The Secret Club of Dog Owners

The Secret Club of Dog Owners

Tragedy struck this week in our area. An elderly woman was killed by a dog who was recently adopted from a local rescue. My heart goes out to the family who is now dealing with this unbelievable heartbreak. For more information on the story, you can take a look at the Virginian Pilot, I will not post the story here, as that is not the point of my post.

There is a divide between the people who have only lost dogs due to medical issues or old age, and those people who have had to make that decision based on a behavior issue. The latter folks, do not talk about the heart wrenching decision they had to make because they know they will be judged for it. Someone somewhere will say, “you didn’t do enough” or, “what did you do to make that dog act that way.” Know that you are not alone, and plenty of people stand behind your decision.

Being one of the only positive reinforcement trainers who will see aggression cases in this area, I have spent many hours being a therapist for these owners. The conversation begins with history, and I have heard everything from this started at 7 weeks when I brought the puppy home, to we began seeing issues around 2 years old, to the aggressive behavior has gotten worse quickly. These dogs are from breeders, or rescues, they are large and small, young and old.  In each of these situations, there was nothing that the owners did except love their dog, and do the best for them that they knew how.

My heart breaks each time I think about the families who have to make the decision to euthanize their dog because of aggression issues. (If any of those families are reading this, know that I think about you and your dogs, all the time, even if we only met once) Working with dogs means you are not only in it for the dogs, but for the people first and foremost. I really do not look forward to the conversations about euthanasia that I have, but I am glad I get to be that shoulder for people who are truly looking to do what is right.

I want to thank the owners of these dogs for making that difficult decision. They were responsible enough to put the safety of their family, and the general public over that of a dog that they loved.  They were kind enough to recognize the demons that their dog was living with, and end their suffering. They were smart enough to realize their dog was not capable of living in our world, and by our rules.

I also want to thank the responsible rescues who refuse to put any owner through this heart wrenching process. There are thousands of healthy stable dogs in shelters and rescues, waiting to be that fantastic family pet that you envision living your life with. Responsible organizations, have no problem understanding the liability behind a dangerous dog, and the thought of “rehabilitation” never crosses their minds.

So to the owners of the dogs who left us because they were truly broken, you are a stronger person than the people who run this “rescue.” To Luke, Raj, Bella, Ranger, Fenton and the others, run free at the Rainbow Bridge where you are safe from your demons. We think of you often!

The One Most Important thing to do when Training your Dog!

The One Most Important thing to do when Training your Dog!

You have a dog.

You have a behavior that you don’t like.

You have a goal for your dog.

What now?

This is where many people lose their momentum in training their pups. I’ve been there so I’m not judging you. You sit down, think “hey I should work with the dog on something”

Or you end up with a face like this…IMG_20170414_170531030

What do you work on?

Well there is the door manners, but I don’t have anyone to knock on the door.

That counter surfing needs some work, but it’s not that bad…

10 minutes later, you are still sitting on the couch looking at the dog and nothing is getting done. You now feel overwhelmed and instead of doing something you are doing nothing, and no progress is being made.

SO what is the ONE thing that you can do to help overcome that endless cycle of thinking about it and doing nothing?


I started Bullet Journaling in October of last year. I saw someone talk about it in a facebook group and looked into it.

More about Bullet Journal here!

Now some of those journals are crazy. Mine does not have any colors or symbols, but it does give me a place to quickly write down things I need to remember or notes to add about clients, in a place that I can quickly refer back to as I need to.  (And as much as I like to color code things, I don’t have the time for all that nonsense.)  Once I figured out a way to make the journal work for my stream of consciousness, I thought perhaps it would work for my dog’s training as well.

I started adding the dogs training into my personal journal, but notes were getting convoluted, and I was having a hard time separating personal things from dog training things.

Both of my competing dogs now have a journal of their own. At the beginning of the month I take a look at what we are competing in that month, and what skills we need to work on to be successful. It gives me a short list of ideas and goals for right now, instead of all the “hopefully one day” things that I tend to add in on a whim.  We don’t have an Index page, or a Future log since all their competitions are also in my journal, that’s where I need them to plan my own life. My dogs journal is just their day to day stuff.

On the Month Log, I write a general idea of what we accomplished that day so I quickly know how often we are working on each skill. I also know at a glance how often we take days off.  All the days are on one page, and they say things like “conditioning” “work” or “park.” If they are competing, then it says “dock dogs” or “barn hunt” and nothing more!

In the Daily Log, I write a quick recap of the training session. What we did, how it felt, what I think we need to work on at the next session. I try to do this as soon as the session is over while it is still fresh in my mind. It also helps when, later, I remember to train my dog, I can go back and read what I thought of the last session and go from there. (It’s really helpful when I write down what I think the next session should be)

Here is a picture of Pixie’s journal. You can see it’s not terribly detailed or long, but it gives me something to go back to. I saw that on March 19 we did a few weaves around cones, which was fun. It’s a good shoulder workout so maybe we will add that into our training tomorrow. Conditioning plan done! See how easy that is!

training journal


It seems daunting and over kill for training your dog, but I promise you that having a plan will allow you to meet those goals that you have. It also helps to see how far you have come when you begin to get frustrated by your progress or lack thereof.

This also helps reduce the amount of time that you are choosing Facebook over your dog.

If you need help developing a training journal that works for you, let me know! Everyone organizes things differently in their brain, so what works for me might not be perfect for you! Together I am sure we can come up with something to get you started!




Confessions of a Dog Trainer

Confessions of a Dog Trainer

I have found this topic to come up on my personal Facebook feed and in other blogs often in the last few months, and I feel like I have to set the record straight.
I am a positive reinforcement trainer. (Technically I am a crossover trainer, but that’s a blog for another day) I go through training treats like most businesses go through paper clips. I have to keep my finger nails short because I get dog cookie goo stuck underneath them on a regular basis and that’s just gross. More often than not, I am seen at the grocery store with my treat pouch still on my waist. (It’s a good day if there is also a tug in my back pocket) This is just the beginning of the thought process though.

Nerdy Stuff

Time to get science-y! (Don’t worry this is just a very simple overview of what is going on in my brain when i explain what we are doing) The basis of learning is defined through operant and classical conditioning. Every experience you have can be traced back to these two concepts. Through Operant conditioning all stimulus in the environment is paired with either a negative or positive experience. Simple examples: the stove is hot, and you burn your finger when you touch it. Next time you go near the stove you remember that it might be hot. Classical conditioning is where a previously neutral stimulus is paired with a consequence. Pavlov’s dogs and the dinner bell. In your house it’s probably the sound of the food hitting the food bowl. The bowl itself had no meaning to your dog until he learned that it provided his dinner. TA DA! Classical conditioning!

Diving deeper!

Don’t lose me quite yet! Operant conditioning breaks behavior changes into 4 main parts to achieve the results you are looking for. Keeping in mind for this example we want to encourage a behavior. Positive reinforcement adds a pleasant stimulus for a correct behavior, like a cookie. Positive punishment adds a negative stimulus for an incorrect behavior, like a loud noise. Negative Reinforcement takes away a pleasant stimulus, removing access to the cookie. Negative punishment, takes away the negative stimulus, letting up pressure on the collar.

Positive Reinforcement Positive Punishment
Negative Reinforcement Negative Punishment

Now, any good trainer has a very strong grasp of these concepts. (thankfully, I have a degree in Psychology so you don’t have to get one!) A good positive reinforcement trainer knows how to use these concepts in a way that does not cause pain or fear to get the results you are looking for.

It does not mean that we only use Positive Reinforcement!

My dogs have to sit before I open the crate door. If they see coming out of their crate as reinforcement, then not opening the door can be seen as Positive Punishment. I am removing the ability to gain reinforcement by closing the crate door. No fear, no pain. Just consequence.

The Misconception!

There seems to be this misconception that you cannot train difficult behaviors, or aggression from dogs using this method. That my friends, blows my mind! I am racking my brain trying to figure out what I am missing! Clients, do you agree with me that my method is definitely getting you closer to your goals?

It seems that people who do not truly understand what Positive Reinforcement training is, think that we let dogs run amuck until we can find a behavior that we like to reinforce. I know my clients can attest to the fact that no one is running amuck when I am around! The dogs have rules and consequences that are doled out when needed, but the consequences are not based on adding fear or applying pain.

Pixie is scared of new people. She was a scared little puppy in the shelter and that’s the temperament I have to work with. Instead of correcting her every time she barked at something, we took time to understand the why behind the behavior and by using Positive Reinforcement, we are working to make the presence of new people not so scary.
Did I let her sit on the corner and bark at people until she decided it was time to take a cookie? HAHA! Definitely not. If she was over threshold, then I removed her from the aversive stimulus. (Negative punishment, see how that works!) She then began to pair the presence of new people with something good (cookies) in situations where she was able to think and process what was going on. Pixie rarely barks at people these days. (Unless they are super sketchy and I get nervous, then I’m usually okay if she stares or barks a bit) And if you see her at the dock you wonder what the heck I am talking about.

Final Thought

Now, I am not bashing anyone’s preferred method of training. I have many friends who walk their dogs on a prong collar and that is just fine for them and me. I know the proper way to fit and use a prong collar, and a slip lead, from days past, and I have chosen different methods based on the results I see, and  the results my clients see. My clients are enjoying progress and seeing changes in their dogs that they could not imagine when they started training. Happy clients and happy dogs, are enough reason for me to continue using the methods I have chosen.  I don’t think I would have happy clients, if what I was doing wasn’t working!

Let’s Talk About Barking!

Let’s Talk About Barking!

Occasionally I have people ask to me to help them fix their dogs barking problem. The conversation usually goes something like this:
“My dog barks a lot. Can you help me?”
“Sure, what is your dog barking at?”
“Is he barking at you?”
“Is he barking at things going on outside?”
“Only if there are things going on outside”
“What kind of things?”
“So he’s barking at everything, not nothing?”
“No, he will bark when there is nothing going on too”

It’s a “who’s on first” kind of conversation.

Just a heads up, if you tell me your dog is barking, that gives me absolutely no information on what is going on with your dog. If you tell me your dog barks at other dogs while on a walk, or at you while you are trying to read your favorite blog (it’s this one, I know!) then that gives me an idea of what’s going on. To me, barking is a symptom. It’s telling me that your dog is lacking in one of the areas that are important for behavioral wellness, and it’s up to us to figure out why.

In my sleuthing, I will ask you questions like “how much playtime does your pup get every day?” “How much time do you spend with your pup?” and “what does his typical day look like?”

Usually these questions will lead me to a behavior plan of more enrichment, exercise, or better communication with your pup. The end idea being, spend 15 minutes doing something with your pup every day! Together we can come up with a plan to implement this strategy, and get you back on a path to a calm and quiet house hold.

Now, with that being said, don’t ignore your dogs barking. If your pup is particularly chatty then he might be telling you that he is feeling insecure in a certain situation, or that you have been ignoring those basic exercise or enrichment tasks that he is craving. We went to the park for our hike yesterday. It was a particularly nice day, and we arrived a bit later than usual so there was quite a bit more stimulation than they are used to. We also had to run a few errands on our way home, so again, more than they are used to on a given day. I have been on my computer, working for the last 6 hours, and I have not heard a peep out of either one of them. (other than Pixie snoring)

Now, it has not been a particularly quiet day, its trash day, the guy next door has landscapers out, car doors slam and kids got off the bus just like normal. The difference is my dogs are mentally exhausted from their outing yesterday, so no barking at the things that normally would set them off. (Yes, my dogs bark at things. No, they are not perfect.)
Pixie is reactive. (Yes, Crystal, we know!!) When she barks at things, she is telling me that she is scared, and in the past the barking has gotten the scary things to go away. It does not matter if you have a mastiff, a pit bull, or a Chihuahua, that barking out of fear needs to be addressed. It’s not fair to your dog to have them in situations where they are that terrified, without trying to give them the emotional support they need to get through it.
Dragging them away is not what I mean. I am afraid of snakes. If there was a snake every time I stepped foot out the back door, I would stop going out the back door. Unfortunately our dogs can’t tell us what they are afraid of, but we can be better at reading their body language and supporting them.
If you have a barking issue, please contact me so we can get to the root of the behavior and begin working to change it. Commit to making life more enjoyable for the companion you love. You are the only advocate your dog has in this life! Make sure you are on the same page!

How to give your dog a job!

How to give your dog a job!

‘Your dog needs a job’

How many times have you told a puppy owner this one? What does that even mean?!

Does every border collie owner also own sheep? Does every lab owner go duck hunting every weekend? Heck no!

Can these dogs be successful in a pet home? Heck yes!

So what does “give your dog a job” even mean? It means finding ways to teach your dog what is expected of them while living in your world, and how to be successful in your environment.

It means giving them fair and consistent guidelines on how they should behave in certain circumstances. In my house, my dog’s jobs are to sit quietly while I work with the other dog, wait for a release before running out of their kennels, stay on the rug while I am cooking dinner, and not mug me if I drop food. (I am a mess in the kitchen so this was a hard one for my dogs)

I also give them fun jobs, like our conditioning work or finding their kibble in a puzzle toy. We play with the flirt pole a few times a week and go to sport class sometimes.

In public, my dog’s jobs are not to pull me around, and not rush or scare the other people in the park. (This one is easier for Opie than Pixie. See “I hate walking my dog” from April 2016. She’s a work in progress) Sit quietly in their kennels until I am ready to get them out of the car. (This one is difficult for Opie)

Now, all this sounds like I spend an extraordinary amount of time with my dogs. Each of these things we work on for about 2 minutes at a time.  A conditioning session might be 10 to 15 minutes because it’s mostly repetitive, and usually I can do that while waiting for dinner to come out of the oven. The key is to get a bit creative and to DO SOMETHING. It doesn’t matter what it is, just do something. This will morph into a plan, which becomes routine, and the next thing you know you aren’t even thinking about the responsibilities you have given to your pup, and the things they have learned!

The Secret to Loose Leash Walking!

The Secret to Loose Leash Walking!

My secret to Loose Leash Walking!

The ultimate goal!! To have a dog who doesn’t drag you down the street! Who listens when you are tethered together. The one skill that every 6 to 8 month old puppy owner is wishing they had the magical answer for!

Somewhere I read that teaching your pup to walk on a loose leash was just the same as teaching any other trick. That clicked for me, the dog trainer, but my clients look at me like I have 3 heads. (There is that glassy look that I was talking about in my Trigger Stacking article) Follow me here!

Remember when you were teaching your pup to sit? He learned first in front of the cookie jar because jumping up at you was not a good idea. Brilliant pup! Then you moved into the living room and asked for a “sit” and got the blank stare?

Yeah that blank stare!

Dogs have a hard time generalizing what you are asking of them, unless you ask them for things in lots of different places.  Add in all the new exciting smells of the world and your puppy has no brains left to give you!

Take a look outside to the sidewalk. See all those individual squares? Those are all different places for your pup, with new smells and different experiences. That means you have to tackle a loose leash on every single one of those squares until your pup gets the idea. Don’t worry, with some consistency on your part, this will go quicker than you imagine.


Start inside the house. Yep! Leash puppy up and walk around the kitchen then the living room and down the hallway. If there is any pulling on the leash just stop and wait for puppy to look back at you with that blank stare. Reward puppy right at your side where you would have a nice loose leash. I aim for the seam of your pants. If cookie shows up at your side, then puppy is going to want to stay at your side to get those cookies.

The other secret is to set a timer for your session. 5 mins for baby puppies, maybe 15 mins for older puppies. Heck, maybe you only have 5 mins of patience, it’s better than nothing!

Once your inside walking is great, start moving toward the door you would like to begin to go out for a walk. Same rules apply! If you feel any pulling, you stop and wait for puppy to look at you. The first time you venture out the door, you might be walking one very long step at a time, but the more consistent you are, the faster your puppy will pick up on the concept that pulling means you stop.

Set the timer! If you only make it to the mailbox in 20 mins, well, that is your pups walk for the day. Having them think about what they are doing is so much better than letting them drag you around for 20 mins. You are also one day closer to meeting your goals!

The Secret!

Practice! Sorry, I wish my magic wand worked for this one. If your pup is struggling to get down the driveway, go back to something easier like the front door. Once you turn around and go back to a place that your dog has already had the chance to investigate, then they have more brain to give you. When they walk with a nice loose leash back to the door, then tell them what a brilliant puppy they are! Feedback is so important!!

At the end of the day there are 100 different ways to reach the end result. Hopefully, this gives you some idea on how to get started!

Being sent to the principals office

Being sent to the principals office

Why is “going to the trainer” a bad thing? When did I become a high school principal?
I am currently working with a dog at a local daycare. I pull him out of his play group for an hour in the morning, and put him back when we are done. It’s a good set up for the things we are working on. Recently, one of the daycare staff was struggling with one of the dogs in the group, and quipped “knock it off or I’ll send you to the trainer” I chuckled because it sounded very similar to “Daniel, I am sending you to the principal’s office,”  but it milled around in my head for the rest of the morning.
I thought about the things I worked on in my day training session. We played with a new squeaky toy, got a massage, polished up some cues, and chased some cookies around the floor.
Well, now that sounds like fun! I think the dog had fun. He certainly worked hard for me, and played even harder.
I thought about my dogs training sessions at home. They are always willing to join me, and give me everything they can at that particular minute. I am respectful of how they are feeling and make sure to break any session up with a game of tug or chasing some cookies.
I know I don’t like to do things that aren’t enjoyable. If training wasn’t fun for my dog, would I have to leash them up to get them off the couch? Beg them to come out of their crate? I don’t have either of these struggles so I am thinking that what I am asking them is pretty fun.
Then I wonder why do people think that training is not fun? I know training for competition or sport is not everyone’s cup of tea but enjoying your dog should be. (Isn’t that why people get dogs?) Is it the notion that the trainer is going to make you or your dog do something they don’t think is right? Is it the idea that you or your dog will fail?
I’m not sure any of my clients have failed in their journey with their dog. They may not have reached their goals, or the dog may not have been the right fit for them, but I definitely don’t see that as a failure. I also don’t think I have ever asked them to do anything that they were not comfortable doing.

Biting on dad? How about a time out in the kennel.

Don’t want to recall from the back yard? Don’t wait for them to decide they want to come in, go get them and practice more.

Not into a tug session at 7:30am?  Me either kid!

Why do you think that “going to the trainer” is seen as a punishment?