Category Archives: dog humor

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?




Mat Games (or how to get a dog to stick to a rug despite the door bell ringing)

Dogs are so bouncy and speedy.  Jazz can go down the six steps to the landing, touching the top step, another step two-thirds down and then she’s barking out the narrow, next-to-the-door window before the second ring. Say her name and she bounds back up the stairs. More action by the door and she’s back down to check it out. If there’s someone staring in, doggie alarm phase two goes off. A little too much action and sound.

Enter the plan to stick her to a rug. Glue, weights, magnets, velcro all of which had risks and benefits. I mean, it would have to be special glue, and she’d have to swallow the magnets and what would we do when she sheds off her velcro? And she’s already heavy enough, add weights? Her 35 pound body and springy legs can shift hefty resistance.

I kind of like the harness and pulley, she’s flying like Kathy Rigby plan. Or maybe the automatic appearing slide that reroutes stair goers to the basement, triggering a guillotine gate system blocking their return trip.

Peanut butter – hard to bark when you’re eating peanut butter. Thinking of laser targeted peanut butter delivery.

Management planning: We could block the window, add a gate at the top of the stairs and maybe at the lower level too, and change the sound of the doorbell, but where’s the fun in that?

Think about a doorbell activated dog trapping system – picture Venus flytrap velcro-like action … only faster. Or, I like the doorbell-activated treat dispenser in your princess dog bed, Madame Jazzie.  But she could rush to the afore-mentioned bed, consume her treat and be back at the door, 1, 2, 3. Unless there was the before mentioned guillotine gate or flytrap velcro in the way.

Ah, so what to do? The mundane trainer-ly plans won. Today she was stuck to her rug despite door bells, knocking, yoohoo’s, dancing, people coming and going and other dogs barking. I had a hard time getting her to move off that rug. No glue, no velcro, no guillotine gate or automatic slide, just preference and rewards delivered there over the last three weeks. Two training sessions daily or one or — well whatever, building up the time in place on that ‘special’ rug, the ability to go to her place, and finally, the distractions that might pull her off of her place. Used the Treat & Train, but could have done it by hand. The Treat & Train’s timer and measured system keeps it less random.

cartoon 001What you say? No magic? And she sticks? Yup, she sticks. She can still use more practice, but then can’t we all?

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


Thankful for: wolf sized Nylabones to gnaw in comfort recline.
Thankful for: wolf-sized Nylabones to gnaw in comfort, total recline.
Thankful for: dog coats, wool blankets and dappled sunshine.
Thankful for: dog coats, wool blankets and dappled sunshine.
Thankful for: Fast feet, fun games and toys all mine.
Thankful for: Fast agile feet, fun winter frolics and sureness of direction.
Thankful, to do, to be, just thankful.
Thankful, to do, to be, just thankful, for time and reflection.


Dog Car Rules – getting in, getting out, riding

Dog Car Rules– getting in, getting out, riding by Jeanine Renzoni

He shall remain nameless, but he is small and white and a terrier, and he jumps in and on anything in the car, stands up on the armrests and rolls down the windows to his delight, he doesn’t know the meaning of staying in one spot, he is randomly noisy and must be in a crate or tethered or held if he is to be a safe passenger. I’m sure he’d attempt driving if left to his own devices.

A dog that is good in the car: waits to be asked to jump in, is direct-able to go to the right place to settle, lies down/or sits and stays in that spot when the car is moving, waits when the doors are opened and people get in or out, and only leaves the vehicle when asked/signaled and goes through the door indicated. If people are eating in the car the dog does not try to take their food and is polite when given food to eat.

Maybe these are like ‘house rules’ and so there is room for personal variation, but riding in the car is more risky than being at home so avoiding interference with the driver is primary in importance. Then there are the comfort/cleanliness features and the dog safety/politeness issues.

  1. Dog is in back seat or on floor in front passenger seat area (preferably crated or harnessed), but not walking around or bouncing around and climbing on people or windows. why? driver doesn’t need this distraction and visual barrier, dog is not stable when standing up and can easily become a missile given unfortunate circumstances, dogs that stand/walk often learn to bark at cars/people/motorcycles making them awful traveling companions and more of a hassle on trips.
  2. Dog gets in and out through back door or passenger side door, not over the driver’s seat (why? usually if the dog thinks he gets out the driver’s way he is willing to jump over/on the driver — not a good idea and makes the driver into a veritable dog ninja, trying to block the escape or wriggle out without the dog. Otherwise, having the dog (wet, muddy, full of stuff) jump on the driver’s seat means the driver’s seat is now wet, muddy – yuck! OK now get in and drive – oh, you always carry a dog towel, do you?)
  3. Dog doesn’t get to hang his head out of the window (why? eye injury is expensive, dog’s often want to go out after things they smell or see, and they can become a projectile if you hit the brakes or turn rapidly).
  4. Dog doesn’t get to sit/lay on driver’s lap (why? because he’s/she’s the driver! and having a dog that is in the way may kill you.) And having a dog that freaks out and tries to get under your legs/feet is very bad – ah, did you just picture that?
  5. Dog doesn’t get to chase the windshield wipers, bark at pedestrians, jump out the window or through the topper screens to get out at stops, whirl and act crazy, chase tires and pop them with his teeth … and preferably the dog doesn’t get car sick, poop or pee in the car, fart, howl, whine, drool or shed fur all over everything or open the cooler and help himself.

So how do we get to this paragon of car riding virtue? The easiest way is to start from the beginning with the pup in the crate (preferably one that is plastic sided or a wire one with a cover to block the rapidly changing views). A crate will contain any accidents or up chuck and is easily cleanable – both great recommendations for one. Less movement in a moving car means less likely to be car sick with the accompanying discharges. If you don’t start from the beginning the training will take as long as the pups does, just keep at it and remember what you want.

Put the crate in the back (seat) within reach of the driver or whoever is going to do the rewarding. When the pup is quiet offer a food treat, then graduate to when the pup is quiet and lays down offer a food treat. Then try to offer so the pup doesn’t necessarily see you do it, you want them to settle, not intensely stare at you. Goal; A pup who rides in the car quietly and calmly. Continue with the crate system thru the pup’s rowdy, gangly stage — multiple months later. Then since you have been doing training ask for a down in their spot and go for a short drive without the crate, reward for success.

Or tether the pup with a harness – the spot behind the driver is good because then getting them in and out does not take extra walking around the vehicle. Remember they are not to jump in over the driver’s seat or out that way either because practice creates a pattern. The tethered pup gets the same kinds of rewards for quiet lay downs.

What about the older dog who is barking at motorcycles and pedestrians as you drive by? Lucky you, how are your ears do’in? And no, it isn’t true that all German Shepherds do that, fyi. The covered crate can really help this, with rewards for quiet and calm. Each time they get to have the fun of lunging and barking extends the time it will take to resolve the issue by 10-20 rides.

What about the little dogs? Well if they are as old as the one I ended up with (9) I’m thinking crate or tether, and lock the windows as a management solution, plus his crate isn’t actually that cumbersome. Otherwise they can learn the same things as the big dogs, and they truly don’t need to see out the windows. he has learned to just jump in and get into his crate instead of thinking he needs a car ‘search and seize tour’ before submitting to confinement – too funny, such a terrier.

What about barking at people from the parked car when you’re not there, which has become a recent problem of mine. This is a tough problem. It seems that some people are good at getting dogs in cars to bark by going over close to the car and staring in and then leaving when they’ve caused a ruckus.

And once this fun activity is established even practicing sitting in the car with the dog(s) in parking lots doesn’t rectify it. Blocking the view would help, but that means crating everyone which is difficult with big or multiple dogs – need a bus to fit them in. I’m leaving this one unsolved for now, innocent bystanders will just need to get over being startled.

Sorry for your heart attack, really.


(Jeanine is a positive applied behavior dog trainer with over 40 years experience. She has three dogs of her own currently, all 2nd hand. All but the little (in this post) un-named one are great car riders, except for the new barking while parked issue.

Stop jumping up and being so wild

Yesterday a young guy told me he was trying to train his golden-doodle to quit greeting people by jumping up and putting his front feet on their shoulders. I grinned and nodded. He said he was afraid the exuberant dog was going to knock old ladies over and also scare smaller kids. He went on to tell me his dog was wild because he was only a year old.  I smiled.

This topic makes me smile, because it is so totally handler error
. My pocket psych diagnosis is that people want love and excitement from their pup and, oops, jumping up and wild is what they get. The excuse is that he (she) is still a puppy, but usually they are talking about a 6 month old to 2-year-old dog who could easily have learned this in the first month you had them. It’s great to let a puppy be a puppy, but that doesn’t mean they don’t learn politeness conventions. Puppies are sooo willing to learn, don’t waste time and if you don’t know how to train this cutie get help – early is better than later. Later you have to un-train and retrain, instead of just train right from the beginning.

How to stop the jumping up and acting wild.

1. Be neutral when it happens – as in no response – no words.

2. After the flurry of first actions your pup will usually sit, or at least have 4 feet on the floor – praise this and reward this immediately, but not so much that they start jumping up again.

3. Be neutral if they start jumping up, mouthing, or otherwise acting wild.

4. Start to see the pattern of what you do that gets them to do what they do. And how long they do stuff, so you can predict when to reward for a behavior you like.

5. Don’t let anyone reprimand, push, pinch, step on, hit or otherwise give negative attention to the behavior – since the behavior is an attention-getting behavior any attention will foster it. Plus hurting your pup for wanting your attention is mean and makes you untrustworthy.

6. If you want the behavior of jumping up on you at certain times be very clear, have clear cues and practice. If the dog tries to do it randomly they get nothing – no reward, no attention, no response. A cue is clear if a person from 50 feet away can tell what the cue is and what dog action you are rewarding.

7. Having fun athletically is only wild if it’s not mutual, there is no pattern and there’s no ‘we’re done now’ piece. Play with a beginning (invitation), play, and then a control cue end … then cycle again. But if you’ve stopped and the puppy hasn’t, you continue to have stopped … the game ends and doesn’t re-cycle until a good long break. Otherwise – you’re training ‘wild.’ I cheer, heckle and sing while we’re playing wildly so they can obviously tell the difference when I stop and ask for a sit, down, or stand or any other cue.

8. Plan what you want to actually train for a greeting (like hand
target, or feet up on something other than you and get petted,
or bring me something or sit or carry something for me or spin or dance or …)

Well the young guy with his golden doodle didn’t actually ask for advice, but if he reads this maybe he’ll be successful before too many old ladies fall over with a curly wild dog on top of them.


                                   Jeanine Renzoni, Dog Trainer, AKC CGC Evaluator

Once upon a time – A pup for a Girl

“In dreams begin responsibilities.”
W.B. Yeats, Responsibilities

Once upon a time there was an adventurous girl and her bouncy, jouncy puppy. It was a lovely day in spring and the birds were singing, the frogs were singing and most of the insects hadn’t even come out yet – yeah!

It had rained hard over night and the ditches were running with water, the grass was bent over with drips and the daffodils were tipped down as if they needed to look closer at the night-crawlers (who had come out to avoid drowning underground).

Summer was 11 years old and it was Saturday morning and almost the end of the school year. Her  golden fuzzy retriever puppy was 10 weeks old, she had named him Max, and it was her job to feed him and walk him and do some training – she couldn’t wait to begin having adventures with him. He had on his new collar (which made him sit down and scratch his neck every few steps), but otherwise he was ready to go places until he felt the pull of the leash. He leaped backwards and started flopping back and forth trying to escape the strangling trap.

Summer rushed back to Max trying to explain, “Ganonkdo, cvahhilke, djnot uoo Max!” Max looked at her and panted, “Ha,haha, ha.” She motioned with her hand and he hopped up and jumped at it and bit it. “Ow, no!” and she swatted him on the nose. He decided to go have fun somewhere else, but as he tried to leave the strangling began again. This time Summer walked forward dragging Max a few feet. He reared up like a bronco, then fell over. “How am I going to walk you Max?”

Just then her mom yelled down the hallway, “You better get that pup walked, you know that was part of your responsibility. And remember to feed him.”

The joy drained out of the day, the sky turning more gray, the birds hushing, the frogs became silent, the insects started to hum … the bouncy, jouncy, adventuresome, furry pup had become a resistive, biting, responsibility. The ground sucked at her feet making every step a trudge and the puppy dragged behind her or charged ahead of her with rasping breath. And then he pooped and she was supposed to clean it up, the smell, the embarrassment of picking up dog poop. Plus the puppy tried to grab the plastic baggy and put his feet in the poop and got some on her new jeans. Ew, disgusting dog. Why did she ever want him anyway?

Zip, zip, rewind. Luckily that day was a do-over kind of day and in the do-over her mom was a good witch, instead of a bad witch and knew something about pups and teaching kids  how to have fun with them, yippie!

The sun was shining and Summer came sleepily out of her bedroom and then got all excited because she remembered she would get to do things with her new puppy today. The kitchen smelled like pancakes and her puppy was playing in an exercise pen on the tile floor. Her mom had already taken the pup out for an early morning potty break since she knew her daughter’s sleep needs. Summer asked if the pup needed to go out right away and her mom said no because he had been already, but lets get ready to take him on a little hiking adventure. Summer was so happy.

Her mom suggested she might want to feed him a little breakfast and showed her how to hand feed the pup for doing sit and down. Summer was delighted with how smart her pup was. After a couple minutes her mom said, you can give him the rest of his food in his dish and after you wash you hands I’ve got the griddle hot and I’ll show you how to make your own pancake.

The sun was still shining in on the breakfast table as Summer finished up her own, that she made herself, pancake topped with peanut butter, strawberries and maple syrup. Her mom smiled and said, “Food tastes better if you make it yourself doesn’t it?” Summer smiled and agreed heartily.

After clearing off her plate and helping straighten up. They started getting ready to go on a hike, filled the treat bag, a couple of toys, some water and put the pup’s crate in their car. “Where are we going Mom?”

“I thought we’d go to Roth’s place, they gave us an open invitation, there’s a nice trail, his dog is good with pups, plus it’s vaccinated. We don’t want to take our pup anyplace where stray dogs might be, even though he has his first shots he’s not as immune as he will be later, so only meeting with vaccinated, pleasant dogs for him. Plus he won’t have to wear a leash all the time, which is a lot easier right now. And they want us to stay for lunch, so our pup will get to meet a bunch of people – remember we’re trying to get in 50 men, 5 women and…”

“50 kids! Yup, I know mom. This will be fun!”PuppyclassMay2011 020

And it was.


dogbasicclassAug272013 030

**clumping or lumping is the unsuccessful addition of steps in a process – you’ve lumped too many things together and the training failed, everybody’s frustrated. You may need to take a break, then go back to the last time you were successful and start a step or two before that.

A huge part of good training is getting the fundamentals solid so the trainee believes they will be successful, ie. persistence in the face of adversity.

*fast tracking is when you’ve skipped steps in the training, but it works anyway. This is usually because the set up was good and prior training was good.

*FYI puppy kindergarten classes are the strongest predictor of a positive relationship with the pup…dog.

Bring your own rock – weird rewards in dog training

ReggieOct282013 005Hurry up! Circle the wagon and bring your own rock.

Rocks, paper, digging, kid’s toys, socks, sniffing, horse apples … there are all sorts of favorite things for which dogs will do work. Often instead of using these currencies people try to steal them or restrain the dog from them or chase the dog to get them or haphazardly keep them up away from them, only increasing their value, but missing out on the work exchange.

If the desired item has a certain work requirement to achieve it, the focus changes to the work requested … do this and then you are released to get that, OK now what will you do to have the joy of being released to find another. Also the benefit of lessening its value makes the whole interaction more reasonable, which is important since rocks, smells, digging, etc. can be found almost everywhere.

Yup, it’s true, sometimes I release my dog to go get a horse apple.

Fear of the dog swallowing an inedible? Well the more things are grabbed away without a trade, the more likely the dog is to gulp them down to keep them. It works a lot better to teach, ‘bring me’ and then praise and trade if they really can’t have whatever they had. And youngsters chasing after the puppy with a toy in his mouth – great game, not great training. Expect more stolen, chewed toys in the future.

The most popular weird fixations – paper (tissues, toilet paper), pens/pencils, Barbie dolls, remotes, and phones. These aren’t interesting things for dogs except that people overreact and value them, and so they become valuable. I think that’s interesting.

And then there’s rocks, gravel and dirt. Reggie came with a fixation on rocks (mostly nice sized round ones) and Jazz, who wants anything that another dog has, briefly started carting them. She wasn’t hooked, I ignored her, so she quit. For Reggie I’ve made rock play contingent on doing control cues and the fixation has waned, but he still can get enthralled if given encouragement.