I Will Not Train Your Dog

I’ve been working on a new information flyer.  What do you think?  Does this make you want to hire me?







Do you have a new puppy and no idea what to do with her?


Did you adopt a dog, and you’re having difficulty getting him to listen to you?


Did your dog do great in obedience school, but now isn’t quite as obedient as she used to be?


I won’t train your dog, but I will train YOU!  You see, it doesn’t matter if I train your dog; you are the one who has to live with her.  A trained dog is not stagnant, like a program on your computer, that once installed works the same always.  Unless you reinforce the training daily, it will break down.  This is why I hear so many people say, ‘he did fine in obedience class, but now…’  What I will do is help you develop the training skills to comfortably live with your pet.


¨     Gain insight into your dog’s behavior

¨     Learn how your body language influences your dog’s actions

¨     Develop a great relationship with your dog


I will teach you the key components to successful dog training so that you will understand how to teach your dog after I’ve gone home.


I offer consultation on an hourly basis.  This is not a one-size fits all dog training course.  This is a one-on-one assessment of your needs, and the direction to help you get the dog behavior you want.  You decide how many consults you need.


I have over 10 years professional experience training animals in zoos for shows and educational purposes, and teaching obedience classes.  Plus training my own dogs for obedience, conformation, agility and herding.




Be An Alpha Dog! For Your Dog’s Sake

Before I get to the alpha dog post, I’d like to invite you to the Beauty of a Woman Blogfest.  On February 10th, August McLaughlin will host this unique collection of blogs posting on the subject of Beauty, the first ever in what will hopefully become an annual event.  My post goes up tomorrow, then on Friday, February 10th you will want to visit August’s blog to read all the contributions from this terrific assortment of writers.  Plus, there’s a bunch of prizes up for grabs, including a Kindle, body image coaching and email dog training advice from yours truly.  You won’t want to miss it!


Last week I talked about the importance of being alpha, but the big question is of course, how?  If you have a puppy, it’s easy.  They’re young, they’re impressionable, and any creature older than them is going to be the boss.  This is the time to establish your benevolent dictatorship.  Yes, that’s what it is.  Dog ownership is not a democracy, Jake doesn’t say if he sleeps on the bed with you.  You do!

You make the rules, and you enforce them.  But that doesn’t mean you have to be harsh or forceful.  A good alpha establishes the rules from the start, makes them clear and sticks to them consistently.  This will make it easier on you, easier on your dog, and you’ll find your dog will naturally follow your lead.

Your dog has no choice in whether or not she’s going to act like a pack animal, it’s hard-wired into her DNA.  Much as we love our dogs, much as we love to dress them up like Princess Leia spoil them, they are not humans in fur coats.  Dogs will be dogs…but we can shape their behavior and teach them to curb or alter their natural instincts to suit us.  Use body language, tone of voice, and mimic dog postures to establish your pack leadership, and your meaning will immediately be clear to your dog.

Not sure if I prefer the all-white gown look, or slave-girl Leia on a dog.

Alpha wolves control their pack’s behavior.  If the alpha says move, a wolf moves, and you can apply this in the home.  Want to walk past your dog but he’s in the doorway?  Walk right into him and with a gentle nudge have him clear your path.  Is he napping in the hall?  Don’t step over him, get his attention, get him up and make him move.  Lower ranked pack members clear the path for the alpha.  This might seem subtle to you, but to your dog it is a clear signal that you are in charge.

If your dog is not allowed on the couch, then there’s no in between.  If Jake jumps up on the couch, you are going to immediately tell him ‘no’ and have him jump off every time.  But you will also make it clear to Jake, what the desired behavior is, to lay on the floor, or on his bed.  So, once Jake is off the couch, you will take Jake to his bed, get him to lie down on it and praise Jake for being a good dog.

A good alpha will make it clear this behavior is wrong, but this behavior is right.  Anticipate that when Jake comes into the room, he’s going to try and jump on the couch, so take him to his bed, have him lie down on it, and praise him!  Give him a favorite toy to play with when he’s lying on it.  Pack leaders make the rules and enforce them, but they also let pack members know what the right behaviors are and reward them.

Pack leaders also control the food.  I can leave my dinner plate, a burger, a steak, anything, sitting on a low table and walk away, fully confident my dogs would never dream of so much as drooling on it.  When it’s time for their dinner, they sit and stay, waiting politely until the food is prepared, on the floor, and I release them from their stay to start eating.  The alpha says when it’s mealtime, there is no shoving or lunging past an alpha to get to food.  Having your dog sit or down and stay, waiting to go to his food bowl will help prevent pushy behaviors like begging or food stealing.

Believe me, your dog wants to know the rules and follow them!  Most dogs are not alphas; most of them do not want to be pack leader.  They will step into the position if they feel they have to, because they perceive a lack, and this can cause your dog a lot of mental stress.  Being clear, firm and direct when establishing and enforcing your house rules will help your dog be calmer, and more inclined to pay attention to you.

This does not mean you have to be a stiff, angry disciplinarian.  Dogs can be taught to recognize words, but they respond instinctively to our tone of voice and body posture.  You can use this deliberately, consciously, when you interact with your dog by altering your stance, changing the pitch of your voice, and making or breaking eye contact.

When you’ve caught Jake on the couch, stand tall, give him a hard stare, speak firmly and in a lower tone when you tell him ‘no.’ When he crawls off, with head and tail low, you can tell him ‘good’ or similar words in a calm, neutral tone while your expression becomes more neutral.  He’s responding to your body language as much as your word.  You need to alter your own tone and posture to acknowledge that he’s responding appropriately.  Take your tone of voice up and lighten it when you take him to his bed and have him lie down.  Praise him for lying down in an upbeat happy tone, and give him a good, comforting scratch on the chin or behind the ears for being a good dog.

What does your body language tell your dog?  Are you confident?  Harsh?  Playful?  Do you try and alter your posture or voice to influence your dog?

Start teaching me right from the start!


The Leader of the Pack


Dogs are pack animal, and you need to be the leader of your own family pack.  Motorcycle, leathers and girly vocals are optional.

Dogs, like humans, are social creatures.  Wild canids such as wolves, coyotes, hyenas, live in family groupings with a distinct hierarchy of leaders and subordinates.  Dogs, descended from wild ancestors have retained this social programming.  It’s part of what helps them fit so well into our own society.

Dogs are individuals; he will be shy or outgoing, a leader or a follower depending on his own personality.  My first Belgian sheepdog loved 5 people on this planet, and the rest of the population wasn’t worth his time.  He would be polite, but really didn’t care if strangers wanted to pet him or ignore him; he was aloof, indifferent to most everyone.  My second Belgian, on the other hand, loved to meet people and everyone was his friend.  He’d greet them with a big toothy smile and wagging tail.  Both though, were very guarded and protective if a stranger came into the home.

Your dog will naturally look upon you and your spouse and kids as his pack, his own family group.  A pack has a leader, who is at the top of the family hierarchy.  The leader, or alpha, in wolves decides when the pack hunts, or moves, or sleeps or plays.  The alpha makes the rules and calls the shots, and every other wolf defers to the alpha.  If your dog does not perceive that you are alpha, he’ll assume the job himself.  Does this sound like anyone’s dog?


The dog that growls and snaps when you try to shoo her off the couch, or take away her toy.


The dog that yanks and drags his owner at the end of the leash, lunging at every passerby, dog or human.


The dog that barks and snaps at you when you kiss your spouse.


If your dog thinks he’s alpha, then in his mind, he’s being a good leader for putting you in your place.  Obviously, you’re an uppity pup telling him to give up his comfy nap spot, or take his toy, and so he gets to snap and tell you to back off.  It’s his job to protect the pack, so he has to scare off every stranger by being big and fierce, and why are you yelling at him?  He’s just doing his job!  And get away from his ‘special’ human!

You need to establish that you hold the job of pack leader, and you are so good at it, that your dog never has to worry about trying to step in and fill your shoes.  Body language, eye contact and tone of voice will all convey your confidence to your dog, and he will respond to it.

Are you the leader of your pack?  Or does your dog run your house?



Teach Your Dog English

HaHaHaHa! Your accent is terrible!


Because speaking dog is hard on the voice

Your dog is going to have to learn English, or Spanish, or German, or…you get the idea.  Training your dog involves teaching her a wide spectrum of behaviors.  There will be some behaviors you’ll expect her to do all the time, without being told; for example, not eliminating in the house.  For others, you will give a specific command; like ‘sit’.

We already know about communicating with our dog, and how important timing and accuracy are to successful training.  The third leg of a successful training plan is establishing some sort of dialog between the animal and the trainer.  Yes, really.  So we’re not talking about the weather or the nature of the soul, but there has to be a two-way communication system or we will never have a trained animal.  With this system in place, there’s no limit to what you can teach your pet.  But just like learning a new language it takes a little time, and patience for you both to understand it.

Since you are the trainer, the burden falls upon you to be absolutely clear and precise in defining and applying the ‘words’ that you use.  You are going to teach your dog useful commands, and you are going to carefully observe her reactions and body language to understand what she is telling you.

A command by any other name

Animal Training Glossary:  Command.  Tells the animal to perform a specific behavior.  Also known as a cue, or signal.

Animal Training Glossary:  Trained behavior.  A behavior the animal performs on command, as opposed to doing it whenever she feels like it.  The training process is the means whereby the trainer pairs the command with the desired behavior.  An animal is trained when she reliably performs the behavior on the command.

If you say the word ‘down’ randomly in a sentence, and your dog coincidentally lies down, you have not ‘trained’ her.

Consistency – it’s not about texture

Ah consistency in animal training!  It is one of the easiest mistakes for a trainer (yes, you!) to make.  If you are inconsistent in your training, you will not be successful in your training.  Let me give you a few examples:


Owner:  “Sit, Jesse.  Sit.  Jesse, come on, sit, now!  JESSE, SIT!”

Dog:  “Which one of those did you mean?  Do you want me to sit on the first command or the third?  Does that fourth one count then?  And why are you yelling at me?”

Poor Jesse has no idea what he’s supposed to do.  Repeating a command only confuses the dog.


Dog jumps on couch.

Owner:  “Jesse, Down!”

Dog jumps up on visitors.

Owner:  “Jesse, Down!”

Dog is just standing there.

Owner:  “Jesse, Down!”

Dog:  “Does that word mean get off the couch, don’t put my paws on people, or lie down?”

One command = One behavior.  Jesse has no clue what his owner wants when he says ‘down.’  To Jesse, it’s a nonsense word, just like most of the blah-blah that comes out of his owner’s mouth.


Dog jumps up on couch.

Owner:  “Come on over here and cuddle!”

Dog:  “Cool, comfy couch time!”

Owner sitting on couch watching the big game.

Dog:  “Cuddle time!”  And jumps up.

Owner:  “Jesse, Down!”  And pushes Jesse away.

Poor Jesse’s not having an easy time understanding his Owner.  He knows ‘sit’ means to plant his butt, but his Owner says it so fast and so many times, he’s not sure when he’s supposed to ‘sit’ or if his Owner really means it or not.  He has no idea what ‘down’ means, but his owner is usually angry and yells it.  Jesse’s not sure if it’s something he’s doing, or if his Owner is just upset because the cat walked by.  What really confuses Jesse is the couch, sometimes he can lie on it, but other times, it makes his owner really mad when he jumps up.

Is anyone out there Jesse’s Owner?  Consistency is hard!  I know, believe me.  I’ve done this professionally for years, and I still catch myself saying ‘sit’ a couple times in row.  Then I kick myself, and start over.  I’ve been Jesse’s Owner!  The trick is to catch yourself at it, and practice.  You’ll get there!

Consistency affects multiple aspects of training

You must be consistent is all facets of your training, and not just you, but every member of your family must train the same way.

Decide what behaviors you want to train.  I suggest a minimum of Sit, Down, Come and Stay.

Decide what word you’re going to use as the command and stick to it.  Try to avoid using the word when your dog is paying attention to you if you are not actively trying to get him to do the behavior.

Decide ahead of time what behaviors you’ll allow, and what you won’t.  If you’re okay with your bull mastiff jumping up and putting her paws on your shoulders to give you big, slobbery kisses, then cool!  But don’t yell at her when she does it to you when you’re wearing a silk suit.  She can’t tell the difference between raw silk and cotton from Target.  Same thing for furniture; it’s either okay, or it’s not.

Are you consistent in your training?  Who else out there is Jesse’s Owner?


Animal Communication In Animal Training

Do I have to be psychic?

Animal training is animal communication.  I have known gifted psychic animal communicators; I’ve even experienced it myself.  If that is one of your skills and you use it with your animals, rock on!  But, even if being psychic just isn’t for you, if you want to train your dog, wrap your head around this concept:  Animal training is animal communication; you communicate what you want your animal to do.  And, your animal will talk back.

What am I thinking?

How can I talk to my dog?

Dogs do communicate, subtly through body posture and facial expressions, and vocalizations.  Some of a dog’s repertoire is obvious; we all know a growl or snarl is a threat, but a dog’s bark can be warning or welcoming.  If you have spent any time with animals at all, you know that they have emotional states as well as behavioral awareness, which they communicate with each other and, you!  You need to understand what your dog is telling you.  Your dog is supremely sensitive to your moods, postures and actions; whether you notice it or not, your dog watches you and knows your every action.  Time now for you to learn your dog!

"Blah, blah, blah. Too busy looking at that cat!"

Spend some time just observing your dog, or a pack.  Try to do it without them being aware of your attention.  Watch heads, ears, and tails; are they perked high or held low?  Where are her eyes focused, is her expression strong, confident, or wary and tense?  Is there a ridge of fur standing up along his spine, or is his coat slick, and flat with skin tight and twitching?  What do you think it means?  Next, watch your dog when you’re interacting with her, her facial expressions and postures.  Learn to recognize when your dog is paying attention to you, or focused on other things.

Did you know dogs yawn and lick their lips to relieve stress?  These behaviors are both an indicator the dog is experiencing stress, and a method of relieving that stress.  Dogs will also yawn and lick to help other dogs relax.  Seriously.   Don’t believe me?  Try it.  Watch next time your dog is yawning, (and she’s not about to drift off to sleep) you may notice she’s also exhibiting signs of stress, such as:  tight, worried expression, wrinkled brow, holds herself tensely, glancing side-to-side to avoid direct eye contact.  Try yawning back and licking your lips, casually glance at your dog, look away and continue to yawn and lick.  I’ll bet your dog relaxes.  See if you can spot this behavior at a dog park or in your own pack.

What’s that got to do with training?

“I just want my dog to do what I say.”  Sure, heard that one a time or two.  How are you going to tell your dog what you want?  You are the one who has to establish the vocabulary, and make sure your dog understands it.

Imagine you’ve just started a new job, one with a lot of tasks, from simple to complex, that you’ve never heard of before.  You are a complete newbie at this.  You have a hard time understanding your new boss, who’s teaching you the job, because he uses lots of new terms, he hasn’t really defined these terms and he doesn’t apply them consistently.  Plus, he seems to change his mind daily on just how he wants you to do your new job.  One day, it’s okay if you’re a few minutes late, the next he chews your ass off.  Who’s had that boss?

To train your dog, he has to understand what you are asking of him.  As the trainer, you need to be the one to establish clearly how you are going to communicate.  You will need to be able to read and interpret your dog’s behavior, so that you can shape your dog’s behavior.  If you do not clearly communicate your wishes to your dog, or have a grasp on your dog’s natural behaviors you will be like the boss in my example above.  You don’t want to be that guy.

Training an animal means you are modifying its behavior, sometimes contrary to the animal’s natural behavior or instincts; for the animal to do this on your command requires a level of trust from that animal.  You build that trust by establishing a system of communication that is clear and consistently applied.  Once you gain that trust, you know it.  Everyone who’s trained a dog, a horse, a bird, a goat, or any creature has felt that bond, that gestalt, of being in sync with your animal and perfectly understanding each other.  It’s really spectacular.  But it takes time and patience to build.

What does the black dog's posture tell you about his mental state? Is this a fight or play?



What's the expression on the puppy's face? The older dog?



How have you established communication with your pet?  Does your dog understand you?  Do you understand your dog?  What does she tell you?  What has he taught you?

To train an animal requires fine timing, a clear communication system and, consistency.  We’ll talk about being consistent in your training next time.


Developing Your Dog Training Skills

Timing is everything

My husband, the bass player and professional musician, tells me I have no rhythm and can’t sing.  It’s true.  Until I met him I had no idea what a ‘count’ was for in music, and frankly it still kinda baffles me.  And, sadly, I really love karaoke!  Those cheesy 70’s and 80’s songs, I love getting out there and singing with all my heart.  No alcohol necessary.  But I’m usually flat, and can’t always find the right key.  Hub has stopped suggesting we go do karaoke, and he gets plenty of stage time on his own…sigh.

One day, we were driving down the road and I was trying, in vain, to tap my hand to the beat of the music on the radio.  Hub just shook his head.  “You’re early,” he said.  “You’re always early.”  And then, it hit me like an epiphany; why I couldn’t find the beat.  The heavens opened, choirs sang, bells rang, and everything became clear.  I was anticipating it.  I am too much an animal trainer to be a musician.  Now, I feel a certain vindication about having no rhythm, but have no excuse for still wanting to inflict karaoke on my loving, musically talented, husband.

That has what to do with animal training, you ask?  It’s all about the timing.  There are two key ingredients to animal training that apply whether you’re trying to train a dog, a cat, a wolf, a cheetah, a dolphin, a sea lion, or a hawk.  Timing and consistency.

Timing and consistency

We’ll get to consistency; for now, it’s all about the timing.  You will get faster results when training if you are accurate in your timing when you bridge your animal.  To be accurate, you must be able to anticipate your animal’s behavior.

Okay, in English:  be sure when you tell your dog ‘good dog’ that what he’s doing at that exact moment is ‘good.’  In other words, he is doing what you are asking him to do.  Accuracy in your timing comes from anticipating the moment your dog does the behavior you’ve asked for so you can time your ‘bridge’ appropriately.

Not that kind of bridge!

Animal Training Glossary:  Bridge.  A bridge is a signal that tells the animal ‘yes’.  It communicates that the behavior the animal is doing at that moment is correct, i.e. what the trainer desires.  Usually a sound, like a click, or ‘good!’  Can also be visual or tactile.  So called because it bridges the time between the animal completing the behavior and the delivery of reinforcement.


Unlike my lack of rhythm, you can refine your timing

What does this mean?  Tell a dog to sit and praise him, right?  But when am I giving that praise?  If I tell Jake to ‘sit’ and he plants his butt, then stands up and takes two steps before I tell him ‘good dog’ then what have I communicated to Jake?  That I want him to stand up and walk toward me when he hears me say ‘sit’.   My timing is waaaay off; I am late with my bridge, so Jake does not understand what I am asking of him.

Have you ever seen the dog that sits halfway?  The owner says ‘sit’ and the dog’s legs start to fold, and then the owner tells the dog ‘good girl!’  The dog instantly hesitates; maybe she slowly completes the sit, or maybe slowly stands back up, or just stops and does the hover.  The slowing down or stopping indicates the dog’s confusion, because you were too early with your bridge.

You do not want to confuse your dog; it will frustrate her and could lead to behavior problems.  Be watchful, and know your dog’s behavior, so you can be accurate in your timing.  It takes practice, you will make mistakes, and this is okay.  Dogs are very forgiving.  Practice, and practice more; your dog will love you for it!  You can help her understand if you know exactly what behavior you are looking for, so you can anticipate your dog doing it correctly.

How do I do all that?

When I tell Jake to sit, I expect he’s going to fold his hind legs and plant his fanny on the floor.  I have a very clear picture in my head of what that behavior looks like, I know exactly what I want Jake to do when I say ‘sit!’  As soon as I see his back end start to drop, I get ready to tell him ‘good dog’ so that I can say it as soon as his haunches touch the carpet.  I anticipate the moment he completes the sit, so that I can bridge him at the exact moment he does what I’ve said.

Simple, right?  Think about your own dog, and when and what you praise him for.  Every time you tell your dog ‘good’ you are telling him the behavior he’s doing right then is correct.  Now consider, is that something you really want him to do?

Practice refining your timing so that you deliver your bridge accurately.  Have you been trying to train your dog?  Does he complete the behavior you ask?  Stop halfway?  Have you been timing your praise accurately?  Where do you think you are early or late?

I'll let you know if your timing is right!


All photos taken by and under copyright to ME! 🙂  Please ask permission.



Do You Want to Train Your Dog?

But aren't I perfect already?

What does a trained dog look like?

Do visions of Lassie and Benji prance through your head?  Does your dog embarrass you, or make you proud?  Is she ‘not perfect’ but you’re happy with how she behaves?  Is your dog a vision of trained perfection?  What do you think is ‘good’ dog behavior?  What is ‘bad’ or unacceptable?  We all have an idea of what a ‘trained’ dog should do, but are we all in agreement about what that looks like?

I had to give up teaching dog training.

Not really, I still do teach, but I did give it up for a while.  I got tired of taking people’s money and having them be pissed off because their dog wasn’t perfect all on her own, a syndrome I like to call ‘the Lassie complex’.  Training your dog really does take daily effort, daily training sessions, something the bulk of my early clients were unwilling to do.  I trained a porcupine to wear a harness and walk on a leash, and a hawk to drop out of the sky, trust me; a dog can be trained to do almost anything if you’re willing to invest the time.  What my clients had trouble with was that they have to do the work; there is no instant solution in dog training.  The good news is, unless you want Lassie behaviors, your training sessions can easily be worked into your daily routine.

Is your dog ‘sort of’ trained?  This is OK!

A pet peeve (sorry, I love puns!):  I hate it when my dogs jump up on me.  My dogs would never dream of leaping up and laying paws on you.  Conversely, I have good friends with a pair of smaller dogs who leave bruises every time I go to visit because they prance on their hind legs, dig at my knees and caroom wildly around the room in the ecstatic dance of ‘Welcoming a Stranger into the Home.’  The owners apologize and make futile hand gestures, which have zero effect in controlling the dogs’ frenetic gyrations.  I just smile, and give a firm ‘NO’ and a shove if they bounce against me too crazily and wait it out.  But, they’ve never asked for training help, so I don’t offer any hints, or tips, and I don’t try to stop the whirling dervishes.  Why?  Because they’re not my dogs, and owners get to decide what they want their dog’s behavior to look like.  My friends really are content with how their little furry demolition derby cars act.  They have trained their dogs to the level they are comfortable with.

My exception to this is:  your dog had better be safe.  You do not get to think that an aggressive, biting dog is okay, from Chihuahuas to Great Danes.  Those are very serious behaviors that put people’s lives at risk.  If you have these issues, find a very good, local dog trainer to help you.  Fast.

Lassie?  Or Marley?  How about somewhere in between?

When I ask my clients what they think a trained dog acts like, the usual response is some variation of “I want my dog to listen to me.”  News flash, your dog is not your therapist.  Okay, it can seem like it; many are the times I’ve poured my troubles into my Belgian’s perky black ears.  But that’s not the kind of listening we’re talking about.

Every dog should know some basic commands

So, what do you want?  Do you want a dog that will just cuddle you all night, and play all day?  Do you want a dog that follows the basic commands of sit, stay and come?  Do you want him to do tricks?  Do you want to compete in obedience trials?  Do you care if she sleeps on the couch, or in your bed?  It doesn’t matter what you pick, but you have to have a very definite picture of what you want your dog’s behavior to be.  A sample list of behaviors that I consider important just for good canine behavior includes:





What you decide to add is limited only by your imagination.

What does your dog do that you would stop if you could?  What is she perfect at?  When is he just too adorable?  What would you like to train your dog to do?  Tell me about it!


Well-trained dogs are a joy for everyone!

Take A Break Tuesday

You’ve had a long, difficult work week. Yesterday was Monday for cryin’ out loud!  Now it’s Tuesday evening and you still need to make it through Hump Day tomorrow and then you’re still staring down the barrel of Thursday and Friday before the weekend comes around once more.

Take a deep breath, it’ll get here.  It always does.  For now though, you should sit back and enjoy these funny animal videos.  All will make you giggle, or say awwwww, and who doesn’t need an extra dose of that right about now?

I love a good bath too, Casper.

Lots of warm fuzzies from a bunch of warm fuzzies.

My dogs can relate.  My Lab is always underfoot when I’m in the kitchen, giving me this look that  says, ‘I’m starving, can’t you see?  Dinner was 20 minutes ago!  Would it kill you to let some of that hit my mouth?’

Feel better now?  Brain synapses are all happy again after that interlude?

What do your animals do that makes you laugh or break into a sappy smile?





I Also Train Dogs

I have been fortunate to have two (soon to be three) very rewarding careers.  In my first career I trained animals, all kinds of animals:  sea lions, wolves, birds of prey, cats big and not so big, even a porcupine.  I also taught dog obedience classes.  It was a great career when I was younger, and didn’t have a mortgage and retirement to think about.  The twenties and early thirties are great for that, but eventually the realities closed in, and I had to leave a career I loved for one that was a little more lucrative.  I also hated where I was living, but that is a whole ‘nother story.  However, for close to ten years I was up to my elbows in animal hair, dead fish, dirt, dust, water and…animal doo-doo, lots of it.  I loved every second of it, and I was pretty good at it too.

People often to ask me, ‘can you train my dog?’  To which I answer, ‘yes, but that’s not what’s important.’  What is important is this:  Can YOU train your dog?  It takes more time, and more patience than you would think.

House training a dog is often a make it or breaks it for a pet owner.  No one wants a dog that constantly makes a mess in the house.  Poor house training is a top reason for relinquishing a dog to a shelter.

If I had a nickel for every time I’ve heard a dog owner say things like:  “He’s doing it on purpose.”  “She’s knows she’s not supposed to make a mess in the house, but she does it anyway.”  “I found a spot of pee on the carpet and he looked so guilty, he knew he’d done wrong.”  All those nickels added up, would mean I could quit my day job, I’d be rich already.

I'm supposed to what?

Your dog does not know he’s not supposed to urinate or defecate in your house, he just knows that the pee and the poop in the house is bad.  Read that one more time.  Now, let me try it another way.  She doesn’t connect the action (urination, defecation) to the product (pee,poop) once the action is done and over with.  This is why it is so essential to catch your dog in the act, because once the physical, bodily action is over and done with, the dog doesn’t understand why you’re yelling at him and holding him over the results.  All she knows is you are very angry about that mess on the carpet.

Let me give you two scenarios.

You come home and smell it.  There’s the evidence in a cold little puddle.  Fifi is in the other room and you find her, drag her over to the wet spot and tell her “BAD DOG!”  several times, very loudly.  Your neighbors wonder who you’re screaming at, again.  You pick her up and throw Fifi out into the back yard, telling her “Do it out there, not in here!”  Griping angrily you clean it up and eventually let Fifi back in after being outside for several hours.

I just don't get it.

Yes, Fifi ‘knows’ it’s her pee, she can smell that it’s hers.  What she doesn’t ‘know’ is where she’s supposed to pee, that part hasn’t been made clear to her or she wouldn’t be having accidents.  What she does know is that when Mom or Dad comes home, she is going to be in big trouble.  So when you walk through the door, and Fifi is hiding, or cowering and ‘looks guilty’ yes, she ‘knows’ she’s going to get in trouble, and that you’re going to hold her over her cold, stinky pee, scream and yell and throw her out.  You haven’t paired the action with the proper location, you’ve paired the results with being punished.  Fifi doesn’t know urination is bad, but she does know the puddle of pee will cause her big problems.  This is often why owners say their dog will ‘hide’ where they urinate.

Scenario Two.  Your puppy, Rex, has been doing well with house training, but he still has accidents when no one’s watching him closely.  So you keep Rex close, and watch him like a hawk.  Soon enough he squats and starts to ‘go.’  You growl “NO!” loudly and scoop Rex up and carry him outside.  Placing him on the grass, you begin to speak soothingly and tell Rex “Here’s where you go potty, here’s a good boy.”  Soon enough, Rex resumes his interrupted action and you praise him wildly.  “What a good dog you are! What a smart boy!”  Rex wiggles with giddy puppy enthusiasm and you leave him outside with a toy to distract him while you go inside to clean up his accident.

It is appropriate to scold a dog when you catch her in the act; you are telling the dog the action is incorrect in that particular place.  The next step then, is that you have to follow it up with praising the dog for eliminating where you want her to; generally this is outside.  Many owners skip this step, and this just leads to further confusion on the part of the dog.

A puppy is like a baby, very cute and precious little sense.   Because they grow so quickly, many dog owners make the mistake of trusting the dog too soon.  It takes a minimum of one year for a puppy to be considered reliably house trained.  I don’t care how good she is, I don’t care how well she’s done and how few accidents, you cannot give a puppy under one year of age freedom of the house without supervision.  You are setting yourselves up to fail.

What can you do?  Be prepared to watch your puppy like a hawk for that first year.  Plan to take your puppy out every 15 to 30 minutes to give them the opportunity to ‘go’ if they are in the house and romping around.  Plan ahead and have a crate ready for when you cannot be paying attention every second.  The good news is, puppies need lots of play and lots of sleep.  You can safely crate your puppy for a few hours and not have to worry about finding little surprises later on.  This gives you and your puppy a break, and you a chance to get things done without a little ball of fur scampering around your feet.

I am a good puppy, aren't I?

Doesn’t that sound like a lot of work?  It is!  But it is also a ton of fun.  After all, who doesn’t love spending time playing with puppies? It pays off in the long run too.

My husband and I got a yellow Lab puppy four years ago.  She is a darling dog, and very much Daddy’s girl.  My husband and I do not have fights, but we came closer that first year of our Lab’s life than at any other time in our marriage.  He had never raised a puppy in his adult life, and I was atypically inflexible in considering his suggestions; we were going to do it my way!  Who’s the animal trainer?  Naturally, that did not go over well with him.  Fortunately for our continued happiness, the Lab is now 100% reliable in the house and he has quite generously admitted, “You were right to be so strict with raising her.”  Music to my ears!

What are your puppy raising adventures?  What dogs do you share your life with?  I can’t imagine not having at least one in my life.