Tag Archive: positive dog training


Getting your dog to come to you reliably and consistently can be one of the most challenging and frustrating things to teach your dog. Entire books are dedicated to this subject! It’s not easy and requires a lot of practice and consistency. I will tackle this topic in several posts. Today, let’s review what types of things we do that encourage dogs not to come to us.

When dogs are puppies, we have the opportunity to shape their behavior in order to get the very best behaved dog. Or…we can do things that will forever make your dog difficult. I see many people inadvertently discourage their puppies from coming to them by doing several things:

–          Because pups can be so wild and active, many people will call their pup to them and once the pup finally comes to them, they will grab the pup, mostly by the collar, and restrain the pup.

–          So many times, people will catch their pups doing something wrong and they will call the pup to them and scold the pup.

–          People who use crates to train their pups will call the pup to get him to go into the crate, usually against the pup’s will. The pup quickly learns that “come” means playtime is over and he can no longer have fun.

These incidences all create negative feelings because something bad happened when the pup came to his person. In the pup’s mind, he’s thinking, “I don’t want to come to you because I won’t like it!”

Back in the early 2000’s, I used an accountant for my business who had a very lovely Lab.  She was a sweetheart!  A very soft and loving dog. When we finished with our business meeting one day, the accountant and I went out into the yard to play Frisbee with the dog. She was a wonderful Frisbee girl!  Most of the time, she brought the Frisbee right back to us.  She knew that she would get her reward in another chance to catch it.  But one time when my accountant called to her, she didn’t come back to us and instead decided to sniff around.  He called to her again. After four tries she finally trotted up to us with tail wagging happily.  My accountant scolded her and hit her repeatedly on the rear. She was visibly upset and fearful. I was mortified. I tried to explain to him that if you hit your dog when she finally comes to you, she will never want to come to you again. In the dog’s mind, she’s thinking, “I come to him, I get scolded and hit.” Yes, I quickly changed accountants.

So, tip number one for training your dog to come to you: Make it an enormously happy and wonderful thing whenever your dog comes to you. Always, consistently. It’s obviously best to start as a puppy but any dog can be shown that coming to you is a good thing. After all, if a puppy mill survivor can learn to come to people, any dog can!

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Why Cesar Millan Is Not a Whisperer

Facebook is such great fodder for my blog! Last week someone posted an article about Cesar Millan, a.k.a. the dog whisperer. It’s amazing how just the mention of his name creates controversy. Almost as much as Michael Vick!  You either love him or you wish he would go away. Yes, I was one of the people joining in the “conversation” about Millan.  Want to take a guess at where I stand?

When some people meet me and I tell them that I’m a pet behavior consultant, they often say, “oh, like the dog whisperer.” And that makes me cringe. No, please don’t compare me to him. It’s an insult. Unlike Millan, I have extensively studied animal behavior, learning theory, and behavior modification. I have attended numerous seminars and read just about everything imaginable written by scientists and professionals. Conversely, Millan had no formal education; he learned from watching his farm dogs and from experiences as a groomer. He created his own methods – whatever worked for him, he used on all dogs regardless of if it was sound or not. Pleeeeeeease don’t compare me to him. 

He became famous when he trained Jada Pinkett Smith’s dogs and she then told Oprah about him.  And the rest is history, of course, because of the “Oprah effect.” I do not respect some of his methods nor do I believe that the “results” he shows are always for real. It’s a TV show; it’s edited and made to be spectacular. After all, Millan has to live up to his image as a wunderkind. But guess what, he’s not a whisperer.

Millan advocates the use of force which studies have shown is detrimental to the psyche of the dog and erodes the trust in the relationship. Force evokes fear.  Millan often tells people to hold the dog down to make it submit and to show the owner’s dominance. This method was derived from studies of wolves and contended that the highest ranking wolf would roll the other wolves and hold them down to show dominance.  Sadly, this study proliferated among dog trainers and many still hang onto this notion. What they don’t realize is that more studies were performed and this theory was debunked. But the trainers obviously didn’t get the message! If you remember, a book by the Monks of New Skete advocated this training technique.  But the monks have since come out with a statement that they now do not advocate forced submission. Their book is still on the bookshelves – minus the recant.

Some people contend that Millan is working with highly aggressive dogs and that he has to use these methods.  Really?  Well what do people think most dog trainers and behavior consultants are doing, just teaching dogs not to pee in the house? Trainers work with aggressive dogs constantly; it’s what we do. The dogs we work with are no different than those on Millan’s show.

My biggest complaint about Millan is how he uses that “tsst” sound and a poke at the dog to disrupt inappropriate behavior. People who are well-versed in animal behavior know that what he is doing is not advisable for several reasons:

1) If a dog is growling and you do a “tsst” and a poke, you might make the growling worse.

2) You may get the dog to stop the inappropriate behavior but it may be temporary. What you are in danger of doing is causing the dog to stop the growling, which is in fact a warning signal that he is upset, but the dog is still not happy. He may skip the growl and go right for a bite.

3) Calling attention to inappropriate behavior often rewards and reinforces the behavior.

4) You are not addressing the root cause of the dog’s inappropriate behavior which is often fear. When you’re afraid, would it help if someone were to poke you and say “tsst”?  Not likely.

Others who have studied and understand animal behavior know it’s more advisable to use counter-conditioning techniques instead of force to modify dogs’ behaviors. (See my last post on February 16.) But this technique takes time and that would be boring on a TV show. I guess the American public likes quick fixes, that’s why Millan is so popular – train your dog in 15 minutes!  Real life is not a TV show. Proper dog training techniques require time and dedication.

I think the biggest reason why I hold Millan in disdain is not just for the inappropriate methods but more because he has become so popular. Why can’t someone who knows more about animal behavior and promotes respectful and positive training methods be as popular?  It makes me sad that Millan’s fame proliferates poor training techniques and that so many unknowledgeable dog owners are buying into it, thus the arguments on Facebook. It’s always the people who are not so well-versed in animal behavior who like Millan and defend him and his techniques most vehemently.

In all fairness, he does a lot right and I need to credit him for that. I completely agree that people need to be the leaders. (But not through force.) He’s also right on when he talks about calm energy. Dogs are masters at reading our energy and feeding off of it. And finally, Millan is very correct when he says that dogs need exercise. Just like people!

I hope that this post does not appear to be “bashing” Millan; I’m simply stating my viewpoint as an educated behavior specialist in the same field. After all, if someone in your field of expertise was on TV showing people how to do your job, you would have an opinion too! My passion is advocating for the animals and if I see someone doing something that I believe is not in their best interest, I need to speak up.  You do too!

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 – 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.

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!

Publishing Takes Tenacity

I knocked down a newly-created wasp’s nest from my patio screen door this weekend but the wasp keeps returning to the same spot.  You can sense the wasp’s confusion as it searches the area, now devoid of the home of its future offspring. I have often felt like that tenacious wasp as I searched for a publishing home for my book. I tried and tried to find a traditional publisher but despite repeated rejections, I kept returning to the same spot – the traditional model of publishing – just like the hapless, confused wasp.  How long would it take for me to understand that, like the sliding screen door, traditional publishers weren’t right for me?

It took me about a year of this abject pursuit to realize that I was looking in the wrong place. Traditional publishing was not the right fit for my book.  This reality finally hit me when an interested publisher told me that my book may not be published for almost two years.  That was their current queue.  Two years!!  At that moment, I knew that I needed to stop seeking a home for my book in a place that was all wrong.

While I was looking at my publishing options, I had considered self-publishing but falsely believed that only a traditional publisher had the capability of successfully marketing the book.  This is no longer true. Publishers have small marketing budgets – unless you are a celebrity – and the author must do most of the book’s marketing.  So, with that in mind I said, “Why should I wait two years for a traditional publisher when my book has to be published now?”  I could self-publish, retain complete editorial control and, best of all, make the book available much quicker than two years.

I’m happy that my book has the right home and I’m sure that the wasp found a much more suitable place for its nest as well.  The first choice may not always be the best.

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.

My name is Chris Shaughness – welcome to my blog.  I call myself the Menopausal Entrepreneur because I left the corporate world at age 47 to start my own business, a 180 degree turn from years of working in information systems, to being a pet behavior specialist, dog trainer, pet massage therapist and author.  Phew!  It wasn’t enough to be in almost constant anxiety over quitting the security of a full time income but I also embarked on menopause through this phase with all of its rollercoaster hormonal highs and lows.  

 I attended a writers’ conference in New York City during my second year of self-employment and pitched a book idea to an attending literary agent, a women probably in her thirties.  I told her that I was going to write a book called “The Menopausal Entrepreneur” based on my experiences.  She made the most unpleasant face and told me not to bother, that it would be too narrow of a niche to sell profitably.  Okay, I thought.  But I know there are a lot of other women who are doing exactly the same thing as me – leaving a long-time career to follow a passion.  Just you wait, Ms. Agent!  Menopause is right around the corner, lurking in a niche somewhere.

I originally wanted to make this blog just about animals, as that is my forte, but I realized I have lots more interests and things to share.  So, please expect to see posts mainly about animals and life as an author, but you might get a sprinkling of philosophy, spirituality and just plain old observations of human behavior.  As I study animal behavior, the parallels with human behavior are undeniable and educational.

I look forward to your comments and discussion; we have so much to learn from each other, and from the animals.