Tag Archive: training a puppy


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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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.

Puppy Pictures

Some progress is being made with shutting down puppy mills and with educating people about them; still it remains a major problem.  But another issue also looms large regarding the same careless, for-profit-only breeders:  the lack of quality in the breeding.  I found a web site that sells puppies from breeders in Lancaster County, PA. Most, if not all, of them are Amish breeders, a fact confirmed by a friend who visited the farms to see the advertised puppies.  When I saw the low quality and high prices of the pups on this site, I felt physically sick.  I am so disgusted with what these breeders are doing to our dog friends and it just seems that there is no stopping them. People continue buying these puppies for three reasons:  the pups are so darn cute, people have to have specific breeds, and the people don’t know any better.  The high prices reflect the demand for these dogs.

The price for one of the male Boxers shown on the web site is $750. When you look at the pup’s head, you’ll see that it’s cone-shaped.  Many of the other Boxer pups shown on this web site have the same shaped heads.   This Boxer either has another breed mixed in or has encephalitis, a.k.a., water on the brain, which can be a common genetic issue with poorly bred dogs. 

I found an English Bulldog pup on the same web site.  This pup is selling for $1975.  That’s not a typo, nineteen hundred seventy-five dollars. The dog is very, very wrinkly.  Can you say Shar-Pei?  This is clearly not a pure-bred English Bulldog.   These are just a few examples of the many, many pups being sold on this web site, and most are not anywhere close to superior specimens of their breeds.

There are dozens of “designer breeds” listed on the web site as well, demanding the same high prices.  According to one Amish woman, they create these “designer” dogs by just mating the “leftover dogs”:  any dog who is not currently pregnant just so that they can have a litter to sell.

The only way we can put a stop to this atrocity is to educate people not to buy from these disreputable breeders.  Show them how these breeders are ruining the dogs.  Will that stop people from buying from them?  I’m hoping some people will listen and learn.  Please join with me to spread the word.

Note: I had considered placing the photos of the pups in this post but thought better of it.  The Amish, although they eschew modern technology, belong to associations who place the breeders’ information on the web site.  Interesting how that works, huh?

Easy to Slip

Is it human nature to go for the quick fix, the shortcut?  I guess it is, but the easy way may not always be the best.  I wrote about dog training methods in my March 2 post and after reading a column called Puppy Diaries in the New York Times on May 3, I feel I need to revisit the topic because of what the columnist wrote. I’m as passionate about positive dog training methods as I am about eliminating puppy mills.

Even the most well-meaning and informed dog owners who know all about positive training methods and have implemented them successfully can still be lured to slip to the easy shortcuts.  As I read Puppy Diaries, the 1972 Little Feat song was playing in my head:

“It’s so easy to slip, it’s so easy to fall…”

The author of the column bought a Golden Retriever puppy and took the dog to a positive rewards puppy class.  She did the right thing from the start – yay!  But…now that the dog is a year old and pulling hard on the leash during walks, the columnist decided to take  the shortcut and hired a ex-police dog trainer.  This “trainer” who is nicknamed Cujo (that should have been a clue!!) placed a choke chain on the dog, instructed the owner to scold “No!” when the dog pulls and then jerk the dog back in place.  Forced submission.  Punishment.  I was so disappointed to read that this columnist, an influential New York Times editor, slipped and is now jeopardizing the relationship she has with her dog.

Nothing evokes more emotional reaction in the dog training world than the polarizing topic of positive versus punishment.  Positive reinforcement can require more time and patience as dogs are motivated to learn.  The end results are a happy dog, a better bond between person and dog, and a trusting relationship.  Punishment methods in general take less time because the dog is forced to perform behaviors, then punished for doing something wrong.  It’s a devisive topic because the end results may seem the same for each method – a trained dog.  But that’s only part of the picture.  Your relationship with your dog and the psychological health of the dog are what really matter.

Need to find a good dog trainer?  I recommend the Association of Pet Dog Trainers (APDT).  On their web site, you will find a trainer search feature.  Enter your zip code and you will get a list of trainers in your area.  But just because a trainer is a member of APDT doesn’t guarantee that he/she uses all positive methods.  It’s best to call and interview several trainers.  I wrote an article several years ago for the Delaware Valley Golden Retriever Rescue (DVGRR) called Is a Good Dog Trainer Hard to Find?  Included in the article are some questions to ask trainers when interviewing them.

Timing is Everything

How is dog training like Abbott and Costello?  No guesses?  I heard their classic comedy routine “Who’s on First?” all the way through for the very first time yesterday.  The precision in which they deliver each line is a riot!  A slower repartee would have resulted in a bland,  unfunny exchange, leaving the audience to wonder what the heck they are talking about.  In this routine, you are witnessing the perfect illustration of how timing is so critical – not just for comedy but in other aspects of life. 

Dog training is no different. Without a precisely delivered reward to the dog for doing the requested behavior, your dog will not know just what you are talking about.  Let’s use the very basic “sit” as an example.  Anyone who has ever trained an active, excitable dog knows that a dog like this may only sit for a milli-second before hopping up again. In order to show the dog that you desire a “sit” from him, you will need to mark this behavior at the very precise moment when the dog’s backside touches the floor.  An immediate “Yes!” rewards the dog and tells him that you like that action.  If your timing is too late, you may be rewarding the dog for a different, often undesirable behavior. Instead of showing your dog how to sit, you may be praising him for hopping up!

The use of a clicker, a small plastic box with a metal strip inside that when pushed emits a distinctive clicking sound, has proven to be a useful tool to deliver a perfectly timed marker of behavior.  First used to train dolphins, it is now commonly used in dog training classes.  When used properly, the sound of the click tells the dog that he performed the right behavior.  There will be no doubt in the dog’s mind that he’s “on first!”

For more information about clicker training, check out Karen Pryor’s web site.  She was responsible for bringing clicker training to the dog training world.

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.