Monday, July 6, 2009

Time for Another Carnival!

Once again the National Academy for Dogs LLC took part in the National Dog Blog Carnival. With 20 submissions from all sorts of different dog related blogs, there is sure to be something for everyone. You can visit the carnival here.

What Exactly is Punishment in Dog Training?

The term punishment seems to be frequently misunderstood as it applies to training and behavior. Many trainers claim that they do not use punishment to teach dogs, instead using words such as "corrections" and "discipline" to describe their methods. But the real truth is, no matter what you call it, these terms still refer to using some form of punishment.

What punishment is.

The confusion that comes from trying to understand punishment relates to a misunderstanding in the definition. According to the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary punishment refers to "suffering, pain, or loss that serves as retribution" or "severe, rough, or disastrous treatment". With these definitions it is easy to see how so many trainers can claim that they do not use punishment when training dogs. However, when referring to behavior and learning, punishment has a very different definition. In this case, punishment simply means anything that causes a behavior to stop or become less likely. Notice that there is no mention that the punishment has to be harsh, painful, or severe. It does, however, need to be something the dog finds unpleasant. There are two types of punishment. Positive punishment, which means something is added to reduce the likelihood of a behavior, and negative punishment, which means something is removed to reduce the likelihood of a behavior. The remainder of this article will discuss positive punishment, as it is the most frequently misunderstood and misused.

What punishment is not.

Punishment must be contingent on the dog's behavior. Lashing out at a dog in anger, getting revenge or retribution, or otherwise treating a dog harshly "because he deserved it" are not forms of punishment. These acts do not teach the dog anything(except that humans are scary and unpredictable) so are therefore not punishers in the technical sense. To be considered punishment has nothing to do with how harsh or severe it is, and everything to do with whether it diminishes the target behavior.

Problems with punishment.

There are a number of reasons why punishment may not be the best way to train dogs. Here are just a few examples.

When trying to stop a problem behavior punishment must be administered immediately following the behavior, every single time. This can be somewhat challenging for pet owners. Punishment delivered too late runs the risk of punishing a completely different behavior and causing confusion and frustration in the dog. When punishment is used inconsistently on a behavior, many dogs will learn to gamble in the hopes that this time they won't be punished.

While there are forms of punishment that do not hurt the dog physically(such as spray bottles, shake cans, etc.), all punishment is unpleasant to the dog being trained. Many times the effects of the punishment are not outright obvious. Fear, mistrust and frustration can result from using punishment in dog training. This can be damaging to the relationship between pet and owner.

Using punishment can have other unintentional side effects. Dogs will often create negative associations with other things in their environment at the time the punishment was delivered. For instance, a dog that is given a leash jerk every time he looks at another dog may learn to hate the presence of other dogs. For all he knows, those other dogs are the cause of the punishment.

Punishment can actually inhibit learning in some cases. A dog that is punished every time it makes a mistake often becomes reluctant to try anything new. This can make things difficult when trying to teach a new behavior.

Most importantly, punishment does not teach the dog what you want him to do. While you may have stopped that particular behavior, unless you train an alternative behavior to replace the old one, the dog is left trying to figure out what to do instead.

Is there a better way?

Yes! There are many ways that problem behavior can be solved without the need for punishment. Check out this article for two very effective options for dealing with behavior problems without using punishment.

If you are having a behavior issue with your dog that you are finding difficult to solve, you should not hesitate to contact a professional trainer that practices positive and humane methods. Two good resources are the Karen Pryor Academy and the Association of Pet Dog Trainers.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Fourth of July safety tips for your dog

The Fourth of July is almost in sight. For many people it is a time of joy and celebration, but for our dogs it can be a frightening and stressful experience. Check out these tips to help prepare your dog for Independence Day.

-Prepare ahead of time using sound desensitization CDs. There are a number of noise desensitization CDs on the market now. These CDs are designed to help your dog get used to sounds that may frighten them. To avoid making your dog more fearful, the CD should be played at low level first, and then gradually increased to normal volume as long as your dog remains calm. Here is a link to one such product, however doing an internet search for "fireworks sound desensitization CD" will come up with several more.

-Keep you dog indoors, and make sure all windows and doors are closed and covered. Please do not leave your dog outdoors during the Fourth of July. The noise from the fireworks is going to be much louder and frightening outside. Numerous dogs have jumped fences and broken leads attempting to escape from the fireworks. Be sure that doors and windows are secured inside as well, as many dogs have been known to go through screens out of fear. Turning on the radio or television may help to drown out some of the outside noise.

-Give your pet a safe place to retreat to away from all the noise. Create a safe place for your dog using his bed or crate, and be sure he has access to it at all times. If you know of a certain place your dog likes to retreat to when he is frightened, such as a certain room or under the covers, allow him to hide out there during the event.Supply him with chew toys or hollow treat filled toys(such as a Kong) to help occupy him.

-Be sure your dog is wearing proper identification in case of escape. A large number of dogs end up in shelters after escaping from their homes on the Fourth of July. Double check that your dog is wearing a collar and identification tags, and that the information and phone number is current. Permanent identification such as a microchip may also be a good idea.

-Avoid bringing your dog along with you to events. Although you may like the idea of bringing your dog along as company to a Fourth of July event, it is unlikely that he is going to find the same enjoyment. Even the most well socialized and trained dogs will almost certainly be overwhelmed by the commotion, noise, and crowds. If you must go out for the Fourth, please leave your dog at home.

-If possible, stay home with your dog. Ideally, it is best to be able to stay with your dog during the worst of the fireworks. This way you can keep an eye on your dog and comfort him throughout. Have some extremely tasty treats available, or a favorite toy to help distract your dog from all the noise outside. Many trainers recommend that you do not comfort your dog when he is behaving fearfully, as this will supposed reinforce the fearful behavior. However, new research indicates that it is unlikely that you can reinforce emotions in this way, and in fact calmly comforting your dog may help to make him feel safer. For more information on reinforcing fears check out these articles by Patricia McConnell, a certified applied animal behaviorist.

-Calm your dog using natural remedies. There are several products on the market right now that can help calm your dog in frightening situations. Here are just a few:

  • Melatonin- According to; "melatonin is a hormone produced naturally in the pineal gland at the base of the brain." Melatonin is often used in humans as a sleep aid, however it has been found to be effective for many cases of noise phobia in dogs. The product can be purchased over the counter. Be sure to check with your veterinarian first for proper dosage and administration.
  • DAP- Also known as "dog appeasing pheromone" DAP is a product developed by veterinarians that supposedly mimics the pheromones given off by a lactating female. Studies have shown that the product can help some dogs in relieving stress and feeling calmer. It can come as a plug-in diffuser, a spray bottle or a collar.
  • Anxiety Wrap- This product wraps around the body of a dog. By using a technique called "maintained pressure" the wrap aids in reducing anxiety and helping your dog feel calm. Visit the official website here.
  • Calming Collars- These collars are filled with natural herbs and are designed to reduce stress. Recently Nan Arthur, the San Diego Pet Behavior and Training Examiner wrote an excellent article on the Calming Collars. You can read it here.
  • Rescue Remedy- Made up of natural flower essences, Rescue remedy is a liquid that is given by mouth or rubbed directly on your dog's nose, ears, or paw pads. For many dogs it can help reduce the feelings of stress and anxiety. Visit the Rescue Remedy Pet website for more information.

-Use medication for severe phobias. If you know your dog has very bad noise phobias, you may want to consider using medication to help with his fears. Your veterinarian will be able to supply you with a proper drug to treat your dog's anxiety.

A word of caution; many veterinarians still prescribe a drug called acepromazine for noise phobias. Karen Overall, a well known veterinary behaviorist, has this to say about the drug in her article on treating storm phobias:

I know that the common "treatment" for storm and noise phobias and veterinary office visits is acepromazine. In truth, I wish this medication would be placed at the far back of a top shelf and used only exceptionally. Acepromazine is a dissociative anesthetic meaning that it scrambles perceptions. Ask yourself if a scrambling of perceptions will make an anxious or uncertain dog worse or better. It's always worse, and we make many if not most dogs more sensitive to storms by using this drug. In part this is also because sensitivity to noise is heightened.

A better alternative may be to use a medication called Alprazolam, also known as Xanax.

By taking a little time to help ease your dog's anxieties during this noisy holiday, you can have the peace of mind that your dog will be safe and comfortable while you get back to enjoying the celebration.

Monday, June 22, 2009

A Fun Scent Game to Play with your Dog

Want to teach your dog a trick that is fun, easy, and will impress all your friends? Try this game to harness your dog's awesome sense of smell.

You will need:

a clicker or other reward marker

some small tasty treats

three boxes or containers of the same size

Step 1: Choose a behavior that your dog already knows, such as sit, down, or a paw touch. Your dog will use this to indicate the box that the scent is in. Place a few treats into one of the boxes. Present to box to your dog on the ground, and allow him to sniff the box. Then give your cue that will become the indication. Click and reward with a treat from the box when he responds. Pick up the box and repeat the procedure several more times. After doing this a few times, try presenting the box to your dog without giving a cue. Wait a few moments without saying anything to see if your dog can figure it out. If your dog performs the behavior without the cue, click and reward him with several treats. If he does not, go back to asking for the behavior for a couple more tries, and then try again.

Step 2: Once your dog is reliably indicating the box when you present it to him, it is time to add the second(empty) box. Place both boxes on the ground next to each other with some space in between. Allow your dog to sniff and explore both boxes. Ignore any attempts from your dog to indicate the empty box. As soon as he indicates the correct box, click and reward graciously. Repeat a couple more times, keeping the boxes in the same position. When he gets good at that, try switching the boxes around. Continue to ignore any incorrect responses and reward correct ones.

Note: Some dogs may get a little confused and frustrated when the second box is added. If your dog is having a lot of trouble, you may want to help him out for a few repetitions rather than have him give up. To do this just wait for him to sniff the correct box, then use the cue for the indication behavior. This should give him an idea of how the game works. Do this for only a couple repetitions, then let him try on his own again.

Step 3: Add the third box using the same procedure you used in step 2. Try placing the boxes in several different orders to test your dog's ability to find the correct box.

Step 4: When your dog is consistently finding the right box, it is time to add the cue. After placing the boxes, ask your dog to "find it"(or whatever other cue you would like to use). Reward correct responses.

Step 5: When he is good at finding the treats hidden in the correct box, you can then transfer it to other scents. A fun challenge would be to use a scent your dog is not familiar with, such as a drop of vanilla. When you decide to try a new scent, start back at step one and gradually work back up to the three boxes.

Have fun!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

What to do About Out of Control Puppy Nipping

I recently started taking care of a 10 week old puppy - the cutest and smartest thing! Here's the issue.

He was nipping mildly last week but it has now escalated to the point of bloodshed. The "ouch!" did not work and rapidly escalated into a non-stop shout fest which the dog ignored. If ignored, the dog will draw blood.

Today I brought a spray bottle which worked...the first few times. Pup apparently loves water and being squirted. I'm afraid bitter apple might injure his eyes so I don't want to try something like that.

The owners admitted to having a rough go of it this weekend with him. Any thoughts?


Those puppy teeth sure are sharp, aren't they? Puppy nipping can be a frustrating and sometimes painful problem, luckily there are some easy tips to help get the little shark under control.

While the basic technique of saying "ouch!" works for many puppies, others seem to ignore or even get more excited by the sound. For these puppies we need to make it completely clear to them that nipping people is unaceptable.

The easiest way to do this is is to completely remove yourself from the puppies reach the moment you feel his teeth. Get up and walk away, if possible leave the room he is in. Completely ignore him for at least 30 seconds, then return and resume play. You(and anyone else who plays with the puppy) must be 100% consistent with this. Everytime you feel teeth the play session must end. The first few times you try this technique you will probably be getting up and leaving quite often, but pretty soon the puppy will figure out that the only way to keep his playmate is to be gentle with his mouth.

Many people suggest putting the puppy in "timeout" when he nips, however I've found it's much more effective to remove yourself from the room instead of putting the puppy up. The time is take to pick up and place the puppy in his pen or crate means there is a gap where he is actually getting atttention for the nipping(even if it is negative attention). You can remove yourself from the situation much faster which means there is an immediate consequence to his action.

Instruct the owners to avoid playing with the puppy using their hands. They should play with the puppy using appropriate toys. Instead of rough housing suggest they play constructive games with him such as "hide and seek" and fetch. Make sure he is rewarded often for choosing to play with his own chew toys.

Training some basic manners using reward based methods will be a benefit for this puppy as well. Teaching a behavior such as a nose touch to your hand can be used as an alternative to nipping.

Karen Pryor recently wrote an excellent article on some great clicker training techniques that can be used to control puppy nipping. Check it out here.

Hope these tips help, good luck!

Saturday, June 6, 2009

National Dog Blog Carnival

National Academy for Dogs participated in the Third National Dog Blog Carnival this month.

The carnival consists of a collection of blog posts from many different authors on a number of subjects. The posts this month have been contributed by many different people, including veterinarians, trainers, behaviorists, artists, and many other dog(and cat!) lovers. Check out the link here:

Friday, June 5, 2009

Preparing for the Unexpected with a New Puppy

Today is the first birthday of my Welsh springer spaniel, Taran. Taran is a very special dog to me. The first puppy I have acquired as an adult, I spent nearly five years planning for his arrival. I used that time to research the breed, contact multiple breeders, attend a specialty show dedicated to Welsh springers, as well as to learn as much as I could about training, socializing and caring for a new puppy. By the time my little one was ready to come home with us, I was certain I knew everything there was to know about raising a puppy to become the best dog ever. After all, I'm a dog trainer. What could possibly go wrong?

Planning for the expected

I acquired Taran when he was nine weeks old from Statesman Welsh Springer Spaniels. Before his arrival I planned everything out perfectly. I had ordered all the supplies needed for a new puppy. This included:
  • a crate for housetraining and short term confinement
  • an exercise pen for long term confinement
  • several different durable chew toys to promote good chewing behavior
  • soft toys for supervised play
  • stainless steel bowls for food and water
  • a high quality dog food
  • grooming supplies such as brushes and nail trimmers
  • leash and collar
  • treats for training

I also had him signed up for puppy socialization class, his first appointment for check up and vaccines at the vet, and developed a detailed training and socialization plan. Here were my most important training goals for him:

  • socialization to as many different people, animals, and environments as possible
  • housetraining
  • hand feeding many of his meals so he learns all good things come from me
  • bite inhibition to help with mouthing and nipping
  • allowing handling for grooming and medical procedures
  • clicker training to teach important behaviors such as sit, down, come, etc.

I took several days off of work to help him get used to a new environment away from his mom and brothers. I was determined to do everything right for my new puppy.

The unexpected

Even with all the planning that went into getting Taran, once he was home he began throwing me curve balls left and right.

On the second day I had him he learned to climb right out of his exercise pen as soon as he was put into it. He was fine in it if I was in the room with him, but as soon as I left he was up and over the top. I modified my plans so that he was not left in the pen unsupervised any longer. Instead I used the crate or an enclosed hallway when we needed to leave him alone.

Next, he became frightened of my other dog, Kiba. I had tried to introduce them as carefully as I could. They met outside on leash first, then spent the next several days getting used to each other's smell between barriers such as baby gates. They both seemed relaxed and interested in each other so I began letting them have short supervised interactions. Kiba(who is a 55lb lab mix) wanted very much to play with her new puppy friend. However her somewhat rough play style was too overwhelming for little Taran, and he took to running and hiding from her. I was devastated, fearing that they would never get along. Luckily, by slowing down the interactions, allowing Taran to approach at his own pacing, and never forcing him to interact, he eventually began to warm up to Kiba. I can happily say that they are now best friends.

He had other problems as well. He hated to be left alone and barked constantly in his crate, he stole socks out of the laundry, and loved to jump on people. Each time I reevaluated my training plans and modified them to deal with each issue.

I am proud to say that at a year old, Taran is shaping up to be the wonderful dog that I had always dreamed of. Of course he is still not perfect, but I don't believe there is a dog out there that is. However, with patience and perseverance I was able to help my wild puppy grow up into a lovely gentleman.

What does this mean for new puppy owners?

The point of my story is that you can never prepare for everything that is going to happen when getting a new puppy. You can read all the books, articles and advice in the world, but nothing compares to the actual experience of puppy raising. This is not to say that you shouldn't prepare, because you absolutely should. Just be ready so that when something doesn't go according to plan, you can jump in and modify it to suit the needs of your individual dog. And remember when you are frustrated that your puppy does not behave strictly by the book, you are not alone!

Reserve Karen Pryor's Newest Book Today!

Karen Pryor, renowned clicker trainer and author of the revolutionary book "Don't Shoot the Dog", will be releasing her newest book, "Reaching the Animal Mind" on June 16. With her extensive knowledge of animal training and behavior, as well as great storytelling skills, this book is sure to be fantastic. Here is an excerpt from the the product review:

Reaching the Animal Mind uses clear, accessible language that will allow anyone to master Pryor's training system. Pryor also entertains by introducing some of her more interesting pupils. Ponies are taught to surf, gloomy birds learn how to play, a rhinoceros routinely leans against a fence for a pedicure, and dogs learn everything with pointed ears and shining eyes that seem to say "You want what? I can do that; watch me!"

Even better, if you reserve a copy of the book through before June 16, you will not only save about $5 off the regular price, the copy will be signed by Karen Pryor and you will receive a free i-click clicker! Now that's what I call positive reinforcement!

Monday, May 11, 2009

Advancements in Dog Training

What if everyone in the medical field decided that they have learned all they needed to know about veterinary medicine and all new research and advancements stopped?

This question was posed during a recent seminar I attended at my clinic. Of course this would never happen in veterinary medicine, but it got me thinking about dog training. Most pets owners would avoid taking their pets to a clinic that had not updated its practices for 15-20 years, however these same pet owners are taking their animals to trainers who do just that.

Despite new research and information on pet training promoting safer and more effective techniques for changing behavior, a large percentage of trainers are still practicing methods that are quite outdated. Traditional training places a lot of emphasis on using punishment and aversives(something the animal finds unpleasant) to stop behaviors. Dominance training works in a similar vein. The idea being that the dog is always striving for a higher rank, harsh techniques and fear are often used to "put the dog in his place". These techniques can be harmful and scary to the dog. They can also be dangerous to pet owners as many dogs do not tolerate being treated harshly.

Many trainers argue the fact that these older methods are still effective in changing behavior, so why fix something that's still working? Let's go back to the medical analogy for a moment. Say you are offered two different drugs to treat a migraine. Both medications help to relieve the pain, but one drug works for longer and has much fewer side effects than the other. Which one would you choose? It is the same in dog training. While many traditional training techniques can work(trainers would not be continuing to use them if they didn't), there is more of a chance for side effects. Using punishment has many drawbacks, for instance it can create negative associations and damage your relationship with your pet. In a recent veterinary study, it was found that many punishment based methods actually elicited aggressive responses in the dogs. In other cases punishment only suppresses behaviors. So while it may appear to be fixed initially, the underlying cause was never addressed and the behavior may resurface again at a later date.

In recent years training techniques have surfaced that are not only more effective, they are gentler and safer for both you and your pet. Positive methods such as clicker training are backed by current research and studies and have very little chance of side effects. Newer training looks to change the underlying cause of a behavior, instead of just suppressing it. There is more focus on creating a relationship built on trust and understanding with your pet, instead of using fear and punishment to keep them in line.

So what does this mean as a pet owner? When looking for a trainer you will need to do your research and choose carefully. Don't be afraid to ask questions. Did the trainer attend any type of schooling or certification course? Do they belong to any professional organizations such as the Association of Pet Dog Trainers? Do they continue to attend seminars and workshops and keep up to date with new training information? These questions should help you get an idea of whether the trainer is right for you. If there is anything about a trainer's methods that make you uncomfortable, let them know. It is up to you to speak up for and protect your pet. There are too many better alternatives out there for you and your dog to suffer through harsh and outdated training.

For more info: For a list of great dog trainers around the country, check out the list of Karen Pryor Academy graduates. The Karen Pryor Academy is an intensive certification course for dog trainers that emphasizes techniques that are current, humane, and effective.

The American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior has released position statements regarding topics such as punishment, dominance, and choosing a good trainer. These statements can be found here.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Do Dogs Feel Guilt?

One of the most common complaints I hear from pet owners in regards to their dog's misbehavior is that the pet knew he did wrong but did it anyways. Let's take, for instance, the owner that comes home to find that her dog has urinated on the carpet at some point during the day. Upon seeing the owner and the mess on the carpet, the dog lowers his head, flattens his ears, and approaches the owner very slowly. To this the owner may respond;
"Just look at his face, he knows he isn't supposed to pee on the carpet or else he wouldn't look so guilty."
But is this really guilt we are seeing when dogs offer these kinds of behaviors? For the answer we need to understand more about how dogs think and perceive the world.
First off we need to understand that dogs tend to live in the moment. They are unable to understand consequences for behaviors they have done in the past. It may seem obvious to us that the urine spot on the rug was caused by the dog peeing there, but to the dog it is just a urine spot on the rug, he does not think about how it got there in the first place.
Another reason to question the idea that dogs feel guilt is that to feel guilt would imply that dogs have a moral code. There is no evidence to suggest that dogs have a true understanding of right and wrong. Certainly dogs understand that their actions can result in good and bad things happening, and therefore will modify their behavior accordingly. However, to truly have a sense of morality would require such abstract thinking that is far beyond the capacity of a dog's mind. This is not to say that dogs do not experience a wide range of basic emotions such as fear, sadness and happiness, but I have yet to hear of any research that can truly prove that dogs feel guilty for their actions.
So what is really happening in the scenario with the owner and the dog that peed on the carpet above, if not guilt? The answer lies in a dog's incredible ability to pick up on cues from us and their environment. Dogs can read our body language and tone of voice amazingly well. The reason the dog acted the way he did when he saw his owner was that he was able to pick up on the fact that the owner was angry and quite possibly about to punish him. So he quickly begins offering appeasement behaviors(lowering head and body, flattening ears, etc.) in an attempt to avoid being punished. He has no idea why he is going to be punished, but he has learned that an angry owner predicts bad things that need to be avoided. The poor dog is not feeling guilt, but fear.
Now what about the dog that offers these behaviors before the owner even realizes something is wrong? There is no way the dog is picking up on signs of anger from it's owner, so surely this dog must be feeling guilty, right? Here is where the environmental cues come into play. At one point in time the owner came home, saw a mess on the carpet, and punished the dog in front of the mess. So now the presence of the urine on the carpet and the owner coming home have become predictors of punishment for the dog.
Here is why this is so important to understand when it comes to training dogs. If we truly believe that the dog is feeling guilt for his actions and therefore knew that he was doing something wrong, then it is easy to understand why we would want to punish the dog. This way of thinking has led to the unfair treatment of an untold number of dogs. Once we realize what is truly going on when our dogs behave this way, we can begin to foster a relationship of understanding and trust between us and our furry companions.

-The photo above was taken by Colure. Visit her flickr site here.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

New Job at

I have recently accepted a new job writing pet training articles for I still plan to post important and more detailed articles on here, as well as anything related specifically to National Academy for Dogs LLC, but if you like my articles and are interested in reading more from me, here is the link to my Examiner page:


Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Pet Sitting a Fearful Dog

I recently received this e-mail with the request that I post my answer here on my blog.

I am a petsitter and recently met a new client and her dog, Sarge, a Boston Terrier. When I met them, the dog was a little shy, and very active. He seemed okay. As often is the case, however,when I arrived for the first day on the job, Sarge was a lot more nervous without his owner there to protect him. He would not get out of his owner's bed and he growled at me. I'm never one to push a dog beyond his boundaries, so I left and contacted the owner.

I returned to meet Sarge again, and this time both his owner and another trusted human were there. It took awhile for Sarge to warm up but he eventually took a treat from me and we even played a little tug and fetch. We walked together and I held the leash. Sarge was uneasy but I gave him lots of praise and food rewards. By the end of the evening, he appeared to be relaxed.

When I returned the following day, Sarge growled.

I spent another evening with Sarge and his owner. Each day, I return to see Sarge and offer him treats. He'll accept them if they are really good ones, but he won't take the ones his owner buys for him from me. He still growls and I have not put the leash on him yet.

I asked the owner to restrict him to a room other than the bedroom where he tends to hole up on the bed. When I go to see him, I greet him and then go about making myself available to him in a non-threatening way. I meditate. I yawn a lot. I ignore him. I give him plenty of space. We've put him on flower essences. So far he refuses to approach me, and continues to growl as a greeting.

The owner was surprised by his behavior, but after a recent divorce, she and the dog have been uprooted and separated from their other beloved canine companion. I know he's just insecure and probably upset by the changes going on.

Other sitters I know would just go put the leash on him. I don't think this is a good idea. Any advice?



Dear Beth,

First off I want to applaud you for your attention and concern for the emotional state of your client's pet. You are absolutely right not to push Sarge right now. Forcing him to be leashed and handled when he is acting fearful will likely only reinforce his fears and make him worse in the future.

Without seeing Sarge in person and knowing his exact relationship with his previous canine companion, I can't say for certain, but I would wager that he was probably somewhat reliant on the other dog for security, and without him has lost a lot of confidence.

I think Sarge would benefit from some confidence boosting training. Clicker training, and more specifically target training, would be a great place to start. With targeting, dogs are taught to touch a specific object in exchange for a food reward. Once the dog has learned the basic concept and enjoys performing the behavior, this can be used to help them overcome being around something they fear. Many dogs feel much more confident when asked to perform a specific behavior around a scary object. It takes their mind off of being afraid and it helps them feel like they are in control of the situation. There is a nice explanation of targeting for fearful dogs here. Once Sarge is doing well with these steps, you can try asking him for a "touch" when you come to check on him. This will give you a great way of moving him about without the use of force.

Teaching some other fun tricks to Sarge may help his confidence as well. Trick training is very low stress as there is no pressure on the dog that he must perform the behavior.

I know you are using flower essences to help in calming Sarge. Here are a couple of other products that may aid in reducing his anxiety.

DAP-DAP, or Dog Appeasing Pheromone, is a product developed by veterinarians that supposedly mimics the pheromones that are given off by a lactating female. Studies have shown that the product can help some dogs in relieving stress and feeling calmer. It can come as a plug-in diffuser, a spray bottle or a collar.

Anxiety Wrap- According to the website found here:

"The Anxiety Wrap is an effective, training aid for dogs that suffer from anxiety, insecurity, fear or other stress related behavior concerns. It is often used to help give confidence to dogs scared of thunder, travel or who hate to be left alone. Its effectiveness is in its use of the technique called "MAINTAINED PRESSURE" to aid in calming your animal thereby allowing him or her to redirect their focus. When used with gentle training methods, the Anxiety Wrap works with the animal's entire mind, body and spirit for successful resolution or reduction of the symptom."

I hope these suggestions may help some with Sarge. It sounds like you are doing everything right so far, and I think with enough patience he will come around and regain his confidence.

Good Luck!

PS-I'm thinking of starting a weekly advice post. If you have a dog training question you would like answered, drop me an e-mail at

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Medical or Behavioral?

As a dog trainer and a veterinary assistant, I see both behavioral and medical issues everyday. Sometimes these issues can overlap or get mixed up. Many times owners believe their dog has a behavioral issue, when in reality, there is an underlying medical cause. Below is a list of some common issues that could also be caused by a medical condition. If your dog is displaying any of the following behaviors, or has any behavior problem that has occurred suddenly, please take your dog in for a thorough check up by your veterinarian before trying to address it as a training issue.

Inappropriate house soiling- This is one I see most frequently misunderstood in dogs. I always recommend that any dog with house soiling issues be checked by a veterinarian first, especially if the dog is an adult and has been reliable with house training in the past. There are several medical conditions that could cause house soiling; this site by the ASPCA has a very informative list.

Aggression- Aggression of any kind is a serious problem that needs to be addressed as quickly as possible. There are several medical conditions that should be ruled out first when dealing with aggression. Hypothyroidism is a leading medical cause of aggression and other behavioral changes in canines. Hypothyroidism can be diagnosed by a blood panel and is easy to control through medication. Other possible causes of aggression include hydrocephalus, encephalitis, head trauma, brain tumors, epilepsy and Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome.

Sensitivity or aggression when being handled or touched- These issues may indicate that your dog is in pain somewhere. For instance a dog that snaps when you reach towards his ear may be hiding a bad ear infection. Arthritis is a common cause for older dogs to become suddenly defensive to being touched and handled.

Reluctance to perform behaviors such as sit or down; refusal to jump- These could also be signs of pain or discomfort in your dog. Any dog who is reluctant or slow to sit should be checked for hip dysplasia, a common and debilitating condition, especially in larger breeds. Refusal to jump or perform other similar behaviors could also be a sign of hip problems, as well as back, spine, or leg injuries.

These are just a few of the health problems that can be mistaken for behavior issues. Please have your dog seen by a veterinarian first if you notice any abnormal or unusual behavior.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Using Life Rewards

It's a common belief that if you use a clicker to train your pet, they will never listen to you unless you have treats on you. This is certainly not the case. While food rewards are very valuable for teaching new behaviors and working in distracting environments, clicker trainers also use a variety of other reinforcements to help maintain behaviors. These are often referred to as "life rewards".

Simply put, life rewards are anything in a dog's daily life that they enjoy and are willing to work for. Instead of allowing dogs to get access to these things for free, clicker trainers see each instance as a valuable training opportunity. Does your dog want to go out for a walk? Why not work on his sit-stay while you get his leash and clip it to his collar? The reward for his good behavior will be a chance to go out for a fun walk. This concept is also the basis of a program called "Nothing in Life is Free" which helps teach dogs self control and good manners. The idea behind the program is that your dog must perform a requested behavior before getting anything he wants.

To find out what your dog's life rewards are, spend a day just observing your dog. Take notes of anything that your dog enjoys doing or getting. Some examples may include playing with a favorite toy, getting a belly rub, dinner, or sniffing a favorite spot on a walk. By the end of the day you should have a nice sized list of several different reinforcement options that you can use train your dog. Life rewards are best used to strengthen cues that have already been taught through clicking and treating. Doing so will teach your dog that responding to your cues pays off even when you don't have cookies in your pocket.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

A Little About Clicker Training

When I am teaching dogs I often use what is referred to as clicker training. The benefits of clicker training your dog are immense and include accelerated learning, a willingness to perform tasks with speed and enthusiasm, and very precise communication between you and your dog. It is also one of the most humane forms of dog training and has no need for the use of force or punishments.

Clicker training uses a small device that when pressed makes a very distinct “click-click” noise. This noise is combined consistently with a food reward to teach the dog that the sound of the clicker means that a reward is coming. The process is often referred to as “charging the clicker”. It can then be used as an event marker to pinpoint the exact moment your dog does something you want to reinforce. Using the clicker is better than using your voice to mark correct behavior because it is faster, more distinct, and always neutral. Once your dog understands the meaning of the clicker, it can be used to teach a wide array of behaviors, from simple things like “sit” or “down”, to more complex behaviors like running an agility course or retrieving a dumbbell.

When teaching a new behavior clicker trainers wait for the dog to offer a behavior that can be reinforced. They do not force the dog into position or correct the dog for doing something different. Clicker trainers want their dogs to think and problem solve to figure out what will get them a click and a treat. The “cue” for a behavior (often called a “command” in traditional training) is not added until the dog is performing the behavior reliably. This avoids confusion on the dog’s part. Once the cue is added then the dog is only rewarded for doing the behavior when the trainer gives the cue. When training a behavior that a dog will not offer on its own trainers can use a process called shaping. Shaping involves clicking for small steps towards the finished behavior. For example to teach a dog to spin in a circle, you may start with clicking just a head turn, then a ¼ turn, then ½ turn, and so on until you eventually shape a full circle turn. This is an extremely useful skill for teaching complex behaviors.

When it comes to getting rid of unwanted behaviors clicker trainers have two very useful techniques, extinction and training an alternate behavior. Extinction works on the idea that behaviors that are not reinforced are less likely to be repeated in the future. Say you want your dog to stop begging from the table. If you completely stop feeding your dog from the table, then eventually the dog will realize that begging does not work, and will stop doing it. Be aware that this method can backfire, though. If you stop feeding your dog from the table almost all the time, but every so often give them a bit of food, then the dog will learn that persistent begging will eventually pay off. The other technique you can use is to teach a different behavior for the dog to do instead. This behavior must be incompatible with the behavior that you want to get rid of. For instance, your dog cannot beg at the table if he is lying quietly on a mat at the other end of the room.

Clicker training is a very powerful and effective training method. The best way to learn is to practice it yourself. So grab a clicker and some treats and get ready to have a ton of fun training your dog!

Welcome and Introduction

Welcome to the blog for National Academy for Dogs LLC, a dog training business located in Central Florida. My name is Lindsey and I am an owner and pet dog trainer for National Academy for Dogs. I have over five years of experience training dogs and am a graduate of the Karen Pryor Academy Dog Trainer Program. My plan is to use this blog to post articles, news and tips on training and behavior, as well as other updates related to our business. If you live in the Orlando area and are interested in working with a professional trainer face to face, please visit our website to find out more information on programs, pricing, and contact information.

Here at National Academy for Dogs we believe dog training is more than just getting the behaviors you want, it's about forming a bond and understanding with your pet. We strive to teach pet owners using techniques that are humane, up to date, and effective. By combining the latest in scientific research on behavior with the experience of working with dogs in real life situations we create practical training plans for all sorts of pet owners and their dogs. The results mean not only a well trained dog, but an amazing understanding between dog and owner that creates a life long bond.