Tag Archive: canine dog training


Why I Have Baaaaad Dogs

From the moment I met Gizzy on November 16, 2002, my life has been about bad boys. Three to be exact, all Golden Retrievers. And who knows how many more there will be in the future. I love them. They’ve been the loves of my life despite all of their foibles, and the very best teachers as a result. 

Prior to adopting Giz, I had Caper for almost 14 years. She was a very typically sweet, smart Golden Retriever. She was perfect. But as my career of working with animals was developing, so was my need to experience first-hand what it was like to live with and try to rehabilitate a dog with behavior problems.  Oh boy, that was Gizzy!  

I hadn’t intended to adopt Gizzy. I was going to be his foster mom. Caper had just passed away and I was depressed and lonely. I needed a dog in my life.  I was told by the rescue group in Quakertown, PA that he was “not good with children” and that I would be the perfect foster home for him because I had no children.  Great, I could definitely deal with that!  I travelled an hour and a half to meet Gizzy (his name was Gizmo at the time). He came bounding out of the grooming room, jumping and kissing in a tornado of blonde fur. He took my breath away, he was so beautiful and friendly – and he looked almost exactly like Caper, except the face. Same coloring, same long white feathering down the legs and tail.  How could I just foster this dog? He was mine forever; I signed the adoption papers on the spot.

Then we got home and I gradually uncovered his true personality. He was not Caper, that’s for sure. (Lesson number one from Gizzy: Never adopt a dog to replace your deceased dog based on looks.  They will be entirely different personalities!)  In addition to being bad with children, I discovered that Gizzy was violently reactive to other dogs. Like a stealth bomber, he would let them approach and as soon as the dog got into his face, he attacked. Ferociously. Wow. They didn’t tell me about this… Okay, I can deal with this. I learned all about working with dog aggression in school and had worked with clients on the issue.

Next came the bones. Gizzy growled at me one night when I tried to take his bone from him. Hmm, they didn’t tell me about this either. And finally, he growled at me when I tried to move him off of the sofa. As it turned out, my new dog had just about every behavior issue imaginable! Oh yes, he was also afraid of thunderstorms, a problem that grew into a full-blown phobia. I guess I got what I wished for when I said I wanted a dog to show me what my clients go through.  Little did I dream that it would be wrapped up in one doggie package!

In our 8 ½ years together, I have learned more from working with him and understand exactly what my clients are dealing with when they call me for help with their dogs. I am completely empathetic. Now that he’s an old man of 13 years, his behavior problems are all but gone.

In 2004, along came Donner, the old stray who had been at the rescue’s shelter for 9 months. Besides being older, he had a limp and a major nipping problem. He was on the verge of getting put down when I stepped in and adopted him. When Donner got excited, he liked to hump you then chomp down hard on your arm, leg, rear end – whatever was in his reach. He was pretty obnoxious. And I still have the scar on my arm to prove it. But I loved him dearly. And I learned a great deal from him about how to deal with his kind of behavior problem, especially the benefits of keeping a dog calm.

Donner only lived for 20 months after I adopted him, succumbing to a tumor on his heart in May, 2006. As he was slipping away from me, I wrote the story, The Old Dog Nobody Wanted, published in the book Pets Across America.

A year later Archie arrived, my joyfully amusing 9-year-old with the stumpy wagging tail. He was a happy, loving dog – until you touched his feet. He turned into the Incredible Hulk, a snarling, snapping changeling. He was inspiration in writing my article, Grappling With Grooming. Archie taught me the benefits of counter-conditioning dogs to tolerate something that they had previously hated. In the 2 ½ years that we were together, he learned that wiping feet and nail trims were not so bad.

My three bad boys. I will love them dearly forever. What they have taught me cannot be underestimated. I admit I often long for a sweet creature like my Caper, a dog without behavior problems who is easy to live with. But for someone like me, with the training and knowledge to help dogs who maybe cannot live with others, I’m the perfect home and will greet more with open arms in the future. Bad dogs are the best teachers!  Thanks boys!

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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!

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!

Dog Training Methods

I just completed teaching a 6-week dog training and behavior class at a local dog rescue organization and was so pleased at the favorable comments from the class members. They had fun and so did their dogs!  I use all positive training methods as opposed to the antiquated force or punishment-based techniques.  By using rewards-based motivation, the dogs are happy to learn and a better bond is forged between dog and owner. 

Naively, I thought that the dog training community had mostly forsaken choke chains, prong collars and leash pops- the tools of torture of old-style dog trainers.  To my dismay, there are still quite a few of these trainers thriving in business…and creating fearful dogs.  One of my students had enrolled in such a training class prior to mine.  The trainer was stern, used choke chains and force methods.  The dogs in the class cowered instead of willingly participating.  This trainer even trotted out her own dogs to demonstrate their obedience skills. It was very evident that the dogs were terrified of the trainer and obeyed out of fear that they would be punished.  My student was appalled and immediately withdrew from the class. Instinctively, she knew she didn’t want to subject her dog to that treatment.  Luckily, she found my class.

Punishment/force techniques were first used to train working dogs – hunting, retrieving, herding, guarding and protection.  These dogs were rarely household pets, kept outside and strictly utilitarian.  The only human-animal connection was used for working purposes.  As dogs’ roles shifted to family members, the scientific community learned more about dogs’ behaviors as they interacted with their new-found human packs. Researchers began finding that the punishment/force-based training methods used for working dogs were not optimal in creating a strong, loving bond for family dogs. 

The dog training community has been slow to accept this research and many continue to train in methods that they learned from someone else with the attitude of “that’s the way it’s always been done.” Change is difficult but there are more and more “crossover trainers” who have converted their methods from the old Napoleonistic ways  to truly understanding how dogs think and feel, and what’s best to build a strong, loving relationship between dog and human.

There are those out there who will contest and claim that punishment methods work.  Indeed, these methods can train a dog but what these people fail to mention is, 1) some dogs will become aggressive or others will become so afraid that they shut down when punishment is used.  When training working dogs, these are the ones who get euthanized or sent to shelters because they are worthless to the owner, and 2) Punishment makes the dog obey out of fear, not love and motivation.  Wouldn’t you rather learn when someone is dangling a chocolate bar in front of you instead of a taser gun??  I choose chocolate!

Please read a couple of articles from my web site about choke chains, prong collars and shock collars, all equipment that I encourage others to avoid.

Dogs and Egos

If you’re reading this blog, I’m betting that you love dogs (and other animals too). And I really doubt that you’re reading this because you love menopause! Thank goodness, there are so many people who put their passion for the animals into action by working or volunteering for animal-related organizations, shelters and rescues in particular since they tend to be the most cash-strapped.  These incredible people are so needed because there are millions of homeless pets in this country who need care and help in finding new homes.  In my 10 years as a volunteer and employee of several shelters and rescues, I have found that most people approach this work with selflessness, to help the animals and derive a sense of satisfaction that they are of service.  But there are a few – and I’ve encountered them at every organization – who believe that they have a “gift” with animals, dogs in particular, and that they know more than anyone else.  Instead of getting satisfaction just from being of service, they need to have their egos stroked by being viewed as something better than everyone else.  They come in various forms – the credit-grabber, the bossy know-it-all and the “I can do it all myself.” I can’t tell you how many people tell me, “I’ve been told that I’m a dog whisperer.”  I just chuckle inside.  That may very well be true but so are the other 50 people who are volunteering here! 

People who really know about dogs (and other animals) are humbled by them and understand that we always have something to learn from the animals.  In my work with dogs and their owners, I have learned that every dog, every person and every situation presents different interractions.  I found that when I started to get cocky, a situation presented itself to me that smacked my ego back in check – I didn’t know it all and I never will. 

I try to remember and appreciate every lesson and be an example as a leader.  A good leader allows others to learn and thrive without needing to force their knowledge and position on others.  So, even if I am not in charge, it’s a good practice to allow others to learn – be it from their own mistakes or successes.  Each and every day, I tell myself that the satisfaction from working with animals must come from within.  And I have a great opportunity to be an influence even if I’m not the boss.

Check out the blog of Michael Hyatt for a great post about being a leader and letting go of pride (also known as ego!).