Thursday, October 5, 2017

Training is mostly silent . . .

Do you ever talk to your dogs?  I know I do. I talk to them often . . . I tell them they are cute and ask them where my keys are, I know they know. They saw me put those keys somewhere!  However, when I'm training my dogs to do something I don't say much.  I wait for the offered (wanted) behavior and I then give feedback.

I've noticed lately that dog owners talk too much to their dogs.  Sometimes even when not training when they are speaking to their dog I notice the dog is becoming either annoyed, agitated or shut down due to all the babble.  Sometimes we just need to stop talking!

When training feedback is given in overabundance because we are humans with voices.  Our first response when a dog doesn't "get it" is to say it again or give a lot of verbal feedback.  Most of the time, if not all of the time, this impacts the training process in a negative way.  The dog usually becomes confused or non-compliant.  When this happens the labels and blame-game starts flying around  "My dog is so stubborn!" "Oh, he knows what to do, he just won't do it!" "She's doing this on purpose!" "He doesn't listen to me ..."

This is where training gets super muddy. This is also why so many people fall back on punishments when the dog isn't "getting it" and seemingly "not listening" or "being stubborn".  The reality is that we are giving too much feedback at the wrong time.  We are causing the dog's confusion and lack of understanding ... which is then mislabeled as "stubborn" or "non-compliant".

So, when you are training your dog follow these rules in your head, I call it WAGS.

1. Wait for processing
2. Allow for concepts to form
3. Give feedback when a tiny behavior in the right direction occurs
4. Start making progress in your desired outcome

Before training ask yourself these things:
1. Does your dog know what you want him to do?
2. Have you taught your dog the behavior that goes with the cue (sit = butt on the floor)
3. Have you rewarded that behavior so that it's repeated?
4. Have you added a verbal cue to a behavior at the appropriate time so that dog understands the connection? (Remember: Dogs don't know English, we have to put behaviors first, then words to those behaviors!)

When you say too many words to your dog it's usually because you are trying to get the dog to understand something.  For example, I so very often see people request that their dog "sit".  The dog may or may not really and truly understand this cue to mean put your butt on the ground until told to do something else.  So the dog will often stand there for a second and when they don't comply immediately the dog owner then states it again, "SIT!", usually with a tad more gusto. 

This isn't actually teaching the dog anything and it's diluting the sit cue.  Saying it over and over doesn't make the dog understand it better.  Often the dog may sit after the 2nd or 3rd request.  This doesn't mean they were "stubborn" the first time you asked it means they were confused and unsure what you meant.  They did it the 2nd time maybe because they just decided to sit, or they offered something that has worked for them in the past or they've been rewarded for sitting on the 2nd request and so they assume the cue is "sit, SIT!"

So, when training something that is new to your dog try to remember to only focus on the behavior.  The behavior has to be reliable before you can put a verbal cue to that behavior so that the dog makes the association with the behavior and the cue.  All the feedback in between can be muddying the whole process since our dogs don't understand verbal language as we do.

If I'm quiet then how does my dog know what I want?!
Great question! I knew you were wondering ... Well,  you reward the behavior(s) your dog offers that lead up to the behavior you desire.  This is actually a technique called "shaping".  It's quite effective in getting reliable behaviors without luring or physical prompting. I do lure some behaviors, however, I don't ever physically prompt a behavior (this would be like pushing a dog's rump down physically to make it sit).

So what does that look like?  Let's say you're teaching your dog to lie down on cue. She's never learned this.  She does know "sit" but "down" is a bit different.  So you could shape it by marking each little behavior that is in the direction leading up to a "down".  This might be the dog looking down to the ground. If you are using a clicker, then you click the second the dog looks down and toss the treat. You say nothing. Zip. Just click and treat.  Then you might do that about 4-5 times. Then you will say -- to yourself internally -- hmmm, I'm not going to click you for looking down now I want you to do something else that is leading to you lying down.  So you might sit there for some time because you're saying nothing. You are simply waiting for your dog to offer a behavior. It might be a paw stretched out some or shoulder blades going down.  Anything.  You're still saying nothing. You are only clicking and treating as each behavior you like occurs.

Now, if you're not savvy with a clicker or shaping you might be thinking right now -- good grief! This sounds tedious and long-winded just to do a lie-down cue!  Why can't I just put my dog into the down position and reward him then?  Or can't I just lure the dog down with a treat and reward him when he goes down?  The answer to the first one (physically prompting) is no, the second one (luring) is yes.  It really depends on the way you teach.  However, my bigger takeaway is that you aren't saying anything while you're teaching this ... unless you are using a "Yes!" as a verbal marker (which would replace a clicker). 

This really gets your dog's brain in high gear. This allows your dog to think. To make decisions on his own.  It has him being what we call "operant".  They will start to offer behaviors when training. It will make your training soooo much easier and quicker. While the above scenario of teaching a "down" cue sounds long and tedious when it's actually done it's not.  Maybe a few minutes? 

Without saying anything during this process, and only allowing your dog to think on her own, we are getting a behavior more reliable because the moments we do give feedback are the moments we want repeated.  It also alleviates all confusion.  If in between all the times I was trying to get the dog to lie down I said "No, down!" or something else, I'd be throwing out too many things at this non-verbal creature.  The poor thing would be utterly confused. And when done too often we can see a dog that really wants no part of training.  These are the dogs I see very, very often labeled as "stubborn".

Now go try it.  Report back. Did your dog respond better when you only gave the appropriately timed feedback? Did you notice how difficult it was to be quiet?!  Let me know, I want to hear your experiences!

Stacy Greer
Sunshine Dog Training & Behavior, LLC
servicing the Dallas/Ft Worth, Texas metroplex

Thursday, August 31, 2017

My dog is anti-social ... now what?!

I think one of the most common inquiries I receive day to day is regarding someone with a dog that doesn't like other dogs. Most of these dog owners see their dogs display aggressive behaviors, or what appear to be aggressive behaviors, towards other dogs either in the home or outside the home, or both.

As a society we've been listening to decades of information that states "dogs are pack animals" and they are "social creatures by nature" and do best with a companion.  This has many dog owners with dogs that don't seem to like other dogs quite upset. They are concerned that their dog is "broken" or something is wrong because he doesn't like other dogs. And they want to seek out a way to fix the dog and make him like other dogs.

You should know something. Not all dogs like other dogs, and that's ok.  While we can help dogs, like the ones I've described here, become more comfortable with the presence of other dogs, sometimes dogs just don't want to mingle with other dogs. Period. They are introverts if you will. They want to stay home and be with their human counterparts.  Some dogs don't like sharing their home with other dogs either, and that's ok too.

I recall a client I had years ago that was just dead set on her dog liking all the dogs in the neighborhood because, as she stated, "We are a social neighborhood and all the dogs always just hang out together. She needs to be able to hang out with us when we do this!"  I think I was a little speechless for a moment.  Then I said, "Do you know any introverts? They really are happy with their small circle of friends and sometimes that's just the person(s) living in the home and that's it. All the therapy in the world would likely do nothing to change this for those introverts."  She was not happy with my analogy and was very determined to get her dog to be social.  Note: It didn't happen. In case you're wondering, she never did finish her training. If she had, it would have involved me helping her get her dog emotionally stable upon seeing other dogs, and later when being near other dogs.... and some other stuff likely. I can't say for sure what the "other stuff" would be because I never got that far with her dog.  There is a whole protocol for these situations, very customized to each dog as each is different.

There are categories of tolerance levels dogs have for other dogs: social, tolerant, selective and aggressive.  Here is a good illustration and some explanation of this. Illustrated by Lili Chin of Doggie Drawings: Dog-Dog Relationships. A collaboration with Laura London and Sara Reusche. More details in this blog post HERE.

If your dog is specific to whom he likes and dislikes it's important to "listen" to him.  Your dog doesn't want to be around other dogs.  There is often a belief that if a dog is put into a situation with a lot of dogs often enough they will "get used to" dogs and be fine, or "get over it". Unfortunately, this isn't how it works. More often than not that will backfired badly for you and your dog.  Throwing a dog into a punch bowl of other dogs and hoping he'll learn how to deal is called Flooding.  It's a behavior therapy technique used in psychology. It's got a lot of emotional drawbacks and sometimes, depending on the individual (dog or otherwise), it can be emotionally damaging.

If you have a dog that is in the tolerant category you may see her become agitated at times with certain dogs and become quite upset. This category is highly common but most frustrating for owners because they think their dog is good with other dogs ... then one day they get snarky and the owner is incredibly upset over it.

It's ok. Your dog is just fine until a dog does something she doesn't like. Just like we don't like all people we mingle with or know, dogs don't either, or at least tolerant dogs don't.  If your dog is tolerant it's really important to respect your dog and back your dog up when she becomes irritated with another dog, likely it was the other dog's fault.  Your dog deserves no backlash for this, she wants some space from the dog she was snarky with. Give it to her. Remove her, leave or listen to her body language before this happens.  

One of my dogs doesn't like a lot of outside dogs that aren't the two he lives with.  So, guess what? I keep him away from other dogs. I have a lot of dogs in and out of my home for boarding and training.  So, he could be forced to be around them. But .... why? Why do I have to force him? I don't. He is very clear in his body language and he lives very well with my dogs.  So I don't see any reason at all why he has to mingle with strange dogs.  Also, I admittedly don't have the time or inclination to work with him on how to change his behavior around other dogs. I could, I very easily could, but ... meh. I'm fine with how things are, and so is he because I listen to him and respect his tolerance level.

Well, there are two things you can do 1) try and change this behavior through behavior modification or 2) respect your dog and keep her away from other dogs altogether. She's been loud and clear, I'm sure, on how she feels about them. So either listen and respect it thoughtfully or do something to change it.


If your dog doesn't like other dogs but isn't aggressive towards them (won't do harm to them but puts on a big show) you can work through your dog's emotions and help your dog learn to be more relaxed, calm and behaviorally tolerable when around other dogs. This should only be done with the help of a qualified professional that knows how to work with reactive dogs.

If your dog really doesn't like other dogs and would likely do harm to one (or maybe already has) then it's imperative that you find a qualified behavior professional to help you.  Your dog isn't a lost cause and yes, there can be things that can be done to help both of you!  There are a lot of factors involved when a dog is truly aggressive (has the intent to do harm or has already done harm) and only a qualified professional can lay out a plan of action for this type of dog.

The main thing you need to understand is that for your dog to live a long, happy and fulfilled life he doesn't have to have doggie friends. Yes, it's true. Some dogs are completely fine just having human friends. There are many things you can do to engage your dog in activities, training, and enrichment that don't involve play or interacting with other dogs.

Something you should know about "socialization" is that it's done with after about 18 weeks of age for puppies, probably closer to 16 weeks.  Most behaviors and associations towards people, animals, places and things are set after this age.  Which means after this age you are just changing how they react to these things with training.

Here is a great read on when you're past socialization but you want to "socialize" your dog by Laura VanArendonk-Baugh of Canines in Action, Inc. in Indianapolis: "Don't Socialize the Dog!"


Dog parks and doggie daycare aren't ideal for most dogs. Yes, some dogs might be ok but for the most part, dogs aren't keen on being in a large room/open space with other [strange] dogs just roaming around.  There is really not a lot of fun in that for a dog.

In a setting such as these dogs aren't being dogs, they are just walking around in a large space with too many dogs thinking of things to do, which often end up as wrestling, humping or even pacing.  It's not at all "natural" dog behavior to plop dogs in a large group in order to play and have fun. Dogs do not walk around with large groups of dogs to socialize. Society has designed these things to appease the dog owner.

A great read on dog parks and "socialization" by Sara Reusche of Paws Abilities Dog Training in Minnesota: "Dog-Dog Socialization: Beyond the Dog Park"

The single best thing you can do with your dog is work around other dogs with your dog and
teach them how to behave and be calm and comfortable in that setting.  You can even get into a well-set-up and well-run group class of your choosing. That means whether it's manners and skills you're working on or tricks or agility, or whatever ... you're working with your dog around other dogs. Your dog isn't mingling around with other dogs in class. It's not social hour.

You can also find a place on your own where dogs physically hang out (city parks) and go there to work with your dog and his skills.  If you choose a park to work your dog in you should work with your dog at a safe distance from the other dogs but so that he can still learn and work as you wish.


If you cannot do the above  join a well-run group class to work on skills around other dogs without mingling with other dogs  then you really need to hire a trainer to come in and start you on some good foundation skills for you and your dog.  Once you get a good baseline you can go from there, depending on many factors.  I really cannot stress how important a qualified trainer is in order for this type of behavior training program to be successful.

BOTTOM LINE: Listen to your dog. Either stop getting him around other dogs or hire a professional to help you change his responses and feelings towards and around other dogs.

Stacy Greer
Sunshine Dog Training & Behavior, LLC
servicing the Dallas/Ft Worth, Texas metroplex

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

The most important thing to teach Fido ...

I think this is the single most important thing you can teach your dog that lives in your home.  This is 10 x more important if you're going to have a baby or have kids in the home.

So, what is it?

Teach your dog to be ok with being alone in another room, either in a crate or behind a closed door.  By this I mean the dog can be confined, away from you and be calm, relaxed and quiet.

While I have a lot of clients that crate their dogs, a lot of those crated dogs are only crated, gated, or confined when the home is empty of humans.  I've found that people rarely crate or confine their dog away from the family when they are home.

  • Fido learns that being alone is ok.  This starts with being alone/confined while owners are home.
  • This can really be beneficial to combat any possibility of separation anxiety*.
    (*Note: this does not apply if the dog is already exhibiting signs or full-blown separation anxiety, that requires a whole other set of training! Contact a trainer if your dog has separation anxiety as quickly as possible.)
  • Gives Fluffy the ability to relax, on her own, and allow people in the home to do other tasks while not feeling bad for Fluffsters.
  • Allows people to put Fido away while guests are there, if it's a chaotic time (holidays), or if kids are chaotic and Fido needs to be put away for his and their sake.
  • If a new baby is in the home Fluffy can be put away, not stress out already exhausted parents and relax.  Dog and baby should be separated at many times so this is hugely beneficial for new parents!
  • If Fido ever got injured and need a lot of crate rest this would make it that much easier on him.
Having a dog that can be alone, in a crate or confined to another room is such a stress relief for the all the people that live in and visit your home.  For example, I have 3 dogs of my own and their crates are in my bedroom.  If I need to put them away I never stress because they just go in and usually just take a nap regardless of time of day or what they've been doing prior to being put away.  

I recall years ago I had 4 dogs at the time and we had a lot of my family over for Christmas.  My grandmother said, "Um, don't you have a lot of dogs?! Where are they?!"  I laughed and said, "Yes. They are in there [pointing to my bedroom door] just relaxing."  She asked to see them. She walked into my room and they were all just lying in their crates.  She was just floored that they were so quiet and peaceful.  

Dogs that can be alone, relaxed and calm, are easier to live with. Period.  You don't have to have guilt or worry with them being anxious when they are separated from you. 

For expecting and new parents this is vital. Part of my Family Paws Parent Education program involves teaching the dog(s) in the home to learn to relax and be ok with being away from the parents and, when the time comes, the baby.  I have an entire protocol for this with new and expecting parents but the truth is that all dog owners should be doing this with their dogs, not just parents!

  • During a dinner party or other time when several visitors/guests are in your home.
  • While you eat dinner so that you can eat in peace.
  • If you have a new baby and you need to tend to the baby and not worry with Fido.
  • If you have kids and the dog needs some of her own "down time" (which should be done regardless of dog's thoughts on the kids!)
  • Because you just want to have the dog out of the way!
  • If you have a puppy that's still not fully house-trained and/or trustworthy with chewing habits.
  • While you have workers in your home -- plumber, electrician, cable technician, etc.
  • While your training behaviors and need to use management to help (this applies to many things!)
While you don't necessarily have to use a crate, I prefer it to all other things (please see footnote below*).  You can shut them in a room or bathroom but I don't love this one as much. I like the dog to have their own space just set for them that's 100% safe (dogs can chew up baseboards and doorframes!). I also prefer this to an x-pen or area designated to just the dog.  It's more intimate.  You can crate train any dog, at any age at any time when you have the right tools and information to do so. (Read: Find an awesome trainer to help you out if you don't have one already!) 
*Footnote: You can, and probably should, practice these behaviors with your dog behind a gate where he can see you but cannot get to the same room as you.  As gates and other forms of confinement may be necessary as well and Fido should be comfortable in all confinement situations in the home, with you in another room. However, for the sake of using fewer words, I'll only refer to crating in the majority of this blog post. 

While I suggest you hire a trainer to help you through things, there are several things you can do to get the process going on your own.  If you run into any hiccups I'd suggest finding a trainer near you.

1. Feed your dog in his crate. Every meal.  I prefer a stuffed KONG to feed from so that is utilizing some mental enrichment.  However, a bowl will do too. Put food in crate, take out when you let Fido out. Do not leave in there if Fido doesn't finish it!

2. Leave her in there for short periods while you are just milling about your house.  If Fluffy is quiet then you can let her out after a few minutes.  If she's vocalizing then try to give something that will occupy her and keep her making good associations with being in the crate.  I suggest a stuffed KONG, bully stick or something else pretty fun and/or high value.

3. Start Crate Games by Susan Garrett. I also love all of these great games from Casey Lamonaco's article on crate training here.

4. If your dog doesn't go into the crate well, start shaping your dog to do this. Best done with a clicker, but not mandatory. You can find a great video on this here.

5. Play soothing music in the room where Fido is crated. Through A Dog's Ear is fabulous for this!

6. Gradually increase the amount of time that Fluffy is in the crate while you are home. Increase it by 2-5 minutes every couple of days for dogs that are doing well, not vocalizing and are pretty stress-free while doing this.

7. If you must, cover the crate with a sheet or crate cover.  Some dogs are visually stimulated and do better when covered. Some don't do better.  You can check to see if your dog does better covered or not covered.

  • Don't rush it if your dog is stressed or anxious when left alone, go slowly. Dogs that aren't used to being left alone, crated/confined while you are home will usually show some signs of distress. If you aren't sure how to tell if it's "normal" stress (part of learning) or more than that (possibly high stress that will inhibit learning), locate a qualified professional.
  • If your dog just whines a little or barks a few times don't rush to let them out. Allow them some time to settle if you've been following the above tips. Some dogs will do this because they aren't used to being in there while you are home. (For lots of vocalizing or dogs that won't settle please contact a trainer near you for help.)
  • If you suspect more than mild agitation or distress, contact a trainer that is well versed in separation anxiety. For separation anxiety cases I highly recommend Malena DeMartini or one of her certified trainers, they are truly experts in separation anxiety.
  • Always make tons of great things happen while Fluffy is in the crate, door closed.
  • Utilize the crate for all meals and yummy chew items. None of these should be available outside of the crate.
  • Work on Crate Games for about 10 minutes 2 x a day.
  • If you can't seem to do all this on your own, or have specific questions, call in a pro!
    (Need help locating a pro, try one of these organizations: IAABC, PPG, KPA, APDT)

Stacy Greer
Sunshine Dog Training & Behavior, LLC
servicing the Dallas/Ft Worth, Texas metroplex
Copyright© 2018. All rights reserved.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Stop leash pulling & start loose leash walking.

Your dog pulls on the leash when out on a walk. You've tried everything, to no avail. So, what's a great collar or leash or harness or go-cart that can help with this? . . . I'm going to tell you. I'm going to reveal my secret . . .


Here it is: There isn't one.  The secret is that you train your dog how to walk on a loose leash.

[You look at your screen with disdain.]

It's really pretty simple.  May not be easy but it's simple.  All dogs can be trained to walk on a loose leash.  You just need the correct handling skills, attitude, feedback, and rewards.  That's it. Simple? Yes! Easy? Not as much. However, with some consistency and dedication, you can achieve this in a shorter amount of time than you think!

Polite leash walking is one of the most requested things to work on by my clients.  So, I'm going to tell you what I tell my clients.  Dogs pull on leash because they learn that you keep going forward when they do.  I mean what happens when your dog pulls on the leash? You either pull back, jerk the leash, stop, something. You react in some way, however, after that moment you continue to move forward in the direction your dog was pulling, right?  So, why would they think that there is anything wrong with pulling if they are still going to move forward at some point?

I often hear dog owners say, "But he's choking himself! Doesn't that bother him enough to make him not want to keep that up?!"  The answer is, no.  Dogs don't care much for slight discomfort if they have a mission in mind.  When walking, most dogs just want to go.  They will take some choking, if it means they still get to go, go, go!

Your dog obviously needs some equipment to be worn while walking. You can find loads and loads of tools that are marketed to the desperate dog owner and boldly boasts "Stop leash pulling instantly!" or something to that effect.  However, the bottom line is that the tool isn't going to be the factor that stops the pulling. You are.

But ... your dog has to wear something, so ... I like harnesses hands down better than anything else. It eliminates choking and it gives more control.

My favorite is a body harness. I have three, at the moment, that are on my favorites list.  The Freedom No-Pull Harness, Perfect Fit Modular Harness, and the Balance Harness.

Freedom No-Pull Harness
Yes, this has the wonderful buzzword "no-pull" in the title to market it.  However, this harness does in fact help with pulling (help not fix) and does make the training much easier, in my professional experiences.

The harness is nice and padded with a soft, velvety material under the arms. It has a hook on the front and the back, and has a double leash designed for the harness, ... although I prefer the leashes I mention below for this instead.  The back piece does tighten up slightly if the dog pulls, like a martingale collar, unlike the other harnesses on the market. This one also has a huge variety of neat colors for any dog.  You can purchase here.

Perfect Fit Harness
This harness is padded all over and comes in a size for literally any dog, from super tiny to really giant!  I love how well it fits, as the name suggests.  It's a front and back-clip harness as well. This harness literally fits any dog of any size, even those with deep chests that are often not good candidates for other types of harnesses.

It comes in 3 pieces that all connect together to get the perfect fit for any breed or size of dog. This harness also comes in an array of colors for the fleece lining on the harness. You can purchase here.

Balance Harness
This harness has a front and back-clip but different than the other two listed above, it's not padded but it doesn't fit under the dog's armpit area.  The dog shouldn't wear a collar around it's neck while wearing this harness, for the best fit. It works with pressure points on the dog to help balance as well as give it complete freedom of movement.  I have not used this harness myself as I have the other two.  So you'll have to judge this one on your own. I listed it here because several trainers I know highly recommend this harness. You can purchase here.

The best leash is 6-foot leather leash.  Most durable, most reliable and will last you a lifetime. You can get a double leash that's leather as well, if you need one for a harness that has a front and back-clip for a leash.  You may also just clip the leash to either the front or back clip, depending on what your dog works best with. This is my favorite leash by far, as far as quality and use click here to purchase. This is also a good one, which is quite similar.

Some people are sold certain types of collars that "are the only thing that worked for my dog's pulling", according to your neighbor or best friend with a huge strong dog.  I'm not going to discuss training tools I dislike or do not approve of, in depth on this blog post. I'll just say that with my training I don't recommend choke chains, pinch (some call prong) collars, or electronic, or vibration collars.  If you want to use one you'll need to hire a trainer that utilizes one or all of those tools, as I do not. I started my training career using choke chains and prong collars, so I'm not unfamiliar with them at all. However, I've learned a lot over the years (and continue to do so) and therefore I no longer use these tools at all. I can and will gladly discuss my thoughts with anyone who has questions.

... Now ... for other collars to wear on a walk ... I really do prefer just a harness for walking.  I do like dogs to wear a flat collar at all times, except when in a crate, with an ID tag for safety reasons.  However, for walking on a leash I prefer a dog wear a well-fitted dog harness.

So, now you're thinking -- yeah, yeah, I just wanna know how to teach my dog not to pull!  Well, many factors go into why a dog pulls or doesn't pay attention when outside, or sniffs too much, and on and on . . . Therefore, the absolute best way to accomplish good leash skills is to hire a trainer that can show you and work with you and your dog on this skill set.  Yeah, I know. Not what you were hoping for, but it's quite honestly the best way to accomplish the goal of loose leash walking successfully.

Side note: If you have more than one dog, you must teach this skill separately.  Once all dogs are well-behaved and walking on a loose leash you may then decide to walk them together.

1. Start with pre-leash attachment.  By this I mean, don't let the dog start getting crazy, attach the leash and then head out the door. You've already lost. Your dog has pulled you to the door and out the door. Now, you get to the driveway or sidewalk and suddenly you want to start showing your dog that pulling from here on out isn't acceptable.  Don't let it start in the first place.

2. Work on leash skills without a leash indoors first.  Add the leash later.  I simply get the dog on the side I want her on (I prefer the left) and give rewards while the dog is on that side, next to your leg and walking with you. You'll be dispensing a lot of food, one right after the other (like a Pez dispenser!) at first. These are great videos on how to start this and train it. Part I and Part II.

3. Don't rush! Sure, this may be time-consuming and you just want to walk your dog but ... if you rush it you'll have a dog that pulls on a leash.  So, don't rush, you'll be so happy in the long run that you didn't!

4. Set your dog up to succeed! Remember that each time your dog is on a leash he's learning
, even if you aren't actively training!  So, is he learning what to do or what not to do? You control what he's learning. Don't allow the dog to pull, ever. If this requires you to skip a walk altogether until leash skills are better or until you have time to make a walk a training walk (training is being done the entire walk), then so be it!

5. Hire someone to help you.  I know, you really didn't want to hire someone. However, it really is best to learn leash skills when a trained professional can come in and help you do it. It's invaluable to learn how to walk on a loose leash in person because so much coaching can take place for your specific dog and what may be best for her.

Part I
Part II
Here are two lovely illustrated posters of loose leash walking, illustrated by Lili Chin of Doggie Drawings

If you'd like to have these enlarged to read better and/or to have these in printable PDF formats please click here: Part I and Part II.

Stacy Greer
Sunshine Dog Training & Behavior, LLC

Thursday, May 4, 2017

I don't wanna: The dislike of management in training.

I have loads of amazing clients that do the work we discuss and put forth the effort to train their dogs using the advice and plans I give them.  However, depending on the case and specifics of the issues we are working on, this may possibly mean a huge shift in change for both the dog and owner.  This very often involves what we call "management", and this can often be met with some real crazy "whaaa?" faces and words.

Management is utilized a great deal in the beginning of a training program because it sets the dog up to succeed.  It's like the alcoholic that has decided to stop drinking.  They cannot successfully do this by going to the bar, even if just once a week.  They have to manage themselves and set themselves up for success so that the long term result is the person is no longer drinking.  This means attending AA meetings, getting rid of all alcohol in the home, not going to bars, etc. It's a whole new system they have to adopt if they want to change.  There is no easy way around it.  Either they do these things and manage themselves tightly in the beginning (so hopefully when further into their program they can actually go to a bar with a friend and use self discipline) or they will fail. It's just that simple.

We must do the same with our dogs.  When we want to change our dogs' behavior we have to find ways to set them up for success while we are working toward our end goal.  If your dog is barking viciously out of the windows at home then we need to change something.  Management here would include blocking the windows (for now) so that the dog cannot practice this behavior. This is not fixing the problem but it's putting forth a management protocol that will aid in the success of all the other training we will be doing to help in the long run.

While most people can clearly visualize the situation with the alcoholic, many people cannot seem to grasp this concept with their dogs.  I find a lot of resistance to management protocols with dogs.  As humans we often seem to assume that dogs are here to do what we say when we say it and if they can't we'll force them into the scenario to make them understand what's wrong and why.

Management is just as important factor in a training program as the actual training and changing of behavior. 
This could be as simple as putting a puppy in a crate so that he cannot chew your things while you're out or as difficult as quitting your daily walks if your dog is reactive on a leash. Neither of the aforementioned are a life sentence, but rather a management protocol that can be eventually totally changed to something different once the training in place overrides the need for management.

So just remember, setting your dog up for success and managing your dog isn't a failure, it's a step in the right direction.  I have a client right now that's doing an amazing job with her very leash reactive dog.  We are to the point where I've suggested she can now start short walks.  She knows what to do and how to help the dog when she sees other dogs.  So she says to me, "I feel like I really chickened out the other day walking Fluffy.  I saw another dog and I wasn't ready so I jumped behind the closest car and hid there with Fluffy until the dog was gone. I know I should have worked on her and done something else."  I said, "Are you kidding?!  That's great!  If you knew you weren't mentally ready to handle that then you did the right thing. You set her up for success. She was not able to see the dog to react and you stuck it out until it was safe and she wasn't put in a position to react!  I call that a success and good thinking!"

Don't ever feel like you're failing if you set your dog up to succeed, even if in that moment it's not actually "training".  If your dog is put in a position to make a good choice, or at least not make a bad one, then you're winning! 

Happy training ... and keep on working with your dogs to set them up to succeed!

Stacy Greer
Sunshine Dog Training & Behavior, LLC
servicing the Dallas/Ft Worth, Texas metroplex
Copyright© 2018. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Counter surfing: Solved!

Counter surfing  when a dog puts its paws up on a counter and "surfs" along looking to or successfully grabbing things off of the counter.  It's an annoying problem, yet it's very common.

Obviously large dogs can do this with ease.  The biggest problem with counter surfing is that it's self rewarding without anyone even needing to be present.  Rewards work whether we are there to give them to the dog or if they reward themselves.  This is how positive reinforcement works and makes a behavior stronger.  A dog gets something rewarding [to the dog] and that behavior gets stronger.  This is beneficial when we are training a behavior that we want repeated and stronger, however, not so much if it's a behavior we don't want repeated.

So, how does one remedy this annoying habit?

1) Management  Keep your counters clean. Plain and simple, don't have a lot of stuff on your counters, especially food. Also, prevent your dog from going into the kitchen unsupervised. This might mean baby gates or crating your dog when unable to be supervised.

2) Make the floor yummy  If the floor is where good things are then the counters aren't. Completely control when your dog enters the kitchen.  Prior to entering, sprinkle yummy treats all over the floor.  Then let the dog enter.  As soon as he sees the floor has food he should start to focus on the floor more and less on the counters.

3) Train a "go to mat" cue   Teach Fluffy to go lie on a mat in the kitchen. If and when you cannot watch Fluffy in the kitchen, or your pre-occupied, you can tell her to go lie on a mat (or bed) and stay there.  If she's lying on a mat she cannot be jumping up on counters. This is a great video on how to teach this (this is my video), and here is another video (this isn't my video) that's a little different but similar.

4) Train while in the kitchen, freely walking around.  While in the kitchen you start to toss treats on the floor sporadically.  In the beginning you'll toss treats a lot. Walk-n-toss, walk-n-toss.  If you see your dog raising his head up to sniff the counter, possibly thinking about jumping, immediately toss treats behind him so he'll choose the floor instead. Also, if you see him start to jump or sniff but re-think his choice, toss treats, one at a time (about 6-10 treats) and praise him heavily for making a wonderful choice not to surf! 

  • Set your dog up to succeed.  This means don't allow your dog a chance to make the wrong choices.  Keep counters clean when Fido is in the kitchen.  Control when Fido enters the kitchen and be sure that the floor is seasoned with goodies!
  • Practice makes perfect! Train this several times a day by setting it up successfully as stated above.
  • Give Fluffy her own place to stay when in the kitchen. Work on the "go to mat" cue, or even get super creative and fancy by having her own dog bed carved away under the counter or kitchen island. (ideas on that here, as well as in picture.)
  • When you cannot supervise or train, put Fido away. Crate Fido in another room or put him somewhere that he cannot get to the counters where this behavior is happening the most.

The information above provides training to get this behavior under control. If you train this consistently and as laid out above, your dog will begin to forget the counters. You won't have to do all of the above forever in order to maintain your sanity in the kitchen with your dog. Once the steps above are clear the dog will choose on her own to make good choice and stop counter surfing.

I cannot tell you how long it will take, as it will depend on your dog's history. If your dog has been counter surfing for a year, then you'll have quite a bit of work to maintain for several weeks, or months in order to get rid of the behavior.  If your dog just started this you can stop it pretty quickly. 

Remember the key to long-term success is consistency and dedication to a training plan in the beginning.  You can become lenient over time as your dog proves he's earned it!

I now have an online course, self-paced that will help you solve all of your counter-surfing woes!  You can find that course here.

Stacy Greer, CPDT-KA
Sunshine Dog Training & Behavior, LLC
servicing the Dallas/Ft Worth, Texas metroplex
Copyright© 2018. All rights reserved.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Stop walking your dog.

"Wait did you just say don't walk my dog? Are you crazy?!"
. . . actually, I'm pretty sane (on most days, don't ask my kids or husband they may say differently!)
The truth is I'm actually pretty good at reading dogs, understanding dog behavior and working with each individual dog on what they actually need vs what we think they need. It's pretty vital to understand these things in order to truly help dogs.

It can be a bit murky at times, i.e., understanding what dogs need vs what we think they need. Everyone assumes that all dogs need to be walked (or even more strenuous exercise than walking) everyday. This is especially true for active, young dogs as well as some specific breeds.  Let's discuss why this may not actually be beneficial to active dogs regardless of energy level or breed. 

It's been drilled into dog owners' heads that walking a dog makes them calmer, more relaxed and less likely to have behavior problems.  Hmmmm, not really.  I mean, well sort of.  Well, let me explain . . .

I'm not saying dogs don't need exercise. I'm not saying this at all. Movement and exercise is important for all creatures. So, do understand, exercise is very important for your dog.  However, it's more like a creative strategy and work of art to figure out what is best for each dog when it comes to exercise and energy outlets. Every dog is an individual, even within the same breed and/or gene pool.  


For the most part this blog post addresses the hyper, over-active, hard-to-settle-down-regardless-what-you-do types of dogs, reactive-when-on-leash (or otherwise), not the already mentally stable dogs that can relax easily.  However it is important to note that I feel this would benefit all puppies, active and working dogs; and definitely all reactive, aggressive and/or anxious/insecure dogs!


Exercise will get your dog in peak physical health, especially if you're doing vigorous or lengthy exercise regimes.  While this is great for your dog's health and physical well-being it might backfire for mental stability.

Usually adolescent, hyper, over-excitable and active dogs are the dogs that are exercised the most because they are the most difficult to live with.  The common thought is that the dog is super active/hyper/energetic and needs more exercise to release this energy and help "calm them down".  When in fact what usually happens is huge dumps of adrenaline the more you exercise your dog which will in turn make your dog's mental state more chaotic.  Why? Because most dogs that behave in this manner in the first place are already mentally chaotic and need more relaxation and calming exercises not adrenaline-inducing ones.

There is another problem with relying on physical exercise solely as a means to "wear your dog out", or try to live by the A tired dog is a good dog mantra. You will now create a dog that requires more and more exercise as your dog becomes more physically fit.  The dog, at first, will be tired and will likely even be "better" behaved but it will soon wear off and you're now spending your days trying to find more strenuous exercise or lengthening the time you exercise your dog in order to get the worn-down-dog-effect. (You can read more on the SuperDog Syndrome over on this blog post written by Sara Reusche at Paws Abilities Dog Training.)


Let me say again, I'm not advocating that you burn your leashes and stop your hiking trips on the weekends.  However, I'm saying that you can relax, and should! If you don't feel like walking the dog today, don't.  She'll be ok. If you just don't have the energy to get out and have your dog run back and forth and back and forth for the ball, then don't.

Dogs get far too little training and far too few brain activities.  Lack of exercise isn't the problem I'm encountering with dogs that I work with.  It hasn't been the problem in 18 years of working with dogs. The problem is lack of proper balance between mental and physical stimulation.

It should be noted that genetics play a role in dogs' stress levels and behaviors.  Actually genetics plays a bigger role in most of our dogs' behavior(s) than I believe most know about.  Of course there are dogs with backgrounds we may never be privy to and dogs that are a mix of different genetics.  This isn't to say that we can control this all the time, it's just to say that sometimes it's not all on the dog owner that they have a dog like this, although sometimes it is.

Many people tend to walk around the dog's life instead of having the dog adjust to theirs.  It is vital to a dog's mind to learn that sometimes they can just lie around and do nothing. Nothing. Yes, nothing. Nada. Zip. Wait, why in the world do you think I should expect my high drive Labrador to lie on the rug? What about my Border Collie that doesn't sleep through the night unless I actually do something with her?

I'll get to the specifics of the what-to-do and how-to-do-it in a bit . . .


Herein lies the problem. Overarousal. High energy and high drive dogs that are usually over-exercised physically or under stimulated mentally, or both, tend to be the hardest dogs to live
with. Why? Because owners are doing what they thought they should—exercising the dog every day, sometimes for long periods.  But what are they not doing? Owners are not teaching their dog to relax, chill and keep his arousal levels in check. They are also not providing some or all of the following: brain activities, training, rules, boundaries and/or consistency with most of or any of those things.

Dogs with high arousal levels will manifest their lack of ability to do nothing into behaviors that are usually very annoying to live with. This is often a dog that cannot relax or lie down peacefully for more than 10 minutes, or a dog that barks incessantly, or a dog that drops the ball at your feet every 5 minutes, or a dog that paces or whines for seemingly no reason, or a dog that is a very destructive chewer, or a dog that is reactive on-leash towards other dogs and/or people . . . there are many, many, many behaviors that manifest out of over arousal.  These dogs' arousal levels become so out-of-whack that they manifest into stress, the not-so-good kind, and you have a dog that is difficult to deal with in one way or another.  Many times these are the dogs that fill the shelters.


We cannot have dogs live in a bubble, all dogs become over-aroused at some point and also stressed in various ways and situations. These are all things that happen in life; we can help our dogs overcome arousal and stress in situations—when we are given the proper tools to do so. However, too often dog owners aren't given the appropriate tools to deal with or avoid over-arousal and stress, or worse, the tools to understand what it is and what it looks like.  When this happens dogs exhibit these things too often and dog owners think this is just how the dog is and fall prey to the exercise-your-dog-more mantra.  They do not realize that they actually can have a calm and relaxed dog with the appropriate training and understanding of it all! [insert sigh of relief]


My first suggestion is to understand what your dog is saying and doing and why. Understanding body language and communication cues will get you very far with your dog, very, very far. Also, find a trainer that is well educated in both of these things. Not all trainers are, they should be, but many are not (if you need help with finding one let me know I'll do my best to help you get on the right track!) I cannot go into all these things on this blog. It's very dog-specific as well as many other factors. A trained eye can watch your dog and educate you on what and why of all of his behaviors by observing and working with you. 


Answer yes or no to the following questions.

1. Does your dog lie down at home when you are busy and leave you alone?

2. Does your dog chew things when left alone or if you aren't paying enough attention to him?
3. Does your dog bark for attention at you and/or at other dogs/people when out on leash?
4. Does your dog have a sensitive stomach and/or diarrhea often?
5. Does your dog sometimes seem "stubborn"?
6. Does your dog bother you to play constantly?
7. Does your dog not seem to wear out?
8. Does your dog sometimes not sleep all night and/or wake you in the night?
9. Does your dog get rowdy with other dogs and play rough all the time?
10. Does your dog not calm down fairly quickly and/or not at all when guests come over?

If you answered "YES" to 4 or more of those then likely your problem isn't a lack of enough physical exercise. It's more likely due to over-extended levels of over-arousal and/or over-stimulation that aren't easily able to be put in check.

*Note: You could have answered "no" and this is still your dog's issue. This isn't some magical quiz that determines this. So, please do take into account that your dog still may need to have the following protocols to benefit him or her.  A trained professional is the key here.


First thing in order is to teach your dog to do nothing ... and be ok with it. This will be your saving grace. Period, the end. Dogs like this need to learn to relax, actually they have to be trained how to do this because they don't have the ability to do it on their own. Also dogs that are exercised a lot and still seem to be unable to settle must learn this.  This is your very first line of defense!

So, before you do anything. You must do this. Train your dog to do nothing. Absolutely nothing. This teaches them that they can lie there and be ok with whatever is going on around them.  If you want to elicit play, walks, games or training you will do so.  However, if you aren't doing that then Fido should be cool with waiting and chilling while doing this.  I highly recommend two books, and really you should stop reading now and go purchase these— "Fired Up, Frantic and Freaked Out" by Laura VanArendonk Baugh, CPDT-KA, KPACTP as well as "Chill Out Fido!" by Nan Aurthur.

... Go on, get on over to amazon.  ... Ok, done with your purchases? Good. Let's move along ...

Doing this is not without work, mainly a load of calm patience and consistency. Remain cool, calm and set your dog up for success, i.e., don't put her in a situation where she can practice the behaviors you don't want.  That may mean crating him when you cannot interact or something else. But for now you are no long allowed to let your dog be hyper-crazy and demanding, if that goes along with your pooch's repertoire.

Nan Arthur (who wrote the book recommended above, "Chill Out Fido") has a PDF handout called "Relax on a Mat"* with step-by-step instructions on how to teach your dog to relax on a mat/bed (also discussed/laid out in her book). Here is a great video and description on "The Nothing Exercise" coined by Sue Sternberg.

*Please note: Relax on a Mat is not the same as teaching your dog to go lie on a mat/bed on cue (when you ask).  This exercise is to actually teach and create calmness on a mat/bed.  One is training a cue, "go to your bed!"(in training mode and brain still turned on), the other is training an emotional state (calmness/relaxation where the brain is turned off).

Also train your dog to relax calmly in a crate, behind a gate and/or in an x-pen.  I prefer the crate to all as it can be used when travelling and for many other reasons (read my blog post on crates, "Crate Training Truths & Tips").  I highly recommend utilizing Susan Garrett's "Crate Games" for this. Remarkable for teaching impulse control as well as how to love going in and being in a crate.


This is your next line of defense. Get your dog's brain moving. These things are great ways to do this without really doing much on your part. These can benefit the dog while you are busy and/or at work, on a phone call, etc. However ... but, but, but ... it is very important to read this next part.

This is why I wrote this blog post. You can Google all day and find mentally stimulating games and puzzles and how-to use them, etc.  You can also read all about these things being a "fix" for hyper dogs and dogs that need to chill out  more.  But here's the rub. I have worked with owners who state, "Ok so we stopped trips to the dog park and incorporated lots of brain activities and mental stimulation but we are still not exactly where we want to be."  This happens because they didn't teach the dog to relax and do nothing (see above "Your Golden Ticket").

So, it's important to go through the steps here as I wrote them out. Now, once your dog has learned some great relaxation exercises and is able to actually do nothing then you are ready to start with these fun brain activities. You can of course be doing these things at the same time you are teaching the relaxation (I don't mean the exact same time but in conjunction with the training) but you must be doing the relaxation protocol and The Nothing Exercise.

There are so many fun and engaging things you can do with your dog. Many of them are DIY things too, but there are tons of things you can purchase as well.  I couldn't possibly list them all here. So I went and made a Pinterest board full of them for you! You're welcome. I'll add to the board all the time so bookmark it and check it often for updates.

Now, how to go about this exactly ... Here is a nice little order for you to do things ... and guess what I'm adding exercise back in there!  Oh heck yeah I am!  You just had to get this far to see I'm not a total moron.



Stop all the exercise you're currently doing. Yup. All of it.  If you live where you don't have a yard or area that your dog can go potty without being walked then of course walk your dog for a potty break. However do not go on an exercise walk, for now. Only potty walks.


Feed your dog out of a food puzzle for at least 1 meal a day, if not all of them (assuming you feed 2 x a day at least.)  I'm going to attach my own handout on "Dog Puzzles" and "Kong Recipes for Fun". Feed your dog high quality food and add a doggie probiotic to his food.  The brain-gut connection is not a myth and dogs with poor diet/poor gut health often have behavior quirks at the very least and major behavior problems at the very worst. (To learn more about dog diets that are beneficial contact me for resources.)


Work on the relaxation protocol and The Nothing Exercise as much as you can daily. This is a must, must, must. You cannot skip this step! I promise you'll thank me later for it.


Work on Crate Games & Impulse control exercises.  I recommend working on "It's Yer Choice" as well as "Crate Games" (full DVD here, YouTube videos Part I, Part II & Part III.)  Do this for about 5-10 minutes a day, 2-3 x a day.


Incorporate some enrichment toys and activities for your dog to do, perhaps while you take that conference call in the other room? Maybe you need to get dinner made? Perhaps you want to catch up on emails? Maybe you just want to sit down after work and not deal with the dog [that usually needs to be walked to possibly take the edge off?!] So find some times that your dog can do some of these activities.

When Fido has completed an activity or maybe two, then he should relax on his bed or mat for you. If you have things to take care of then Fido should be chillin' while you take care of whatever those things may be.  Do not start tossing activity after activity after activity for him. Remember we are teaching him to chill when we want but also providing adequate mental stimulation in order to work his brain.

Learn to Earn Program


Train your dog and incorporate more impulse control exercises with training. Working on impulse control as well as some basic cues will be hugely beneficial. I really like Dr. Sophia Yin's "Learn to Earn Program" for this.
There are some other great reads as well, such as this article's link to the default sit, as well as the book "Control Unleashed" by Leslie McDevitt.
(Hire a professional dog trainer if need be for this!)


Walk the dog. If you've been working on the above things and you feel confident in your new pooch and her ability to chill when needed, you can now take her out for a walk. There are rules though. The walk can be no more than 15 minutes long and should be a walk where you incorporate some training and good ole doggie sniffing. Yes. So, if your dog needs some work in the training area, then this is where a good professional is going to be invaluable for you.
In the meantime, because we all know you wanted some free help on this right, I'll lay out a few things for you to do while walking your dog. Start a timer. Do not go over 15 minutes! 
1) Work on check-ins. This is where the dog checks back with you before going out ahead or maybe when they feel a little uneasiness coming on about something.  Usually they just look up/back at you.  When this happens, click/treat (C/T) [or say "Yes!"/treat].  This should be practiced indoors, before you actually go on a walk. Then you incorporate it with your walks. Here is a handout on teaching check-ins.  Here is a video after your dog is reliable indoors/with no distractions. You can also teach the Positive Interrupter and utilize this for lots of things.
2) Do a lot of turns & backing up. Walking in a straight line is boring and also sets the dog up to pull. So unless your dog is already proficient on loose leash skills I'd definitely be doing this.  I call it dance moves. Lots of footwork when out on leash with my dogs! It keeps the dog moving while also training a good loose leash. Win-win!  I like this video and this video (this one is moi) for showing this. 
3) Let her be a dog, with permission. After making your dog work for walking next to you and check-in and all that, let your dog be a dog. The best way to do this is allow your dog to go and sniff. Sniffing for dogs is highly, highly rewarding and mentally engaging. So I usually give my dogs a cue to do this. You can come up with whatever you want to use as your cue but mine is "you're free to go" as I point away from me.  Then the dog can go to the end of the leash and sniff, sniff, sniff.  When we're done with that I say "okay, let's go!" and they should come back to my left and we start our journey back, utilizing the above steps 1 & 2. 
4) Go home. Remember all the above steps are only happening in a short time period (no more than 15 minutes) and not 3 blocks from your home. You should not go far, the main goal is this is a training walk not a way to get your dog physically tired. So just do the above for 15 minutes (or less if your dog is too out of control or not focused) and then go home. Tomorrow is a new day.
Repeat steps 1-5 until your dog can be a calm, relaxed dog at home and do things on your watch.  If your dog still cannot relax when you're scrolling through Facebook or having a relaxing sit while watching Law & Order then you're not ready to up the exercise regime for your dog.  So, don't. Just don't. Rinse and repeat this whole process with a heavy focus on the relaxation exercises if you aren't getting far.

Once you're really confident in your dog's ability to relax you can slowly add in your regular exercise regime whether that be walking, jogging, hiking, agility, swimming ... whatever.  However, you must remain true to the protocol above  relaxation, mental enrichment, and training  while adding in your exercise. If you fall back into just doing physical exercise alone your dog will regress and eventually fall back into the dog you had before you started this.

You may also want to discuss if your dog would benefit from medication, if your dog is too anxious, over-stimulated too easily, etc. with your veterinarian. A well-informed, trained professional can usually tell you if your dog needs to see a licensed veterinarian, preferably a Board Certified Veterinary Behaviorist or at least a veterinarian well-versed in proper behavioral medication for such situations.  


This entire blog post may have your mind spinning.  Heck it may even have you thinking -- Meh, I'll just keep doing what I've been doing, this is too much work!  However, you should know that if you can commit to doing these things you'll have a dog that is chill when you want but happy to play, run and have fun when you want as well.  You'll just build a neat-o "off switch" for your dog with this protocol. So many dogs lack that "off switch" and it's not only a tad annoying (sometimes it's super annoying!) but it's also causes some real mental chaos.  It's like your dog's brain cannot stop. It's not healthy and it's not fun to live that way either.  The reality is that your dog will not only be much easier to live with but also thank you for it because they can truly relax not only physically but mentally. 

I will say that finding a qualified dog training professional will be hugely beneficial if you have a dog like this, and if necessary a veterinarian to collaborate with your trainer for the best options.  As I mentioned before, if you need help locating a qualified professional dog trainer near you please contact me.

Stacy Greer, CPDT-KA
Sunshine Dog Training & Behavior, LLC
servicing the Dallas/Ft Worth, Texas metroplex
Copyright© 2017. All rights reserved.