What lens are YOU looking through?

We are a society quick to lend our opinion. Go to any social media platform where questions get asked and you’ll see what I mean. Within seconds of a question being posed, there are usually answers coming in one after the next.

Maybe it is because we really do want to help. Maybe it is because we want to feed our egos as a purveyor of knowledge. In most cases, I imagine both reasons come into play.

Regardless of the reasons that people chime in, the receiver is going to have to sift through those answers and make decisions about what, if any, advice to act on. 

A critical piece of information the receiver ought to have would be knowledge of what lens the advisor was looking through when they gave the advice. Without some idea about the provider’s actual experience, how is one to know if the advice is sound or not? How do we know if the suggested course of action is actually a good fit?

Here’s a hypothetical example of why the lens matters:

Larry jumps on social media to pose a question to his friends. 

“Hey, I have a new puppy and she is biting my kids a lot. It seems like it is just because she wants to play, but it’s scaring them. How can I get her to stop?

Within moments those little dot icons are spinning. Larry’s friends are hot on it to offer their help.

Answers keep coming in. Larry’s not quite sure what to think. He thanks everyone, but realizes he’s got a lot of conflicting advice. Maybe he’ll just start at the top and work through the suggestions until he finds one that works…
He is pretty confused about what to do. That means Larry’s dog is going to end up pretty confused too…

…because confusion always travels down the leash!

So what does all this lens stuff mean?

How does perspective and experience impact the advice we give and recieve?

Before we take a deeper look, it’s important to recognize that people are generally sincere in their effort to help. I doubt they are jumping in to the conversation because they have ill intent. They are just sharing their experience and what worked for them.

The down side is; what works for one, may not work for the next. The solution may actually be a really poor fit because most people don’t bother to ask questions before they start doling out advice. They make assumptions that everyone’s lens is the same as theirs.

And you know what they say about making assumptions. 😳

Let’s take a look at each of our advisor’s lens.

Lens 1

Iheartdoggies is the owner of the elusive, Bordeaux, Chihuahua/Dachshund, Poodle mix. She paid a pretty penny for it, and it did only minimal biting as pup. By the time the adult teeth were all in, there wasn’t any play biting at all. The owner is being completely honest.
But she has failed to realize that the genetic mix created a disaster of a jaw line, (not to mention a few other health issues) so this dog really can’t put much mouth pressure on anything…including solid food. The connection between the genetic factors and the behavioral ones don’t occur to her. She genuinely believes puppies just grow out of the play biting phase.

Lens 2

It isn’t Mallys4ever’s first rodeo. She has raised numerous dogs in her time. Her enthusiasm is contagious, and she’s excited to help other dog lovers. Almost as excited as she is about her new found passion for competitive dog obedience. She’s just finished a course with an accomplished world class competitor in the field of dog bite sports. The take on how to work with puppy biting IS fantastic. It isn’t about stopping the biting, it’s about directing it to the outlet of a tug toy and teaching the pup how to play with his teeth when allowed, but not using those teeth when not invited to do so. This technique works, it works smooth as butter!!

But it should be mentioned that the world class competitor is also working with world class dogs. Dogs that don’t live in the house as pets with small children roaming about. They live a structured life in a kennel and get structured training sessions each and every day under the tutelage of those expert hands. It is a wonderful set up for success and Mallys4ever is able to replicate most of that set up. She lives alone with her two dogs. Works from home and is pretty much the perfect pet owner. Dogs that end up in her care have struck gold!

Larry, however, works full time outside the home. His wife juggles a part time, home based career while also managing the two children (both under 5 years of age). Their pup is a nice little Labrador purchased from a friend whose dog had a litter, 4 males, 3 females. This family took one of the black females. She’s a pretty soft pup overall but gets excited when the kids are in high gear. Larry is also hoping to do a little hunting with his pup when she matures…He has heard that teaching her to tug might not be a good idea.

Lens 3:

Bigbruno is a good guy. He’s a Boxer breeder and a good one at that. He breeds and raises resilient, bounce back, lovable knuckle heads that are well on their way to being over the biting stage before he even turns the pups over to their new homes at 9 weeks of age. The guy is big hearted, fair, and puts out some pretty great dogs.

He’s happy to offer experienced advice. But he doesn’t know that Larry has a somewhat soft natured pup and has already tried a couple swats. After just a couple times the pup starting getting a little hand shy. Plus, Larry’s 5 year old starting mimicking the swatting and now the pup is getting defensive and starting to lift a lip at the kids. 

Lens 4:

Scigal has two older dogs she got from a rescue. She hasn’t ever actually raised a puppy. She reads a lot and knows that dogs like to chase things that are moving. Children, with their high pitched voices, combined with the excitement of jumping, running and playing…well, it’s pretty hard for a puppy to not want to get involved in that kind of game, so she knows that stopping the running will help. She also knows that reinforcing the right behavior will get more of that same behavior.

But she doesn’t realize that Larry’s kids are both under 5. If you’ve ever spent much time trying to get toddlers to cooperate, you know that it’s only slightly more difficult to successfully nail jello to a tree. 

What does all of this mean to those of us in the dog training profession?

It means we bear a responsibility to be mindful of our lens when people ask us for advice.

We should be asking a LOT of questions to ensure we adequately understand the situation the dog is living in. It means we need to know if what we propose is actually reproducible for the owner/dog combo in question. And it means we need to refer out when our lens is too narrow in scope to actually provide a meaningful solution to the people seeking help. 

Pet dog trainer, field dog trainer, working k9 handler, service dog trainer, competitive bite sports decoy, competition obedience master… The list of areas of expertise is long in our profession. Many areas overlap and intersect – but sometimes important nuances don’t. It is important we keep that in mind when people ask us for advice. 

We all have a lens through which we filter information, what’s yours?

Are the Stars aligned for you and your dog?

I’d like you to answer the following question with the FIRST response that comes to mind.

Do you have a stubborn dog?

Over the years, it has been my experience that many people respond with an affirmative, yes. Many times, the yes is accompanied by either a sigh of frustration or a defeated sense of acceptance.

I celebrated my birthday recently and it got me contemplating the mindset we have about personalities that are “stubborn”. A friend of mine wished me a happy birthday and noted we were fellow “rams”… meaning we both fall under the astrological sign of Aries.

Please, don’t stop reading! I promise not to go down a deep rabbit hole about birth signs and their perceived impact on our personalities. However, the perception that the Ram personality type is quite fitting isn’t lost on me.

Some people might describe me as stubborn, aggressive, or obsessive. I know, at times, I can be brash and quite headstrong in getting my way. In fact, as I think this through, I realize that I gravitate toward those same qualities when picking my personal dogs. The old adage: “dogs resemble their owners” rings pretty true, at least in reference to personality!

The good news is, there’s a flip side to the negative connotations that go along with my character traits. If we play with some synonyms, I’d say that persistent, bold, and determined are some of my best assets. I’m certain those traits are keys to the success I’ve had in helping others better understand their dogs and build stronger relationships.

So what if we switched the adjectives we apply to our “Stubborn” dogs to have more positive connotations? How much easier would it be to stay the course in training if we understood our dogs to be persistent in their pursuit of the cat, rather than stubborn in their resolve of not listening? Perhaps our dogs have their own motivations for chasing small animals (or herding the kids, or barking at the intruders in their home, etc) and they aren’t deliberately disobeying you.

What if you began to look at behaviors from your dog’s point of view? Try to be in his head for a few minutes and consider what he was originally breed to do? What might his perception of the world around him be? What motivations does he respond to and what does he tend to tune out?

Now evaluate how much time and effort you’ve honestly put into teaching the dog exactly what acceptable behavior you would prefer to replace the ones you don’t like. Have you taught your dog how to simply observe the cat and let it pass by, rather than stalk and chase it? Have you taught the barking dog how to Be Quiet? Let me point out that standing across the room hysterically yelling “Quiet” is probably just convincing the dog that you are in full support of his behavior and you’re joining in the noisemaking!

I don’t want to draw conclusions for you. After all, only you know how much effort you’ve invested in training and whether or not you’ve really taken time to understand behavior from your dog’s perspective. I do think it is fair to say that most of us draw conclusions about our dog’s behavior based on human perceptions and experience, because, after all, we’re human and it is the experience we are most familiar with! Just be mindful that human perception and experience is not the same as a dog’s.

So perhaps your dog isn’t so “stubborn” after all.

Perhaps they are determined, persistent, or feisty because prior to us acquiring them to fill our own needs for emotional support and companionship, they actually had a purpose. Perhaps that purpose is part of who they are. Perhaps those character traits are built into their DNA. You can either decide to fight against those traits or change synonyms and start channeling natural behaviors in a direction that will bring you both satisfaction.

….or you can start subscribing to your dog’s horoscope and hope things turn out for the best! 😉

Dog Camp 2016

Dog Camp 2016

If you love spending time playing with and training your dog, then this Dog Camp is for you.

For some time, I have wanted to create a diversified training event geared solely toward the needs of pet dog owners. The goal was to come up with a curriculum that addressed multiple aspects of dog ownership. That intention gave birth to the Dog Camp concept.

This camp does not just focus on training but takes a look at the whole dog. From personality profiling to nutrition, training and problem solving and, of course, lots of fun and games, it is an activity filled three-day event that leaves owners better educated and dog’s lucky to have such owners!

We will also cover the key components of obedience training with a remote collar.

If you’ve been curious about remote collar use and your goal is to have better off leash reliability with your dog this is a great time to get started! If you do not own a remote collar, don’t worry; we’ll help you select the right equipment for your dog. Remote collar training done our way means more fun for your dog and less stress!

Here is a peak at what you can expect if you join us for Dog Camp.

Last year our first camp was here in Dubuque, Iowa and then a second event was hosted in Kelowna, Canada. Dog Camp can come to your location too, so if you are interested in hosting an event contact me robin@robinmacfarlane.com for more info.

This year we will be kicking off our Dog Camp camp on Friday, June 10th here in Dubuque. If you want to join us for this 3-day adventure, register now!

*Space limited to 15 dogs, so my staff, and I can give you the personalized attention you deserve.

Register & Sign up now!

Reasons or Results – Which Will You Choose?

Dog Behavior Problems and Solutions. Will You Choose Reasons or Results?

I recently wrote about 5 ways to mess up your dog. The list included obvious mistakes in dog ownership like not providing enough exercise or structure, but it also mentioned, “letting sympathy rein” regarding how we often view shelter dogs or dogs with anxiety issues.

To make my point about how useless sympathy is in helping rehabilitate dogs that have behavioral issues, allow me to share with you a bit of my personal story.

Years ago I had to go through some significant physical therapy after being involved in an auto accident.

On Halloween of 1997, I found myself careening down the side of a California mountain in a U-Haul that lost its brakes. Through deft maneuvering on the part of my sister driving, we opted to take the truck into the hillside rather than “off” of the cliff edge. It was the best choice available, and we both survived the impact. The challenge for the rescue team was extracting us from the crushed cab of the vehicle. Both of my legs got tangled and crushed into the wreckage, and it took the crew about 3 hours to figure out how to get me extricated. As a result, I had numerous broken bones and a cracked vertebrae.

There were a few months spent in a wheelchair before I proceeded to crutches and eventually to walking free of assistance (which the surgeon at the time of the accident wasn’t sure would be possible). I owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to the rescue team, the talented crew in the operating room and enormous credit to my physical therapist, Tony. He never really bothered to hear much of my story or invest time in lamenting what had happened to me to get me into that situation. He just pushed me forward day after day to learn to walk again and regain every bit of physical ability that I could.

So how does this tie into to helping a dog improve their behavior?

Well, as the title says, you can have ‘Reasons or Results,’ but the key word in that statement is OR. You simply cannot have both. You have to choose which direction you want to invest your time and energy into.

Unfortunately, I often see people who are more locked into the reasons their dog does XYZ (whatever behavior is of concern) than in actually working to create positive change.

The reasons are numerous and typically emotionally charged: “He’s a rescue dog,” “she was attacked by another dog,” “he never got socialized as a puppy,” “she came from a puppy mill,” “he lived outside tied to a tree,” or “we think he was abused.”

These reasons may be perfectly valid, but all too often owners allow those reasons to get in the way of helping the dog. The sympathy takes over and becomes an excuse for not doing the work needed to make the situation better.

Words have tremendous power. They influence emotions and emotions are what influence us to take action. For this reason, we should be conscious of the words we use to describe our dogs. Those descriptions create a fine line between simply becoming reasons or actually turning into results.

For example, how do you think about a training problem versus a training challenge? While they could equally be used to describe a situation, one feels more daunting while the other inspires us to take action.

This is what I meant when I referred to the mistake of letting sympathy rein in the 5 mistakes article. All too often dogs described as “rescue dog” or a dog “we think was abused” have been handicapped by owners who can’t put the sympathy aside. It simply does no good to keep that thought prevalent in our mindset. Whatever happened is in the past. It should not determine the dog’s future.

When I first met Tony for PT, he never asked me “what happened?” we just started working on the goal of getting me walking again. There was never a single moment of “poor Robin.” There was only the continual push of persevering toward a goal. I am eternally grateful for that.

Stay focused on the results you want to create with your dog. Don’t let speculation about abuse, rescue, neglect, etc. overtake your thinking and limit your expectations of what is possible.

Change your words and thus your thinking. Try exchanging “rescue” for “adopted,” switch “scared” to “shy” and drop abused altogether. I am not encouraging you to deny what was, but perhaps it is time to move on. Your dog has more potential and resilience than you likely give him or her credit for.

You can have reasons OR results. Which one do you choose?

5 Ways to Mess Up Your Dog

5 Ways to Mess Up Your Dog

Most of the time, dog trainers invest effort trying to teach dog owners what to do to have a well- mannered, well-adjusted companion.

But sometimes it is helpful to look at things from another angle so let me share a few thoughts on how you can wreak havoc with your dog’s mental health and have a negative impact on their behavior.

These are some of the top ways that you can mess up your dog. After messing them up you can invest lots of effort, and sometimes large amounts of money, fixing the problems.


Top Five Ways to Mess Up Your Dog:


1. Leave Your Dog Tethered or Unattended Outside.

Doing this is one of the best ways to build aggression problems. A dog left unsupervised, outside while you are inside or not home often learns to take on a “guard duty” role.

It is instinctual for most dogs to feel protective of territory, so if the dog is alone in the yard there is little choice left for a dog other than to scare intruders away by barking, lunging or chasing.

It is important to remember that just because you know the neighbors are not threats, does not mean your dog understands that fact. Your dog is likely to view the mailman, the skateboarder or your children’s friends as scary intruders. Once a dog realizes that the actions of chasing, barking and lunging make people “go away”…it can be a rapid path to building serious aggression issues.

2. Provide Little Physical Exercise or Mental Activity.

This is easy. Get up, feed the dog, leave the house for a day at work, come home tired, make your dinner and take care of the kids, let the dog go out to the bathroom, collapse on the couch, yell at the dog for pestering you, watch t.v. then go to bed. Get up and repeat day in and day out.

Don’t bother with any walks, outings to the park or games of fetch because the dog already has a ‘big yard’ and dozens of toys to play with for entertainment. Treat your dog like an inmate. A penitentiary with plenty of books and an exercise yard should be an adequate living arrangement for years of exceptional mental health. ;-0

3. Enforce No Rules, Structure or Expectations.

Be sure not to crush little Fluffy’s spirit by actually stopping her from barking at and jumping on every guest that comes to your home. Allow Brutus to drag you wherever his heart desires when you walk him. This is especially true when Brutus just wants to “say Hi!”. Expecting your dog to actually to pay attention to you and walk nicely might stifle their exuberance.

As for treats, affection and new toys, dispense them liberally for no good reason other than how cute the look on Cujo’s face is when he barks at you.

Also, make sure you pet him and tell him everything is “ok” when he behaves that way.

While we are at it let’s apply the same philosophy to children. Hand them a candy bar or bribe with the potential of a new toy when they have a meltdown, or temper tantrum because at least it will occupy them for a while.

4. Yell at your Dog.

Anytime your dog is pestering you, getting on your nerves or doing anything other than being a couch potato, start yelling. Profanities will help, and the occasional whack on the nose for added emphasis will go a long way toward creating a cowering creature that finally learns to leave you alone.

If the above doesn’t work, just tie the dog outside so you do not have to deal with it. (see #1) Don’t bother to expend energy teaching the dog good behavior. Dog’s should just “know” how to behave properly.

5. Let Sympathy Rein.

When your dog shows hesitation, nervousness or anxiety around people or other dogs, pick him up, snuggle or stroke to reassure him it will all be ok.

Coo, coddle and dispense affection, otherwise known as “reinforcing the behavior.” This will ensure that the dog’s anxiety will worsen, but at least you will feel better when sharing the story about your poor dog that must have been abused before you rescued him.

DO NOT pull the big girl panties on, hiding your own emotional state from the dog to help it overcome past issues or lack of social skill. To do so would mean you have to act in your dog’s best interest much like a physical therapist does when they help people rehab from horrible accidents and physical limitations.
There you have it, the perfect recipe for a neurotic dog!

Professional Dog Trainer Course

The next professional dog trainer course is going to be held October 12th – 22nd. The 10 day E-cademy program is geared specifically toward those dog training professional who want to learn more about incorporating e-collar training into their training business.

Since 2002 this immersion program has helped individuals to hone their training skills and greatly enhance their coaching capabilities. The curriculum weighs heavily on practical application, rather than just theory. Participants gain significant hands on experience working with a wide variety of dogs of varying temperament. Cases range from basic obedience to complex behavioral issues.

Robin’s many years of experience, not only with a variety of training techniques, but also her animal health background create an ideal learning opportunity to understand how remote training works in conjunction with other tools and a “whole dog” approach. While attending the E-cademy program, students witness first hand, both private and group lessons as well as work with day training and board & train dogs. Students also get considerable instruction on the “how to” of successfully coaching pet owners to carry through and achieve their goals. The hands on learning, plus instruction of how to more efficiently operate the day to day of a dog training, daycare and boarding operation has helped many trainers greatly accelerate their business potential.

The 10 day course is held at That’s My Dog! Inc in Dubuque, IA and limited to 5 participants to ensure the best possible learning experience and one to one time training personally with Robin.

Check here more information about the professional dog trainer course  or e-mail robin@robinmacfarlane.com for complete curriculum.

Possessive behavior in dogs can be prevented.

Possessive behavior in dogs is dangerous but it can be prevented.

Big issues can arise when a dog becomes confident at defending bones, toys or other items. Some dogs even become possessive of people and won’t let others approach or sit next to “their human”. This is scary in a number of ways.

If a dog with resource guarding issues gets a hold of anything potentially dangerous it can be very challenging to try and take it away. It is now dangerous for the dog, plus dangerous that someone may get bit trying to remove the item. There is also a good deal of potential liability when owning a dog that has possessive behaviors. All too often it is the unknowing visitor or house guest that is the one who gets nipped or sometimes seriously hurt.

As with any behavior problem, trying to fix existing issues is much more difficult and time consuming than preventing them from ever getting started.

To help you get an idea of how to head off these problems of possessive behavior, I filmed one of the routine interactions we go through when dogs are here at the training facility.

We often have dogs practicing the Place command while we are attending to other tasks. For those who don’t know what a Place command is, we define it as the dog remaining on their mat or bed, (4 paws on) until given permission to go.

Today I noticed that the staff had given each of the dogs a food stuffed bone or rubber toy to chew on to keep them entertained. This was the perfect opportunity to see if any of the dogs in training had issues with possessive behavior and make sure we were heading off any potential problems.

Here is a quick look at what I did to help create the right associations for dogs being approached by humans when they had coveted items in their control.



Notice that I always approached bearing gifts. I moved toward the dogs with something to offer. It gave them reason to look up, sniff my hand and discover something yummy was there waiting for them. I offered them several treats before I ever touched the item they were chewing on. When I did take a hold of the bone or toy, I shared possession of it with them, rather than taking it away.

Then I gave it back and let them enjoy in peace.

What I didn’t do was approach with an attitude of “I’m dominate and I’ll take things away if I darn well please.”

While I do firmly believe we need to teach our dogs to relinquish anything to us, I don’t think that an aggressive attitude will gain us cooperation in the long run. Making a stand to prove you can remove something from your dog’s mouth is not the best way to head off future problems of possessive behavior.

Even if I prove to a dog that I am bigger, stronger and more dominate, that isn’t going to have any carry over with the next person or make the dog any safer with other guests, family members or children.

Let me explain the rational for my approach this way:

Imagine yourself, sitting in a restaurant, enjoying a wonderful meal. You’re fully engaged in eating, not anywhere near done and the waiter comes up, reaches in and takes away your plate. You try to take the plate back and he pulls it farther away and tells you No.

How exactly do you feel about that? I mean after all, it’s not yours right? You haven’t paid the bill yet. That food belongs to the restaurant and if they want to take it back, well, then they are entitled. Now let’s suppose that happens a few times. Apparently restaurateurs and waiters are out to teach you a lesson about not trying to possess food and that you should give up your plate willingly at any time.

How’s this lesson working out so far? I am guessing that you are starting to feel a bit apprehensive and perhaps even defensive when a waiter approaches your table?

Now lets imagine a different scenario. You’re eating your meal, the waiter approaches and offers you a sample of a very awesome new appetizer that just came out of the oven, then he offers to move your plate so he can make room for a new dish they want you to sample as well. Later he comes back to top off your drink and gives you a piece of dessert

Do you see how the waiters approach now has created anticipation of “what great thing is coming next!” rather than apprehension that you might lose something of value?

And if the waiter did have to come to take your plate away from you quickly because they just discovered their was something wrong with the food…you would not have developed the desire to hide or horde your meal. The waiter could remove the plate with little resistance or defensiveness from you.

Possessive behavior is a pretty natural state of being. Without some innate sense of it, I doubt any of us, dogs or humans, would have survived very long.

The thing is, we want to teach our dogs that it isn’t necessary.

The goal should be to develop a dog that trusts us enough to take away a coveted item. That trust is built by having a higher ratio of giving rather than taking when we approach our dogs.

The training takes a little practice and the ideal time to start is with a young pup that hasn’t learned (or at least hasn’t had lots of practice) with the habit of defensiveness yet.

If you have a dog that growls, snaps or bite in situations like this, please get professional help. By the time the dog is bearing teeth you are already having serious issues with possessive behavior.



My dog is stubborn! He just won’t listen!

My dog is stubborn is a sentiment I hear fairly often.

Believing dogs to be willfully disobedient seems to be an easy leap for many of us to make. After all, why wouldn’t our dog listen? Perhaps they just like to be difficult and cause us frustration?

I’m certain that from time to time dogs do make an actual judgment to ignore our directives. But I don’t think it is as often as we want to assume. All these years in the dog training profession have lead me to the perspective that it boils down to only three reasons that our dogs don’t listen to us.

The primary one being, more often than not, our dogs don’t understand that what we’ve asked them to do pertains to the situation they are in at the moment.

Rather than assuming the worst about our dogs, let’s understand that they simply don’t generalize very well.

They usually understand how to perform specific behaviors, in specific locations, with specific cues. But when we ask the dog to perform that same behavior in a brand new environment we’re surprised (or upset) when Fido doesn’t follow through.

So we jump to the conclusion, my dog is stubborn, when it is more likely that we’ve changed the context so much that the dog just truly doesn’t understand what is expected.

Let’s say, for example, we’ve taught the dog to Lie Down. We’ve practiced the command numerous times. We’ve lured the dog with treats and a hand signal. We’ve had the dog do it in the living room, the kitchen and in the back yard.

Now we travel to the animal clinic and while waiting our turn for the exam room we’re frustrated because our dog constantly wants to pull away and go sniff the calm dog lying in the corner. Plus, our wayward pooch barked and lunged at the cats at the other end of the waiting area. We’re frustrated and keep raising our voice and yanking on the leash to Lay Down! Nothing is working and the dog just gets more worked up each time a new person and animal enters the building.

So we conclude the dog is stubborn.

What we failed to realize is we never actually taught the dog how to concentrate and work through distractions. Fido really has no idea of the concept of keeping his belly to the ground when there is exciting stuff going on.

If we had done a better job generalizing the concept of laying down by teaching the dog to position themselves and stay in lots of varying situations, with lots of varying levels of distractions then we would not have struggled so much while at the vet clinic. This new situation of expecting a down would only be slightly different than situations the dog had trained through before.

To generalize trained behaviors we have to put in some real effort and it involves hours of practice. Next time you’re thinking; my dog is stubborn, ask yourself how much actual work you’ve done to train him?

There are no short cuts to a well -trained dog. It takes consistent practice and creativity to make sure you give the dog thorough exposure that will hold up in the field, at the park, in competition, at the dinner party and in all the situations you expect your dog to behave in real life.

Now, if you have done the work of generalizing and find that your dog suddenly is not responding to you as you expect there is an additional reason to consider before you jump to the conclusion that your dog is stubborn.

This is, IMO, the most overlooked reason for disobedience. Overlooked, many times, even by seasoned dog professionals.

Sometimes a dog just physically can’t do what we ask them to. Or an underlying physical problem has ignited the fuse on a behavior problem we want them to stop.

I’ve encountered this more frequently as years have passed and I’ve learned to sharpen my eye and understanding of what is normal and what is not. For one thing, it is not normal for a dog that previously performs well to suddenly resist doing what he’s done many times before. When that happens there is typically a good reason beyond the dog is stubborn so let’s not jump there with our thinking.

The same holds true for a dog that previously was very tolerant of other dogs or humans and suddenly begins to show signs of aggression like lip lifting, growling or nipping.

(NOTE – I’m talking about a truly sudden behavior change. If your dog growled at you for getting near his food bowl in the past and now takes a shot, that is not a sudden change in behavior. That is an escalation. The dog has been giving warning signs that you didn’t take seriously. )

Sometimes the underlying physical issue is fairly easy to identify like an ear infection or an abscessed tooth. Other times it takes more sleuthing to uncover disease states and problems that are affecting the dog physically and mentally.

One of the more unique cases I had several years ago involved a GSD that was exhibiting a serious amount of spinning and tail chasing behavior. What was initially labeled as an OCD behavior by other professionals revealed itself to be a learned behavior in response to an underlying physical problem. Once the dog had some chiropractic adjustments to realign tail vertebrae the instances of spinning began to decline. We combined the medical treatments with obedience training so we could interrupt the learned behavior and re-focus the dog’s attention. Within a few weeks the behavior was dramatically improved and eventually  resolved.

So when you are running into problems with your dog’s listening, I want you to contemplate which of the three reasons is the root cause.

  1. The dog does not understand what you want.

The most common reason is because he does not truly understand what you want. The dog is not being disobedient if we have not done adequate training to generalize the concepts in a variety of situations with a high variety of distractions

  1. The dog has an underlying physical issue creating behavioral complications.

The second reason is because there is some underlying physical issue limiting performance or ability. Too often we make a judgment that the dog is “fine” because he’s perhaps eating or sleeping as normal or not showing obvious signs of discomfort, but just as we may have a headache, stiff neck or indigestion…unless we tell someone those complaints there are no obvious outward signs to others who observe us.

  1. The dog is being disobedient.

Once we’ve honestly eliminated the two previous causes for poor performance then we can go on to the conclusion that the dog is making a choice to follow their own agenda and may in fact be ‘giving us the paw.”

Let’s just be sure we are being fair in assessing the first two causes before we jump to the conclusion of “my dog is stubborn!”


Dog Aggression rehab? Commitment is the keyword.

Dog aggression is not a fun topic.

I know some dog trainers probably see it as sort of sexy and seem to take a lot of pride in repeating the phrase “I work with aggressive dogs” There has been a good deal of television culture and drama built around the buzz concepts of dog aggression, dogs that bite, and rehabilitation.

There is nothing sexy or exciting about it, IMO. It is sad. It breaks my heart a little bit each time I have to respond to a client inquiry about a dog that has bit someone.

The reality is, at that point, the dog human relationship is going through major breakdown and the real, day to day work that needs to be done to fix it isn’t all the glamorous.

The process of changing the behavior can be draining and often tedious. I don’t like to sound like a Debbie Downer because most of the time dog aggression CAN be changed. However, I like people to realize up front there is no quick fix.

Changing the behavior of a dog that is having problems with aggression means changing the behavior of the human(s) who live with the dog.

I want to introduce you to Si, a white GSD that some of you may remember seeing on the That’s My Dog! Facebook page back in the fall of 2014 when he came to us to start working on changing his mindset about the world he lived in. This is a picture from his first week in training.

white gsd

Si was under socialized, anxious and reactive to any sudden change in the environment. He had 3 bites in his short history when his owner found us and committed to a training program to try and help him.

I’d like you to focus in on the word committed in the sentence above. That has been the key to the story I’m about to tell. Si’s owner didn’t just commit to spending the money to have someone “fix” his dog aggression. She committed to doing the work and making the changes that would be needed. Without that firm intention being in place, we would have been doomed to fail.

A talented dog trainer can get most dogs to behave perfectly for them, but there is no magic pixy dust we can sprinkle or put in the animals food that will keep the improved behavior in place. The owner must learn to replicate the process and behave in a way similar to the trainer if we are going to succeed. And the commitment must last for the lifetime of the dog.

Si spent a couple weeks with us in a board and train program. The B&T program provides us a clean slate to start new routines without the interference of the dog being in his comfort zone at home where the inappropriate learned behaviors started. It gives the trainer an advantage because the dog is off kilter for the first few days. He doesn’t know the people, doesn’t know the terrain and doesn’t know the daily routine in this new place. That means he’s often a bit more hesitant and doesn’t react as confidently as he would on his home turf. It is the same reason kids are often better behaved at school then they are at home.

So, with an insecure dog who has learned to use his teeth to take care of anything “scary” the first things he learns with us is; if you want to eat, you eat from us, if you want to pee, you pee while out on a leash with us, if you want to walk and play, you play with us. You want an enticing treat, you must tolerate being touched before we will release it. Through successive approximation of closer and closer proximity, we build the dogs trust in humans by not giving the dog an option to do the daily necessities on his own.

Then we layer in obedience. We teach the dog that if: You want to go out the door, you must sit/stay first. You want us toss the ball, you must come when called and sit nearby before we will sling it again. You want to go for a walk, you will walk nicely by our side. Obedience builds the foundation for taking direction from humans.

Next we begin to take the obedience skills and expose them to more pressure in the real world. Pressure is the one thing an anxious dog has never been taught how to cope with. It is pressure when a dog who has never been off the farm, goes into the city.It is pressure when a dog that lacks confidence is approached on the sidewalk by a passer-by. Exposure to the ‘real world’ with the guidance of a calm, stable leader using obedience to communicate how he should respond in the moment actually takes the pressure OFF of the dog for making his own decisions. If I insist the dog sit when someone passes, he can discover that the bogey man in the big winter coat just passed on by, or maybe the bogey man even dropped a juicy tidbit to be enjoyed.

The other thing that obedience can be used for is to build exploratory behavior and confidence. I want an anxious dog to become more comfortable in his surroundings, not by using his vocalizations and teeth to drive everything away, but rather by learning to explore and trust more of the world around him.

Using obedience for “urban agility” is what I’ve found to be one of the best ways to get this task accomplished. Taking an insecure dog and teaching him to sit/walk/down/place and recall, all while going over, under and across obstacles in the world (picnic tables, downed trees, retaining walls, park benches, etc.) brings a dog out of his shell in the same way that teaching a kid to swim, bike and climb trees creates body awareness and confidence in oneself.

This was the essence of Si’s weeks with us at That’s My Dog! Each day was the layering on of just a bit more learning and confidence building. I took these pictures on Si’s first field trip away from the training facility.

si3 si4

You can see how difficult it was to get him to focus on me with the camera. His tight facial expression and his head was on a swivel concerned about any possible new thing or change in the environment. There were days of frustration, for both of us. But we kept at it. Each day, new outings, new experiences and we also used integration with other stable dogs to help expedite his processing.

In a few weeks we felt he was ready to go home. The key would be that his owner now follow through with all the new expectations. Once Si walked back onto his familiar turf, mom needed to make sure that the rules had followed him home and not allow him to fall back into old patterns of behavior. This is the critical stage.

We believe it is only natural for a dog to revert to behavior that was once acceptable. The solution is the human becoming aware and intervening before those patterns emerge again.

Si’s mom did her best not to let that happen and the photo at the beginning of this article is a testament to her commitment. He is so improved and you can see it in his face and expression. This is a dog that is learning to be comfortable in his own skin. A dog that is learning to trust more and react less. It is the visual reminder of why we do the work we do.

We are so proud of both Si and his owner!

It is so important to remember that commitment to change is the biggest factor in resolving dog aggression.


Dog Obedience Matters

Dog Obedience : High Expectations Needed

Dog obedience is important for both the dog and owner to fully understand. I wanted to share video from a recent training class at That’s My Dog!. Well, truth be told, it is more like a fun outing we do with our clients a few times a month rather than an actual class.

We invite our clients to participate in our traveling classes once they have completed the basic introductory course of dog obedience. Our classes are called On The Go! because the goal is to get out and about in the community to help ensure that our pet owners are comfortable fully integrating their dogs into their lives.

It is the skill set of obedience commands we teach that allows this full integration. Once a dog  understands the meaning of words like Heel (which means to remain on my left side whether I’m stationary or walking) or Down, (which means keep your belly to the ground regardless of what exciting things you might want to participate in)…THEN the dog can become a welcome guest in most environments. These simple skills, when truly understood,  enhance the human-dog relationship by providing us a means to communicate in a clear and concise way. It is that kind of communication that allows us to develop a greater partnership with our dogs.

Here are the steps we adhere to.  First, TEACH the dog a behavioral meaning that is attached to a cue. For example, the word Sit means put your rear to the ground and keep it there until further notice. Next, PROOF the meaning of the words so the dog comes to understand commands are not just situational or optional. The words have a purpose and are not something to be ignored just because there are other exciting things distracting the dog’s attention. Once that process is well underway UTILIZE this language and the new skills so that dogs can be welcome members of society and not a nuisance to others around them.

So back to the video…we had a large turn out for our recent On The Go! class.  After a short walk and a bit of practice we made our way to an outdoor cafe for dinner and drinks. Several in our group grabbed a table to socialize and get a bite to eat. They had their dogs politely lay down next to them for the duration of their meal. I got engaged in conversation a few yards away and was pleasantly surprised when I turned around to find several of our group were still practicing with their dogs. 🙂

Such great follow through from everyone in our group! It is that kind of commitment that makes these dogs perfectly welcome canine citizens in the community.

Take a look.

It was also impressive because it demonstrates exactly what is possible for the average dog owner who is willing to do the work.

That level of possibility should be the goal for all pet dog training professionals. So I’ll also pat myself and my staff on the back because we adhere to a philosophy to never sell our clients short.

I think this kind of expectation is being lost in the pet training world. Too many pet dog trainers have watered down the standards for themselves, their clients and what the dogs are capable of.

Fortunately this belief is shared by a number of other individuals and some are beginning to speak out about it.

I recently attended two days of workshop and seminar time with Ian Dunbar, who has long been considered the backbone of lure -reward training. While he and I may not agree on everything regarding dog training, I was nodding my head in full agreement when he expressed dismay at what has been occurring in the pet training world the past 10 years.

He and numerous others I know are frustrated by the lack of standards. It is a shame that there are fewer and fewer trainers who believe it is important to have a higher degree of expectations from their clients and their dogs.

I believe many ‘professional’ trainers need to step it up. Using the excuse of “just give em the minimal of what they want” is selling the future of dog obedience short. The average pet owner doesn’t know what is possible until they have witnessed it. I’ve yet to find watered down versions of anything to be admirable in terms of effort or outcome.