Tag Archive: behavioral dog training


A recent reader’s comment saying that anyone can be a dog trainer is absolutely correct.  There are no governing bodies to control it. I visited my local pet store and saw business cards for almost a dozen trainers hanging on the bulletin board. It’s become a very popular profession. But are they good trainers? I’ve heard people say that they want to be a trainer because they were able to teach their dog how to sit. Is that enough? What are the attributes of a good dog trainer?

I started my career working with animals as a pet massage therapist and I am glad that I did because through that training and experience, I learned how to read dogs’ body language and communications signals. This was important for two reasons: I needed to see where the dog was experiencing pain so that I could focus on that area but not hurt the dog, and I had to avoid getting bitten. Because I did a lot of my practicing on shelter dogs, I had no idea if they had behavior issues or not. It was a quick and invaluable lesson on reading dogs. Every dog trainer needs to learn how to read dogs. That’s probably one of the biggest criteria for making a really good trainer.  It’s not something you can learn in a classroom or by reading a book.

The next attribute of a good trainer is obviously being able to work effectively with the dogs using humane and scientifically sound techniques. This too cannot be learned in a classroom.  Every dog is unique, and getting to know the various breeds and their characteristics comes with practice and experience. For instance, teaching a Golden Retriever to “come” is quite different from teaching an Akita.  It also involves staying current on the latest research about behavior and learning theory.  Reading books, blogs of experts and attending seminars or conferences is advisable.

Most trainers teach classes and provide one-on-one consultations with clients. It is not enough to have excellent training skills with the dogs if the trainer cannot convey information to the clients; a really good trainer has great people skills as well. I’ve seen some really talented trainers who work wonders with dogs but they lack the personal communications skills to help the dogs’ owners learn how to work with the dogs once they get home. As we know, most dog behavior issues come as a result of things that owners do or don’t do.

And finally, probably the least important skill is writing ability although I do believe it’s still necessary. If trainers want to teach classes, they will need to prepare written handouts and a curriculum.  This information must be conveyed clearly and accurately to the clients. Also, many trainers who do private lessons or consultations will follow up with a written behavior plan. It will be useless if not written well.

So, yes, anyone can say they are a dog trainer but do they have what it takes to be a good one? Can you think of anything else that makes a dog trainer stand out from the “pack”?

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Dog Training Tip of the Week – Jumping

I met an adorable Pit Bull the other day. She was sweet and gentle with soft, loving eyes. She had the typical Pit personality – she just wanted to be loved. So when a woman approached her, she jumped up to be petted. Her owner yanked hard on her leash and screamed “DOWN!”  I jumped, the dog flinched in fear. I was horrified.  But sadly, this technique is still being taught by dog trainers. There is a better, more humane and more effective way to teach dogs not to jump on people.

First, let’s analyze why using the word “down” or “off” and yanking the dog is counter-intuitive. With this method, you give the dog instructions to “get off” after the dog has jumped. You’re simply teaching the dog to get off, not to stop jumping! The yanking and the shouting could also cause some sensitive, timid dogs to become fearful of people because they will associate  this punishment with meeting people.

Instead, there’s a better way. It’s important to understand that dogs jump on people in order to get their attention. At a young age, many dogs will quickly learn that when they jump, they indeed get the attention. And so the behavior is reinforced. When dog trainers teach owners to push the dog and say “off” when their dogs jump on them, this also reinforces the jumping – because the dog is getting attention! Even though our human way of thinking tells us that the dog should understand that he’s being reprimanded, the dog really sees it as attention.

The solution? When your dog jumps on you, completely ignore him. No physical contact, no talking and even no eye contact. Walk away from the dog, then after a few seconds ask your dog to sit and reward the dog with affection. Lots of it. The dog will quickly learn that he only gets attention when he is not jumping. But in order for this method to be effective, you must be 100% consistent and not “forget” and go back to saying “off” and pushing the dog away.  Dogs are quick studies and will do what works for them.  And everyone the dog comes into contact with must practice this method consistently too.  It’s not easy; it takes time and patience. But the rewards are a well-trained, happy dog.

I may have said all of this better in an article I wrote several years ago in a newspaper pet behavior column:  Off!  I hope this information helps.  Next week, why teaching your dog “leave it” is so valuable.

Training Dogs Using Hand Signals

In my obedience classes, I’ve always taught the accompanying hand signals for all commands. Some dog trainers wait until advanced classes to include this lesson but I believe it’s important even for beginners and puppies.  Dogs respond reliably and often quicker to hand gestures versus voice commands. 

Because of variations in our speech, it seems that dogs prefer the consistency of gestures. So many of us talk to our dogs in sing-song voices, often asking or pleading instead of telling.  I hear, “Can you si-it?” instead of “Sit.” No wonder the dogs blow us off!  Hand signals are clear and lack the intonation and emotion our voices may convey.

Why else are hand signals important? Many dogs go deaf as they age.  My dog has lost most of his hearing and the only way to communicate with him is through hand gestures. In addition to the signals for the basic commands of sit, down, stay and come, he has become adept at knowing where I’m pointing.  My one index finger can mean so many things to him.  And a “thumbs up” has become recognized as “good boy!”

I just met a dog who was rescued from a shelter and his foster mom quickly realized that he is deaf. In just one day, she taught him “thumbs up” and he is well on his way to learning more signals.  Dogs are amazing at watching our visual cues and I’m confident that she will be communicating effectively with him before long. 

If you have read my book, Puppy Mill Dogs SPEAK!, you’ll remember that Molly is deaf (and was disgracefully breeding puppies who are probably deaf as well ).  Her adopters taught her many hand gestures. It doesn’t take long. 

Consistency is important.  It really doesn’t matter what signal you use, just so you always use the same one for the same command or meaning.  Try it!  Your dog will love the challenge and it will impress your friends. Nothing wows people more than when I raise my hand over my head and my dog lies down. It takes some practice but the results are worth it.

In my last post, I talked about how there are more than 6 different titles for jobs associated with training dogs or helping owners to resolve behavior issues.  I covered trainer, CPDT and KPACTP, the positions that deal with mostly the training aspects.  Today, let’s review behavior consultant/counselor, CAAB and veterinary behaviorist.

Companion Animal Behavior Counselor/Consultant: I was certified as a CABC (certified animal behavior counselor) through a group called the Association  of Companion Animal Behavior Counselors.  It was a very promising organization with a prominent president and board of directors at the time.  CABC’s attended two years of college-level courses in animal behavior, learning theory, behavior modification, pharmacology, training techniques, and even family interventon skills.  It was a very demanding curriculum and the organization had the right idea – to train people to work responsibly with dogs and their families.  Unfortunately, the organization could not compete with others like APDT and as a result, CABC’s are rare.  Other organizations have formed, such as the International Assocation of Animal Behavior Consultants and the Associaton of Animal Behavior Professionals, but they do not have an educational curriculum available.  They are membership and certification groups.

When to use a behavior counselor/consultant:  These people specialize in working with dogs who have mild-to-serious behavior issues such as fears, phobias and separation anxiety, as well as minor issues like housetraining, barking and jumping.  These professionals may be qualified to work with dogs who have aggressions issues, but that will depend on the individual’s experience and tenure.  Behavior counselors/consultants will also train dogs in obedience.

Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist: Many trainers like to call themselves behaviorists but this is completely inaccurate and does a disservice to anyone who has earned the credentials of a CAAB.  To qualify for this title, CAAB’s must have a Master’s degree or a PhD in animal behavior. There are only about 100 CAAB’s in this country. If someone calls themselves a behaviorist, ask where they received their graduate degree and in what field.

When to use a CAAB: Many CAAB’s concentrate on research and education.  They may work at large humane societies or have their own businesses as educators.  However, some will take on private clients.  If you wish to consult with one, your dog’s issues usually are challenging enough that a trainer or behavior counselor could not help.

Veterinary Behaviorist: This is the Big Kahuna of the group.  Veterinary behaviorists are licensed veterinarians who have attended additional classes in behavior and pharmacology and are board-certified.  Veterinary behaviorists are the only pet training professional who can prescribe medication for behavior issues.

When to use a veterinary behaviorist: Dogs with severe issues such as OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder), extreme fears and phobia and extreme aggression are often referred to veterinary behaviorists.  They do not train dogs in obedience, however.

I hope that this little primer has been helpful.  If you have friends and family with dogs, please refer them to these two posts.  And most of all, send your veterinarian to this blog!  From my experience, they are not well-versed in all of the pet professional choices.  The more education we all have, the better for everyone.

When your dog needs training, who do you call?  Or when your dog is having behavior problems, do you hire the same person? If you don’t know the answer, you’re not alone.  Many new jobs have sprung up over the past couple of decades that deal with dog training and behavior.  There are more than 6 different titles of pet training professionals. How is the average dog owner supposed to sort it all out?  Good luck, not even most veterinarians know the difference when asked to give referrals.

In today’s post, we’ll review three professions and finish it up in the next post. I know I may have missed some but these are the most common.

Dog Trainer: Unfortunately, anyone can call themselves a trainer.  Some people think that if they can teach a dog how to “sit” then they are a dog trainer. But a truly qualified trainer has years of experience with teaching and has an excellent grasp of dogs’ language and how they interact with humans and each other.  Dog training goes beyond teaching commands.  Good trainers are constantly learning about new theories and techniques by attending seminars and reading literature.  And more and more trainers are educating themselves about dog behavior, a specialty that we will talk about in the next post.

As the popularity of the dog training profession grows, various schools have popped up around the country, offering anywhere from very short courses to lengthy and comprehensive curriculums in how to be a dog trainer.  One such organization is Bark Busters, a franchise dog training business.  On their web site, it says under the FAQ area:

Q: I don’t know much about dog training. Can I still be a Bark Buster?

A: Yes. Bark Busters provides a [sic] comprehensive training at the launch of your business. This four-week long class provides a great deal of hands-on work with dogs, as well as providing practical knowledge about how to successfully operate a dog training business.” 

As you can see, anyone can be a dog trainer after just 4 weeks.  If you hire individuals with this organization, you could be getting someone with very little experience.

When to use a trainer: If you want your dog to learn basic and advanced obedience, competitive dog sports such as agility, and animal-assisted therapy work.

Certified Pet Dog Trainer (CPDT): The Association of Pet Dog Trainers is a very large organization for dog trainers and they have created an excellent certification program. To be a CPDT, trainers must have a certain number of years and hours of teaching time, pass a rigorous test, submit professional references and maintain a designated number of yearly education credits.  Trainers with the CPDT title are generally very well-qualified.

When to use a CPDT: Hire a CPDT for anything that you would hire a dog trainer (above) plus they can help you to resolve many behavior issues such as housetraining problems, jumping, barking and other nuisance behaviors.

Karen Pryor Academy Certified Training Partner (KPACTP): Karen Pryor developed a method of training for dogs called “clicker training” first used in the 60’s to train dolphins.  Trainers who attend her academy are certified in training methods using clickers as well as behavior modification methods.

When to use a KPACTP: KPACTP trainers are very specialized and excel when training dogs in competitive sports as well as training dogs in basic and advanced obedience and behavior resolution. Their methods are very dog-friendly but may take a little more time for training.  Their methods are excellent in training dogs to do very specific activities such as when training service dogs to help the disabled.

Are you confused yet?  Just wait until the next post!  I’ll talk about Behavior Counselors/Consultants, Certified Applied Animal Behaviorists and Veterinary Behaviorists, then try to sum it all up.  Stay tuned!

My First Book – Published Today!

Yes, it’s official.  Puppy Mill Dogs SPEAK! is available for purchase! After three years of interviews with the most amazing people and their dogs, lots of research and writing, and working with the very best editor in the world, Chris Slawecki, the book is out.  Please go to http://www.createspace.com/3445335 to purchase your copy.

From July 30 until August 31, 2010, 50% of the proceeds will be donated to Delaware Valley Golden Retriever Rescue and Brookline Labrador Retriever Rescue.  Your purchase and telling others about the book will go a long way in helping homeless animals.

Plus, everyone who reads the book will gain an understanding of the unique and quirky behaviors of dogs who have spent their lives living in cages, and the challenges of adopting them.  In addition, the book goes into the health and behavior issues of the puppies that come from puppies mills.  It is an enlightening book for all dogs lovers!

Thank you for your support and for loving the animals!

Puppy Mill Dogs SPEAK!

After three years in the making, I am thrilled to announce the launch date of my new book, Puppy Mill Dogs SPEAK!, Happy Stories and Helpful Advice.  It will be available for purchase on July 30, 2010.

About the book:

SPEAK! reveals the inspirational stories of people who adopted dogs used as breeders in puppy mills, the adult male and female dogs kept captive their entire lives to produce those cute puppies in the pet stores.  These adopters are patient, loving heroes who serve as bright, shining examples of unconditional love. Many puppy mill breeder dogs cannot speak: Breeders “de-bark” them to keep them quiet and undetected. SPEAK! gives voice to these brave dogs.

 “The first dog that I knew was a rescued breeder dog was a young Golden Retriever who had just been brought in from the puppy mill farm,” Chris explains. “When a leash was placed on her, she dropped straight to the ground. It was like she had no legs. She was frozen in terror, and went between pancaked and crawling on the ground to whirling around on the leash, trying to escape it. It was so far away from what a dog should be – the happy, waggy-tailed Golden Retriever that you’d picture in your family home.”

SPEAK! also details the behavior and health issues typically presented by these dogs and the puppies they produce, along with compassionate, practical advice for overcoming these problems and other training issues common to all dogs.

 After years of sharing her knowledge and research about puppy mills dogs with clients, the rescue organizations featured in this book and other organizations, Chris brings the stories and tips for rehabilitation to everyone.  No other book delves into the realities – and aftermath – of how dogs in the U.S. are mass-produced. Anyone who truly loves dogs must read SPEAK! and pass along the cry of “adopt, don’t buy.”

Fifty percent of the proceeds of the sales between July 30 and August 31, 2010 will be donated to the Delaware Valley Golden Retriever Rescue and Brookline Labrador Retriever Rescue.

I am most grateful to everyone who supported my efforts and I am hopeful that this book will educate thousands of people and contribute to the closing of puppy mills.

Please check back on Friday, July 30 to learn how and where to buy Puppy Mill Dogs SPEAK!. Thank you!

Easy to Slip

Is it human nature to go for the quick fix, the shortcut?  I guess it is, but the easy way may not always be the best.  I wrote about dog training methods in my March 2 post and after reading a column called Puppy Diaries in the New York Times on May 3, I feel I need to revisit the topic because of what the columnist wrote. I’m as passionate about positive dog training methods as I am about eliminating puppy mills.

Even the most well-meaning and informed dog owners who know all about positive training methods and have implemented them successfully can still be lured to slip to the easy shortcuts.  As I read Puppy Diaries, the 1972 Little Feat song was playing in my head:

“It’s so easy to slip, it’s so easy to fall…”

The author of the column bought a Golden Retriever puppy and took the dog to a positive rewards puppy class.  She did the right thing from the start – yay!  But…now that the dog is a year old and pulling hard on the leash during walks, the columnist decided to take  the shortcut and hired a ex-police dog trainer.  This “trainer” who is nicknamed Cujo (that should have been a clue!!) placed a choke chain on the dog, instructed the owner to scold “No!” when the dog pulls and then jerk the dog back in place.  Forced submission.  Punishment.  I was so disappointed to read that this columnist, an influential New York Times editor, slipped and is now jeopardizing the relationship she has with her dog.

Nothing evokes more emotional reaction in the dog training world than the polarizing topic of positive versus punishment.  Positive reinforcement can require more time and patience as dogs are motivated to learn.  The end results are a happy dog, a better bond between person and dog, and a trusting relationship.  Punishment methods in general take less time because the dog is forced to perform behaviors, then punished for doing something wrong.  It’s a devisive topic because the end results may seem the same for each method – a trained dog.  But that’s only part of the picture.  Your relationship with your dog and the psychological health of the dog are what really matter.

Need to find a good dog trainer?  I recommend the Association of Pet Dog Trainers (APDT).  On their web site, you will find a trainer search feature.  Enter your zip code and you will get a list of trainers in your area.  But just because a trainer is a member of APDT doesn’t guarantee that he/she uses all positive methods.  It’s best to call and interview several trainers.  I wrote an article several years ago for the Delaware Valley Golden Retriever Rescue (DVGRR) called Is a Good Dog Trainer Hard to Find?  Included in the article are some questions to ask trainers when interviewing them.

Timing is Everything

How is dog training like Abbott and Costello?  No guesses?  I heard their classic comedy routine “Who’s on First?” all the way through for the very first time yesterday.  The precision in which they deliver each line is a riot!  A slower repartee would have resulted in a bland,  unfunny exchange, leaving the audience to wonder what the heck they are talking about.  In this routine, you are witnessing the perfect illustration of how timing is so critical – not just for comedy but in other aspects of life. 

Dog training is no different. Without a precisely delivered reward to the dog for doing the requested behavior, your dog will not know just what you are talking about.  Let’s use the very basic “sit” as an example.  Anyone who has ever trained an active, excitable dog knows that a dog like this may only sit for a milli-second before hopping up again. In order to show the dog that you desire a “sit” from him, you will need to mark this behavior at the very precise moment when the dog’s backside touches the floor.  An immediate “Yes!” rewards the dog and tells him that you like that action.  If your timing is too late, you may be rewarding the dog for a different, often undesirable behavior. Instead of showing your dog how to sit, you may be praising him for hopping up!

The use of a clicker, a small plastic box with a metal strip inside that when pushed emits a distinctive clicking sound, has proven to be a useful tool to deliver a perfectly timed marker of behavior.  First used to train dolphins, it is now commonly used in dog training classes.  When used properly, the sound of the click tells the dog that he performed the right behavior.  There will be no doubt in the dog’s mind that he’s “on first!”

For more information about clicker training, check out Karen Pryor’s web site.  She was responsible for bringing clicker training to the dog training world.

Six Words

I must have slept through 2008 when a very cool book was published, Not Quite What I Was Planning: Six Word Memoirs from Writers Famous and Obscure.  It is exactly as the title states, a compilation of memoirs from writers describing themselves or their lives in just six meaning-packed words.  No, we’re not talking about those silly abbreviations popular with texters.  R U 4 real?  It’s about the ability of the writer to express who they are or what they do as concisely as possible.  The origin of the short-short biography may have come from Ernest Hemingway: “For sale: baby shoes, never worn”  Now that’s powerful writing.  The words are chosen perfectly and evoke emotion from the reader. Another great example comes from  Steven Colbert: “Well, I thought it was funny.”  Great stuff!  

The book seems to have taken on a new life in 2010 because everywhere I turn, I am hearing someone describing something in six words.  The descriptions are meant to be thought-provoking and deep, or whimsical and funny, or just the plain truth. I don’t think it’s as easy as it looks to create something meaningful and clever because a lot of the six-word descriptions are pretty boring.  I tried to write mine and quickly felt defeated in my lack of creativity as well.  My first pass was: “Always Loved Animals, Wanted to Write.”  Snore!!  But true.  Or maybe: “Old Dogs, Best Dogs, Bring More;” “Puppy Mills Suck, Tell the World.”  I like those. 

I felt the same challenge when I tried to give my book a title.  A book title needs to grab the potential reader but not be so obtuse that the reader doesn’t know what the book is about.  That’s why I really like my book’s title: Puppy Mill Dogs SPEAK!  Short, concise and hopefully conveys what the book is about and compels you to read more.  We’ll see when the book comes out in a couple of months! 

How about you?  Will you share your six-word memoirs with the world? Please leave a comment with your clever creations!