Tag Archives: Behavior

Different ways to teach things to dogs


DSCN1091.JPGIf, as I read in a summary of one study, 90% of the dogs in America know the command for sit and that’s about it. Then I’m not sure why we’re having such a hoopla about training methodology. It would seem, if that’s the case, then whatever is being used isn’t working very well as far as expanding communication. I do hope that at least 90% of dogs are house-trained? Unfortunately a lot of the dogs I met in the shelter system weren’t, but then they didn’t seem to know ‘sit’ either.

Below is a listing of the methodologies I’ve used. The first one is what I was initially trained to do and got quite good at … then when I found out how much better the others worked I was incredibly irritated that I had been introduced to and worked so hard to get good at a method I needed, for the most part, to discard. Maybe that’s why there is so much hoopla. Even though I was good at this first method, the dogs I trained tended to want to quit when we got to the upper levels – I assume they didn’t want to work through any more negatives. The other methods have not had that as a barrier. But I have noticed more hijinx, more fun and less ‘stay there and don’t do anything.’

Mostly I use shaping now, although I’m wondering how much of the shaping works because my dogs understand my minor cues in looking at or adjusting my body to influence their choices … so maybe some sort of mimic/mirroring is occurring. I have also rewarded handling choices, like collar grabs, enough to mostly make them not negative, so some of the first kind of training has morphed into a more positive vein.

1. Training Strategy: Physical placement  – Say “SIT” Pull up on leash (probably with training collar on), optional push down on rear. Release pressure when they comply. Praise for compliance. Type: Negative Reinforcement (increasing behavior by removing something bad (neck pressure) or sometimes positive (meaning ‘added’) punishment because timing is poor and pressure doesn’t get released. Side-effects: Some people like the immediate ‘making them do it’, which increases its use as a technique. Some dogs find this form of training quite unpleasant and stressful, and because the dog doesn’t enjoy the training, after while the handler doesn’t enjoy it either. The use of pressure must be faded as a cue – dogs need to learn to do the action without the pressure, but the risk is the dog continues to need a pressure prompt and the trainer ends up getting harsher and harsher in their efforts to make the dog do what they say. This is a very traditional method, so there are many older references to it. This is where most of the electronic training devices fit in – so there is lots of marketing for this strategy. Dogs tend to become phlegmatic with this method or ratchet up to wildness if told no, often anxious about training or new training, wise to the usual tools used and unwilling to try new things.

2. Training Strategy:  Luring: Show dog reward (or otherwise encourage their attention) and use it to get the body position desired, wait for them to, for example  – sit, because looking up the reward is easier while sitting. Reward with treat, or toy for sitting. Do luring only initially (say less than 10 times), then start waiting for the desired response and reward after it occurs. When you can predict the sit 90% of the time, then add the verbal cue, “Sit”. Type: Positive Reinforcement (increasing behavior by providing reward for it) Side-effects: Dog becomes much more attentive and interested when training is offered. Improves relationship, and increases drive to learn. Creates consistent responses. If luring is used after the behavior is established (for example: food presented first, instead of after the dog offers a response), then the dog may learn to wait it out for a better or bigger offer. Thereby reversing the training process and shaping the owner’s response. This becomes the main complaint about this kind of training – lack of fading the lure…which is unfortunately the owner’s misunderstanding about how to use a reward. Another risk is over-use of treats and subsequent obesity.

3. Training strategy: Shaping.  Set up environment for likely response (for example be close to something, recently handle something, have a prior training prompt or value on something) and when dog looks at or goes toward or steps on or sits on or touches the new thing – reward. Progressively rewarding behaviors that are getting closer to what you want is called “shaping.” This is a build-a-behavior from the beginning (or from a foundation of other behaviors already built) process where the dog is offering actions and only getting rewarded for those that match the steps to what is wanted by the trainer. The dog tries stuff and the trainer responds by marking the right or closer to right behaviors. Type: positive reward and negative punishment (which means the dog gets nothing he wants for the wrong actions). Side-effects: Dog becomes very knowledgeable about what the criteria are for completing a task. This system is quite motivating when done well. The biggest issue with this is beginning trainers not knowing the progression of steps and so not rewarding early enough to keep the dog interested in trying to figure out what is wanted. Also dogs can become very interested in offering novel behaviors, which depending on what you want, may be undesirable.

4. Training strategy: Capturing. Observe and capture it. Most of the things we want on verbal or signal control are things the dog does in general life. If we watch we can mark and reward the behaviors we like as the dog does them. Unfortunately this strategy is most often used in reverse of the above, marking the behaviors that are not desired and punishing them. Side-effects: If using rewards and capturing this is great for identifying calm behaviors. It can be clear, but difficult to repeat (especially quick actions that are cute or funny) because observation is the only set up. If used alone as system – to mark and punish unwanted behaviors – this method tends to produce  anxious, hyper-active, unsure, disinterested dogs.

5. Training strategy: Mimic/copy what I do. Person does something and dog copies it for a reward. If dog is watching and realizes how it works then this can be a very fast way to train. This is often seen in ‘give me your paw,’ person puts hand out and dog may do the same, or lie down – person lays down and so does dog and jumping … there are actually quite a few things that dogs will often copy in action. Side-effects: Some things you don’t want copied by the dog.  …I have not used this method as a stand-alone, so I’m not a good judge of what could be accomplished.

What should you do? Well it depends on you and your dog. Back when the first method I listed was typically the only method used in training police dogs, seeing eye dogs, war dogs … many of these dogs washed out. The change to using more positive reward systems significantly increased the success rate of the programs and increased the working-span of the dogs. But I know that people like to ‘make their dogs’ … whatever and in many ways that is easiest, not the most effective or efficient, but easiest for people to understand. So if you need easiest, go for it. I’ll still be around when it doesn’t work for you. DSCN0944


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).



Learning Zone – dogs

A stressed dog will not absorb training.

A stressed person will not absorb training.

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

Learning happening here? Not unless something changes.

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

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

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

Photo by J. Renzoni
Photo by J. Renzoni

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

Think about it.


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.

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?

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.

Thinking about getting a puppy?

The following are some things I think everyone should probably know before getting a pup.  First know who you’re dealing with, especially if you’re paying significant money for this pup. Even if you aren’t, remember this pup will be a family member so prepare to choose well. I expect you to keep the pup you chose for their whole life. Most of the dogs in shelters were free or low-cost dogs – unfortunately price makes a difference in how we think.

This is advice I’d give a friend. But actually the best advice is to take someone along who really knows dogs, and have all the pieces ready (crate, kennel, gates, training plan and clear idea of what you want). Do not make this choice an impetuous decision.

Who am I to talk? I was a breeder of Airedale terriers, registered, championship pedigree, active in competitions in conformation and obedience, titled, healthy dogs back in the 80s and early 90s when it was still great and quite acceptable to breed purebred dogs.

Hickory was Best of Winners, I'm handling this home-bred, owner handled airedale. He was a great dog!
Hickory was Best of Winners, I’m handling this home-bred, owner handled Airedale. He was a great dog!

Why did I breed puppies? I was aiming for the next champion, next titled versatile Airedale and it helped pay for the cost of showing, being active in dog competitions, and doing stuff with the dogs. It was a hobby, a sport and a passion for dogs. I did the daily handling, early training, environmental enrichment for the puppies, but still my main focus was not the production of family, stay-at-home pets. I wanted smart, healthy, temperamentally sound dogs and they were, but maybe too much dog for the average family.

Sage looking a bit worried about kendra's show stacking abilities.
Sage looking a bit worried about Kendra’s show stacking abilities.

And depending on the breed, being too intense and purpose driven is probably true of lots of dogs from competitive purebred breeders (at least most of sporting, working, herding, hound and terrier categories). Why? Because these dogs were bred with a purpose in mind and most families don’t buy them with the idea of using them for that purpose, because, dog people do or they have a reasonable replacement activity for the dogs.

Dan successfully competing in obedience,  circa 1980, with Whiskey. He also did a lot of bird hunting with this Airedale.   Photo by Jeanine Renzoni
Dan successfully competing in obedience, circa 1980, with Whiskey. He also did a lot of bird hunting with this Airedale. Photo by Jeanine Renzoni

Why did I stop breeding? Several reasons: the most abrupt was my next star puppy female got hit and killed by a car and I didn’t have the heart to try for another, I was working more away from home and raising dogs takes being there, and finally several of the pups I had placed had bad ends.

As a breeder, people know they can call and cry, it’s sad – sad for them, sad for me. The more years, the more dogs placed, the more deaths – several hit by cars, one died of an aggressive cancer, one had liver failure (probably poison), one the owner put through all sorts of stuff because they were sure it had allergies (despite my telling them it was very unlikely) before they found a vet who took it off the meds – voila no more skin problems, and one ended up with a psychotic woman who bought high-end pups and turned them over to shelters to be euthanized (made me wonder about my ability to read people).

The negatives weighed heavily despite the many happy photo Christmas cards with Airedales in Santa hats or bows I received annually. The tide was turning against breeding dogs too and so many of the very good small breeders got out.

Those things decided my path. I still had adults, my last homegrown dog died at the age of 14 in 2006.

Simba, our last Airedale in his later years, canoeing. He was a good boat dog.
Simba, our last Airedale in his later years, canoeing. He was a good boat dog. Photo by Dan Renzoni

And that was the end of my Airedale  breeding saga. In 1996 I got a Bouvier de Flanders pup – lovely dog and one of the easiest dogs to live with I’ve ever had – it was like she was pre-trained. I temperament tested the litter and she fit my expectations probably too well, I like more challenge.

Bouvier de Flanders pup, Raven, at 9 weeks. She was amazing, social, wonderful with other dogs. She did demonstrations at nursing homes. But she was a big girl - 94 pounds as an adult and was willing to eat anything yucky..
Bouvier de Flanders pup, Raven, at 9 weeks. She was amazing, social, wonderful with other dogs. She did demonstrations at nursing homes. But she was a big girl – 94 pounds as an adult and was willing to eat anything yucky (occasionally a big flaw)..

Adopting (aka buying) from a shelter Then in 2006 I began  a search to acquire a dog from a shelter,  mostly because many of the people and dogs I trained were dealing with different shelter-dog problems. I wanted to see what the differences were and how the experience was.

I wasn’t happy in the process. I filled out the forms (after the first one it’s easy), I did the visits, I was treated as if I was a potential dog abuser and the staff apparently knew very little about the dogs they housed. Oh well, I still got a great dog (after visiting multiple times) – but of course he had problems. Problems I would have avoided had I had him as a youngster.

Max jumping on a ?
Max jumping on a ?

I tend to believe in only choosing adults at shelters because of the lack of being able to forecast traits and physical capabilities when looking at pups – my dogs do major physical activity. This isn’t much of an issue because pups at shelters are fairly rare and young adults are quite common. I also don’t like early neutering because of the changes in body conformation it seems to cause, so that also makes choosing a young adult my best option. Puppies at shelters are in high demand, I guess people are gambling on mixtures providing a mild temperament and healthy body – I’m not that much of a gambler.

For someone else the above requisites may not be important, early neutering may be seen as a benefit, many dogs never get to run free, nor do they do much physical activity. Choose based on your real activity traits, real living situation and real likelihood of providing training.

What else do I think people looking for a pup should generally know?

Two pups we purchased in Washington state back in 1981. The one on the left (Brillo) had a successful show career, the one on the right  (Aztec) died from a reaction to anesthesia at 1 year old.  Photo by Dan Renzoni
Two pups we purchased in Washington state back in 1981.  Note I’d never get two at the same time again, but Dan and I split the training between us. The one on the left (Brillo) had a successful show career, the one on the right (Aztec) died from a reaction to anesthesia at 1-year-old.                             Photo by Dan Renzoni

Know yourself and your family. It is up to you, the buyer, to know what is best for you – how much exercise and activity you will actually do with a dog, how much grooming, how much training, how much time, and how much money. The dog breeder loves the breed they have, but they don’t know you and they don’t really know why you want the breed or whether you can handle it. Only you know that. The breeder can tell you how active, how driven and how much training his dogs need. The breeder provides those activities for their dogs as a matter of course. They can’t know if you will actually give it. (There are several sites that offer dog breed selector quizzes – search dog breed selector quiz –  and these are worth taking with your family, such as: http://www.pedigree.com/all-things-dog/select-a-dog , or dogtime.com/quiz/dog-breed-selector , which I like because of the clarity of the questions.  Try more than one version and then do your homework on the breeds it suggests – http://www.animalplanet.com/ has pretty good resources, but includes some errors which you’ll notice from their written accounts disagreeing with some of the things said on their videos, AKC is more accurate but doesn’t have the negatives about breeds included, DK dog encyclopedias have it all and are usually available at your library).

Despite the rhetoric people who breed dogs for competition, hunting, companionship and some money are just like everybody else – some great, some good, some mediocre and some bad. It’s wrong-headed to think people who like/love dogs are more special or conversely more evil than any other group. You need to have done your homework so you can ask good questions. The answers you get, the stuff you see, the dogs themselves will tell you in what group to classify the breeding operation you’re visiting.

Deal only with people you feel you can trust and then trust them. This is one reason why bringing an expert or at least longtime dog owner along is a good idea.
*Wisconsin law states that pups cannot be sold/separated from their dam (mom) before 7 weeks. Why? The mother dog and litter-mates offer key socialization experiences creating a pup that better understands doggy social structure/language. Litter owners who don’t know this also don’t know other important things about early puppy socialization.

Craig’s list seems to be the most active dog selling site on the web. It is a mix of honest people, dog flippers and scams, so beware and when going to see a dog/pup take care (and a friend). Dog breeders are not supposed to use this list as a selling outlet, but some do, and then they are flagged off – often fairly quickly. So if this is your choice you’ll have to check it often and write down the information (as it may not be there the next time you look).

eBay classified has dogs and pups for sale by region/city. Usually these are higher priced than those listed on Craig’s list. Generally this is a slower paced system which is better for thoughtful purchasing.

Breeders websites (do a web search based on breed and state) these sites give the most information, but remember the information may be fantasy … get referrals from breed clubs, AKC site or someone you know. Usually you will need to fill out a form similar to the shelter sites in order to be put on a list to get a puppy.

Back to more like Craig’s list: There are other listing sites: pupsnow, nextdaypets, etc. but they are inconsistent, seem not well used, and seem to mostly show pictures of very young pups, which tell you nothing. AKC has a breeder listing. Oodles has brief, uninformative listings that may or may not be current.

Newspapers, which used to be a common way to sell pups, now hardly have any, but occasionally do. In our area these are limited in breed selections – labs,  goldens, border collies, heelers, shepherds and some crosses and mixes.

Dog Magazine Dog Fancy Magazine, now Dogster, still has breeder listings in the back pages of the magazine.

The first cost of a pup is one of the least expensive things about owning a dog. Yes, I do consider cost, but health, is more important and knowing the pup’s background gives me a better chance of forecasting life expectancy and physical wellness.

*People selling mixed breeds or cross-bred pups (this includes shelters) have no breed standards, no breed clubs, no competitions, no health testing for genetic problems … this doesn’t mean their pups are healthier, genetically free of problems or  lesser dogs.  Frequently there is no history, no research, no pedigree .. . so then what would I be paying for? This is why, traditionally, low value was assessed for these dogs.

People selling pure bred dogs, but who don’t do any breed specific activity/sport means, for many of them, achieving more net profit for less effort. What are their values? Why would these dogs be a good choice? Do they have testimonials of satisfied customers? Prior litter examples of success? They may have healthy dogs with wonderful temperament, which is just what you want or not.

Expect good business standards. Dog selling is a business (both for profit – breeders, and non-profit, shelters).

Crosses are a mix of two breeds, if both breeds are likely to have a genetic disease, the pups are likely to also. For example: both Golden Retrievers and Standard Poodles are at risk for hip dysplasia, so crosses – Goldendoodles – are at risk and so the parents should be OFA  ranked. (Note the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals http://www.ofa.org/ has information on common problems with certain breeds so it is a resource).

Mixes (3 or more breeds) tend to have greater genetic variety, so the gamble is this will lessen the chance of an inherited problem. Mixes may be less intense dogs, because they were not bred with a purpose in mind (like hunting or herding or killing vermin or guarding). This lower level of intensity is a good thing for indoor, less active families or for newbie dog owners.

*Note there have been registries popping up to offer papers with the pups, kind of like a mail-order degree. Registries that have breed standards and competitions to prove the dogs can do what they were intended to do are American Kennel Club (AKC), Canadian Kennel Club (CKC) are the most common ones in this area.  But just being AKC or KC or …. registered is not a guarantee of quality, it just indicates the parents were also registered.  Even if it’s not a championship pedigree, the pedigree can give you clues to the type of breeding in the pup’s history – how much in-breeding, how many out-crosses. So you want to see a multi-generational pedigree (not just 3 generations) because the more in-breeding the higher the chance of recessive genetic problems.

*If a person is a knowledgeable dog breeder they will not be advertising ISO stud dog for my female in heat. They will have done the research, gone to the competitions, looked at pedigrees and done the health testing for their breed’s most likely genetic problems. So a question about why they chose the stud dog they chose is a valid one and why their female was a good choice is even more important.

*Even if the health testing and research has been done it is better to get a pup from an older, healthy bitch and stud dog. Why? because soundness produces soundness. By 5 or 6 years old, if a dog was going to have an early onset health problem it would be there. The breeder/seller should offer some sort of guarantee.

*Look at,  pet/interact with,  the pup’s parents first before the puppies. If you wouldn’t want the pup’s mother as your dog, don’t buy one of her babies. (Remember, she just had pups so saggy belly/teats, somewhat skinny, coat looking a bit scruffy is not unexpected). The father (stud) should look great – andshould be the kind of dog you wantto be yours (note the stud often is from an outside breeder, so you may only be able to see photos or video).

Airedale pups in outside enclosure – grass, cement and gravel. Toys and obstacles to play around. Circa 1988.

*Puppies, when awake, should be clear-eyed, round, bouncy, inquisitive and appear healthy. Only buy a healthy appearing pup from a healthy litter. Always be willing to leave without a pup, if you’re not willing, then you’re not making rational choices.

*Puppy area should have varied play items, varied surfaces/obstacles and be reasonably clean. It is great if potty training has already started and pups can go out to go and keep inside potty-free. (or have an inside potty area).

*Clean water, clean equipment, clean bedding. The pups will have started solid foods back in their 4th week and by week 7, some kind of puppy chow is their mainstay.

*The mother dog should have access to the puppy area, but also have a way to escape the pups as she wishes. By 7 weeks most mother dogs have weaned their pups, but some will still let them suckle briefly. But the mom dog’s interventions are important information for the pups.

*Knowledgeable breeders (a breeder is anyone who has a litter of pups – planned, unplanned, pure bred or mixed) will have a puppy handling and socialization schedule to show you what’s been done already to help create the well-rounded, appropriately social dog you would want. Raised with kids, doesn’t necessarily mean it was a good experience for the pups. Pups born in or transferred to a shelter situation have/are in a very stressful environment – excessive stress is not a good thing.

*And of course they have, a worming schedule, initial vaccination(s), and a vet check (required if they are licensed), or they require you to go to a vet within a brief period after your purchase. Do they need to be licensed? Only if they sell 25 or more dogs/pups from more than 3 litters per year in WI.

*Crate training started and some basic obedience. Even though pups should be in contact with their litter it’s also reasonable to start some separation so it’s not as much of a shock on that first night with you.

What you do has a huge impact on your puppy. The first critical fear period is from 8-10 weeks old. This is also an enormously important socialization time-frame. Bad experiences, challenges that are too much and end unsuccessfully can have permanent repercussions. Painful experiences, elective surgeries, overly loud, overly anything should be avoided. However challenges that are met can be amazing boosts to the pup’s confidence and overall view of his world.

These first weeks are a time to do some good people socialization – not overwhelming the pup, not encouraging wild behavior. Many of the antisocial behaviors blamed on poor breeding are actually poor environmental choices by the new owner … genetics vs environment?

As a trainer, if I see one pup from a litter showing excessive fear or unreasonable aggression I have no way of knowing what the real cause(s) was/were – several pups … then I’m leaning toward genetic predisposition. Can this be fixed? It can be improved, many times it can be much improved. It does take effort though.

As a trainer if I get a whole bunch of pups in a kindergarten class from one litter, usually the pups have been separated from their litter mates and mom dog too early (at 4 – 6 weeks) and are excessively bite-y … so the people with them are worried, and they should be because what else didn’t the breeder know. Pups who don’t have good dog body language skills need mentoring and practice getting it right. Having them with their mom and litter mates longer is not a guarantee of good dog body language skills, but it makes them much more likely.

As a trainer when I see one of the (often GSD type) pups that has been kept isolated at home until 6 or 7 or more months and now everybody noticed how reactive it is to people and to dogs, I know the people didn’t do their initial needed socialization and they may never have the family dog they were wishing for, because the process to fix it is much harder now. The more wary, worried or territorial dogs need much more good socialization early and continuously or they won’t have the confidence to make good decisions.

As a trainer when I see a pup who is frantically wild offering displacement behaviors and an owner who is constantly scolding I know they need positive training, because the constant barrage of criticism drives the pup’s worried behavior that drives the criticism … and the cycle continues.

Raising a puppy well is a lot of work … and fun.

Do you need help choosing a dog or pup? I consult and/or actively help in the process.