Category Archives: photography

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…


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).



Easy Dog training is not so easy

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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.
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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


Finding play or something to do – in house, effective

reggieNov52013 017I’ve noticed many people think they have to  rough house, or go outside and hike in the wilderness, or go to a dog park, or teach their dog to retrieve something or buy a new toy to really play with their dog.

And most of the time that is too hard because the person needs to spend money or be athletically capable, which many  cannot or will not or temporarily are not able to do.dogfooddec302014 002

The other thing is most people don’t take advantage of the food they are buying and feeding their dog, they just dump it into a dog dish … dog eats it, interaction done.  That food is pretty pricey just to plop out there without any expectations.

Zoos used to do that too, just put the food in a pile for easy access/intake, ‘let’s get there when they feed the…, oops missed it.’ But the zoo behaviorists came to realize that most of the weird, trapped-in-a-cage behavior, was because of lack of things to do, lack of an enriched and interesting environment.reggieNov52013 004

What does trapped in a cage-like environment look like? The animal is under-conditioned and often overweight and pacing, circling, whirling, humping stuff, eating non-food things, licking self excessively, over-reaction to stimulus (like the mailman), compulsive behaviors – barking, chasing sunlight/reflections, chewing …  Basically there’s nothing much to do, so make something up to pass the time or create excitement.

So what did zoos do? They added more space and more natural features (I’m not suggesting adding an indoor dog park-although it sounds fun) and zoos started playing games with the food – hiding it, putting it in places that the animals had to work to get it out. The zoo animals have more interesting lives getting to find food, which is a major daily project in the wild.

Dogs like to find stuff and eat it. Afraid your dog doesn’t like his kibble that much that he would search for it? Cut back on the daily amount by 1/4 (so if you feed 2 cups per day, change down to 1.5 cups per day). For dogs who actually are underweight, then these games will re-energize their interest in the plain kibble.

But, I already take walks with him on a leash …. Yay, that’s good, but have you watched how a dog moves around unleashed? Our walks aren’t much of a dog work out. Face it, we’re slow and we have more dogged endurance, they’re quick and they love sniffing.

Sniffing is an incredible work out, just ask sniffer dog handlers.DogtrainingsearchJan72015 001a So keep sessions brief when they have to do a lot of sniffing to find it.

Find it! games Playing the games is amazingly entertaining for both you and your dog and even spectators are entertained. Of course, it only works if you are actually having fun.

  • toss kibble (the regular dry dog food you already use) one piece at a time, dog finds it, cheer, then he comes back to you to start over (the come back can include a hand touch or sit or down for a reward too). Do close at first, then vary it. Do different directions to include short sprints.
  • teach back up by tossing when he takes a step backwards, keep playing and he will figure it out.
  • hide food (one piece or many – or if you use wet food put it on a small plate or plastic lid) while dog is tethered or held, then send him to find it. Make it very easy at first, progress to more difficult.
  • hide food in many places and do a room search for it with encouragement but not direction from you.DogtrainingsearchJan72015 002
  • separate food into several smaller dishes and put them in different places for your dog to find and eat
  • do mat training – put down a small rug, focus on it and when dog approaches or looks at it drop food into middle. Keep building this so the mat becomes a valued place to go to, then start waiting for your dog to lie down on it, reward.  Now start adding distractions and kibble tossed away from the mat, but only reward if he’s planted himself back onto the mat. Once you’re sure he will go to and lie on the mat add ‘mat’ cue.  If you’ve done this progressively enough, voila, the problem of the dog  bouncing at the door may be over, because he will go to his mat instead, if he doesn’t he just needs more good practices.
  • hide food at different heights, use cardboard boxes as new locations, add other agility type pieces – step, cone, tunnel.DogtrainingsearchJan72015 003a
  • add hidden child with kibble (this starts the process of person finding)
  • try things, like gloves, keys, slippers… to find and get food reward
  • food stuffed toys, like Kongs or food Cube or Treat and Train to add eating interest when you can’t take much time or won’t be around for a while.

Even those of you who don’t like regular dog training will find scent games interesting , mainly because the sense of smell is so underdeveloped for us our dog is like a master, a sensing magician.

Do you have any find it games you play with your dog?


Training update: Obie’s progress whining, recalls and other stuff

Recall training fun in the fenced agility area.
Recall training fun in the fenced agility area. I want full speed, fast responses and he’s giving them.

Whining!! The problem that was bugging me the most — is markedly reduced, at an 8 before in a 10 point scale of bad, now we’re at a 5.   The whining when I open the door 90% of the time has disappeared as has the whining while he is tethered waiting for me to feed the horses. Whining when asked to do something is mostly gone as he has faced the result of vocalizations slow the process instead of speeding it up. He’s still offering complaints (whining, barking and occasional howling when confined in his crate during the day – but this is 1-5 minute duration). So we’re still at the halfway point aiming for a  minimal, complaining-type noise =1.

What did I do to get these changes? I followed the plans I set out in the earlier post. Organizing Training- making a plan for whining.

  • Added remote delivered treats as I opened the door, then since this was working and he was quiet as I approached the door I started adding praise as I opened the door instead of food. He is praise motivated too, not at the same level as food though.
  • Froze (stopped any movement) if he started whining and only moved if he was quiet and still. (thanks Scarlybobs for highlighting this – you helped me re-think and I decided to emphasize this since we were beyond him escalating to louder and louder in my presence, so I didn’t need to turn away or walk away)
  • It was the addition of wild bunnies in the hay that distracted him from whining (he’s added some bunny droppings to his diet — whatever works) when he is tethered in the Cover-all while I feed the horses.
  • Supervised the automatic feeding using the Treat and Train – to make sure he wasn’t putting in a whine just before a food delivery – accomplishing an unintentional, whining reward. I’m a speedy remote, stop-the-treat, button pusher.
  • Ignored the whining with cues. It’s mostly gone. I expect this to re-occur with excitement and arousal situations, but should diminish with practice and him sure about what’s expected.
  • Added some verbal praise and occasional treats to the down in entry while I’m gearing up or putting away outside clothes. It is mostly solid (other people going thru is still iffy) and no whining. I was aiming for and he  is doing it automatically to get a dog who waits calmly and out-of-the-way while people get ready.

Other stuff we’re working on.

Released to 'go play.'
Released to ‘go play.’

Recalls at a 4 before, now at a 6,  in a 10 points is best scale. Steadily improving. Still working at low to moderate distraction levels.

  • Aiming for 20 recalls three times per day – one session outside in the agility area, two sessions in various places inside daily for the next 7-10 weeks. At 200 recall practices completed. The cat remains a high level distraction as does the poor, misguided bunny who got himself stuck in stop-action mode and frozen solidly into the fence (weird I know, but not removable, except by extreme measures).
  • Fave games – run to find food and return for tug or more food rewards. Hide/seek. Sit/wait/come/tug.ObiesettleDec22014 001 Go play, come, chase, treat.

Settle during TV time or dinner or computer work at a low 2 before, now at a 5 out of a desirable 8-10. The busy-ness, searching for extra comfort, bugging for attention and long time to lie down and stay there has abated much. He’s on leash, so there’s a ways to go before he could be off-leash and would likely automatically settle. (Note I can tell him to down and he will – that’s not an issue, what I want is for him to just do it without micro-management.)

  • Practice with treats delivered when he isn’t paying any attention to me (just calmly settled).
  • Continue Treat and Train protocol on dog bed – we’re at the distraction set ups, but still fairly short duration between the treat deliveries. (I postponed some of this to get the whining under wraps).
  • No attention, even for nicely bugging – like big Doberman chin rested on knee. It’s very important not to give attention if he is bugging for it, because then the likely hood of being settled and not a pest disappears.

Focus during times of distraction (dogs, new people, stuff), he’s pretty good until the distance is 20-30 feet, which then becomes less and less good the more the space collapses. Rating? 4, maybe higher as he acclimates quite rapidly, but I want less attention spent.

  • Always wearing Gentle Leader head halter when out of crate or kennel. It works marvelously to turn him away from staring/fixating.
  • Tug games in all situations – I need to take him to more places and play
  • Use  of higher value rewards (the usual kibble is not adequate) especially initially.
  • Yup – so I want excellent focus when I need it and as above in the settle routine I want calm non-focus in that situation – we’re working to clarify the ‘when’.

Other stuff – tricks, balance, body awareness, agility basics and other things that make him easier or more helpful. I add these in for variety, to make him more capable, because it’s fun. And because some things don’t need to be tallied, just enjoyed.

Other, other stuff – his appetite and willingness to eat with gusto is at an 8-10 (previously3-4). He goes(poops) quickly, within 5 minutes of being outside, instead of waiting for 30 minutes and the morning walk turn-around. He’s willing to tug on anything I offer (he has preferences, but they are waning). He’s holding control cues until told ‘break,’ most of the time (I expect, if I’ve asked and especially if I’ve rewarded the control posture should be maintained until he’s released). He automatically sits for all entries/exits/gates.  He runs to his crate or to his dog bed when asked if he wants to do something – he knows they are the starting points of most in-house games.

Summary – So now that the noise thing is in better balance, I feel much better. Undesirable noise is very hard on the nervous system. I think that tallying, quantifying and making clear plans results in less frustration, more acceptance and better judgments. I don’t think that everything needs to be tallied or significantly planned, but certainly the things that are upsetting do. Especially when it feels like it’s getting worse or not resolving in any way.

Managing the problem can and should be a first step (oh yah, I’ve avoided the things that cause the issues and I’ve put on headphones at times), but the process of fixing it (if it’s important or if it risks the relationship) needs to occur right away too.

Did this article help you get an idea of how much and what kinds of things to do? Were there things I need to explain better? Do you like the photos?




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.