Raise the Bar in Training

To keep your puppy or dog interested, keep asking for his very best. When you are starting out, every tiny effort toward good behavior is rewarded. But once a behavior is basically learned, it is time to raise the bar.

Use these criteria:
If you repeat yourself (don’t!) or physically help your puppy get it right, praise but no treat. Put the treat right to his nose then put it away. Too bad –try harder next time! You’re not angry but he doesn’t get a gold start for C- level work. If you want to encourage his best, treat only for A-level responses. Save your treats for the best performance your puppy can currently offer. Give a few small treats in a row for great responses or a breakthrough response (first correct effort). If your puppy offers a behavior without you asking for it, say ‘thank you’, but don’t treat.

While you are feeding, smile and praise. Don’t fake the praise – feel it and your puppy will feel it. Keep making it clear to your puppy what you really like (his very best!). If his slow Sit after two commands gets the same treat and praise that an immediate Sit with full attention gets, how is he supposed to know which is better? If you want the best, reward the best with your best.

Brian Kilcommons, a well-known area trainer puts it very well:

“You get what you pet”. In other words, if you pet your dog while he’s jumping, you’ll get jumping. If you pet your dog while he is sitting quietly, you’ll get quiet sitting.

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Some Basics to Teach Your Puppy

ATTENTION – Start with dog as close to you as possible and say dog’s name “Rocky” and give a treat. Bring treat up towards your face to encourage eye contact. Gradually increase difficulty by walking around.

CHECKING IN – Whenever your dog looks at you voluntarily, praise and toss a treat. When watching TV, or just hanging around the house, call dog’s name and if/when he looks, toss a treat. If he doesn’t look, get his attention by clapping, whistling, etc. Don’t keep saying his name if he is not looking at you.

GOTCHA – Gets puppy used to hands reaching for his collar. Reach towards collar, treat. Touch collar, treat. Hold collar, treat. Repeat a few minutes every day.

SIT– Show dog treat with your right hand, bring treat straight up and back with treat right near their nose until their butt drops into a sit. Your hand position determines where the dog will be – if it’s too far away from their nose, dog will jump up to get it. As soon as dog is sitting, give him the treat and praise. Practice 10 sits daily.

CLOSE COME– Face dog while holding leash. Get your dog’s attention, hold up treat. Take one step back and say “Rocky, Come!” When dog comes, lure into sit, praise and reward. Repeat with 1 step, then 2 steps then 3 steps. Vary the angles of your backward steps.

RECALL-Have two people- one sitting in a chair and the other standing. The person in the chair holds the dog around the chest. The other person should get the dog’s attention by holding a treat in front of his nose, and making enthusiastic noises while backing away about 10-20 feet. When the dog is totally excited, person #2 then calls the dog – PUPPY COME! Praise and give a treat when the dog arrives. Hold collar before giving treat. Practice 5-10 times daily in various rooms, then outside once dog is very reliable inside.

DOWN-Have dog sit, praise but don’t reward. Hold treat at dog’s nose and slowly bring down between his paws and back towards you to lure him into a down. Get behavior numerous times before saying “DOWN”. Then fade treat and use hand to lure.

MOUTHING-For shoes (laces), coats, etc, I recommend Bitter Apple. Spray object of puppy’s mouthing. Be matter of fact about this. Let puppy think shoes just don’t taste good anymore. Don’t make a game of this. For hand and arm mouthing, start by using a high-pitched ‘ouch!’ noise and let puppy know that it hurt. Then turn away from puppy, count slowly to ten and return to puppy. If puppy is still mouthing, there will need to be a more physical correction.

SETTLE– This is a calming exercise, not about dominance. Sit on floor and place your dog on the floor in a down with one hip shifted to the side. Place both hands on the dog’s shoulders and say ‘Settle’. If very squirmy, you may also need to hold the collar. Be confident, yet matter of fact about this, firming up your grip as necessary. Give dog a massage when it completely relaxes. Release with ‘okay’ only when dog is relaxed. Never do this in anger. Practice by breaking up play sessions with Settles and then allow back to play.

HANDLING – Gets puppy used to handling – by vet, groomer, etc. Say body part, reach, treat. Touch, treat. Hold, treat. Work on paws, head, ears, mouth, tail, etc. Work up to longer touches, rubs, etc. Small dogs practice “Lift up” PRACTICE BRUSHING YOUR PUPPY

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On Leash Greetings

Many otherwise social dogs will behave aggressively toward other dogs while on leash with their owners.

Many dogs are less social than your own.

If your dog is straining at the leash as he approaches another dog, the other dog may perceive your dog’s body language as confrontational or intimidating, and vice versa.

A tight leash may telegraph stress to your dog, and cause him to be more on guard.

Safe and successful introductions between adult dogs are most likely when the following conditions are met:

a.  Both dogs are regularly socialized and have no history of aggression

b.  Both owners have voice control (at minimum) over their dogs in stimulating situations (i.e. there is a balance between stimulation and control)

c.  Both owners know their dogs well and are able to read canine signals

d.  Both dogs are able to approach on slack leashes with relaxed body language

e.  Both owners are relaxed and confident

f.   Owners have good communication with one another

g.  Neither dog is wearing any training equipment that might cause unintended corrections or inhibit natural body language

h.  Neither dog is on a taught leash or a retractable leash

i.   Both dogs have the freedom to walk away

j.   Owners have good communication with one another

Allowing unwelcome or uncontrolled introductions may undermine your leadership with your dog, who may trust your judgment less after being subjected to an introduction that goes badly.

If you are not certain your dog (or the other dog) is adequately prepared for a successful greeting, try walking in parallel with the other dog and owner at a safe distance, to see if both dogs relax a bit, to give them each an opportunity to take in the other dog’s body language, and to gauge your control over your dog (and the other owner’s control over his) in each other’s presence.

Holding the leash can cause the following issues:
– inhibits body language of the dog
– feed off of human emotions because of tension in the leash
– resource guarding of owner
– fearful dogs can’t escape
– frustrates playful dogs who may redirect on owner
– leashes tangle causing potential injury dogs/humans

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Taking Treats Nicely

Some exuberant puppies and older dogs will grab at food treats or chomp down on your hand while taking the treats.  Its worth the effort to teach your puppy to take food gently.

One effective method is to teach them to lick for treats using the “fist of Kong” method.

1. Put a smear of peanut butter or cream cheese in the palm of your hand.

2. Make a fist and then relax you hand and move your thumb so that there is an opening near your thumb. Your hand should be shaped like a kong.

3. Present your hand to the dog.

4. The dog will sniff and then use their tongue to get to the stuff in your fist. When the dog licks your hand, verbally praise your dog and then open your fist and allow him to take another lick or two.

After the dog gets the pattern, you can transition to solid foods, by using a peanut butter smear and also a treat in your hand. When he licks, open your hand and let him eat the treat. The treat should be presented in a open hand with the treat resting on your palm (don’t present a treat between the finger tips).

In the case where you can’t outlast the dog because he is chewing your fist, remove the fist, turn your back and walk away for 5 seconds. It might be necessary to tether the dog so that you can walk away. This doesn’t happen all that often because most dogs quickly learn that they can lick the peanut butter.

For the first rep, present an open hand – this makes it more likely that he’ll lick when you present the fist (and it tests whether he’ll be interested in the smear you are using).

Once you’ve started doing this, use the lick for treats method for delivering treats while doing other training. So when you deliver a treat when luring a sit, use the fist of Kong.

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Teaching Your Dog to Love Toys!

People will often lament that their dog is not “into” toys. Some dogs will not innately want to play with toys but you can create the desire within them with a little work on your part. If your dog is really motivated by food and has never shown any interest in toys, an option available to you is to take the motivating toy you have chosen to work with and simmer it in a pot of liver, or chicken broth to make it more attractive to your finicky hound. BE LEERY–if you choose to go this route, be very careful your dog is never given an opportunity to be alone with this wonderful smelling toy or THEY MAY EAT IT. The key to training old Rover to play with you and your toy is that you are SINCERELY interested in playing with your dog. If you are truly not having fun, your dog will quickly realize this and will be even more reluctant to join in. So be sure that you are both enjoying yourselves.

– Choose a throwable toy–i.e. one that you can toss, but won’t roll too much, like a tug rope, or a ball in a sock or a stuffed animal.
– Attach this toy to a light line, string or lead that is about 3 meters long.
– Put the toy in a drawer in your living area– somewhere else that is easily accessible at all times.
– Before each meal start to act a bit loony. While saying really fun things to your dog (like “oh no”, “what is it”, “do you want this”, “where’s your toy”, etc.) walk, dance, skip…basically act goofy while you make your way over to the special drawer.
– S-l-o-w-l-y open up the drawer while continuing to say nutty things to your dog.
– Stop talking momentarily (a pause for effect) and then pull the toy out of the drawer, like you just unexpectedly came across a $50 bill and run with it into the next room.
– Swing the toy above the ground while acting nutty to show the dog what a great time you are having with this fun toy.
– Dance around for a few more seconds and then toss the toy out like a lure on the end of a fishing pole.
– This whole process should only take 1-2 minutes the first time you do it.
– End your fun game, which didn’t include your poor dog, by running back to the drawer, your toy in tow snatching it up and quickly putting it back in the drawer with a phrase like “oh no, it’s gone”.
– Then proceed about your regular routine as if nothing out of the ordinary just happened.
– Repeat this 2-3 times a day. After the second day, allow the dog to get his mouth on the toy if he is really interested–but only for a few seconds. Pull on the line to try and steal it from him. Once you get it away (be sure you are taking it from him in a very informal, fun way), play with it a little more by yourself before quickly putting the toy away.
– Gradually progress, letting him play with you and the toy (tug of war style) a little more each time until you have a dog who loves to see the toy come out.
– Do not allow him to play with this toy at any other time except during this routine.
– Ideally, you should remove any other toys that are lying around the house during this time. Leave out only things your dog can lie down and chew on by himself, such as his chew bones.
– Before you know it you will have a dog who is as nutty about this toy as you apparently have been!
– This method works particularly well on new puppies.

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A great article on pros and cons about electric fences



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How your Dog Learns

Teaching your new dog or puppy is all about providing ‘feedback’ to their actions.

If the feedback or consequence is positive, your puppy will tend to repeat the behavior.  If the feedback is negative, the behavior should diminish.   Praise, affection and attention (even sometimes negative attention) are all ways to provide positive feedback.   Withdrawing attention is an excellent way to provide negative feedback.   Negative feedback need never involve any kind of physical punishment.

For your puppy to learn, this feedback must be Immediate, Consistent and Repetitive.

Immediate feedback is essential because dogs truly live in the moment.   Your dog will associate your feedback with whatever happened immediately prior to that feedback.   For example if you are teaching your puppy his name, its important to praise him the moment he responds by looking at you.   If you’re late with your praise, you may end up praising him looking away.   Likewise with negative feedback, if your puppy has an accident in the house, telling him NO minutes later will teach him nothing.  He will have no idea why you’re upset.   Catching him in the act at that moment, interrupting him and getting him outside is what will teach him the right place to ‘go’.

Consistency is equally important.  Dogs have a ‘slot machine’ mentality.  This means that even if they only occasionally get rewarded for certain behavior, they will continue to repeat it.   Jumping is a good example of this.   Any attention given when an adorable puppy jumps up on you is reinforcing that behavior.   So if sometimes you smile and pet your puppy (and who can resist doing this?), and sometimes you turn away, your puppy will continue to jump.

You may have Repeat this feedback multiple times before your puppy or dog ‘gets it’. So its important to be patient and know this is part of teaching your puppy.    You make the rules for your dog’s behavior.   Its not so much good or bad but desirable or undesirable – what do you want to live with?   Dog on the couch?  Its up to you.  But be consistent with your feedback!!   You’ll only confuse your puppy with inconsistent feedback.

One more important note – the feedback or consequence does not always come from us.  There are ‘self’ rewarding behaviors that we must manage.  Whenever your puppy pees, he feels better because his full bladder is relieved – just like us.  If your puppy pees in the house and you’re not right there to provide feedback, your puppy thinks, ‘I feel better now, I guess I can do this again, in this spot’.    Your job is to making peeing outside more rewarding than peeing inside AND preventing the accidents inside because each time that happens, your puppy is being inadvertently rewarded for that behavior.

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Help for ‘Hand Shy’ Dogs

Accept Reaching Hands and Touching

This exercise will help hand shy dogs become more comfortable with being touched. It is important to begin practicing with familiar and accepted adults first. Again, keep in mind that your objective is not for the dog to merely tolerate, but rather to remain relaxed and enjoy the process, and that an inexperienced helper can get bitten if you proceed too quickly without making sure that the dog is truly accepting rather than merely tolerating the touching.
Goal 1: Relaxed Dog will accept face touch from owner and/or helper.
1. Reach toward dog, stop 6 in. from side of dog’s face, treat from other hand.
2. Repeat reach toward dog, stopping 3 inches from face, treat from other hand.
3. Repeat reach, stopping 2 inches from face, then repeat stopping 1 inch from face.
4. Lightly touch the side of dog’s face.
5. Repeat toward chin.


Goal 2: Relaxed dog will accept collar and body touch from owner and/or helper.
1. As you feed the treat with one hand, touch the dog’s head with the other.
2. As you feed the treat with one hand, touch the dog under the ear and on the ear.
3. As you feed the treat with one hand, touch the side of the dog’s neck.
4. As you feed the dog with one hand, touch the collar.
5. As you feed with one hand, touch the dog’s chest, front legs, back, lower back, belly, down the back legs, the tail, and finally the paws.
6. Progress to touching from different positions and at different speeds.

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Playing with Your Puppy

Playing regularly with your puppy will help you form a strong bond. The purpose of play is to develop skills that will be useful throughout their lives, such as impulse control. The more games you play with your puppy, the more he will consider you to be the most interesting thing in his world. Encouraging puppies to play with toys provides a good outlet for their physical and mental energies.

You puppy should have two sets of toys: toys that he can play with by himself and ‘interactive toys’ that he can only play with you. Keep the interactive toys put away so you initiate play and keep you and the toys interesting to your puppy.

Developing interest in the toy
Rather than just offer your puppy a new toy, take it out, play with it yourself, or play catch with another family member and act like you are having fun. Then put the toy away. Repeat this until your puppy is chomping at the bit to join in the play. Keep toy moving/wiggling along the ground. Then select your special toys that you will put away after every play session.

Enthusiasm first, control later
Build enthusiasm for play first, then put in controls like sit and wait later. Keep the games fun!!

Types of Games
Fetch – often preferred by herding dogs, retrievers and hounds
Tug – often preferred by guard dogs and bull breeds
Shake and Kill- often preferred by terriers

Rules of the Games
Invite your puppy to play with you often
With Tug of War, win more often than you lose
Do not play too roughly
Teach him to “Drop It” on command – stop tugging and trade for treat
Stop before your puppy gets bored – play several short sessions per day
Stop playing immediately if you feel any teeth to skin
Stop playing if your puppy begins to growl or gets over-excited
Always put the toy away after the game

Teaching impulse control
Teaching your puppy control during games will help your adult dog maintain control, even in times of stress or excitement. After your puppy has developed great enthusiasm for the games, practice sits/waits, downs/waits and recalls before and during play.

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The Sit Savant


Most of us take the sit command for granted. After all, it was probably the first command we taught our dog – and it was so easy! But does your dog really know the sit command? Or does he think it means just touch his butt on the ground, pop right up and get a treat?

A really good sit can help with all sorts of control issues such as:
– Easily distracted dogs
– Door dashers
– Overly exuberant greetings
– Dogs who jump up on people
– Leash pullers
– Leash and other forms of aggression

Work on teaching your dog to sit until they are released. Just as if it were a stay, or a wait. Sit until given the release word. And to sit no matter what is going on.

For our purposes, you may want to use two different commands:
SIT – means facing you
CLOSE – Means in heel position at your left side. This position allows you to have more control over your dog in difficult situations.

The goal is to “proof” the dog using the following:

Duration – how long the dog has to sit

Distance – how far away you are from the dog

Distractions – level of distraction while in the sit

Different locations – work in one place first – then change

Practice sits with your back turned to the dog, a bag on you head, around a corner, you get the picture. Sit won’t work in the vet office if you haven’t worked through distractions or a different picture than you in the kitchen with a treat! Practice sits when your dog is very excited, so she ‘sits on a dime’ (like stopping on a dime).

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