Archive for September, 2010

Does your pooch come to you reliably when called? It takes patience and practice, but Spot will love rushing back to you if you set up a consistent and fun recall. How to get your dog to come is this week’s topic for the Never Shock a Puppy campaign. I can’t even understand why one would expect a dog to come when he’s being shocked–our coalition of bloggers have weighed in with superb alternative  suggestions already–take a peek! Their blogs are on the bottom right side of this post, under the heading Never Shock a Puppy Coalition.

“My Dog is Deaf”

Many of my clients have dogs who blow them off. Fluffy sometimes comes. Maybe not, maybe eventually, even after relentless calling. I’ve heard “My dog doesn’t listen to me”many times. Why? Here are some reasons:

  • Calling “come” doesn’t mean anything;  just more noise
  • You’re not as interesting as that prairie dog colony, squirrels, or those cow pies out there
  • What’s in it for the dog? Nothing good or remarkable happens when she returns to you, so why bother?
  • She gets leashed and goes home as soon as she comes back to you

What Does “Come” Mean to Dogs?

We humans think dogs should already know our language. But why would they? They have no concept until you teach them. My mentor trainer once said that it takes 300 times for a dog to learn difficult cues. Sounds overwhelming, but not if you incorporate “come” in every day activities, along with 5 to 10 minute practice sessions to set Fluffy up for success–and she won’t run back past you in the other direction!

What IS In It for Lassie?

I’m not giving away all my coaching secrets here, but some suggestions::

  • First, get Fluffy to learn her name. Use “Fluffy, look” or “Fluffy, watch me”–and click/treat when she does, first for a couple of seconds, working up to 10 seconds. You can fade out the reward when she looks at you every time you call her name.
  • Incorporate the “come” cue  for actions such as going for a walk, playing,  eating, riding in the car. Make sure you only say “come” when good things happen. Never use “come” when you’re not sure Fluffy will do it, or when you can’t enforce it.
  • In your yard or at a dog-free park, attach a 20-ft line to your dog’s collar (Never let her off-lead until she’s fully reliable.)  Send her out to sniff, play, or whatever. Call “Fluffy, come”–the minute she swivels her head to you, click and say “yes” in a jolly, happy voice! Party time! (Don’t wait to click until your dog is already back to you.) Treat with abandon.
  • When Fluffy is playing with another dog, call her out of play with “Fluffy, come” every few minutes. Reward, then send her back to play.
  • When Fluffy runs back to you, JACKPOT with fantabulous treats that are reserved for no other cue except “come.” Hot dogs, cheese, roast beef, turkey, baby food (jars directly from the freezer, yum to lick out the contents!). One of my clients, Jacko, loved loved loved canned ravioli. Hey, it worked, why not? How his owner discovered that is another matter… but wow, Jacko came flying when he knew what was waiting for him!
  • Bring favorite toys to substitute for food if Fluffy prefers those squeaky noises. Or, you can use in conjunction–squeaky noise, Fluffy turns, you click and/or say “yes” in your jolly voice, Fluffy runs to you, treat and play!With another person, send the dog back and forth to one another, again with a long lead. Make the distance farther and farther.
  • Once Fluffy accomplishes the back and forth play reliably, play hide-and-seek. If you are working with your kids or others, have them hide behind trees or bushes. Have one person at a time call your dog. That person has a treat party when Fluffy finds the caller.
  • If you’re in a fenced yard or room, try the above without a long line. But when she comes to you, have a party, leash her up, reward, then release the leash again. The release becomes the reward. She needs to know that just because you call her, fun doesn’t stop. Letting her off leash helps her learn that concept. Do it 300 times!

If Fluffy doesn’t come when called and you’ve given the long line a gentle tug with no reaction on Fluffy’s part,  go and get her. No rewards, no punishment. Don’t say anything. Just go to her and bring her back to her starting spot. This is why you need a long line to practice; normally, if you go towards an unleashed dog, she thinks it’s a game and will start running!

Bottom Line

You have to be more interesting than cow pies, squirrel chasing, or prairie dog colonies. Do what works best for you and your pet, but please do not let your dog off leash to rush off and be rude to other dogs and people–or, worse yet, to dash into traffic. Make sure you can call her back without exception! Consistency and fun are the keys to success!

Prizes, Just For Reading and Commenting!

If you read the information on the Never Shock a Puppy site and leave a comment, especially if you’re a first-time dog owner, you can win one of the great prizes listed there! They’ll help you on your journey to perfectly positive training!

Donate–Giving Back Is Rewarding!

If you’ve learned even one pain-free dog training technique among the coaltion blogs, think about spreading the word and donating to our service project. We’re raising money for the Humane Society of Boulder Valley‘s upcoming No-Choke Challenge. (More details on how our efforts dovetail on our About Page and on the No-Choke Challenge page.) Even $5, $10, or $20 will help. Use the donation widget on the sidebar of this post to make your donation today!

Here we are, halfway through our Never Shock a Puppy campaign. Our blogging coalition is continuing to cover the behavior issues that are frustrating for dog owners–yet solvable with humane, positive-reinforcement techniques. Find out about our campaign prizes at the end of this post!

This week, we cover barking–one of the more troublesome behaviors for my clients.

Barking–Natural Behavior

We all think it’s annoying to hear a dog bark for more than a few minutes; I know I get frustrated when my dogs do it! But barking is a dog’s way of expressing herself… just as all beings have their way of communicating. Birds sing, frogs croak, people talk–you name it. Dogs communicate through whining, howling, barking. And often, pet owners unintentionally train their dog to bark. Have you  let Fido out when he’s whining in his a crate? Do you open your front door when Fluffy barks? How about barking with him by shouting “Quiet” when he’s on a barking jaunt? Your behavior often influences how your dog will react.

And of course, if someone walks by your house, yard–well hey, in a dog’s mind, barking works to make that person go away! Especially if the person has the nerve to be walking another dog. Bark=offending being leaves. Since I live on open space and on a corner lot, there are lots of distractions. So, not only did I build a kind of double-fence, I also clap my hands and say “who wants a treat?” My dogs, although they hesitate for a few seconds, usually decide that high-value treats (chicken, turkey, roast beef, cheese) seem better than the distraction.

Barking Classifications

Not all barking is the same. As also mentioned in today’s Never Shock a Puppy blog post, the infamous Turid Rugaas, in her insightful book Barking: The Sound of a Language, lists six major barking types:

  • Excitement
  • Warning
  • Fear
  • Guard
  • Frustration
  • Learned

I’m not going to cover all of these, as others in our coalition will present their tips. But for me, two of the more difficult barking issues: Frustration barking and barking at squirrels (or any critters) that tease a dog when he’s outside.

Frustration Barking

Most people want help with their dog’s frustration barking–sounding hours on end in the yard or house while the owner is away. It’s heartbreaking to hear, as the desperation and frustration comes through in those repeating and static-sounding barks. Leaving your pooch in the yard means he has nothing to do. Bored. Even if you provide toys and a doggy door, will he use them? Why have a dog if you don’t interact? Take him with you! Give him a job! You’ll both get exercise! Even if it’s just a ride in the car, hanging out in the house, walking around the block. When you’re not home, have a dogwalker take him on a hike. Bring him to doggy daycare, or have a neighbor drop by. Mental games, such as Nina Ottoson’s toys or dog treat dispensing puzzles, are great fun for you both!

Some trainers like the citronella collar as a way to humanely discourage your dog from barking. It does work effectively for many barkers! My dogs Frisbee and Luna, however, figured out a way to twist the collar so that it doesn’t spray when they “shout” out. And I also didn’t like that they had to smell like citronella, a scent they hate, even when they were behaving nicely.

Squirrels–A Dog’s Nemesis

If you have herding or prey-driven dogs, they’re hard-wired to go after critters–I’m sure you’ve heard yours go crazy when squirrels are out in force, teasing from fence lines or trees. Although you can use “leave it” or other attention-getting methods when you’re home, what happens when you’re gone? My dogs have a fixation; it’s a struggle to keep them quiet when squirrels abound. How can you get a dog to stop that fixation?

If you’re into doing some research and reading, consider the Premack Principal. It’s based on scientific studies showing that a low probability behavior or reinforcement is the opportunity for Lassie to exchange a less-valued activity for a more valued one. In real life, that means: “Eat your brussels sprouts and you’ll get cake!”

Leslie McDevitt discusses the principle in Control Unleashed (great book on behavior modification!), and Jean Donaldson shows how this works for squirrel-obsessed dogs in Oh Behave! Dogs from Pavlov to Premack to Pinker.

However, what if you’re not into doing all that homework? Reading is one thing, action is another! Why not just get rid of the squirrel nuisance? My neighbor, who said “my fence is a squirrel highway!” rigged up a cool device–PVC pipe strung together and hung at the top of her fence.  That way, the squirrels roll off and learn not to even venture onto the fence! It works like a charm–I haven’t heard her dogs squirrel bark for awhile now!

Prizes Galore!

This week, we’re giving out the second of our five prize packages to those who comment on the Never Shock a Puppy site. If you’re a first-time dog owner, you’ll get extra credit! Here’s what you can win:

We Need Your Donations Today!

As you’ve read in previous weeks, we’re raising money for the Humane Society of Boulder Valley‘s upcoming No-Choke Challenge, commencing in November. Every $5 helps! Just click the donation button on the donation widget on the right side of this post to get started!

Today marks week 3 of the Never Shock a Puppy campaign series! Throughout the past weeks, you’ve read our coalition’s blogs about the top 5 reasons people use shock collars and other aversive devices to train their dogs–and how those devices can be replaced with gentler, more humane alternatives.NSAP badge

Walking Nicely On a Leash

This week’s topic is about your pooch walking nicely and happily close to you while she’s on a leash. I’m sure you’ve encountered dogs that pull so hard that your only choice is to run behind if you want to keep attached! “My dog pulls so hard I can’t walk him” is one of the top reasons people come to me for training. They’ve established the pulling routine, so they’ve slapped a prong collar or choke chain on the dog. Yet, the dog still pulls! One of my clients calls that prong a “training” collar.  But she still can’t get her dog to stop pulling!

Fact is, dogs have strong necks. They can pull anything. But sometimes, if they pull so hard, a choke or prong can dig in, causing damage. This is covered well in this week’s Never Shock a Puppy site, so I won’t go into it again here. But remember, no matter how long your leash, Lassie will be at the end of it unless he sees the benefit to being closer to your “circle of comfort.”

Lorie Huston, a well-respected veterinarian in Rhode Island, posted two great videos on her site Pet Health Care Gazette that show how to teach your dog to walk with you. None of the sessions show aversion–just stop, let your dog figure out that he’s not going anywhere if he pulls! Other techniques include walking until he pulls ahead, then reverse direction. Circles and figure eights work for many clients. Sometimes the dog never gets out of the driveway because it takes about 300 times for the understanding to really sink in.

Peanut Butter? Baby Food?

If your dog likes to follow a target, get out an old wooden spoon and spread peanut butter on the spoon part. Hold the handle facing down at your side so the peanut butter is directly in Fluffy’s face while you walk. Magic! She’ll be so busy licking that she’ll stick right with you! When the peanut butter is gone, she’ll watch you just in case there’s more where that came from! And yes, you’ll give her more until she realizes that all good things come from being with you.

Same with baby food in those little jars. Yes, they work wonderfully! Just hold the jar down at your dog’s nose. Wow, what a treat! Put those jars in the freezer and yeah, the dog will lick for quite awhile while moving along.

Front Loops

Harnesses are great! However, for a dog with a proclivity for pulling, perhaps you need a harness different than the common ones, with the leash attachment in the back. Dogs love love love that pressure feeling on their chest when they push against it. So sometimes, those harnesses foster pulling! Soft Touch Concepts makes two kinds of front-connection harnesses that alleviate pulling. I use the Sense-ation Harness on my clients’ dogs with great success! You can turn your dog around in a flash, change directions, without choking, pinching, restricting, or hobbling–and it works! The Humane Society Boulder Valley and many other shelters use front-loop harnesses to work with their adoptable dogs.

Many More Tips for Walking Fido with Ease

Our coalition and supporter blogs, listed to the right side under Never Shock a Puppy Coalition, have more tips to help you keep that shock collar off your pup. Read and learn that it isn’t difficult to coach your pup to do the right thing!


From the Never Shock a Puppy site, here are the prizes we’re giving away this week!

You can read all the official rules to learn more, but for logistical reasons, we must limit entries to those in the U.S. and Canada. We’ll notify the winner next week via email, so be sure you enter your email address correctly. Once we know via private email conversations, where the winner lives and what size is needed, we can arrange for prize delivery and for the dog training contact.

This week’s prize package includes:

How cool is that?


Don’t forget; we’re raising donations for the Humane Society of Boulder Valley‘s  No-Choke Challenge, comng in November. Our goal? Reaching $2,500! Use the donation widget to the side of this blog post to give today!

Week 2!

It’s already week 2 of the Never Shock a Puppy campaign. Our coalition is blogging about the five reasons people choose to use aversive tools on their dogs. You’ll be reading about these reasons on the coalition blogs throughout the week.


In my case, as a dog coach, I try to learn what kinds of training works, and what doesn’t work. Everyone with a dog has an opinion.

My biggest eye-openers came when I worked as a lead trainer in one of those national pet store chains. My job, when not teaching class, was to answer questions. I thought they’d ask for advice. Nope. “My dog pulls on the leash, so where are the choke chains?” “I’m sick of my dog barking; what’s the best bark collar?” “Fido gets into the trash and surfs my counters, so I heard that I can use a remote shock collar. Where are they?” “Judo runs away. I need those doohickey electric thingies that will make her come home.”

None of those dog owners, whom I’m sure were caring, asked for suggestions, whether these things were good. Maybe their friend talked about how Rufus wouldn’t run away while wearing that shock collar. Or a TV dog trainer used that prong collar, and it was magic! The quick fix.

Offering suggestions doesn’t necessarily work when people already made up their minds. “What do you think about trying using a gentle leader or halti?” “What about a front loop harness?” “Clicker?” “Treats?” Ah, “too much work.” “Don’t have time.” “Don’t want my dog dependent on treats to listen to me.” “Don’t need training; it’s too expensive.” Or “my trainer told me to get one of these.” “We need Mac to know when he’s bad.” I made a list of about 200 responses. All the owners had to do was put on the magical tool, and guess what–the dog performed! But did they perform, or were they being coerced? How are these tools used?


Believe me, I’ve been tempted–I have a loud and consummate barker at home, and a dog-aggressive Border Collie. It would be easy to slap on a bark collar, or to e-collar the aggressive one. After all, I’ve been trained to use a variety of tools, many aversive, throughout the years. But what do the dogs really learn? What they did wrong, not what they did right. Did the aversive methods help? Not really. As soon as the collar was off, the old behavior returns. In fact, one dog reacted so painfully when I shocked him that he bit a nearby dog’s nose badly enough to require surgery.

In those days, did my dogs listen to me? No. Only when they had to. Did they seem happy? Eh, not really. More like resigned. But when I discovered positive training methods about 15 years ago beginning with Karen Pryor’s book Don’t Shoot the Dog—wow! What a difference. Using treats? A paycheck for the right behavior! Asking dogs to think? They solved problems! Why not? Getting rewards and jackpotted just for doing listening to that human? Wahoo! Setting boundaries and modifying behavior takes time, it’s not always easy, but the rewards are fabulous—when dogs enjoy learning, they become more willing to become your partner. Bonding, respect, fun, games! Life with dogs becomes good.

That’s why I fully advocate the Never Shock a Puppy campaign. It makes sense. It brings rewards. Dogs are happy. You don’t have to hurt your dog for her to learn what you want!


So, partnering with the Humane Society Boulder Valley’s launch of the No Choke Challenge (slated for November 2010), our coalition of bloggers is presenting you with 8 weeks of information to help raise awareness about humane training alternatives. Our goal is to provide at least $2,500 for their worthy cause. Who doesn’t want that?

To find out more about the campaign, how you can become involved, and why even a $5 donation helps, see the Never Shock a Puppy site, and read the great blogs from our coalition!

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