Patchs and Neka Playing


This is a video of Patchs and Neka playing. It was taken in my back yard in June 2009. This kind of play session happened 2-3 time per day, everyday! And they both looked forward to some rough-housing to burn off their extra energy.

If you read my past few posts you will remember that Neka was a “basket case” when I got her. The Rescue I got her from told me that she was so anti-social that she would never be able to be around other dogs, and would have to be the “only” dog in the household. They also had concerns about her being around kids and men as she seamed to be very fearful.

This video was taken almost 22 months after I got Neka. By this time I had worked with her for hundreds of hours. Both alone and in controlled situations with people and with other dogs. She was pretty well over her fear issues and had been well socialized. She had learned that dogs and humans were her friends and she loved to play with other dogs and loved to be around people, especially little kids.

When this video was taken Patchs had been living with us for about 2 months and it was like they had been best buddies for ever. They bonded almost instantly! In the 3+ years they were together they only had one little issue and it was over a treat that fell on the floor. The whole thing lasted about 2 seconds because I was right there to stop it as it started! (Patchs started it).

Socializing dogs correctly is the key. With these two, it took me almost a full month of backyard playtimes to make sure that they were cool with each other in every situation before I agreed to bring Patchs into our home!

Socializing is not rocket science. It is just a matter of being aware of the dog’s personality and body language, and then being able to control situations before they get out of hand. This comes by bonding with the dog as soon as you can. Being able to stop play sessions like this one when I saw things starting to “heat up” kept them from playing to rough or going to far. A simple “Enough” followed by “Lay Down” given to each dog was like pushing the “restart” button.

I’d love to hear your thought! Please click the “Comment” button below!

Remembering the Past Part 2


This is a photo of my dog Princess Neka. She was one of my biggest challenges and one of my greatest learning experiences. She came to me as a “frightened of everything” German Shepherd Dog. She had been dumped in the country as a young dog and she had no trust of humans beyond the point of taking food and water. The rescue told me that she would never get along very well with other dogs and she should never be around kids.

I worked with her every moment I could for about 6 months. After just 8 weeks she had 5 new dog friends and was hanging out in my back yard with 3-4 of the neighborhood kids.

Before she passed away she was visiting a Nursing Care Center and she was mentoring several dogs that I was working with that had behavior issues. She was just days away from taking the test for CGC when she passed away of a sudden illness. She was only 6 years old.

What is Your Dog’s Currency? – Reward Based Training Tips

Your Dog Wants to Work - Find it A Job

In a recent article called “Will Word for Food” I talked about finding your dog a job, and rewarding it for doing it.  In this post, I want to talk about rewarding your dog for doing what you ask … when you ask!

While I do not believe in using treats or a food reward for everything, or all of the time, I do think that dogs (and other pets) can often benefit from the use of treats during the early stages of training a behavior or command.

I recently worked with a dog that would not release a ball when giving the “Drop It” command. When trying to get the dog to drop it, it would turn into a “tug-o-war” match that the owner would always lose. But after introducing a small piece of milk-bone she would drop the ball every time. The same thing happened with most other commands.

While it is vitally important to bond with the dog first, it may not always be enough to get the dog to listen and respond the first time you give a command. Some dogs (especially younger ones) are just way to hyper or don’t have a long enough attention span. In these cases, treats are a great way to get and keep your dog’s attention for a longer amount of time.

Treats should only be used to connect the command with the correct response, and only until the dog “gets” the behavior or command. Once this happens the reward should become more of a verbal / tactile one. (a.k.a. scruffing and petting and giving lots of “good dog”s)

An example of this might be: You are calling your dog to come. When it comes, you reward with a treat and in a happy voice you say: “Good Dog” and scruff the dog on the neck and pet it. After several days the dog is now coming to you every time you call him. Instead of giving a treat every time it comes to you, you start giving it only voice and petting rewards 8 out of 10 times he comes to you. Over the course of a few weeks you should be able to remove the food reward completely, except for special occasions. If the dog lapses, you can reintroduce the treats and start over. This is common in younger dogs, so don’t feel like you have done something wrong!

The point being that the dog needs to eventually learn to do want you ask of it because it wants to please you. It will know that it is pleasing you because you are giving it a reward (praise and petting) when it does something correctly.

Another way to offer rewards is to play with your dog using it’s favorite toy or toys. This is how police and military dogs are trained. My dog loves to play with her rubber tug ring or a tennis ball and she will do just about anything to get me to spend a few moments with her playing with her toys.

But it’s not enough to go out and buy a bag of milk-bones or a few toys. Different treats and different toys have different values to different dogs. Your dog might like tennis balls over anything else, or you dog my like Beggin’ Strips the best, but the next dog may not like either of them. So it’s important to bond with YOUR dog and take the time to find out what it’s favorites are. One of my favorite well know trainers calls this: “Finding out what your dog’s currency is” …

Example:  My dog likes fresh cooked chicken or pork over anything else. So these are my dog’s $1,000 bill. Next, her $500 bills are the smelly treats like T-bonz, or Beggin’ Strips. The $50 bill is a Milk-bone or her tennis ball. and so on!

Keep in mind:
Most dogs will do most of their work for a $20 bill. So it’s important that you not throw around a bunch of $1000 bills when you don’t have to. If put into human terms: You work 8 to 5 for $20 per hour … So if your boss started paying you $100 per hour, how much work would he get out of you when he started giving you $20 again?

So if you want to make training more fun for you and your dog, do a little research and find out what your dog’s currency is. You and your dog will be much more happy for it!

Our Young People Need Our Help

I’d like to take a few moments to thank some old friends, and some new ones as well.

For several years now I’ve tried to come up with a way to “pay it forward” so to speak. I have several interests in my life, but none any stronger than my love and respect for dogs. As people who have known me for a while will attest, I very rarely go anywhere without mine. And to tell you the truth, I’d sometimes rather stay home than go out without my faithful companion at my side.

My passion for dogs began during my formative years. I’ve been around dogs for over 4/5th of my life. Dogs have been my playmates, my friends, my companions and even my teachers.

These wonderful relationships have recently led me in the direction of education. No, I’m not going back to college to get a degree. Instead, I’m forming The Iowa Dog Trust. The Iowa Dog Trust will be an organization designed to teach young people and adults about dogs.

Over the past 10 years or so, I’ve noticed an alarming amount of animal abuse cases among teens and young adults. I’ve also noticed that some of the people convicted of these terrible crimes against animals have no remorse for what they’ve done. They actually see nothing wrong with abusive and murderous acts. This just blows my mind!

Another thing that concerns me is the amount of disinformation that is available today. Don’t get me wrong. It’s not the fact that everyone has an opinion. It’s the fact that with this opinion, many of them tell others that because they have first hand information they are actually “professionals” in the field of dog training. It seams to me that in order to become a professional animal trainer these days, all you need to do is hang up a sign and your are a professional.

With all of the dog trainers that we now have access to via TV, the Internet and on DVD it can be confusing. And with the wide range of training philosophies these trainers use, it would also be very easy to confuse our dogs.

I feel that it is critically important for people to understand dog training from the dog’s point of view. Not the human point of view. Unless a proper dog/human bond is created and unless we as humans learn to communicate with them, we are simply training a response. The goal should be a relationship, not a dictatorship.

My advice has always been this:  If you really love your pet, and you really want what is best for it, you will take the time to find out what makes your pet tick. Any “professional” trainers that are worth their salt will ask you what your dog likes and dislikes and what you think the source of a curtain problem is before they form a strategy for training. They should also be concerned for a dog’s best interest and health during training. A dog that is exposed to physical or mental stress during training is not going to perform well. In fact, it will often time shut down.

This is why I feel very strongly that we need to educate the average dog owner and make them more aware of these kinds of issues. And that’s what the Iowa Dog Trust is all about.

So, Thank You to all of my old friends who have supported me over the years and are 100% behind me on this new effort. And thank you to all of my new friends who have come on-board recently to help further this worthy cause.

Please feel free to offer any comments and suggestions. They will only make our project better! And again, Thank You Very Much for your support! I am truly honored.

Choosing the Right Dog Trainer

How do I make sure that I’m getting “The Right Dog Trainer?”

I’ll bet I have been asked this question at least a thousand times over the past few years. The recent rise in TV based dog training shows has spurred many discussions and even a few heated arguments on this subject.

The main thing to remember when beginning your search for the right trainer is to remember that every dog is different and that every training situation is different. Subscribing to one type or one specific method of training doesn’t allow for this. Not being flexible is not only dangerous, it’s completely irresponsible!

The best trainer for you is a trainer who continually takes in all of the information he or she can from as many sources as possible. Doing this gives the trainer a wider variety of knowledge and more possible options to consider when he/she is presented with a given behavior issue or situation. Having a open mind when it comes to any and all training methods will allow the trainer to determine which method or combination of methods will be the best for you and your dog.

No matter which trainer you choose, you must take the time to investigate the methods that that trainer might choose to employee when training your dog. Don’t follow them blindly or think “Oh their professionals, they must know what they are doing.” This is irresponsible too! You must completely agree with their methods and if you have any questions, the trainer should be more than happy to take the time to answer your questions and satisfy your concerns.

You must always remember to do only what is best for your dog. In the end, if your dog doesn’t trust or respect you and your trainer, your dog will never respond well to the training.

You and your dog must also “like” the trainer. Like humans, dogs don’t always like everyone they met. Before any training begins, you and your dog must be comfortable with the trainer. This means that a relationship must exist. And not only between you and the trainer, but your dog and trainer also. If a trainer doesn’t take the time to “get to know” your dog before he begins, he is the wrong trainer for you.

Lastly, when choosing a trainer, make sure he/she uses methods that support physical health and mental balance in your dog. Trainers who prefer to use shortcuts that can physically or mentally harm your dog should never be allowed access to your beloved family member.

My Dog Training Philosophy – Explaining the 5 Basics

In this blog yesterday I talked about my thoughts about dog training and how to choose a trainer. Today I will explain my Five Basic Elements of training. Following the guidelines below I have been able to develop happy and well-behaved dogs for more than 38 years. If you follow these guidelines, your training sessions will be relatively stress free and a they will be a positive experience for both you and your dog.

  • Build Trust and Respect Between You and the Dog
  • Determine Which Training Strategy to Use
  • Incorporating Your Training Strategy
  • Set Up a Training Schedule and Set Goals For Each Session
  • Reinforce Training with Daily Refresher Sessions

Build Trust and Respect Between You and the Dog

Mutual trust and mutual respect is the foundation of solid training. Every successful dog trainer will tell you that a positive relationship between the trainer and the dog must begin with trust and respect. Both must exist previous to the beginning of any training in order to maximize the efforts of that training. That’s not to say that a dog will not learn the behaviors if you don’t build a trusting, respectful relationship first. It can still be done, it will just make training that much harder and it will also take much longer.

Trust and respect will ONLY come with time and effort! When you spend a large amount of time with someone, or in this case the new dog, trust and respect will come much quicker. I have always advised that when someone brings a new dog in to their home, that they do so ONLY when they can spend at least 36 hours in direct contact with that dog. Yes, this means in the same room, or at least within the same line of sight. And this means NON-STOP, with no breaks. Personally, I go to the extreme of actually putting a sleeping bag down on the floor and I live at the dog’s eye-level for the first 18-24 hours.

With an adult dog, the first 1-2 hours consists of an on-leash stroll. When I say stroll, I mean stroll. We move at the dog’s pace and I let him do ALL of the sniffing and peeing he wants to. This stroll begins around the yard, and then around the block, and finally around the neighborhood. Then we move into the house and do the same. Remember to leave the leach on. That way you can keep him off the furniture our out of areas in the house without having to correct him. In the case of a new puppy, the above holds true as well. I suggest that the owner stay in constant close physical contact for these first few hours. This includes sitting or laying in front of the puppy and playing with toys, hand feeding and allowing the puppy to sleep right next to them … and yes, even napping in their lap.

Determine Which Training Strategy to Use
In my experience I have found that dogs basically have five different personalities. They are: Hyper, Outgoing, Calm, Shy or Fearful. In addition to these five personalities, they each have their own sets of personal likes and dislikes to consider.

This means as the trainer, you must have at least 5 basic training strategies. After all, you couldn’t expect to use the same training strategies on a hyper dog as you do with a scared dog. And your method also has to change a little when working with a calm dog compared to an outgoing dog.

My point is that you must take the time to learn what your dog’s personality is before you can hope to come up with the proper training strategy. It has also been my experience that this takes at least a few days and as many as four weeks for a dog to get comfortable in its new surroundings! “Getting Comfortable” is what I refer to as the period of “initial trust”. (This isn’t as true with young puppies. They are inherently more trusting).

Once your dog is “comfortable” you will know what group your new dogs personality falls into. You will also know what activities, kind of toys and kinds of treats it likes. This knowledge will allow you to plan the correct training strategy. By using this knowledge (and consistent training techniques) the dog’s likes and dislikes can be used as a reward for correct behavior.

Incorporating Your Training Strategy
With your dog’s likes and dislikes in mind, remember that fearful dogs will need confident but gentle leadership. Because fearful dogs usually lack self-confidence you will need to be nurturing and reassuring. When your fearful dog does a behavior correctly, offer plenty of treats, tactile rewards and lavish praise in a happy and excited voice.

Shy dogs will also require gentle leadership. They will still have some self-esteem issues so you will need to build their confidence with treats, tactile rewards and lavish praise just like the fearful dog.

Calm dogs are the easiest to train because they are confident and usually indifferent to outside stimulation. They except leadership without question because they just want to please you. When your calm dog does a behavior correctly, you can offer treats, tactile rewards or praise and the dog will except them and just move on knowing that you are happy with him.

With an outgoing dog, movement, high-pitched voices and/or any kind of excitement can over-stimulate them causing even more excitement. When training, avoid lavish excessive praise. Instead, a calm word of praise and a gentle pat on the head is usually enough to get your point across. Outgoing dogs have a lot of confidence so strong leadership is often necessary. The more excited the dog is, the stronger your leadership will need to be. When you begin training, you will want to have the dog on a leash in order for you to have better control. There should also be very little or no distractions present.

As with the outgoing dog, a hyper dog keys on movement, high-pitched voices and any kind of excitement. Over-stimulation can cause this personality to become uncontrollable at times. When training, a calm, firm, but compassionate tone is required. Tactile rewards and calming praise can be the reward used. Treats should be used sparingly and ONLY when the dog is calm and quiet. Hyper dogs have an over abundance of confidence, so strong leadership is always necessary. This does NOT mean physical control, leash popping or hitting. Trying to use this kind of control, can and will often get you bit. During training or while in public you will most likely need to have this dog on a leash in order for you to have proper control.

Set Up a Training Schedule and Set Goals For Each Session
A Training Schedule should be set up so that you train your dog daily. Skipping days or even skipping a single session can serve to set training back. It can also make it harder to train your dog.

I’ve seen many people start out training for a week or so, then begin to put off sessions because they are just too busy to take the time or they just haven’t got the time in the morning or evening. They keep saying they will begin again tomorrow, but tomorrow never seems to come. Then a month or so later they wonder why their dog is out of control, chewing up the house, jumping the fence, chasing the mailman or killing the neighbor’s cat.

Training sessions don’t have to take ½ hour or even 15 minutes in length. They only need to be 3 to 5 minutes in length and held 2 to 4 times per day.

When setting goals for training, make them easy to attain. When teaching a behavior, break the behavior down into its segments. When the first segment is attained, end the session and reward the dog. When the dog becomes good at that segment, move on to the next segment, and so on. As with all training, be sure to reward the dog and always end the session on a positive note. Also take the time to play with the dog. This way the dog will be more likely to perform in a positive manor. If it knows that “fun time” comes at the end of the training it will look forward to training.

Reinforce Training with Daily Refresher Sessions
Training is not a one-time thing. It is important to practice the training on a day-to-day basis. Just like football or baseball players “practice” every day, your dog needs to practice every day as well. Reinforcement of training only requires a minute or two per day. And you can actually do it while watching TV or surfing the Internet.

In summary, training should begin after you get to know your dog and should be fun for you and your dog. Sessions should be adjusted to your dog’s personality and training sessions can last just a few minutes as long as you repeat it several times a day.

Tomorrow:  We’ll talk about Choosing the Right Trainer when you need Help


My Philosophy on Dog Training

A lifelong relationship between you and your dog begins with trust and respect, and is strengthened through a great friendship, solid – consistent training and mutual respect.

Anyone can be a dog trainer. Whether or not “ANY” one should be allowed to be a dog trainer is a very hot topic these days.

If you want to train your own dog, and you feel comfortable doing it, you don’t need a trainer. But I’m not really talking about this situation here. Unless, or course you happen to run into issues during the training. And if this happens, then I would hope that would seek out professional help from a local trainer. (More about this later).

What I am really talking about in this blog is: in most areas, there are no educational or ethical requirements that must be met in order to become a “professional” dog trainer to the public. If someone wants to start training dogs as an occupation, they don’t need to get a diploma or even a basic training certificate. They don’t even have to attend a local workshop or pass an online training course. Nothing. They can just open the door and have at it!

This, in itself, might not even be the biggest problem. The big problems come when these individuals start working with your dog. Most dog owners have no clue what is or is not acceptable practice in the training world. And because you will find as many different training philosophies as you will “dog trainers”, how can you be sure you are getting the right trainer, the right training and that your dog is being trained correctly?

I’ve seen dogs kicked, tripped, pushed to the ground, pinned down against their will, jerked, slapped and even rapped around a tree by the leash … and all in the name of “training”. I’ve seen this happen right in front of their very well meaning owners and the owners thought it was perfectly fine to let the trainer do it because, after all, he was a professional… What?

Personally, I have never had to lift a finger to my dogs. And I don’t used just one training method. This is because one method will never work effectively on every dog. Training should be about connecting with your dog, and should never be about a single method that a trainer prefers. If someone ever says, ”Here’s what you need to do” without spending ample time observing or interacting with your dog, he’s the wrong trainer for you!

Fearful and shy dogs need a much softer approach. They need encouragement to build their confidence and self-esteem. Excited and hyper dogs need a calming influence and an approach that is a bit more on the firm side. Some dogs respond better to treats while other may do fine with only verbal encouragement. While still others may need a slip chain and a little light physical correction during training. Some dogs take longer to “get it” and because of this they may require a lot more patience and consistent training. Other dogs may pick up on things in just a few short sessions.

When asked for my help or advice, I always begin by asking the owners what their goals are for the training. I then take the time to evaluate the individual dog’s needs and determine its personality. During this time I also strive to gain the dog’s trust and we develop a friendship. I also begin to develop my training strategy in order to make the dog WANT to be influenced (trained) by me.

The keys to successful training are to first “connect” with the dog, then to find out what the dog likes, then use those things to shape good behavior.

I like to use the following example: Your dog LOVES to play with tennis balls, so it makes perfect sense that when it does a behavior correctly, you give it the ball to play with. This way the dog sees the ball as a reward or payment for a job well done! It will not take very long for your dog to “WANT” to work for the ball. That’s because it knows that it will get to play with it when it does what you ask it to do.

I never punish a dog for doing something incorrectly. I have found that they learn much faster if you encourage them. If you use Heavy-handed tactics or yell at them it will only make them fear you and that quickly removes the trust and respect you have worked so hard to establish.

If a correction is needed, when making it, it is imperative that you stay calm, cool and collected. DO NOT take bad behavior or an incorrect response personally. Instead, try to find a different way to communicate with the dog. The reason he doesn’t do the behavior correctly is because he doesn’t understand what you are asking of him. A simple “NO” or a light leash correction followed by returning your dog to its starting point is usually all it takes.

Dog training consists of five basic elements. Following the guidelines below is important if you want to have a happy and well-behaved dog. If you follow these guidelines your training sessions will be relatively stress free and a positive experience for both you and your dog.

  • Build Trust and Respect Between You and the Dog
  • Determine Which Training Strategy to Use
  • Incorporating Your Training Strategy
  • Set Up a Training Schedule and Set Goals For Each Session
  • Reinforce Training with Daily Refresher Sessions

Tomorrow:   I’ll explain my 5 basic elements of dog training in detail