Archive for the ‘Dog Training and Behavior’ Category

Real Deal on Dogs now CATCH Canine Trainers Academy

March 20, 2012

Hello Dog Lovers and Friends of the Real Deal on Dogs blog!

Great news.  The blog is back at my national school for aspiring dog trainers: CATCH Canine Trainers Academy.

As always, our blog will be filled with fun and fascinating dog insights, plus videos, photos and enough wisdom to make a Jack Russel stop chasing squirrels!  (Well, maybe not that much, but we’ll really do our best.)

Do not miss this wild video and post:  Would you let your dog play with a wild bear?  This video shows why you might.


How to Housetrain Me. Love, Your Puppy (or Newly Adopted Dog) – Rule #2

June 23, 2010

This post can be found at the new CATCH Canine Trainers Academy blog!

Click here to read: How to Housetrain Me. Love, Your Puppy (or Newly Adopted Dog) – Rule #2 at

"I'm so glad we're having this talk. If all owners were as smart as you, all dogs would be as good as me."


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How Do I Get My Dog to Behave When I’m Not Home? Chiller the Couch Boy, Part 2

June 19, 2010

After a long day at work, cuddling on the couch with Hazel is heaven. But what if you don't like your dog up on certain furniture? Read on.

The Myth: Dogs know the same rules apply whether a human is present or not.

The Real Deal: Dogs can easily learn that a specific experience has a different outcome when you’re absent vs. when you’re present.  They will then behave according to which outcomes work best for them in the moment, not according to “rules” you have set.

Let’s get back to this great question by Real Deal reader, Tracy.  She wrote:

What I want to know is  “how to teach my dog to still obey the rules when I’m not in the house.”  He would never go up on our formal living room couch if we were home, and apparently (from the warm seat and askew pillows) knows that the garage door opener sound means we are about to come in.

In part 1 of this post we talked about why Tracy’s dog, Chiller, goes on the couch only when she’s not home.  We also examined the simple rules dogs learn from their experiences and how these drive their behavior.

Now, using this example, let’s talk about how to prevent unwanted behavior when you’re not home and what Tracy can do about the fact that Chiller’s already learned: the couch is wonderful – as soon as everyone leaves.

First, the best time to establish rules such as “don’t go on the couch” is right at the beginning of your relationship. If you have a puppy or newly adopted adult dog, it is MUCH easier for him to learn a rule if you start from the beginning and then stick to the rule.

Sticking to the rule means that you don’t allow the rule to be broken when you’re not watching. This is probably the biggest mistake dog owners make. I suspect this is how Chiller learned that the couch is a delight as long as no one else is in the room.  Remember this: Dogs repeat behaviors that are rewarding. MANY experiences can be rewarding WITHOUT you being there to provide a reward.  Rewards come from everywhere – not just you!

Here are a few classic examples of rewarding experiences that dogs have when unsupervised, all of which can lead to unwanted behavior patterns:

  1. Peeing on the floor/carpet: dog feels, ahhhh, I’ve relieved myself, that was rewarding! I LOVE peeing on this surface, it’s always SO RELIEVING!
  2. Jumping on the counter and eating a sandwich found there: dog feels, YUM, that is the BEST thing I’ve EVER tasted!  I love jumping on counters – I can’t believe I haven’t tried this until today.  I’ll check this spot every day!  Hell, I’ll check it THREE TIMES a day!!!
  3. Resting on forbidden couch or bed: dog feels, mmmmm, this is SO COZY!  Whenever no one’s around to disrupt me, this is heaven!!!

Are you seeing how it works?  It’s when we’re not paying attention that dogs learn these behaviors pay!  Behaviors unwanted by owners end up being rewarding behaviors for our dogs.  So what do we do?  Let’s start with problem prevention (always the best way to raise great dogs).  We’ll use our couch example.  Here’ a recipe for getting your dog to permanently follow the rule of NO couch, whether you’re home or not:

  1. When you’re in the room you ALWAYS body block your dog’s access to coming up on the couch or immediately put him back on the floor when he tries to come up.

    X-Mat: Just leave this bumpy mat on any surface you don't want your dog to rest on.

  2. When you’re not in the room, you put up a barrier to deny access to the room OR you make the couch otherwise inaccessible/unpleasant.  You can use these bumpy X-Mat to do that.  No dog wants to lie on THAT.
  3. Give your dog an alternative option that is always available, very comfortable and ALWAYS rewarding (a cozy dog bed or old blanket).  Of course it is always rewarding if it’s comfortable, but you can enhance the experience even further by giving your dog positive attention when he is lying in his bed (belly rub!) or calmly bringing him a treat/chewie/stuffed Kong when he is relaxing on the bed.  This will seal the deal that this dog bed is THE PLACE to BE.

If you follow this recipe and maintain consistency for several weeks then your dog will quickly eliminate the idea of couch chillin’ from his behavior repertoire.  Your dog will essentially look at it this way: There’s a couch.  That’s something people sit on.  Dogs don’t go there.  I never have.  Any experience I’ve ever had trying to go on there has been unspectacular at best, a waste of time.  That’s just another dull object in the room.  Now here’s an idea, I’ll go lie on my comfy bed or my favorite spot in the sun by the window.  That’s a great place to be.


This will work without fail for any new dog.  A new dog is especially easy to set rules with.  Ah, but what if it’s NOT a new dog?  What if it’s a dog who already has the unwanted behavior pattern of going on the couch only when no one’s around?  Like Chiller does.  That’s a little trickier, and I’ll cover it in Part 3 of this series.

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How Do I Get My Dog to Behave When I’m Not Home? Chiller the Couch Boy, Part 1

June 17, 2010

Here’s a great question that came up in recent conversations I’ve had with Real Deal readers on my Facebook page.  Dog owner Tracy wrote: 

What I want to know is  “how to teach my dog to still obey the rules when I’m not in the house.”  He would never go up on our formal living room couch if we were home, and apparently (from the warm seat and askew pillows) knows that the garage door opener sound means we are about to come in.

When it Comes to Snuggling or Snoozing - Dogs Can't Resist a Soft Couch

The Myth: My dog knows better than to do something “against the rules” when I’m not home.

The Real Deal: He doesn’t.  Your dog simply does what he has learned works best for him in the present moment.

Let me explain how Tracy’s dog appears to “know” he is wrong for being on the couch when no one is home, and how in fact he does NOT know.  Then I’ll tell you how to get your dog to stop “breaking the rules” when you walk out the door!

Let’s give Tracy’s dog a name to make this explanation easier.  We’ll call him “Chiller,” since he loves to chill on the couch (once they leave).  Tracy says Chiller would NEVER go up on their living room couch when they are home.  This means that anytime Chiller has tried to go on the couch when a person is present, he has been stopped or reprimanded in some way that he finds unpleasant (this does not have to be mean, just clear).  One way or another, the people of the household have gotten the message across to Chiller that it’s not worth the effort or comfort to get on the couch when people are home.  It is LESS FUN for Chiller to get on the couch than it is to find some other spot for his chillin’.  He knows this.  He has learned it through experience.  What exactly has he learned you ask?  Here’s the simple RULE in Chiller’s mind: 

Me on the Couch + People in the Room = NOT Fun for Me (so pick another spot)

Now, there’s something else that I’m willing to bet Chiller has learned.  I’m willing to bet that Chiller has learned that chillin’ on the couch is a sublimely comfortable experience. And I’m willing to bet he discovered this more than once.  This happened in one or all of the following ways:

  1. Some people in the house have let Chiller up on the couch sometimes. Sometimes even when they are present in the room.
  2. Chiller has gone on the couch on his own when no one is in the room.  On at least a few of these occasions, he was then reprimanded upon discovery.  However, this was after the fact (once he had already experienced how comfortable the couch was).
  3. Chiller was NEVER, ever, allowed on the couch, not even for one second.  BUT, he could not resist his natural desire to rest on soft, elevated surfaces so he tried it for the very first time when no one was home (this is the least likely of the three scenarios, but possible).

We can safely assume that one or more of the above scenarios took place.  It would only take one or two occurrences to create Tracy’s problem.  That is because once Chiller learns that sometimes being on the couch is enjoyable, the only thing left for him to figure out is: WHEN is lying on the couch enjoyable and WHEN does it suck?

Well, that’s easy for him to sort.  He tries going up on the couch at different times, in different situations.  After a few trials, he can plainly see that the couch is perfectly enjoyable when no one is around and it sucks when people are present (because they immediately kick him off).  He’s now got two SIMPLE Rules he can trust:

  1. Me on the Couch + People in the Room = NOT Fun for Me (pick another spot)
  2. Me on the Couch + NO ONE in the Room = Joyful Peace and Comfort (relax on the couch)

So, Chiller has learned that the couch is bliss when no one is around – Rule #2.  When he hears a signal that someone will come into the room (garage door) he follows Rule # 1.

Tracy, your smart dog IS obeying rules.  They’re the rules he’s learned from his own experiences.

Did he deviously strategize any of this?  No!  Is he a bad boy?  No!  Does he have spite?  No!   He just knows the simple rules above. He does what works for his happiness in the present moment. Just like every animal. Just like you and me.


In the next post I’ll tell you how to solve Tracy’s couch problem and prevent your dog from following different rules when you’re present vs. when you’re not.  Hint: The problem above comes from the fact that Chiller was given an opportunity to experience the joy of the couch – sometimes – and when no one was there to teach him otherwise.

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How to Housetrain Me. Love, Your Puppy (or Newly Adopted Dog) – Rule #1

June 15, 2010

This post can be found at the new CATCH Canine Trainers Academy blog!

Click here to read: How to Housetrain Me. Love, Your Puppy (or Newly Adopted Dog) – Rule #1 at


Teach Your Dog to Stay, While You Walk Away

June 12, 2010

You’ve learned How to Get Your Dog to Sit Still and then How to Teach a Release from a stationary position.

Now you’re ready to teach your dog to Stay, while you walk away.

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Don’t Ruin the Recall: Part 3 and a True Story That’s Tough to Take

June 10, 2010

First off, I’d like to sincerely thank everyone who has been joining in the training discussions via Facebook and Email.  I really appreciate each and every one of you who share your feedback.  And I love hearing about your training experiences with your own dogs.  It’s awesome to hear about the positive results you are getting as well as the common challenges that we all face in raising our beloved dogs.  (Dog trainers are not exempt from these challenges, trust me.)

For Part 3 today I want to give you a summary of everything I’ve taught in the past two days of posts.  This is the list of things you must know if you are going to have a dog who comes when called. So, drumroll, please… … Here are the indispensable, comprehensible, well-intentional…

Rules for Recalls

1. Never call your dog to come and then have it result in something she won’t like.
2. If you must expose your dog to something she won’t like – do NOT use any kind of recall cue before the unwanted event.  Just go get her instead.  Or do something fun in between!
3. During the early training phase when you are still teaching a recall, do NOT use your recall cue word UNLESS you are prepared to reward generously.
4. Do NOT use your recall word in situations where you know your dog will fail.  In other words, don’t start practicing this while your dog is in the middle of a euphoric chase with another dog or a squirrel.  You need to gradually work your way up to that level of distraction.  (If your dog hears the cue word over and over, all the while ignoring it, you will systematically desensitize her to the very word you are working hard to train.)
5. Use a SLACK long line at first when training so that if your dog ignores you, she CANNOT learn that ignoring you is more fun than listening to you.  (Example: You call your dog.  Your dog ignores you and chases a squirrel instead.  Outcome of ignoring is highly rewarding to her.  That’s not good for training.)  This rule is optional depending on your dog.  It’s very smart to adhere to it if you think there’s a chance you’ll get ignored and lose control of the situation.
6. Reward all recalls with FUN. This could be walks, rubs, toys, play, chase, treats, more freedom, etc – be creative!  This is especially important in early training.  Once your dog KNOWS that recalls are wonderful, the association with them will be so positive that running to you on cue will be one of her absolute favorite things to do.

"You called? I'm back!"

Now – sigh – a story about a recall that made my stomach turn.

It was just me, in shorts and a tee with a leash and a fluffy white Coton de Tulear at the end of it.  He was a pup named Grayson that had been a client of mine for over a year and his owner trusted me to take him out on my own.  We were doing a walk-and-train private lesson in Central Park.  It was the middle of a hot summer day, middle of the week, when most people are at work.  Nonetheless, the famous NYC park was living up to its billing, the paths and field abuzz with many characters.  From the joggers and disc tossers to the moms and their toddlers to the dog walkers and who-knows-what-nutters, if people-watching was your thing, this was the place to be.

Across the field, a guy in a wheelchair caught my eye because he had a Border Collie alongside him.  You don’t see many BCs in NYC.  The striking black-and-white coat stood out beautifully against the green grass and trees.  I watched them for a moment, nothing particularly interesting about them, so my eyes wandered away and back to Grayson at the end of my leash.  I put Grayson in a down-stay and was walking away from him, letting my long line drop on the ground when suddenly I heard firecrackers go off nearby.  BAM-BAM!  BAMMITTY-BAMMITTY-BAM!!!  I quickly reeled in the long line and brought Grayson beside me.  As I was doing that I saw something that made my mouth drop and my adrenaline spike.  “Oh, no,” I said aloud.

On a path across the field I could see that the firecrackers sent that Border Collie into a panic.  Her owner in the wheelchair had been holding her leash but the fear caused her to dart out in front of him so forcefully that the leash was yanked right out of his hand.  She was now a mad dash of black-and-white streaks  running frantically down the path and away from her owner in his chair.  The guy was pretty fast racing after her but he was no match for his dog.  She was heading my way when I noticed that several other people were tuned into the event and were thinking the same thing I was, “Help this poor man and GRAB THAT DOG.”

It quickly became clear, though, that this Border Collie had a serious fear of strangers.  Anyone who reached out to her only caused her to dart away in another direction.  I reached in my pocket and grabbed the cheese I had on me as a training reward.  I was thinking if she came close enough I would throw a bunch of cheese on the ground in her direction and make a dive for that leash that was trailing behind her.  But she never made it close enough to me.  All of her side-to-side dashing away from strangers gave her owner enough time to get within shouting distance of her.  And shouting he was.  I heard him yelling at her to come to him and I could see her ears pin back with fear when she heard that voice.  “Uh oh,”  I thought.  “He’s not the one we should all be pitying.”

The poor dog was now torn between fear of running away and fear of returning to her owner.  As the wheelchair crept closer and closer, she would trot further to maintain the distance, but then she would stop and cower whenever her owner would yell.   “Get over here, GET OVER HERE!”  I could hear him seething and his scowl was visible even from 50 yards away.  I frowned.  The situation was all too predictable at this point. Sadly, I watched it unfold just the way I knew it would.  The dog gradually stopped trotting further away and the wheelchair slowly closed the distance between them.  Once he got close enough, the yelling owner was able to freeze his dog in place by intimidating her with his anger.  Then, when he finally caught up to her he really let her have it.  He grabbed the leash and yanked it hard several times, “Don’t you EVER do that AGAIN!” he bellowed through clenched teeth.  The poor dog had her head hung so low I wanted to cry.

“You should’ve just kept running girl,” I thought.  I was sick to my stomach.  There was a strange mixture of emotions churning there: anger, sadness, disappointment, and shock – to think I initially felt bad for the man.  It took me several minutes of pacing and a few deep breaths to make the difficult decision NOT to intervene.  I wanted to be a protector for the dog and a teacher to the man.  There was a strong part of me that badly wanted to go over and have a talk with him.  To tell him it was plainly obvious why his dog would not come back to him.  That I knew exactly why he had to endure the embarrassment of chasing her around Central Park in front of dozens of shocked onlookers.  To tell him that she was scared, not disobedient.  To explain that he only made it worse for next time.  To tell him it was quite possible his dog hated him as much as she loved him.

But I decided this was not my place. Not here, not now.  The man and his dog were completely stressed out. I didn’t think he’d be open to any sort of listening or further embarrassment.  I figured the last thing he wanted was for some strange dog trainer to come over and start teaching him about a personal interaction he just had with his own dog, who he had to chase down from a wheelchair in public.  I let it be.

For the rest of the walk with Grayson, and for the rest of the day, I kept thinking back on whether I should have said something to that man.  Maybe I could have changed the way he interacted with his dog in the future.  Maybe I could have just given him my card and said “Let’s talk at a later time.”

I do believe that most people, even those who scold too much  – and at the wrong times – are more clueless than malicious when it comes to their dogs.  This guy was certainly clueless, to say the least.  If you were in the same situation, would you have gone up to him afterwards?  If so, what would you have said?

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Tip of the Day – Don’t Ruin the Recall: Part 2

June 9, 2010

Yesterday I said that you should never end a recall with something your dog won’t like.

Sounds obvious right? You’re saying you would never end a recall with a punishment. Ha! Are you sure?

Most dog owners make this mistake ALL THE TIME without realizing.  Here’s a simple example:  It’s the morning.  Your new puppy is happily chewing her toy on the rug across the room.  You are standing on the opposite end of the room, by the kitchen, where her gated confinement area is.  It’s time for you to go to work so you call her over to you and she runs right over with enthusiasm.  You give her a quick hug, scoop her up and drop her into the gated area, then leave for work.

No math degree is required for your pup to calculate the net result of her coming when called.  Here’s how her computations went.  She came.  She received: interruption of enjoyable chewing, confinement, and hours of alone time.  In one fell swoop you have just ruined your indoor recall.  Next time you call your pup from across the room in the morning, expect to get response #1 from yesterday’s post (motionless inquisitive look).  Repeat the call-and-confine mistake again and you’ll soon be getting response #3 (running away from your call).

Don’t despair, I have good news.  There’s a way to solve this dilemma. If you have to call your dog for something she won’t like… Don’t.  Do one of these instead:

Option 1: Go get her instead of calling her. This is the best and easiest solution in most cases.  Say nothing.  Don’t ruin your recall cue!  Whether the cue is something casual for indoors (like her name and a leg pat) or your formal training cue for outdoors (like “Come!”) – you should never say any recall cue before your dog will get something she doesn’t like (nail clipping, confinement, baths, smothering from a wild pack of toddlers, etc).  Stop.  Hold your tongue.  Don’t call her.  Just calmly go get her.

Option 2: Do something very fun and rewarding for a couple of minutes BEFORE exposing your dog to the thing she doesn’t like. For example, as in the case described above,  if you call your dog to come over to you and the next event is going to be you leaving for work, don’t put her in confinement and leave RIGHT AFTER she comes to you. Do something fun and completely unrelated for a couple of minutes first.  (I must warn you, though: If you repeat the same pattern every time, a smart dog (most are) will pick up on the associations and learn that the confinement is coming soon in the sequence of events after the recall.  Better to go with option 1 or 3 if you can’t be sufficiently random enough to keep your dog from picking up on your patterns.)

Option 3:  Teach your dog to like the thing she doesn’t like. This is the hardest and most time-consuming option but also the longest lasting and truly best.  As in the above example where you have to go to work and leave your pup in a gated area – you should teach your pup to love that “den” and be comfortable being alone for a few hours at a time.  (It goes without saying that you have pet sitting lined up to break up the day, right!?) Teaching your pup to calmly accept isolation is a topic for another day, but a very important one.  A few quick hints for this: make the confinement area fun (food puzzle toys) and comfortable, gradually increase separation time and distance from you, provide sufficient exercise before and after separation time.

The Wrap: To get a dog who really loves coming when called and responds with enthusiasm every time, the trick is to greet her arrival with generous, awesome rewards. Rewards are anything your dog loves: walks, rubs, toys, play, chase, treats, more freedom, etc – be creative, unpredictable, and generous.  Have fun!  This is especially important in the early training of the recall and if done right, can make a positive association that will last a lifetime.

Yesterday I promised you an intense story about coming when called, but as I continued writing everything you need to know about recalls there was so much more to say that the story will have to wait until tomorrow.  For today, I’d like to wrap by giving you a simple proven formula for getting success with your own dogs outside.

I LOVE to take my dogs hiking off-leash in the woods and through open fields. Therefore they must come when called.  They’ve all learned this and so have clients’ dogs who have stayed in my home and hiked with my family.  Here’s one of my favorite methods for teaching dogs to be reliable off-leash:

  1. I reserve very high value, healthy, rewards ONLY for practicing recalls in the outdoors (ex., boiled chicken).
  2. I practice with a hungry dog to enhance the reward value (ex., we skip breakfast and go out in the morning)
  3. I start out on a long line to ensure safety and to ensure that if the dog ignores me he does not have more fun ignoring me than listening to me.
  4. I reward all positive responses to recalls with generous amounts of tasty treats, praising and rewarding for at least 15 seconds straight.  Then, I say OK! and…
  5. I immediately let the dog run back out into nature and freedom.

That last step is important.  The release back into freedom becomes a reward in and of itself!


Part 3 tomorrow, see you then.

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Tip of the Day – Don’t Ruin the Recall

June 8, 2010

This post on making sure your recall stays strong can be found at the CATCH Canine Trainers Academy website.  Read it here.


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How to Teach Your Dog to Lie Down

June 6, 2010

Our Puppy Kindergarten/Basic Obedience series has a new video: Hazel learning to lie down for the very first time.  Teaching your dog to lie down instills calmness, self-control, and respect for you. As always, I use a fun and easy method your dog will love.  Most dogs can learn this in under 10 minutes!

Keep an eye out for Part 2 of Lie Down, where I’ll teach you how to:

  1. fade out the lure in your signal hand; and
  2. get your dog to drop into a Down on cue without you having to bend

More Can’t Miss Basic Obedience Tips and Exercises

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