Energy Spent Is Energy Spent: Why Bickering And Arguing Helps No One

Energy Spent Is Energy Spent: Why Bickering And Arguing Helps No One

professionalism in dog training

The New Social Platform

Gone are the days of mailers, a back page newspaper brief, university class, or waiting for the monthly journal to arrive a-la-mailbox for the latest training buzz from the top world instructor. Access to millions of bits of intellectual property float incessantly around every social media platform that exists and much of it without a footnote or resource listed. Social media is now how we get our information out to people and often educate ourselves. These platforms can certainly be invaluable avenues for teaching, demonstrating and exposing wonderful new articles and sharing training tips and advice quickly and with wonderful accessibility. What comes along with digital accessibility, however, is anonymity and interaction.

Platform Or Soap Box?

When accessibility and anonymity meet online, the interactions can become, at best, thought-provoking or educating. At worst, attacking, bullying, ugly, demeaning or misinforming. Even dangerous. The purpose of this blog is to bring these conditions to light, and for us as educators and professionals to really use social media carefully and expertly. Regardless of what your method of delivering information is, use caution when opening a can of worms….

Each person is an individual. When our online ideas are attacked some of us will tend toward standing up to our aggressors and others of us may just sit reading the thread, seething (yours truly). Let me be clear about what I’m suggesting: It’s not our difference of opinion that’s no good; it’s how we share it.

Cognitive Dissonance

Copernicus, Columbus, Newton and Einstein were all brilliant men that had to prove to the masses something that was outside of a current belief system, even beyond opinion. Wait, isn’t science always right? Why would we challenge science? Well, to move forward and ask, “is there a better way?” Questioning science is the best part of science. If we can remember that science isn’t static we can be better at keeping our mind open to new theories and practices in the world of training and behavior.
Things change when discoveries are made. Just this month, six female anthropologists found a new type of human! As we know, new information added to current knowledge is how we advance. When we as individuals are so rooted in “the one way” that something works, we are closing off the possibility of becoming more skilled and effective.

“Sometimes people hold a core belief that is very strong. When they are
presented with evidence that works against that belief, the new
evidence cannot be accepted. It would create a feeling that is
extremely uncomfortable, called cognitive dissonance. And because it
is so important to protect the core belief, they will rationalize,
ignore and even deny anything that doesn’t fit in with the core belief.”
― Frantz Fanon, Black Skin, White Masks

Now, don’t get me wrong, I love a strong intellectual scientific conversation online, but I have a set of criteria that must be followed for an intelligent conversation.

• Facts – back up thoughts with credited articles and/or journals.
• Politeness – comment and ask respectfully, ask for clarification first (yes, this goes for me, too!).
• Topic Focused – as we respond, are we discussing facts or are we taking things personally?
• Reputability – spend your time in groups that have a great code of conduct and that monitors their threads.

Here’s an excerpt I like from Lisa White of Positive Pet Advice:


• Treat people with respect. Even if you disagree with them, they, like you, are entitled to feel free to express their opinions.

• Do not bash, put down or insult anyone, no negative personal attacks/comments. You may argue the idea, the method or the opinion, but do not attack the people.

• There is a difference between being passionate about something and being aggressive. Aggression will not be tolerated.

• Rudeness of any kind will not be tolerated.

• Name-calling will absolutely not be tolerated.

• You will avoid criticizing others for their choices. By refraining from criticizing, you are opening up an audience to listen to your message instead of making them defensive.

• Follow your own training advice: Ignore what you don’t like and acknowledge and reward what you do like. Also, give alternative options.

• Positive reinforcement is also expected to be used for people too.

Choose Your Camp

The sheer magnitude of people online is amazing, and the beauty of life is having choice. Even with choice, some people will choose to believe in dominance theories and the use of force and coercion. Rather than feeling it my job to change their mind, I chose a long time ago to know that it’s not my job to sway people that are happy shocking dogs and popping collars, but to focus my energy on those who want my knowledge. Otherwise I sometimes feel like I’m spitting at the rain. By focusing my energy on people that are craving knowledge and want to do what’s right (in my opinion) for their dogs, I can be most effective. This way my energy spent can be most effective if I work in the forums where the people and advice is congruent to whom I am.  In other forums, I have found sometimes it’s best to just walk (or click) away.

I’ll leave you with one of my favorite quotes:
“Never argue with a fool or a drunk; people standing by won’t know who the fool or the drunk is.”

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Unique Ways To Use Household Tools For Your Training Bag

Unique Ways To Use Household Tools For Your Training Bag

Let’s face it. In the market place there are countless gadgets for trainers and dog-owners alike. However, over the years, I’ve found some of the best tools hiding away are in arms reach right at home. A skilled trainer has the ability to resource from the environment they are in; utilizing in-the-moment props if you will. Here are a few of my favorites to get you, the trainer to think on the spot.

Peanut Butter Club

Regardless of the high value treat, sometimes when our pups are small and our humans are tall it equals fumbling and tripping in attempt to “work at the same level”. For example if the small pup has to jump to reach the treat, without knowing, we’d be rewarding the jump itself. Much of the time especially with small dogs in the beginning, there can be fumbling with the treat pouch, working with the leash, and lowering down; that all of these moving parts end up leaving us delayed in the delivery of the treat, and can be confusing to the pup. My solution? The PBC, or the Peanut Butter Club. Fancy for a long wooden spoon laden with gooey delicious peanut buttery goodness. Find your longest wooden spoon, (or keep an eye out at your next yard sale) and coat the magic wand with your favorite peanut butter and send it to the freezer so it’s ready for rewarding the pup for polite leash walking. Remember to allow the pup to lick using the same arm as the side he’s on so they’re not being rewarded for crossing in front of the human! PBC is also a great tool when working with a fearful dog because the PBC is longer and will allow a shy dog to come closer. I often find that after a few trials I can shorten the spoon causing the fearful pup to come closer.

cheese in dog training

Say Cheese

In the Wild West the cowboys kept their pistols right on their side for quick access and total readiness. We as dog trainers need a fast treat delivery system if we want to pair our reward with the behavior. For this one, I’ve got good ol’ cheddar spray cheese in my holster. Although it’s not the healthiest of treats, dogs love it! You can grab the can along with other treats and hit the road. My favorite use for it is during the winter months because it keeps my hands covered and warm and so I can train the pups without getting frostbitten.

Let the Light In

Sometimes visual barriers are all that’s required for pups that struggle with perimeter barking and sensitivity to movement near or around the house. But, who wants to live in the dark; keeping curtains and front doors always closed? Not me! Encourage your client to consider a great product originally intended for bathrooms and privacy: Frosted clings for windows! I love to use them at front windows and the like, to take away the visual stimulation or trigger without causing the house to feel like a dungeon.
This step can be critical for dogs that don’t need to be crated but struggle with barking.

Not Intended for a Rainy Day

Maybe the most unassuming tool I keep in my training bag is an umbrella. But not just any umbrella: it’s got to be one that pops open at the touch of a button and is dark color to create an instant barrier. A while back I received a call from an elderly woman who had been out for a walk when an off leash dog ran up and attacked her little Maltese. Although the altercation was minor, it left the woman and her pup quite shaken. I suggested to her that she could consider carrying an umbrella, a mobile shield of sorts that would be available at the touch of a button to both shield her pup and keep him invisible on the other side. If a dog is approaching and there is concern, an umbrella can be dispatched and buy the human precious moments to get a hold of the situation on the street, or even in an elevator! Let’s face it: training takes place on every terrain, and I know that when working in urban environments triggers can lurk around every corner, which can really set back any good training protocol. With the umbrella you can limit the time the dog is reacting and get to a safer spot on your walk or step between cars and block the small space between cars with the open umbrella.

Since necessity is the mother of invention, what are some of your cool household tools?

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What does art, the written word, Martial Arts, yoga, or music have in common? The “D” word. A word that so often in the world we generally use in terms of punishment; but not today. Today I’m going to speak about practice, or rather: Discipline. Anything anyone practices with devotion is a discipline. To become skilled at anything requires dedication and discipline. The discipline to get up in the morning to get to the gym, the discipline to pick up an instrument and practice for a while consistently, or the discipline required for training a dog.

Getting to Know Ya…

Whether training your own dog or helping the client to achieve the goals they desire, discipline in this case is the practice and devotion of helping dogs. Owner compliance is something that often will get in the way of progress. As a trainer it is not only important to show your clients techniques that will help their dogs along, but also to show them techniques on how to practice and implement said techniques in day to day life. Asking about your clients and getting to know them a little will help you better understand how to help them stay disciplined and dedicated to working the behaviors. Find out about their hobbies, what they do for work, what excites them—and especially about their dogs.bruce lee discipline

Discipline isn’t Necessarily a Consequence

After working on a stay or a go to your place cue, order a pizza and show clients how to work a stay or a go to your place cue while there is actually food around! This might sound crazy but it’s amazing how much better people feel when they see how to handle some failures and are working in a real-life setting. Clients are often tired after their workday and sometimes will just kennel their pup versus staying disciplined and on track by practicing what you have taught. Look for ways to give them confidence and not feel overwhelmed at the end of the day.

Set an Example

Being a disciplined dedicated coach to your clients will also do wonders for progress. Because one of the biggest roadblocks to progress is often owner compliance due to the demands of their schedules, I look for times that I can tag along to offer support. I find that going with them to events– be it a kids soccer game, or to a BBQ, for example are great ways to demonstrate how to work and train the family dog so they can see that it’s not only possible to succeed but that it’s really less daunting than they think.

Down the Rabbit Hole

How far would you like to go? Everyone has different levels of discipline. I for one love riding my bike and going to the rock gym to rock climb; but you will not find me climbing El Capitan in Yosemite or doing the Tour de France. This doesn’t mean I’m not disciplined; rather I have a different level of discipline that fits my lifestyle and my goals. When meeting with clients at their first consult I flat out ask them, “How much would you like to know? Would you like all the juicy scientific terms or would you like a base model that is simpler?” This simple question helps to set my clients up for success and it allows me to give them exactly what they want.

So let’s use the “D” word to ignite passion and dedication!   What are your plans to have a more disciplined dog-training practice?

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Underlying Causes Of Aggression In Dogs

Underlying Causes Of Aggression In Dogs

As you become a better trainer and further your knowledge and chops in the training world you may want to start seeing behavioral cases. The one thing I learned to do very early on is to rule out anything medical first. There are so many illnesses that can masquerade as behavioral issues.

Take a moment and think about how you behave when you’re under the weather, have an ache, or pain in a bad knee. Are you fun to be around when you’re experiencing pain of any kind?

Photo by Erin Bessey

Photo by Erin Bessey

Medical Causes For Aggression In Dogs

Our dogs and our clients dogs can be incredibly stoic and muscle through certain aches and pains and feelings of malaise. But there are occasions when unwanted behavior appears because of not feeling well.

Thyroid Abnormality Based Aggression

Part of the endocrine system, the thyroid is a butterfly shaped gland located in the neck, just below the larynx and partially wrapped around the trachea. It secretes two major hormones, thyroxine (T4) and, to a lesser degree, triiodothyronine (T3). These hormones play an important role in controlling metabolism, affect the heart, regulate cholesterol synthesis and degradation, and stimulate the development of red blood cells (erythropoiesis). Thyroid hormones are also essential for the normal growth and development of neurologic and skeletal systems, in addition to other roles.

Most dogs that suffer from hypothyroidism have what’s called autoimmune thyroiditis which can be hereditary. Sometimes the hypothyroid patients will have increased cortisol levels which can chemically mimic a constant state of stress. In this case, no amount of training will help! Typically, thyroid issues will fall into one of the following categories, aggression, extreme shyness, and seizure like activity.

Arthritis and Joint Pain & Aggression

We forget how quickly our beloved pups age and as the age they can develop aches and pains and arthritis, it’s important to get a proper arthritis diagnosis.

How does this present? A lot of times our dogs and client dogs will show disinterest in activities they used to enjoy such as running and jumping. Some dogs may start nipping or behaving more grumpy when touched or pet. Thank goodness that here are a lot of wonderful treatments available to provide relief to dogs. But stay informed and ask about the long-term and side effects of certain pain and anti-inflammatory medicines. The medicines available can provide great long-term comfort so they can get back into the swing of things.

Ear Infections & Aggression

Certain breeds have a predisposition but any dog can get an ear infection. This is generally painful for the pup when the infection gets out of hand, starting by a lot of itching and followed closely by inflammation and swelling. Some tell signs that your dealing with an ear infection can be head and face rubbing on walls and carpets and a “funky” yeasty smell coming from the ears.

Eliminate Medical Issues Before Treating The Dog’s Behavior

These are just a few of the many illnesses that can masquerade as a behavioral issue, by ruling out anything medical you can then formulate a behavior program for your clients dog.

For all of these “behavioral” issues a vet is needed. I will always offer to continue to work with the family to counter condition the pup to handling. Teaching families to do the handling and practice with mock vet visits will make vet visits more tolerable for the family and their dog.

I would love to hear of your experiences ruling out medical issues for behavior problems! What are some medical issues that you have found can trigger aggression in dogs?

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The Importance Of Feedback For Fido

The Importance Of Feedback For Fido

Immediate, in the moment feedback is the key to Fido skipping a grade or two in the school of advanced good-behavior. In fact, dogs respond just the same to current feedback as us humans. Positive and current feedback–that is. So why don’t’ we use it all of the time? Using verbal praise effectively in dog training is extremely important.

using verbal praise effectively in dog training

Use the Force

Imagine for a moment that you were blindfolded and I was to ask you to navigate through an already familiar setting such as your regular supermarket with a list of items that you needed to quickly gather. Without any help.

Now imagine that although you were blindfolded, I would offer you feedback through word or sound to clue you in to on-coming people, carts, or even through the isles and the items that were in them. Which would be more effective in getting you to respond in the desired manner, and how much feedback would you want? Of course your answer would be: “A metric ton!” We should consider the value of positive immediate feedback in working with pups in the same way. If I let you stumble through the supermarket for 20 minutes before giving you feedback, you can imagine how ineffective the feedback would be. And, more than that, if I only said: “no, not that way” instead of telling you what TO do, you’d be almost as lost.

Bad Feedback

It’s true: dogs often receive feedback. However, it’s generally when they have done something wrong. We tend to use bad or negative feedback to tell our dogs when they have done something wrong, such as: “What did you do?!”, in that familiar low and grumbley tone. Sometimes even pain or fear are paired with the tone to send a message to the pup that they did wrong. It’s common that the habitual immediate feedback is negative and that the good feedback generally happens after the fact or is expressed later during snuggle time, unrelated to the desired behavior on the spot.

So, how do we change this?

What Just Happened?

The simplest example of common feedback that a dog often receives is leash-walking feedback. The pup is likely to be familiar with the “eh-eh” and a tug on the leash when they pull, but what about all those well-behaved steps they took while they were on the walk? Enter positive immediate feedback!

Chances are, you or your client are going to be walking a dog today. During the walk while the pup is walking nicely, sweet words of encouragement in a nice tone should be offered. Reward the pup with happy feedback as they offer good behavior such as a well-paced walking or a simple look-up and acknowledgement to the walker. The beauty of positive feedback is that it can be given frequently. Pair a happy tone and excited voice with a tasty morsel and the pup will be well on his way to responsive good behavior. With positive feedback and food rewards it’s easy to catch a dog being good–and reward the behavior right then and there.

Going for Gusto

I’ve mentioned tone, but the energy and volume behind the positive feedback shouldn’t take a back seat. I often notice at first that when my clients are doing an exercise and they give praise and positive feedback, it’s generally always either muted or audibly non-existent. I often ask my client, “Why are you whispering, are you in a library?” As easy as it is to shout “no”, it should become easier to exclaim, “yes!”

Another place positive verbal feedback is wonderfully effective is during a “stay”. I’ve experienced new clients often asking their pup to sit and then have observed them back away saying “stay, Staaayyyy, STAY….”. Try having them say long slow praise words to give the pup info about what it is that they are doing right instead of repeating the stay cue. If the pup pops up from a “sit” or a “down”: pause the praising. Stopping the praise can be a better way to let the pup know that they have made a mistake.

Fast Food vs. Fine Dinning

Fast food is usually unmemorable and lacks stimulation, while fine dining leaves memorable, impactful and exciting memories leaving us wanting more. In the same way that both are food but one is nutritious; so is the way we prepare and serve our praise and positive feedback. If the praise falls flat, the pup will have the same unmemorable, processed experience that fast food delivers instead of the satisfying, nutritious and pleasing feeling that fine dining offers.

Pitch & Tone

The effectiveness that pitch and tone have on informing a dog of the desired behavior is often overlooked. In Patricia McConnell’s book, The Other End of the Leash, she describes cues such as the “mouth clicks” we make to have a horse move faster and the slow and low “whooooaaa” that get an animal to slow down as universal sounds. Using universal sounds with your voice such as a slow: “gooood dog” for praise or a higher pitched and quick “pup-pup-pup” during a recall that matches the speed and cadence of your desired result for the specific behavior works wonders.

Using verbal feedback as a reward in place of paying with a treat is also effective when working towards getting a behavior to a place of maintenance or mastery. The verbal feedback allows the pup to receive positive reinforcement without having to always treat. The power of pairing an enthusiastic tone and pitch with the treat will soon condition the dog to understand the good job they’ve done, even when a treat is offered more randomly. For the pup, a happy voice is like holding their paw: they listen and pay attention and even get happy when they hear “Good boy”, or “Who’s my shnoopy-woopy??” Remember to remind your clients that if they don’t look a bit silly while delivering their positive verbal feedback, they’re doing it wrong! 😉

The Cliff Notes for Solid Behavior:

  1. Praise Immediately
  2. Reward the Desired Behavior
  3. Reinforce with Treat, Tone, & Touch!

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How To Socialize Puppies Before Getting Them Fully Vaccinated

How To Socialize Puppies Before Getting Them Fully Vaccinated

socialize puppies

Early Socialization and Vaccination: Risk-Free Puppy Socialization

One of the most effective (and easiest ways) to prevent a huge slew of behavioral problems in dogs is to socialize them early. By “early socialization”, I do mean before the pup may have had all of their vaccines; which I do believe should happen on a responsible schedule. To help take the worry and confusion out of my client’s minds around vaccination & socialization; I’ve put together simple and safe guidelines and alternatives that you too can share within your doggie-loving circle.

Early Socialization Myth #1: Public Grounds Are Off-Limits

It’s a common misperception among dog-owners that having their puppy outside on the ground or anywhere in public is dangerous until they’re completely and entirely vaccinated. If we as dog-owners wait to begin socialization, our pups are at a much higher risk for any behavioral issues to strengthen and take hold. The good news: There’s a happy medium. It’s all about discernment and caution.

Myth #2: Puppy Classes Are A No-No Without Vaccinations

Clients often ask me if it’s safe to take their puppy outside. The simple answer is: OF COURSE IT IS! It’s equally important to expose them to their new world AND to begin the first rounds of vaccines. A great start is to encourage the practice of the first round of vaccinations because Parvo and Distemper can be quite violent in the body of a puppy. Taking action with the first round coupled with erring on the side of caution with common sense will keep the risk of both at nil while setting the tone for social integration at the onset.

Myth #3: You Must Stay Off My Property!

Rather than go extreme, it’s most important the dog owner knows who’s been ON the property. Having a fenced-in property is an ideal way to manage this without the stress of guessing. A fenced-in property is awesome, because it keeps the pup contained while keeping other unwanted critters out! Additionally it can assure that the puppy will have a private play place where he can learn about different surfaces and textures. You’ll find the pup can learn about other noises and be able to see the great outdoors safely and freely. Most importantly it makes knowing who has been on the property easy. Use caution though, if your client’s uncle brought Boomer, their family’s lab, up from the big city recently, some precautions might need to be in place for in and around the home.

Myth #4: The Mall And My Mutt Don’t Mix

The Mall is what I like to think of as the “Not so Beaten-Path”. It can be a wonderful place for all types of socialization to occur. Today, there are a ton of big named stores that allow pups through the doors that are so infrequently used! Macy’s, Lowes, Nordstrom, and Old Navy are perfect, just to name a few. So, pack up the puppy and get to the stores! So often people find a puppy in a store so novel that they will scurry over to meet your client’s pup making the “people meeting” part of socialization super easy. You might even find that the clothing racks and the hustle and bustle of the stores provide excellent learning opportunities. In an environment such as The Home Depot or Lowes you may get the added energy of a burly contractor eagerly offering a puppy petting session.

Here is a great list of pet friendly stores that will keep your client’s pup safe with good socializing to boot!

Myth #5: Costume Parties Are for Halloween

What happened to the days of costume parties?! Have your clients dig out those old Halloween costumes, get out those groovy bell-bottoms and have a ball! If anyone needs a reason to invite some friends over for a little shindig, now they’ve got the perfect excuse. Make the new pup the guest of honor and have the treats flow from the guests while exposing the pup to all different kinds of people and outfits!

Myth #6: Kids And Puppies Don’t Mix

Responsible kids make great teachers. Ask your clients if they know any kids that are well-mannered and responsible around dogs, and have them over for a play date with your client’s pup. Because puppies can get nippy and excited around bubbly kids, it will be important to teach the pup from a young age that kids are people, too.

It’s true: The World is our Playground, and it doesn’t have to wait for the new pup to be all grown up!

Check out this handout with safety tips and guidelines for new puppies, socialization, and vaccination.

What are some of the ways you socialize your clients pups before they are completely vaccinated?

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