Author Archives: Debbie Schaefer

Training Is About Choices

Training is about Choices

Training Is About Choices

A new trend in dog training is about giving the dog choices.  This is good if the choices are about to play or not to play a certain type of game, not insisting the dog do something it is uncomfortable with or on activities to be enjoyed.  

But when it comes to things like coming when called, walking nicely on leash, not jumping, grooming do they get a choice? 

The answer is Yes. Technically the dog can do it or not.  When I call a dog to come, it does make a choice as to whether it comes or not.  What the dog chooses may not be to my advantage and that is where training comes in.  My job as the person training the dog is to make it so the dog always chooses to do what I want through the use of training and rewards.

If I want to get the dog to do things it would rather not do, I need to train the dog by breaking the goal down into easily obtainable segments that are doable for the dog.  Train the dog to enjoy doing that part of the training and by giving the dog rewards for the correct behavior. When that is accomplished, I can then add in the next segment of the behavior.

So lets take coming when called as an example.  

This training is really broken down into segments of Getting the dog to
• pay attention when you say its name
• turn towards you when you say its name
• move towards you with speed when you say its name
• come close to you
• not retract when you grab a hold of it
• come from greater distances
• come with a variety of distractions

Your dog does get a choice.  It chooses to eat or not eat.  It chooses what rewards are of value.  It chooses what it likes and does not like.  You also have choices when it comes to training.  You have the choice to train or not to train, accept and apply training advice or to not accept and apply training advice, to make changes to what you presently are doing or not, to listen to what your dog is communicating to you or not.  Each choice we make has a consequence.  Choices are really about picking what consequence we would prefer.  Training your dog is really about manipulating consequences in a way that makes the dog choose to do what we want it to do.

Counter surfing – how to thwart it


counter surfuing

Counter surfing is a common problem.  Do you have a dog that likes to steal things off of counters or tables?  Here are 2 refreshing solutions to this problem.

Solution 1

Have the dog on leash so it cannot access temptations that will be used on the counter at training time.

Hang food over the edge of the counter.  I start with  something easy to hang over the edge so the dog can see it, like a biscuit, but after a session or two I switch it up so that all sorts of food or objects are hanging off of the counter.

The dog will likely strain trying to get the food.  Ensure the leash is not long enough for this to happen.  Don’t say anything.  Wait for dog to give up trying, and reward the dog when:

it stops trying to get the food.

it looks at the food and then looks back to you.  

Eventually your dog won’t even look at the food. It will just wait patiently for its reward for ignoring the food.  It helps to work with very high value rewards when working on this.  

Solution 2

This second method is simple and straight forward.  It is based on the fact that the reason dogs look onto the counters is because that is where all the good stuff is.  

First thing in the morning measure the dog’s food.  When the dog is outside relieving its self, scatter a line of the food on the ground along the baseboard of the counters.  When the dog comes in, it will not take it long to find the food.  Each time the dog is outside, magically make its food (not treats, just the measured portion of its meal)) appear along the baseboard.  Before you know it the dog will be coming in and checking out the baseboard instead of the counters.

How long each of these will take to eliminate the problem

How many times you will have to do this varies significantly based on the dog and how many times they have successfully gotten items off the counter in the past. Even the worst dogs show improvement within few weeks with daily training sessions.  In the meantime, it will be incredibly important to keep counters clean at all times until the problem is resolved.

Otherwise you will walk-in to find this!  Oops!

Why is it frustrating to learn new training methods

Learning a new skill is frustrating.  Most people who come to classes have already done some training.  But when they come to class the instructor gives them more effective ways to meet their goals.  This video explains why it is so hard and frustrating to make these changes.  But as you can see with practice (5 minutes a day) the changes do take place.

Lets take a simple act.  One of the new skills clients need to learn is to keep their hand out of the treat bag until after they have marked (with a clicker) a behavior as being correct.  Before beginning the training exercise they tell me “my hands will be empty and by my side”. They know it mentally.  As I watch, I can see their hand goes for the treat bag too early and they remove it all on their own but their arm then bends up, then down, then up, then down, before it settles at the person’s side.  The hand still trying to get into that bag.  The person has to concentrate really hard to keep the hand out of the bag. 

When you have an old skill (how you train your dog), it takes practice to learn a new skill.  You need to work on your training skills at least 5 minutes each day just to reprogram your brain.


What is the DeadMan Test

play deadWhat is the DeadMan Test?

The deadman test is an important training concept that focuses attention on the desired behavior which clarifies the training process and reduces frustration of the person doing the training.  Behavior is described as something that is observable.  You can measure how much of it you have.  For example, the dog jumps on company for 2 minutes then keeps its feet on the ground or the dog lays down and stays in that position for 2 minutes.  

But the human tendency is to describe behavior in terms of what we don’t want.

• My dog should not pull on leash.
• The dog cannot jump on people.
• He will not chew things up.
• She doesn’t pay attention.

If a dead man can do it, it is not behavior. 

A deadman doesn’t pull on leash, can’t jump on people, will not chew things up etc.

We also have a tendency to label behaviors with moral descriptions. The dog is being naughty; the dog is being dominant; the dog is getting back at us; the dog is acting guilty.

These phrases fail to tell us what the dog is actually doing. And if we are going to observe, analyze and modify behavior, we have to know that.

You want a description of what you do want the dog to do.

• The dog will move closer to me when it feels the leash get tight.
• I want the dog to keep its feet on the floor when greeting people
• My dog will lay down and not change position until released
• When I call my dog, I want it to turn on a dime and run to me as fast as it can.

The deadman test does not allow you to define behavior as a negative or an absence of something. 

Attempting to define a behavior by what it isn’t fails the “dead-man test.” 

Behavioral descriptions that have the word not or a contraction with not (doesn’t,  won’t) usually fail the dead-man test. The dead-man test stops you from going down the road of focusing on what you don’t want which lead to emotions of frustration and anger towards your canine buddy.  

Instead the dead man test has you describe what you do want, so you have the option of rewarding that behavior.  If I have a dog that jumps on people, I can start rewarding my dog for keeping its feet on the ground when people are out of range (10 feet away) and I will strategically place my rewards low (ankle level) to help diminish any upward movement.  Using the DeadMan test will clarify what behavior you need to reward and reduce frustration by concentrating on what you want instead of what you don’t want.

Don’t get caught with your hand in the cookie jar

don't get caught with your hand in the cookie jarDon’t get caught with your hand in the cookie jar.

One of the biggest mistakes pet owners make while training their dog is they get a treat in their hand before getting the desired behavior.  While the very beginning step of lure – reward training does involve having a treat in your hand, it is imperative that you:

• remove all food from your hands as early as possible (usually less than 200 repetitions)

• let your hands hang down in a normal position and not reach for food too early 

Don’t become dependent upon the food to get the behavior.

s-l1000If you are using a clicker for training (which is highly recommended) click, then reach for your treat.

If you are not using a click, praise and then reach for your treat.


Is Your Dog Camera Shy or a Photogenic Ham?

hamJust like with people, some dogs love being photographed and they ham it up. Others hate it.  They just won’t look at the camera.

If your dog is shy – remember the Big round black lenses can be scary. It looks exactly like the big, round threatening eye and animal displays when it gets scared. This can be very scary in turn can be very scary to a dog.

If the photographer is not someone your dog knows well, ask the photographer to stay well away from your dog and use the zoom function if need be.

Excitable Dogs – The Flash and clicking sounds can stimulate excitable dogs to the point of barking or not being able to be still.  This problem requires training.  Try to get the dog used to the clicking sound without a flash.  Do this by clicking the camera and giving the dog a treat.  Then repeat but introduce the flash.

Posing the dog – Most dogs in are not used to sitting beside the owner.  They are used to sitting in front of the owner.  Sitting and staying beside the owner is a behavior that needs to be taught. If  you want shoulder to shoulder shots, then help your dog learn how to do it. Ask your to sit beside you (not facing), and give it treats when for holding that pose for a half of a second.

Honor your dog – If your dog is upset over sitting beside another dog it could be the other dog has been shuttling threatening your dog.  Reposition, the dogs so they can be comfortable.

Non-Posed shots – The best shots are real life.  Get the the non posed section shots

Attention seeking behaviors

attentionDogs display attention seeking behaviors for many reasons but the most important reason is they want something from us.  We should be honored.  Out of all the other options, the dog is choosing me to play with, go on a walk with, cuddle with and to feed it.  Think of all those years you spent wanting to be popular and here it is.  You are the most popular person to your dog.

In addition, We should value and admire their clear communication.  Think of all those situations in which you just wish that person in your life would clearly communicate what they want.  Your dog does!

So Why don’t we appreciate attention seeking behaviors?

A lot of attention seeking behaviors involve the dog doing something we don’t want it to do like jump on people, bark, or act like a wild maniac. The solution to this problem is to teach it an alternative attention seeking behavior.  You can teach instead of jumping on me when you want petting or play, approach and sit or even approach and keep your feet on the ground.  But you do have to proactively teach it because that is not the natural way for dogs to seek attention.

In addition, many times the dog’s timing is off. The dog wants attention at times it is really difficult for us.  The solution is to set up routines in which the dog can expect all those delightful activities to take place.  We do have to meet their needs as a playful, social, and highly interactive being.  We also need to teach there are times in which I am not available (when I am sleeping, working in my office, on the phone).  Prevention strategies can be helpful in the beginning as your educate your dog on this concept.

What attention seeking behaviors does your dog engage in?

What behavior would you like to teach it instead?

What prevention strategy will you use when your dog may display unwanted attention seeking behaviors?

Click the Leave a Reply link to respond.  Of course I want to hear from you!

Doggie Body Language

body languageWhat does it mean when your dog looks like this? Find out during our upcoming Body Language seminar.

On Saturday May 21 @ 12:00pm, I will be holding a free Body Language seminar.  This seminar is for owners only.   Please do not bring your dog.  To sign up all you need to do is send me a quick e-mail.  

During this body language seminar you will learn:

  • How can you tell if your dog is likely to move towards something.
  • How to understand your dog’s stance and what each stance means.
  • How to know if it is safe for your dog to meet another dog
  • How to spot emotion based problems early before it is too late.
  • And so much more.

Hope to see you at the seminar.  Send me a quick e-mail to sign up.

2 classes prior to 12 weeks of age reduces aggression

2 classesDid you know 2 classes prior to 12 weeks of age can reduce aggression issues?

According to a study conducted by Rachel A Casey., Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 152, 52– 63, puppies that attend 2 puppy classes prior to 12 weeks of age have a reduced risk of social issues by about 1.6 times.  Wow, that is big!

There are a lot of reasons people wait before attending classes.  Here is a list.

1.  Many people still don’t know puppies should begin classes before they have completed their first set of vaccines.  The American Veterinary Behavior Association recommends puppies begin attending puppy classes by 8 weeks of age.  

2. Money 

3. They think they can do the training themselves.  Maybe they can, but it is very difficult to get in all the socialization necessary on your own.

4. Puppy charm – who can get mad at a  puppy.  At this stage, the symptoms of a problem don’t seem like an issue to the owner.

5. Time – It takes time to train a dog.  The thing is a well trained dog takes a lot less effort to live with than one that is not trained.

Owning a dog with social issues is not pleasant and does not full fill the dream most of us have for our dog.  Much of the time, the owners of dogs with this issue are stressed out and sometimes have to make dreadful, heart wrenching decisions.  In addition, many of these dogs end up with compromised quality of life, not because the owner does not want better for the dog but because the dog just is not able to cope.

We want a dog to be a companion in all aspects of our lives not just at home when we are the only ones around.  Encourage the people you know to start training classes with their puppies no later than 10 weeks of age so they can greatly reduce the probability of this issue.  If they take your advice, you will be giving them an extremely valuable gift.

3 Keys to Reduce the odds of social issues

3 keysCurrently my case load of work with dogs that have social issues is double its normal volume. Social issue are really difficult on the owners of these dogs as well as the dogs themselves as quality of life becomes limited with this problem.  There are 3 keys to avoiding this problem but many people are minimizing the degree to which this is important. This is a problem and I could use your help with it.  Before I explain how you can help, let me give you some background.

In most cases social issues are avoidable.  It  requires owners to be proactive in providing their dog with quality, controlled experiences very early in life, avoidance of using aversive training techniques and continued support and exposure through the first 3 years.  All of this is easier said than done but there are some basic rules that can make it easier.  You can help reduce the likelihood of social issues by sharing these rules with anyone who has a dog (friendly, family, co-workers, acquaintances, and yes the person you pass on the street).

3 keys to avoiding social issues

  1. Start early – As report in a study conducted by Rachel A Casey and Published in Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 152, 52– 63, puppies who attend just 2 puppy socialization classes prior to 12 weeks of age have 1.4 times less chance of social having issues directed towards people entering the house and 1.6 times less chance of social issues directed towards strangers outside of the house.  You can encourage everyone you know with a puppy to start classes at 8 weeks of age. 
  2. This same study shows dogs that receive aversive training techniques, defined in the study as  – physical punishment (hitting the dog), verbal punishment (shouting), electrical or citronella collars, choke chains and jerking on the leash, prong collars, water pistols, electric fences and so forth have a 2.9 times the risk of aggression directed towards family members and a 2.2 times increased risk of having aggression issues directed towards strangers.  You can help by encouraging dog owners to adopt a proactive positive approach to their training.  They will need the help of a trainer who does not use aversive training techniques.
  3. Behavior is not stagnate, is requires continued influence from us.  Encourage dog owners to have continuing education for their dogs.  They can take refresher courses, advanced fun classes and continuing education classes.  While in classes  their dog will receive quality socialization.  Encourage owners to continue taking classes with their dog.

Using and sharing these 3 keys to avoiding social issues will greatly affect your dog and the dogs around you.  Share them far and wide.  Spread the word and watch as dogs become more socialized and owners get to enjoy their dog more.

References: Rachel A. Casey, Bethany Loftus, Christine Bolster, Gemma J. Richards, Emily J. Blackwell (2014).Human directed aggression in domestic dogs (Canis familiaris): Occurrence in different contexts and risk factors. Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 152, 52– 63