10 Principles for a well behaved dog.

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.


Blogs with book recommendations Informational or Doggie Demographics Philosophy of training or "Why be positive?"

Summertime fun!

photoSummer is in full swing and after the hard winter we had it is welcomed with open arms! Our dogs have been enjoying the AC on hot days and the retrievers are taking full advantage of their pond and the lake where we recently bought a cottage. Before we built a pond in the backyard, I used a large hard plastic wading pool and the dogs enjoyed that as well as romps in the local creek. Water is a great way for dogs to cool off in the summer but one thing to be aware of is an uncommon but deadly condition called water intoxication that occurs when a dog (or person) takes in more water than it can handle. Signs of water intoxication include: “lethargy, bloating, vomiting, loss of coordination (stumbling, falling, staggering), pale gums, dilated pupils, and glazed eyes” (Whole Dog Journal (WDJ), June 14). When excessive amounts of water are ingested the sodium levels outside cells are depleted and the body responds by increasing fluid intake in the cells.  This causes organs,including the brain to swell. As the pressure in the brain increases, cells die off and “the dog may have difficulty breathing, develop seizures, and lose consciousness” (WDJ, June 2014). Dogs can develop and die from water intoxication in the span of just a few hours.

In theory, water intoxication can happen to any dog who ingests too much water, too fast. The condition advances more quickly in small dogs, simply because their bodies may be more easily overwhelmed by the excess fluid. But Border Collies and other high-drive dogs – including Jack Russell Terriers and Papillons…seem more likely to develop it than other breeds. (WDJ, June 2014)

The WDJ gives four precautions you can follow so that your dog’s water time remains fun and safe:

*Choose Flat Rather Than Round Objects to Retrieve. It makes sense: A dog who is retrieving a round object like a tennis ball has to keep his mouth open wider than a dog who has closed his mouth around a flatter object

*Know Your Dog. Being aware of how your individual dog interacts with water is key. Some dogs are very careful swimmers, keeping their nose pointed toward the sky and their mouths clamped shut…Does yours like to splash in the pool or bite at the stream of water from the hose or sprinkler? Then she’s likely at greater risk…

*Discourage Diving For Toys. The key to avoiding water intoxication is curtailing any activity that can lead to water intake. Biting the water from a hose is also a no-no: Because that water exits under such high pressure and it’s so fun (read rewarding) your dog could ingest far more that is good for him.

*Take Frequent Breaks. Regular time-outs on terra firma not only interrupt any ingestion of water, but also give a dog the opportunity to rid her body of extra fluids by urinating. Also, tired dogs tend to swim lower in the water, and may inadvertently take on more water than their better-rested counterparts. (WDJ, June 2014)

My Bingley is an avid water dog and when we play fetch at the lake or creek, I make sure that he has plenty of tosses on land as well as in the water and that he takes frequent brakes to rest, urinate, and hang on land for 5-10 minutes before returning to aquatic endeavors.

Moreover, though he loves the water, he is not a graceful swimmer like our Golden, Hudson. Bing tends to have his rear end low HudsonSwimin the water so that his front legs come out of the water as he swims, and it is an inefficient and exhausting way to maneuver through the water. I recently bought him a life preserver ( from L.L. Bean for when we go out in a boat and to help him swim more efficiently and safely in the water by keeping his body level and higher in the water. It keeps his front legs in the water thereby evening out his stroke and reducing fatigue, and it makes keeping his head out of water easier. He also swallows a lot less water when he swims with a life preserver, thus reducing his chances for water intoxication and that makes playtime a lot more fun for both of us!



Dog products, training aids, recipes, instructions, etc. Informational or Doggie Demographics

NILIF, STILAF, PINLIF, IAILF, WBDTTAT…’twas brillig and the slithy toves…*

My good friend and fellow dog trainer, Colleen Pelar often quips, “Dog trainers are wonderful, but they are not normal.” She means that the way in which we treat our dogs is not, in general, the way the average dog owner relates to his or her canine. For example, my dog Bingley loves whole wheat pancakes and I will go out of my way to find his very favorite pancake mix. Another trainer not only serves pancakes to her dog, but makes them into fun shapes for him. All of this is to say that we trainers think a lot about what we do, and how it impacts our furry friends.

One concept that has been around for awhile (and therefore discussed, dissected, and analyzed for just one week short of awhile) is NILIF or Nothing In Life Is Free.*  The basic concept is: any thing that your dog wants must be preceded by something you want, most often a sit. If, for example, your dog wants to go outside, a sit at the door is a pre-requisite for opening the portal to paradise. Sit happens if you want me to place the dinner bowl on the floor for you, if you want a treat, etc. In this way, sit becomes the equivalent of “Please.”

Trainers use NILIF in a variety of situations and to greater and lesser degrees of conformity. Some trainers demand that everything 33_dog_sittingfrom food to petting to play must be preceded by a sit. Others are more lenient and require that only certain behaviors require a sit. Personally, I am more of the lenient sort, and require sit at times when it makes my life easier. My dogs sit before meals, because I don’t like to be flattened by a 100 pound dog lunging for his last (in his mind anyway) meal. I also like sit at the door, sit on the scale at the vet’s office, and if you are a giant Bernese Mountain dog, sit should be your default behavior so you don’t scare or accidentally knock over the person you are convinced is “MY NEW BESTEST FRIEND IN THE WORLD AT LEAST FOR THIS MINUTE!”

I tend to be more stringent about NILIF when I am working with an overly confident dog who I think needs to learn some more self control and that he cannot get his way by being pushy. This sort of dog will have to sit for treats, petting, the door, getting his leash on, meeting new people, etc., at least at the beginning of training so that he learns to keep his enthusiasm, energy, and/or confidence in check and so that the owner feels as if he has a bit more control over the situation. As the owner and dog build a closer relationship and the dog understands that sit gets him all sorts of wonderful, the regime can be loosened.

49_dog_lawyer_reading in chair-01I started to reflect more on NILIF after reading Kathy Sdao’s book, Plenty in life is Free ( I have heard Ms Sdao talk on numerous occasions and have learned a great deal from her about training, reinforcement, and building relationships with our animals. She is a compassionate and experienced behaviorist and trainer and I have always walked away from her lectures feeling as if I were a better person as well as a better trainer. Her new book is challenging, insightful and got me to think about what I am doing as a trainer to enhance the wellbeing of both my human and animal clients. Ms Sdao advocates the idea of a partnership between dog and person and that clients can get the behavior they want out of their dogs by getting SMART:

-that is, that they practice “See, Mark And Reward Training.” Those three components- seeing good behavior, marking good behavior (often with a click or a “yes”) and rewarding good behavior – are the core competencies of successful trainers. (Plenty in life is Free, pg. 50)

This approach does leave room for talking, luring, prompting, etc, but they are not as important as watching your dog and rewarding the good stuff. This approach uses the “most fundamental law of behavior: consequences drive behavior.” (pg. 83). In other words, rewards matter. Rewarding desirable behavior will do more to change and improve your dog’s behavior than anything else you do, including playing at being alpha dog. “Effective trainers are reward junkies…They strive to be the source of dozens of things the dog finds satisfying: food, play, attention, affection, exercise, smells, praise, petting, freedom, comfort and more.” (pg. 84). Using 15_dog_please send treatseffective and well timed rewards will increase the frequency of your dog’s good behaviors as well as build a relationship with him based on co-operation and trust.

I also think that SMART can be effectively combined with parts of NILIF. For example, if you want your dog to sit before you open the door, reward a lot of sits in a variety of situations so that sit becomes a go-to behavior for your dog.  Then, when he wants to go out, pause and wait for the sit. As soon as Rover’s haunches hit the floor, the portcullis can be raised! In this way, you have Seen, Marked and Rewarded sits, and then allowed your dog to make the right decision to use this learned behavior to get what he wants.37_dog_dreamingofrunning

Ms. Sdao’s book is easy to read, narrative in style, and  filled with easy, practical tips that allow trainers and owners to effectively, efficiently, and compassionately train dogs and build relationships that are mutually beneficial and rewarding partnerships. I highly recommend it for anyone who has ever loved a dog, troublesome or perfect, unruly or agreeable, as it will enrich your life as well as your dog’s.


*NILIF= Nothing In Life Is Free; STILAF= Some Things in Life Are Free; PILIF= Plenty In Life Is Free; IAILF= Is Anything In Life Free; WBDTTAT= Who But Dog Trainers Think About This

Blogs with book recommendations Informational or Doggie Demographics Philosophy of training or "Why be positive?"

Beauty is only fur deep.

30_dog_heartsAstute reader Laura Sommers recently sent this link to me about an app that will search “for adoptable pets that look just like your old ones.” Petmatch, as the app is called, uses modern technology to help you create a search image of the perfect pet as well as locate one close to you. While in theory I have no problem with this (Who doesn’t want an adorable pet?), there are much more important factors to consider when adopting a dog.!Sku2P

A few years back a client asked me to evaluate a litter of puppies as he was interested in adopting one for his children. My daughter Emma and I, always delighted to play with puppies, readily agreed, and off we went. There were 2 puppies available from the litter, a boy and a girl. The boy was adorable with lovely tawny-brown, soft, curly hair, and a sweet face. The girl was more of a dirty grey, her coat an interesting mix of curls and tuffs, and her face was a bit longer, not as uniform in color, and her ears were not as perky. She was cute, he was adorable. But, upon evaluation, Emma and I fell hard for the little girl because she had all the characteristics we look for in puppy, especially one destined for a household of children. She sought out the children, curled up in their laps and gently licked their hands. When presented with a stuffed toy, she ran over to one of the children to solicit a game of fetch and tug. When petted, she curled in for more, did not mind when I lifted her lips or hugged her. In fact, when I hugged her she quickly settled into being with me and when I set her down, she leaned into my legs.

The male was was a nice little dog, but lacked the social drive that I like to see from a family dog. He was far more interested in the environment (though this was his house and not a new environment), did not stick around to be petted, was not interested in engaging with the people (i.e.: he did not seek out attention from anyone in the room, but did not object if someone petted him), he resisted being hugged and immediately walked away from me when I set him down. When offered a toy, he ran into another room and was not interested in playing with me or the kids.

The female was everything we would have wanted for this family and we were sorely tempted to bring her home ourselves! The client, however, loved the look of the male, and as much as we tried to encourage him to take the female, he decided to pass on both dogs. He understood that the male was not temperamentally suitable for his family, but could not get pass the scruffy look of the female. (Nota bena: He did take to heart what we told him to look for in a dog and ended up getting a very nice little dog a few weeks later.)

Petmatch and the story of my client illustrate a very common scenario:  people choose their pets based on looks, not temperament. 24_dog_zombie run awayAnd that’s fine, until the “most adorable” bichon/lab/jack russell/poodle/collie/cocker/newfoundland shows unsociable behavior such as growling, barking, or snapping at children, other dogs, or grandma. I am fully aware that many cute dogs are temperamentally fine, but many wonderful “ugly” dogs get passed over because they aren’t the right color, or their nose is too long, or “I wanted perky ears.” When looking for a dog, I ask clients to bear in mind that even the ugliest dog will become beautiful in your eyes when you see how gently it interacts with your children, licks away their tears, and sighs contently at their feet. My mantra: Temperament trumps looks every time. Every, single, time.

The article on Petmatch ends with, “there’s more to the relationship between humans and pets than appearance; maybe the next step is an app that intuitively pairs us based on personality and habits.” I couldn’t agree more. So, when you go looking for your next best friend, remember that beauty is only fur deep. And hopefully, you will find the perfect companion, even if he is a bit scruffy around the edges.

62_dog_how dogs envision-31

Behavior or "What the heck?" General Philosophy of training or "Why be positive?"

Ticks and fleas and pests, oh my!

Spring has belatedly and begrudgingly arrived in Ohio and with it comes the opening day of flea and tick season. I have already pulled 8 ticks off Bingley, but thankfully no fleas. Yet.

Removing ticks is a nasty business and it requires a certain delicacy. Recently I posted an item on my facebook page about using liquid soap to remove the hedious pests. ( I asked if anyone had used this method and did it work. Friend and veterinarian, Dr. Wendy McIlroy, said that yes, it would work as the ticks have to breath and will raise their heads to get air. The problem, according to fellow trainer, Vicky Shields, is that it stresses the tick and therefore it might release disease ridden saliva into the dog. Dr. Wendy agreed with this statement and the conversation turned to the best way to trap a tick. Apparently, a tick loop quickly and easily removes ticks without undue stress (much less killing them), thereby allowing you to harass them to your heart’s content when they are off of your dog.

Me, as a dog, not containing my enthusiasm..

Me, as a dog, unable to contain  my enthusiasm…

It was hard to contain my excitement over this revelation, and I promptly went online in search of the mildly elusive tick loop. The company who makes tick loops is located in Sweden, but they are available on Amazon. ( I also discovered the tick key, and it looked promising, so I ordered some of those too. ( (Rumor has it that the Tick Key is available at REI, and happy day, we have a brand new REI at Easton. Rock walls and tick removal systems in one location! Seriously, does it get any better?) Amazon assures me that the items are on the way so when I get them and have an opportunity to use them, I will update this post on their effectiveness.

Fleas. I think I despise them even more than ticks. We had a fleas infestation late last summer and it took about 6 weeks to really get rid of all of them. It required some diligence on my part, especially to vacuum the house everyday. It seems that fleas do not survive vacuuming of any kind, so part of my daily ritual was to vacuum every room and dog bed in the house. I also washed all the dog’s bedding several times, cleaned and vacuumed crates, and did a daily inspection of each dog for fleas. Since flea infestations can last for months, I was pleased that we were able to conquer the nasty creatures in 6 weeks. My recommendation is that during flea season, if you see any of the blood sucking aliens around, start vacuuming! I dropped the ball on flea protection near the end of summer and didn’t stay on top of vacuuming as I should have and I paid the price.

Flea baths are no fun!

Flea baths are no fun!

Flea and tick prevention is something that is fairly controversial amongst dog people. I have looked at the different sides of the issue and at various methods of flea and tick control, and I am not promoting one method over another. I recommend that you talk to your vet and read up on various products before you make a decision as to what you want to do. I would caution you that if you live in an urban setting, do not think your dog will not pick up ticks. Bingley got 4 of his ticks from our back yard. Ticks carry diseases such as Lyme Disease and Ehrlichiosis, that require veterinary attention, and personally, I am inclined to want to prevent rather than treat them.

I have used a variety of natural and manufactured products for my dogs. The two products that helped to finally eradicate the flea infestation were Capstar (an oral medication that kills fleas quickly, but is not long lasting), and the new Frontline Tritak, which kills fleas in minutes rather than hours. I had forgotten to do the August Frontine application and the fleas took advantage of me. When I saw that Hudson had several fleas on him, I vacuumed, washed bedding, gave every dog a Capstar and a good bath, and used Frontline Plus. After ~4 weeks, I gave each dog another Capstar and used Tritak for the first time. Within a short time, the fleas were gone. I, like a lot of owners, do not like putting this stuff on my dogs, but I have to admit it worked as promised and I was glad to be rid of the pests. Talk to your vet to see if it is right for your dog, and if you are interested in holistic or natural flea protection, stop in at Bath and Biscuits, 1616 Columbus Rd, 587-0011, and chat with owner Danielle Wilson.

Bath & Biscuits

Dog products, training aids, recipes, instructions, etc. Informational or Doggie Demographics

How to keep your dog focused when there’s barking all around!

In our group classes, we have a rule that if another dog barks, your dog gets a treat. This has proved to be puzzling to our owners until they give it a try and see that it is a great way to get their dogs in the class to remain calm and focused on them.

Think of it from the dog’s point of view:

Sparky: “WOOF!” (Hey, guys! We’re in class, wanna play? Huh? Huh?)

Phaedo: (Thinking) Hey, that’s Sparky! Hmm, maybe I ought to tell him that if I had opposable thumbs and could unhook this leash, I would SO love to play… 

But before Phaedo can respond, his owner swoops in with a tasty treat.02_dog_will be cute

Phaedo: (Thinking): Whoa! Chicken just happened! Cool! Got more?

Xerxes: “WOOF!” (Yo, Sparky, I got your back, Jack!)

Phaedo’s owner swoops in again.

Phaedo: (Chewing and thinking): What just happened here? One of the bro’s barks and I get chicken…hmmm. Perhaps there’s a pattern developing here???

A group class can be very exciting (or stressful) for our dogs as there are plenty of new smells, people, and dogs in a new environment. Some dogs will respond to this heightened awareness by vocalizing, and that can encourage other dogs to vocalize as well. Therefore, we advise owners to short circuit this cycle. By interrupting Phaedo’s orientation to Sparky (and Xerxes) with a tasty treat, Phaedo learned that when another dog is a distraction it is worth his while to check in with his owner. Moreover, when a dog is focused on his owner, and not the world around him, the owner can ask him to do something such as sit, down, or meditate on world peace. We have also found that it tends to lessen Sparky’s barking as well, because no one is responding to his alert. This nifty technique can be used outside of class as well.

This week I had our Bernese Mt. Dog at MedVet and decided to do a bit of an experiment as the waiting room at MedVet isKitchen Buckley busy with a variety of dogs in variable states of arousal, anxiousness, and/or excitement. Whenever I go to the vet’s office, I take a bait bag full of treats, to help keep my dog focused and relaxed, but this time I tried tying treats to the behavior of dogs around us.

I started by finding a place where we could sit and I would see the approach of any dog before Buckley. He was a bit nervous about being there, and was drooling, panting, and watching every movement around him (Buckley, being a Mt Dog, drools and pants even when not aroused, but this was a bit more intense). I gave him a few treats to get his focus on me. Then, a dog walked by, I offered a treat, Buckley checked in, and relaxed a bit. I had him lie down facing me to help him relax. Two dogs out of his sight at the front desk, squabbled and he shot up into a sit, got lots of treats from me as long as the dogs debated, and he settled himself into a down. When a dog walked by us, Buckley got a treat. When one vocalized, 2-3 treats. A shepherd mix growled at him, and he got a fistful of treats as we moved to a new location.

This continued into the examination room. A couple of dogs were clearly upset in the hallway outside the room and in the room next to us. I fed Buckley as the kerfuffle continued and while he alerted to the noise, he did not start pacing or whining in response to their stress (something he tends to do when he is excited). By giving Buckley a reward for his calm response, and keeping him focused on me, he had a much easier vet visit and did his part in keeping the general peace.

So, next time you are out with your favorite canine, take some treats along and when you hear another dog bark, whine, growl, or otherwise vocalize, give your dog a treat and you too will find that the barking of another dog will soon become a cue to your dog to check in with you.

15_dog_please send treats

General Training or "Why, Why, WHY?"

Puppy Wiggle

Bingley as a puppy wiggles his way into a twister game.

Bingley as a puppy wiggles his way into a twister game.

Last December we hosted a “Client Appreciation Open House” and one of our owners arrived with Sparky, an adorable new puppy, who wiggled profusely and curled in on himself so much that he looked like a donut! Emma and I were enchanted and delighted by this squirming bundle and gushed that Sparky had the perfect “puppy wiggle.” The owner asked me what I meant by puppy wiggle and why do I want to see it in young dogs? Perhaps more than anything else, it is a squirmy looseness to a dog’s movements and a softness in its approach and interaction with people that shows me that this is a dog with a high (and appropriate) social drive to people. Dogs with straight spines, stiffness to their movements, or hard interactions with people cause me to pause as their body language is not saying, “Come thither,” but rather “Stay where you are and no one gets hurt.”

Cashewing Flatties greet Emma.

Cashewing Flatties greet Emma.

So, when meeting a new dog, or assessing him for social drive I will count the number of friendly interactions that I have with the dog in the first minute of meeting him. A friendly interaction is when the dog approaches and engages with me for 2 or more seconds, in a soft way such as sitting to be petted; leaning, wiggling or curling into me (looks like a cashew nut, curled in on himself); or if he jumps, it is with a soft look and he will stay there to lick or nuzzle me. If his tail is wagging it incorporates his entire being and may be rotating like a helicopter blade (which I love to see). This sort of gentle interaction shows me that he is truly friendly, not just aroused or excited.
This puppy was stiff, had hard eye contact, and no wiggle.

This puppy was stiff, had hard eye contact, and no wiggle.

On the contrary, a dog who is more interested in the environment (especially if the dog is in his home environment which is not new) than meeting people, who stands stiffly (may or may not have a wagging tail, but if wagging, the tail is not helicoptering), will not make eye contact or gives hard eye contact, and/or moves away from me, rather than into me, when I pet it, is not a dog with a high social drive to people. One thing that really makes me suspicious of a dog is when it does the “pounce off”. This is where an aroused dog  rushes up to you, jumps up, and uses its two front paws to literally bounce off of you. This interaction takes a second or less and is not friendly, but a sign of arousal (high energy for whatever reason). It reminds me of charging in basketball. I imaging the player who is bowled over by his opponent feels much the same way I do when a dog ricochets off me.

I find a common mistake is confusing excitement or arousal with friendliness. Think of it this way, if someone is loud, boisterous, looks all around the room but not at you even when talking to you, moves quickly to greet everyone, but never stays to talk with anyone, and seems more interested in the surroundings than the people, then you might be amazed at his energy, but you are not likely to think of him as a particularly friendly or engaged person. Dogs who pounce off, move away from petting, and puppies who do not wiggle at the sight of humans, are indicating to me me that they may be energetic, but they most likely do not have a high social drive to people.
The most important thing I look for in a puppy is his social drive to people as it is the single best indicator of the potential for a successful future with his new family. If you are meeting a puppy for the first time, either as a prospective adopter, or as a friend, pay close attention to this body language as it will let you know if he wants to meet you as much as you want to meet him.

Behavior or "What the heck?" General Informational or Doggie Demographics Your new dog or puppy