The How to Tell When Someone Claims to, but Doesn’t Actually Understand Dog Training Starter Kit:

✔️Won’t use “corrective” tools in dog training, but yells at their dog constantly for not listening.

✔️Allows their dog to pull on a “gentle” leader with the strap almost in the dogs eyeballs, but touts that prong collars are inhumane.

✔️Gives unsolicited advice on the internet and says things like: “Try humane ‘science based’ dog training instead,” implying that only positive reinforcement is science-based.

This is the age we live in. We live in a sea of experts simply because people have a keyboard and Google. Believers in positive reinforcement (+R) only training, from my experience are some of the most critical, confrontational folks out there. I’m not writing this to draw a line in the sand. I actually think that the more people talk about +R versus balanced, the more of a divide it creates in all of us. But because I see so much of this nonsense, I need to speak up. Aren’t we all in this for the same reason, to help dogs and live a happier life with them? But here’s the thing. It’s all bullshit. It’s a fear mongering façade that certain personality types like to force onto others. I’m here to give some much needed clarification on this topic.

All of science works: positive reinforcement, negative reinforcement, positive punishment, negative punishment. It’s ALL science and it ALL works to increase or decrease the likelihood of a behavior happening again. The next time you hear someone refer to +R as the only part of the four quadrants that is “science-based” laugh, and then ignore everything else they have to say.

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Oh and here’s the kicker. There’s no such thing as positive-only training. In order to achieve that your dog would have to live completely off leash, free range. The second you have a leash on a dog you’re using negative reinforcement. If you tell your dog “no”, or use your leg to quickly block them from bolting out of a doorway, you’re using positive punishment. Dogs are ALWAYS being trained by the cause and effect patterns that take place within our homes day to day, whether we realize it or not. Let’s stop the madness and not have such harsh opinions or choose sides on topics we don’t thoroughly understand. 

Aren’t we all in this for the love of dogs anyway? And if we respect dogs for who they are in their most pure form, WE WON’T BE AGAINST THEIR INNATE WAYS OF LEARNING; as Mother Nature isn’t exactly keen on positive reinforcement only.

“Insecurities are loud, confidence is quiet.”

This statement is CERTAINLY true with people and it’s absolutely true with dogs. The catch is that dogs, like people, are not one thing or the other. They’re not simply insecure or secure. We are all multi layered. We all have things that make us feel less than and we have things about ourselves that empower us and make us feel confident. Some dogs and people are consumed by their insecurities. It takes over their life and makes them act out. Kiana’s insecurities began to slowly take over her life and her owner’s.

Dogs that struggle with stranger-danger issues or fear-based reactivity in general are typically lacking confidence in some department. With that insecurity comes a “display” of behavior that is an expression of how the dog is feeling about that situation. Dogs do what works and the insecure dog over time becomes empowered by their reactive display because it’s highly effective at making stressors go away. Soon it becomes an auto-pilot reaction for anything that is bothering them. Meanwhile, the confident dog is secure in its own skin and the scenario. It doesn’t feel the need to try to control the situation and has no motivation to vocalize or react in any way, other than just be accepting of the situation that is occurring.

Kiana has come so far during her stay with us. Thanks to the training, new tools and techniques, Kiana understands that her humans will alter the the environment for her to make her feel better; she doesn’t need to do all of that “talking” to make herself feel better. She is gaining confidence knowing that when she subtly communicates she is understood by humans. She doesn’t need to go ham to get her point across. This is something that all pet dogs struggle with. Dogs are constantly trying to tell us how they feel but a good 90% of the time we don’t heed that communication and we actually make things worse for the dog.

Every situation and new experience with your dog is a chance to prove to them that you can make them feel better about the things that make them fearful and insecure. However that does require clear communication and an understanding on both the human and dog’s part. Knowing all of your dogs layers is the best place to start. Knowing what makes them insecure and knowing what brings out there confident side is so important. Working with a professional trainer can really help you clarify these individual characteristics in your dog and how to work with them. We are now confident that Kiana and her mom are going to be able to navigate her moments of insecurity using the training Kiana has received here during her board and train.

Kiana looking bold and confident thanks to the training she has received.

Kiana looking bold and confident thanks to the training she has received.

Flash Dog Training's Shadow Program

Shadowing a reputable professional through their day-to-day routine as they practice their craft is a great way to learn a trade. When that craft is training dogs in a home-based environment, it's great insight to what this “lifestyle” is like. It’s not just about the repetition of teaching the dog obedience, you are watching the ins and outs of what it’s like living with dogs that have behavioral issues and what the process looks like to resolving them. 

We have had shadows work with us for a weekend, week, month and even 3 month period. The length of stay is fully customizable and we will meet you where you are at experience wise and hit on topics you would like to learn. The other part of the program is showing you our system and the core of our philosophies and techniques. Stories will be shared and swapped over meals after the dogs are done for the day. We have housing options available and we encourage you to bring a dog. We have even had people shadow along while their dog was in our board and train program.

Amanda is our current shadow student at our Denver location. Amanda has worked at a training and boarding facility, as a vet assistant, and she currently works as a staff manager at a pet resort. She began shadowing with Flash in early November. Here is what Amanda says about why she’s shadowing to grow her skill set:

Amanda makes a connection with board and train dog, George.

Amanda makes a connection with board and train dog, George.

 “In my experience in animal care so far, I found dog training to be the most rewarding job. The reason I feel so strongly about balanced training is because I've witnessed the results. I believe it is the most effective way to communicate with our dogs and e collars are the most life-changing tools. Since moving to Colorado in June, I struggled to find dog trainers with similar goals, techniques and values as me. It was also important to me to find a trainer who genuinely wanted to help me grow as a dog trainer. I knew of Kerry from a past job in New York, but didn’t have the courage to reach out to a stranger until I needed approval to join a local dog trainers Facebook group and she happened to be an admin. I researched Flash, watched practically every video on Instagram, and read every Facebook post. Everything I read or saw resonated with me. I’m most interested in behavior modification and seeing Kerry’s phenomenal results working with any behavioral issue showed that she had a lot of experience and knowledge to offer. I also wanted more experience with the e collar because I’d like to educate more dog owners on the benefits of e collar training. I love how Flash prioritizes the intricate conditioning process of the e collar and how all of their dogs are happy and upbeat working on the tool.”

We are so pleased to see the benefit of the value our students received in our program and how they apply their knowledge afterwords. If you're looking to get into dog training as a career, shadowing is a great way to see if the industry is right for you. It is fantastic for owners who really want an intensive amount of coaching for themselves, rather than just taking lessons. We also have other dog training professionals shadow us who are looking to add more training tools to their tool belt. Wherever you're at in your career or if you are thinking about making dog training your career, we can customize a shadow program for you.

We are looking forward to having students join us at our new location in Bend, Oregon this coming year. We will still be taking shadows at our Denver location with our trainer Breanna. If you are interested in shadowing please contact Kerry@flashdogtrianing.com for program details and rates.

 

Taking the Bite Out of Bark Collars

The bark collar is a tool that doesn’t get enough credibility or exposure when dog trainers talk about all the tools in their training belt. Years ago before I knew anything about bark collars, intuitively I thought that if you put a bark collar on a barking dog and they got corrected, it would make them more anxious and frantic. What bark collars do is actually the stark opposite of that.

When dogs bark continuously they adrenalize themselves, essentially working up into a frenzy. That frenzy can lead to very dangerous behaviors, like breaking out of kennels, lighting up at other dogs or even attacking other dogs. Also, the barking leads to pacing, whining, stress panting, dilated pupils, hyperactivity and a general “cracked out” state of mind of full blown stress. If the dog cannot bark, the stress is exponentially reduced. They stay in a healthier state of mind where they are more likely to take food in crate training exercises and actually rest in the kennel. This keeps the environment much safer, as well as calm and peaceful.

Before putting a bark collar on a dog there are a few things you should know. Proper fit and placement are essential. Read the directions. Don’t just slap it on the dog. In a perfect world we like to condition dogs to the E collar first. What this means is we like to familiarize the dog to working with the stimulation in a hands-on training context. However, sometimes dogs come in so out of control that we have to put a bark collar on them day one. This is how we do that: we set the collar to the automatic setting, not a number on the dial. We only use collars that have an automatic setting. What happens is when the dog barks, they will receive the lowest level stimulation correction. If they bark again it will go up one level higher, increasing the level with each bark. This way the dogs can learn the cause and effect of the tool without being flooded by a high level correction off the bat. 

Bark collars are not only essential for maintaining a calm environment so dogs around the barking dog are not stressed, but for safety. I have to emphasize that again. I have had dogs come in, going hysterical barking in a kennel, biting at the door, throwing themselves from side to side, trying to bend the door with their head and/or trying to chew their way out. As soon as they cannot bark, the next time I check on them they’re laying there peacefully, looking like an angel. I’m serious. Worst case scenario the dog will be panting, but more often than not, the majority of dogs will be laying calmly without any signs of stress. This is how relevant bark collars are to stopping that toxic surge of adrenaline in unstable dogs. Typically, after only a few days, we don’t even need the bark collar anymore. Because of all the structure the dog is receiving in training, they quickly morph into a more balanced state.

Like anything else the tool has to be introduced properly and it cannot be abused. It should not be left on for extended periods of time and dogs with different fur and skin issues will have different needs for contact points.

Bark collars are beneficial in many other contexts outside of using them in a board and train program. Do you own a dog that incessantly barks when you leave the house whether it is crated or not? Can you not have your dog outside in the yard for more than 30 seconds without him barking like crazy and disturbing the neighbors? A dog is much more likely to make good choices when they can not spiral down an adrenaline rabbit hole by barking.

Bark collars are not a replacement for training. They are a tool just like all the other tools that we use when working with dogs. But if an owner  doesn’t have time to exercise their dog that day, using a bark collar to keep their dog quiet at times is far more humane in my opinion, than letting a dog bark his head off constantly with pupils the size of quarters.

Again, a bark collar isn’t a permanent solution to your dog’s barking. This tool helps a dog become more stable because of EVERYTHING ELSE we are putting into the dog training-wise. They help keep the dog far away from unhealthy, aroused states of mind. Dogs learn to settle faster and even dogs that are not crate trained will learn to not only accept, but enjoy the peace and comfort of being in a kennel with the help of a bark collar.

Like any other tool in the world, it can be used correctly or incorrectly, humanely or inhumanely. When used properly the bark collar is an incredible tool that can facilitate relaxation even in the most stressed and excitable dogs.

Consult a balanced trainer in your area to help teach you appropriate contexts for using a bark collar to help your dog.

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The Solution For Difficult Dog Nail Trims: The Grooming Sling

This is a step by step tutorial of how to use what is, in my opinion, the most effective tool for helping dogs who are fearful of nail trims. I have tried every technique out there with my dog Mudd, who developed a phobia of foot handling due to a chronic, brown nail. The nail ultimately had to be completely removed. In addition to that he has had to be put under numerous times for ripped nails. His nails grow like weeds. My attempts to trim them over the years led to a build in Mudd's distrust of me when it came to doing anything to his body. This was heartbreaking and I knew that there had to be a solution that he would be comfortable with.

The result you will see in this video took months upon months to create. Mudd was not one of those dogs that you see in some videos where they put the dog in the sling and magically they just hang there and allow the clipping. First of all, he would not even wear the sling. He would only let us put it on him as a jacket. You can see the other video of me conditioning him to wear the sling on our YouTube channel. Even after getting him to be comfortable wearing the sling, once we actually had him hanging, he would still thrash and try to bite. Long story short, this took essentially months of consistency to accomplish this result. Hopefully most of you out there don't have a dog as difficult as Mudd and that using this sling will really be a game changer off the bat, but you also must prepare that it may not be that simple.  

I consider Mudd's case to be the worst of the worst. Therefore, I am so happy to share these little tips and tricks of the trade that have taken us from worst case scenario, to an easy-breezy five minute procedure.

How Dogs Help Me Cope with Hedonic Adaptation

So you have a great job, you’re making decent money, you hang out with friends on a regular basis and things are going well. But sometimes it all just feels like, blah.

On paper you should be happy, but it just isn't that way day to day. You have everything you need and most of what you want, so why don’t you FEEL as happy as you think you should?

You loved your job in the beginning, but now you’re bored and sick of it. You are in love with your partner, but the relationship just doesn’t have the same thrill that it used to its first couple of years. You feel like you should experience euphoric feelings more frequently, but you just don’t. Why?

If you can relate to any of this you are experiencing what is called hedonic adaptation. Essentially hedonic adaptation, or “pleasure adaptation” is the ability to adapt to changes in life, either good or bad. It’s also a theory of a survival mechanism in the brain. If you experienced a traumatic event, like the loss of a loved one or a car crash, hedonic adaptation helps us go back to relatively normal level of contentment, a “set-point.” Every person’s set point or baseline is different, thanks to genetics. It helps balance us after a traumatic event so we can go on living life and function day to day. So what happens when you don’t have a traumatic event happening weekly in your life? Hedonic adaptation is still at work, so things just start to feel boring. What was once exciting is now mundane.

This feeling has plagued me so badly over the years. It bothered me so much I started researching why I felt this way. Once I found out that hedonic adaptation is actually a thing, it really helped me get a grasp on my feelings. Just having the understanding that we are programmed to adapt to our routine and environment really helped.

I consider myself a gypsy and I have enjoyed living in different places over the past 15 years. The biggest motivation behind these moves has been boredom of my environment. I get sick of the state I’m living in and seeing the same place every day. The things that the location has to offer don’t fulfill me anymore. Where I work and where I live by far made me feel like I was on the “hedonic treadmill” so many times throughout my adult life.

Using a treadmill as an analogy helps paint a picture of how HA makes us think. Essentially you can go through life accumulating all the material items/personal goals you want, only to remain stuck at your natural state of happiness. The riches you gain and goals you accomplish will only raise your expectations and leave you no better off. SEE-WANT-OBTAIN-HAPPY-ADAPT-BORED. Does this cycle sound familiar?

Because human beings have the remarkable capacity to grow habituated to most life changes, almost any pleasure can become monotonous overtime. We are prone to take for granted pretty much anything positive that happens to us. Whether it’s a brand new car or reaching a personal fitness goal, that initial boost of happiness fades over time.

So how do we combat these feelings? The number one thing we can do is to acknowledge that adaptation exists. Just understanding that we are biologically programmed to return to a baseline of happiness in order to survive trauma was probably 50% of helping me feel better. Secondly, be grateful. Look at all the things in your life that you have to be grateful for that you take for granted every day. I bet that list is really long; I know it is for me. Lastly, and I would say most importantly, dogs can greatly enhance our happiness. The way dogs’ view life is the antithesis of hedonic adaptation. Dogs see everything through new eyes, everyday. Every morning is like Christmas morning. Every game of fetch is the best game ever. Surrounding myself with dogs and making them not only my career but my lifestyle has helped me snap out of that humdrum, daily-grind feeling so many times. Dogs spark the zeal for adventure and lust for life that I know is always in me, but don’t feel everyday.

Naturally, there are days where I just don’t feel happy at all even though I love where I live and what I do for a living. Now when I feel those emotions, I take a break from what I’m doing and go walk in nature with my dogs, or simply observe them. The pure joy that they experience from something as simple as a stick, recharges me. The more time I spend watching them in their constant state of bliss, helps me put everything into a different perspective. I re-experience the pleasure of smelling the fresh mountain air. I re-experience the joy of just being. I re-experience gratitude for my health and my life.

As if dogs couldn’t do any more for us; they are our greatest role models of how to truly LIVE.  Happiness is infinite from their perspective. It’s always there just waiting to be tapped into; we just have to be mindful to get off the treadmill and enjoy it with them.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kerry Hall is the owner of Flash Dog Training in the Denver, CO area. She is a Certified Canine Specialist and Behavior Consultant who specializes in behavioral issues and off-leash training. 

http://www.flashdogtraining.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Stubborn? Not Your Dog

Why are people so quick to call dogs stubborn? Stubborn implies that the dog understands what is wanted by the human and then refuses to comply. As a trainer, I know that dogs are rarely stubborn. They truly don’t understand what is being asked of them because they’ve never been properly taught. If one of my dogs blows off a command, it’s likely because there is a competing motivator in the environment, not because they are being willfully defiant. Just because a dog will sit for a hand lure with a treat, does not mean that they understand sit while riding in the car. When the dog refuses to comply with the sit while riding in the car, he is not being stubborn; he doesn’t understand. He has never truly practiced that behavior in that context with a handler that is going to ensure success by using the correct and precise timing of reinforcement. Why do we presume dogs are just going to “get it?”

Trainers know that it takes hundreds if not thousands of repetitions for certain behaviors before the dog truly understands what the word-cue means. Additionally, the average dog owner can be incredibly inconsistent when it comes to the cues they give the dog and is typically not the best at follow through either. Trainers know not to expect a behavior when a dog is in the learning phase. It will take quite a while before that behavior becomes reliable in different environments and for different handlers. 

You control all of your dog’s resources. You are literally the hand that feeds, so how and when you choose to feed your dog will directly impact how willing your dog is to LEARN a behavior and also perform it reliably around distractions. If you are not using food to your advantage, it's likely your dog has little to no motivation because they’re used to getting everything for free. With intentional feeding, you can create an awesome boost in their motivation and engagement.

Dogs will forever be living in a world they will never understand; a man-made confusing world where they don’t speak the language. Engage your dog with empathy and ask yourself if you have actually taken the time to not only teach the command, but generalize it to different environments for reliability. For example, does your dog understand a release cue? If not, you can’t expect him to hold a down- stay if he doesn’t understand that the command has a beginning and an end. Also, ask yourself if you have the knowledge to really teach the dog by communicating in their language. Remember, dogs are a non-verbal species, so you cannot rely on verbal commands until he has been taught the sound’s meaning and context. If you want more reliability and confidence in your dog’s behaviors, seek help from a professional so you can understand how dogs learn and the importance timing, consistency and motivation in training. Your dog isn’t being stubborn or defiant, he just hasn’t been taught with the proper communication. 

2018: The Year of YOUR Dog

I think most of us know that a typical New Year’s resolution may be dumped in a matter of days or weeks with little thought about it a few months from now. My intention with these few paragraphs is to inspire you to commit to one very specific type of New Year’s resolution; not so much for you, but for your dog. See here is the thing, the dark scary thing that I don’t like to think about, yet I do almost every single day; Our beloved dogs simply do not live that long. We forget this painful truth daily as we are overstimulated with world around us. Here’s why you should think about it. What if you only had 10-15 years to live? Or less?! You would likely choose to only allow certain things to occupy your mind, time, and life. You would savor the little things that go unacknowledged and unappreciated in a world where time was abundant.

There is something that I see on a daily basis that hurts my heart. People are out walking their dogs and they're either texting or talking on their phone. There is no connection whatsoever between dog and handler. I can promise you with every cell in my body, that when your dog’s time is up you will regret not squeezing every single moment of joy out of the time you had together. The hours upon hours we waste on social media and other things may seem fulfilling at the time, but you have the greatest gift right in front of you that can make you laugh, feel accepted or “liked”. Just look at them. Look how resilient and happy they are, for no reason. I get emotional thinking that my dogs are not going to be here forever. But instead of dwelling in sadness, I use it as motivation. The only time I am on my phone when I am out with them (within reason) is to record or photograph their most adorable moments so I can cherish them forever. Of course we need to work from our phones to communicate and your dog doesn't need attention 24/7. But let’s be real; we are mindlessly looking at dumb shit on the internet too frequently. Save that for the toilet and be present when you are with your dog.

Dogs innately know how to relish every moment here on earth much more so than we do. They know how to let an uncomfortable incident go and move on from things that stress them. They are so eager to explore, adventure and learn. They don’t complain and they greet the same day-to-day things with boundless enthusiasm.  Worrying about the future is not something they are even capable of and I envy them for that. They are our greatest teachers, personal comedians and companions. They are our ultimate cuddle buddies and mood enhancers. They improve our quality of life on earth so immensely that it’s impossible for us to picture life without dogs. Make your New Year’s resolution to live your best life with your best friend. Enroll them in that obedience or agility class you’ve always wanted to take. Start running or hiking with them regularly. Teach those tricks. Make your daily walks a bit longer and more adventurous. Call a dog trainer for help with behavior problems you have been struggling with so you can live a more fulfilling life together.

I am endlessly thankful for the simplistic, meaningful moments they share with us on a daily basis. They would take way more of those moments if we were more aware of creating them. We pass up so many of those opportunities because our brains are enticed into focusing on other things. Prioritize. Give your dog more time and be more present in the time you are sharing with them this year and your entire lives. You will both be better for it. Happy New Year!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kerry Hall is the owner of Flash Dog Training in the Denver, CO area. She is a Certified Canine Specialist and Behavior Consultant who specializes in behavioral issues and off-leash training. 

http://www.flashdogtraining.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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On-Leash Dog Greetings and the Uncomfortable Human

Everyone loves an appropriately behaved dog, right? A dog that can play well with others, a dog that does not jump on guests and a dog that is well adjusted in any scenario you put him in. We as humans sure have our own ideas about what makes our dogs appropriately behaved. We want dogs to do the things that WE want them to do, all the time, every single day. We stop them from doing natural behaviors like sniffing and exploring because we want them to sit and down and stay. To most people a dog that is obedient and follows instruction is a good, polite dog. So why do people get so bent out of shape when dogs politely greet one another? That butt sniffing just makes us so awkward, doesn't it? Because we cannot possibly conceive of greeting another human being in such a manner, we transfer that emotion onto dogs when it comes to them smelling each other. We pull our dogs away when they are trying to get information about the other dog and add tension to this normal exchange. If the dogs are commingling in a group setting, we interrupt this transaction verbally. It makes us feel weird, uncomfortable, and we typically stop this behavior as soon as it starts. But your dog was being appropriate and polite! Why would we stop that? We stop it because we don't like how it makes US feel and here your dog is, being all polite. 

Generally speaking if your dog does not want to smell other dogs’ butts, that should actually be a blaring red flag to you. It tells you that your dog is either too fearful and overwhelmed by the environment, they lack basic social etiquette, or they are in a really unhealthy state of mind where they are not engaging their nose. Not allowing your dog to sniff the rear end of another dog is like allowing your child not to say hello when someone greets them. It's rude and you're actually preventing social behavior and discouraging self confidence. Dogs should not be ramming their noses up other dogs’ butts, nor do they need to say hi to every single dog that passes by. That is super rude and inappropriate. A nice nose to tail greeting should consist of a few nice whiffs without necessarily even making contact with the other dog.

I do not condone random on-leash greetings.  It's not that I have never allowed my dogs to greet other dogs on-leash, but in the rare exception that I do, I am reading the other dog’s communication and using my instincts, plus my years of experience to assess the situation. I will never have a green light attitude towards on-leash greetings, but there is a way to facilitate them more safely and less stressfully for both parties. When dogs are on a leash they are essentially trapped. Simple flight or fight instincts kick in the more a dog feels threatened by lack of options to alleviate what is stressing it. When we have removed option number one of flight, dogs are going to be much more likely to react defensively and "fight" to push back the dog that is now making them uneasy. 

 If you're going to do it do it right. If you want your dog to meet a new dog on leash, here is how I recommend facilitating it: 

The first thing you need to assess is what kind of equipment is on the other dog and what its current behavior is like. If the dog is in any kind of a body harness I would pass on meeting that particular dog. The harness empowers the dog as the dog braces into the harness with its chest, the strongest part of him. The handler does not have control of the dog’s head. If you don't have control of the dog’s head, you do not have control of their mouth. Additionally if that owner was to put tension on the leash the dog is going to be on its hind legs within seconds which will feed a lunge/snarl/snap type behavior much more easily. Both dogs need to be on collars, preferably a slip lead, or prong collar, a head harness would also do. These tools will give the handler the most control. Doing this exercise with a perfect stranger will prove risky as they are not necessarily going to follow your lead to the T and anything can go wrong, making both dogs fail. This exercise is best performed with two on-board handlers and dogs that are not lunging, barking or whining. If you think you have found the appropriate pair to practice this exercise with, here is what an "on-leash-stacked-greeting-in motion" should look like:

One handler and dog is going to take off walking while the other handler and dog walk behind them. While the dogs are walking you are going to allow the dog that is behind to slowly drift forward on a LOOSE LEASH and sniff the butt of the other dog for no more than two seconds. 

Handler of the dog being smelled is going to encourage their dog to move forward with some soft, verbal praise and patting their thigh. They are going to ensure that their dog does not whip around and go face-to-face with the dog that is momentarily investigating them. Believe it or not the faster you move the easier this exercise is to do. It is much easier at a jog than it is a walk. 

After the two second sniffing you will promptly turn around and change walking directions, switching roles of ‘smeller’ and ‘smellee’. The number one most important thing to remember is to KEEP MOVING, again KEEP MOVING. People tend to stop moving as soon as the sniffing is actually taking place. Bad idea. Motion is your best friend in an on-leash dog greeting. Do not let the dog who is smelling ever sniff any longer than three seconds. Two seconds is more than enough. Once you do this a couple of times, walk the dogs side-by-side together.  The thrill of smelling one another will be over and they should be far less interested in one another in an excited way. This will be a much healthier state for them to be in for further socialization. 

That wasn't so bad, was it? When you see your dog want to gently sniff another dog’s butt you should be proud, really proud that your dog knows how to communicate and greet so nicely. If your dog pounces on other dogs, trying to play immediately and avoids sniffing, you can't allow that. Never make excuses for your dog, "oh, he's just excited." That behavior can lead to getting your dog snapped in half by another dog who is incredibly intolerant of rude behavior. If you do allow your dog to meet unknown dogs, it is a game of Russian roulette. If your dog likes to sniff other dogs, but doesn't like to be smelled you should practice this exercise with a trustworthy partner and dog that is super neutral. Too often I see people pulling their dogs away from another dog's butt and allowing them to "say hi" face to face. Your dog had the right end. Face to face in the animal world is confrontation, let alone if you throw some good tension in there while your dog is being restricted by a rope.

Doing this controlled stacked greeting can actually be quite beneficial to a lot of dogs. But allowing a strange dog to come up to your dog with tension on the leash could be the moment that ruins your day, week or year. So you're saying that dogs sniffing each other's butts is good, but you shouldn't let them meet on leash? Yes, that's what I'm saying, unless the transaction is being controlled by two aware handlers with the same goals who can vouch for the dogs' past behavior. Be smart, be safe, and be selective if you are going to allow your dog to engage in this type of restricted greeting. If your dog is mingling off leash with a group of stable dogs, smile every time you see them take a butt-wiff.

 

 

Is a Dog's Comfort Zone Really That Comfortable?

"Your comfort zone will kill you"

I couldn't agree more. Only after breaking out of your comfort zone, patterns or dependent habits can you truly grow. 

Dogs practice behaviors that produce rewards as well as behaviors that relieve stress. They may practice aggression BECAUSE it's a release of stress. It becomes comfortable to do so. 
It becomes comfortable to just act the way you act, and use your old mechanisms to deal with the things that bother you in life. Even though it may not look like it, a dog's "comfort zone" can be really uncomfortable: barking, whining, reactivity, restlessness, hyperactivity etc. Only once we help them cope with the same stressors via a different approach have we helped them out of their comfort zone. #deepthoughts

Half of Dog Training is Doing Nothing

 Dogs don't know how to do nothing. They're really bad at it and they need our help at making them feel like it is a comfortable option. Let's be real, left to their own devices dogs will make really, really crappy decisions. Even if they are well trained, in the absence of the owner they can make really poor choices. Most dogs do not know how to self soothe in any way. Crate training, place command and obedience commands with duration, teach dogs to control their impulses, regulate their adrenaline, and feel comfortable doing nothing... even when the world around them is doing all kinds of stuff.

Duration work is not something you do all day every day. That would be pretty boring and really unfair. It's a skill just like any other that should be practiced, but not over-used.

Milling around the house is a pet peeve of mine and falls into the category of the rehearsed behavior of a dog that does not know how to relax. Milling does not lead to chilling. Tether training is a wonderful option to teach a dog to self soothe that does not involve any actual commands. Tie your dog up to a strong fixture in your house and go about your morning or evening routine. Expect that there will be protest or tantrums. Never leave the house or go upstairs to take a shower with a dog tethered. You don't need to keep constant eyes on the dog, but you need to be there to check in. Turn on the radio and do the dishes. When your dog stops fussing and actually lays down to rest, go ahead and release him. Rinse and repeat and you will have a dog that knows how to self soothe within seconds and actually enjoys doing so.

Anxiety in Pet Dogs and CBD

Anxiety is probably the biggest emotional issue in pet dogs today. They are anxious for so many reasons: they are not performing job/tasks for what they were bred for, we shower them with unearned affection, we allow too much freedom and not enough structure, we are completely confusing to dogs with our constant talking/fawning over them. Pet dogs live in a world-wind of confusion.

Hampton a current board and train student, has lashed out aggressively in many ways. But his barking/biting/lunging is not his "problem" his problem is his anxiety. His anxiety is what's making him lash out. You can treat the symptom for example: I can correct him for lunging at other dogs, but I'm not treating the root of his problem. When he doesn't feel anxious and his world is more structured, he's not going to have to display that aggressive behavior to alleviate his anxiety. If you change how a dog FEELS, you automatically change how they ACT.

Dogs can calm down so much more easily than people think that they can. It's actually pretty cool to teach a dog to relax on cue. Most dogs within a couple of weeks can self-soothe and shut off. Hampton is a dog that just will not stop whining, no matter what. He is the exact type of dog where I like to use CBD as a tool to help teach relaxation.

CBD is the non-psycho active ingredient in cannabis that acts as Mother Nature's muscle relaxer and anti-anxiety pill. There are no harmful side effects and it is 100% natural. What is most amazing about CBD is the dog needs less of it overtime, not more like a pharmaceutical. It just helps them "get there". Hampton's real issues are outside of the home, and CBD will definitely help him on walks too. It helps a dog self regulate and not be so hyper-reactive to the environment. It keeps them focused and poised and they can go about their daily routine with no problem. Dogs do not act "drugged" on CBD. They may get a little sleepy, but they can function completely normally. It also increases appetite for fearful dogs or dogs that will not take food in the presence of triggers. I can't say enough good things about CBD. It is my go-to training aid for anxious dogs in conjunction with duration exercises like "place". His family will be able to dose him as needed when they take him out on adventures. It will just take the edge off, making him more manageable and mentally collected.

The Power Of The Place Command

The "place" command is probably the most posted and talked about command/skill in dog training. Place has all kinds of uses for all different types of behavioral issues. I love place for hyperactive dogs to use as an off-switch for arousal. I will use place as a "safe zone" for extremely fearful dogs. I convince the dog that when they are on the bed no one ever comes over and "pops their bubble". You can actually transfer that concept of the dog feeling like they have a safety bubble around them, to the outside world and different objects. It's really neat! The number one benefit I see from a generalized place command, (not just on the bed, but the dog is now seeing tree stumps, playground equipment, anything else as place) is the benefit of creating bodily awareness. By having your dog place on an object where he has to focus on his balance and overall footing, you are bringing the dog's mind that is typically obsessed with the eternal, to the internal. It is a calming, self-centering exercise and they have no choice but to focus on the task at hand.

Place has so many applications and uses. It is the easiest way to teach our dogs impulse control which typically they need in areas outside of the home. By teaching a dog to stay on the place bed and not jump off or react to things going by it, you can then transfer this concept to the walk. They will be able to walk past other dogs way more easily because they have this basic skill ingrained in them from what they have learned from place. This amazing command can help dogs live so much more harmoniously with us. It builds a dog's confidence and gives them some place where they can completely let their hair down and relax; that does not have to be the crate. Crating is fantastic for dogs, but the place command allows dogs to be more a part of family activities while still remaining calm and under control.

Unpredictable Behavior?

On many occasions I've heard people describe their dog's behavior as "unpredictable". Trainers know that dogs are not only predictable in their actions, but highly predictable. Identifying these triggers is something that should be left to the assessment of professionals, as things are so often misdiagnosed by pet owners. 

If I had to give an example of a situation where I thought "unpredictable behavior" would be prevalent there is one scenario that comes to mind immediately: the re-introduction of litter mates as adults. I am fortunate enough to be very good friends with people who have litter mates of two of my dogs. Whenever they have come over to visit we have to take things very slowly. It was crazy to see the reactions of both dogs. My dogs are used to many other dogs being in my home, but as soon as the littermate of my Staghound entered our house, my dog Tom was acting very peculiar. It was a very strange form of recognition, but it was not exactly a happy one. I had never seen him care so much about another dog entering the home. He hadn't even made visual contact with his brother yet, but even from the other room, he knew that something was up and this was not just another dog. We had to keep the dogs on leash for a few days before we eventually trusted them off leash together. Even still, they never really clicked, as both of them would do with just about any other random dog that they met. They both tolerated the presence of each other, while still having this odd familiarity between the two of them. It was weird and uncomfortable to say the least.

Rain, my Canis Panther, has been reunited once with one of her litter mates, but they were both still puppies at the time. This has been the first time they have been together as adults and just like with my Staghound, I took it very slowly. We did a lot of side-by-side walking and a lot of just doing obedience exercises around each other. When we got back from a long run, I could see that both dogs had finally smoothed out with the presence of one another and acted like they wanted to play. Of course both dogs had their E-collars on so I could give them information if they made any poor choices. It is nice that they had this chance to play with one another and that they both enjoyed it, however, I would not trust the two of them loose together unsupervised, ever. There will always be something awkward and unpredictable about this type of interaction. 

Baby Talking to Dogs: Good or Bad?

How dreadful, how dare I! I'm going to reinforce her fear by baby talking to her! Oh, no! How selfish of me. There are many grey areas in dog training. There are many things that are incredibly counterintuitive as well. It has become popular opinion that baby talking to dogs is a terrible thing that reinforces all kinds of bad behavior. Here's what I have to say about the topic:

Reinforcement has to be something the dog wants. It also has to be something the dog wants in that particular moment. Could baby talking to a dog and coddling them in times of them being fearful make the situation worse? YES, it could. But a completely different person doing it could bring the dog out of that fearful state using those exact techniques. The reason is, each handler, their energy and intention are completely different. Petting dog is not just petting a dog. Baby talking to a dog is not just baby talking to a dog. There is so much more that goes in to this equation. "Reinforcing" a dog with physical affection does not happen the way people think it does. The dog has to want it, the dog has to truly enjoy it. Just saying good boy and petting a dog on their head doesn't necessarily reinforce anything. It's something that is just happening in that moment. If the dog was fearful and you patted it on the head you COULD be conditioning the dog to be fearful because of the "body pressure" you were putting on the dog by reaching for it with an outstretched hand, rather than the dog receiving affection as a "reward" and it intensifying or deepening it's current state.

One of my favorite expressions in dog training is, "Dog training, if you're not embarrassing yourself, you're not doing it right!" I used to be a very boring and stoic trainer. Over the years I began to loosen up and become more silly while training dogs. Dogs love animation. They love for you to be silly, it can be a huge tool in training and confidence building. 

The moral of this blog is: Be mindful of what your touch or praise is doing. If you are trying to console a scared dog and it's not changing the situation, stop. If you notice that your joyful, verbal offering is loosening the dog up and they are coming out of it, continue. These areas are not black-and-white. Be self-aware of what you are sharing with the dog, watch their reaction and adjust accordingly. 

Awkward Dog Greetings-Can Humans Help It?

Have you ever tried to stop someone from approaching your fearful/nervous dog and no matter what you said, they still approached? This scenario has happened to me countless times over the years. It seemed that no matter what I came up with to say, it went in one ear and out the other. I could only resort to pulling my dog away, changing direction or body blocking the petting attempt on the part of the stranger.

The reason people do this is that it is hard wired in us to greet others face to face, chest to chest. This is called a “ventral-ventral” greeting, thanks to our primate DNA. It is simply hard wired in us to address each other this way; facing forward with a hand outstretched. Sound familiar? We all do it. What is most crazy is that people will still do this, even if: you tell them not to, the dog is visibly uncomfortable, or the dog is barking/growling. People will STILL approach facing totally forward with an extended hand. So the next time you get ready to curse someone out, just remember; genetics made them do it.

Approaching other people while ignoring the front of them and burying our heads in their butts is certainly not the way humans do things. We all know this is how canines conduct normal, polite greetings. Instead, humans choose to go for the end-all-be-all dog greeting: FACE FISTING. It is my personal belief that people do this because they think that greeting the dog this way will make the dog less wary of them, BUT they hold their fingers back just in case the dog wanted to bite. So there may be apprehension or fear of the dog, but again, our genetics override it, making us face the dog and extend ourselves thinking that this will somehow appear less threatening. All trainers know it is just the opposite. We are so wired to face each other and extend ourselves to one another, that even the fear of being bitten is not enough to stop this approach. We just ball up those precious little fingers. 

It actually seems to make people more uneasy NOT to address the dog at all. Even though this is the best thing anyone can do when meeting an unknown dog, happy-go-lucky or not. It’s as if we MUST do something. We are not comfortable just standing there letting the dog smell and analyze us. We must show the dog who we are by extending ourselves. “I’m letting him smell me” people always say, as it looks like they are getting ready to punch the dog in the face. Actually what you are doing is putting an unnecessary amount of body pressure on the dog which he may perceive as a threat. Dogs can smell way better than we can. We all know that, so why do we think we have to come within millimeters of their face in order for them to analyze who we are? It’s that good ol' primate lineage again. 

Putting your fist in a dog's face is rude, confrontational and totally unnecessary when greeting a new dog. The more awareness we spread, the more comfortable dogs will be, with fewer chances of people being bitten. Join me on this mission and help spread the word: Be mindful of your primate genetics and try to control it around dogs. STOP CANINE FACE FISTING and other awkward dog greetings! 

Why You Shouldn't Take Dog Training Advice From Your Vet

If I had a dollar for every time I've heard a dog training client tell me, “My veterinarian said not to take my puppy into the world until he’s four months old because he could get sick.” or “My vet said that my dog is dominant because of how he reacted during his exam," I’d be rolling in cash.

Not a single word of this blog is intended to badmouth vets. We need vets and their knowledge of physical health should not be undervalued. But as with any other service, you should contact a professional that is qualified and has expertise in the area you need help with. Most folks have been ingrained to take a vet’s advice about dog behavior as the “end all be all”, just as they would a doctor. If I have been suffering from chronic pain in my knee, I’m going to seek out a primary care doctor who will refer me to a specialist doctor. If I have ANY physical ailment, I’m going to seek out a medical doctor. If I’m in psychological distress, I’m going to a psychologist, not a medical doctor. Realistically, you're not going to be taking behavioral advice for your psychologically special needs nine-year-old child from his pediatrician, or at least you shouldn’t.

Pet owners should see things the same way for their dogs. If your dog has a physical problem, take it to a vet. If the issues are behavioral, consult a professional dog trainer. Vets know the body, trainers know the mind.

Physical and psychological health are equally important. Unfortunately, there are still many vets who are quick to tell clients to never take their puppy into the world until it is four months old (when they are fully vaccinated.) I have even heard numerous times, not until 6 months of age, which was the previous age rabies was required. The psychological and social deficit that a puppy is going to have from no exposure to the world during the critical imprinting period can be just as detrimental to its overall well-being as the risk of contracting something from the environment. Guess which happens more frequently? The majority of dogs that come to me with behavioral issues is due to lack of experience and lack of exposure to the world when they were puppies. Each owner has to balance introducing their young puppy to new sights, sounds, and experiences and preventing them from getting sick. This is relatively easy to do; simply pick your puppy up and carry it in places like Petco or Petsmart, or dirty areas of the sidewalk. Natural exposure to the world in short amounts will boost your puppy’s confidence AND immunity.

The fact that some vets so commonly recommend keeping a puppy indoors for its entire imprinting stage is telling of just how little they were educated on behavior and psychological development. I understand what they are trying to prevent -- contraction of illness -- but the fact is proper socialization is our first line of defense in preventing a mentally unstable adult animal. Lack of health in both departments can lead to death.

Additionally, while working in rescue I have had numerous vets tell me certain dogs should be euthanized because of how they behaved at the vet’s office. It is completely unfair to make a behavioral analysis as to whether an animal lives or dies based on its behavior while it is being restrained, examined, and poked with a sharp object. Most veterinarians simply do not have the behavioral education background to talk training with you. The exception, of course, would be the veterinarian that has indeed trained dogs and can show you documentation, including before and after results, as well as explaining how they train to you.

All professionals should know the boundaries of what information to share with clients. I don't talk about medical issues with my training clients. Please don’t take to heart any BEHAVIORAL evaluations your vet may offer you of your dog, especially when the only space they are observing them from is in a very stressful environment like a vet’s office. They should know better than that. 

Corrections: Your Environment is Trying to Tell You Something

I loved letting my puppies out in the snow this morning. I loved watching them romp and frolic. I loved watching them find little treasures like pieces of ice or sticks in the snow. I also enjoyed watching their communication of correcting one another over and over again when each puppy tried to steal the other's find.

To say that dogs don't need to be corrected is the most preposterous concept. Quite frankly, it's ruining the dog training industry. It's also making dogs more aggressive due to lack of consequence. We have seen more aggression in domestic dogs in the past 15 years, than ever before in history. We have also seen a rise in positive-only training methods. There is a correlation there. As always, mother nature knows what she's doing. The first correction a puppy ever feels is from its own mother. She is sure to let the pup know when it's nursing too hard by giving the pup a hearty nip. Picture wolf pups exploring their wondrous new environment. When you stick your head down a porcupine's den, you only do that once. Hopefully the quills don't hurt too bad coming out. It is ingrained in all of us to avoid things that could harm or kill us. We learned to avoid those things through environmental correction. That's what survival is all about.

When you're making dinner and you accidentally touch the flame of the burner, you vocalize, and immediately pull your body away. You remember that lesson as you do not want to hurt yourself and get burned. It never makes you afraid to cook.

Imagine you are in a foreign land where you do not speak the language or have any understanding of technology, architecture or any man made hazard.  Let's say you wandered onto a train platform walking too close to the edge of the tracks. Just as you're about step over the yellow line and off the edge, a stranger grabs your body and firmly pulls you back. He saved your life. Was the stranger's grasp on you painful? No. Even if it was momentarily uncomfortable, would you really care when it came to a life or death situation? This is a dog's reality. We must manually teach them hazard avoidance through the use of properly timed corrections. Running after cars, bolting out of the car, barging the front door threshold are just three examples of daily hazards for our beloved dogs. 

Dogs need to be corrected properly, timely and fairly. Just like anything else there is a right and wrong way to go about it. It is my belief that both positive-only training and correction-only training is unfair to the dog. We must always reward behavior we like and correct behavior that is unacceptable at home or in society. That is your job as your dog's advocate. Find a local "balanced" trainer in your area that can help you communicate with your dog properly if you are struggling. Do you want a happy, safe dog that understands his role in this world and your environment? Tell him when he's doing it right and tell him when he's doing it wrong.