Tag Archive: positive training dog


Walking With Dogs Who Pull

As a trainer, one of the most-requested problems to solve is how to get a dog to walk nicely on a leash. Some dogs just naturally want to stay close to the person who is walking them while others are completely oblivious to the fact that there is a person on the other end of the leash. That’s the case with my two foster hounds, Brooks and Zoë. They not only pull hard but they also don’t walk in a straight line. They zigzag to wherever their noses lead them. I needed to find some equipment to help me.

A flat collar or even a Martingale just will not cut it. The hounds will sputter and choke themselves in desperation to get to the next scent or to chase the squirrel that just crossed their paths. And of course, it goes without saying that I would never, EVER use a choke chain or prong collar. If you want to know why, please read my article on the reasons why:  http://www.chrisshaughness.com/why-not-prong-collars-and-choke-chains/

I have successfully used both the Easy Walk harness and the Gentle Leader on other dogs but the Easy Walk does not fit the Bassets’ physique. It slips right off of them. The nose-loop on the Gentle Leader may be dangerous for as hard as the Bassets pull. I’m afraid they may hurt their necks when they do one of their 90 degree zigzag routines.

I asked some of the other Basset owners for recommendations. From one woman, I learned of something new called The Canine Connector. It’s the invention of a woman who lives near Reading, PA and it has helped considerably. The Canine Connector is a thick, long rope that loops around the dog’s chest and under the front legs, then ties on the dog’s back. It takes the pressure from around the dog’s neck and uses the concept that when a dog pulls, something that goes around their chest stops the pulling.

I have found that The Canine Connector has made it easier for me to walk both dogs together and they are much easier to handle. But it’s not a panacea. When they see another animal, they still can pull very hard even with this apparatus. That’s where training enters the picture. I am working on counter conditioning them to look at me when they see another animal. Yes, it’s a challenge! Hounds think with their noses! But it’s possible.

I do recommend The Canine Connector but be warned, it takes a few minutes to put it on the dog and to take it off. If you are accustomed to just snapping a leash on your dog’s collar, you will need to add a little more time to your schedule. If your dog likes to dance around in anticipation of their walk, you will need lots of patience to put The Canine Connector on your dog. Taking it off also takes a little more time because you need to unknot the ends of the rope. With as hard as my hounds pull, the knot is really, really tight!

Check out The Canine Connector’s Facebook page and give it a try!

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It’s not enough nowadays to just be competent, compassionate and honest. It seems that controversy is the only way to garner attention. Politics and show business depend on creating controversy.  Haven’t we had enough of that lately with Charlie Sheen?!  Sorry, but being controversial is not my style.  I’m not looking for attention and do my best to steer away from confrontation and the limelight.  But I inadvertently stepped right into it, last week when I posted about Cesar Millan.

When the post was crossposted on Facebook, it became the most read entry of the entire year that I’ve been writing my blog.  On Facebook, a lot of people voiced their opinions about what I tried to convey: Most comments were from people who had taken the time to fully read and comprehend my message, while there were a few who either didn’t read it entirely or failed to comprehend what I wrote and they rushed to judgment.  I’m so happy that I was able to reach some people. As for the others who either didn’t read the post entirely or just didn’t understand it or didn’t want to understand it, they had various things to say about me, not about the facts that I presented. Interestingly, not one person challenged the validity of using counter-conditioning instead of force.  It was easier to condemn me.

One person said it was “tacky” that I compared Millan to Michael Vick. Huh??  Please reread my post; I made no comparison made between these men. I said that each one brings controversy.  Yep, they certainly do, as evidenced of the number of hits and comments on Facebook and this blog!

Someone else said that my post showed a “desperate attempt” to boost my own agenda.  Hmmm, my agenda? To help animals and to educate people about positive, loving training methods. Okay, I’m guilty!  Desperate?  Sorry, that’s simply not worth commenting on.

If it takes controversy to get attention for messages that will help animals, then I probably have no choice than to embrace it. In our current society, it seems like that’s the only way to get noticed.  I’m a pretty shy person. If I want to continue writing about helping animals, I’ll need to get thick-skinned and get used to the attention. Bring it on – for the sake of the animals.

Passionate or Pig-headed?

Have you noticed that I get just a little nuts when I see or hear someone treating a dog in a less than positive way? Time and again, I tell myself to stay silent but, like an unneutered dog, I am driven by forces beyond my willpower to keep my mouth shut.  As I try to explain how positive training methods are preferable in order to preserve a happy relationship with the dog, I see that I am turning people off – but I can’t stop myself.  Friends have coached me about my approach, that I’m too direct.  I agree!  But I can’t stop.  I am so passionate about helping animals plus I have the education, experience and scientific research to back that up.  Will the price I have to pay for this passion be the loss of acquaintances?   Is that the sacrifice that anyone who takes a stand needs to pay?

In the animal sheltering world, there are a lot of opinions about how to train dogs or how to correct behaviors. Surprisingly, choke chains, prong collars and even shock collars are still prevalently used and promoted as well as a lot of yelling at the dogs. Many shelter workers have never had formal training but have learned by what has worked for them.  Quite a few dog trainers learned this way too. For instance, I recently heard of a trainer who recommends squirting dogs with a spray bottle when the dog misbehaves.  Can it work?  Of course it can, for some dogs. But there are dogs who will simply ignore the spray while others will be scared by it and become fearful. The trainer obviously has had success with this method; that’s why she advocates it.  Unfortunately, she hasn’t had the training to find better ways.

Shelter workers, of all people, should be tuned into best practices that create a happy dog and preserve the relationship with their families. After all, many dogs are surrendered to shelters just for the fact that the dogs have behavior problems, either due to lack of proper training or from the owners treating the dogs in ways that destroy the relationship.

I suppose it is human nature to stick with what works for you, especially if you have worked in a field for many years. But I am just as steadfast and will remain passionate – okay, pig-headed – about positive training methods for dogs. I love dogs so much and want what’s best for them. If I can educate just one person, then it’s worth turning a few people away.

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!

Happy Anniversary!

This week marks the 8th anniversary of when I met and adopted my dog, Gizmo, also known as Gizzy, Giz-Giz, Goofball and Gizzy Bear. We’ve been through a lot together, like an old married couple: sickness and health, good times and bad. Our love has grown and matured, starting as infatuation (on my part – I can’t speak for Giz).

When we met, he was a gorgeous guy, almost 5 years old, big and fluffy and physically resembling the Golden I had just lost to a stroke at 14 years old.  But Gizzy was unlike her in personality; he was baaaaaad!  That’s why he needed a new home. His family surrendered him to the rescue run by their veterinarian’s office. Gizzy was growling at the children in the family. This rescue group knew of my work as a trainer and a behavior consultant, plus they knew I didn’t have kids.  I could easily deal with him.  Or so I thought.

I very quickly discovered that my pretty boy had some major issues besides his dislike of kids. Giz reacted wildly when other dogs came into view, wanting to attack if they approached. He was also very possessive of bones, he growled if you tried to move him off of furniture, and unpredictably would growl when strangers pet him. Giz was so much more of a challenge than I ever imagined. And to top it off, he was not very affectionate. Bonding to him became very difficult.

Together, we worked on his issues using positive reinforcement, counter-conditioning techniques and practicing “nothing in life is free.” Needless to say, he was not allowed on the furniture! He showed a gradual, steady improvement over the years.  He was a remarkable teacher to me – I learned first-hand just what my clients were going through with their problem dogs!! I became a much better consultant and way more empathetic to their issues.

Giz is completely over the possessiveness with bones and considerably better with other dogs.  He even lived with two dogs with no issues.  I never would have imagined that 8 years ago. He can sleep on the sofa next to me and be asked to move with no problem. But…he still cannot be trusted with children. Makes you wonder what transpired with the kids he used to live with?

Gizzy is now an old man, his hearing diminished, his joints stiff and his body lumpy with fatty tumors so common in Goldens. He’s turned into a mommy’s boy, becoming more affectionate with age.  He’ll never be an attention seeker but I relish the sweetness of his senior years. Oh how I love old dogs!

Happy anniversary, my Gizzy! I’m so glad  I never gave up on you.

Mom, the Disciple

My mother who soon turns 90 likes to hear my stories of the various happenings at the rescues and shelters I deal with, and she’s amazed at how much she didn’t know and has learned.  She often comments that most people she talks to are not aware of many of the issues with the animals, as she had been.  My mom has become a huge disciple for the animals.

After I posted my article about no-kill animal shelters last week, I started to think about how knowledge of animal-related issues varies among the population.  Because I am so deeply involved, I tend to forget that many people are unaware of many of the problems.  There are people who love animals but do not have the intimate knowledge that comes from working or volunteering in the field on a regular basis.  I’d like to believe that these people constitute a large part of the population – they want to know.  And of course, there are those who simply don’t care to have the knowledge.  Let’s hope that this group is very small.  My goal is to educate as many people who would like to learn more, and if at all possible, reach some who don’t care.  I know that’s a lofty goal.

I produced a dog behavior DVD several years ago called Successful Dog Makeovers and it was intended to help people who had little familiarity with positive dog training techniques, and to hopefully give a new perspective to anyone using punishment-based training techniques.  The DVD received some great reviews but, sadly, I received one comment on a web site that sells the DVD that indicated I needed to “try again” with my information.  This commenter believed he had a good deal of experience working in a shelter and did not need to have this education (or…he wasn’t interested in learning new methods).   His comment hurt but it made me realize that audiences vary in their knowledge and experience and motivation to learn.  You can’t win them all.

Just as so many people were surprised when they read my article about no-kill shelters, are that many still uninformed about puppy mills?  Again, I’m so close to the issue that I assume most people understand the problem.  True, the recent publicity about puppy mills has brought a great deal of attention to the issue and many people are saying that they won’t support puppy mills.  But some of these same people still will go to the Internet to buy a puppy, or will believe the person at the pet store who claims that their puppies don’t come from puppy mills, or will go to a farm that looks like the puppies are raised by a family.  All of these places are potentially fronts for puppy mills. 

With my book Puppy Mill Dogs SPEAK!, I hope to provide the benefit of my first-hand work with dogs from puppy mills and their adopters to educate people who want to know and hopefully some who don’t.  I won’t settle for anything but the highest, loftiest goal for this book.  Please join with my mom to spread the word.   Stay tuned – coming in July!

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.

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.