Tag Archive: dog obedience

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”?


If you read my previous posts, Teaching “Come” Parts I and II, I hope you got the idea that you must make training time fun for your dog. And that’s what we’ll review in this post, playing games to ensure that your dog comes to you every time when called. Plus, if your dog is smart, playing games helps to alleviate boredom and anxiety.  And it’s fun for you too!

Before we get into the games, it’s important to realize that all dogs are individuals.  I can’t say that enough. I’ve said it before and I’ll keep repeating it because I’ve come across so many people who don’t understand this truth.  A dog is not a dog… Consequently, obtaining a 100% reliable recall from your dog is next to impossible for a variety of reasons.  Some dogs have naturally clingier personalities, making them easier to train and more apt to come when called.  While others dogs, such as hounds and terriers, could be more prone to distractions and may tune you out. The secret is lots of entertaining and positive training sessions.

What games can be played to help your dog learn to come? I like to recommend a variety of indoor and outdoor games. Of course, your ability to play these games will be dependent on your home and yard, or access to open areas.

One of my favorite indoor games that I like to play on rainy or icy days is “hide and seek.” I place my dog in a stay in a room where he cannot see where I’m going. Then I hide somewhere – a closet, behind a sofa, in a bathroom. And then I call my dog with a happy “Come!” that is loud enough for him to hear me. It is so much fun to hear your dog scampering around to find you! If you feel that it’s taking your dog too long to find you or if he gives up, call “Come!” again ntermittently. Now here’s the fun part: When your dog finds you, give a great big “yippeeee!” and jump up and down.  I guarantee that your dog will be soooo excited.  You can give your dog a treat, a toy or something that he loves too. There’s an added bonus with playing this game, especially if you live in a multi-level home: Your dog will get exercise.  A few minutes of this game will help to burn off a lot of energy for your dog because he’s using his body and his brain.

I also love to use mealtimes as training opportunities for your dog. While preparing your dog’s meal, place him in another room in a stay. Be super-quiet so your dog doesn’t know what you’re doing! When you’re ready to give him his food, walk into the room, show him his bowl and call him to “Come!” Most dogs are motivated by mealtime and will fly to you to get that food!  Praise him and give his the food (after asking for a sit and a wait, of course!).

Outside games can be a little more challenging due to distractions and the size of your outdoor area. I like to find a fenced area with several trees or outbuildings like sheds.  Allow your dog time outside to sniff and let the “novelty” of being outside wear off. When your dog is not watching you, go hide behind a large tree or some other large object. Whistle (if you can!) and call your dog to “come!”.  If you have done a good job with training your dog to come, he will immediately look for you. Many dogs will even panic a little if they cannot find their persons.  Just like hide and seek above when your dog finds you, act like an idiot – jump up and down and say “good dog!!” or whatever you like to say. You may also want to give your dog a “jackpot” of treats when he finds you.

Another outside game will require you with another person. Stand a good distance apart, depending on how large the area you’re working in, and have your helper hold your dog. You get your dog’s attention by either jumping up and down and being silly or waving your dog’s favorite toy.  Your helper is egging your dog on by saying, “Go get it!!!” or something else to charge your dog up. When you have your dog’s interest, you ask him to “Come!”. You may even want to run away a little, clapping your hands and slapping your thighs. When your dog comes to you, give him lots of praise and the toy if you used one and treats too.

If you are not getting reliable recalls from your dog with the training suggestions and games in these past three posts, I would recommend that you try clicker training with your dog. Karen Pryor is the guru and you can find lots of resources on her web site: Karen Pryor

Dog Training Tip of the Week – Begging

Quite possibly one of the most irritating of bad behaviors is a begging dog. It is engendered by a spectrum of possible actions from the ignorable silent stare (which my dog favors!), all the way to barking, pawing, whining, and nudging that cannot be overlooked. Sorry to tell you, folks, most dogs are taught to beg by us, their loving people!

It’s so tempting to sneak your dog a tasty morsel while you’re watching TV and snacking on popcorn, chips and pretzels. You may even laugh as you teach your dog to  catch it. Dogs are fast learners. They see the “picture” of you sitting in the spot where you fed them and they think that they know what’s coming next. The first time that your dog signals to you (a stare, a whine, a bark, a nudge, a paw) and you give the dog what he wants, you have taught him to beg. He gets what he wants by staring, whining, barking, etc. My dog knows the sound of the spoon scraping the last drops of ice cream from the bowl. He knows that he gets to lick the bowl when I’m finished. When he still had his hearing, he would come running from another room when he heard that sound!

Our human brains think that by giving the dog what he wants when he begs, it will satisfy the dog and the behavior will stop: “I’ll just give Rover a piece of my steak to quiet him.” Wrong! You’ve just reinforced the behavior and taught the dog that he gets what he wants when he barks, stares, whines, etc. Most begging behavior will escalate to downright obnoxiousness if you continue to indulge the dog.

How do you stop begging behavior? It’s not easy and will require diligence, patience and consistency from everyone. When the dog begs, you must ignore him completely. Yes, I know it will be stressful to listen to your dog barking at you during dinner or while you’re trying to watch the game. But it’s vital to show your dog that he gets nothing by being pushy. And everyone who interacts with your dog must adhere to this policy.  Eventually, your dog will get the message that nothing is coming his way.

In addition to ignoring the begging, teach your dog an alternative behavior. Have your dog practice an extended down-stay when you’re eating dinner. This will take practice but as we know, anything that pays off requires some work.  And if you really, really want to share your food with your dog, place it in his bowl. Have him sit and wait, then give it to him.  As for my dog and ice cream, he must lie down quietly or else he gets nothing. When the bowl is ready for him to lick, I ask for a paw and a kiss.

A well-mannered dog is such a pleasure to be around!

Dog Training Tip of the Week – Leave It

Someone recently asked me how to stop their dog from chasing the neighbor’s chickens who like to escape their fence and come into her yard. My response was two-fold: have a talk with your neighbor to fix the fence and teach your dog how to “leave it.” I think she wanted a quick fix which you will not get from “leave it.” It takes practice, practice, practice but the results are well worth it.

Does your dog dive to grab something that drops on the floor? Like to eat tasty morsels off of the ground during walks?  Chase the cat?!  All of these issues and more can be stopped by using ”leave it.”

“Leave it” must be distinguished from “drop it” which is used for when the dog already has something in his mouth. “Leave it” tells the dog not to pick up the object. I’ll address “drop it” in a future post.

Teaching “leave it” is pretty simple but getting the dog to respond to the cue can be very challenging, especially if the dog really, really wants the object (like the chickens!). It’s best to begin teaching your dog to “leave it” with something that is not extremely enticing. I use a small cube of cheese or a treat. While holding your dog, drop the cheese or treat just out of your dog’s reach and say the cue, “leave it!” Immediately praise your dog as you hold your dog back from getting the treat. Your dog’s reward for not going for the treat is your praise, so you must make sure you are very exuberant. And do not give your dog the treat.  (Be sure you are not jerking your dog by the leash or the collar. Many old-school dog trainers still train this way.)  Most dogs will struggle to try to get the treat. Continue practicing and you know you are making progress when your dog is not struggling as much. Within a few minutes of practicing, most dogs will stop struggling and look up to you for the praise.  This is the breakthrough moment that you know your dog is learning the cue!

Gradually move the treat closer and closer to your dog as you say “leave it” and praise when your dog does not go for the treat. Work up to being able to place the treat directly in front of your dog, say “leave it” and your dog won’t try to get it. And you can impress your friends if you practice enough to be able to place the treat on your dog’s paw, tell him to “leave it” wait several seconds or longer, and then give him the “okay!” cue that says he can now take the treat. Very cool!

As your dog responds consistently to your “leave it” cue, you can practice using even more desirable treats or objects.

Some trainers like to use their foot to cover the treat when the dog tries to go for it, simultaneously saying “leave it.” This strategy works well but must be phased out or else you will find yourself out for a walk and if your dog tries to dive for the deer poop, you really don’t want to have to cover that with your foot!

The uses for “leave It” are as many and creative as you are. I like to advise people to tell dogs who are counter surfers to “leave it” or if your dog is tempted to steal food or other objects off of tables. People with small children can tell their dogs not to touch the children’s toys or other items. At least once a week, I drop one of my supplements on the floor and get to practice “leave it” with my dog! Practice, practice!

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!

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.