Results for: Clicker training

“Clicker Training 101”0

Posted on April 3rd, 2018 in General

As regular readers will attest, I love clicker training and have written about it on numerous occasions. Recently the Whole Dog Journal had a wonderful article by Pat Miller, called Clicker Training 101 She mentions that the origin of clicker training in dog training was due to the publication of “Don’t Shoot the Dog” by Karen Pryor. With the introduction of positive reinforcement training to the dog world,

“clicker training” became a popular slang term for positive reinforcement training that uses a “reward marker” of some sort, and the clicker became the method’s emblem. 

As much as I love clickers, I do recognize that clickers are not necessary for positive reinforcement training. What is necessary is clearly marking the desired behavior and following it with a reward.* 

The secret to the clicker (or any other marker) is this: When beginning training, the marker is paired with a high-value reinforcer (most frequently a food treat) until the dog has made a classically conditioned association between the sound and the treat.

The marker is important not only because it clearly tells the dog the exact behavior that you are rewarding, but it serves as a bridge between the behavior and the reward. It’s not a remote control that elicits a behavior, it is a communicator that tells the dog, “You done good kiddo, and I will reward you for that!” 

I have found that not only do clickers turbo charge your training by helping you clearly and quickly mark desired behavior, they also make training more fun for you and your dog.** A few years back we had three dogs, Hudson the Golden Retriever, Bingley the Flat-coated Retriever, and Buckley the Bernese Mountain dog, all of whom had experience with clicker training to one degree or another. Whenever I would reach for the clicker hanging by the back door, all three would get up and start throwing behaviors at me to see what would produce the magic sound and treats, knowing we were about to have some real fun. Buckley would instantly sit, and follow me around sitting whenever I paused. Hudson would play bow, spin, pet Bingley, and Bingley would spin, sit, grab a toy. Indeed, Bingley loved clicker training so much, that if he found one, he would put it between his front teeth, run to my office, stick his head in, and click the clicker at me. Thereby training me to play a great game of chase.

What delighted me the most about clicker training these dogs was their full commitment to it and the fact that it encouraged them to be curious, inventive individuals. Since there was no punishment for mistakes, only rewards for success, they would try all sorts of things.  As a result, this is how Hudson learned to “pet the puppy.” My daughter Emma reached for a clicker when Hudson and Bingley were sitting next to one another. Hudson took his front paw and put it on Bingley’s neck. Emma clicked and treated, gave both a treat, and “pet the puppy” was born. Here is a video (no sound) of the part of the process where Hudson is learning the cue to pet Bingley. Though you can’t hear it, Emma tells Hudson to “pet the puppy.” She waits for his response, then marks it, and delivers a treat. Notice the rapt attention of the dogs on Emma, including our Spaniel mix Rebel, who isn’t part of the training, yet knows a good thing when he sees it! And, just an FYI, no puppies were harmed in the making of this video.

At the end of the training, Hudson was so skilled at gently placing his paw on Bingley’s back, that we started using this behavior in classrooms when we did bite prevention workshops. Hudson would sit next to a child and when we asked him, “Who’s your buddy?” he would put his leg over the shoulders of the child. It was enchanting, and never failed to delight the child. 

So, if you are interested in trying something new, rewarding, and fun with your dog, get yourself a clicker, a bag of yummy treats and see what happens! You might be surprised at how quickly you both become hooked on training.




*Clickers are just one way to communicate with your dog. As mentioned, a verbal marker such as “Yes!” or “Good Dog!” in a happy, crisp tone will also work. If you have a deaf dog, try a flash of a pen light (which, by the way, is a great way to “clicker” train  your goldfish to do play football!



**Clicker training can also be very effective when working with dogs with behavior issues. I use it with dogs who have very short attention spans, mouthy puppies, timid individuals, and even dogs with aggression issues. In fact, the only truly humane and effective way to help dogs with behavior issues is with positive reinforcement and the guidance of a good trainer or behaviorist skilled in behavior as well as reward based training.

For more information on the deleterious effects of punishment see:

American Society of Veterinary Animal Behaviorists (ASVAB) Position Papers

Ouch! That really hurt!

Trauma, trust, and your dog.

Why be positive, or what’s wrong with a correction?

Invisible Fences and Electronic Collars

And to find a behaviorist in your area to help with behaviors issues:

ASVAB: Find a Behavior Consultant

To find a trainer in your area:

Association of Professional Dog Trainers: Trainer Search (Your best bet on getting a positive reinforcement trainer is to limit your search to certified trainers)

Professional Pet Guild: Trainer Search

Crime and Punishment, part 2: Clicker training2

Posted on April 30th, 2016 in Blogs with book recommendations, General, General, Philosophy of training or "Why be positive?", Training or "Why, Why, WHY?"

“Click and give her a treat,” our trainer, Robin Bennett, said.
“That’s it?” I queried.
“Yes,” Robin replied, “to start with. Next you are going to ask her to do something, such as sit. Then when her bottom touches the ground, click and treat. She’ll learn that doing certain things brings rewards. Then, she’ll start doing those things more and more.”
     Thus started our introduction to clicker training* 16 years ago when we sought help for Molly, our Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever, and her aggressiveness with other dogs. We saw first hand the power of the clicker and how quickly it can improve a dog’s behavior. Though were never able to completely cure Molly of her aggression, we were able to help her adjust as best she could and give her three years she would not have had otherwise.
You want us to sit? Show us the clicker...

You want us to sit? Show us the clicker…

From that first introduction to the clicker, we have used it with all of our dogs. Though each dog is unique in his personality, interests and skill level, each one has responded with gusto to the clicker and to positive reinforcement training. When we had Buckley, Bingley, and Hudson, and I would pull out the clicker, all of them would get excited and start throwing behaviors at me to see what would elicit a click. Buckley would immediately sit, Hudson would start “petting” Bingley, who would back up, spin, bow, whatever! They knew that something would bring a click and a treat and they were eager to figure out what it was. Bingley was so enthusiastic about training when he was younger that he would find a clicker and come to my office holding it between his front teeth. When I turned and looked, he would click it and run down the hall, instigating a grand game of chase. Apparently clicker training works on people too!

Bait bag, clicker, ready to roll!

Bait bag, clicker, ready to roll!

For me, the value of the clicker for training (or in the absence of a clicker, accurately marking the behavior with a distinctive word or phrase such as “Yessss!” or “Good Dog!!”) cannot be overstated. Clickers allow you to be very precise in marking desired behaviors. For example, If your dog is easily excited, use your clicker to click for a calm moment (even if it is only for an instant) and immediately give him a tasty morsel. The dog will soon figure out that calm gets him everything, noisy gets him nothing. The more you consistently reward good behavior (even if it is a flash in the pan!) the more you will see it. Likewise, if your dog regularly behaves well (sitting quietly or lying down peacefully, for example), mark the behavior (Click! or “Good dog!”) and reward, reward, reward, so that you are sure to see more of it!

Clicker training is very helpful if your pup is dog reactive. For example, if he looks at another dog and doesn’t react, click and treat! If he looks at another dog and then looks back at you, click and treat! Or he looks at a dog and sits, click and treat. Marking and rewarding these desirable responses will teach your dog that this exact response is how you ought to behave! Use food as a reward when first teaching a new behavior or trying to reward a calm moment to turbo charge your training and your dog’s interest in learning and behaving. Eventually, your dog will become more consistent in his response and you will not have to reward with food every time your dog behaves. But, in the beginning stages, clicks and tasty snacks really help him learn to be the best dog he can be.
For more information on the origin of clicker training see: And, check out my resource page,  as well as these books, Don’t Shoot the Dog, by Karen Pryor, and Click to Calm by Emma Parsons.  Your Dog Advisor offers another good resource on clicker training at: Clicker Training 101: How to Use a Clicker to Train Your Dog

See this blog and more on reward based training at the Companion Animal Psychology Blog Party







Intelligence and Positive Reinforcement Training.0

Posted on July 31st, 2018 in Behavior or "What the heck?", Care and management or living together in harmony, General, Philosophy of training or "Why be positive?", Training or "Why, Why, WHY?"

There are innumerable videos on the internet featuring animals, many of which make me cringe. But, there are terrific examples of positive reinforcement training in a variety of species, which show the incredible (and unpredictable) intelligence of a variety of animals, as well as the power of positive reinforcement training. Here is one that I found on Reisner Veterinary Services of a very smart fish who can recognize a picture of an object and match it to the object itself. Amazing!


Trained Fish Show Extreme Intelligence

These fish can recognise and remember shapes and objects!

Posted by ViralHog on Monday, May 28, 2018


So, you may ask, what does a smart fish have to do with family dog training? Great question! Here’s my somewhat convoluted answer:

I think that we have only just begun to see and understand the diverse intelligence of a variety of animals. I doubt that 30 years ago many people would have thought that fish had any ability to discriminate between images of no relevance to their lives, much less associate a picture of some random object with that object. And, I could be very wrong here, but I also don’t think that many zoos and aquariums were bothering to train fish to do anything at all. 

With the rise of food based, positive reinforcement training, however, a whole new window into the animal mind has opened.* Why? My theory is that it is because animals feel safe. Punishment based training is not conducive to creative exploration of the world because the threat hangs over you that if you do the wrong thing, then it will hurt. If animals do not know if a new behavior will bring punishment or praise, then the world is not predictable or safe, and they may avoid trying anything novel.** When dealing with undomesticated animals it is critical to avoid punishment as these animals may completely shut down, unwilling to initiate or even try new things, too spooked to work with any trainer, or they may become aggressive.  According to the Wolf Park website:

Wolves will also avoid at all costs anything that they experienced as unpleasant. So using any aversive on a wolf will have lasting consequences that will be very time consuming to overcome. If a wolf is spooked at all during a physical examination, he/she will be very difficult to handle in the future. When working with an animal that will have such reactions to aversives, it becomes critical for the staff to learn how to shape and reward any desired behavior and stay away from any punitive methods.

This applies to the family dog as well. Dogs who are punished are much more likely to be aggressive. Moreover, as I mention in my blog on The Five Freedoms, “with forced based methods (such as shock collars) many dogs learn not to do try new things as it hurts to do so, so they don’t do anything. This lack of behavior is not the same as good behavior, nor is it normal behavior for canines.” 

On the other hand, if the only downside for trying something new is simply no treat, then the animal will generally give up on that behavior and try something else. As long as the new behavior is not reinforced, it will quickly fade away, without trauma to the animal. Thus, animals who are not punished for trying new things, but are rewarded instead, remain more curious and inventive. My dog Bingley, for example, picked up a clicker one day and discovered that if he put it between his front teeth, he could click it.  This became a great source of fun for him. Whenever he found a clicker, and I was in my office, he would poke his head around the door and click at me. This inevitably resulted in me chasing him down the hall to give him a treat in exchange for the clicker. I doubt very seriously if he would have tried this game if he’d been punished into obedience. Since Bingley knew it was safe to try new things, he remained inquisitive, innovative, and playful, to end of his days.

I have seen the results of both adversive and positive training. Subsequently, I truly believe that for anyone, canine, lupine, piscine, hominid, etc., to be able to engage with it’s surroundings in a curious, intelligent, and robustly satisfying way, it must be safe from fear and harm. Then and only then, can it be free to become the very best version of itself. 

My sweet and curious Mr. Bingley learns what “Right paw green” means…



For some of my blogs on positive reinforcement please see: “Clicker Training 101” Why Family Dog Training?, Love the dog you’re withand, Another post just for fun!

** Blogs on punishment: Why be positive, or what’s wrong with a correction?  Another blog relating to the effects of punishment: Ouch! That really hurt!, and Trauma, trust, and your dog.

Why Family Dog Training?*0

Posted on April 20th, 2018 in Care and management or living together in harmony, General, General, Training or "Why, Why, WHY?"

New clients will often ask me if I offer agility classes, or other specialty training classes. I don’t offer them for a variety of reasons, including that I don’t have the staff or facility for it. But the primary reason is because the vast majority of dogs will never pursue canine activities such as agility or search and rescue work, but will spend their lives as family dogs. Moreover, if you can’t succeed at being the family dog, you will not be pursuing any extra curricular activities.

So what does it mean to be a family dog? I define it using this example: 

I live in a small village in central Ohio. We have a local ice cream parlor called Whit’s and everyone in our village of ~2700 likes to walk to Whit’s on a summer evening to get ice cream and hang out on the wide sidewalk visiting with friends and neighbors. Kids play, bikes glide by, and dogs wait patiently for their puppy sundaes. Norman Rockwell would be proud!

In the midst of this idyllic scenario, owners are asking their dogs to walk to town (nicely, without pulling), and negotiate adults, kids, bikes, other dogs, fallen ice cream, trash cans, trees, tables and chairs on the sidewalk, aromas from the restaurants, outdoor seating for several restaurants, strollers, scooters, runners, etc., without misbehaving, and often without rewards for this amazing skill set.

The skills necessary for a family dog to succeed in public with his owners are amazing, but remarkably achievable, with positive reinforcement family dog training. In my classes and private lessons, I focus on a couple of objectives that are likely to give you the well mannered dog you desire. First and foremost, I focus on teaching your dog to check in with you. A dog who looks at you is more likely to follow instructions than a dog who is watching a squirrel, or focused on a child eating an ice cream cone. Think of it this way, if you have a teenager who is busy texting, how likely is she to hear what you are saying? I estimate you have a 2-3% chance of her hearing and responding correctly to your request while she is focused on the phone. If, however, she looks up from the phone, your chances for comprehension increase to 30-40%, if you’re lucky. Unfortunately, compliance hovers at a shaky 5 % at best.**

Therefore, I work with owners to develop several ways in which they can get their dogs to turn from distractions and check in. One thing I have written about is the class rule: If another dog barks, your dog gets a treat. This is an excellent way to teach your dog that checking in with you is a great idea. If the sound of another dog barking becomes a cue for your dog to look at you, then you will have a much better chance of preventing him from joining in the bark fest, and of keeping his attention when other distractions arise.

The other major objective is impulse control, which is, in essence, the heart of all training. Impulse control starts with sit. It is almost impossible to overstate the importance of sit! This is why I use Dr. Sopia Yin’s Learn to Earn Program, wherein sit is equal to please. Anything your pup wants must be preceded by a sit. For example, in order for the dinner bowl to be put on the floor, your dog must be sitting. If he breaks the sit before the bowl is placed, then the bowl does get put down.  It took my gluttonous Bernese Mountain dog about 3 attempts to put the bowl down for him to learn to hold his sit. Teaching your dog that sit is the key to all things wonderful, will also help him to learn that sit should be his default behavior. Then, when he is unsure of what is expected of him, he will likely sit and wait for further instructions. 

Family dogs are not just the bread and butter of my business, they are the canines I love best.  To see a family dog walking happily alongside his people, waiting patiently for his puppy sundae, or leaning contentedly against the leg of the person he adores, is pure joy for me, and the reason I have geared my training, blogging, and podcasting to helping families love living with dogs


*See also:  Love the dog you’re with 

**I have no idea if these numbers concerning texting teenagers are accurate. They are my estimations and are used simply to illustrate the point that attention is essential to effective communication between individuals, whether you are the same or different species. I will leave it to the reader to define species in this context…

Positive Reinforcement works for people too!0

Posted on May 1st, 2018 in General

Positive reinforcement training for animals usually entails a marker (think clicker) for the desired behavior followed by a reward (read food treat). I have written (and podcasted) a lot about positive reinforcement training in general and clicker training in particular, but it has been in the context of teaching a dog to sit, lie down, or recite the preamble to the Constitution. But, positive reinforcement works for people too, and you don’t have to have a clicker to get your boss to be nicer to you!

Ken Ramirez, the head trainer at the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago, has an interesting article on, titled “Positive Reinforcement with People-It’s not Hierarchical!” in which he discusses how positive reinforcement is not just for those in charge, but how we can use it to make a difference in our relationships with those who are “up the ladder” from us. At an early age he began to see how he could improve a tough situation and developed a straight forward formula for dealing with difficult authority figures:

  1. Find the things your boss finds reinforcing; this may take time and observation. Reinforcers might be: coming in under budget, timeliness, impressing his or her boss, publications, awards, public recognition, discussing the local sports team, his or her kids, etc.
  2. Look for the things your boss finds aversive or punishing; again, this may take some time and observation. Examine all of your interactions and the interactions your boss has with other staff members. Punishers might include: someone interrupting his or her lunch, silly or irrelevant questions, rambling e-mails, his or her authority being questioned, unreliability, etc.
  3. Identify instances in which you can alleviate an aversive or deliver a reinforcer
  4. Identify instances in which you can alleviate an aversive or deliver a reinforcer throughout the day.
  5. Ask yourself, “What do I have the power or ability to do, and what am I less likely to be able to do, considering my position?”
  6. Make a plan, wait for the right opportunities, and execute the plan. Don’t force it; wait to let it happen naturally.
  7. Mean it. Set out to have a genuinely open attitude, and trust that things will fall into place. If you are not sincere, your efforts to reinforce will backfire.

“Is it something I did?” (Photo by Igor Ovsyannykov on UnSplash)

He goes on to address the delicate situation wherein you might be the adversive! This is a good time to look closely at how you might be adding to the tension or difficulty. He gives the example of a woman who felt her boss was a bully and she had obvious contempt for him. He asked if she showed as much contempt for him when she talked to him as she did describing the situation, and goes on to suggest: 

When a relationship is broken, both sides have the power to start over and demonstrate good will. Sadly, people’s egos get them stuck at an impasse because they can’t bring themselves to be nice to someone they dislike. It becomes a vicious cycle. If we want to see change, we have to take on the responsibility to make the first move.

The key here is to be honest about your role in the difficulties and have an open mind as to what you can do to improve the situation. Being willing to see the other person’s point of view and to have empathy for them is not always easy and requires patience as well as honesty. But, that willingness will allow you to find those moments where you can sincerely reinforce others, and as a result, feel more positive and empowered yourself. 


Canine brainiacs0

Posted on December 13th, 2016 in Blogs with book recommendations, Care and management or living together in harmony, General, General, Philosophy of training or "Why be positive?"

Bingley, Buckley, and Tex all crossed the Rainbow bridge this year.

Bingley, Buckley, and Tex all crossed the Rainbow bridge this year.

This year has been a challenge for me and my family as we lost 2 dogs to cancer and one dog to a seizure disorder. I wasn’t sure my heart could take any more sorrow and I was a bit hesitant to risk it on another dog, as Bingley was my canine soulmate. But, if I have learned anything, it’s that loving a dog with everything you have makes it nearly impossible to live without one, and it is that love of a great dog which propels you forward into another canine experiment.

img_3432So meet Zuzu, my newest pooch. She, like Bingley, is a flat-coated retriever, and true to her breed, is one of the happiest dogs on the planet. At 16 months she is a teenager who is unlikely to grow out of her teenage enthusiasm anytime soon. Channeling her inexhaustible energy into constructive activities and teaching her to focus on the task at hand are my immediate goals for her. To do this, I have decided to enlist the aid of a book I recently discovered: Fun & Games for a Smarter Dog, 50 Great Brain Games to Engage your Dogby Sophie Collins.

This book is great on so many levels beginning with the introduction and a part on playing safely with your dog which includes a very important section on playing with children.* Take the time to read the section on  play and  training before you plunge into the individual games, as it will set you up to better use the games to your particular dog’s advantage and is a wonderful reminder that training and play can happily overlap. After all, “there’s no reason you can’t teach your dog by playing with him.” She also has sections on dog personalities, toys, and clicker training.** And, be sure to read the “About You, What You Need To Do” as it reminds us that we can be part of the problem when our dogs are not “getting it.” Subsequent chapters divide the games into categories: Basic Games, Bonding Games, Brain Games, Fitness Games, Figuring it out, and Getting Along.

Sit happens.

She starts with the basics of Sit, Down, Wait, and Let’s Go (which you have likely taught your dog already, but perhaps used different names for these behaviors). She makes the point that, “It is better to make sure that your pet stays responsible and reacts promptly to key commands instead of moving on to other exercises at the expense of the basics.” So, she goes over these core behaviors in detail so that you can be sure that you are clearly communicating to your dog, and he clearly understands what is expected of him. This section is a good place to begin as it really does help you to pay attention to your words and your body language so you can more effectively communicate with your dog. Moreover, the rest of the games will be easier for you and your dog if you have figured out how to work with one another.

As you work through the various exercises in the book (and you can easily pick and choose those that are most appealing to you and your dog) she continues to provide clear instructions as well as explaining what he is learning and why this behavior is useful. Almost every game has a note that will enhance the learning experience or give you an extra challenge. When playing Hide-and-Seek with your dog she suggests that you, “Try hiding at different levels: going up a level, for example, perching on a bunk bed because dogs don’t automatically look above eye level when they’re searching for something but instead rely on their noses.”

In addition to Clicker Training, she also has sections explaining positive reinforcement training and the Dominance myth. Her easy to read and understand instructions, coupled with her explanations of the science of learning and play, will broaden and enhance your understanding of how dogs think and learn. But mostly, this wonderfully accessible book will convince you that playing with your dog is a great way to live, learn, and love together for a lifetime.

Above: Zuzu and I practice some fetch, sit, and give, 3 days after picking her up. Playing games is a great way to establish a strong bond with your new dog.



*Having kids play with dogs is great, but should never be done without the direct supervision of an adult. Colleen Pelar and I talk about Simple Games for Kids and Dogs in our podcast airing 12/20/16, and see my other blogs on kids and dogs: Forced Friendship and And Baby Makes Four.

** See also our podcast, Why Be Positive?

10 Essential Things to Teach Your Puppy.0

Posted on July 17th, 2016 in General

I opened the July issue of Whole Dog Journal (WDJ) and the first article to catch my attention was: Essential Knowledge, The 10 most important things to teach your puppy, by Pat Miller.* Luckily, this article is one that is accessible online without a subscription to the WDJ. In addition to an overview of the 10 essentials, she includes links to additional articles that expand on each topic. Her 10 essentials** are as follows (please note that anything in quotes is from the article by Pat Miller, and where applicable, I have added links to some of my blogs which go into detail about the particular item):

Pat Miller’s 10 most important things:

  1. The world is a safe and happy place. I emphasize in my puppy classes that the single most important thing you can do for your young pup is to socialize him to a wide variety of people, places, substrates, animals, etc in a positive way. One thing to keep in mind is that the socialization window is very small, “from three to four weeks to about 13-14 weeks.” There is nothing better for your puppy than a well run puppy class for socialization and early training. Be sure to find one with a positive reinforcement trainer.
  2. Being alone is sometimes is fine. Dogs are social creatures and don’t think to themselves, Great, she’s gone for a few hours so now I can get some work done on the great American novel. Dogs would much rather be with us at all times, so it is important to teach them that being alone is really ok. “Include crate or exercise-pen training during this process [of introducing her to alone time] so she can be left safely confined while you are away.”
  3. 61_dog_peeing on mailboxGo to the bathroom in designated places and/or times. As I have mentioned in other posts house training is the bane of many puppy owners. Consistency and using crates, tethers, leashes, gates and constant supervision are the key to success in potty training. Be sure to reward well for success and clean up mistakes without punishing your dog.
  4. Chew only on designated chew objects. Dogs will “develop preference for certain things to chew on. If you manage your pup’s environment…so she has opportunity to chew on only ‘legal’ chew objects, you will be able to give her house freedom much sooner, with much more confidence that your valuables are safe.” Click here for intelligence toys for your dog that will help with chewing and/or provide mental stimulation (which will help him to be happy alone!)
  5. Dogs get lots of treats when they do what their humans want them to do. Positive reinforcement for a job well done will insure your pup will do more of the desired behavior. Studies “indicate that force-free training is faster and more effective than old-fashioned force-based methods.” So don’t be stingy with the rewards and consider having some treats on you at all times so you can take advantage of your dog behaving well.
  6. _CSG3316-EditIt’s fun to learn new things. Your dog should be eager to learn. Clicker training is a great way to bond with your dog and for both of you to learn new things. When my dog Bingley was young he would hold a clicker in his mouth and poke his head around the corner into my office. Then he’d click it and take off running with me in pursuit. He loved training when I had the clicker, and apparently when he had it as well! If you need help using any force-free method, find a local positive reinforcement trainer, take a class, and gain a lifetime of learning.
  7. It’s super rewarding to come running fast when your human calls you.  “Recalls (coming when called) may just be the single most important behavior you can teach your dog.” As I mention in my blog on recalls: Know what he loves and use it in abundance to reward this V.I.B. (Very Important Behavior), as this is no time to skimp on reinforcement! Reward him as if his life depends on it, because it might someday. Using the best you’ve got, in quantity, and with lots of praise, lets your dog know, without a doubt, that coming to you is the best thing ever!
  8. _CSG5595

    Bodhi enjoys his human’s touch.

    Human touch, all over, is really great. Over the course of his life, your dog will have to endure a lot of humans touching her, some of which (think Vet’s office) she is likely to find unpleasant, if not constraining and painful. “You can make life a lot easier for your dog if you teach her as a pup that human touch makes good stuff happen…and minimizing restraint to that which is only absolutely necessary.” Pairing treats with touching your dog in a variety of places will help her to accept everything “from nail trimming to grooming to treating injuries.”

  9. Tex in the car

    Tex loves the car!

    Riding in the car is fun! For many dogs the car is a wonderful adventure and they are eager to go “bye-bye.” Some dogs, however find the car terrifying and nausea inducing. This, understandably, limits the places you can take your dog. If your puppy is one of these, there are some things you can do to help her learn to love modern transportation, but it does require some patience on your part to slowly re-condition her.

  10. Your human will always protect you. “After her puppy socialization, this could be the most important thing you teach and affirm to your dog throughout her life.” It is your responsibility to be your dog’s best advocate and to not allow anyone to treat her in a way that goes against your best instincts about what is right and good for her. Do not let anyone insist that a force-based or painful training method is the only way to handle your dog. “There are plenty of professionals out there who will support and respect your wishes…She cannot speak for herself; she is counting on you to speak for her.”

Puppyhood does not last terribly long, so doing all this seems like a lot of work in a remarkably short period of time, and it is. But, if you follow these guidelines, your puppy will most likely become the wonderful, happy, well adjusted adult dog you know is in there, and can enjoy for many years to come.

Bingley, age 4 months, plays puppy twister


*Pat Miller is a wonderful trainer, author, and regular contributor to WDJ. I have cited her work several times, and consider her advice to be some of the best around. Click here to learn more about her.

**See also: 10 Principles for a well behaved dogmy blog on Emma Parson’s book Click to Calm. These principles are a good idea for all dogs, puppies or adults, and are particularly important for behaviorally challenged dogs.

Crime and punishment, Part 1: When does a reward become a punishment?0

Posted on April 19th, 2016 in General, General, Philosophy of training or "Why be positive?", Training or "Why, Why, WHY?"

_CSG3316-EditWhen introducing my clients to positive reinforcement training in general, and clicker training in particular, I tell them that it’s important to reward the behavior you want in your dog and ignore or re-direct undesirable behavior. After all, behavior that is rewarded will increase in frequency, while behavior that is ignored will decrease.

He's turned his head away from me, indicating he's not interested in interacting with me right now.

He’s turned his head away from me, indicating he’s not interested in whatever I’m offering.

I also explain that rewards (or punishments) are always defined by the recipient, not the one doling them out. What may seem a reward to you, may not be all that reinforcing to your dog. One good way to tell if your dog really isn’t interested in your idea of a reinforcement is if he turns his head, walks away, or otherwise disengages from you. He is clearly telling you that this is not his cup of tea. For example, many people will greet or reward their dogs by patting them on the head, thinking that their dog loves petting. And, they are surprised when their dog moves away from them as they approach head on. The dog may well love being petted, but this is not petting, this is thunking your dog on the skull, and most dogs do not care for it.* Therefore, it is not a reward, but a punishment for Fido, and will not encourage him to come to you.

Rewards, by their very nature, should make your training easier. Ken Ramirez, the Head Trainer at the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago states that if training a new behavior is taking longer than you think it should, is harder for the animal than it ought to be, or otherwise is not progressing as well as you think appropriate: Look at your reinforcers (rewards). They probably are not rewarding enough to motivate the animal to work for it. Make sure you are using things your dog actually loves, not what you think he loves!

Moreover, keep in mind that what you are offering may not be reinforcing enough for the particular circumstances. Using your dog’s food at home (where it isn’t so distracting) and giving several pieces in a row as reward when they do something wonderful, may be a perfect acceptable reinforcement for their behavior. But, if your dog is consistently distracted in new situations, ask yourself, “What’s in the bait bag?” Is this really rewarding to him, or do I just think it is? When you are outside and have to compete with pee-mail and other canine delights, bring a good assortment of small, soft, and stinky treats so he has a good reason to stay checked in with you. Quantity, quality, and variety is the spice of life for dogs, just as it is for people, and is the key to keeping Fido focused and eager to learn.

Ball anyone?

Ball anyone?

Determining what is motivating to your dog may also take some experimentation and creative thinking, and may include activities and toys as well as food. For example, I know that Bingley will do anything for access to a game of fetch**, and he adores banana bread (He even knocked Buckley, 50 pounds larger than him, out of the way to get a piece). My grand-dog Tex, adores roasted asparagus, carrots, and car rides. Make a list of five things your dog loves and post it on the refrigerator as a reminder of what is rewarding to your pup. Add things to it as you discover what makes your dog’s tail wave like a flag on the 4th of July.

food pig's ears car rides

food, pig’s ears, car rides…

You may find, as I do, that using a lot of food when beginning to train your dog (or when teaching a new behavior to your dog), is the easiest and most effective method of rewarding the right response.*** The time does come (sooner than you might think!) when you can reduce the amount of food and add in other reinforcers, such as toys, access to other dogs, car rides, etc., so that food becomes only one of many ways to reward your dog. This is one reason why I encourage you to keep a list of what your dog loves, so you can be creative in your rewards and more interesting to your pup.

Rewards and clicker training go hand in hand, so next time we explore how to use these rewards to get your dog to be the best behaved pup he can be.



*Ask yourself, how would you feel if someone charged up to you and thunk, thunk, thunked you on the top of the head? At best, dogs tolerate this behavior, and many dogs really loathe it. If you want to pet your dog, scratch him behind the ears, rub his shoulders or withers, approaching from the side, and I bet he will move into you rather than away from you.

** One winter we were walking the dogs at a local park and Bingley ran up to me holding something that looked, at a distance, like a frisbee. I’d brought tennis balls, not frisbees this day, so as he approached I looked closely at what he was holding and realized he had a half a frozen groundhog in his mouth. I had no intention of getting into a tug of war with him over the front end of a rodent, but I knew he loved his tennis balls and would likely relinquish the frozen furball for a game of fetch. I took out a ball, held it up and said, “Look at what I have Bingy! Do you want this? Huh? Do you?” That got his attention and as soon as he dropped the groundhog I threw his ball as hard as I could. He zoomed off, I picked up the rodent, tossed it to my husband (who threw it into the woods) and we ran off to meet him before he came back and looked for his frigid friend. Knowing what he loved, helped me to easily resolve a situation that had the potential to be very unpleasant.

***Food is easy, precise and it will build your relationship with your dog. (And, if you think about it, don’t we build relationships that way as well? “Let’s go out for coffee?” “Lunch anyone?”). I do add other rewards, but to learn to reinforce correctly, food is the easiest tool. And, by heavily reinforcing the dog in the beginning I am front end loading the training so that the dog will be more engaged in the process and understand quickly what is desirable behavior.



Love the dog you’re with…0

Posted on January 5th, 2015 in Philosophy of training or "Why be positive?"

IMG_2285A frequent question from prospective clients is: Have you ever trained a ____________ (fill in the blank with your favorite breed)?

The answer is most likely “yes”. There are few breeds that I have not had exposure to, or had in class or private lessons. Some of the more unusual breeds I have trained include Coton de Tulear, Cane Corso, Basenji, and Rhodesian Ridgeback. Many breeds have distinctive characteristics, both physically and temperamentally, and I do try to take those into account. For example, Siberian Huskies are not as food motivated as Beagles, and Border collies tend to be very conscious of their personal space. But in general, all breeds, in fact all creatures with more than a couple of neurons firing, respond fairly predictably to the principles of learning theory.

I have stated in previous posts my passion for positive reinforcement training. Here is what I said about it from my very first blog:

I contend that finding a trainer whose primary approach to training is positive and uses lure/reward or clicker training as his or her starting point will: 1) help avoid future problems with your dog; 2) help you develop a relationship with your dog based on co-operation and trust; 3) increase the effectiveness of your management of the dog as he learns what is expected of him and; 4) it will more likely allow your dog to be the interactive, curious, creative and loyal friend that you want him to be.  If you start off choking, jerking, swatting, alpha rolling, or yelling, you are, in reality, instilling fear and distrust in your dog and may find that he would rather avoid you than come to you. Behavior problems can and do arise with dogs who are positively trained, but yelling at them is not the solution to the problem, it is more likely to exacerbate the issue. Why not use a method that is designed to work with your dog rather than on him?

Another question I am asked is: why family dog training? Why don’t I offer specialty classes such as agility, Rally-o, Fly-ball, scent training, etc? Putting the practical aspects aside (i.e.: space, equipment, and being a one woman show), there is a fundamental reason I focus on family dog training: most dogs belong to a family and will never pursue another career in sports or service work. Moreover, if the dog can’t function as a well mannered member of his family, he won’t get the chance to further his education.

My goal for family dog training is to provide owners with a variety of tools in their canine management toolbox that will help them to communicate clearly to their dogs what is expected of them. Having a well behaved dog is much more than teaching the basic commands of sit, down, stay, and come. It is about learning to: 1) love the dog you actually have and; 2) approach dog training as a communication method which opens up you and your dog to a life time of learning together. This relationship (based on clear communication and trust that you will interact fairly) will do more to create a consistently well behaved best friend than any particular training method.

Ball anyone?

Ball anyone?

I have found with my own dogs, for example, that having a way to positively and clearly communicate to them, results in them knowing all sorts of things I never realized I taught them. For example, when Bingley lost sight of a tennis ball one day, I saw where it was and said “Bing!” He looked at me and I said, “Go left.” He did and as he approached the ball I said, “That’s it, there!” and he nabbed it. I’d never taught him left or right (people who know me will attest to the fact that I don’t know them myself), but somehow through the years Bingley and I have developed an understanding that allows for some intricate communications. Since that day, we have lost many a tennis ball, but we have also worked together to find many more.

A client recently told me that she has a hard time calling what she learned from me training, rather it is about relationship and has allowed her dogs to more clearly communicate to her what they need (such as having the water bowl filled, thank you), and her ability to understand and appreciate the uniqueness of each of her dogs. And that, in essence, is the purpose of family dog training: learning to love and work successfully with the unique canine who shares your hearth and home.

It’s never too late to train your dog! If you are interested in family dog training, call me  (740-587-0429) and we can discuss how best to achieve your goals.


10 Principles for a well behaved dog.0

Posted on July 8th, 2014 in Blogs with book recommendations, Informational or Doggie Demographics, Philosophy of training or "Why be positive?"

Click to CalmEmma Parsons is a canine behavior consultant and has written a wonderful book on effectively managing as well as helping aggressive dogs to become calmer. Titled Click to Calm, Healing the Aggressive Dog,* this easy to read book has a thorough table of contents, an excellent resources section, and a section called “Training Recipes” which are detailed instructions on how to treat specific problems. This book quickly became one of the staples in my training repertoire and has provided me with many useful ideas and strategies that I employ not only with aggressive dogs, but with my general training clients as well.
Ms. Parsons begins the book with an honest and moving story about her dog Ben and how she discovered that positive reinforcement/clicker training could change her dog’s aggressive behavior and improve her relationship with her dog. She then explains clicker training and launches into her “Ten Principles of Clicker Home Management”(pg 17)**, which I employ to one degree or another in my training classes and private lessons. She states:
The following clicker home management program will help you teach your dog that you are the leader; you can do this without frightening or threatening him. The program establishes a balanced handler/dog relationship, and teaches your dog to trust and respect you without you requiring what you prove your dominance over the dog. Most dogs are less stressed when they leave the decision-making responsibilities to their handlers…Your dog must learn to trust your judgement, allowing you to make decisions for him (pg 17).

She suggests that you implement one or two of the ten principles every week or so, depending on how well your dog progresses with each of the steps. What I like about the 10 principles is that they are great foundational behaviors for any dog and, if followed, will help to insure that your dog is a happy and well mannered member of the family. I have written my own columns on similar themes

#6: Mental stimulation is a must!

#6: Mental stimulation is a must!

and have provided links to those blog posts. Her 10 basic principles are:

  1. Teach your dog to say “Please.” (
  2. Catch your dog being good.
  3. Calm gets you everything, noisy gets you nothing.
  4. Excuse Me!
  5. You begin the play, you end the play
  6. Your dog’s mind needs as much exercise as his body. (
  7. A room of his own. (
  8. If you give me that, I will give you this. (
  9. Limit your dog’s access to his toys.
  10. The bowl is the cue to eat.
#10: The bowl.

#10: The bowl.

One of my favorite principles is: You begin the play, you end the play. This is a good way to keep your dog’s arousal level under control, especially if you have a dog who revs up quickly. If you set the ground rules for play, then you can stop before your dog veers off into hyper activity. By scheduling short breaks in play not only do you help your dog to stay below his high arousal level, but you can use the breaks as opportunities to practice some obedience, with play being the reward.
For example, if you are playing fetch, when your dog gets back to you and drops the ball, make him sit before you throw it again. As soon as his bottom hits the ground, you reward the sit by throwing the ball. Or, if you are playing tug, do an exchange, a sit and then tug again. Changing things up a bit by adding in some obedience practice will make both play and work a lot more fun.
Let's play ball!

Let’s play ball!

Ms Parsons clearly explains each of the 10 principles and illustrates them nicely with specific examples and/or suggestions on how your dog might be perceiving the situation. She is not preachy, or insensitive to the challenges facing owners of aggressive dogs. And, she clearly understands when additional help from a positive reinforcement trainer or canine behaviorist is necessary for the health, well-being, and safety of all parties. provides a detailed description of the book as well as terrific suggestions for other compatible titles.

**All quotes are from Click to Calm, so I will end quotes with the page number in parenthesis.


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