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“Don’t Worry, He’s Friendly!”

Imagine a dog and her owner taking a walk, minding their own business. Suddenly, an off leash dog is headed straight for them. If they can even see the dog’s owner, requests to have the owner recall the advancing dog are often met with that most awful of phrases, “Don’t worry, he’s friendly.” Sometimes, the owner does try to recall the dog, often without success, and almost certainly with no thought whatsoever that the leashed dog may not be.

Interestingly, confrontations such as this often play out in jurisdictions where leashes are mandatory. Yet, owners of off leash dogs still sometimes chastise their law-abiding counterparts as if accepting the unwanted advances of their out of control dogs should be acceptable. (It’s not.) Fearful dogs and reactive dogs have enough challenges without others adding to their problems in areas where they should be protected by the leash law.

I’m going out on a limb here to say that anyone who cannot confidently bet $50 that their dog will come when called away from another dog, has no business allowing that dog to have off leash freedom. Recently, in Gloucester, Massachusetts, a man in his 80’s was knocked down by two exuberant Boxers while walking on the beach. These dogs already have a reputation for being out of control, but even if they were first offenders, no matter. Massachusetts is a “strict liability” state, so even if the dogs were legally off leash, the owner is still responsible for their actions. If the owner is found, he or she will undoubtedly be responsible for the man’s medical bill.

There are many great resources to help teach a solid recall. Check out the “bacon recall” on YouTube. Also, see Leslie Nelson’s “Really Reliable Recall” and Pamela Dennison’s “Whistle Recall.”

Even if you are in an off leash designated area, you have an obligation not to allow your dog to interact with dogs that reject his overtures. Not all dogs like one another, or appreciate each other’s play styles. No one likes a playground bully. If your dog is that “over the top” sort, best to find a couple of compatible dogs that do like him and set up playdates of a less public nature. Conversely, if your dog is shy, or always growling or snapping at dogs that approach, then the dog park or day care may not be the right venue for exercise.

If you are the owner of a fearful or reactive dog, and are observing local laws, yet still being approached by the dogs of scofflaws, do report this to your local Animal Control Officer. If you can safely do so, film or take pictures of the offenders. Carry a repellent product, such as Spray Shield, in the event that the oncoming dog is not listening to its owner, or is unaccompanied by a human. Your dog deserves not to have his or her personal space invaded without your consent.

No Stimulus Goes Unconditioned: Thinking out of the NILIF box

Source: No Stimulus Goes Unconditioned: Thinking out of the NILIF box

Bernie’s revolution needs an innovative strategy: YOU and the power of TWO

Source: Bernie’s revolution needs an innovative strategy: YOU and the power of TWO

Five Steps to Success as a Dog Trainer

Five Steps to Success as a Dog Trainer

So, you’ve decided you want to be a dog trainer.  There is much to learn, but if I had to give anyone some advice about how to set yourself up for success at the art and science of training, here are five down and dirty quick tips:

1. Get a quality education.  There’s no substitute for knowing the science upon which animal training is based.  That means a college or community college level Psychology 101 course, or an online course in animal learning is a good start. One of the best is given by Dr. Susan Friedman, and is called Living and Learning With Animals.  Trainers need to thoroughly understand what drives behavior, and how to use those principles to modify it. They cannot rely on pop psychology, intuition, energy, or quackery.  Some of my picks for schools that offer quality education are: The Academy for Dog Trainers, Dognostics Career College, Karen Pryor Academy, and Peaceable Paws.

2. Get all breed animal handling experience.  You must pay your dues.  Volunteer for an animal shelter, or apprentice with someone in the profession.  Work at a dog day care or kennel.  You aren’t a trainer yet, even if you earn a diploma or credential, if you’ve only trained your own dogs, even if they did well in sports, work, or competition.  All dogs learn by association and by consequences, and while breed differences don’t mean that you have to use methods that aren’t in line with your ethical standards, there are some breed tendencies that it’s helpful to know about.

3. Join a professional association that is aligned with your ethical core values as a trainer.  The organization can be a great source of continuing education, insurance coverage, trade discounts, camaraderie with and support from like-minded trainers, an an advocacy ally and marketing partner.  As an example, my professional affiliation is with The Pet Professional Guild.

4. Always strive for technical excellence.  World class animal trainer, Bob Bailey, is credited with saying that training is simple, but not easy.  So, if an animal fails a task, a good trainer ALWAYS looks to their own competency, or lack thereof, before  blaming the dog or searching in the proverbial desert for some potion, diet, or new and improved pop science protocol.  When things go awry, try to assess whether your own fundamentals are sound.  Did you motivate the dog with something the dog views as a worthy reinforcement?  Did you set criteria well, and not overface the learner?   Do you have a written training plan and are you documenting progress?  Was your rate of reinforcement high enough?  Did you set the dog up for success? Is training FUN???

5. Always err on the side of professionalism.  It’s poor form to give veterinary, nutrition, or grooming advice unless you have a credential.  If someone calls to ask about puppy class, much as you want to, don’t contradict a vet’s advice about waiting, Instead, you could simply say that your training center follows AVSAB guidelines and provide the client with information they can ask their vet about without undermining the advice they were given.  Overstepping professional bounds is dangerous.  Integrity can earn you referrals from vets who learn they can trust you, but your business can suffer if vets feel you are not respecting their professional boundaries.   Read the rest of this entry

Why do –CER’s make us feel so badly?

Why do –CER’s make us feel so badly?.

What is a +CER and Why do I care?

A terrific simple explanation of a very useful concept.

Kim Pike's Positive Paws


Sometimes the dog training lingo can be a little overwhelming. As in many fields, the professionals seem to have their own language that is not easily or readily understood by the public at large. Dog trainers are no different. To make it worse, we use acronyms to avoid spelling out those long words. I am as guilty as any other dog training professional of writing OC in place of Operant Conditioning or CC&D for Counter Conditioning and Desensitization.

An acronym that has been coming up a lot recently is +CER. To a pet dog owner, that could mean anything from “Add Correct Energy Reaction” to “Increase Carrots, Eggs and Radishes”.

So what exactly IS a +CER?

A CER is a conditioned emotional response. It is a learned, emotional reaction. It is a subset of classical conditioning because the subject makes a reflexive association with the trigger. There is no behavior…

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Husbandry Success

Back in August, I posted A Dog Training Epiphany, highlighting a success story from one of the members of the Reactive Dogs Facebook Group.  Today, another member posted a joyful success, which she also agreed to share with the readers of my blog:

“This is very much related to desensitizing our reactive dogs to their triggers because it shows that any traumatic experience, even one repeated multiple times and leading to serious defensive displays from the dog, *can* be turned into their favorite game. The underlying fears disappear and with them the accompanying aggressive behaviors.

I wonder how many people here can’t trim their dogs’ nails without some drama. My dog wouldn’t let us touch her paws, let alone trim the nails. It was before I learned anything about desensitizing so I took her to several vets where she was muzzled and held down by several people for the procedure. Of course that made things worse, she would not walk back into those clinics voluntarily so I kept going to new vets (and yes, she’s absolutely terrified of vet visits now – working on reversing that). She became much more cautious with me which broke my heart because except for the paws, I could handle her without issues.
I’m so glad wheels started spinning in my head at some point that there has to be a better way. And what do you know, there is! A wonderful, gentle, and skilled groomer that had met Zoe on a few occasions trimmed her nails twice in a much happier atmosphere than the few times at the vet. And a slow process of desensitization at home followed. Touching her paws and rewarding that with delicious food. Showing her the trimmer and tossing her beloved tennis ball. Touching the paws *with* the trimmer and following that with a game of tug. All in a silly, goofy, playful way to make it a fun game. Watching her comfort level every second of the way. Eventually, I celebrated cutting one nail at a time. Then two. I was thrilled when she let me take care of one full paw for a game of fetch. Then two paws. Eventually, we got to the point where I could trim all the nails at once as she was looking forward to the tennis ball crazy that followed. Slowly, the tennis ball anticipation eased up and she was ok with me trimming the nails even if nothing super fun happened at the end. She was tolerating it very nicely and we’ve been trimming the nails once a week. But today she totally shocked me by showing the same kind of joy at the sight of the nail trimmer that is usually reserved for her toys! That, I did not expect.

I picked up the nail trimmer, she saw it and got a nice big grin on her face… came up to me, sniffed the trimmer and trotted over to the window where I usually trim her nails and looked back at me, all ready and happy. “Come on, mom, hurry up, I love this game!” I swear when it was over, she looked disappointed that she only has four paws.

In case anyone still had any doubt that a negative experience CAN be turned into an extremely positive one. It can. The process took a year and it was very much worth the trouble. I know I could do it faster now. The things you learn…”

Anyone who has a dog that hates nail clipping can understand how nice it would if the dog didn’t have to be so scared.  Even if you don’t ever want to trim your dog’s nails yourself, you can do some nail clip husbandry training to help your dog cope better at the grooming salon or vet clinic, using the same technique that worked so well for the person who shared her story above.  Using similar training, you can teach a dog to enjoy teeth brushing, too.  Or, with this technique, you can teach your dog to accept wearing a muzzle or head halter.


© Rasulov | Dreamstime.comBrushing Teeth Dog Photo

Sometimes, when you are new to the desensitization and counter-conditioning technique used to get a dog to be OK with something he was previously frightened of, it’s hard to see when you are getting that change in emotional response to the trigger stimulus, i.e. the nail clipper, toothbrush, muzzle, etc.  Eileen, from Eileenanddogs, shows how to tell when the dog is developing a positive conditioned emotional response.

Getting a dog to accept husbandry procedures can be accomplished at any age, as the although the best time to start is when puppies are very young.  More and more, trainers are including husbandry and handling exercises during puppy kindergarten, as we do at Paws for Praise (resistance to body handling is associated with a higher risk for aggression).  As savvy consumers, owners should ask for husbandry training, and veterinarians who want to spend less time struggling to get these procedures done should refer to force free trainers who incorporate husbandry training and body handling in their curriculum.

This is Zoe, the dog who now likes nail trims, and the tennis ball that made all the difference!