Top Posts From 2017

Top Posts From 2017

2017 has come to an end, but we covered some pretty interesting topics this past year. Let’s take a quick look back at some of the most popular articles in 2017 to review and help us prepare for 2018.


1. Guest Post: A Passion for Primitive Dogs

It’s safe to say that primitive dogs have a passionate following. This article was our most popular article of the year. It spread like wildfire across social media and brought attention to the unique needs of primitive dogs. In this article, Molly Sumner shares some of her experiences living with and training several kinds of primitive dogs. This is a must-read for anyone that works directly with or intends to work with primitive dog breeds.


2. Top 7 High-Value Training Treats

One of the must-have skills of a talented professional dog trainer that utilizes positive methods is to truly understand what motivates a dog. Each dog is different and is motivated by different rewards. In this particular post, our contributor Liz Wyant identified seven popular high-value treats that professionals or dog owners can use to motivate and train the dogs they are working with.


3. How To Socialize Puppies Before Getting Them Fully Vaccinated

It’s clear that raising a puppy correctly helps prevent many behavior problems in the first place which helps to explain why this post is ever popular. Getting your or your client’s puppy out for socialziation during the critical early socialization periods is very important, but it can be challenging to do it without putting the puppy in health compromising situations. In this post, contributor Jorge Melara shares some professional tips for puppy socialization.


4. Top 10 Dog Training Conferences for 2017

At the end of each year Kat Camplin, our long-time contributor and podcast co-host, rounds up a list of highly anticipated conferences for the upcoming year. It’s no surprise that this post is still one of the most popular posts of the year. Looking into 2018 conferences? Check out our Top Animal Behavior Conferences of 2018 post.


5. 5 Great Games To Play In Your Obedience Class

Professional dog trainers are always looking to improve their lessons and classes. One of the best ways to get students to utilize their newly learned skills is to have them play games with their dogs. In this post, Monica Callahan lists out several games professional dog trainers can use in their obedience classes to improve their student’s mechanical training skills.


6. Review Of The Perfect Fit Harness

Professional dog trainers are always on the look out for the best and latest equipment that might help them better manage a dog. Setting a dog up to make the right choices is critical in making lasting behavior changes. In this post, contributor Lisa White shared her thoughts about the Perfect Fit Harness.


7. Mental Stimulation Ideas For Dogs

Another trick professional dog trainers often use to improve behavior, increase confidence, and reduce boredom is to utilize toys and games to increase mental stimulation. In this post, Laurie Schlossnagle shares some of her favorite ways to mentally challenge dogs.


8. How To Choose A Dog Training Business Name

One of the first thoughts that goes through a new dog trainer’s mind when they decide to start their own business is, “what should I call my business?!” It’s an important decision because it cannot be easily changed so in this post Kat shares some critical things to consider before deciding on a business name.


9. Top 5 Favorite Dog Harnesses For Training

Every trainer has their favorite harness. In this post, Lisa takes a look at several force-free harness options that allow better control over the dog without sacrificing the dog’s comfort.


10. Three Ways To Teach Relaxation

Until I got deep into the science of dog training and animal learning theory, the thought that I could teach an animal to relax never crossed my mind. Since I’ve learned how to train this skill, it’s one of my go-to strategies when working with high-anxiety, impulsive, and reactive dogs. In this article, Monica shares three different strategies you can use to teach your dogs or your clients’ dogs to relax at home or in class.


How Dog Trainers Should Handle Dogs With Bite Histories

How Dog Trainers Should Handle Dogs With Bite Histories

Ultimately, especially when you’re first starting out as a dog trainer, you don’t know what you don’t know – in so many ways. In this post, I’m taking a look at how amateur and professional dog trainers should handle dogs that have a known bite history. I’ll share some insights about how a known bite history affects their training tactics, intake questions, management, and more.

Top 5 States With The Most Dog Bite Claims

First, as a professional dog trainer, you should be aware that dog bite claims are on the rise – up by 15% since the previous year according to State Farm. Based on these stats, we are seeing that people are starting to take legal action if a dog misbehaves and hurts another human or animal.

Whether you’re working with a family that was court ordered to complete dog training or a family that’s on its last leg with a dog that’s bitten multiple relatives, there are some precautions you need to take and be aware of the liabilities you’re taking on.

dog bite claims in 2016

Stats from:

In my experience, many dog trainers don’t possess an insurance policy that covers them in some common scenarios that leave them vulnerable. Are you covered in case a dog you’ve worked with in the past reacts badly to someone? Or if that dog injures someone else while you’re out and about training? I share a list of questions in my 12-Week Start Your Own Dog Training Business course you can ask your insurance provider to determine if you’re appropriately covered for common situations that might arise as a dog trainer. You need to make sure you’ve got the right insurance to protect yourself and your business.

Additionally, it’s interesting to note that this increase in dog bite claims could eventually impact you as a dog trainer as insurance costs could increase due to the greater risk of taking on cases with a known bite history. It is definitely something to keep an eye on as our industry matures.

Cities With The Most Postal Workers Bitten By Dogs

Another interesting stat to look at is attacks on postal workers. Los Angeles, Houston, Cleveland, San Diego, and Louisville are the top cities with the most postal workers bitten by dogs. In LA alone, there were 200 more attacks than the previous year. As more and more people adopt dogs, these numbers are likely to rise if education about dog care and training isn’t provided to the community. As dog trainers, we can help educate the public, government, and even postal workers about dogs and dog behavior. Starting up an educational program for your local community could be a great way to become a go-to dog expert in your area.

Stats from:

Now, if you know you’re ready to begin working with aggression cases, take into consideration the following recommendations for a successful behavior modification case.

Express The Severity And Seriousness Of The Dog’s Behavior

Many dog owners, especially small dog owners, do not quite understand the severity of dog aggression. They do not understand that their dog could potentially cause injuries to small children, injury or death to other pets, and even legal action against them for negligence. When working with someone that has an aggressive dog with a known bite history, it is your duty as the professional in the situation to share the risks of continuing on with and without training now that the dog has already hurt someone.

Dr Risë VanFleet shares some thoughts on what to do when someone contacts you regarding a dog with a history of aggression:

My first step would be to write back indicating this sounds like a VERY serious and urgent situation, and that you would urge [the client] to set up an appointment immediately so she doesn’t end up with serious injury and legal issues with the visiting family or her own children. I would put a timeline for a response. “I urge you to call me by phone today from _____ to _____.”

–  Risë VanFleet, Ph. D., RPT-S, CDBC

Expressing the severity of the case to your client should also help with compliance and commitment if they decide to move forward with training their dog.

Be Familiar With Your State And Local Dangerous Dog Law

Understanding your state and local dangerous dog laws are important when working with aggressive dogs. To find yours, go to and search “State And Local Dangerous Dog Law [state or city].” You could even reach out to your local animal control officers to see if they have any specific resources they could point you to. As a professional, it is your responsibility to be up to date on the latest laws and regulations in your community to help your clients and understand the risks involved.

Professionalism And Client Confidentiality

Though you should be respectful and keep client information confidential on a day-to-day basis as a professional dog trainer, we are not legally obligated to keep client discussions or cases confidential from police when one’s life is in danger. A common scenario like this is when potential clients or current clients whose dogs are posing a threat to children in the home. After discussing the severity of the situation with the client, if they fail to take action to protect the person in harm’s way, you may want to report it to local authorities.

You may not need to tell the client in some cases since a report only brings attention to the situation and begins the investigation process. However, you should not take reporting lightly.

It can disrupt lives, so [you] have a responsibility to check out everything as much as [you] can and avoid jumping to conclusions.

–  Risë VanFleet, Ph. D., RPT-S, CDBC

Reporting A Dog Owner’s Negligence To Authorities

It is unfortunate, but many of us will come across dog owners that don’t take their dog’s behavior as seriously as we do. There are some situations in which you should call the appropriate authorities and report your cause for concern of the dog’s threat to the community.

In many states, there are penalties for NOT reporting child abuse or endangerment, so this would need to be considered as well for others reading along.

“Approximately 48 States, the District of Columbia, American Samoa, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, and the Virgin Islands impose penalties on mandatory reporters who knowingly or willfully fail to make a report when they suspect that a child is being abused or neglected.” –

Information You Should Gather On A Dog With A Bite History

  • Vet and medical history, shot records, etc.
  • Bites, severity, frequency, targets, scenarios, ER visits, etc.
  • Whether or not the dog has been reported as a dangerous dog before.

Your new client intake form should ask questions about the dog’s diet, the dog’s past behavior history, the owner’s lifestyle, the dog’s medical history, and much more. Asking questions not only gives you a better understanding of the context of the dog’s behavior, but you just might spur some old memories from the client that may be unexpectedly relevant to the dog’s behavior changes or issues.

I recently put together a bundle of templates for new (and experienced) dog trainers. This bundle includes a New Client Intake Form, Reactivity Intake Form, Bite History Intake Form, Resource Guarding Intake Form, and six more templates that every dog trainer can use on a daily basis to work with their clients. I recommend you check out my New Dog Training Business Template Bundle.

Taking on aggression cases is not to be taken lightly. Check out our article from dog aggression expert, Rachel Golub, CDBC, CPDT-KA, on how to know if you’re ready to take them on. Read: Don’t Get In Over Your Head When You’re Starting Out


Uses for Interactive Pet Cameras in Dog Training

Uses for Interactive Pet Cameras in Dog Training

Petcams, like nanny-cams, are the next big thing in the pet industry. Beyond their entertainment value, there are some real reasons to get one and encourage your clients to get one too.

Benefits Of Pet Cameras In Dog Training

At first glance, petcams appear to be mostly for entertainment and for pet owners to talk or view their pets while they’re away at work or vacation. However, after having the opportunity to use a petcam for my own dogs, I quickly discovered there were many more reasons to have a petcam, especially as it relates to dog training.

Dog Behavior Observation – You can use a petcam to observe a dog’s behavior while the owners are away to screen for separation anxiety, reactivity, or destructive behavior. Getting insights into what the antecedent to a behavior is will drastically help your dog training results.

Marketing Your Dog Training Business – As a dog trainer, you could get a petcam to live-stream your dog training classes online or to live-stream training sessions during a board and train program. Showing customers what goes on behind closed doors builds trust in you and your business to create passionate fans and returning customers.

Interrupting Behavior – Many petcams now allow you to talk to a dog on the other side of the screen. You can use this feature to interrupt barking or other destructive behavior right when it happens, even if no one is home. Of course, interrupting behavior is only a temporary solution and a proper behavior modification plan should be in place, but this could be helpful.

Features To Look For In A Petcam

Sound Detection – One of the benefits of a petcam is to detect when the dog is barking or reacting to outside disturbances. Unless you plan on staring at the petcam every minute while you’re away, a petcam that can detect sound can be a really great way to keep tabs on the activity within your or your clients home.

Motion Detection – It can be very helpful to know if a dog is lying calmly throughout the day or pacing repeatedly to determine their level of anxiety while being left alone. Choosing a petcam that can detect not only sound but also motion is key for using one in dog training.

Two-Way Communication  – If you’re interested in using a petcam to interrupt behaviors initially, you should look for a camera that has two-way communication. You’ll want to be able to hear what noise is going on in the background that may be causing the disturbance and  talk to the dog to redirect their attention. Two-way communication is a key part of using a petcam for dog training.

Wide-Angle View – A wide-angle view allows you to see more of the room. This allows you to see things that the dog might be doing in the corner of the room or see what they’re staring at outside.

Live Steaming! – As a professional dog trainer, you could even use a petcam to promote your business and live stream any aspect of your day! You should find a camera that allows you to regularly schedule live broadcasts or at least lets you toggle on or off the live stream option.

Our Experience With The Petcube a Remote Wi-Fi Pet Camera | Pet Monitor System

Every once in a while, I get a request from a company to do a product review. I don’t accept all products as that isn’t the main point of this blog, but sometimes I see a product that interests me and that I think would interest my readers. The Petcube is one of those products I didn’t want to pass up and I’m glad I didn’t.

(You can get your own Petcube by going through this affiliate link to get $10 off:

The Petcube had more uses and value than I had initially expected. Since I work from home, I don’t often leave the house for long periods of time so I hadn’t thought about getting a petcam before.

The Petcube was surprisingly small (it’s only 3x3ix3 in). It easily fit in the palm of my hand and was stationed on my current entertainment center without being an eye sore. Its design in the shape of a box is both modern and stable so you don’t have to worry about knocking it over.

It has 1080p HD video with 138° wide angle view and daytime and automatic nighttime mode so you always have visibility of what’s going on. You can choose your own settings for motion detection, sound detection, recording videos or not, notifications of activity, and much more.

The setup was extremely easy and they have a great setup walk through with the app. Everything about the camera is controlled on the app on your Android or iPhone. One thing to note is that since it is app-based, you can’t view the video online unless you start a live Facebook stream.

Here’s a video from the Petcube showing the quality of the video and the wide-angle view.


Here’s another quick video to demonstrate their neat night mode option.



The user interface of the Petcube app is pretty user friendly. Settings can be found in a couple different locations, but I think they are making improvements to that. You can share your camera with their integrated social network.

You can register in the app whether or not you have a Petcube. Once registered, you can also view or interact with other people’s pets, not just your own. Thankfully, you have total control over who sees your pets and how they are able to interact with them.



One feature of the Petcube that I wouldn’t recommend using is the built-in laser. They included this with the “Petcube Play” version, but as many dog trainers know, dogs can become light sensitive and begin obsessing over lights and lasers.

I tried out the talking feature to see what my dog’s reaction would be. They heard my voice, stood up, looked around confused, and whined a bit because they did not understand where my voice was coming from. It was briefly entertaining but I wouldn’t continue it because it would increase my dog’s anxiety while I’m away which is the opposite of what I want. Additionally, their obedience cues have not been proofed to the point of just hearing the sound of my voice.


Benefits of the Petcube

Schedule When You Stream – The Petcube allows you to schedule when you’d like to share the video from your petcam to stream online and you can even stream right to Facebook. As a dog trainer, you could schedule training demonstrations or simply broadcast a group class so that potential customers can see what they’re missing out on. This could be a unique, fun way to promote your services to potential clients and stand out from other training facilities.

Motion Detection, Sound Detection & Two-Way Communication – The Petcube and its various settings allow you to keep track of the activity that matters most to you and utilize it in a multitude of ways depending on what you need for training.

Get the Petcube Bites – This upcoming new version of the Petcube offers a treat delivery feature which further increases its value as a dog training tool. With this new feature, it will become a powerful competitor to the PetTutor. The treat delivery itself is unique in that it doesn’t simply drop a treat, it tosses it so you can see the dog catch and enjoy the treat.

You can learn more about the Petcube petcams and get your own Petcube by going through this affiliate link to get $10 off:

What petcams are you fond of? Leave us a comment below!

7 Important Parts of a Successful Dog Training Group Class

7 Important Parts of a Successful Dog Training Group Class

Group dog training classes are one of the most popular ways that dog trainers interact with their clients. Group classes allow past clients to come back to refresh their skills, new clients to get started in basic dog training, and for private lesson clients to grow their skills and their dog’s skills around more distractions.

There are a variety of group classes you could hold. Some dog trainers start with basic puppy and obedience classes then progress to group tricks classes or nosework classes. More experienced dog trainers hold reactive dog classes or confidence building classes for overly-shy dogs and their clients.

Why Teach Group Dog Training Classes?

Group classes help owners receive dog training help at a reduced cost since group classes are typically less expensive than private, one-to-one lessons. Classes also allow your clients to meet others in their situation which is great when they are struggling and need some encouragement. As a dog trainer holding group classes, you have the power to reach many more people and you can work to create a real, connected community to help you build a successful, sustainable dog training business.

When you’re first starting out, some important pieces of a great group class may elude you. Unless you’ve observed a mentor or taken a group class yourself (and perhaps even if you have), you may not be aware of some of the critical aspects of a successful dog training group class. Here are some recommendations to help you make it the best experience possible for your students.

1. Initial Written Expectations

Start by thinking about what your clients want to get out of the class. What do they want to be able to do with their dogs? Put clear expectations about what will be expected of them to achieve this result. In a welcome email, you can include information about where the class will be held, when you’ll meet, what they should bring, and you could even go into specifics such as how they should enter or exit the room to avoid dog-dog confrontations. The more detailed and specific you are, the more organized you’ll appear and the more prepared your clients will be.

(Related Article: How to Prevent Overwhelm and Increase Compliance in New Dog Training Clients)

You’ll want to send out expectations via email a couple of times before the class begins. I would never expect someone to read an email I send out less than 48hours before a class. You can also request a reply to your email to confirm all the students have received it and it didn’t end up in their spam folder. If you request a reply and don’t receive one, follow up with a phone call to make sure they read the instructions and are aware that you’ll be sending communication via email.

Well thought out expectations and communication is key to a successful group class.

2. Space

Find a space for your group dog training classes that will help dogs and their owners feel safe and comfortable. Think about ways you can improve the level of comfort in the class. Should you offer chairs? Should you ask students to bring a non-slip mat for their dogs? Should you bring visual barriers to help dogs keep calm?

Control the space your students are occupying by placing markers or barriers between them to make sure everyone stays at a safe distance from each other.

3. Curriculum

When deciding on your curriculum, consider your student’s experience. Will students in your class know the mechanical skills required to train their dogs already? Do they know what positive reinforcement is and how it works? If not, you’ll want to have a sort of orientation to get your students acquainted with how dogs learn, dog body language, what is and isn’t realistic when it comes to their behavior, and more. Once your students understand the way they’ll be training, then you can coach them on how to utilize this information to train their own dogs.

There are hundreds of choices when it comes to group class curriculum. You can create your own from scratch or collaborate with other trainers that are willing to share what they have.

A fairly common curriculum I’ve seen is Sue Ailsby’s Training Levels Program. The first few levels are a great starting point for basic obedience and dog sports.

For reactive dog classes, I’d strongly recommend reading Emma Parson’s book, “Teaching the Reactive Dog Class: Leading the Journey from Reactivity to Reliability.

You can hold classes with a specific start and end date or you could host open enrollment classes that allow you to continuously accept new students in your class.

4. Confidence

Make sure you are confident enough to speak in front of a few other people and lead them through the steps of the curriculum.

Project your voice. Have the confidence to let your voice be heard. You know more about dogs and dog training than anyone else in the room. Your students have already invested their time and money to listen to you speak so speak with confidence and project your voice so that everyone can clearly hear what you have to say.

Step in when a student is struggling. A group class should always have a few minutes of one-to-one attention so that each student can be successful. Step in when you see a student getting frustrated or annoyed at their dog before things escalate too much.

Ask students to listen. If you have any chatty-Cathys in your class or children that are being disruptive, do not be afraid to redirect their attention for the sake of the whole class. Other students appreciate it when the teach asks for order – they’ve all paid to listen to you teach, not listen to anyone else. If you can’t control the class, your students will have an unpleasant experience and may not return.

Let people know when they should be listening and when they should be practicing with a signal. You can even use a visual (red light/green light card) or an audible bell to let people know when to begin otherwise some may get distracted or start practicing before you’re done instructing. This signal only improves communication and expectations.

5. Games

If your students are starting to master the material, have a few games up your sleeve to increase the difficulty and level of fun. There’s a book with many different games you can play in your group dog training classes called “Gamify Your Dog Training” by Terry Ryan.

6. Community

In a group classes, unlike with private instruction, you can great a really fun sense of community. I would even argue that this benefit of group classes is underutilized by most dog trainers, but it can be critical for building long-lasting relationships with your clients that keep them coming back for more. Get people talking to each other and make real connections with your students so that they feel supported and want to come back.

7. Next Steps For Students

Part of creating a great experience for your students is having a clear next-step to take with their dog so that they aren’t left without direction. Take the lead and introduce some possible next steps for your group class graduates. Will you offer a Level 2? A class with more games or even a beginner dog sport class to keep people motivated and practicing? Will you offer an ongoing meetup they can attend with their newly well-behaved dog? Will you offer additional private lessons to help them overcome specific scenarios they’re struggling with? What next steps should your students take to continue working with you?

Offering ongoing services either in group form or private lesson form is important to maintain your income as a dog trainer. Many people, including me when I first started out, rarely work with clients again after their initial goals have been met. How can you position your services to help your clients maintain their dog’s training while you continue to generate income over time for your business?

6 Places to Get a (Fairly) Formal Education In Dog Training

6 Places to Get a (Fairly) Formal Education In Dog Training

With so many different resources about how to become a dog trainer out there, it is difficult to pick which program is going to provide you with a quality, up-to-date education on dog training. Below I’m listing a few programs that I’ve either taken myself or have had trusted friends take and enjoy. These programs will teach you how to train dogs with lessons on the science of animal learning and training.

If you already know how to train dogs, but you’re interested in a course that will teach you how to run a successful dog training business, check out my 12-week Start Your Own Dog Training Business Course.

Have a favorite program you’d like to add to the list? Leave it in the comments section below!

1) The Academy for Dog Trainers

In 1999, Jean Donaldson founded the Academy for Dog Trainers. Jean Donaldson’s book, The Culture Clash, was ranked #1 for training and behavior by The Association of Pet Dog Trainers. This school for dog trainers is one of the most highly acclaimed schools out there for professional dog trainers.  The Academy for Dog Trainers now has many instructors including several world renowned dog behavior experts.

The Academy is virtual so you can take the courses from anywhere with a laptop. They include weekly webinars and discussions to further develop a sense of community and utilize video coaching to practice training mechanics. If you’re interested in getting a thorough dog training education from the ground up, this is a great choice.

2) Susan Friedman’s Living and Learning With Animals Course

I took this course a few years ago and I would deem this as an absolute necessity for all animal trainers as it dives into the basic principles of learning theory, applied behavior analysis, and science-based animal training. This course is college-level and has a great online community forum to discuss ideas and work through the program.

Homework is assigned out weekly and the short-answer format allows you to explain your logic behind your answers. The instructor’s assistant then evaluates your answer and gives you a few more possibilities or scenarios to think about. In the end, you take a short answer exam that brings together all the information you learned in the course. I have no doubt that this single course contributed greatly to my ability to handle and understand animal behavior issues. This is truly a great critical thinking course that all animal trainers should take.

3) IAABC Courses

Or more specifically, the Animal Behavior Consulting Principles & Practice is a great place for you to get a comprehensive overview of what it takes to take on behavior cases. You start with the basics of animal learning, applied behavior analysis, and what it means to be an animal behavior consultant.

“The IAABC Animal Behavior Consulting Principles & Practice Course is a unique twelve-week, multi-module course providing a comprehensive overview of the many facets of animal behavior consulting for all species.” You’ll learn from several different instructors, all of which are well-respected as experts within our industry, throughout the course which allows you to grasp different perspectives on animal behavior as you go through it.

Be sure to let them know The Modern Dog Trainer sent you on the form if you register.

6) Karen Pryor Academy

The Karen Pryor Academy or KPA is extremely well-known in the dog training industry. They are the go-to experts for clicker training around the world. As a participant, you’re also provided with marketing materials and lesson plans to help your dog training business get off the ground.

This course sticks to clicker training foundations and advanced level skills. Something to keep in mind is that while I love applying clicker training concepts to address and change a dog’s emotional state for behavior issues such as reactivity, this is something I learned from mentors and isn’t something that is taught in the academy.

If you’re considering training service dogs, training trick dogs, or sticking to basic obedience training, their Dog Trainer Professional Program is definitely a great course to take.

5) Victoria Stilwell Academy

The Victoria Stilwell Academy teaches dog training foundations as well as how to manage and communicate with clients and run a successful business. VSA’s Dog Trainer Course requires two trips for “intensives” where you’ll test out your new training knowledge and skills under the supervision of instructors and mentors. This course only occurs a couple times a year, but is hosted in the USA and the UK.

You can see starting course dates and learn more about her program here.

6) Become a Pro Dog Trainer by Sarah Filipiak

Sarah’s new 6-week online course walks you through the core principles of professional dog training. She teaches the foundations you’ll need to know to train dogs. You’ll also learn about dog body language and how to choose which training technique based on the dog in front of you. This course comes with a 6-week dog training course curriculum you can start using immediately and several handouts.

Have a favorite program you’d like to add to the list? Leave it in the comments section below!

Looking into starting your own dog training business? Grab our free eBook, “10 Common Mistakes New Dog Trainers Make With Their Businesses.”

If you’re thinking about starting your own dog training business, take advantage of this free eBook to avoid some detrimental mistakes that many dog trainers make.

Are you spending your time on the right tasks to grow your business? Are you worried about making continuous income throughout the year? Will your business be sustainable for years to come? Prepare yourself with the help of this eBook!

Why Dog Potty Training Fails: Helping Your Clients Through The Mess

Why Dog Potty Training Fails: Helping Your Clients Through The Mess

One of the most frequent problems dog training professionals face is potty training failure. Clients are getting incomplete information from a number of sources: online searches, Veterinarians, friends, and previous experience. A lot of these sources conflict, so clients are cobbling together a plan and it doesn’t always work. Let’s help them out.

Potty Training Basics

At it’s core, potty training is teaching dogs that when they feel pressure in their bladder or bowels they go to a specific place to relieve it. This requires some specific skills, both on the human and dog end.

Dog Potty TrainingHuman Skills:

  • Predict when there is a high probability of the dog needing to relieve themselves.
  • Showing the dog where they would like the dog to relieve themselves.
  • Teaching a signal that dog can use to ask to go to the location.
  • Reinforcing the dog for relieving themselves in the correct location.
  • Looking at failure as a failure in the plan, not in the dog.

Dog Skills:

  • Must have muscle tone enough to hold urine or feces long enough to get to the proper location.
  • Must know the route to the proper location from all household locations.
  • Must be able to signal to humans to open a door if a dog door is not available.
  • Must be able to recognize the substrate as something they can relieve themselves on.

The Problem With Potty Pads

One of the most frequent problems I see is when clients are using potty pads. They’re using pads for a number of reasons, so asking “why” is very important. A lot of clients are using them because outside is unsafe and they’re waiting for full vaccination before teaching the dog to go out. Some have busy households and they can’t quite spend enough time watching the dog carefully.

First, clients are teaching dogs to go to the wrong location from the beginning. If one of the skills is knowing the proper route to the appropriate place, they’re teaching the wrong one. Clients also frequently splash potty pads all over the house, so that “one location,” is now understood to be the entire house. If the client is set on using potty pads make sure it is located as close to the door the dog will need to exit to go out when they are ready.

Second, potty pads contain a “dog attractant.” Since dogs use their sense of smell to tell them where they should relieve themselves, clients are teaching the wrong smell from the beginning. If the client is set on using potty pads make sure they use the dog’s scent instead of the attractant to teach them where to go. This means leaving feces and urine for a bit and making sure the pad is large enough for the dog to relieve themselves on the other end.

Finally, dogs seem confused by the substrate and similar household items like rugs. The non-woven fabric layer contains cotton, which is also in a lot of rugs and clothing, so there can be confusion when smelling for that perfect spot. Again, scenting the pads can help dogs understand what smell they should be looking for. Translating this to outside, they will mark and over-mark their last spots.

Learning The Routes

Clients are obviously worried about accidents between the time they know the dog has to relieve themselves and getting to the right spot. This means dogs are frequently carried to the spot instead of learning to walk it on their own. This is particularly common with puppies and small dogs.

Make sure the client is letting the dog walk. If they have had problems with accidents make it a fun Run To The Door party, so the dog is learning to walk or run quickly to the exit. Make sure the client is doing this from multiple locations in the house, not just the pen or crate area.

A Really Big Signal

The most common breakdown is when dogs need to ask the human to open a door so they can get to the right location. Most people expect dogs to figure this out themselves, but what ends up happening is a quiet dog sitting next to a door that no one sees. Dogs also come up with destructive signals such as scratching or loud barking.

Talk about what works for your client. Bells in either manual or electronic form almost always work and can travel with clients on vacations and outings if needed. Some clients like the bark, so teaching the dog to Speak! would be needed. No matter what the signal, it’s important to teach it as a separate skill. Signal = Door Opens.

Teaching a bell is great for passive learning. The human rings the bell, opens the door, and takes the dog out. Most dogs learn that the bell opens the door in a week or two all on their own. If you need to teach the bell ringing as a skill, watch the dog interact with some targets first. Do they use their nose or their paw? Choose the one they use most often and make sure the bell is hung low enough for them to use that body part.

Make sure clients aren’t asking for a Sit before the door opens unless the door opens into an unsafe environment. We want the Signal to mean the door opens, and asking for patience with a sit may delay the door opening to the point of an accident happening.

Understanding The Right Spot

There are a myriad of reasons why a dog might not want to use the right spot to relieve themselves. Substrate preference, wetness, competing smells, and fear responses can impede potty training to the right location.

If at all possible start training on the substrate the client would like them to eventually use. If you’re training a puppy or small dog without muscle tone to hold it yet, still try to replicate the substrate. This means instead of potty pads you’re going to use a litter box with the appropriate material. Sod pieces and gravel are much easier to clean and cheaper to replace than potty pads. In a perfect world this is close to the eventual exit door, but puppies may need one close to their sleeping location for middle of the night potty breaks.

It’s important to keep the right location scented but clean. This means not picking feces up right away so the area is scented, but no leaving it so long that the area is soiled. If there is more than one dog in the household make sure that they both are comfortable using the area. Some dogs aren’t keen to over-mark other dogs, so they may need their own spot. If there is wildlife in the area, make sure the area is cleaned or watered a few times a week if the dog is suddenly reluctant to go when they had previously gone.

Outdoors can be scary. Dogs outside during fireworks or thunder or trash trucks can associate the location they heard the sound with the sound. Dogs can also be afraid of the dark, so they may go out during the day but after dark have a problem. Dissecting fear responses can take some time, but desensitizing the sound or adding more light in the yard can get the dog back to a place of feeling safe.

Distractions can impede potty training. Be sure that during the learning phase that Door Opens = Go Potty First is taught from the beginning. Getting to sniff and zoom and play should come after they’ve relieve themselves. This may mean using a leash to prevent the dog getting distracted until potty has happened, then the leash comes off and the dog can roam and play as they like. For some dogs coming back in is boring, so make sure you pay attention to what the dog is communicating about staying outside vs. going inside. If they are reluctant to go back inside, make inside play time. Toys fly, food mysteriously appears to be hunted, and it’s fun to be indoors.

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