Posts Tagged ‘Training’

Adopting a Holiday Dog

December 7, 2009

I had a great day on Saturday. Much of it was spent at a dog adoption day with the Stark County Pound. The event was two-fold: 1) was to help adopt some of the great dogs they have there that need a home. 2) was to help raise money for Friends of the Pound. This organization supports the adoption efforts of the pound. The money they raise helps sponsor (pay for) the spay and neuter of some of the dogs that come through.

It was fun to see all the dogs and how they each react to their environment. One thing I always relate to my dog obedience clients is that if you are “shopping” for a warm and furry companion to bring home: Do Your Homework.

It is so easy to “fall in love” with a dog that somehow pulls your heart strings (more on this in a minute). The dog adoption facilities I am familiar with in this area all have nice areas outside where you can spend some time with the dogs and play/interact a bit. Utilize that space and time to your benefit! I think the first best rule in finding a “forever dog” for your home shouldn’t be like running to the store to get milk, yet I see it happen all the time. People say, “Yeah, we’re gonna run out Saturday morning and find a dog”. YIKES. “Run” says it all. They’re in a hurry. Maybe the parents promised Billy or Susie a dog for whatever reason. The worst thing you can do is rush. When we looked for Lexi, our German Shepherd, it took us over three weeks. We went to MANY pounds and visited many people that were offering for private adoption.

The entire “owning a dog” experience is expensive, in dollars, but in time as well. Tell the kids, “we’ll go looking on Saturday, but we will NOT bring a dog home.” MOST facilities allow you to put a hold on a dog for a few days. It gives you a chance to visit a couple other places and see what else is out there.

Utilize the trip to the pound as a family experience. Use the car ride to talk about responsibilities. Who will care for the dog? How will it be done? Where will you buy food? How much will you have to spend on toys, food, beds, kennels and more. Do you have $500 to spend on a pet in the next six months (you probably will)? There is very little in this world with as big a pay-off as the undying, uncomplicated love a dog has for us, but remember your responsibilities! I LOVE dogs and will likely always have at least one, but understanding my ownership responsibilities, I TOTALLY know what I’m getting in to (usually).

If one of the primary owners (assuming a spousal-type relationship in the home) doesn’t want the dog, ASSUME NOW that person will likely drag their feet to engage and help with care/feeding/training/etc. They may not care as much to be “on” the training as much as you, possibly even to the point of undermining your efforts. Might be a great time to evaluate THAT relationship before you start another one? And just so you know, yes I AM a professional dog obedience trainer, but even though I’m often asked, NO, I DON’T DO SPOUSAL training!! THAT would be interesting, eh? Maybe not!

On the point of starting another relationship… I hear all the time, “Well, our dog has {this issue: Fill in the blank!}, so we’re gonna get another dog to help fix it.” It is NOT the responsibility of one dog to “fix” another one. YOU ARE THE PACK LEADER, it is YOUR responsibility. Yes, a calm-submissive balanced dog can HELP another dog achieve that same energy, but the pack leader and the pack leader alone controls that. NEVER bring a new dog into an unstable pack. And parents, that pack can be just the humans involved and have nothing to do with other dogs. Dogs understand energy and KNOW when they are in an unbalanced home.

Well, I feel like I’m rambling. Dog adoption is something I am very passionate about in many ways as I see the bad side often in our training business. So I’ll finish the story I promised above. During a slow period of “Dog Adoption Day”, I went back to see what larger breed dogs were available. One of our services is to help choose and train a dog for a client then introduce them to their new home with their new skill-set in place. I’ve got a current request for a dog to fill, so I am looking for the “right” dog for this client. Well, THAT dog wasn’t there, but in the first cage was this German Shepherd (probably a mix) with the most beautiful tan/brown eyes that just sucked me in. As a trainer, I can tell a lot about a dog through their eyes, how they watch, what they focus on. Any slight collar tug with this dog (out in that “learn about your dog” area above) and she would look right at me as if to say, “yup, I’m paying attention, what do ya want me to do/learn?” And her personality is JUST like Lexi’s.

You know the ending already, I’m guessing. I now own two German Shepherds. In less than a day, she already has three new commands and is responding to the name I gave her this morning. Wicked smart.

As you think about a dog for a holiday gift, keep in mind the upheaval that is the holidays. Not a great time to bring a dog home. Choose carefully, consciously, and download this PDF, it might help! Till next week.


Leads, Leashes & Collars, Oh My…

October 6, 2009

I was trying to make that come out like, “Lions, Tigers & Bears” but just couldn’t pull it off.

I had an interesting reaction to a post a few weeks ago, so thought I’d follow up…

I commented on thinking Halti Collars are pretty much worthless. In the middle of all the other stuff this kind of stuck out I guess. So let me backup and tell you why:


1st: there is NO MAGIC in ANY training device.

We only use a certain type of collar when we train. I know it’s the easiest collar for us to work with, I know that dogs understand the collar when used, and most importantly, I know its the easiest collar for owners to understand how to use effectively.

So, I’ll officially back off my “Halti” statement above, yet back up my belief. I see more dogs put on the collar because they’ve been told it will “fix” their dog. Without proper training many people will not understand how to use a given training tool. The issue with Halti’s is that they’ve gotten a great reputation, but I’ve seen as many badly behaved dogs on a Halti as not. So THAT is my point, and I’m sorry to anyone that misunderstood my plodding into the point unprepared. I tend to forget my audience doesn’t know what I’m thinking.

Heck, I often don’t know what I’m thinking!

So another point I hope I can transfer better:
I believe there are few badly behaved dogs, but plenty of owners that don’t have the tools to understand dog behavior. And why would they? Most people are not trained or educated to “know” what to do in given situations. Take some time and drop back through past posts.

We fully believe that your dog can be a great member of your pack, no matter what the behavior problem. It can be solved in a way your dog understands naturally. And when you hire a professional trainer, you’ll get their best approach to your dogs needs!

Till next time: I’ll try and stay out of hot water!

Please Don’t Help Me Train My Dog!

September 8, 2009

Or Please DO!

Make up your mind, Grant! Do you want help training your dog or not!?

Great question. Many of the dog obedience problems we see as professional trainers are caused by owners that don’t understand HOW to train their pet. That makes sense. Most people haven’t been trained professionally to train dogs. Arguably, the simplest/best thing you can do to help your dog is provide a consistent environment.

A month or so ago, we adopted Murphy. Murphy, our Golden Retriever The people we adopted Murphy from had given him the “uncontrollable” tag. Maybe you saw this “uncontrollable” dog in the video with the baby? Well, anyhow, on our first walk (later the day we brought him home) that I took Murphy on, a couple streets over I saw a couple with two Golden Retrievers out in their yard. Of course you have to stop and swap dog stories. As I approached, one of them basically told me their dogs weren’t really well behaved (great). I noticed they were giving their dogs some watermelon as a treat. So, when I got close, the guy asked if Murphy could have a bite. I told Murphy to sit. While I’d worked with Murphy a bit, we were still getting to know each other. Remember, I’d just gotten him. So as I tried to get Murphy to obey, the guy holds out the treat about six inches from Murphy’s nose. Hmm… Brand new owner vs. nose/treat; guess who wins? So I’m standing there saying, “Sit Murphy, Sit” and this dufus gives Murphy the treat. Had Murphy sat yet? NO. And the guy wonders why his dog misbehaves?

Lesson 1: Don’t reward your dog for unwanted behavior! To this guy: Get a clue and DON’T help me train my dog!

Murphy is still learning borders (no electric shock collars or electric fence, just command/recall). Murphy is also the typical Golden-“I love people and getting petted”-Retriever. When my next door neighbor has guests and Murphy is out, he has to go see people. He’s getting better, but cannot help himself YET. So, as the people (that know Murphy) got out of their car, I was able to stop him twice with, “Murphy, no” or “Murphy, sit”. Now, One would ASSUME that when that owner over their is telling his dog to sit and not come over here, the people would KNOW that I: 1) Want him to obey ME; and 2) stay in his yard. So what do they do? They get out of the car, bend over, slap their thighs, and say, “MURPHY!!”   REEEALLLY??? This is where in a cartoon you see the steam coming out of someone’s ears. So now Murphy is next door getting more attention than he deserves (none in my book- he didn’t obey) and as the guy sits there and pets him, I’m continuing to say, “Murphy, YARD; Murphy, YARD” (We use ‘yard’ as a return call as opposed to ‘come’). And the guy pets Murphy and says to him, “daddy’s gonna be mad, you shouldn’t be over here!” (yes, and continues to pet Murphy).

Lesson 2: Don’t reward MY dog for unwanted behavior! To this guy: Get a clue and DON’T help me train my dog!

Or, could you help? If someone you know, or quite frankly even a stranger on the street, is working their dog, or trying to achieve a given behavior, please don’t work against them! I cannot believe how often I am working a dog (and it’s obvious, trust me) that someone walks up to pet the dog and doesn’t ask, just interrupts the whole process. Dogs need consistent, repetition. A dog like Murphy that hadn’t been expected to obey (see “This Dog is Uncontrollable“) that is also a people pleaser doesn’t need to have a session interrupted!

Breitenbach Winery Labor Day Party and Dog Show Saturday we were at a “pet event” where we had a table/booth.  We always have a jar of treats out for people to give their dogs. I’ll be the first to admit that this is highly hypocritical. I rarely give my dogs treats (they really DON’T need them) and seldom/ever allow them to get them from strangers. That said, it helps draw people to the booth and is the friendly thing to do (?). Anyhow, first I’m amazed at how many people come up, take a treat and ask if they can give one to MY DOGS. REEEALLLY??!! I’m sitting here for three hours and wasn’t able to give my own dogs a treat? Thanks for stopping by and saving me/my dogs! Sigh. “No Thanks” I always say. Saturday, this lady responds, “Oh, it won’t hurt them” and proceeds to give the treat to Murphy who was totally relaxed lying at my feet. ARE YOU KIDDING ME?!?!

Lesson 3: Don’t reward MY dog (period!)! To this lady: I’m not even sure what to say that would be remotely professional. “Stay home” comes to mind.


Sorry if this blog is somewhat a rant, but that’s what blogs are supposed to be: “What’s on my mind” right now. I hope you all had a great Labor Day weekend. Back to the grindstone!

This Dog is Uncontrollable!

August 19, 2009
Murphy at Sunrise

Murphy at Sunrise

Murphy, our Golden Retriever, was adopted a while back from a couple that “Can’t handle this wild-unruly dog”. You can read the story here: Our New Family Member. We’ve worked with Murphy using our standard methodology. As with the shoe-maker’s children, I don’t get as much concentration with Murphy as I would like. That said, the changes in his behavior are dramatic!

In case you don’t go back to the article above, when we went to adopt Murphy he was in a really small house with owners that wouldn’t walk him because he pulled so badly, jumped on everyone, and more. Murphy now has the run of the yard with Lexi, our German Shepherd. He still has a tendency to ‘blow through’ our yard border (no electric fence, just on-going obedience training) when he sees our neighbor lady out (he DOES love people), but is easily recalled now with just a whistle.

However, two things happened today that let me know Murphy is truly “in a different place”.

A friend stopped by today. He’s never been to my house and so Murphy has never met him. While Murphy was very, very excited, he never once even acted like he might jump up. Nice for the dog that “couldn’t be handled”.

Second was the gal that does some in-office administrative work for me. She always brings her baby. While getting ready to leave, she put her little boy down on the floor by Murphy (She knows Murphy!). Slowly he crawled over to the little tyke and very respectfully showed interest. The video isn’t great and will be re-processed, but you can see Murphy here and watch his reaction to the baby. And look at Murphy’s tail: a constant “I am sooooo happy” wag!! thump, thump, thump. Just remember this is the dog that “didn’t know how to relax or settle down”! Most facinating to me was when the baby reached for Murphy was his reaction to the reach and then his reaction when the BABY pushed on his head. I nearly cried! HOW COOL!!

Moral of the story: with the right training and attention, most dogs can learn basic obedience and learn respectful rules!

I think the video is proof!

Do You Own the Smartest Dog in the World?

August 11, 2009

I consider myself lucky. I get to work all the time, working with folks in their homes (I love people!) and their dogs (I love dogs!). I also get to work with two of the smartest dogs in the world. I know; I know – EVERYBODY thinks their dog is the smartest. -Okay, except for that lady that called last week, but I digress.

But, I have proof! CNN posted this article about how smart your dog may be. I happen to own a German Shepherd (Ranked #3) and a Golden Retriever (Ranked #4).

This very interesting article also talks about “recent” breeds, vs. “older” breeds. First remember that everything is relevant. But by “recent”, they were talking about breeds like Collies and Retrievers. Huh? They are compared to breeds like hounds that “just needed to be fine tuned, as they already did what humans wanted”; kill food. All we had to do was intercept the food. Huh? (again).

Hmm… I have a problem with this part. I’d have to check my evolutionary chart, but I don’t remember natural selection creating hounds, German Shepherds, or Chihuahuas. No, at some point 10,000 years ago, some hunter befriended a wolf pack when they realized the wolves would take down the moose and provide food. I’m thinking one day the hunters selected a more tame pup from a litter here and a litter there and bred something a tad more docile, but that retained the hunter instinct.

In the 1950’s some Russian scientists did a fascinating study with foxes.  (There is also a documentary of sorts on this that I’ve seen on cable). As they bred for more tame foxes, many things started happening to them. Read the article, it’s very interesting. A quote from the article: “…selection for behavior implied selection for physiological characteristics that would have broader effects on the animals’ development.” Trust me that hounds are just as “made” as a Collie.

At some point in our history, (I’ll happily be proven wrong here and retract…), all of our canine friends were wolves. We’ve selected and selected and quite frankly forced development that likely never would have happened in nature. Be realistic; what are the chances for survival in the wild for a tea cup Chihuahua? And to be even more honest, I’m not sure how long many of our “bully breeds” would last out there either.

But I started out talking about intelligence. I’m constantly amazed by how much we humans project onto our canine friends. Yes, some dogs do take longer than others to learn. But approached in the right manner, I really believe that your dog can learn. They may struggle, but given consistent, repetition and a human determined to help the pooch learn at its pace- the pooch will learn. Even one of my favorite shows, “MythBusters” did a segment on “Teaching an old dog new tricks”. Don’t say, “My dog can’t learn” or “My dog is dumb”, etc. You’re starting with the assumption of failure! Assume your dog WANTS to learn, WANTS to please.  It does!

 So, grab YOUR intelligent dog and have a blast! It Can learn!

Let Go of the Past

June 22, 2009

I think Cesar Millan (The Dog Whisperer) is a genius. I watch every show of his I can. I think (even when watching re-runs) that I pickup something new nearly every time I watch the show. One of the most positive things I learned from the show is how much we humans hang onto the past, even when our dog is living in the now.

I’m not sure that Cesar is saying that dogs don’t remember, I think he’s saying that they live in the here and now, so we should too!

When doing evaluations, many times we see the owner ‘stuck’ on some past situation in a dog’s life. A week ago or so, I spoke with a lady about her little lap dog. She was having a discipline issue. The first thing she told me was about how the dog had gone to the groomers two years ago and came home with bruised lungs (YIKES). After a few minutes of discussion, it was clear she still felt badly for that experience (that she really had nothing to do with), and thus, was being ‘nice’ to the dog, instead of establishing discipline and boundaries.

When I suggested that she “let go” of the past and deal with the dog “today”, she said she wasn’t living in the past!!! I then asked her why that one story was the first thing she told me about when we started talking about her challenges. I could tell I had gotten through. After a moment, she then related how she realized she HAD been still trying to protect the dog from ANY harm, as if setting boundaries and expecting certain behavior was some kind of punishment.

Are you holding onto something in your dog’s past that is keeping you both from living in the here and now? Take a look and make sure you are allowing yourself and your dog to move forward! Yesterday is a history lesson. Learn from it, but release it! Live in the NOW!

Fun at Garage Sales

June 15, 2009

Okay, I’ll be honest right off the bat. I am sure there are home owners who would prefer that you don’t bring your dog to their garage sale. But as we work with our ‘new’ addition, Lexi, we find it a great way to socialize her and reinforce training.

This last Saturday there were two allotment-wide garage sales in our area. For me, that’s like saying, “Hey, there’s a dog obedience exercise in our neighborhood this weekend!”- Okay, I’ll be there!

As you’ve read before, Lexi has been progressing from learning to Heal, to loose-leash, to off-leash. As a professional dog trainer, it is soooo cool to walk up a long drive with your German Shepherd off-leash (healing at your side), hearing people comment on how well behaved, etc., then hear, “oh my gosh, Fred, that dog isn’t on a leash!” I love that!

This also gives us a great opening to talk about training, obedience and dogs in general. On a totally different subject, I also love to ride motorcycles. Coincidentally, two things people love to talk about are dogs and cycles! It’s so easy with a well trained, obedient dog to start conversations with people!

I think I could’ve sold Lexi about 10 times on Saturday. NO chance! She is such a sweet dog and GREAT with kids. I always ask parents if it’s okay for their kids to pet her. If positive, it gives us a great chance to make sure the kids know and understand their ABCs. No, not those ABCs; whenever we can, we teach kids AABC: Always Ask Before Cuddling (any animal); first ask your parents, then have your parents ask the pet owner before proceeding!

In any case, look for opportunities to train your dog and work them a bit. Most dogs love to learn new things and practice old things. And make sure your pooch can handle the responsibility you give it!

Dog or Training?

June 10, 2009

Why do we put so much concentration on anniversaries? “It’s been six years…”, “Five Months!”, “four weeks”… why don’t we say, “We’ve been together 34,567,890 seconds!”? – okay, maybe some teens do. Well, today is Lexi’s four week anniversary in our home. Four weeks ago, we were able to rescue Lexi from the Tuscarawas County Dog Pound.

When we picked up Lexi (our German Shepherd) from the pound she knew no commands, was nervous to human touch (like when you pressed her butt down to “sit”), but otherwise a nice, well-behaved dog.

We started with the basics; Sit, Down, Come, etc. Some of your may wonder about “Stay”. We assume that we wanted the dog to sit and hold the sit until the next command is given, so “Stay” may be fine for you and your dog, but consider teaching your dog to ‘Hold’ the command! Then tell her to “Break”, which means, “you are free to go”.

Fast forward four weeks to today’s anniversary. Lexi knows: Sit, Down, Heel (Lexi is loose-leash easily and can pretty much be off-leash now), Come, Go Potty, Break, Bring it (fetch), Car (as in ‘get in the’), Place, Up, Off, No, Okay (we use “Okay” as a release for a treat. “Okay, you can get it now”). She is learning; Jump (an obstacle), Lay (on her side), Border (the yard boundary).

So in four weeks she has learned (understands) over 10 commands and is on her way to 20. Not bad, eh? So, is it the dog, or the training? Honestly, it’s both. A bad trainer can mess up a smart dog. However, the right, consistent training with most any dog can have amazing results.

Remember to be your dog’s pack leader! Remember to be consistent. Remember your dog lives to please you and wants to learn!

Luci is taking off, but Scout?

June 1, 2009

Last post, I introduced Luci a Shepherd/Collie mix we are working with and promised to bring you up to date.

When we got to Luci’s last training appointment, we worked with Luci on not charging the door. Her human was doing a GREAT job being assertive. It didn’t take Luci long to figure out that she was to stop about 6 feet from the door.

We worked with ‘natural’ landmarks for her so she’d get it faster. One door has a short hallway 6 or 7 feet in length, so we worked with her stopping there. At the front door, there are two carpeted openings to the tiled entrance. So we worked on stopping Luci at the carpet edge.

Give your dog a nice hard, “SIT” when they are at the limit you wish them to respect. The first few times might be done with a lead, so you can tug at the same time as the command, right at the border you are teaching. Also, work on a hand signal to give the dog at the same time. Little by little, just use the visual and soon enough you won’t need to say anything. Won’t be long before the dog will know to go to that line at the door bell and wait for you.

Make sure when training that you don’t overwhelm your dog. Too many people giving the command, too many commands, too many different commands, can exhaust and confuse your dog. As we often do training appointments with two of us, we have a general rule when training that the person with the lead is the one that gives commands. The other person can help where needed.

Overwhelm: You may see your dog “shut down”; go to a neutral corner and hide; or head for its kennel or quiet spot. Make sure to remove your dog from that shut down area with a lead if needed. Just gently tug her out. It might be a good time to not train again for a while or anymore that day. Praise your dog quietly and pet them. Let them know you’re understanding. Then next time, go at it a little gentler and simpler. Your dog will get it!

We started working with Scout last week too. Scout is a Terrier/Something Else dog. She is a furry ball of sweet fun. Scout’s yard was smaller, on a hill and had an electric fence. That made it a challenge to stay in the boundaries and still work with her. By the end of our first session, she was beginning to understand a loose-leash heel and to sit when we stopped.

More on Lexi’s barking (or lack thereof), her progress and whatever else comes up next time!

Lexi, the German Shepherd and House-training

May 21, 2009

As you know, Lexi came home with us from the pound last Wednesday, so we’ve had her now just over a week. It’s both frustrating and fascinating to not know ANYTHING about a dog when you adopt. Maybe I should say nothing about their past as we DID know she was female and that it’s pretty obvious that Lexi is 99.5% German Shepherd.

But we don’t know for sure. Two things; One is that we could do a DNA test and know for sure, but everything about Lexi, from her marking to her radar-dish ears tells us all we need to know. And that’s point Two; we really don’t care ‘what’ she is, breed-wise. We fell in love with her loving, quiet personality.

Lexi has really progressed too! I started the blog talking about house-training which can be challenging to say the least! She’s not yet gone in the house. That’s part of that “not knowing”… was she house-trained before? Was she an outside dog only and so only knows to go outside???? Sigh, who knows? I’ll take it! She’s also pretty much going on command at this point too.

So, a little house-training for your pooch, which you can find everywhere on the net!… Take your dog to the same spot in your yard whenever possible. Take your pooch out at any obvious time they may need to go out… when they awake, if you’ve been away for a few hours and they’ve not been outside, a while after they’ve eaten (each dog/diet is unique). Tell your pet, “go potty” or any other phrase you wish to use. Remember, it’s not the word, it’s the consistency of that phrase when they are going. If you don’t like having a “potty mouth”, use a goofy word like, “tractor”. Just realize if anyone ever watches your dog for you, they might not get your special word.

After a few days, your dog will begin to “get” what they’re supposed to do and when. Also REALLY important is to praise your pup whenever they get it right! Don’t Surprise your dog by YELLING, “GOOD DOG! GOOD DOG!!!” the minute she squats or you may give her a fright! Just nice soft words will do!

And finally, remember that your dog is trying to figure out what you want. Yes, some dogs ARE willful- But I tire of hearing trainers always talking about how a certain dog is “fighting” or resisting house-training. Give your dog a break!! It doesn’t speak your language, may not yet know your body language or energy. Give it time to adjust and don’t punish. Your dog will just get confused and possibly just find a better hidden place in your home to have the accident.

Praise and consistency wins every time!!