Tag Archives: dog blog

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).




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.

Come here – dog don’t leave

Come to you?

Why would I?

The smells waft up from the grass beckoning,

The furred creatures run and chatter fast, but not faster than me.

My sometimes pleasant partner complains, drags slowly, makes angry noises and threatens me.

I see a glimpse of my quarry in the distance, I can catch it, I can chase it.

The joy of running, the joy of running.

Why would I come, why would I stay near?

PuppyclassesJuly302013 058

Are you and your dog in the above poem?

You thinking that you need to ‘make’ your dog come or ‘make’ them stay with you. And your dog only wanting to leave because being near you is no fun and being away is lots of fun, so if they can steal the joy they will.

How did you happen to become the barrier to joy instead of the conduit. Even in puppy kindergarten the other puppies are so much fun to play with and the humans tend to want to be observers instead of actively joining in the fun. And then when it’s time to return to learning people/puppy cues, they drag the pup away from their playmates instead of offering him a choice to join up in a new fun game. PuppyclassesJuly302013 053

Make choices, think differently – you can join in the fun and play so it’s great together or you can go down the path of continuing to think about “making him do it” and be angry that control of other living creatures is ever out of reach. You can become the gateway, you can become an active player or you can keep on becoming angry and figure out how to punish your so-called best friend because he’s thwarted you on purpose.

The choice is yours, but either way you go it will be frustrating. It’s fun, but also hard to be proactive and reward the right choices, to see the pieces and respond to the first little piece when you want more because there is pressure to react and try to fix everything at once, Being proactive and training is totally opposite of being reactive and correcting.

How do you become the conduit to fun and joy?

Think of what your pup likes — have it, do it. Be prepared every time you’re with him. Reward early, reward fast while pup is doing the thing you want.

  • start with their top preferences and use these as rewards
  • then expand his likes – food, toys, games

Make the fun contingent on him doing something for you – and be absolute about this, no free rides, no stealing.

  • start with easy stuff, pup wants to go outside, wait for him to sit before you open the door – same for crate gate, food, petting (note wait means just wait – no complaining, nagging, pushing – no visits to the punitive side, just silently wait).
  • hand target – reward for nose touch to palm
  • kiss, kiss – reward for coming then release to go play
  • sit, tug game, sit
  • name game – reward for his look when saying his name
  • run away come – say their name, when they look, run away, reward when you’re caught
  • held back recall – have someone hold your dog so they have to burst after you when you call and run away
  • hide and seek – pup needs to find you for reward
  • toss food, send to find, run away, play tug when they catch you
  • send to crate, call and run, reward
  • etc … think of games, pups like movement and chase and sniffing games

No fun without you: Prevent, manage early on so they don’t just get to go have great fun without you – you need to be part of fun stuff. This means being actively involved – moving, cheering, interacting (not standing watching – that’s not active). Keep the cycles of fun balanced – control cue release, playing with another pup, then interaction with you (note that dogs really enjoy their own species so you will need to ratchet up your desirability if you let them party very much with canine friends).

Prevent things that are fun, but that won’t be allowed – chasing the cat or horses or car, ripping up things, wandering to the neighbors, eating off the counter, climbing on people or furniture, whatever your rules are start the way you mean to continue,

You are the gateway for fun and you need to have fun! Isn’t the relationship the point after all. And then being with you, coming to you will be amazing, will be easy, it will be freedom.

Warning signs that your recall training isn’t what it needs to be

  • having to call more than once
  • pup starting to come, but then finds something else to sniff
  • if there’s something more interesting your dog acts deaf/no response to calls
  • won’t come away from food, friends, or whatever that’s interesting so you know not to call then

What to do then

Prevent/manage freedom. Dog needs to get much less freedom so that rewards from the environment don’t trump your rewards. And you need to markedly increase the fun/value your dog has for you. Play fun and exciting recall  games three to five minutes daily for the next 2 months. And each time your dog takes the choice to ignore you (so you have to call twice or more or go get them) you are 20 recalls in the hole and they are up 1 (if you want a tally system) – so it adds three days of practice.

Once you have a great recall, maintain it by playing recall games at least once a month … forever. It’s fun anyway, so why not.

Adding the right stuff – calm from wild pup

Picture a sweet looking yellow puppy straining at the end of his tight leash, bouncing forward trying to go see other puppies instead of loose leash walking with his person.

Trainer said, stating the obvious to get the person to review what they are doing, “You’ve lost him, lost him, he’s not with you – he’s trying to get away from you, stop walking.”

Picture a hound sniffing mightily in the short mowed grass instead of paying even one bit of attention to her person who is cajoling her to do something. Picture a black pup wiggling in delight at a stranger and completely ignoring her calling young master.

How come everything else is more interesting, more enticing than the well-known provider of food and care who is wanting their supposedly unconditional love?

So you want those loving eyes, so you want that focus, you want that ‘you’re the one and nothing else is as important as you are to me, from your dog.’

Speedy recall, great to have a pup that comes fast.
Speedy recall, great to have a pup that comes fast.

And giving out treats, lots of treats, to get attention, for everything … for just existing. And toys, lots of toys. And when the pup wants to go see something or sniff something we go see and he sniffs. Walks he pulls to where he wants to go, in the house maybe he’s up on the furniture now that he’s better at climbing. In my lap (he loves me then) and I pet him until he wants to get down.

Kung fu fighting pup ;)
Kung fu  pup 😉

What could be wrong? where’s the unconditional love?

  • when there are no conditions and everything is free for the taking everything isn’t worth anything
  • when there is no structure, no cause and effect, no this action bartered for that how could anything have value
  • forget the idea of unconditional love, if it was really unconditional you wouldn’t value it
  • if you’re making them do things and then rewarding, or punishing after they’ve done something wrong, that isn’t teaching self-control

What right stuff?

Do something, get something – teaching self-control and adding value – no free lunch, no free anything. One of the best games to start with is a Susan Garrett game of It’sYerChoice. The game includes pup on a leash in a fairly distraction free area and you have a handful of treats and you’re sitting on a chair or step. You put your closed fistful of treats braced on your knee out under your pup’s nose. (the leash tucked under your foot, just so they don’t leave you initially before they understand how the game works).

Keep your hand closed and still (despite your pup’s efforts to get the treats), and remain silent.  When your pup removes his face from your hand, you open your hand. Every time he attempts to take a treat close it (don’t say anything), re-open when he’s not trying to take one. Wait till he quits attempting to take a treat, then give him one from your below his muzzle level, opened flat palm (as long as he stays still and doesn’t try to help you, feed him one treat at a time, pausing giving him the chance to make the choice of stillness),  but close hand and wait if he moves to take the treats himself. Note: if your pup starts to grab at your hand faster – you’re moving your hand – keep it braced  in one place.

When he’s figured out this version, increase the difficulty. Take a nice cluster of treats and put them on the floor, cover them with your hand until he quits pawing, chewing, licking, then uncover. Re-cover them anytime he moves towards them (no verbal coaching, no threats, be silent). When he is still and not attempting to steal any, take one off the pile and give it to him. Cover if he moves to try to take them on his own, uncover when he’s not trying to take them. When this is working and he’s just sitting or lying or standing still then add a pick up of a treat and a drop back of the treat, give it to him if he’s remained still, cover now with open tented fingers if he’s moved forward to try to get some of his own.

If your pup seems to really understand the rules of this game – which are wait for the offer and don’t try to take even if treats are on the floor – drop the treat closer or put a treat on his paw. If you are going to invite him to pick up a treat from the floor add a cue for it, like a finger tap or get it.

Other things to do with the above game.puppykindergartenJune2014 015

  • treats on the flat of your palm or on the floor ask for a sit (say only once) and offer one treat if the sit happens – if it doesn’t, no treat. If you need to, move the dog, or the treats further away from each other and try again. (Do this for all – down, stand, sit from down, and any other cues/tricks practiced)
  • Make it part of life, to get what the dog likes, he needs to offer a behavior that you deem important – sit or down to go sniff, sit to go out the door, sit/down/sit for playing tug  — whatever, but make it so he is offering something you like to be offered something he likes. You are creating value for behaviors, value for treats, value for you!
  • to be petted by strangers, to see another dog, to play with other puppies … he must offer? … choose and make it consistent so that he will expect to do something for you to have whatever he wants (when you say he can have it – note he must commit to do whatever it is for you otherwise it doesn’t count as valuable to you).
  • if you are inconsistent about this, you devalue it and so will your pup.

What do my students say?

“The hardest thing about this is training yourself.”

“I just do things without thinking, I’m going to have to break some habits.”

What do they mean?

  • Puppies pull and lunge and people walk toward where the pup’s going – they forget about how they really want their pup to be, it just seems easier to walk forward.
  • Puppies bounce with excitement and joy onto people and people react happily instead of waiting for calm, controlled behavior.
  • Puppies jump up, grab at stuff and they give it or pet or coo or toss the ball or the toy.

What do you actually need to remember to do – notice what your pup wants and put in a contingency – sit before doorways/gates/car doors, before getting petted and be dogmatically consistent about it. He wants to sniff something, he needs to do something self-controlled for you first.

He’s pulling on the leash, but you want loose leash walking, you need to not walk until he stops pulling (no steps – zero, none- in the direction he wants to go unless he makes the leash loose). He needs to understand so he can make the leash loose, let him figure it out.

And when he does what you want reward it with something he wants ( food, toy/game, sniffing, play, petting) – make it fun and reasonable based on what he did (Ok gets Ok reward, great gets great).

If you want a calm dog then self-controlled calm behaviors need rewards and random unasked for wild behaviors need absent rewards. Commenting on wildness is a reward, saying his name in even a irritated tone is a reward.

Pups can do a lot more than most people think, as long as they know how to. And pups are learning now, they will repeat over and over again what has been rewarded (whether it was intentionally rewarded or not). We want dogs who understand, not just obey and who look to us for permission –  it has to start early and be practiced mind fully, otherwise the laissez-faire rewarding will get us a wild young adult dog (joked about but not admired).

Have you used rewarding correct decisions by the pup as a key training method? Or have you thought you needed to take away their decision making to have things done right?


Reading your dog – why use video

Top of head pat? (note a rub is different than a pat). Well pat attempted for photo several times, he ducked away so I could touch his ear and neck. Right after, he offered me another chance at petting being very obvious about where I should pet, perhaps hoping for a better attempt.

I get a fair amount of push back from people when I say things like “patting him on the head isn’t a reward, he’s not liking it.” And maybe I should be more factual, “when you patted him on the head he ducked away and left you, or he started sniffing the ground, or he moved away and came to me, or he sat briefly then became rowdy with the kids or other dog.” Which means he did not feel it as a reward because when we’re rewarded we want more attention from the one rewarding us and we don’t feel the need to escape or distract.

One of the easiest ways to know how your interactions are going is to video them then review it several times; first time to see how silly you look, second to focus on what you wanted to look for, third to find other things you might want to improve and fourth to find the really good things you want to keep in place and be proud of for you and your dog.

Look for body posture that is open and interested, training that is fun for both of you. Look for consistency and clarity in how you ask for known cues. Look for patience on your part and persistence in trying to figure it out on the dog’s part. Look for the relationship. What do you think your dog is telling you with his actions, where does he look, what does he do if something is confusing? Just look and then think about what you might want to do. Jot it down so you remember.

I’m also in northern Wisconsin where a common training method is threatening – looming, angry voice in the ‘do it or else mode.’ I was attending an outdoor sports show today and at the tail end of it a man went walking by with his off-leash retriever, who he kept threatening to keep the dog from leaving him. The dog was low body-ing it and showing fear by ducking and tucking his tail, also he sat 4 feet away and wouldn’t come closer to his handler. I kind of wish I could have shown the guy a video of his training, I wonder what he would have seen.

Sometimes if a certain way of doing things is pervasive, it’s hard to see a problem in it. The video can give you a separate picture, a different point of view. And even if you would never think of being threatening, often the video process can make you a much better trainer because it lets you see what you actually did, not what you thought you did.

I know it’s a hassle to set up, but it’s really cool to see and very worth it. Then maybe you can tell the trainer what kind of rewards your dog really likes, because you’ll already have noticed that patting him on top of the head just doesn’t cut it.



7 Things to do – Resident dog vs new dog or new baby or new…?

Snowdogs,StB,Max, Jazzie 002
Max meeting a puppy St. Bernard, out in open area after pup had exercise. Max is very good with new dogs/pups – notice the ‘don’t jump on me body posture.’

The excitement, the expectations, the changes can all be overwhelming and can all be turned into upset, disappointments and even all the way to real bad if not handled with finesse.

In this article I’ll list 7 things you can do to make it more likely dog vs pup and dog vs child will go well and have everybody liking each other.

There are certainly resident dogs who do fine no matter what is thrown at them, and if so lots of times they are lucky enough to have the situation that works – escape options, extra people who offer just the right amount of support, plenty of early socialization so they are not scared or worried and perhaps have laid-back temperaments so they really don’t care much. Hopefully you know if your resident dog isn’t one of these dogs and if you aren’t sure, act as if he isn’t. Taking more care with the introductions will not hurt anything and may save much grief.

When it’s a new dog or pup that the older dog won’t tolerate well often families sent the newbie on his way. This doesn’t have to happen if they’re willing to control the meetings/contacts better or for much longer. I’ve seen dogs who initially were quite upset by each others presence if given time and prevented from aggressive displays come to like and play with each other (I’ve got two such dogs, and a cat, living in my house right now – and it took about 7 or 8 months of being careful with the environment to get them more and more comfortable, and I still watch for bad situational set-ups).

Of course, if it’s the baby, then the dog is banished, either from the family totally or from the house or from certain areas. A family loss in any event.

1. Low key, non-confrontational introductions. (Don’t start with child or pup running or grabbing or crawling at dog or the child/baby screaming/crying upset or any version of bursting through a door). For babies, offer their scent on some clothing first and offer it non-excitedly. Just put the baby-scented item down and let the dog smell and then go on to other things. A sleeping baby’s foot is also a good thing to smell. We always want safety for the little one, so make sure of it.

Let dog see children from a distance, let dog walk by children that are going in the same direction, let calm child drop food. Let dog walk and pup walk and you walk (movement forward in a group is good). Let dog approach, don’t pursue dog or drag the dog closer. Let dog leave if they want to, have a way for them to escape if they need to. Observe how the dog is acting – where is their tail, ears, eyes and how does their mouth/muzzle look? Loose body posture or tight? Wary or relaxed? We want loose and relaxed.

2. Play-acting practice. Let dog see mom-to-be carting a bundle, rocking with doll and let him check this out. Practice low-key, practice without excitement, practice rewarding disinterest. Reward dog for going and lying down out-of-the-way. Practice with the stroller (with doll) going for walks. Have another family member pick up lots of mom-to-be’s dog duties so he won’t be so surprised that she isn’t paying much attention to him.

Meet and greet with other dogs (find dog friendly dogs) – how does your dog do with them? Which kinds of meet and greet worked best for your dog? Use this knowledge when adding a new dog to the family.

3. Use confinement – gates, crates, kennels, doors. Create safe zones. There is no reason to rush into having everybody free in the room/house at the same time. If the dog’s free in the area, pup or baby is elsewhere and vice versa. The longer they are in the same household with no negative, exciting incidents the more likely everything will continue to go well.

If your dog isn’t used to being confined in the house, start practicing before the baby arrives … no need for barking, whining, pawing when everyone needs quiet to sleep.

4. Practice control cues – sit, down, go, stay, come. This is for both pup and resident dog. The more things they know to do well the better they will be able to cope and easier they are to have around. Use positive training techniques as these will help create confidence instead of anxiety. Offering food is calming and can change emotions toward more positive. I usually have kids toss or drop food to prevent pull away hand motions that encourage pups to grab.

5. Practice respectful child/parent and actively supervise. For child – if they are old enough to understand, set up rules on how to interact with the dog, places where child doesn’t get to bother the dog. For parents – parents need to know what are reasonable child/dog interactions and not encourage the child to do things that are abusive to the dog, (no hugging neck or rear, no kissing nose, no riding or climbing on dog, no poking at eyes or ears or mouth, kicking, hitting, jumping on … etc.) See Doggone safe.com website.

Puppies need to be respectful of older dogs too. Older dogs will often vocally and physically prove this to a pup who is jumping on them or repeatedly bothering them. Usually this is a quick outburst after several warnings, and the pup may fall down and flip belly up or go yipping away. This is right action by the older dog. Intervening in this is not recommended because then the pup may well continue to be obnoxious and the older dog may suffer through it until they just can’t stand it anymore. If your older dog is continuing to tolerate bad puppy behavior, give them a safe area to go to get away and prevent your new dog from harassing them. Find some other older dog (often female) who will help your pup have better dog manners over several play dates.

6. Play games that encourage cooperation. Give the dog some tasks that he can do well and reward him for them. Avoid setting up competitions for resources (food, toys), instead have each do his part of the game or task (keep food bowls, bones, toys separate or put up). Note that if the dogs start playing, let them, but intervene if it is obviously too rough … and I have rules about wild play in the house – wild play belongs outside.

7. If there is aggression display intervene by distracting, intervene with water if there is a dogfight, if not intervene by getting them to move on … Then review what went wrong, what was the set up that made aggression likely, what do you need to do in the meantime to manage it and what needs to be trained to fix it? (note that aggression met with aggression on the owners/handlers part has a  significant likely hood of increasing the aggression/fear and the behavior that was unwanted). Having a scuffle or even several does not mean they can’t ever be friends, just don’t let it keep happening by knowing what precedes it.

Children and growling dogs? Children need to know that growls mean quit it or else. Adults need to know that a dog that growls and isn’t playing is giving a vocal warning that things aren’t OK with them. Reprimanding the dog harshly is a poorly thought out reaction, what you really want is a dog that can cope and has other  good strategies. Many dogs lick children in the face to get them to go away, many dogs leave and go to their safe place (if they can find one), some dogs know how to distract children and will steal something from them to change what they’re doing and some dogs with unsupervised children have taught them with controlled nips or pushy rowdiness (not something I’d recommend).

Too much looming on child's part. Side by side is better. Chest pet good.
Too much looming on child’s part. Side by side is better. Chest pet good, but pup doesn’t look engaged.

What I like for the above is a safe zone that the dog knows he can go to and get away from kids and also increasing the dog’s tolerance of children by reducing their fears (games with kids where the dog gets to approach or find them and the child stays still or moves away and rewards the dog). In the process the child gets taught better games to play with the dog and what not to do with the dog.

Setting up the introductions, practicing the parts of things the dog will need to know or do, managing the rest until it can be fixed or modified can make most household additions quite workable and pleasant without sacrificing any members of them.

Manage your puppy to make training easy

Feeling guilty about how much time your pup is alone, confined and not out running around playing? April10Obe2013 001a

It’s true your puppy needs you, needs your time and your focus.  She needs to play and exercise and see things and do things. But it’s also true that if she is free to find her own fun, free to play with other dogs, free to chase and explore she will learn things you don’t want her to and she will bond with dogs more rapidly than she will with you. This is especially true if you have one of the smart breeds, the active breeds as opposed to a couch potato breed (but remember there is lots of variation within dog breeds). FYI if you’re not an invested dog person I suggest you avoid the smart/active breeds of dogs, they will not be a good fit for you. Smart does not mean easy, usually just the opposite.

Freedom without you means you will not be that important compared to everything else in the environment that pleases her, which then means a required leash in later life – more freedom now means less freedom in the long run. Instead of best friends you will be upset and a nag and an anchor if you’re not careful. The time to be very careful with supervision is now in these first 9 – 15 months (or much, much longer if you don’t believe in confining puppies). Rule of thumb – wait until 2 years old and reliable while you are there before leaving a young dog alone for long periods unconfined in your house.

In these first months it is more important to build your relationship and do things together, do the socialization together with your pup and not let an older dog or young kids give the fun and socialization without you. Slightly less exercise is an OK trade.

Management and prevention: Set up a potty schedule – one that makes it unlikely accidents will happen (this means frequent potty breaks outside with you to treat successes and no unmonitored household freedom). It means getting someone to give your pup potty breaks if you can’t. Use the crate and an ex-pen or gated puppy-proof room/area – if you are not interacting with the pup then they need to be confined, they do not get whole house liberty or even half-house liberty. Set up household rules – if it’s no dogs on the furniture/bed that means now and if pup is on a lap the lap needs to be sitting on the floor. Food stealing – Toddlers tend to shed food, so keep the pup confined if the toddler is eating to avoid food stealing. Garbage, keep it covered and taken out. Chewing – You don’t want non-chew toys chewed, pick things up and only have chew toys on the floor. Chasing – kids, cats or being too rough with smaller or older dogs needs to be prevented (this is not going to get better with age). Biting – redirect this to chew toys, or stop whatever movement you’re doing/child is doing, game over. Bolting out doorways/gates – doorways don’t open, or they don’t stay open if the pup moves from a sit. Very young pups can easily learn this if you’re patient and wait. Jumping up – obnoxious attention-getting behaviors are ignored, just turn away and only give attention to polite pup (sitting still), the same for attention seeking barking, whining or pawing. If attention seeking behaviors like the aforementioned are rewarded with attention (either good attention or bad attention – yelling, pushing …) they will continue and likely be more and more persistent. Pulling on leash – acclimate them to a Gentle Leader (humane but effective tool) or Easy Walker and do not go forward unless there is no tension on the lead, because no matter what the tool is they can learn to pull despite it.

Managing a puppy is work, fun work, but a lot of work. Although if you don’t manage them it can become a dog’s lifetime of trouble. If you do manage them then the cool things you want to train can be trained, otherwise you end up bogged down and upset in trying to fix the things they like to do that you don’t like them to do.

What about newly adopted adult dogs? I treat them as if they were puppies because it is unlikely they came from a well structured environment, plus I want them to know that all good things come from me. If they have too much freedom to find their own fun they will know they can find it away from and without me, which is not a lesson they need to learn, especially if liberty, advanced learning and a great dog is the goal.

What about your own unruly, poorly managed young adult dogs? Go back and manage and train. Unfortunately it will likely take at least twice as long this time around because they know how the household used to work and you likely will have trouble remembering your own new rules. Positive is not permissive, it takes much planning and thought.

What do you get from puppy kindergarten?

PuppyclassesJuly302013 046Often people are hesitant to start training their puppy … just let him be a baby and have fun, we’ll just clean up the messes, he’s too young, he loves everybody so no need to go out and meet extra people/dogs, or he’s too afraid to go out and meet people, we’re worried about him catching something … Wait a minute – whether you think you’re training or not he’s learning what to do and expect.

Then there are others who expect too much, too soon … want him to quit chewing, biting, be totally house-trained, know all the household rules, greet everyone appropriately, be the kids best friend and be able to have the freedom of the house. Wait a minute – he is a baby and if you expect too much you set up his failure and then where does the relationship go?

Then there’s the long term dog invested handlers who have multiple confinement systems for when they are not doing stuff with the pup (crates, gates, tethers, kennels), have an outside location for pottying and always go outside with their pup, take the vaccinated pup to lots of places to meet people, see other dogs, practice car riding, do grooming regularly at home, practice body handling (feet, ears, mouth), have chew items and prevent non-chew items from teeth damage. They know what to expect and are ready for it, often they come to puppy kindergarten, but really need no instruction. They have a long term plan of training for their puppy and have started thoughtful training from the first time they met their pup.

It actually took me a while to understand that most other people (despite them having had dogs throughout their lives) didn’t know about the critical times in development of the dog. Didn’t know that socialization and training done early makes the most difference and can alleviate shyness, anxiety, aggression with the least work by the handler or if handled badly can cement issues of fear (like sound shyness – for example; taking an 8-10 week old hunting dog to a shooting range or to the fireworks on July 4th and letting that be their first overwhelming experience of gun fire/explosions) and make them much, much harder to influence/resolve in later life.

Those critical weeks come right during the time you first get the pup from the breeder (8 – 14 weeks old). And yes, I too worry about the possibility of parvo or distemper or any of the vaccinated for diseases, but after two vaccinations the pup is reasonably safe, especially in areas where the other dogs are vaccinated. The only way they would be ‘totally’ safe is to wait until after the critical socialization period is done – but then the critical socialization period is done.

Puppy kindergarten is a positive training experience and a socialization venue. The pup gets to have regular rides in the car, gets to practice on leash walking, gets to meet different people and pups, learns to concentrate on his person despite the presence of new sights and new smells and new sounds. It is one of the best ways to prevent excessive shyness or aggression in the future.

Things that are introduced include basic obedience cues and puppy obstacles for confidence building. Reward based training is used to improve relationships. The experience is a good one and will have lasting positive effects.

But it is only a beginning of what needs to be a long learning relationship. AldoleopoldtrailOct1922012 017

Seven things people do to dogs that dogs hate

Here are seven things that people enjoy to do to dogs and despite dogs disliking them people seem to think the dog is enjoying it too. And because so many people do these things to dogs I always work to desensitize my dogs to parts of them and protect my dog from them and suggest that members of my classes do too, but I don’t suggest they use these as supposed rewards for their dog’s good behavior.

1. Taking a hold of the dog’s collar or cheeks on both sides of their face and pulling them forward for a kiss (frequently includes baby talk) or just leaning in to kiss the dog eye-to-eyeThis is a great way to get bitten in the face as it is very aggressive in dog culture. Desensitize this very carefully starting with one handed collar grabs with food rewards, and separately lateral face closeness with the dog doing the approach (find my face game). Don’t let people or kids do this to your dog because if they get bitten they will blame your dog.

2. Patting the dog on the top of the head. Dogs like hands to come from below their eye level, reaching under the ear or under the chin is best.

3. Bear hugging around the neck or rear.  Strangers and kids shouldn’t do any hugging, but loosely draping your arm around their chest is a good desensitization.

4. Grabbing at feet, ears, tail or face. Play games-shake, vet visit, to desensitize these and do slow massage to desensitize, but don’t let 2-year-olds or teens teach biting games to your dog.

5. Strangers acting like they have best friend privileges. Some people seem to think that dogs like everybody and so should be their immediate best friend, not so. Protect your dog.

6. Being picked up. Instinct would inform them of impending doom, as predators pick up prey. Let them be cued to jump up into laps or into arms or to prepare for elevation.

7. Being climbed on, ridden on or jumped on. Parents too often think this is fun for kids and don’t notice the dog’s distress. In fact there was a study with photos of kids and dogs, if the kid was smiling the observers thought the dog was having fun, if the kid was cut out of the photo they then could perceive anxiety or upset in the dog. For other ridden animals – horses, to avoid injury and pain the max appropriate weight for a well balanced rider and gear is 20% of the horse’s weight, so if the kid weighed 20# the dog would have to have a fit weight of 100#, 50# the dog would have to be a 250# dog to carry him and kids aren’t well balanced … so keep them off the dog.

Does your dog enjoy what you enjoy doing to them? Do it very briefly and stop, don’t say anything, remain still and see if they come back into you (lean into you, nose into your hand, cheek against you) to get some more. If they do, then they like it.NicaraguaFarmertofarmerhappy to be home2010 002


Loose leash walking; heeling, or in the reinforcement zone

How to teach your dog to walk on a loose leash:

Don’t walk if the leash is not loose. Only walk when the leash is loose (and not because you just made it longer).

“Ah but …  my dog is always pulling, I won’t be able to walk anywhere, he gets so interested in smells, so interested in people, dogs, everything.”

Don’t walk forward if the leash is not loose. You may go backwards or sideways or stand still, but don’t go in the direction the pup is pulling you towards. If there is no reward for pulling the pulling will stop, if having a slack leash is rewarded then that is what will be given (rewards are treats, games, praise and just going forward).

I was reading the 4-H literature and it suggests that you need a leash to teach your dog to walk next to you. Then it proceeds in teaching your dog to heel by putting on a choke collar and jerking on the leash to either get your dog to move or to get your dog back into place. Not great advice. And this advice makes it more difficult to have a dog that heels well off-leash because the reason not to pull was the jerk/punishment and if there is no leash there is no jerk to worry about.

The above paragraph advice is a fairly good way to make your dog not really like training, to only heel on leash, to possibly injure your dog’s neck or spine and to make you not like to train dogs. No need for a choke collar or prong collar or shock collar, no need to jerk or hurt your dog in any way. Loose leash walking is about the dog learning where to be – a positional cue (it’s not about the leash or applying pain).

Here’s what I would suggest: no need for a leash for a part of this training, start with no distractions, good treats, a toy and a straight wall (or any barrier). Position yourself a puppy’s width plus a little away from the wall, when the pup puts themselves between you and the wall, say “Yes” or click (to mark the behavior) and reward with a treat. Take a step, “Yes”, reward again if the pup is positioning between you and the wall. If the pup is with you try a couple of steps, “Yes,” and play a game of tug. If the pup isn’t with you, no rewards, get better treats and practice getting them to sit in the reinforcement zone (facing forward by your leg on the left, or right if you want, side), then add some movement.

Other strategy; teach hand target and use your hand as a lure to get series of heeling steps. Expand this to include different speeds and changing directions – this is called shadowing or shadow handling, as the dog is your shadow. Dogs like to follow movement, especially faster movement.

More strategy: Acclimate your pup to a head halter, then go outside on a leash. Keep leash long enough for them to be without any tension if they are in the right place (this is not very long), slow down (even stop) and keep leash the same length if they decide to pull. Proceed again if they have adjusted where they are so there is no tension on the leash. Note that all the tools to prevent pulling only work if you don’t reward the dog for pulling (continuing to walk is rewarding for pulling). Don’t go very far as they’re more likely to rush on the way back.

Why a head halter? Because halters work well and help keep the very front of your dog able to be turned toward you, instead of facing away barking, lunging or/and bouncing. You probably don’t want your dog barking and bouncing and ignoring you, with a head halter you can turn them and have control even if they have a tendency to be wild in certain situations.

Leash, Gentle Leader head halter (which will decrease pulling and give very good control) and back hook harness (which will increase pulling).
Leash, Gentle Leader head halter (which will decrease pulling and give very good control) and back hook harness (which will increase pulling).

No jerking, no yelling, no pain, just steady progress and fun and the ability to take your dog with you where ever you want to go.

Well then what about harnesses?

Most harnesses are made for pulling. They distribute the pressure so the dog can pull harder without injury. So if you want your dog to pull use a harness.

The exceptions are Easy Walk harnesses and any others with front of the chest leash attachments. I distribute these in my puppy kindergarten classes. They aren’t as effective as the head halters but need no acclimatization practice like the head halters do. Owners feel better about putting a harness on their puppy rather than something that loops over their nose. Easy Walk harnesses  kind of turn your dog away from stuff, but not your dog’s head and not nearly as well as the head halter.

Finally, if you want a dog that walks well on a loose leash, don’t walk if they are pulling. FYI this means you need to not keep the leash tight when the dog is next to you (nobody gets to pull on the leash).


Please click Liked if you did like this article. Still not sure what to do? Ask me a question and I’ll try to answer the best I can. Did you have some break through in training your dog, tell me about it!