Category Archives: Training

Training Tips

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.

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.


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.


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!

Hand feeding improves behavior

hand feeding Hand Feeding

Hand feeding is one of the key ways people get their dog to obey commands.  People want their dog to:
• not misbehave
• be attentive
• follow commands

But they have a tendency to think the dog should do this because it is a dog and we humans are the superior being.  It is also not uncommon for owners think “he knows how to do it” or “knows better but he is being stubborn.”

 He may “know how to do it or know better” but that does not mean that your dog feels it is to its advantage to do what you want!

Your dog is only going behave and follow commands if it thinks it is to its advantage to do so.
One of the easiest ways to make a dog think following commands is to its advantage is to never feed the dog out of a bowl!  Really, Who does that?

Well professional dog trainers do

Think about it!  As long as your dog is not overweight or sick, it wants its food.  That means every piece of food is a reward that you could be taking advantage of.

Instead of feeding your dog out of a bowl, measure the dog’s food and use that food throughout the day to reward the dog for good behavior.  

2 ways to use your dog’s meals for training

1. You can use the measure portion of your dog’s meal during structure training sessions (you plan to train the dog now) as long as you are at home and not in a distracting environment.  Under these circumstances you will most likely have the food on your body in a treat bag or in a container within reach.

2. Set up reward stations around the house so you can use the dog’s meal at impromptu moments to reward good behavior that happens throughout the day.  This could be you are rewarding the dog for a lack of misbehavior (sitting for attention instead of jumping) or for following commands.  Under these circumstances you will want to have the food in containers that are positioned around the house (but securely sealed).

Hand feeding will greatly increase your dog’s desire to do what you want.  Now it has incentive to not misbehave and to follow commands because that is how it eats.  Your dog will pay attention to you, follow commands better than you could ever imagine and you will enjoy your dog more.

When you cannot do hand feeding

If there are times in which you cannot hand feed your dog, instead of putting the food into a bowl, put the food into a food interactive toy instead.  Under these circumstances your dog will still be getting mental stimulation and will be less likely to misbehave.

he knows it but won’t do it

"he knows it"When a person thinks, “He knows it!” or “He’s got it!” they are misleading themselves. Correct responses are not an indication that the dog “understands” what is expected.  It is an indication they are trying or that they perceive what we are asking is to their advantage.  And it is an opportunity for us to reinforce and that strengthen behavior even if it occurs during real life when we are not training.   When a dog does not do as it asked, it is because either they have not received enough information about what is wanted (education and training) or they do not perceive it is too their advantage to do so (not enough rewards).

How to teach so he knows it better

Dogs do not learn new behaviors the way we humans learn math or reading.   They learn more like the way we learn to dance or play a musical instrument.  Lots of practice, mistakes, tweaking what they are doing and getting feedback on what is correct or incorrect.  Each new situation (going to the vet, company arriving etc.) is a new experience to see what is correct or incorrect.  This means your dog will never be 100% correct. Which is perfect because neither will you.

Animal training alters the probability of behaviors occurring at any given point.  The thing is training is happening at all times, it is not just what happens when you are purposefully working with your dog.  It happened when you answer the door, stop on a walk to chat with a neighbor, are trying to rest.  So keep setting your dog up for correct responses and rewarding those responses and it will at least feel like he knows it despite the reality of he is going to make mistakes.

Nail Trimming – A Dog’s Biggest Nightmare

nail clippingNail trimming is a task most people hate because their dog gets distressed with the process but training can change that. When I adopted Willow, she was 5 years old and she did not like having her feet handled or her nails trimmed.  If I picked up her foot she would whip it out of my hand and become stiff in anticipation of another attack to her beautiful limbs.  For the sake of her health, I needed to teach Willow that clipping her nails was not a threat.  In addition, I needed to teach her regardless of the pain she may have suffered in the past, that I was not going to hurt her when I clipped her nails. All this can occur through training.

How to avoid clipping too far

QuickBefore we talk about how to train your dog to be relaxed with nail clipping, lets get the big question of how much nail to take off out of the way so you can relax.  The best way to not cause pain or bleeding while clipping a dog’s nail is to only take the smallest sliver off the nail each time you clip.  Each time you clip a tiny sliver off the tip of the nail, look at the cut edge.  If the cut edge looks crumbly or is solid, dead white material with no dark center or pink, take off another sliver.  When the cut edge starts looking less solid, more like a cloudy appearance or has a center that is different, you are getting into the softer tissue, stop clipping.

Training Dogs To Accept Nail Trimming

When it comes to owning a dog that is fearful of nail trimming, the goals are to:

  • Minimize damage when a negative emotional reaction does occur

With nail trimming there are 3 elements that need to be trained, acceptance of the handling necessary to trim the nails, the sight and sound of the tool (clipper or dremel nail grinder) and the feel of the tool. Each of these are different training exercises. Each stage of each training exercise must be mastered to the point of complete relaxation before going onto the next stage of training to ensure success.

When doing these training exercises, you will need to deliver treats to your dog. Because your dog has a negative emotional reaction to nail trimming you will want to use little pieces (no larger than the size of a plain m&m for dogs over 25LB) of meat or cheese, as opposed to store bought treats which are not as valuable and will make the training take longer.

Throughout the process, you need to evaluate for success. A successful trial is one in which your dog is completely calm and relaxed. This means your dog does not show fear; wiggle or try to move away but instead is eagerly looking to get a treat.  If your dog has:

5 successful trails in a row – do the next stage

3-4 successful trials in a row – stay at that level

0, 1 or 2 successful trials in a row – go back and do something more remedial

Because you want your dog to be completely calm and still, working on these training exercises when your dog is tired, right after exercise or when your dog is sleepy would be a smart choice.

Handling Exercise 1 – Restraining the leg, foot, toe
You will need your dog to hold still for at least 30 seconds, while you hold its paw in a position that gives you a good view of the nail while using your fingers to isolate the nail you want to clip.  If your dogs does not like this type of handling you will start at a remedial level.

What to do if your dog cannot be still
Regardless of the stage your are working at, if your dog is struggling to be still for 30 seconds, try for less time and build up to 30 seconds or do an easier stage.

Try to work on this training for 5 to 10 minutes, 3 to 5 times a day or 25 to 30 trials a day.

Stage 1 – Place your hands on your dog’s shoulder or hip and restrain your dog for 30 seconds. After 30 seconds, give your dog a treat, play with your dog for 30 second and then repeat. Do this training for each of your dog’s legs.  Evaluate after 5 trials on each leg to know whether you should repeat this level, advance on or do something more remedial. It is normal to be working on different stages of the training exercise for individual legs.

Stage 2 – When your dog has 5 out of 5 correct, repeat this training on that leg except now hold and restrain your dog by placing your hands on your dog’s upper leg or arm.

Stage 3 – When your dog has 5 out of 5 correct, repeat this training on that leg except now hold and restrain your dog by placing your hands on your dog’s knee or elbow.

Stage 4 – When your dog has 5 out of 5 correct, repeat this training on that leg except now hold and restrain your dog by placing your hands on your dog’s wrist or hock (ankle).

Stage 5 – When your dog has 5 out of 5 correct, repeat this training on that leg except now hold and restrain your dog’s foot making sure to hold it in the position necessary for clipping.

Stage 6 – When your dog has 5 out of 5 correct, repeat this training on that leg except now hold and restrain your dog’s foot while isolating a nail to be trimmed and making sure to hold it in the position necessary for clipping.

Handling Exercise 2 – The sight and sound of the tool
To do this training you will need:

  • Your tool of choice (nail clipper or a dremel tool)
  • Wooden dowels approximately the same diameter as your dog’s nails

A successful trial is one in which your dog remains calm and does not try to move away but instead is eagerly looking to get a treat.

Stage 1 – Either have a helper hold your dog on leash or tether your dog to an object your dog cannot move.

Take your tool and the dowel at least 20 feet away from your dog (but within view). Clip the dowel one time or sand the dowel with the dremel for 1 second.

Immediately toss your dog a treat. Toss the treat from your full distance don’t walk up to your dog. If you have a helper they can give the treat.

If your dog shows any degree of fear (tried to move further away or looks scared) move further away until you find a distance your dog is not scared.

After 5 trials evaluate and change your training accordingly.

Stage 2 – Each time your dog gets 5 out of 5 correct move 1 foot closer to your dog.

Stage 3 – Once you can activate the sound by your dog, it remains calm, does not try to move away but instead is eagerly looking to get a treat from you move the tool a couple inches towards your dog’s toes. Repeat this until you can use the tool right by your dog’s toe’s for 30 seconds.

Handling Exercise – The feel of the tool (Only start this exercise when you have completed all stages of the previous training exercises)
Hold your dog’s paw and isolate a nail. Touch the clippers or the dremel (turned off) to your dog’s nail. Just one touch, then give your dog a treat and play with your dog for 30 second. Repeat. Do 200 repetitions over the next 1-2 weeks. When your dog has been completely relaxed, does not try to pull away, struggle or show any degree of negative emotions for a period of time, you can advance to “putting it all together”.

Training Exercise – Putting it all together
When you have finished all these training exercise you can begin the process of trimming your dog’s nails. Expect it to take a couple of months to get to this stage.

Hold your dog’s paw and isolate a nail to be trimmed. Clip one nail, taking just a tiny sliver off or touch the dremel (turned on) to your dog’s nail for 1 second. Just one clip or touch, then give your dog a treat and play with your dog for 30 second.

Do Not Repeat today! Do the same nail tomorrow and the next day until you have trimmed that nail to the desired length. Then start on the next nail.

After a while you will be able take multiple clips before taking a break. And then you will be able to trim all the nails on one foot before taking a break. As time passes, you will be able to trim all your dog’s nails in one session. Maintain your dog’s new emotional association to nail trimming by doing some nail trimming combined with play and treats once a week.  If you accidentally clip to much nail and cause bleeding you can get the bleeding to stop by using a bar of soap.

When you really just have to get the job done

Life provides us with times in which we need to handle the dog in ways that may bring out a negative emotional response. Nail trimming is a common example of this. We need to get the dog’s nails trimmed so they don’t get too long and cause problems but if we just go for it and get the job done it makes the problem worse. Under these circumstances your dog’s reaction is going to get worse. Make the process as pleasant as possible. Use a ton of treats, get help and don’t cause pain. Give your dog breaks as you work to get the job done. Trim your dog’s nails as short as possible without getting them too short (getting into the soft tissue with nerve endings or bleeding). Hopefully, they will be short enough that you will not need to trim them again until after you have worked through this process.

Nail Trimming – It does not have to be a Doggie Nightmare

It took about 7 weeks to teach Willow to relax enough that I could trim all her nails in 1 session.  It was 7 weeks well spent, as I never again had to worry about Willow’s fear of having her nails trimmed.

How to avoid clipping too far

The best way to not cause pain or bleeding while clipping a dog’s nail is to only take the smallest sliver off the nail each time you clip.  Each time you clip a tiny sliver off the tip of the nail, look at the cut edge.  If it looks like solid, dead white nail, take off another sliver.  When the cut edge starts looking less solid, more like a cloudy appearance, you are getting into the softer tissue, stop clipping.

Tug of War

tug of warBecause many behavior problems lye in a dog’s inability to control its mouth, I recommend many owners play Tug of War. It gives you the opportunity to teach your dog to drop objects it has in its mouth and to inhibit its mouth. Just make sure you put in these rules for the dog to learn. If you are already playing Tug of War with your dog you also will want to apply these rules.

Rules to establish when Playing Tug of War

1    The game is only played if you start it with a special command. Say “Get it” and present the toy with 2 hands.

2    The game is only played with toys – never forbidden or stolen objects.

4   Have the dog drop the toy after 30 seconds of tugging.  You can do this by putting a piece of food to the dog’s nostrils. This is also a beginning step to teach dogs to drop objects on command.

  1. If the dog grabs the object with out a command the game is forfeited.
  1. The dog cannot re-grip (chomping on the toy or working its way up the toy towards your hand). If your dog re-grips, drop the toy and don’t play.
  1. If the dog touches any of your body parts or clothing with its mouth, drop the toy and stop the game.

Ok, now it is game on!  Have some fun but enforce the rules.  In doing so you will be teaching your dog to not grab things from people, drop objects when asked, to not re-grip (dangerous with aggression issues) and to not playfully bite.

Training The Dog With Food Rewards

training with foodMost dogs are interested in eating. The owner buys the food they feel the dog should eat, puts the food in the bowl and the dog gobbles it down. Dogs that do not greedily gobble down food, are a bit fussy about the type of food they eat or just are not big eaters  present  owners with training challenges when it comes to training the dog with food rewards.  Ideally, training at home without distractions is best accomplished with the measured portion of the dog’s meal and treats are saved for more difficult environments or situations (in class, on walks, at the vet office, in stores etc.) Although food is not the only resource available to owners when it comes to training their dog, it certainly does give the owner more options and ease of training. If a dog does not finish its complete meal within 15 minutes, getting the dog to eat better is the first goal to achieve during the training process.

Before a person can get their dog to eat better or have a greater interest in their food the owner needs to evaluate the possible causes to this problem. The most common reasons for a dog to not eat well are a medical problem, stress, or the owner offering the more food than the dog needs.

Medical Problems
A qualified veterinarian is the only person who can determine if your dog has a medical problem affecting its ability to eat. If your veterinarian determines your dog is of good health and not overweight, then this problem can be addressed from a training standpoint.

If the problem is stress most likely there are other symptoms as well. It could be your dog is a bit shut down and not very active or you could have the opposite where your dog appears to be overly active or reactive to things in its environment. It might be you see times in which the dog pants excessively, yawns but is not tired or licks it lips excessively etc. These are all signs of stress. Ideally you can identify what elements of your dog’s life are stressful and eliminate stressful events from your dog’s life or address them through training. You most likely will need the help of a professional trainer to address behavior problems caused by stress but you can also reduce stress by exercising your dog twice a day, giving it adequate time for quality rest, quality time with you everyday, and the best quality food you can afford.

If Your Dog Is Overweight but otherwise healthy
If your dog is overweight (you can not feel a ripple of ribs when your run your hands down the side of your dog and you are not pushing in) but otherwise healthy, then you may need to reduce the amount of food you are feeding your dog. You should be able to reduce by somewhere between 1/8 to ¼ of the volume without causing problems. Keep the dog at this reduced amount of food for at least 2 weeks and then evaluate the dog again.

Maybe You Are Just Offering The Dog To Much Food
If your veterinarian determines your dog does not have a medical problem, it is of an appropriate weight and your dog does not appear to be stressed, then it may be you are offering your dog more food than it can eat. Your dog is not underweight, so it is getting proper amount of calories. Any food your dog is not eating is extra that it does not want.

  1. Before you make any changes find out exactly how much your dog weighs.
  2. Then measure each meal in a measuring cup.
  3. Give the dog 15 minutes to eat the food and measure how much food is left.
  4. Figure out exactly how much food the dog did eat and jot the amount down on a piece of paper.
  5. Do not offer the dog any food or treats until the next scheduled mealtime.
  6. Repeat for 3-5 days and then average out the amount of food your dog did eat per meal.
  7. Reduce the amount you are feed each day to this amount or just a little bit less.

Make sure you weigh your dog periodically to ensure it is not gaining or loosing weight because your veterinarian has already determined your dog is of a correct weight.

If these procedures do not change your dog’s eating behavior, then speak again with your veterinarian and trainer.

Now training the dog with food rewards especially its meals will be effective if there are not distractions.  In addition, any food you do not feed through training can be put into a food interactive toy instead of a bowl as way of reducing behavior problems and providing your dog with some much needed entertainment.