Tag Archive: dog pet training


Having lived with a dog for 10 years who was very reactive when he saw another dog and quite aggressive if another dog came up to him, I understand the challenges faced by people who have dogs with this issue. Many people have asked me why some dogs simply don’t like other dogs and react so strongly. 

There is no easy answer because it could be a learned behavior (something that has happened over time). But we do know that four things can possibly make a dog react to other dogs. 

  1. Genetics – Heredity is a powerful thing for humans as well as animals. Just as we can inherit traits and characteristics from our progenitors, so can dogs. Aggression can be inherited from the lineage of either parent. This is one reason why I am so passionate about choosing a good breeder if you are considering getting a puppy. The best breeders will not breed a dog with known aggressive traits. Puppy mill breeders and many backyard breeders, on the other hand, do not care or may not even pay attention or be aware that genetics plays a role in behavior traits.
  2. Lack of socialization – If a puppy is not consistently exposed to other dogs at a young age continuing throughout adolescence, the dog may not develop good social skills with other dogs. Because he hasn’t learned dog-to-dog communications, the pup might fail to recognize signals from other dogs resulting in a possible fear-based reaction. If dogs are not socialized, they may be fearful or misinterpret another dog’s intentions.
  3. Attacked by another dog – A perfectly happy, non-reactive dog can change to a reactive, aggressive dog with just one scary incident with another dog. An attack that makes the dog feel vulnerable or resulting in a painful injury can permanently scar a dog and alter behavior. Consider yourself in a similar situation. If you get attacked by a certain breed of dog, you will more than likely fear that breed whenever you see it.
  4. Shock collars/prong collars/choke chains – Dogs learn by association. When aversive (punishment) training techniques are used, detrimental effects are sure to occur. The use of shock collars, even for electric fences, may result in inadvertent aggression. Here’s why. The dog sees another dog across the street and runs to see it. The shock collar from the electric fence delivers a zap. The dog learns to associate getting the shock with seeing another dog. The same scenario applies for people who use prong collars or choke chains, especially incorrectly. The dog sees another dog and gets yanked around the neck. The feeling is uncomfortable and the dog will associate that feeling with seeing another dog. People love to argue that prong collars and choke chains are appropriate, but they fail to understand the associative issues that may cause or amplify aggression.

It really does not matter how a dog came to be reactive to another dog. What matters is how to work with the issue. Use of counter-conditioning techniques with a qualified trainer or behaviorist is the only way to help the dog overcome the problem and learn how to be around other dogs. My dog was able to live with other dogs because I diligently worked with him. It took time and patience. There are no quick, easy fixes like some TV show trainers lead you to believe. And if you are getting a puppy, remember to be aware of these things that can create a reactive dog.

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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!

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.

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!).

Old Dogs – The Finest Kind of Love

What motivates us more, our fears or our dreams?  I’d like to think that our dreams have more power over us, to inspire us to do great things.  I believe that fears can be more motivating so that we avoid the dire consequences of our worst-imagined circumstances.  For me, I have a fear of becoming an old, homeless bag lady. It may seem irrational, and my friends laugh at me when I tell them this, but when I pass a woman sitting on a bench with all of her possessions either on her person as a threadbare coat on an 80-degree day or stacked in a three-legged, rusted grocery store shopping cart with room to spare, I wonder how she got there. She has no collections of crystal stemware, flat screen TV’s or $25 scented candles to make her world smell wonderful.

This fear of mine has generated one of my deepest desires and ambitious dreams.  One day, I hope to establish a “retirement community” for old dogs – because I simply cannot stand the thought of old dogs who had once been in loving homes ending up in shelters, homeless and scared.  Old dogs are the last to be adopted and frequently the first to be euthanized.  Most people want a younger dog or a puppy.  Not me!  My first Golden Retriever was my last puppy, 21 years ago.  I loved her with all of my heart and still own the cookbooks with frayed bindings and teeth marks from her adolescence. I cherish the memories of our 14 years together.  While her younger years were fun, nothing replaces the calm contentment of a mature dog.

My current dog, Gizzy, is a 12-year-old Golden Retriever.  I adopted him at age 5 because he was unadoptable, very naughty, and I was best-suited as a behavior specialist to deal with him.  After I rescued Giz, I adopted Donner at 10 years old (also unadoptable!) and Archie at 9 years old (somewhat unadoptable), and they have both passed on.  I loved them dearly for the 20 months and 30 months, respectively, that we had together and I’m hoping to continue rescuing older dogs.  It’s part of my life’s work – to save a few dogs from the confusion of being sent to the park bench with just an old collar around his neck.

Please check out the Old Dog Haven – http://www.olddoghaven.org/ and The Grey Muzzle Organization – http://greymuzzle.org/ to learn about a couple of groups who are putting their dreams into action.