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We’re in the middle of our third snow storm in a week (and this one is huge)! It’s been a long time since we’ve had a winter like this and it would be ideal to go for lots of long walks with Special Dark (well in the 28+ inches we have today though!). Anyone who knows Special knows how much he loves treats, but playing in the snow might even top treats! Unfortunately, Special is two weeks post op from a TPLO surgery for a torn ACL and won’t be going for long walks in the snow anytime soon.

Last night as it was snowing, all he wanted to do was bounce around it. Play bow after play bow he couldn’t understand why we just stood there, not egging him on as we normally would. Why were there no snowballs flying through the air that usually transform him into a flyball or Frisbee dog!?  For 10- 12 weeks post op, Special Dark is to have to only controlled leash walks. During the first few weeks he’s to be kept quite still, only gradually lengthening his walks from a block’s worth of walking–and no stairs, running or jumping. Oh boy, that’s a long time! But it gives me an excuse to blog about one of my very favorite topics: what it means to be trained.

As my wonderful friend Layla (a super- trainer in Seattle, WA) so eloquently put it: “if your dog fits into your lifestyle as you like it, then the dog is trained.”  It breaks my heart when people think having a trained dog means that the dog does everything you say when you say it, for no reason other than just because: the dog has to be at the human’s side every second of a walk and sitting whenever human decides to stop moving, the dog cannot look at another dog (and must never ever turn his head towards another dog), etc. What is the sense in this? Training is not about creating robots! Training doesn’t mean that dog has to stop being a dog, what’s fair or logical about that? We bring their species to live with us and expect them to completely abandon everything that is natural and normal to them? No!

Training is simply showing dogs that because they live with us humans, there will be certain times when we need them to follow certain human rules and social norms. Training is showing your dog that people, places and things they thought were unsafe before can actually be safe; even wonderful! Training is about creating a strong, healthy bond based on understanding each other. This means they learn to understand what we want from them and vice versa. We learn to read what their bodies are saying the way they are already so perceptive about what ours say to them (even when we’re not so aware of what our bodies are saying to them!).

There is nothing like the feeling you get when you see the look in your dog’s eyes when they really understand what it means when you wave your hand in that one funny motion or when you say a particular word! There’s no way to know for sure of course, but I imagine the dog gets that same wonderful feeling when they finally understand that when we raise our hands in that one particular gesture we mean for them to put their rumps on the ground! I think this is part of the reason that training builds a dog’s confidence and heightens the trust they have in their person.  

Anecdotally, I can tell you I’ve seen the power of clear communication. I’ve seen many instances where a trainer will demonstrate to a class how to teach a particular cue. When the trainer works with the dog, after a few tries and is eagerly responding to the trainer. Inevitably (because we’re all human after all) there will be a few people who initially will get the mechanics wrong. Maybe they lure in the wrong direction, they don’t go low enough or they go too high.  After a few trails of trying to work with their human, the dog turns his head and looks at the trainer! This never ceases to amuse and fascinate me! How I wish I knew what the dog was thinking! If I had to guess (and we all know guessing can be dangerous– no one can know for sure what a dog is thinking), I’d guess the dog was looking for the person who could “translate” for him.

But now back to Special Dark and his TPLO surgery. This is the beauty of training: when it comes down to a situation like this, where with very little warning we were told that he would need surgery and this hike loving, constantly play bowing, bouncy chow chow would need to be immobile for such a long period of time, we knew we’d have to rely on some of things that we’ve trained him. It turns out, some of these would be cues we’ve taught him, some of them would be games we’ve played, some would be fairly new and yes, there would be even be something we overlooked!

In the time we had before the surgery, we began heavily relying on a cue we taught him for fun: “scoop.” Scoop means we’re about to hold our arms out and pick him up. We knew we might need it one day. With this injury he would need to be picked up and carried up and down stairs for a long time, it’s important that he feel comfortable with it. 

We already use “leave it” for a lot of things, so we knew this would come in handy for when he goes to lick the incision.

The handout from the surgeon said that due to the level of pain a dog might feel during physical therapy, they advise the use of a muzzle. Check. We’ve got Special D so happy to wear a muzzle that when he sees it, he wags his tail and even before I can finish unfolding it, he’s pushing his nose into it!

With no long walks in our future, we had to be ready to keep Special mentally busy with our usual indoor games and toys, as well as add a few new ones. “Find it” is exactly what it sounds like. We hide treats under clothes, in a pile of toys, etc. We added a new spin on it and hide them under paper cups and he has to sniff out which ones they’re under. He’s working on his tricks too: things like having treats placed on his paws and waiting until we tell him which order he can take them in. He’s also working on touching various items on cue (stay tuned for this one, there will eventually be a video).

We have a few new puzzle feeder toys for him too. Two Nina Ottoson toys that he can work while he’s stationary. Each of them are challenging to use, even teaching him how to use them wore him out and has been great enrichment for him. Here’s a picture I took of him playing with the “Dog Tornado.” (Sorry about the quality, I took it with my cell phone!).                                                           


Special also has a stellar “stay” so it’s time to play with that again: long stays, stays where I disappear from view, stays where I walk around him, etc.

So in all our preparations from making sure he’s comfortable with all the places he’ll need to be touched to making a list of all his usual tricks and games to searching the internet for new ideas of tricks and games to occupy him, did we get it all? Nope. We forgot to get him used to wearing an e collar (better known to the world as “the cone of shame” as seen in the movie Up)! The first day was okay because he was too tired to care, but once the grogginess went away, he was clearly unhappy with wearing it. So we started to work on getting him used to that too through desensitization and counter-conditioning, plus we went out and got an inflatable one which we did the same thing with. We now have options for that too!

This is what trained means to me: working together with your dog to get through whatever life throws at you through the use of things you two have done during training. When you have the ability to effectively communicate with your dog, the two of you can get through anything! You can build on things they already know and add new behaviors, etc. It’s the real life application of the wonderful things you’ve done together (from the basic cues to games and tricks) that strengthen your bond! This is communicating with your dog when it counts. There’s no need to ask your dog to heel on every walk, to ask him to sit every 5 minutes just because you can.  That’s not what training is about, training is about the end result of being able to communicate when you need too and it’s about the journey of getting there. It’s about all the fun BOTH of you can have learning cues and playing games and learning tricks. Even though it breaks my heart to think that I cannot explain to Special Dark why his leg is so hurt, it makes me so happy that I can communicate to him the things he can do to help him through this scary and painful time for him. This is the “magic” and beauty of training- there’s no secret energy, no secret tips- it’s just this ability to communicate effectively with your dog that gives both of you the ability to fit into each other’s lifestyle! Whether that lifestyle includes competing in dog sports, therapy work or whether you just want to walk down a crowded street with your dog, learning how to effectively and humanely train your dog will get you there!


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After much delay, here is the last installment in the “dog training and behavior myths” series of posts. I’m attaching a warning and apology here: unfortunately it ended up being a long post!

16. “It’s okay to roll a dog on his back to pet him.”

Even though your intentions are good, rolling a dog on his back can actually send a very scary message to the dog. Forcing a dog into this position will very often result in defensive or fear aggression.

Another common mistake we tend to make is thinking that when a dog rolls over on his own, he always wants his belly scratched. This isn’t always the case! Dogs will roll over to signal appeasement or to create distance between themselves and a human! While our instinct is to pet the dog on his tummy when he rolls over thinking he’s signaling “please move closer,” he’s actually signaling “please move away!” Not at all a pleasant situation to be in. When dogs roll over in this way, to help build their confidence, it’s best to encourage them upright and then interact with them.

So how do you know when to pet your dog when he’s on his back? Look for relaxed muscles throughout the dog’s body, open mouths (often with tongues hanging out to the side) and general “wiggliness”- dogs tend to roll over in this way during play.  If your dog rolls over and you see any or all of these signs: tense muscles, furrowed brow, closed mouth, tucked tail- it’s best for the dog if you encourage him  to roll upright before interacting with him.

Dogs convey and understand intent very differently than we do. Even though dogs will roll over (or roll each other over) as part of play, prior to executing a rough and tumble move they’ve displayed other signals (such as play bows) to let their play partners know that what they’re doing is play. Don’t forget that a lot of what we think of as polite or comforting in our interactions with other people including facing each other during conversation, leaning in to get closer to a another person etc. all convey very different meanings to our dogs. If you happen to make a faux pas, it’s much easier explaining your intentions to another human than to your pup!

There are many sources available that discuss all aspects of dogs rolling on their backs including what it means when your dog rolls over, when it’s okay to pet your dog while he’s on his back, and the “alpha roll.” Patricia McConnell’s The Other End of the Leash discusses many of the topics in this blog and has great information on alpha rolls.  

17. “It’s best to take a dog that is fearful of other dogs to the dog park or to a dog class to get over that fear.”

Placing a dog into the situation the dog is afraid of at high intensities (including training classes if your dog is afraid of other dogs!) will most often make the situation worse. Your dog could very easily become overwhelmed to the point of shutting down, (essentially paralyzed in fear) not wanting to do anything but be near you and/or may end up biting out of fear.

Instead, speak to a trainer or veterinary behaviorist about how to desensitize and counter-condition your dog to other dogs or whatever they’re afraid of. Games such as tug of war (with rules properly in place), teaching tricks and even things as plain as working on basic cues with positive reinforcement techniques will also help to build your dogs confidence! 

For more information on fearful dogs, visit www.fearfuldogs.com and take a look at Patricia McConnell’s The Cautious Canine and Nicole Wilde’s Help For Your Fearful Canine.

 18. “You should be able to take things out of your dog’s mouth.”

Teach your dog “drop it” instead. “Drop it” and “leave it” can be life savers. Imagine looking across the lawn and seeing some sort of carcass hanging from your dog’s mouth! Wouldn’t you like to be able to just say “drop it” without having to race over there?

Trying to physically remove objects from a dog’s mouth whether they are food items, tissues, toys, socks, etc. can be very problematic at best and dangerous at worst.  You could actually inadvertently cause resource guarding through taking things away! Dogs should be taught that human hands are not a bad thing around their food bowls, around treasured toys, around favorite treats, that human hands come by their favorite things to give, not to take.

Speak to a trainer or veterinary behaviorist who can walk you through all the steps including ow to teach “drop it” by playing tug (see Dog Training and Behavior Myths Part II). Also, take a look at Jean Donaldson’s “Canine Fear, Aggression and Play” seminar handouts for preventing resource guarding and Jean Donaldson’s Mine! A Practical Guide to Resource Guarding in Dogs for help if you suspect your dog may be guarding anything. 

19. “Dogs should be punished when they growl.”

This is a very dangerous myth. When dogs growl, they are signaling that they are uncomfortable with something. It’s a warning that if we don’t pay attention to the dog’s level of discomfort, it could escalate to a bite.  If we punish for growling the dog may feel the need to escalate right then, possibly to a bite, depending on the situation. Punishing growls could also have long-term effects- if we punish a dog for growling the next time a similar situation arises, he may not growl at all, instead he may go straight to a bite!

While we would of course prefer not to hear growls, the reality is that they are a perfectly normal means of canine communication and it’s very important for us to accept them as such. Every dog will most likely growl at something during his or her life. It’s the equivalent of us raising our voices. Who can honestly say they’ve never done that?

I’m absolutely not saying that if a dog growls, we should just shrug and say “okay, that’s normal.” What we need to do, is to find out exactly what is making the dog uncomfortable and work to change that perception of “this thing is not safe and I will now growl at it” to one where the dog sees the person, place, item, etc as safe. This can be done through desensitization and counter conditioning.

Speak to a trainer or veterinary behaviorist if your dog is growling for any reason.  Take a look at Janis Bradley’s Dog’s Bite But Balloons and Slippers Are More Dangerous for an eye opening, informative and witty look at aggression in canines.

20. “Dogs who growl in places like a vet’s office  or grooming parlor are being difficult”

A lot of times veterinarians, their staff and groomers get to see a side of our dogs that we never see elsewhere. For some dogs the poking and prodding, need sticks, etc. are no problem, but for many dogs these are two of the scariest places to be.  Some dogs a) become so overwhelmed and shut down that they just stand, sit or flop over and can be manipulated every which way (and are usually touted as “good dogs”) while others b) squirm to get away, growl or snap when handled.

Regardless of which of these categories a dog falls into, she is not being “difficult,” “stubborn” or “dominant.” Neither “a” nor “b” are good for pup, both situations indicate fear.  

What do we do? We can do our best to desensitize and counter condition our dogs to these places, people, instruments and techniques. This will involve multiple visits when the dog is not being groomed or going in for shots, etc.  A trainer or veterinary behaviorist can help you do this.

These are just some of the myths out there concerning dog training and behavior. While they may seem trivial to us, a lot of them have very serious meaning to our dogs. These are not by any means the only myths out there: from the notion that dogs love to be hugged (another very common myth) to the notion that it’s great for dogs to be carried to the notion that when two dogs meet they should be restrained to the idea that when an off-leash dog runs up to your on-leash dog there will be no problems.

Dog training and dog behavior aren’t the only topics surrounded by myths. They persist in every field, in every aspect of life. For example, a friend of mine who is a personal trainer told me that many people believe they are doing the right thing by their bodies when they hit the sidewalk for a jog or a run (think of how many you see out there each day). Yet sidewalks are the worst surface to run or jog on because they cause shin splints!

Despite scientific (or medical, as in the example above) evidence to the contrary there are many reasons for why some of these myths have such staying power. It’s our job to be as educated as possible about what is myth and what is fact. Research and question everything you can to make educated and informed decisions concerning your dog. It’s the best way we can make sure they stay safe, healthy and happy.

If there are any myths that weren’t addressed in this series of posts and you’d like to share, please post them here!


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Here are a few more common myths surrounding dog behavior and training.

6. “A growl is always a warning, even during play.”

Dogs actually may also growl when they play bow, when they play with other dogs, when they play with their toys, etc.

Again, it’s important to look at the context of the behavior and pay attention to what the whole body is telling you, not just one specific signal. Look for signs of play: loose body movements, play bows, elf-handicapping  etc. to accompany growling.

When two dogs are playing, it can look quite scary to us with lots of teeth visible, chasing and wrestling all accompanying the growling. Look for dogs taking turns chasing each other; for wrestlers to take turns being on top; bouts of chasing, wresting, etc to be punctuated by play bows, etc. Often dogs will chase each other in a bounding, silly looking way and veer off at the last moment.

For more on what play looks like, take a look at Patricia McConnell’s “Dog Play” DVD (http://www.patriciamcconnell.com/product/dog-play-). For a bit more advanced and in-depth look, Jean Donaldson’s “Canine Fear, Aggression and Play” is a fantastic source (http://www.tawzerdogvideos.com/Jean-Donaldson.htm).

7.  “If a dog walks ahead of you on a walk or goes out of the door ahead of you, he is being dominant.”

Without getting into a lengthy discussion of dominance, you guessed it, this one’s another myth. These behaviors have nothing to do with dominance. Dogs just want to get out there to explore. They’re following their noses to get to the source of all those interesting, meaningful smells… smells that we can’t even smell, the same smells that they can already smell from far away!

There is no reason that a dog should be walking behind or beside you all the time.  She can be a polite walker and still wander ahead, to the side or wherever she wants to be. Remember that a walk where dogs are allowed to sniff provides a lot of the mental stimulation that they need.  

8. “Your dog should not sleep on your bed because this teaches the dog to be aggressive towards their owners.”

There is no evidence to suggest that there is a relationship between dogs sleeping on your bed with you and aggression directed towards their humans.

For more information on myths 7 and 8, see Jean Donaldson’s The Culture Clash and

Goodloe, Linda P; Borchelt, Peter L.  Companion dog temperament traits. 
Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science.  1998  Vol.1(4): 303-338 (available at: http://www.informaworld.com/smpp/978989331-53455308/content~content=a783706513~db=all~order=page)

9. “Dogs that don’t do what we ask are stubborn.”

They’re really not stubborn, they just either a) don’t know what you want them to do or b) he isn’t motivated.

Often, we think our dogs know a cue when they really don’t.

On the third trail of very first day that we day teach a cue, we may think “oh he’s got it!” He might, but it could be that he’s guessing because the behavior has worked in the past! It takes time to learn something new. Think back to your school days, how long did it take you to master calculus? What about something you had to commit to memory, like the periodic table of elements or lines from “Romeo and Juliet?”

Now, let’s say we’re convinced we’ve taught him to come: on day 1 we say “Fido, come,” day 2 we say “Fido, over here” and on day 3 ”Fido.” Which one of these is your verbal cue? Be consistent!

Once we have a cue that he’s responding to consistently, does he know that it means the same thing in the kitchen, in the living room and at the dog park with 50 other dogs? If we do 50 “sits” in the living room where the dog is in front of us, often we expect that the dog will automatically understand sit when we call them while standing 20 feet away from our dogs playing in the dog park! It’s all different to them initially- you didn’t have to complete an exercise in calculus the day after you learned how to add and subtract, right? We have to teach them it does indeed mean the same thing in all locations.

Is there a hand signal? Are there other body cues (are your arms out, are you bent down)? How does he know what to follow and when? Be very consistent about what you say and be aware of what signals your body is sending at the same time. Remember it’s much easier for dogs to understand our body language than our words so if you’re body says something at the same time as your voice does, your dog responds to the visual information and tunes out the verbal information.

If he isn’t motivated it could mean a few things. If it’s still during the training phase, are you using great treats? Good treats are deemed “great” by your pup, not us. Did you fade the treats out so that the anticipation for a treat remains? During your training, did you call your dog to come to you when you were angry for him destroying your flowers such that he is now afraid to come? You want your pup to keep on thinking that cues are fun, responding to cues should start to become reflexive to you pup.  Even so, there are some things I still like to reward for, at least on occasion. 

10. “As long as someone tells you ‘it’s okay’ when their dog meets yours, it really is okay.”

For me, this usually raises a red flag right away.

Remember, you should always, always be looking at what the other dog’s body language is telling you before you allow the greeting to take place. A signal that you are able to read as a warning from the approaching dog, the owner may say “oh, he’s just excited,” etc. You’d be surprised at how many people will say this when their dogs have their hackles up, are making direct eye contact and growling!

The other point here is that when someone tells you their dog is “great with other dogs,” they probably are. But dogs are no different than humans- they don’t have to like everyone.  And they won’t like everyone. And that’s okay.

I never ask anything about the dog. If everything goes well as we get closer, the only thing I ask is if the owner is okay with our dogs meeting. If we are walking along and someone calls “it’s okay, he’s friendly” and I get the feeling he’s really not, I just smile politely but keep going.

It’s our job to always be on alert to interpret what other dogs are saying to our dogs, it’s the best way to keep them safe.

Part III, the final installment of Dog Training and Behavior Myths, will be coming soon!

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Why not start the New Year off with just a few of the common myths surrounding dog behavior and training? Here is a hodge-podge of topics ranging from puppy socialization to dogs sleeping on your bed to wagging tails. How many of them did you already know are only myths?   

1.  “A dog wagging his tail is safe to pet.”

Not necessarily… a dog’s tail wagging indicates arousal. For example, a dog barking to keep you away may often also be wagging his tail! See if you can spot all the different circumstances that your dog wags his tail in! 

The best way to be sure a dog is inviting you to pet him? Always make sure you look at what the entire body is telling you:  are the muscles relaxed or is the dog stiff, etc.

Consider ordering Patricia McConnell’s “Reading Between the Lines” DVD for some excellent visuals of dog communication signals.

 2. “A puppy shouldn’t be trained until he’s at least 16 weeks old or he shouldn’t be trained until he’s had all of his shots because the risk for disease is too great.”

This is a myth that could actually cause a great deal of harm to your pup. Keep in mind that by 8 weeks of age (the age at which most new doggie parents often acquire their new addition), the sensitive period for socialization is about 2/3 OVER! This critical socialization period occurs between the ages of 3 to 12 weeks. This is your best change to have your puppy engage in as many positive encounters as possible (not just to dogs but to all types of people, locations and situations) to ensure that your pup becomes a confident, socially polite adult. Once this period is gone, it’s gone.  If your puppy is not well-socialized, there is a great chance that he you will have behavioral concerns arise in the future: anything from fear issues to barking at a trash can in your neighbor’s  yard, etc , etc. This list is too great to mention.

The benefits far outweigh the risks. When I taught group puppy classes I required the first DHPP vaccine, which was to have taken place at least a week before classes started. The risk of a puppy getting sick in a clean puppy class with this first shot in place is very small. The key is it to make sure that wherever you take your puppy, accidents must be cleaned up and disinfected immediately. Also, avoid placing your puppy on the ground in common areas that harbor germs (the grass in front of your local pet food store, for instance).   

For more on this, see: http://www.avsabonline.org/avsabonline/images/stories/Media/veterinary%20medicine%20roundtable%20ps.pdf, http://www.apdt.com/petowners/articles/docs/RKAndersonLetter.pdf, the works of Dr. Ian Dunbar or visit Dog Star Daily at www. Dogstardaily.com

 3. “Dogs that live with other dogs don’t need to interact with dogs outside of the home during the socialization period of their development.”

 This is another big one. It’s important that your dog meets and interacts with many dogs, not just the ones he sees every day. Imagine if you only ever interacted with one or two people, when you met person #3, how would you interact with them if their personalities were different? Would you know how? (See the info on socialization in Myth #2).

 4. “If a dog cowers when he meets new people, dogs or goes to new places, he must’ve been abused.”

He may have. Many people take these signs of fear to mean that a dog was abused, but in a great many cases the truth is the dog was not properly socialized.

Yes, numbers 2,3 and 4 all have to do with socialization. It’s such an important topic and so easy to go wrong with. It is quite common for dogs not exposed positively to people, other animals (including, but certainly not limited to other dogs), places and situations to show varying levels of fear.

Dogs can be afraid of anything from other dogs, to people, to tricycles, to dishwashers, to microwaves to giant stuffed animals to strollers- all things that you or I would think are strange to be afraid of. Why would we think it odd to be afraid of these things? Because we’ve been introduced to them, we’re familiar with them, to a dog who has never seen a tricycle, there’s no telling what type of torture device it might be!

If you think that in 7 years you might maybe perhaps (even if there’s only a 1% chance) get a yacht and go sailing, you need to expose your pup to the dock and expose him to sights, sounds and smells of the dock before he is 12 weeks old.  No one expects you to think of everything. We’ll always miss something no matter how hard we try, but why not try to cover as many bases as possible? Sit down and create a list. It’s much easier to get a pup to form an opinion of something as “safe” or even “wonderful” during this critical period in their development, than to go back later and show them tricycles, dishwashers, microwaves, giant stuffed animals and strollers are “safe” later on.  And I can tell you that fear of these types of things do happen, because when we adopted Special Dark we discovered this collection of items was on his list of unfamiliar and unsafe items!

 5. “Dogs that have a huge backyard to play in don’t need walks.”

It is essential for dogs to get out on a walk, even if they have a big backyard to play in. Walks not only give our dogs the physical exercise they need, but they give our dogs lots of mental stimulation. Their noses are so much more powerful than ours that it is often said that if a human were able to posses the powerful sense of smell that dogs for have for just one day, we’d be so exhausted we’d be asleep for a week!

Some people argue that their dogs get enough exercise in the backyard, but if you spend time watching them, take a look to see just how much time they actually spend running around, or for that matter, even walking around the backyard. It’s not very much, most likely the majority of the time they lie about!

Keeping your dog in the backyard and not taking him for varied walks is also a great way to start a fence barking problem!

Stay tuned for part II!

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Recently a client approached me about training her adult dog to wear a muzzle. We talked about what to do to get started, how to tell if her dog was ready to move on to the next step, and we planned a step-by-step list of the small goals on the path to actually wearing the muzzle.

  Within three hours, the dog was pushing his nose eagerly through the muzzle as if it were his harness! She’d done it! She had the beginnings of a positive conditioned emotional response (CER) to the muzzle. The dog was viewing the muzzle as an indication of wonderful things to come (in this case: salmon treats, chicken and hot dogs) just like the harness is an indication of the wonderful walk to come!

  Within three days, her dog pushed his nose through the muzzle, she could close it, and the dog was relaxed (even sitting down with it on without once being asked to!) and waiting for his treat! Now she pulls the muzzle out and he does the same happy dance that he does for the harness!

  As you’re reading her success story you might be wondering a few things:

1)      Is this time span typical? Not necessarily. It might take longer or shorter, but if you work on it, you can get a CER to a variety of stimuli (brushes, nail clippers, other dogs, trips to the vet, etc.). The possibilities are endless!

2)      Why would I want my dog to wear a muzzle? There are many reasons why you might want to condition your dog or puppy to a muzzle. Take a look at this article in The Whole Dog Journal for a wonderful discussion of why one can be useful, and exactly how to elicit a CER to the muzzle: http://www.whole-dog-journal.com/issues/12_8/features/Comfortable-Dog-Muzzles_16145-1.html  (August 2009).  One of the major reasons might be in case your dog gets injured. From a hurt paw to being hit by a car, any animal in pain may react with a snap or a bite when in pain. Wouldn’t it be handy if your dog was already so used to a muzzle that when you went to put it on when he’s got a deep cut on his paw, it adds NO extra stress? You could have it on in seconds, with no fuss, and then move on to bandaging him, lifting him, whatever you might need to do. If he’s not used to it, the scenario could also play out with him trying to run away, panicking once it’s on or causing further injury to himself in an effort to get it off or to flee.

3)      Does this mean if I have a reactive dog I can just use a muzzle? If my dog snaps at the vet? If my dog bites the groomer? If my dog nips at me when I brush his hair? NO!!!!!!!! Absolutely NOT! A muzzle is a management tool and/or an emergency tool. If you use a muzzle in any of the aforementioned situations without coupling it with behavior modification, you’re applying a band aid. A muzzle is not an excuse NOT to deal with underlying behavioral concerns! If your dog is fearful or reactive, a muzzle might be an additional tool to use as a safeguard while you work through the issues. It will not substitute for behavioral modification! If you only rely on a muzzle, you will have to rely on it forever; it’s not a fix, only a tool.

    Talk to your trainer or behaviorist to find out which type of muzzle is best for your dog in your given situation. Remember, do NOT leave a cloth muzzle on for more than 20 minutes at a time- dogs can’t pant as they normally would with one of those on.

  Ask your trainer or behaviorist how you can teach your dog to love his muzzle if you’re thinking of using a muzzle as a management item while you work through behavioral concerns. You and your dog will be happier for it! Hopefully, you’ll never need a muzzle, but even then teaching her to wear one is just another thing you can work on with your dog as mental stimulation or as a bonding exercise! You could always think of it as a trick to teach.

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Can trainers teach your dog to sit? Can trainers show you how to teach your dog to sit? Is there really a difference?

  The answer to all three of those questions is YES!

  Is this really important? YES! A trainer could probably teach most dogs to sit in relatively short amount of time, but that is not the trainer’s purpose. The trainer is there to show you how to teach a particular cue or get you through a behavioral concern. We do not train the dog for you! When you contact a trainer and sign up for a class or individual lessons in your home, you’re hiring someone to show you how to train your dog. The few hours you meet with that trainer will NOT be enough for a dog to learn any particular task. No matter how many hours of training you sign up for- your dog will never learn what you’d like them to if you rely solely on the time that you, your dog and your trainer spend together!

    Think back to your own schooling, did you learn everything you needed during the school day? Of course not, you went home and worked on homework! 

  The “homework” your trainer assigns is meant for you and your dog to complete together. In between visits with your trainer, you should be working with your dog in multiple, short sessions to practice what the trainer showed you.  These short sessions will help keep your dog’s attention, should always end on a positive note, will help strengthen your bond with your dog and will get you closer and closer to your training goals. You’ll have additional questions come up as you’re working with your dog and that’s good, we want to be able to address them as you progress with your training goals!

  If you don’t do your homework, your dog’s progress will be slower than what you’d like. In certain cases, much slower.

  Here are some tips to keep in mind as you work through your homework: 

  When your dog is learning new things, certain tasks will go quicker and smoother than others and these will vary from dog to dog. For example, a “sit” and a “down” might be much easier than a “come,” so plan on some tasks requiring more time than others. 

  Also, don’t assume your dog has learned something because she’s doing it right. Truly learning something takes lots of practice in varied contexts. Once you change one aspect of an exercise (such as a stay in your living room where you walk 5 feet away from your dog vs. a stay in the park where you walk 5 feet away from your dog), it’s a whole different exercise to your dog! He won’t be able to “stay” in your living room, the park, your driveway, in front of the dogpark and in front of the lady handing out treat samples at the store surrounded by 50 other dogs if you have only practiced stay in your living room.! You’ll need to practice “stay” in your living room, the park, your driveway, in front of the dogpark and in front of the lady handing out treat samples at the store surrounded by 50 other dogs if you want him to be able to stay in all those contexts.

   As you change the degree of difficulty, make sure to vary only one variable at a time (i.e.: setting or distance, not both! Your dog is much more likely to succeed this way.   

  Also, be prepared to go backwards. Dog are not perfect; they will have set-backs. It won’t always get better and better, sometimes it will get better and better and then a bit worse. This might happen when you vary location or distraction, etc. In this case you might have to work through some basic steps you’ve already gone over in the new location or with the new distraction present. Take the stay example: in your living room, you might get 5 feet away, but you find that in your driveway you can only make it one foot away before your pup’s right by your side! That’s okay! Go back to your basic steps and work up to the 5 foot stay in the new location.

Remember, just because you’ve just taken your first driving lesson in an empty parking lot doesn’t mean you’re expected to drive as a stunt driver for the next blockbuster action movie an hour later either!

  Most importantly as you’re working through all this, don’t be afraid to ask your trainer questions about how you can get the most out of your homework, it’s what we’re here for! If something isn’t making sense, don’t be weary of asking for clarification.  The times you spend working with your dog one on one are just as important as those you spend with your trainer.  While you’re with your trainer, they’ll explain how to work through a particular task, show you examples, describe all the little steps in between and let you have at it. While you’re away from your trainer, you’re working through all the information your trainer supplied you with. This is a great time to make note of any glitches that come up, any questions you might have, any fine-tuning that will need to be done.  The next time you see your trainer, the best way to take advantage of them is to ask about all those questions and concerns, that way you can always build on the previous week’s tasks.

  Oh yes, and one more thing, while you’re not graded on it per se… YES, we will always be able to tell whether you’ve done your homework!

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Treats VS. Choke Chains

One of the things I’ve never been able to understand as a dog trainer is the protest against treats.

Why are people so against giving a treat as a reward but think nothing of choking a dog with a collar? It surprises me how prevalent choke collars, prong collars and shock collars are. Even at the county fair, what did I see? Sheep, goats, pigs all wearing choke collars! When I speak to people from other cultures, places where dogs are viewed as having their place outside only and never in the home, even they look utterly shocked (pardon the pun) when I explain to them that some people choose to use shock collars to train their dogs! Why do the things that hurt our dogs or cause them fear come so easy, but offering a treat as a reward is met with disgust: the “I don’t believe in treats” response? What about “I don’t believe in hurting or scaring my dog?” Wouldn’t that be the logical first thought? Yet in so many cases, it isn’t.

I won’t discuss all the possible answers to this question in this post. If you’re interested in what might motivate people to use aversive methods or why it comes more naturally to some people than a system of rewards, peruse some of the positive reinforcement training literature or seminars available on DVD.

The part of the answer that I will discuss here is that of a lack of understanding of the role of the treats in training. I often hear the comment: “I don’t want to bribe my dog to do anything,” and it’s ugly counterpart that will send shivers down any trainers spine: ‘I want my dog to do it for me, just because I asked.”

In positive reinforcement training, the role of the treat is often to lure the dog into a behavior you would like to teach, to show the dog the behavior you would like her to perform without having to touch her. For example, we hold the treat over the dog’s head close to her nose and move the treat backwards and as she follows the treat her rear end goes down and touches the ground. Voila, your dog is now sitting! The “by the definition of positive reinforcement” role of the treat is to act as a reinforcer: something given to the dog to increase the chances that she’ll perform a given behavior in the future. So back to our sit, as soon as that rear end hits the ground, you reward the dog with the treat. Through repetition the dog learns that when she produces this particular behavior, she’ll be rewarded. By the way, popping a choke collar, then loosening it when the dog stops pulling and then giving a treat does not qualify as adhering to the guidelines of positive reinforcement training!

There are other ways to achieve the sit and we’ll get to those in a moment.

Yes, the treat is a reward. It is payment if you will. It is not a bribe. The treat is a tool to help you teach your dog a new behavior. You can fade it out once your dog understands the behavior.

And if you choose not to fade it out, that’s fine too.

Think of it this way, would you continue to go to work if you didn’t get paid? When your boss sends you to a company training session, do you go because you want to? Most likely you go because you need the training in order to do your job so you can continue to get paid!

Now back to that other way to get that sit. You could pop the choke or prong collar, or shock the dog. But why would you? Why not use a method where you don’t have to harm or scare your dog? One method will result in a happy, eager to learn dog. One method could result in a dog whose behaviors (all behaviors, not just target behaviors) are subdued, a dog afraid of his human, a dog who may one day feel the need to defend himself from his human. In our work example, if every day you got to work and your boss said “do this or you’ll be fired on the spot!” for every single task you’re about to work on, would you do it? You bet! Would you be healthy and happy at this job? I’ll let you ponder that on your own.

Now, which one of these dogs is doing things for you just because they want to, just because you’re asking them to? Neither of them! Think about it, when was the last time you saw a dog perform a behavior on cue just to do it for their human because their human wanted them to? Is the dog whose human has the bait pouch doing the sits simply the owner asked her to? No! She’s waiting for the payoff! Is the dog whose human is popping away at the choke collar sitting just because his wants him to? No! He’s doing it because he is forced to, because is afraid of what might happen if he doesn’t and because it hurts if he doesn’t!

So do dogs ever do things when there is no treat involved or no choke involved? You bet! When I hold my hand out for Special Dark so he can smell the fantastic sandwich I had for lunch he eagerly slaps his fuzzy paw in mine to shake my hand because that’s his visual cue for “paw!” When we’re out walking, and he finds a giant bone and I say “leave it,” he does! When we’re sitting in the car and I turn around and ask for a high five, he does it without hesitation. Is he doing it “just for me, just because I asked?” No way! As someone who has studied animal behavior as a profession for the last decade, I can tell you he’s doing it because it’s paid off enough in the past by getting him something he needs or wants- the odds are in his favor. We have faded the treats such that the behavior now looks reflexive because it’s been repeated many times and the treats weren’t stopped cold turkey (check out almost any positive reinforcement training book for a discussion of “reinforcement schedules” to learn how to do this).

And guess what? He may still get paid off with life rewards too! When I ask him to leave the bone, the walk doesn’t end when he leaves it, we keep going! Sometimes I try to supply a treat (there are behaviors that I still reward for simply because I think he deserves it) and he’d rather move on instead. The dog who does things “just for you, just because you ask” doesn’t exist! (For more on the ideal “Disney dog” we all seek, read Jean Donaldson’s The Culture Clash.)

The closest you’ll ever get to that happy go-lucky cartoon dog who loves to please is through the use of positive reinforcement. You’ll have a dog who will do what you ask because it’s fun, because it’s rewarding, and not because she’s scared or in pain. You’ll have a happy, healthy bond from both human and canine perspective. In my mind there is no question about the validity of treats in training. You get as reliable results as you could accomplish with any type of training (if not better!) and a well-adjusted, happy dog. What more could you hope for?

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Almost a year after Alex (the world famous African Grey parrot) died, Patricia McConnell wrote an article for Bark magazine (March/April 2008 No. 47, pg. 46-49) about what dogs understand. Can dogs understand concepts such as smaller vs. bigger? Can our dogs understand that the words we say to them can represent objects and actions?

The article was amazing as usual, but it wasn’t any of these questions that stuck with me. It was the end of one particular paragraph where she describes Alex’s first trip to the vet. Alex had to stay at the vet alone and as Irene Pepperberg (renowned scientist and Alex’s human) was leaving him, he said to her quietly “I’m sorry. I love you. I’m sorry.” Can anything be more heart wrenching?

Reading the story still gives me goose bumps. I always hate seeing Special Dark confused or afraid of anything. I always wonder in particular about what rescue dogs in particular think about certain situations when they’ve just gone to their new homes. The first time Special Dark went to the vet was the day after we adopted him (believe me, this was only because it was absolutely necessary!), and among other things he was feeling, I wondered if he thought this family was done with him too.

There are many times when I’m gushing over Special Dark, talking to him for long periods of time about how I adore him. I know that while I’m doing this he’s looking at me wondering what I want, scanning for words he already knows (sit, down, stay, walk, treat, etc). A prime example of this is when I’m gathering my things to get ready to go out. When I talk to him during these times, I see a mixture of anticipation and confusion as he listens for me to say “come on” or “you’re staying.” He’s searching for the words that have contextual meaning to him in a sea of the “useless” extraneous human words that have no immediate consequence: “I love you, you’re the cutest, aw, look how little you are.” All the words that I, as a human, feel so good saying to him all the while he’s patiently waiting for the punch line! (That’s not to say that these words are all meaningless all the time, I have been known to float a treat just for cuteness!)

You might be wondering what this overly sentimental post has to do with training, here it is: Whether or not dogs feel love, empathy, sorrow or even whether they might offer the above words as an appeasement signal to a human if they could (all topics for another blog), two things are certain:

  1. Dogs experience fear.
  2. Clear communication is essential to any dog-human relationship.

 Dogs can be fearful of other dogs, food bowls, people, wheelchairs, substrates, thunder, etc. The list is endless. Dogs, like every other living thing on the planet, are afraid of pain (think fight or flight). Animals have to be afraid of pain, or the threat of pain, to live long enough to pass on their genetic information.

Aversive training methods suggest to your dog that fear, pain or death could be a consequence of a behavior.  Shock collars, prong collars, choke collars, alpha rolls or pinning dogs down all result in fear and pain. I’ve often had people tell me that these things “don’t hurt.”  I once spoke to the owner of a chihuahua who was wearing a shock collar because he pulled on his leash and he barked too much. They told me that their trainer explained to them that the if the dog shakes and yelps, the collar is working properly. If there is no shaking or yelping, the voltage needs to be increased. The justification for the use of these tools is always “don’t worry, they’re painless.” I ask them, if it’s not through fear or pain, how or why do these items work? They have no answer for me. I can tell them that positive reinforcement methods work because the dog is excited to earn a treat, he is using his mind to solve a puzzle and his solution will result in a yummy bit of food, a toy or a walk, etc., and a wrong answer doesn’t result in fear or pain. When the dog is wearing a prong collar and the collar is popped and then released, is the dog excited about anything? What results will his compliance produce for him?

This is one reason why effective, clear communication between you and your dog is so important to master. It’s hard enough communicating with members of our own species (think about how many misunderstandings or confusing conversations you have had this week)! Now we have to figure out what our dogs are trying to communicate to us and our poor dogs get to try to figure out what we’re trying to communicate to them!

It’s important to learn what they are trying to communicate to us, so we can effectively communicate with them. It’s not important just for training, but to avoid “misunderstandings.” Knowing when your dog is overwhelmed will help you avoid a dog bite to yourself, friends, or strangers. It will help you prevent behavioral concerns from becoming serious. Know the signs of stress or fear. Realize that a closed mouth; dilated pupils; an unmoving body; a yawn; rapid lip-licking can be signs of stress. There are many others too. When people would have you believe that your dog is “calm, submissive,” know that in reality, your dog is fearful and has likely shut-down. 

Being aware of what you are communicating to your dog verbally, as well as with your body language, is also essential. Did you now that simply by leaning over to yell, you are conveying that you are out of control and you might kill him? Your dog now has to wonder which of these times that you’ve lost control you’ll finally carry out that threat! Even though that’s not at all the message you intended to convey, it is the message your dog receives.

It’s the same when you give a verbal cue. When you say “sit,” is it really the word your dog is responding too? Or is it the way your hand moved? Do you always lift an eyebrow or take a step closer to your dog when you say “sit?” For a fabulous discussion on this topic, see Erica Young’s blog on the Dog Star Daily website http://www.dogstardaily.com/blogs/antecedent-intervention.

Likewise, when you say “no,” what does that mean to your dog? If someone says “no” to you right now, what in the world does that mean? Does it give you any information besides possibly getting your attention?

Here’s a really common example: you’re walking down the street and your dog starts veering off to say hello to the dog passing you. You say “no!” “No” what exactly? No, don’t look at that dog, no don’t veer to the right, no don’t turn your head? How should the dog know which one you mean? Tell him what you want from him instead. How about “leave it” or “let’s go?”  Or teach him to look up at you every time he sees a dog until you signal to him to approach the other dog. You could teach him something like “say hello” so when he hears that cue, he knows it’s okay to say hello, when he doesn’t hear it he keeps walking along or looks up at you.

Communicate to your dog when you do like something, not just when you don’t. Reward her for sitting politely while strangers pet her, especially if you didn’t even ask her to!

When I left Special Dark at the vet that day, I could see that he was fearful. I wish I could have communicated to him somehow that we would be back for him. I wish that he could understand what all the procedures and shots are and that no one would ever hurt him on purpose. I try to think about Alex’s experience, and Special’s experience and do my best in the situations that I can control to ensure that there is no fear, no confusion. There are actually very few times when we don’t have control over the messages we are communicating to our dogs. And there are a myriad of things we can do to keep them from being fearful or stressed (including during trips to the vet!). The most important, basic and easy of these is to train and communicate with them in such a way that we are clear about what behaviors we like, to teach them behaviors we would like in place of ones we don’t, and make sure they don’t ever experience the fear that if they perform the wrong behavior, they might be subjected to pain. It’s that easy. You’ll have that well behaved dog you’re seeking, your bond will be stronger, and your dog will be happy.

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There are many great resources that provide suggestions for how to find a trainer. The American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior http://www.avsabonline.org/avsabonline/images/stories/Position_Statements/how%20to%20choose%20a%20train
and the Association of Pet Dog Trainers http://www.apdt.com/po/ts/choose_trainer.aspx are just two excellent resources. In a recent blog, renowned behaviorist Patricia McConnell also asked the question “who should treat behavior problems in dogs and cats?” http://www.theotherendoftheleash.com/who-should-treat-behavior-problems-in-dogs-cats/

  What is about dog training advice that is so different than other advice we seek? So many people have told me that they’ve gotten training advice from a friend of a friend, a vet, a groomer, a dog walker, a neighbor, on tv, etc. Would you take medical advice from these same people?  Investment advice? Advice on fixing your car? How to raise your kids? Maybe. Maybe not.

  Often people don’t realize how dangerous “armchair” training can be. “I saw it on tv…” or “my girlfriend’s sister said…” or even “but my vet said…” can lead to disastrous consequences for both dog and human. Also, simply having a dog related profession does not make someone qualified to give you training advice! If your dentist told you that he thinks your cholesterol is too high, you wouldn’t take his word at it, you’d seek the attention of a family doctor wouldn’t you? If your podiatrist told you that she thinks you are near sighted, you’d check with your ophthalmologist wouldn’t you? So why don’t we check with a trainer or behaviorist if our groomer told us our dog is aggressive, if our vet told us our dog is “dominant,” if the neighbor told us how to treat separation anxiety, if a fellow dog lover we bump into on the street tells us how to treat the aggression our dog has shown towards theirs?

  So how exactly can you tell if your neighbor, groomer, vet or cousin’s girlfriend’s best friend has provided you with some great advice? The same way you can tell if the trainer you’ve come across is really a great trainer.

  Always ask (not necessarily in this order): 1) “what is your training philosophy?” 2) “what makes you qualified to train my dog?” 3) “what is the last book, journal article, seminar etc. on training that you read or attended (and when)?” You should be hearing more than “I love dogs,” “I’ve been training for x number of years,” and “I have a way with dogs.”  You should be talking to a trainer basing their work on the science of animal behavior and learning, one who is constantly trying to learn more about training. Trainers should be ready to not only recommend books and other resources, but to be able to refer you to another trainer or behaviorist if needed.

  Are all trainers created equal? Unfortunately not. It’s important to note that training currently is an unregulated profession. Unlike medicine where you must pass the MCAT or pass the bar to become a lawyer, there is no standard way to become a trainer. There are numerous training certifications out there (the blog posting I mentioned earlier by Patricia McConnell’s an amazing job discussing credentials and knowledge base). So it’s really up to you judge whether you’re confident in the trainer you’re talking to.

  Beware of trainers and others who don’t disclose their training philosophy right off the bat., those who tell you that they use more than more way to train dogs because “dogs don’t all learn the same way,” those who say they use “balanced methods.” These are all typically people who don’t just use positive reinforcement.  Also, people who say that simply having “a way,” a “natural touch” with dogs is all you need. If I woke up tomorrow morning and told you I’ve never read a single medical text, but I felt I had a natural gift for open-heart surgery, would you let me operate on you? I really hope not!

    Try to learn the very basics positive reinforcement, negative reinforcement, positive punishment, and negative punishment (see Jean Donaldson’s the Culture Clash or Cristine Dahl’s Good Dog 101 for outstanding explanations of each of these or visit our website at www.specialpawstraining.com/learning.html ). Don’t get bogged down in terminology too much, while it can be very confusing to keep straight initially, it is incredibly useful to know the difference. There are those who say they use positive reinforcement, but in practice don’t actually do so. I’ve recently come across a lesson plan on loose leash walking which states: “tug on the leash, and then release when the dog is no longer pulling; if he looks at you, give him a treat-that is positive reinforcement.” There are actually a variety of things going on: first, positive punishment (tugging the leash when the dog pulls), then negative reinforcement (loosening the leash when the dog looks at trainer) and only finally positive reinforcement (reward for looking at trainer). This is sequence does NOT adhere to the philosophy of what is deemed a “positive reinforcement” trainer! In fact, some trainers who say they practice positive reinforcement don’t at all!

  So do positive reinforcement trainers only use positive reinforcement? Some do. Some do not, some will also use negative punishment: i.e. ignoring a dog who is jumping. The punishment comes in the form of ignoring the dog. In general, the easiest way to think of it is that positive reinforcement trainers use principles of science to back up their training techniques; they do not use choke, prong, or shock collars; they do not physically correct the dog either through things such as kneeing a dog in the chest, or through tugging at the leash or collar for ANY reason.

  Often you’ll hear someone say “wolves do it,” etc. to make it sound scientific. One of the most common instances is the alpha roll, when a wolf of dog disciplines another dog by rolling him deliberately on his back, often pinning him there. I often ask people, “when was the last time you saw that on a documentary on wolves?” I ask people in multi-dog households, “when was the last time you saw your dogs do that to each other?” The answer is always: never! That’s because one individual might roll over HIMSELF to show appeasement, but is NOT forced to. This is a case of saying there’s a scientific reason for something when there isn’t. Don’t be afraid to ask questions about that such as “can you point me a recent article or book that explains that in detail?”

    So the next time someone, anyone, wants to advise you on how to train your dog please, please do your dog (and yourself!) a favor and ask the aforementioned questions. If you’re concerned about any behavior with your dog, seek the advice of a professional and don’t forget to ask them the aforementioned questions too!

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Show me in chicken!

  What is a reward? To me, it’s chocolate and cauliflower and walking my chow chow, Special Dark. It is not riding a roller coaster or whip cream. We all have different ideas of rewards. Of course I have other rewards too, and other things I don’t consider rewards. I’m willing to bet that not everyone’s first instinct would be to name cauliflower as a reward! Maybe your idea of a reward is to ride a roller coaster or maybe you do like whip cream, and maybe you don’t like chocolate at all.

  You know what else? I’d rather have chocolate than cauliflower! Just because both are rewards to me doesn’t mean I’ll take either as a reward for any old task. If I’ve just come home from a long day at work, I’d rather reach for a chocolate bar than a cauliflower. If I’m watching an exciting hockey game and my husband calls me over for cauliflower, I probably won’t go. For my favorite chocolate bar? Maybe. To show me something cute Special just did? You bet! If I’m just reading a good book and he calls me over for a piece of cauliflower, I’ll go on over because I do love cauliflower!

  In my primate work, in any primate feeding study, the first order of business is to conduct a food preference test. It’s not enough to know that a monkey likes onions and bananas. We have to have a hierarchy: a monkey likes onions, but less than pineapples and likes both of those less than bananas. These tests are so important that they not only have to be referenced in any publication concerning feeding studies, but any feeding study conducted is designed based on the results of the food preference tests. So where does that leave our dogs?    

  Many people make the mistake of using something they deem as wonderful as a reward for their dogs. It has to be something your dog thinks is wonderful! For example, we typically think that dogs like steak, but not all dogs do! Conduct your own reward preference test! For example, part of Special’s hierarchy: he loves treats. All treats? Nope, of course not! He will not eat peanut butter. He loves liver treats, he adores smelly salmon treats more, but he loves chicken the most!

  Now, just as I will respond to cauliflower in some instances but not in others, your dog will respond to some rewards in some instances but not in others. Typically, the higher up a reward is on the hierarchy, the more powerful that reward is in a highly distracting environment.

  Take squirrel chasing: let’s say your dog loves peanut butter biscuits, loves liver more and loves cheese the most. Let’s say you can cue her into do a down/stay in your living room for three minutes and reward with just a peanut butter biscuit. It is highly unlikely that if you are on a walk with this same dog and you ask her for that same down/stay while she’s deeply involved in smelling a bush that the peanut butter biscuit will cut it. Remember you have to be the most interesting thing in your dog’s environment! It’s your job to have a reward ready that will trump the bush!

  Now let’s say you’re dog will hold a 30 second sit/stay because she knows after the release your next words will be “let’s go” and you head for a walk. It’s highly unlikely that if she has been smelling a tasty hamburger wrapper for the last 40 seconds of your walk and you say those same magic words: “let’s go,” that she will be just as thrilled to hear them as she was inside. The act of walking is a tremendous reward to her, but it will not trump the hamburger wrapper in this instance.   

  What about petting? Is petting a reward? Sure…to US, NOT our dogs! Our dogs learn to accept petting because they associate it with you: you give them food, you walk them, you give them treats, you take them for car rides– so they throw you a bone… you can pet them. (A great way for you to see this in action: next time your dog is smelling about at the dog food store, call them to you and then reach to pet them… watch them duck and pull away). Of course there are exceptions, some dogs do like petting, but even so, conduct an objective test—where does it fall on their hierarchy of rewards? (For more petting, see Patricia McConnell’s The Other End of the Leash.)

  I pet Special endlessly, I hug him endlessly. After I do, I reward him with something HE likes for putting up with me. I talk to him endlessly too! I often ask him if he realizes how proud I am when he walks down a crowded street and politely accepts petting from 10 kids surrounding him at once, or whether he realizes what an impact he has on our lives. I always imagine him saying “show me in chicken!” And I do show him in chicken. Because I know that’s a reward for him.

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