularly like because they are purpose based. Dogs really get into them. They are exciting and fun. Currently I am taking an agility course with my daughter’s Doberman and he’s loving it, as am I. All you need is a reasonably well socialized dog who will pay attention to you and wants to work with you. The first class everyone expects some barking and posturing, no big deal.

FYI the scent/sniffer classes are almost non-training classes because the dog does all the work – these are excellent for those who don’t really like to train.

Problems: Anxiety, fear and over arousal make learning unlikely.

Recently I had some people with their pup want to come to a class, but when I was called outside to help them i saw a raging dog in the vehicle and I told them this venue of training wasn’t going to work. The dog was too aroused to learn anything and since no one else was even outside, what kind of level would he be at when he saw the other dogs and people?

Some dogs decide that the best defense is a good offense.

He was a bit better on his home ground, one-on-one, but he still was over-reactive, seemed to be overly concerned over minor separation and agitated upon jumping into the vehicle, even though it was just sitting in the driveway.

Each challenge needs to be achievable in order for the experience to be a benefit. Key to getting the humans understanding, I talked through and pointed out how to tell if he was calm enough to decide he was ready for a ride back and forth in the driveway – laying down, slower actions, relaxed ears and face, no whining or barking,… Perhaps the abnormal excitement, because it happened so often, became ‘normal’ to them.

The hardest part about this is getting people to slow down and see. Taking the dog over his threshold is way too easy and slows the process of improvement much.

Learned helplessness occurs when there doesn’t seem to be any right choice, so the ‘learner’ quits trying.

Fears: Some dogs run/escape, but if they can’t … Some dogs freeze.

I have a dog in class that tends to freeze as her answer to worry/fear. It’s easy for people to not notice how scared she actually is, because she’s not moving. For her to get beyond her fears she needs to know she can escape and get herself some space and that she won’t be forced into scarier and scarier situations.

Again observation is so important and when she acts bravely it’s important to reward her by giving her space (let her leave the scary zone). The competing want (from her handler) is the wish to get her over her fears, but too scary doesn’t get anyone over it. The risk of using food to lure her on, is the food will become a ‘poisoned’ cue (in that what comes next is too scary so we’re offering you food).

It’s important to find an observant trainer to help you evaluate what’s going on. If your dog isn’t an ‘easy’ dog. If as you are trying to train things aren’t getting better. If your dog isn’t wanting to work with you. If you are wanting to punish or get even or get rid of … it’s time, maybe past time. to get in someone who knows more about training dogs than you do.

Last eve I was at a house concert and a long time dog owner/handler/breeder said, “People don’t understand, you can’t get those early days back. Those first weeks and months are so important … what you do, what you train … you can’t ever get them back.” And she was right. Getting a great start is really important, it makes a difference throughout the life of your best friend, your dog.