Friday, December 21, 2012

'Tis the Season ...

Well it's that time of year . . . but well . . .  I must apologize because this list is way too late for anyone to gift any of these things but they are still great to look at and get for um .... New Year's gifts?!!  Why not add to a dog lover's list for help with a good start to the New Year?! 
This list is a repeat from last year's list but that's because I loved them so much I had to repeat them ... and also because I didn't have time to put a new one together this year! 

K9-Rosco Dog Walking Jacket, still one of my favorites, I am in love with this coat! Too many features to list here but a few include: built-in leash belt, extractable pick-up bag cargo pocket, Detachable Plastic Cargo Pocket Treat/Waste Insert, & 2 Hands Free Accessory Carabiners.  For more details, full list of features & where to buy click here.

DawggieGoPak®, don't want the whole jacket but would like easier walking? This is the perfect solution for urban professionals and on-the-go suburban parents to properly care for their dogs.  The product’s compact size allows it to attach to any leash and is large enough to accommodate all of your on-the-go needs.  DawggieGoPak’s multi-pocket design can carry: Keys (both house and car), Dog treats, Any MP3 player, Any mobile phone. For more details click here.

Dog Gone Smart Beds, not just your average dog bed.  These beds wick away the tiniest of particals leaving the bed virtually unable to be penetrated with any liquid or messes of any kind.  They come in many sizes, colors & styles.  For all the details, click here.

'Zack' Personalized Dog Collar, not your average personalized dog collar!  She's got tons of different designs to choose from.  The very uniqueness to the personalization on this collar is what makes it so special.  It's hand-sewn & made just for your dog!  This one is perfectly gorgeous velvety material.  For more of her designs, click here.

Soggy Doggy Doormat--need we say more?!  Who hates muddy paws? I thought so!  This mat absorbs more than just wet & mud, it also captures dirt & debris so that it stays off your floors.  Every pet home should have at least one of these!  For more details & purchasing info, click here.

Your Pet as a Plushie, cutest thing I've seen!  How would you like a plush dog that was commissioned from a photo of your own dog?  Your very own plush dog that is your dog!  I'm a kid at heart & can never pass up a plush anything!  I just think these are too cute to pass up.  Great gift idea at anytime of year.  Details here.

PetHub Tag, the most innovative tag to date!  These pet tags have a QR Code that is able to be scanned by any smartphone & the dog owner's information is displayed immediately on your phone.  No need to drive around, take a pet to be scanned, it all comes to you immediately, making getting the dog home a quick process!  For more details, click here.

Blanket ID Pet Tag, the most attractive ID tag out there!  Want a more attractive tag that has all your dog's info, easily accessible to anyone that finds your dog by logging into the BlaketID website and helping reunite you & your dog!  You have the ability to log on & change anything about your dog at anytime so that your dog's information & photos are always up to date. Get details here.

Etched Unique ID Tag, just plain cute.  I'm obviously a fan of an ID tag for your dog.  All dogs should have one on at all times.  And with some on the market as cute as these, why not?!  These are handmade & absolutely amazing.  I got one of these for each of my dogs this year.  She custom designed them to fit their personalities. They are great! They have other designs & styles as well.  Check them all out here.

The Amazing Treat Machine, a fun simple toy.  This inexpensive cardboard design is so simple yet so entertaining for your dogs!  For hours of enjoyment, fun & mental stimulation go get yours today.  You can even decorate it to be to your liking!  For a video & more details, click here

Cartoonize My Pet, cool gear to show the breed you so love!  This darling store has tons of gear you can buy with your specific breed.  It's got loads of breeds as well as loads of different colors & markings for each breed!  They also have other pets too!  Check out their store here

Dog Bone Charm Necklace by Heart on Your Wrist Jewelry is nothing short of the perfect gift for the dog lover in the family!  It is dainty & delicate but shows off your love for Fido all the same.  Check out several different styles & other designs of charms for the pet lover in the bunch!  Click here for more.

Luv & Emma's Dry Pet Towel, a must for those wet paws.  This towel is amazingly soft & does just what a towel should do -- absorb lots of liquid!  The towel holds up to 16 oz of liquid yet dries quickly.  It has a loophole on it so it can be hung on the door knob ready for use when Fido comes in from outside (now that's handy!)  It is made in the USA & is completely machine washable too.  Go get yours here.  

Tuffy's Sherman the Sheep, giant stuffed, durable dog toy.  While I don't believe any dog toy is completely safe from a dog's teeth these are the only stuffed toys I do recommend.  Most stuffed toys are obliterated in minutes & can be dangerous.  Tuffy makes some cute & durable toys.  Meet Sherman the sheep here

Molly Mutt Green Dog Bed, most amazing dog bed idea out there!  Like to be Green & environmentally conscience?  This bed is a great way to stay Green--get a DIY kit where you get a stuff sack, stuff old clothes or blankets inside, then cover it with one of their environmentally friendly duvet covers & you have a dog bed!  Choose from many amazing duvet covers & change as often as you like!  Check out more here

Padded Seatbelt Harness, a must for car safety!  This luxurious yet rugged harness is fully adjustable for chest & girth and sits low on the chest & extends only behind the front legs, thus avoiding pressure around the neck & stomach area during quick starts/stops. Designed for all sizes of dogs, you can get yours here

Under-counter dog hideaway/bed, a must for those design-conscience home owners!  This is the coolest thing on this list, and probably the most expensive!  However I couldn't leave it out!  How gorgeous is this kitchen island while still allowing for dogs to be comfortable?!  I just love this!  When I'm able to design my own house & have it built it will have many nifty dog-friendly items just like this (one day!) Get your contractor's numbers out & visit this site for more great pics.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

"So, how long do I need to use food [when training]? ...

As a "sequel" to my previous post "But he'll always do it for food..." I wanted to continue with this topic.  The first blog post was meant to explain why some dogs will only do it for food, and seemingly make it appear that "food in training doesn't work".  However, it wasn't meant to say that I do not condone the use of food or think that food should be faded fast and dogs should "just do it".  (If you misread that post please go back and re-read it in it's entirety and view all the attached videos. However hopefully this little sequel will help too!)

I find that many dog owners, as the previous post stated, don't understand this topic at all.  They think that all dogs should be taught the desired behavior and then just do it, with no reward after they "know it".  I do not agree with this. Why? Well do you go to work and after you are proficient at your job you are expected to just show up and work as proficiently?  No checks any more, just do it because you're so good at it?  I'm sure you'd soon find a new job if that were the case! I love my job. I'm doing exactly what I wanted to do since I was a kid -- work with dogs!  However, even I still have to get paid and rewarded for what I do. I will even admit that not working for someone else can be unrewarding due to the fact that there are no bonuses, no rewards for doing a good job.  I only get to reward myself. I don't hear it from anyone else.  I do get rewarded with  my great clients and the successes of the clients and their dogs.  Those are rewards and with those rewards I continue to do what I do!  

What amazes me is how dogs are put in such a different category than humans but they have the same expectations we have of humans. How does this make sense?  Our dogs should learn something and "just do it" without any reward but they should perform as well as humans do when they know what to do at their jobs.  However, after time the dog's "paycheck" should cease, according to many humans, but the human will remain getting paid as long as he's performing his job.  It's really not fair, regardless of the fact that a human and a dog are very different species. It's the "you can't have your cake and eat it too" mantra. 

I will admit that my dogs rarely get food for performing simple tasks, like sit  or down or "go to the rug" [and stay].  They know those cues well as I use them often. But that does not mean they don't get some sort of payment or reward.  A reward does not always mean food or treats.  Rewards are defined by the dog. This is where I discussed the "Life Rewards" in the other blog post.  I also always, always, always tell my dogs when they do it right -- "Go to the rug, Noah. .... Goooood boy.  That's a good boy..."  I never leave out the verbal rewards, ever.  And my dogs are now 7 years and 10 years old. I also give life rewards often, always in fact if there is no food involved or new behaviors being taught.  Remember, your dog's life reward is defined by your dog, the environment and the context.  If your dog has to pee, he's got his little paws crossed dying to be let outside, then the life reward in that situation would be -- open the door and let him out!  So you could ask him to "sit" and then say, "Good boy..." now open the door and let him out.  There was his reward. Wa-la, you're done, you have given your dog a "Life Reward" which was defined by your dog in that moment.

More examples of Life Rewards:
  • If you are playing a game with your dog and a toy is involved, ask your dog to perform a task then wait for the dog to do it and then give the toy as the reward.
  • If putting the leash on your dog and going outside is extremely rewarding to your dog then ask him to perform a task then put the leash on as a the reward.
  • If getting on the couch to be pet is a reward to your dog ... you get the idea!
The more you start to incorporate life rewards with your dog after he's reliably been taught the desired behavior, then the more your dog will perform tasks when asked, regardless of what may or may not be in your hand, i.e., if food is present!

So back to the original question -- When do I remove food from the training equation? When will my dog begin to work reliably for Life Rewards?  The answer is: once you have properly taught your dog what you want him to do.  And when I'm starting out with training I'll use food or a toy or whatever is the most rewarding to the particular dog being trained.

Your dog should know the behavior being trained and perform it on cue.  This is when you can start to incorporate Life Rewards and intermittently give food rewards.  A cue is -- A stimulus that elicits a behavior. Cues may be verbal, physical (i.e., a hand signal), or environmental (i.e., a curb may become a cue to sit if the dog is always cued to sit before crossing a road). Here is an excellent video on when to add the cue.

Also, you will need to start to see your dog performing things in all environments and be able to generalize the behavior you have asked for.  This is explained best in my first blog post under reason 4) Training Gone Wrong ... Re-read that and watch the video listed there.  Visit that blog post here.

After all of the above is done properly then you'll see your dog needing less and less food and working when asked, regardless of whether food is present or not.  However, please do keep in mind you need to always reward your dog in some way and always praise him for performing any desired behavior/task.  Always, always, always.

Stacy Greer, CPDT-KA
Sunshine Dog Training & Behavior 
servicing Dallas/Ft Worth, Texas

Monday, December 10, 2012

Do I need a trainer or a behavior expert?

A dog trainer can be anyone.  Sadly the dog training industry is not regulated and there are no governing bodies to qualify a person under a blanket title of "dog trainer".  There are no degrees or the like for a dog trainer.  Anyone can become a dog trainer.  Anyone.  And yes, there are many "schools" out there with their own type of "certification", heck I even attended one.  However, this still isn't a green light that one should immediately say, "Oh then he must be a qualified trainer..."  Sadly that may or may not hold true.  The best way to find a good trainer is by referral and observation.   

Always seek a trainer that uses modern and up-to-date training methods.  Outdated methods are still very, very widely used and those more "current" trainers out there find that dogs trained with these methods are suffering from long term problems due to lack of correct education on dog behavior and training.  Never choose a trainer that puts a "I can fix your dog in X amount of lessons" or a "guarantee" on their training. There is no such thing when it comes to dog training, and especially with behavior modification.Here is an excellent read on how to find a good trainer.
Then a question often asked by many dog owners is: Do I need a dog trainer or behavior expert? How do I know?

If your dog is exhibiting any form of aggression or "reactivity" (it may look like aggression but be more "talk" than anything), fears, phobias, anxiety or extreme shy or timidness then you should seek the help of a behavior expert that knows canine behavior and body language very well.  Most box-store trainers cannot help dogs with the above listed problems and many trainers will also attempt to help but cannot get far as they don't have the proper education or experience to do so.  

Dog training is great for all dogs, regardless of their issues.  However, just teaching a dog the basics of obedience and how to "obey" will not help behavior problems that may go beyond that.   Many dog owners get the advice of "join a class" in the hopes that this will "fix" their dog's issues.  If your dog doesn't know how to sit, or walk nicely on a leash (due to pulling) then yes, a class would be a good option. However if your dog barks incessantly at other dogs when on leash or likes to growl and snap at others or dislike people coming into your home (these are just a few of many examples) then a group class is not the answer to start your dog's behavior modification program.

B -Mod is the abbreviation professionals often use that stands for "Behavior Modification".  Some trainers use the term "Rehabilitation" or maybe even some other terms.  It's all about the same thing: working with a training and canine behavior consultant (or even an Animal Behaviorist) in order to change your dog's behavior for the better.  That's a simple way  to put it.  

What dog owners need to know is that b-mod isn't a quick fix, if done properly by a qualified and highly educated dog professional.  B-mod Programs, as I call them, are just that "programs". Which means it's not a 2-lesson deal.  A training professional doesn't just come to the home, put a leash on your dog and show you a few little tips and then tell you your dog is going to be "fixed" within X amount of time.  If a professional does do that then they are not a professional I'd recommend you work with.  

If a dog has some behavior issues and requires a B-Mod Program laid out by a qualified professional then you need to know what you have to prepare for.  Do not expect instant results. Do not expect your dog to just be taught obedience and that solves your dog's issues.  Expect a commitment.  Expect to have all household members to participate, fully.  Expect to change your dog's current environment. Expect to learn about dog body language and how to read and use it.  Expect to never put your dog in a situation that sets him up to fail again.  Expect to lay out rules for any person that comes into your home or in contact with your dog.  Expect to possibly have a full medical check that involves blood panel and a thyroid panel to rule out medical components to the behavior issues.  Expect homework and dedication.

If you have a dog with behavior issues there are many great professionals who have very successfully changed the dog's behavior with a great Behavior Modification Program, coupled with the dog owners' compliance and dedication.  However, the biggest problem is people who don't commit, who fail to follow all the trainers' instructions and/or who expect more than what is realistic.

Sadly the internet and television have made it appear that dog behavior problems can be fixed quick and easy with certain methods.  This is not true and any qualified, educated and well-versed canine professional knows this.  So, if your dog has the need for a behavior modification program then please seek the help of a qualified professional and be prepared to do some work.  Do not be discouraged, these programs work and they work well, but they are not quick fixes.  All you need is a great canine professional and readiness to really do what it takes to change your dog's behavior, regardless of what that may be.

Understand what a Behaviorist is, as well. Many dog trainers call themselves "behaviorists" when in fact they are not.  That doesn't mean they don't understand behavior, and they could very well be absolutely amazing but they are misrepresenting what a true "Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist" is.  Read more here to know how to find a behaviorist, should you want a "real" certified animal behaviorist.
Note: You do not have to hire a genuine "Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist" to accomplish goals with behavior problems.  I simply wanted to have people understand what a behaviorist actually is and isn't.  There are many, many qualified trainers and behavior consultants (like myself!) that are not certified but are quite versed in dog behavior, training and behavior modification.

Here are a couple of organizations that I recommend to use to find a qualified trainer/behavior consultant:
Pet Professional Guild
Association of Professional Dog Trainers (APDT)
Truly Dog Friendly
Karen Pryor Academy

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Monday, November 12, 2012

"But he'll always do it for food ..."

One huge question I often get is -- "How do I get him to do it without food, he'll always do it for food?!"   There are a few reasons why dogs will only work when food is around, there are also myths about why some trainers will not use food because they  believe that reliability won't come without the use of food. The truth is that there are people winning national titles for different sports and obedience, and they started with food or rewards of some kind.  In a competition you cannot use anything but your skills and the dog's ability to carry out what you have taught him, which proves that any dog can be trained reliably with food ... when done properly.  This means that they learn the behaviors and understand them, and will perform them regardless of the presence of food.

Please note: This isn't a black and white, "these are the only reasons dogs will only work when food is around" list.  There can be many other reasons why dogs will seemingly only work for food.  I've just listed some of the most prominent reasons, in my opinion. 

Let's discuss reasons why dogs will work for food but will not if food is not present.

1) Luring without properly fading the lure.
2) Bribing.
3) It's the only reward ever presented.
4) Training wasn't carried out properly.

1) OVER-LURING.  I see this often because luring when training works.  I use luring myself.  However, you have to know when to fade the lure and how to do it properly. It's simple, really, it just has to be done pretty quickly and the behavior you are wanting to achieve needs to be put on stimulus control.  In simple terms, "stimulus control" means that the dog knows the behavior and will reliably perform it on cue.  So if you ask your dog to lie down he'll do so, within a second or two, and won't do another behavior instead.  Some dogs will sit when asked to lie down or will lie down when asked to sit. This means the dog doesn't really know the cue and it is not under stimulus control.  This happens when the verbal and/or hand signal is added to soon or is "taught" by repeating the cue over and over and over until the dog does it.  It can also happen if the dog is punished (a leash jerk, pushed into place or maybe even spoken to sternly or harshly) for not performing the cue before the dog reliably understands what is being asked of him.

We often lure to get simple behaviors as they are performed quickly and the dog can "get it" a bit faster with luring.  A good example is taking a treat and putting it slightly in front of the dog's nose then slowly bringing it down in front of him, down to the floor, as soon as the rump and elbows hit the floor we praise and give the treat/lure to the dog.  This is one way to lure a dog into a "lie down"  position.  However, the problem is that many people don't then put the "down" on cue at the appropriate time and get it under stimulus control; then the dog needs to be lured down, usually by the person going all they way to the floor and touching the floor in order to lie down.  No one wants to have to always touch the floor to get their dog to lie down, at least I don't!

Here is an excellent couple of videos on how to fade a lure when training. First from the wonderful Emily Larlham.  Lots of great videos of hers found here.

And another, from great trainer Pamela Marxsen, more of her videos here.

(2) BRIBING. I know that people who bribe their dogs don't mean to do this but this can cause any dog to only do things for food.  After all, it's bribery and without the bribe the behavior will stop.   Probably the best example is when a dog won't come to you and someone runs to get the treat bag (or other object that the dog will respond to, dangling hot dog, whatever...) and dangles it while asking the dog to do something.  "Fido! I've got a treeeeeeattttt!!!  Want a treat?!!!"  All while shaking the bag, rustling it around.  The dog usually comes running.  I actually don't mind this if you are totally desperate and this could save your dog's life. Example: Your dog doesn't have a reliable recall and has darted onto your busy street and you need the dog to come in immediately for safety reasons.  If the only way your dog will come to you at this point (eh hem, after this train, train, train!) then by all means bribe the dog!! But after this get on some training, now!

However any other time my initial reaction would be to tell you that you need to train your dog to a higher level of reliability, and learn to do it properly.  If you have to bribe your dog to do something your dog simply has not learned the behavior reliably, plain and simple.  Any dog that is reliably trained doesn't need bribing.

(3) REQUESTING THINGS ONLY WHEN YOU DO HAVE FOOD.  This is somewhat along the lines of bribing, really.  But it could be that you aren't necessarily using bribery to get your dog to do something. It could simply be that you only ask your dog to, for example, sit when he's getting fed.  So your dog will reliably sit for his dinner but won't necessarily do it at any other time.  So you will begin to think that your dog will only sit because dinner is present.  The truth is that your dog hasn't been taught to do sit (or any other behavior perhaps) in other situations.  You haven't offered up "Life Rewards" so that your dog  begins to offer behaviors for other things aside from when food is present.
Life Rewards are a critical part of weaning a dog off of food.  Your dog should always be praised and rewarded.  However, a reward does  not always have to be food.  Using these types of "rewards" are great for impulse control as well.  For example, your dog loves to play ball.  Then he must sit in order for you to toss the ball for him.  He cannot jump up and grab the ball from your hand or plow you over in order to get the ball.  If you have a ball (or any toy for that matter) you should ask your dog to sit (given that your dog does know this cue) and wait for it.  As soon as his rump hits the ground--"Good  boy!" and toss that ball!  He'll love it!

So what are Life Rewards?  It is anything that your dog sees as rewarding.  This will depend on the dog but they can be things such as: going for a walk, opening the door to go out, playing, tug, attention/petting ...  These must be rewarding to your dog.  Just because you enjoy petting your dog does not mean your dog finds it so rewarding that he will perform several cues just to get a rub behind the ears.  However, some dogs will live for a rub behind the ears!  So, just find what is rewarding for your dog, and sometimes it depends on the exact moment.  If your dog really wants to go outside to chase a squirrel up a tree he would probably sit  upon request in order for you to reward him by letting him go outside.  If the squirrel wasn't there he may not be as motivated by going outside.  Get it?

Here is a great read on Life Rewards and training without food, click here.

(4) TRAINING GONE WRONG. And a big part of  a dog not working for you without a bribe or obvious "reason", eh hem, food  ... is that you simply haven't trained your dog reliably enough.  Just because you can lure your dog five times over the head with a treat and he sits doesn't mean that now he actually knows the "sit" cue. 

For dogs to understand and be reliable with a cue (any cue at all) you have to practice it many times in one location, then move to another, then another.  Be sure to put it on stimulus control and have it this way in many different locations and environments.

Dogs are often so poor at generalizing that you have to realize that just because he knows "sit" in the bathroom doesn't mean he'll do it in the living room!  And if he only does it in the bathroom but not the living room then definitely do not expect him to do it on the front porch with added and new distractions!  You must train in different non-distracting environments and then add new environments with a few distractions, gradually increasing the degree/amount of distractions.  And then move to different places outside and inside and all over town!  Always use a high value reward when changing the environment and adding distractions until the behavior is on stimulus control and is reliable in that environment.  

Here is a great video on raising criteria by Pamela Marxsen:

IN CONCLUSION there are many reasons why a dog will seemingly "only work for food" when the simplest reason is that the training has not been done properly, consistently and/or reliably.   Training a dog the right way doesn't just happen in the blink of an eye. Our canine partners are smart critters but they do need repetition, practice, praise and consistency in order to do what we want when we ask and be reliable with it.  There are no magic answers, tools or quick fixes.  You just have to train the right way and keep on truckin'!  And here is a great read on how to phase out food altogether during training, click here.

To read Part II of this post, "So, how long do I need to use food [when training]?" click here.

Stacy Greer, CPDT-KA
Sunshine Dog Training & Behavior 
servicing Dallas/Ft Worth, Texas

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Changes are a-foot ...

Stacy's dogs: Noah, Jake, Trevor & Amos
(Sadly Jake & Amos passed away.)
I think many of you are already aware, but if you aren't ... I'm Stacy Greer, owner and head trainer/behavior therapist at Adventures in Canine Training, Inc. based in the Dallas/Ft Worth Texas area. I provide dog training and behavior services to dog owners locally.  From potty training issues to aggression, I cover a wide variety of issues, depending on what the dog owner needs and/or wants.

Ok. Sorry for those of you who are regular readers and you know this info but wanted to welcome new readers!  I currently have 2 dogs of my own and a 4 year old daughter.  The newest news is that I'm pregnant with twins, two girls, and we are expecting them to arrive in March 2013.  Sadly this pregnancy has been a bit more difficult than the one with my daughter so I'll be taking leave starting December 1st, which is really in just a few weeks!

I'm referring all clients to some great local trainers that I know so if you need help please contact me so that I can refer to you a qualified and wonderful trainer that can help you!  I'm unsure when I'll return but hopefully by May 1, 2013.

Please feel free to stay updated on the blog as I plan to post more tips, training, etc. as I'm on leave.  You can subscribe by putting your email in the box to the right where it says, "Get emailed when I post new stuff!".  You'll need to be sure to confirm your email address after you enter it. So check your email's inbox and spam box (just in case) for a confirmation email or it won't work.  Thanks and feel free to scroll thru the archives and read all the past articles and posts I've written!

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Friday, June 29, 2012

Pick your poison carefully.

My grandfather always said there are a few things you never talk about in polite company: politics, money and religion.  I never did understand that until later in life, but I always followed that advice as did my father.  And my father was into politics on a local level in my home town, even ran for mayor when I was in college.  My friends would ask me what my dad thought about XYZ and I'd say, "I don't know, he never talks about politics around us!"  And now I know why.  Rarely can you change the mind of a person on the above topics, rarely.  We get our minds set on our views, especially those sensitive topics, and rarely will we change them.  
... So what does this have to do with dogs?  Well, while many of us can't understand how in the world one can compare human children to dogs,  many people can.  There are many people who view their dogs as their children, some have children and some do not.  But more and more in today's society the family dog (or dogs) are truly a member of the family in many, many ways.  This means that dog owners are very often willing to go to any length for their dogs--buy the best food, the best dog beds, find the best pet sitter or boarding facility, maybe even given them their own "room" in a part of the house ... and provide the best training from the best trainer.

Many people will see a possible problem crop up with their dog and the first resource is Google.  We all know this applies to not just dog training these days but even medical problems and the like. If we, as a society today, want an answer we rely on the almighty internet for answers.  The problem is that you'll find so many opposing views, so much conflicting advice, that it's downright confusing to know who is correct and what is actually "the right way" to do things. 

As a caring and responsible dog owner we only want the best and most successful trainer (in terms of solving behavior problems/getting the job done correctly).  So we search, ask around, even read reviews.  There are many dog trainers out there today.  Actually I think the number of professional trainers has increased dramatically since dog training was televised showing dogs with major behavior problems and what looked like quick solutions for them.  More people jumped out of their chair and started applying what they saw, would see some success (punishment does suppress behavior so that it appears to have immediate results¹) and suddenly they were applying there new "skills" to friends, neighbors and anyone who asked.  And BAM! a new "trainer" was born! 
... And herein lies the problem. The average dog owner hasn't a clue who is "right".  You see the use of shock collars in training on one end and treats/food/toys on the other end.  Talk to the two different trainers who us those two incredibly different tools and philosophies and it will leave your head in a tailspin.  How is one to know who is right?  Isn't it just a known fact that dogs are social beings, live in a hierarchy systems like wolves and need an "Alpha" leader who is in charge? Or, can't they both be right? ...

Just like everything in this world, things evolve--science, technology, psychology, medicine --  However it seems that while society will quickly and willingly adapt to medicinal changes and technology changes they cannot seem to grasp the evolution of dog behavior and training.  People are quick to jump to the "I was spanked and I turned out just fine" line or the "I grew up with dogs and we shoved their nose in their pee and they learned not to do it again" line.  So when we present the no-punishment philosophy to dog training and child-rearing we are very often met with resistance.  And if you think it over it doesn't jive with anything else we do choose to accept the evolution of -- Car seats were not used to protect children in cars until 1962.  Today would you argue with someone that "well when I was a baby I didn't have one and I'm here to tell the story..."  Now days you will happily accept the fact that car seats save lives and are necessary.  Why? Because science proves it.

We, as a society, are so hypocritical when it comes to so many subjects, and in my humble opinion training dogs and understanding their behavior is one of them.  What I find to be the most disheartening are those people who will not budge even when science has dis-proven many of the out-dated methods and philosophies of dog training and behavior.  Because we are so overcome with technology (which we sure as heck haven't argued its evolution!) that we rely on the internet and TV as our educational tools.  By George if a dog trainer on TV says it and shows us, he must be the absolute God of dog trainers! However, would you watch Grey's Anatomy or House and then go and try to diagnose people with medical problems?   

Although more and more dog owners are viewing their dogs as something other than just a figure in the yard, or just an animal, so many are still following the same training and behavior advice that was introduced in the 60s and 70s -- and defending it like their life depended on it!  They argue until they are blue in face that dogs are like wolves, must have an Alpha, yadda, yadda.  However science has disproven this theory, yet many people are very quick to defend studies done 40+ years ago. These studies all revolve around dominance theory which has been hugely misunderstood and misused.  These studies have since been noted as flawed, you can read specifics about the new-found science here.

And I digress ... I started writing this blog post due to a very disturbing client consultation I recently had.  I contemplated doing it because, much like politics, trying to preach new dog training methods and philosophies can be just like trying to change a Democrat into a Republican.  People are resistant to changing their views, even if science can prove otherwise.  We as humans like to hold onto our beliefs.

However, after this last consultation I was prompted to write this anyway.  I want to get the word out about the reality of dog behavior using modern-day science and proven theories.  I also wanted to write this to show what can and does happen when you listen to out-dated science and follow these now-proven to often be dangerous methods and philosophies ...

I've met many dog owners over the years and many who have been given bad advice, stupid advice and some just downright incorrect advice but this client's situation stuck out like a sore thumb.  I won't go into the reasoning for me being called out, what I will say is that this family is a great family.  They have done everything for their dogs, even gone above and beyond what many dog owners would do. However after a few behavior issues cropped up they decided they needed a professional and the wife sought out a trainer that she thought was excellent at helping dogs with behavior problems.  She sent her dogs to board with this trainer for a week and when they returned she said that her dogs seemed "very subdued".  And to be honest this is what I saw too.  Not happy, not sad, just there.  Her dogs seemed to be non-emotional about much of anything.  While to some people this would appear to be just some well-behaved dogs, I saw something totally different.  Don't get me wrong, I've seen dogs that are calm, relaxed and well-mannered.  But this was different and to me very obvious that these dogs are literally "broken". I saw drained and emotionless beings.  The were conflicted at even the simple task of being asked to lie down.  The dog would pause, look down and do nothing, staring blankly at the ground, blinking it's eyes slightly.  Non-compliance? Willful-ness? No, conflict.--Will I be punished for not doing this?  Will this be good?  Should I just do nothing?  Conflicted, conflicted, conflicted.

Why?  This family was taught that if their dogs didn't do as asked, even when asked to perform a simple sit, they were to close their fist and punch their dog in the head.  Yes, go back and re-read that.  I didn't mis-type--Punch the dogs with a closed fist in the head.  I am not sure how I made it through after hearing some of the things these poor, innocent people were told to do in the name of dog training.  The wife knew from the beginning that she didn't want to do these things but said, "... but I thought it was what I had to do... our trainer made it so convincing..."  She still employs those techniques to this day because this trainer was like a Jim Jones and he had her drink the Kool-Aid.  

I gave her a long talk on why this was wrong, and said to her very bluntly, "That trainer taught you how to abuse your dogs ... from here on out you will never hit your dogs again ..."  And the woman sighed the biggest sigh of relief, literally exhaling in her chair and relaxing.  It was one of the saddest things I've ever had to be part of and while you can read this I cannot truly describe what this scenario was like.  This woman was like a prisoner set free.  That's the only way I can describe it.

The sigh of relief she had during our consultation was something that drives me to love my job and be saddened by the so-called trainers out there that poison my field. I had her dog working for me and for the first time the dog actually happily wagged it's tail to keep working and her whole demeanor changed!  The woman acted like a kid at Christmas.  And when I told her she wasn't going to use physical punishment on her dogs ever again she gleefully said to her husband, "Honey did you hear that?!  We don't have to hit the dogs anymore!"  

No one should have to succumb to that.  If you ever feel uneasy about something with your dog, turn and walk away.  There is a reason why we call it "a gut feeling".  And while I do have to ask myself how a person can allow someone to talk them into punching their dogs with a closed fist in the head, I have to also say that I don't know what kind of desperation she was going through when this happened.  Desperation and stress will lead many people to sign a deal with the devil if certain  promises are made.  I do not blame this family and I'm glad to be the voice of reason for them and their dogs!

If you don't feel right about something don't do it.  More importantly, understand why many trainers are doing what they are doing.  Are they using modern science-based methods or out-dated methods?  Are they teaching you that interacting with, touching and rewarding your dog is a good thing?  Is your trainer interested in your dog's well-being or more interested in you "dominating" your dog to supposedly gain "control"?  If someone ever told you to punch your child in the head when they mis-behaved you'd probably gasp and run, not walk, away from that person.  Why is it ok to do to a dog?  While how you train or treat your dog is ultimately your choice, I do want to encourage all dog owners to educate themselves on modern training methods based on recent studies and modern science and choose your dog trainer wisely. And always, no matter what, advocate for your dog. 

It's amazing what dog owners expect of their dogs.  I see higher expectations of dogs than I do of kids or spouses/partners.  My theory is that you should enjoy your dogs and your dogs should enjoy you. Relax.  Have fun. Pet your dogs. Love your dogs. And above all, tell them when they do something right!

Sited Resources:

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Amos: Amazing Grace ...

Well, most of you readers know that I lost my darling, sweet angel, Jake just this past New Year's Eve.  What a heartbreaker that was.  But it's taken me this long to write a post about the fact that I lost the love of my life, my Great Dane, "Amos".  We lost him on April 21st, just a little over a month ago.

Amos was an old man, 11 years, which is pretty ripe for a Dane.  He was the dog I had since I started my professional dog training career.  I got him at 8 weeks of age from a breeder outside of Austin Texas.  I had picked out the breeder long before she had puppies so I knew he was the one I wanted as I wanted a harlequin Great Dane.  He was the only harlequin in his litter born on April 3, 2001.

I had just moved to the Dallas area and lived with my sister in Carrollton around the corner from the Lewisville Petsmart where I worked.   The other trainer and I had a tiny little office there and Amos pretty much grew up in the Petsmart, going to work with me every day.  He was, of course, a huge hit being 1) a harelquin and 2) a Great Dane.    He became my demo dog and socialized with all puppies, dogs and people that came in the store.  He was the most laid back, mild mannered, tolerant dog.  At Christmas time he'd wear those doggie deer antlers and just walk around the store with them on like a trooper.

I used to attend lots of dog events and Amos would be my marketing tool.  He'd draw crowds and get tons of attention and the normal "Great Dane Owner Questions".  My husband (who was my boyfriend at the time) hated taking him places because we had to answer so many questions!  -- "Whoa! Does he have a saddle?!"  "How much does he eat?!"  "Do you have a huge yard?!"  "He's as big as a horse!"  "How much does he weigh?!"  "How tall is he if he stands on his hind legs?!"

I recall him being just about the easiest puppy I've ever met.  He never chewed anything he shouldn't, he was potty trained in about 2 weeks and he was quiet and slept all the time!  As he got older he became quite fond of the couch and sleeping became his all time favorite.  Truly the easiest dog to care for aside from poop scooping and large amounts of food to feed!

He was what many trainers refer to as their "Heart Dog" which is basically the dog that holds the most special place in their heart for one reason or another.  I love all of my dogs incredibly dearly but Amos was truly my heart dog.  He was a huge Mama's boy and loved me more than anyone else in the house.  He would be waiting by the front door to greet me every time I came home.  If my husband came in the house first he'd peek around him to be sure I was following behind him, when he saw me he'd come to me and rub his head against me as if to be relieved I was there.  He was a big ole baby.

When Amos was 19 months old I decided I wanted another dog and this time I wanted a small dog.  I wanted a challenging dog so I chose a Jack Russell Terrier--"Trevor".  Amos and Trevor are the only dogs to date I've paid for from a breeder.  They were instantly bonded and it was so cute.  Amos literally seemed to "look out for" Trevor in all situations.  And Trevor always loved Amos more than any of my other dogs. I have scads of photos of these two together, snuggled up.  A real Mutt and Jeff!

Amos endured many things with  me: several roommates, many moves, many dog classes and tons of dogs that came in and out of my house.  He was with me back in my single days and he attended several parties and a couple of outdoor adventures to lakes and rivers with friends.  Amos was truly the rock of my bunch and he was the glue that tied them all together.

I dreaded the day I would lose him starting a few years ago when I knew he was getting up in his years.  I always wondered how I'd make it without him, what would I do?  How could I continue as he was my foundation?  And it's been  hard.  It's been harder than anything else I've had to do in my life to date.  I know bigger things will come but right now this is it.  I still come home waiting to see that giant head thru the glass in my front door, but it's not there.  I still sleep sideways in bed thinking there is a large beast taking up the bottom 3/4 of it.

Losing two of my very, very best dogs in a span of 4 months has been one of the hardest things for me especially with what I do for a living.  My dogs are my heart and soul, each one for different reasons.  Amos was the best pillow, huge, non-moving and he absorbed lots of tears for me over the years.  He was truly a graceful creature who gave me a soft place to fall...  I love that boy and I miss him terribly ...

Here is the tribute video I did for him. (Here is the link if you cannot view below:

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

A Room with a View...

"My dog loves to look out of the window all day..."  This is something I've heard many, many times over the years and it makes me kind of cringe.  One of the most horrible inventions was the bubble that goes on the outside of the fence, called a Pet Peek.  This lovely little invention has it's own website and a very nice website at that, the name is even trademarked.

So what's the big deal?  Can't a dog get a view?  The deal is this--most dogs don't enjoy looking out a door or window or peep hole, humans do.  We like to look out and see a view.  We like to have a window to let light in, or a glass door to our home's entrance. For those who have a very attractive view (beach? ocean? beautiful trees? lake?) it's even that much more lovely for us. Humans.  For dogs this is a whole different ball of wax, if you will.

Dogs do this because they get a pay-off from it in an entirely different manner than we do. It is fairly uncommon for a dog to calmly look out of a window/door without a lot of arousal (and it can also attribute to some major behavior problems too!) when there is any sort of moving stimuli outside.  This could be anything: bikes, cars, dogs, squirrels, cats, people, strollers, skateboards, scooters, and the dreaded mailman.

I have a client currently whose little doggie has several issues and after I had been there for a while I noticed the blinds at the bottom of her door were torn up (she has a little terrier mix so this was where the dog could reach the blinds).  I said, "Does he look out that door a lot?"  She says, "Oh yes. All the time.  He really likes looking out there!"  I said, "No he doesn't.  Look at your blinds..."  Not to mention the dog's main issues are barking at other people and dogs when on a walk.  However, the dog's issues were exaggerated even more in the house as he still had the paranoia of people and dogs passing by and he had to watch to chase them off.  Yes, dog barks, people leave (in the dog's mind anyway) and the dog feels he just did his job chasing them off.  She calls a week later, "Oh my gosh the difference in his behavior, especially indoors, since I blocked his view to the outside has been remarkable!"
My dogs looking outside my front door.
Do they look calm & relaxed?

Allowing dogs to look outside all the time is usually incredibly stressful and frustrating to a dog.  It's not calming, it's not enjoyable.  They are highly frustrated that they cannot get to the stimuli that they so desperately stare at all day long.  For some dogs the human purposely puts them in this situation by placing their crate in front of a window or leaving the blinds up so they can stare outside all day long.

All of this also applies to dogs outside who can see out of a fence too (hence the hatred for the Pet Peek window), which is probably even worse than indoors as the sounds around them will start to become triggers and build the frustration even higher. Think dogs next door barking too, dogs down the street chiming in, cars, people yelling for them to shut up!.... It's enough to make you want to scream, or bark, or become aggressive. Pick your poison.

If you have a dog that is purposely placed in a situation where he can watch or look outside while you are away ask yourself this to determine if you think this is a good idea:
  • Does your dog relax when you are home & not go to the window/door to look outside?
  • Does your dog look out the window but not get stimulated (whining, barking, jumping, etc.)?
  • When out on a walk is your dog calm when others (person, bike, animal, etc.) pass you by?
  • Does your dog greet people who come into your home in an acceptable manner?

If you answered "Yes" to the above questions then your dog is probably just fine doing what he does.  But if you answered "No" to even one of those then your dog shouldn't be allowed to look out of a window/door/fence to just watch the world go by.  No, it's not cruel.  It's setting your dog up to be relaxed and adjusted to living peacefully in your home and the real world.  It also sets your dog up to learn how to deal with outside stimuli.  Your dog will probably thank you for it.  Right now your dog thinks--Gee I get to watch Jane Doe walk Fido down the street again today all while I'm on the other side of this stupid door! Arrrrgh.  Drives me mad. Also that's why I pee on mom's rug and chew on the baseboards! When will she learn?!!

Attractive way to block window view.
Don't set your dog up to fail. Don't ever set your dog up to fail if you want to be successful at anything with your dog.  If your dog already has barking issues, or worse issues like reactivity (indoors or out) or aggression, then block all outside viewing.  It may require baby gates somewhere or ugly partitions somewhere but if you want to change your dog's mental state and alter his behavior for the better then start there.  This won't fix a behavior issue, if you have one, but it will be a place to start. (Great website for attractive window coverings, click here.)

Always set your dog up to succeed. Look at the entire picture and ask where you can alter something in order to set your dog up to succeed.  Add training or behavior modification to the mix, with a trained professional, and you'll be on your way!

Who says a room with a view is always lovely?  However, if you live in the Maldives you need not block the view for any living being... just live with the barking!

In the Dallas/Ft Worth area? Contact me

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Mis-Adventures of a Treat Bag.

I feel sorry for treat bags.  They are often discriminated against.  Being blamed for being needy, clingy and dependent.  So many dog owners don't want that.  They want a treat bag that can learn how to be independent, be used properly at first and then go on it's way.  Grow wings.  Move out and move on.

The treat bag should be fully respected, for life.  It's not a child that will learn, grow and move out of the house.  It is more like a Mother -- there in the beginning when you need it most, helping you learn, grow and then gradually just being there only in times of need but still always there, always.

Maybe all dog owners should have a "Treat-Bagger's Creed" --

This is my treat bag. There are many like it, but this one is mine.

My treat bag is my best friend. It is my life. I must master it as I must master my life.
My treat bag, without me, is useless. Without my treat bag, I am useless. I must use my treat bag true. I must use it better than my dog who is trying to outwit me. I must outwit him before he outwits me. I will...

My treat bag and myself know that what counts in this dog training journey is not the treats we administer, the noise of our blabbering, or the treats we use. We know that it is the wits that count. We will use our wits...

My treat bag is human, even as I, because it is my life. Thus, I will learn it as a brother. I will learn its weaknesses, its strength, its parts, its accessories, its sights and its bag. I will keep my treat bag clean and ready, even as I am clean and ready. We will become part of each other. We will...

Before God, I swear this creed. My treat bag and myself are the defenders of my dog. We are the masters of our training. We are the saviors of my life.

So be it, until victory is Mine and there is no dog unjustly trained, but peace and success in all dog training!
Why? Because we have huge expectations of our dogs.  Often impractical and illogical ones.  There are many ways to train a dog, many of which work but you will only find me using what makes the dog continually like me, never work from intimidation, fear of the consequence and what is practical.  How can I jerk on my dog's leash for dragging me down the sidewalk when he's never been taught what to do on a leash?  How can I tell a dog to "come!" when  he darts out the door, then punish him once I catch him, when I've never trained him to learn to come when called?

When using treat bags and food the most common question I get -- "When can I get rid of the treats?"  The answer is "soon and never."  If having your dog lavished with 15 pieces of hot dog every time he comes to isn't something you are willing to do then we best move onto something else.  Why is it so bad to have to use food?  Why do we, as dog owners, feel the need to have a dog that performs robotically, with no motivation, just so that it looks great to have a dog respond to us in military fashion?  

I recall an evaluation I did with a gentleman and his two Pit bulls.  I will admit this man acted like he was the owner of a country and something owed to him.  Not really a personality I deal with a lot (thank the good Lord).  However he was determined to show me how "well trained" his dogs were.  We met in a neutral local park for an evaluation.  I told him to go get his dogs out of the car.  He goes, lets them out, off-leash (not what I asked for nor recommend) and very gruffly orders them around until he got to the picnic table I was sitting at.  I allowed this to see his response and reactions to his dogs.  The dogs were incredibly "obedient".  They did just as he asked.  Ears sucked back to their heads.  Tail between their legs.  When called to come they sat in front of him, eyes squinting.  He said, "So what do you think?"  Yikes, wrong question to ask me!  I told him "So your dogs do what you say because they fear the hell out of you.  Congratulations."  He was flabber-gasted.  Went on a rant about how everyone he's ever met told him how well-trained his dogs were.  I agreed.  Yes. Your dogs are well-trained.  But at what expense?  Needless to say I never heard from him again but did hear through the grapevine that one of the dogs bit him later.  No idea the surrounding events for that but I could have told you that would happen, just a matter of time.  Because teaching with intimidation can get results but it can also lead to disaster.

If you aren't willing to love your treat bag, use food when necessary, until it's not necessary, then you should probably drink 'the other guy's' Kool-aid.  Your training will probably work but it won't get the long-term results you need or want, nor what your dog wants.
Noah,  my Aussie mix, doing a reliable recall in a park.

If you are going to train with me be prepared to have homework.  Be prepared to use food.  Be prepared to work up to desired results, nothing happens in half an hour regardless of what is on television. But if you do your homework, work hard, be consistent, use your tools as they are intended to be used (yes you can misuse treats or anything for that matter) you will get results.  And not because you "bribed" your dog.  You won't have to "bribe" your dog to do what it's asked if you do the training properly, as directed.  Just look at Emily Larlham's videos (she has a lot!) on YouTube.  She has 3 dogs completely clicker trained that are completely reliable off-leash and at a distance with no bribery involved.  She just trained them properly with love and confidence, and food! (Her videos here.)

Respect your treat bag.  Don't become angry with it.  Don't get rid of it too quickly, or ever for that matter.  Take responsibility for your dog and his training.  Understand that it's a process and that with the correct training and guidance (with a great trainer) you can accomplish many, or any, goals that you have!

Some Treat-Bagger Rules:
  • Don't give a reward unless your dog is looking at you, not the bag! I love this bag.
  • Wear it everywhere, so your dog doesn't go into "OMG! We are going to train!"-mode.
  • Use small, cut up, easy to digest treats such as Natural Balance Food Roll (cut up) or Freeze-Dried Liver (cut up).
  • Think about using a clicker if you aren't or haven't before.  Yes, I was a non-clicker trainer for a long time but I've found it to be the most useful and quick tool for training than anything I've ever done! I regret not using it sooner!  Try out for a wealth of information!
Contact me for help with any dog situation!  We can, together, get things where you want them!

Friday, January 6, 2012

You're a winner!

You're a winner!  -- Words that will always sound good to us, right?  Well let's make everyone a winner.  To celebrate National Train Your Dog month (January, in case you didn't catch that) we are going to offer up some fun stuff (that means prizes and cool stuff!) to get you off the couch and training your dogs!

Please check out for some excellent resources, free webinars by top trainers in the country and more!  National Train Your Dog month is brought to you by the Association of Pet Dog Trainers (APDT).

Here is the gist of it, but please be sure to read the specific details at the bottom of this post.

You will need to video each phase of this little shindig.  We want to see the "how" of this, but more importantly this will enable you to see how you are doing or what you need to improve.  Trust me, after videoing any of my training and then watching it I often (like really often!) think, Really? Did I just do that?  Am I that bad in front of my clients? Eeesh!  So, don't feel bad.  We are human, all of us but this will be a learning experience for us all as well as a way to get you training your dog!

What do you want to accomplish with your dog?  Set a goal for the month of January.  Loose leash walking?  Coming when called?  Sit in all environments? (See the Sit Challenge here)  Wave?  Roll-over?  --Whatever you want to make your goal make it your goal.  But try to make it one goal for the sake of this particular contest.

Now get your training gear, thinking caps and yummy treats and start training! 

1)  Set your goal and then email it to Stacy with the following details.  
 - Your full name
 - Your dog's name
 - Dog's breed/mix
 - Dog's age
 - Goal & explanation (if you desire) & why you chose this goal in particular
2) Video your training from the beginning to the end.
3) Send the video(s) to Stacy by Monday, January 30, 2102 at 12:00am CST.
4) Three winners will be chosen for 1st, 2nd and 3rd place.  Prizes will be given to all winners which will be announced on Wednesday, February 1, 2012 by 12:00pm CST.  Winners will be notified via email and will be announced on our Facebook page as well.  Prizes will be a surprise but will be a generous prize made up of dog-related items and services.

You cannot use any forceful type of training to accomplish your goals.  We will not allow anyone to participate using choke chains, prong/pinch collars, shock/electric collars, leash jerks or harsh physical means to manipulate your dog.  We encourage the use of clickers and lots of rewards!  And please don't forget to tell your dog when she's right, lots of praise, lots of it!

You must complete an entire video series showing your dog's progress from start to finish.  You may take as much video as you like or as little as long as it includes the before (show that your goal behavior is not reliable with the dog), in-progress (practicing/training to reach the goal) and after (goal is accomplished or very close to being accomplished).  You do not have to have your goal 110%.  If you can show that you have trained the dog toward your goal and there is progress being made, that is perfect too!  It will be really great to see any challenges you encounter and how you were able to overcome them in order to reach your end goal.  Please use language that is appropriate for G-rated audiences in your videos!

All video should be submitted to Stacy via email ( and you must give permission for the video to be used online via Facebook, Twitter and/or this blog!  If you will not allow the video to be seen/published online you will not be able to take part.

brought to you from Stacy Greer of Adventures in Canine Training, Inc.