5 Training Games for Puppy Classes

5 Training Games for Puppy Classes

Everyone loves good puppy classes. Cute, fluffy, little bundles of fur with their stinky breath and corn chip smelling feet. Most students come to class already having begun the basic behaviors. While those are important and key to any dog training class here are a few training games to incorporate into class to strengthen those basic behaviors while having fun.


Image via Bessey's Positive Paws recall games

Image via Bessey’s Positive Paws

5 Fun Games to Play During Puppy Classes

Crazy to Calm

When the bait bag and clicker come out those puppies line right up in front of their owners and pay close attention to what is being asked. They stay calm and attentive and excel at learning behaviors. What’s happening though, is that the pups aren’t learning how to still do those behaviors when they are amped up. Crazy to calm does just that. Play with the puppy for a set amount of time, jazzing them up to a level where they are rowdy but not completely out of control. After the time is up, stop playing and wait for the pup to calm down and ideally offer a sit. It is okay when your puppy is new to this game to cue them to sit the first few times but ultimately we want them to be able to offer it on their own. If we cue too much our dogs begin to rely on us to tell them what to do in any given situation, whereas when we allow them to offer the behavior it becomes more reliable.

Once your puppy is calm and sitting you will continue to reward your pup for staying put. Then you will release him with “Free.”  Always remember to release your puppy when done. Crazy to calm will help teach impulse control, stay, and how to quickly calm themselves in excitable situations.

Puppy Ping Pong

Majority of owners will prioritize the behaviors they want their puppy to learn with coming when called being first, if not second to walking on leash. Puppy ping pong is a great game to play to build a knee jerk reaction to hearing their name and running towards their owner. The game can include 2 or more people. Each person will have a handful of delicious meaty high value treats. One at a time someone will call the puppy, be very exciting and happy to encourage the puppy to run fast towards them. Once the puppy reaches the person calling they will touch the dog’s collar and then reward with the meaty treat. Encourage clients to give 1 to 3 treats, one at a time to avoid having a puppy dine and dash (knowing they will only receive one treat, grab it and run off to the next person). Stress the importance of being able to touch the dog’s collar because it can save the dogs life. A recall is no good if you can’t actually get a hold of the dog if you are alongside a busy road.

Have another person call the puppy and reward the same way. The puppy will run back and forth between the people playing learning that coming when called results in fun and that he gets delicious stinky treats.

Catch Me If You Can

Another game to strengthen the recall and to help with leash walking. When a puppy has something he shouldn’t or doesn’t come when we call, we move towards him to get him. With a puppy this often prompts a fun game of chase. How extremely annoying for the owner. Catch Me If You Can turns the table on the puppy and teaches him it is more fun to catch up to us than to be pursued. In a safe space or with your puppy on leash move away from him encouraging him to follow you. When he moves in your direction you stop, let him catch you, mark it and reward with high value treats. While the puppy is eating the treat move away again in another direction, encourage him to move after you. Mark and treat. The point of stopping before the puppy actually catches up is to prevent having a puppy bite at pant legs or jump at the person running.

Pass the Puppy

Who doesn’t love to cuddle a puppy. Have the trainer take one puppy away from their owner. Have the person who is without a puppy move and take the puppy to their right and so on until everyone has someone else’s puppy. Pass the puppy is great for socializing the puppy and have them get used to other people handling them in a positive environment. People handling can ask for a simple behavior, give treats and just play.

Hide and Seek

If you have equipment in the training room or places where the owner can go out of sight, hide and seek is a good game to play to help with recalls. This game teaches dogs that they need to listen to their handlers as much as look for them. It encourages owners to stay upbeat and pushes their dogs to find them because recalls aren’t always as easy as saying “Come” and then quietly standing by for the dog to find them.

I like to remind clients that everything we teach our puppy is a trick but to us we take some more serious than others. Playing these games will help take those serious behaviors and keep them fun for us and our pups and make them strong, reliable behaviors.

Do you have other games you play in puppy classes?

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Teaming Up With A Rescue

Teaming Up With A Rescue

teaming up with a rescue as a dog trainer

At some point in a dog trainer’s career, they are going to get approached by a rescue asking to work with them for a discount.  How do you decide if this is a wise decision?

Are You Willing?

This is the often the hardest decision.  Are you willing to discount your prices, possibly drastically, to assist a rescue with their fosters and adopters?  This is a personal decision that nobody can make for you.  Is it going to impact the time you can spend with full-cost clients?  Are you going to offer to help a limited number of hours/fosters a week?  Are you going to offer a discounted rate not only to current fosters that the rescue is paying for, but also adopters from that rescue?

Is It A Reputable Rescue?

There are dozens, if not hundreds, of rescues in every big city.  How do you determine which ones you are willing to attach your name to?  As a modern dog trainer, you are probably passionate about using only force-free methods.  Does your potential rescue affiliate feel the same way, or will they be alternating between you and a more aversive trainer?  That can be confusing for both the dogs and the fosters trying to work with them, so you need to decide if it’s worth laying out restrictions that dogs you work with can ONLY work with you.  Or decide if you want to skip that rescue entirely if they are not willing to commit to force-free training.

Are You Confident Referring To Other Trainers?

There are a great many dogs out there with serious issues – aggression to dogs/people/small furry animals, resource guarding, separation anxiety, etc.  If you do not have enough experience to safely and effectively work with these animals, are you confident in admitting that?  And do you have the trainer connections to be able to refer the rescue to another trainer that can work with those issues?

Can You Handle The Emotional Baggage?

Rescues have limited resources.  Because of this, they may not have the money or dedicated fosters required to work through some longer-term issues like reactivity or separation anxiety.  This means the dogs may get shuffled to another rescue (and possibly a harsher trainer), or they may get euthanized.  Are you going to be able to handle knowing that a dog you worked with got euthanized because you couldn’t “fix” it in the allotted time frame?

Choosing to work with a rescue is a big commitment.  However, if you can find a good rescue, you may find that your clientele increases, offsetting your reduced rate, because they recommend you to their adopters.  You’ll have the pleasure of watching foster homes learn how to train humanely, and see dogs with less than perfect prior lives come out of their shells or learn to stay home alone or walk nicely on leash.  You’ll have great satisfaction when you see one of the dogs you worked with get into an amazing home, and you know that you helped with that.  It’s not a decision to be made lightly, but it can be immensely fulfilling.

What tips do you have for working with rescues?

5 Smart Business Partnerships To Build

5 Smart Business Partnerships To Build

dog training Business Partnerships

As a modern dog trainer, we are always looking for ways to expand our training and make it fun for our clients. Dogs are becoming a bigger part of our community, and we are looking for many different ways to include our furry friends in our lives. Consider teaming up with other local businesses to offer some new, fresh classes for your clients. Consider these 5 smart business partnerships.

1. Fitness Instructors

Working out can be hard for some people, however, the thought of doing it with their best four legged friend makes it a little bit easier. Consider teaming up with a fitness instructor and offering a workout class that includes their dog and some training to go along with it. Getting exercise is important for both the owner and the dog, and doing so in a safe environment is very appealing to people. Yoga, dancing, and strength training are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to including dogs in workout classes.

2. Doulas/Parenting Instructors

Consider teaming up with someone who offers support to new parents or parents-to-be. Expecting parents are often very nervous about how their house is going to change once the new baby arrives. Consider ‘Introducing Baby’ or ‘Preparing For Baby’ classes that you can run together and offer to clients. Bradley or Lamaze teachers may even be interested in bringing you in for a session during their class periods.

3. Local Pet Stores

Local pet stores are a great business partnership to make. Not only can some of them offer class space, but they can offer a great place to send clients for training supplies if you do not sell merchandise yourself. In return, the pet stores can advertise your classes or business by hanging signs, inserting handouts into bags, or including you in store functions. Consider including their store as a stop in your ‘Out and About’ classes where you work on behaviors in the real world.

4. Local Artists/Art Shops

There are many different places that could fit the bill for an art shop. Get creative and see about having classes where owners can paint with their dogs, whether it be on canvas or pottery. Work on teaching the dog how to dip their own paws in paint, or how to hold a paint brush.

5. Restaurants With Outside Patios

Usually restaurants allow dogs on their outside patios, however making a business partnership with a restaurant can lead to a ‘Dog’s Night Out’. Have a night where your students can come and bring their dogs, enjoy dinner together, and practice their manners in a public setting. This can be a refreshing evening for your students who have dogs that suffer from separation anxiety and may not be able to get out much.

These are only a few examples of partnerships that can lead to fun, new classes. Get creative and think about who you already know. Can they help create a new class for you? What other partnerships have you considered or do you already have?

Introducing A New Cat To A Resident Dog

Introducing A New Cat To A Resident Dog

The old saying of “fighting like cats and dogs” does not have to be a reality.  With a little bit of patience and management, your clients’ dogs can learn to accept new cats into the household.  Help your client work through these steps and soon they may have the joy of seeing their dog and cat snuggling together in bed.

I will be sharing my own experience of integrating my rescued cat, Malcolm, in with my American Pit Bull Terrier, Inara.

Malcolm and Inara

Malcolm and Inara

Day 1 – The Grand Arrival

Just like when bringing home a new dog, cats can also benefit from a decompression period.  Whether they were a stray, or came from a shelter, or a foster home, or a pet store, or wherever, cats don’t like change.  The new cat will really appreciate a chance to settle in with some peace and quiet to learn the smells, sounds, and activities of its new home.  I did this by setting up my spare room for Malcolm.  He had food, water, a litterbox, and comfy blankets to lie on.  I would take a book and just go in and read, sitting on the floor, while he explored his new room and me.  When he solicited attention I’d give it to him, but I didn’t push it on him.

It’s important to make sure the bedroom door remains firmly shut though.  We want the cat and dog to be able to hear and smell each other without being able to touch.

It is so important give the dog plenty of attention during this period.  Sometimes it’s easy to get caught up in the wonders of a new pet and spend all your time with the new arrival.  Do spend plenty of time with the new cat, but don’t neglect your other pets.

Baby Gates Are Your New Best Friend

When both the cat and dog seem relaxed with the situation, you can move on to the next step.  I cannot emphasize enough that days should be dedicated to these steps, not hours.  Going slowly at first, even though it’s hard, will pay off in the end.  And if you have any hesitation on whether either animal is ready, don’t move forward.  And if at any time either animal is stressed, slow down and back up a step.

Now it’s time to open the door.  However, for the safety of both cat and dog, you want a barrier.  I chose to use a tall metal baby gate to provide separation.  If I’d had any doubts that Inara might go over it, I would have stacked two gates.  Then alternate sitting on each side of the baby gate, doling out yummy treats to both cat and dog for appropriate, non-confrontational behavior.

Here are two videos from when I was at this step with Malcolm and Inara.  Neither are exciting at all – this is what you want though!  Boring is good.  In the first video, Mal isn’t quite up to going over to the baby gate, but that was okay.  The second video is long, but I didn’t cut it because it shows what a slow, steady process this is.  In that video, they do have their first official greeting.

The Raising Of The Gates

This is a big step, but if you have done your homework and not rushed things, it should go very smoothly and without fanfare.  At this point, dog and cat are relaxed while sniffing each other through the gate and there has been no barking, growling, hissing, spitting, or swatting.  So once again, it is time to arm yourself with something comfortable to sit on, a book, and yummy treats (for the animals, not you).  Then raise the baby gate up about a foot.  You want the cat to be able to easily come and go underneath it, but you don’t want it high enough that the dog can get under it.  Quietly sit and read and whenever the cat is brave enough to come out and explore a little, dole out treats.  Whenever the dog is being gentle in her behaviors towards the cat, dole out treats.

Final Steps

Once this major milestone has been reached without difficulty, it should be smooth sailing.  Before letting the two have free roam of the house together, put the dog in her crate or in a bedroom and let the cat explore the house.  We want him comfortable in his full surroundings before he is expected to happily deal with a dog AND new surroundings.  If you are comfortable that the dog will not bust her crate to get to the cat, you can leave the cat out while you’re at work and dog is crated (or in a bedroom).

Eventually you can give them both free reign in the house together.  It’s so important to ensure that the cat always has escape routes from rooms and high places to flee to if necessary.  I kept the baby gate up but raised for quite a while, just so Malcolm always had his safe place.

Even though there is peace in the household, I am a firm proponent of “better safe than sorry.”  Keep cat and dog separated at meal times and separated when you are not at home.  All it takes is one incident and you have a seriously injured or dead cat or dog.  A little management goes a long way to maintaining a happy household.

Malcolm’s foster home had dogs, and Inara grew up with a cat, so you’ll see by the Youtube dates that within a few days these two were fully integrated.  I do NOT encourage this speed and would have gone infinitely slower if they both weren’t already familiar with the other species.  

Good friends

Good friends

 What other tips do you have for integrating dogs and cats?

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10 Behaviors To Train With Targeting

10 Behaviors To Train With Targeting

10 Behaviors To Train With Targeting

10 Behaviors You Can Teach With Targeting

One of the first behaviors we recommend teaching every client a nose target. There are many behaviors you can teach with a nose target, and even more you can teach with general targeting. We also believe it is a good behavior to teach in the beginning because it can help clients sharpen their clicker mechanics. Clients are able to physically feel the behavior they are supposed to click. Here are 10 good behaviors you can train with basic targeting.

1. Loose Leash Walking

Once the dog is able to nose target your hand well, it can be a big help for teaching loose leash walking. Instead of luring the dog with food, you can place your hand exactly where you want the dog to be (lined up with your leg), and click/treat them when they target your hand. If the dog is very target savvy, they can follow your hand for multiple steps before you click/treat. You can eventually fade out the hand target and have a very nice loose leash behavior. This can also help with heeling.

2. Mat Work

Mat work is very popular. It can provide a dog their own space whether in the house or in a foreign location. It can also be a helpful tool when trying to teach impulse control or relaxation methods. Instead of using just a nose target, mat work is a whole body targeting technique. You are teaching the dog that when they see their mat, they are to place their entire body on top of the mat. You can decide if you want only a down, or if you will accept a sit or stand on the mat. This can be applied to their cage, or a certain spot in the house when doing a certain activity. For example, when I’m cooking in the kitchen, you are to stay on the kitchen rug out of my way.

3. Platform Work

Platforms are very useful for many different dog sports or training techniques. You can use a platform as a ‘home base’ if you are working with multiple dogs. You are training the dog to target their whole body to a platform and to stay until you call them off. Another form of platform work is to teach the dog to target their two front paws on a platform and to pivot. This helps the dog learn hind end awareness which is very helpful for many dog sports including obedience, rally, agility, and freestyle.

4. Close The Door

A fun behavior to teach with targeting is closing the door. Using a nose target, you can train the dog to close the door through small approximations. If the dog can nose target a sticky note, have the dog target the sticky note on an open door and click for any movement of the door when they target the note. Once the dog knows what you are asking for and can close the door, you can begin to get rid of the sticky note by making it smaller and smaller until you no longer need the sticky note. People love seeing this behavior and will love to show off this skill to their friends. You can also work this with dresser drawers.

5. Recall/Come

Many people do not think of a recall as a targeting behavior, but it definitely can be. If you ask for the target cue from further and further, you are essentially asking the dog to recall from further and further away. You can eventually switch to a recall cue if you want to use something else, or you can just continue using your target cue.

6. Basic Obedience Cues

Your basic obedience cues such as sit, down, and stand can be taught with targeting instead of luring. Once the dog has the hang of a nose target, instead of using a piece of food to lure their nose up for a sit, you can just have the dog target your hand up into a sit. The same can happen for a down or a stand behavior. Some people prefer targeting over luring for these behaviors before you do not have to fade out the treat lure. It can be easier to fade out your hand movement or simply create a hand signal for the behavior.

7. Leg Weave

You can teach the dog to weave between your legs very easily with a nose target. Have the dog sit and stay and make a triangular space with your legs large enough for the dog to go underneath. Ask for a nose target on the opposite side of your legs and click as the dog targets your hand and moves between your legs. Once they catch on, you can ask for multiples weaves before rewarding. A very impressive, but easily taught behavior.

8. Saying “Hi!”

If the dog is an excited greeter, you can use a hand target for greeting in order to keep the dog from getting over excited. Having the dog on leash when guests come over gives the dog time to calm down before greeting the guests. Once they have calmed down a bit, the guest can ask for a hand target and then the dog can reorient to you for reinforcement.

9. Medical Behaviors

Targeting can be used to help a dog become comfortable with handling or procedures at the vet’s office. Targeting behaviors are used with large animals in aquariums and zoos to help veterinarians get samples or perform procedures on them. A prolonged target behavior can make it easier to give vaccines, take samples of blood, or get a physical exam. If the dog is doing a job, they will be more focused on the job than on what is occurring. A highly reinforced behavior like targeting can also help to calm the dog during a stressful situation. These targeting behaviors can even be done muzzled if you need that extra protection for veterinarians and staff.

10. Take A Bow

This cute finisher can easily be taught with a nose target. It is very similar to a down, but your precise clicker mechanics will come into play here. As the dog is going down to target your hand between their legs, you click as the behavior is happening, but before they drop their rear into a down. Too many bad clicks in down position will confuse the dog and will get you a down instead of a bow. Once the dog is getting pretty good, you can begin to fade the hand target and you will end up with a nice finishing behavior for all your future demonstrations.

Targeting is a very fun behavior for dogs and quickly becomes very highly reinforcing for them. These are ten behaviors you can teach with targeting, but the possibilities are truly endless when it comes to behaviors you can teach with targeting. What behaviors do you teach your clients with targeting? Do you prefer fun tricks or behavior modification with targeting?

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Lessons From A Weekend With Ken Ramirez

Lessons From A Weekend With Ken Ramirez

Ken Ramirez, the author of this blog, and some of her friends at his Cleveland seminar.

Ken Ramirez, Liz Wyant (the author of this article), and some of her friends at his Cleveland seminar.

A Weekend With Internationally Recognized Animal Trainer, Ken Ramirez

Ken Ramirez has been in the animal training/behavior world for over 35 years.  He has worked with guide dogs, law enforcement K-9s, zoo animals, and marine animals.  He has worked at Chicago’s Shedd Aquarium for 26 years, most recently as the training advisor.  In October of 2014, he started a new role as the Executive Vice-President and Chief Training Officer of Karen Pryor Click Training.  Ken is an avid proponent of force-free animal training.

In November, Ken presented a two-day seminar we were able to attend.  26 pages of notes later, here are some of the concepts we felt were most important.

Training 101

Ken describes training as teaching an animal what the rules for living in a particular space are.  He emphasizes that it should be a shared process; the animal should WANT to be with that person and should WANT to train.

Ken feels the cornerstones of animal care are:

  1. Health Care
  2. Nutrition
  3. Environment
  4. Behavior Management – As Ken says repeatedly, “training is not a luxury.”

That last point is what struck me the most – training is not a luxury.  So often our clients factor in costs of health care, food, and grooming, but not training.  Training is only used when something goes bad, not to provide the mental stimulation that dogs need to have a basic, happy and healthy life.

Least Reinforcing Scenario/Stimulus (LRS)

Ken explained the LRS as the most positive approach to dealing with unwanted behavior.  It was developed in the zoological training community as a way to operationalize the mantra of “ignore the unwanted behavior.”  Though very basic, it can be a powerful tool.  The Least Reinforcing Scenario is simply a 2-3 second neutral response after an animal gives an unwanted behavior, followed immediately by another opportunity to earn reinforcement.  For example, you cue a dog to sit and it lies down instead. Immediately when the dog lies down instead of sits, give a neutral response for 2-3 seconds and then cue the dog to do a different cue that you are positive they can successfully complete.

So what is a neutral response? There is no straight answer to this.  It is not a freeze, it is just a continuance of what you are doing – if you are looking at the dog, keep looking at the dog.  If you were in the process of scratching an itch, keep scratching the itch.  The key is to just maintain the environment so the dog is neither punished nor rewarded. This is only effective for a dog that is accustomed to working in a positive reinforcement environment.  When you reward, reward, reward and then don’t, the dog will notice the lack of rewarding.  There’s no need to extend the time or get emotional – just 2-3 seconds of a neutral response is enough feedback.

Alternative Reinforcers

Alternative reinforcers are learned reinforcers. They can be anything – clapping, toys, touch, play, words, or anything else the animal values.  They give you a chance to provide some variety in your reinforcers to keep the dog excited about working with you.  Alternative reinforcers need to be trained as behaviors so the dog understands what they mean.  This means it needs to be paired with food and marker signals and practiced for weeks.  Once the dog begins to value the alternative rewards, you should still use treat rewards 80% of the time during training sessions.

For alternative reinforcers to be effective, the trainer and animal must already have a predictable and solidly established relationship.  It is incredibly important to constantly maintain the strength of the alternative reinforcer by keeping it paired with food.  Also, be mindful that if a dog’s behaviors deteriorate after using the alternative reinforcer, the alternative reinforcer is NOT a reinforcer at all!

These are just a few of the topics that Ken discussed.  He kept everybody captivated for two full days and we left feeling invigorated about training and ready to try his ideas.  Should you get the opportunity to see him, we couldn’t recommend him highly enough!

Have you tried using LRS’s or alternative reinforcers?  Tell us in the comments!

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