Posts Tagged ‘dog training’

You think your dog is doing something adorable, so you encourage her to continue that behavior. But later you discover that it’s not so cute after all. Then what? I see this a lot with clients, but I’ve also made these kinds of mistakes with my dogs. Whoops!

I was discussing this on Twitter with Sonia Singh, a fellow pet blogger and marketing director for in Phoenix, AZ. As an advocate for the large dog lifestyle, she said she’s inadvertently trained her pup Nala to “follow her bliss”– until Sonia discovered that Nala’s bliss was not what she intended! I asked Sonia to share her experiences to help assure dog owners that there are ways to turn things around! Her bio appears at the end of her post.


Training a dog is complex. There are times we train our dog exactly what we want, then there are times we accidentally teach them something we weren’t exactly hoping for. I accidentally trained my dog Nala two things that at the time seemed cute, but ended up with not-so-cute results.

Nala, the former leash chewer

The first mistake

I trained Nala to chew her leash.

Here’s how it happened. One day, I clipped her leash on her collar to go for a walk. She picked up the handle and started walking towards the door with it. It was as if she was taking herself for a walk – very cute. I thought it would be funny to teach her to walk herself. Each time she picked up the leash in her mouth, I praised her. Then she took it a step further, and that’s where it went wrong.

I clipped the leash to her collar one evening, opened the door and, realizing it was chillier than I expected, shut the door and grabbed a jacket. By the time I got back to the door and reached for the leash, I couldn’t find it. Then I saw it – barely four inches of it dangling from her collar. The rest was missing. She had chewed it right off in under 30 seconds. Between being encouraged to pick it up and needing to release excited energy, Nala picked up her leash like I taught her – then chewed it. We went through at least three more leashes before I was able to break her of the habit. She still picks up her leash on occasion, but I haven’t been forced to buy a new leash in over a year.

The second mistake

We trained Nala to growl inappropriately. This had much worse consequences, and we’re still trying to fix it.

When Nala was a puppy, she didn’t make a sound. No growling, barking, whining, nothing. Her dad thought it would be fun to see our little puppy growl, so he started growling at her during play, hoping she would growl back. I warned him that was a bad idea, but when it started working I had to admit – it was adorable to see such a tiny ball of love act so ferocious.

Ferocious Nala

As she grew, her growl became less adorable and sounded more menacing. Her underbite grew too, making her look like she’s constantly baring her teeth. Suddenly, nobody at the dog park saw her as friendly: she would run up to a dog to play, but to the dog and its owner it looked like a dog running towards them, growling and baring its teeth. They would respond accordingly, and Nala was confused about why dogs snarled at her when all she wanted to do was play. Yes, that’s right: she growled to play but didn’t take growling as play when other dogs did it to her. She took it as an aggressive gesture from them, and that’s how they meant it.

Unlike the accidental leash chewing I taught her, the growling has had more serious effects and had a chain of consequences. Other dogs responded to Nala as if she’s acting aggressively and in turn, she developed a fear of some other dogs. That means she became reactive on a leash during walks and  was unable to play at the dog park without a scuffle.


We stopped going to the dog park, and at home, we stop play immediately when she growls, so she now growls during play only when she’s overly excited. We’ve been working on “leave it” as we walk so she learns not to respond to every dog that walks by. It’s working: she now growls during play only when she’s really excited and is much calmer on a leash now, and for the most part walks casually by other dogs. She sometimes turns her head, but that’s it. It’s taken some work, but Nala has made huge strides.

Everybody makes training mistakes from time to time. Sometimes it’s not a serious mistake, like our leash mishap; sometimes, the consequences are more dire. The good news is, our efforts are paying off. The earlier you catch the inappropriate behavior, the easier it will be to fix.


Sonia Singh is the Marketing Director and a blogger for specializes in large dog supplies, such as these raised dog bowls for large dogs. They also provide the education and tools that more fully involve big dogs in owners’ everyday lives. As a large dog owner, Sonia understand the questions and issues that come up with big dogs. You can read more of Sonia’s  writing on’s Big Dog Blog, which features practical tips and personal stories on life with big dogs. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter.


For day 10 of the #reverb10 challenge, which encourages one to reflect on this year and manifest what’s next, the topic today is:

Wisdom. What was the wisest decision you made this year, and how did it play out?

I’ve gotta say that this year’s wisest decision for me was becoming a moderator of Bark Out Loud, the first weekly chat show on Twitter, every Monday night at 9:15 pm EST. Each week, we discuss a different topic relating to dogs, sometimes controversial and always exciting! We interview well-known  guests experienced in the canine field who also answer participant questions.

Why wise? Let me count the ways. I’ve learned more about dog behavior and veterinary information on Bark Out Loud than I have in years. I’ve met some of my favorite people of all time. It’s been good for business. And most of all, it feels good to be a part of a community where people spend an hour-and-a-half with us weekly, discussing important and necessary dog issues!

The Bark Out Loud Team

  • Mary Slade Doane, a nature educator in South Deerfield, NH. She writes a fascinating blog, called Mary’s Dogs Blog, about the adventures of her foster dog Aaron.
  • Dr. Lorie Huston, a veterinarian in Providence, RI. She is a freelance writer for a number of pet health and veterinary publications, and has her own information-packed blog called Pet Health Care Gazette.
  • Mary Haight, VP, Board of Directors of the Lakeshore Animal Shelter in Chicago, IL. She writes the thought-provoking Dancing Dog Blog.
  • Me, Hilary, a canine coach/dog trainer in Louisville, CO.

What Topics Have We Discussed?

Here are the transcripts from our Bark Out Loud chats. Just click on a topic to read how the discussion played out!

Come join us–check out how to jump in! If you have a suggestion for a topic or have feedback on our show, please contact me. And stay tuned–exciting new changes are coming to Bark Out Loud in 2011.

OK, another post for #reverb10, which encourages one to reflect on this year and manifest what’s next.

Today’s prompt: Party. What social gathering rocked your socks off in 2010? Describe the people, music, food, drink, clothes, shenanigans.

Ya know, this year was not about parties for me. Sure, I’ve been to some exciting, eclectic, and fun events: My favorite god-daughter’s Bat Mitzvah in Los Angeles and her much-lauded bowling party afterwards, those energizing Ignite Boulder nights, that enthralling Nichole Wilde seminar on fearful dogs, the Colorado Dog Trainers Network K9 Nose Work and Rally-O demos, the Humane Society of Boulder Valley celebrations, Blog Paws West, local poetry jams, First Friday art nights, seeing the well-known Egyptian archaeologist Zahi Hawass working the audience at the Paramount Theater, the Gipsy Kings at the magical Red Rocks, dinner parties, coffees with new and old friends, Katie Goodman‘s hysterical comedy show at the Boulder Theater, and of course, those Treibball meetups.

But I can’t pick that one memorable moment from that list. Not one. I prefer small gatherings with friends. And personally, if I’m not with my dogs, I think about them. I miss them. Silly? Maybe. But so what. I like their company almost more than anything. Of course, I do the usual reading, DVD-watching, and mischief-making in my own home. My favorite party place. Frisbee and Luna give me comfort just knowing they’re around.

Day 8 of #reverb10 already!

Today’s prompt: Beautifully Different. Think about what makes you different and what you do that lights people up. Reflect on all the things that make you different – you’ll find they’re what make you beautiful.

Deflecting away from me here–although I’m certainly different in so many ways (read the weekly New Yorker cover-to-cover instead of just the cartoons, for example), this blog is about my attraction to different and difficult dogs and their behaviors. My dogs Frisbee and Luna LOOK  like “normal” dogs, but as I’ve written before, they’re not. (And what IS a “normal” dog, anyway? Another blog for that!)

As with everyone else, I used to lust after dogs with no issues. Wouldn’t it be lovely to have one who could play in the dog park, be mellow at home, get along with kids and adults, have fun with any other pet, allow being dressed up, make you feel special, understand your language–dogs who essentially just wanna have fun and enjoy life, no matter what’s thrown in their way?

But, those dogs aren’t for me. I prefer the quirky ones. The ones with an “attitude” or those that hide from me. Maybe it’s because my brother was severely autistic. Maybe it’s because my family is dysfunctional. Maybe it’s because I was always the square peg trying to fit in. Maybe it’s because I’ve always worked with pets in rescues and shelters. Maybe it’s because I volunteer for organizations that help the disabled.  I tend to see the behavior anomalies more than not in most situations.

I’m fascinated by difficult dog behaviors–the science and research is evolving constantly. The ethology studies are often jaw-dropping.

My heart goes out to those pooches who are coping as best they can with the cards they’re dealt–whether through bad experiences or genetics. Some people believe these dogs are damaged goods and overlook them when adopting. Behaviors such as fear, reactivity, bullying, under- or overconfidence, AD/HD, chronic illness, and so on are considered undesirable in our society. Shelters are filled with these “different” dogs. But wait, wouldn’t you give anything to help family members who are depressed, mentally or physically ill, having a tough time? What if they lashed out? What if they were afraid of social situations? What if  there was no quick fix? You’d still love them, right? As with humans, there is no one-size-fits all help.

The most beautiful thing for me is to see how well these “different” dogs progress once they’re in the right environment and given the structure, training, and patience they need. It may take months or years, but the right home and commitment changes these dogs’ lives. Forever.

On a coincidental (to today’s prompt) note: In this afternoon’s tweet stream, I saw a new blog post and video from one of my favorite trainers. The title? “Different Strokes for Different Folks.” David The Dog Trainer asks “How did you train your dog today?” That means every day is different when it comes to dog training. Perfect!

A word about training: If you have a difficult dog, there’s help. To find a trainer, do your research, interview potential trainers to see if there’s a fit and working comfort level, get recommendations from friends, read several trainers’ sites and blogs, if available. Gentle training works better than punishment training on dogs who have issues. Really. Look for trainers who don’t have cookie-cutter techniques, ones who will work with you to find creative solutions. Check the Association of Pet Dog Trainers and the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultant sites to find a trainer near you.

It’s a beautiful fall day here in Colorado! And it’s also our closing week of coalition blogging for the Never Shock a Puppy campaign. Throughout the  eight campaign weeks, we’ve raised awareness about why people choose shock collars and other aversives instead of helping their dogs change behaviors. We’ve raised money and given away prizes for those who donate and comment. It’s been exciting to hear about the creative and scientifically proven techniques all of the coalition bloggers use to deal with these important issues:

I’ve added several of the posted ideas to my own knowledge base; hope you did, too! Teaching your dogs cues of any kind can be rewarding and fun for both of you–what a great bonding opportunity! There are so many positive-reinforcement trainers to help solve any behavior issue, not just those listed here–please ask and we’ll find you one in your area.

Never Shock a Puppy On Dogtalk

If you’re still curious about the Never Shock a Puppy‘s mission, there’s more! Twitter’s #Dogtalk chat recently featured guests Roxanne Hawn (@roxannehawn), who blogs at Champion of My Heart, and Anna Bettina Johnson (@happyhealthypup), trainer and owner of Calling All Dogs. Interacting with Dogtalk’s audience, Roxanne and Anna discussed the mission, reasons behind the campaign, why trainers are crossing over from old-school techniques to pain-free methods, how the campaign is helping dogs and their guardians find workable alternatives to aversives, and fielded tough audience questions. Read the transcript here.

Donation Incentives!

We’re asking, no begging, for your donations to launch the Humane Society of Boulder Valley‘s upcoming No-Choke Challenge. (See more on the No-Choke Challenge page.) Although we gave away our Grand Prize last week, there are several fabulous donation incentives for those willing to chip in $50 or $75 or more.

I’m adding an incentive: If you live in the Boulder County area, Fang Shui Canines is offering a free 1-hour evaluation and consultation on any behavior issue if you donate at least $50! That’s right–free positive-reinforcement suggestions to help you and your pooch live in harmony! Or, if you aren’t in this area, I’ll match your donation if you donate this week. That’s how committed I am to the mission.

Take the pledge! Just click the donation button on the donation widget on the sidebar of this post to get started! If for some reason you cannot see or use the donation widget below, please visit the Never Shock a Puppy Donation Site instead. Then post the following on Facebook, Twitter, or any other social media site:

Just donated & took the #nevershockapuppy pledge because dogs deserve a pain-free future

Please Ask

Feel free to comment or ask questions on the Never Shock a Puppy site or here. We’d love to hear any concerns so we can help you, or how you’ve been working with your dog. Thanks for reading our coalition blogs (listed on the right sidebar of this page under the Never Shock a Puppy Coalition header.

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