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?

Donald Trump, Shock Collars and learning to curb the yapping.

The upcoming inauguration of President Elect, Donald Trump, has me thinking about many things, including dogs (I’ll get to that in a moment).

For the record, I did not vote for Trump. He doesn’t impress me as possessing the character traits I value in a leader. That said, I’m not one to assert the “Not my president” message. I value our collective history, those who fought to build our country and the rights I often take for granted too much to display disrespect for the process and those who do feel he is the right choice.

Donald Trump was elected and will hold office. History will judge him based on what is or isn’t achieved in the coming years. I will simply continue on. I’ll involve myself in things that matter to me and do what I can in my community to be part of the solutions I’d like to see.

What I have been most frustrated by during this election is societal behavior in general. In the media, on social networks and often, even in personal conversations. The growing trend of making sweeping generalizations accompanied by rigid, emotional judgement.

We live in a time when finding information is easier than ever, yet we seemingly only accept the bits of it that coincide with our own already held conclusions. We prefer to stay comfortably entrenched in our sense of righteous indignation rather than take a deep breath and step into another’s shoes for a tour of what it might be like in their world.

And that brings me to dogs or more accurately “dog people”.

It seems a whole lot of dog people have strong, all or nothing opinions on dogs, on their training and certainly on training tools. I received an email recently that contained one persons view of bark collars and the people that would choose to utilize such a tool.

Here are a few of the key sentences from that exchange:

“This is an absolutely cruel and inhumane device.”

“Anyone who loves dogs would never use this device.”

“Anyone who uses this product is cruel and shouldn’t have a dog in the first place…”

While I agree there may absolutely be situations where those statements hold true, I also know that there are equal or greater number of situations where they bear no resemblance to the truth.

Let’s take a deep breath and examine these sentences that are filled with strong emotion and absolutes.

First off, the word, inhumane. According to one definition, inhumane is defined as; without compassion for misery or suffering; cruel:  The example given for using it in a sentence was; confining wild horses is inhumane.

That sentence certainly stirs some emotion. It sort of makes me want to say; “damn straight! Confining wild horses IS inhumane!!”

But then again, maybe the use of emotion laden adjectives should always be subject to examining context. Would confining wild horses be considered inhumane if they were rounded up and confined temporarily to get them out of range of an encroaching wild fire?

Is it true that anyone who uses a bark collar is cruel and should not have dog in the first place?

Well, yes, I would agree, in the context that said user did nothing with their dog in terms of exercise or training and simply strapped the device on in an attempt to shut up noise that is coming from the dog as a result of boredom, isolation and pent up frustration. In my book of judgement, that person is an asshat. They should find the dog a better home and not get another one unless they can develop awareness of how to meet a dogs physical, mental and emotional needs.

But what about the dog that is well exercised, well cared for, and well trained but has a low threshold for tolerating noise or surrounding activity when away from the influence of their owner?

I’ve used bark collars on e-stim conditioned dogs over the years. Sometimes it was the dog wearing the collar that benefited the most and sometimes it was the dogs adjacent to the barking offender that got more relief.

When you run a boarding kennel or other high volume dog situation, barking is an expected part of the environment. However, if a dog cannot settle even after adequate exercise and being offered toys and chew bones to keep him entertained, the options for establishing a calming environment become limited. Sometimes segregation can work and a dog will settle with a bit more space between himself and the others, but sometimes he won’t. One thing that is certain is that constant, repetitious, non-stop barking is not good for the offender nor the others subjected to the ruckus.

And while the idea that extra staff could be devoted to the care of one special needs dog sounds ideal, it isn’t always possible. Sometimes more practical management solutions have to suffice.

One outcome that has resulted from the proper use of bark collars in my facility is that stress levels are reduced for the dogs and for the humans. That is win/win.

The key of course, is proper use. Let’s assume not everyone using a bark collar is an asshat.

Some words from a former President, George W. Bush seem appropriate to keep in mind when we are deciding on how strongly to define our opinions of others.

“Too often we judge other groups by their worst examples, while judging ourselves by our best intentions.”

Whether it is political affiliation or dog training ideologies, I think we all benefit if we stop being so judgmental and get back to the idea of stepping into the other persons shoes before making blanket statements.

Although, I will admit, I wouldn’t mind if Donald got a small zing every time he tried to access his Twitter account. 😉

Electric Collar Dog Training: It’s More Than Just the Tool

Electric Collar Training: Good Dog Training Is More Than Just the Tool You Choose

Anyone who spends more than 10 seconds on this blog can figure out that it’s primary purpose is to explore ideas and concepts surrounding the use of electronic collars.  A bit of browsing and you can find advice on some of the basic concepts for successfully using an electronic collar, read about other peoples experiences with this training and enjoy a guest post from some of my professional colleagues.

But when trying to resolve behavior problems it is important that we are also aware of possible underlying conditions contributing to the issues. Electronic collars are great tools, but  I want to make certain that we all understand that training and successfully solving behavioral issues is a complex process. There are a myriad of tools and techniques that are helpful in providing solutions, but IF there are underlying health issues that are unresolved or other foundational issues, no amount of work and practice is going to make a significant difference.

There are so many considerations to take into account when you are trying to resolve problems with your dog but I’d like to offer a foundation to consider before you move forward on deciding what direction to go. With that in mind, here are some questions to ask yourself;

Do I provide my dog with adequate exercise?

Having a big yard does not fill a dog’s need for exercise. Just because the dog has a large amount of space does not mean they will take advantage of it and diligently ‘work out’ on their own in order to release pent up energy. A dog who does not have an adequate exercise routine will generally work out their frustration in ways that we find unacceptable. Inappropriate chewing, whining, digging, and general restlessness are often resolved with an increase in exercise.

Do I feed my dog a highly nutritious diet?

The advertising on T.V. isn’t all what it is cracked up to be. Most of the slick ads you see in print and other media are for foods that range from barely adequate to lousy in terms of the nutrient requirements for our dogs. What you feed your dog is what fuels their body and mind. Junk in = junk out. Need to brush up your knowledge about dog food? Check out this site to see how your dog food rates in terms of quality. For those who are curious, here is what I feed my dogs.

Have I created structure and leadership routines in my daily interactions with my dog?

Dogs flourish best in environments that have clear leadership protocols established. They don’t get bored with routine and structure. They actually feel secure and exhibit far fewer behavioral problems when they have someone else (ie. the humans in the household) making the decisions about what is and what is not allowable. Our dogs don’t need us to over think their level of ‘happiness’. They need us to be fair, reliable leaders they can trust to keep their best interest at heart. That means rules, structure and consistency in their daily lifestyle.

Have I explored possible underlying health issues that may be the root cause of my dog’s behavioral problems?

In my experience this is commonly overlooked by many trainers and even many veterinarians. Too often, we leap to assumptions that the dog is ” very dominant”,  “just shy” or “fearful and reactive” or some other personality trait we label them with when the fact is there IS something physically wrong at the root of it all. A blood chem panel, a Complete thyroid test, a physical and gait analysis are just a few of the things to look for when evaluating many behavioral problems. Quite often dog-dog aggression has some root in past injury to the hind quarters that leads to the dog learning protectiveness when approached by other dogs. I’ve also seen tail chasing, OCD behavior resolve when the dog has realignment of the spine through chiropractic adjustments.

I’ve seen dogs labeled with “unprovoked human aggressive” behavior who are suffering ear or mouth infections that likely create such discomfort it is no wonder they bite someone who has tried to pet them. We’ve found dogs labeled by other trainers as “stubborn” to have Lyme disease with titers so high I can only assume their reluctance to do as told lies in the fact they are indeed in pain and have sore muscles. Shyness, odd fear reactions, unprovoked aggression problems, are just a few of the host of behavioral issues that can be related to thyroid disease, which according to Dr. Jean Dodds, a leading researcher in the field,  is often under diagnosed. Our dogs are not good at telling us they don’t feel well, at least not until the problem is so severe that it  becomes readily apparent. We need to be better detectives at exploring the possible underlying causes to some of these problems.

What I LOVE about training with an e-collar is that it is a fabulous tool that can truly enhance a relationship by supporting a solid training plan. What I HATE about promoting the use of an e-collar is when people jump to conclusions that they just have a bad dog and thus need to run to the store and purchase an electronic collar so they can take it home to “show the dog who’s boss”. That mindset needs to change. Do your dog a favor when you run into problems, hire a real professional who will help you rule out underlying causes and set you on the path of a solid training plan so you can build a better relationship together.

Whether it is a head halter, a clicker, a handful of treats, a leash, a prong collar, an electronic dog training collar, or a piece of rope…it is the tool between your two ears that is the most important, use it well.


*Updated 1/10/2016

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!

Invisible Fence and the Blame Game

The Invisible Fence

I was surfing Facebook when I came across a link that had been shared numerous times. The title was a Rant and a Plea by Dr. Jennifer Rouse.

Dr. Rouse is a DVM in Pennsylvania, US.

The story was an unfortunate one about one of her Veterinary Assistants who had been attacked while out for a walk with her dog. There are a number of interesting bits to the story in that the dog that did the attacking was a Golden Retriever and the dog that defended its owner was a Pit Bull mix.

Dr. Rouse had some valid points in her rant, including that ANY breed can bite. She also pointed out that her friend had done the work and took the time to train her Pit Bull and build in a factor of reliability. That is to be congratulated. Training is something we need to promote over and over and over again. Training is what should have been done with the Golden Retriever in question.

But what Dr. Rouse went on to do is to assign blame about the Golden’s aggressive behavior to an invisible fence system the dog was supposedly contained by.

I think that is a big conclusion to jump to but Dr. Rouse isn’t alone in her opinion. I’ve seen plenty of folks jump on the “blame invisible fence” bandwagon. Electronic products are an easy scapegoat simply by essence of being “electric” and therefore scary in many peoples mind. Plus, assigning blame is pretty much the norm now-a-days. Too often people prefer to take refuge in castigating something rather than point the finger at the “someone” who is actually responsible.

Kinda like:
Alcohol is responsible for drunk driving.

Guns are responsible for violence.

And sugar causes health problems.

Anybody else have a “hey wait a minute” moment when they read those 3 statements?

Good for you. That means you get it.

It, being that things aren’t responsible for outcomes. People are.

People need to take responsibility for their dogs. That means acknowledging if your dog has an aggression problem and dealing with it. It means recognizing that many, if not most, dogs can develop territorial issues if left unsupervised on what they come to believe is their turf.

If Dr. Rouse’s statement that “invisible fences are dangerous…” is correct then how do we explain all those millions of dogs on the invisible boundary systems around the world that have no aggression problems and have never attacked anybody?

If we are to draw the conclusion that a type of containment system is responsible for aggressive behavior, then it is only fair to draw that conclusion with other containment systems yielding similar outcomes, don’t you think?

Which means we then need to draw the same conclusion for those dogs that are contained by regular, solid structure fencing that have bolted the gate, or jumped the wall and tore someone up.

And it means we need to blame the chains for those dogs on tie-outs when they broke and the dog bolted and bit the kid riding his bike down the sidewalk.

Personally, I don’t agree with those types of conclusions. I think they are short sighted.
They tend to propagate from a sense of fear and outrage when we can’t easily come to grips with something that is as distressing as a dog attacking a human.

What would happen if we direct the finger of responsibility where it really needs to be pointed? To us, the humans.

What if we spent time teaching dog owners to step up?

How about this: If your dog is outside in the yard, be outside with him. Be engaged with him. Don’t expect him to lounge around in a yard for hours and then make wise decisions about passers-by without you there for guidance.

Yes, I know there are some dogs that are just fine being alone in the yard, but many, many are not.

Dogs came into our existence primarily because we humans liked and encouraged territorial and guarding behavior. In our primitive past it served as an early warning system and helped save our skin. That protective DNA that we began to selectively breed for hasn’t changed all that much.

Dog’s left unsupervised in the yard very often become dogs that go on guard duty. It is the human’s responsibility to train and manage their dog.

A containment system, regardless of what type, is an aid. It provides some measure of safety assurance that the dog isn’t in the street. It should not be a baby sitter and it is not responsible for your dog’s good or bad behavior. You are.

Remote collar training is really not that scary

Diva and I wanted to wish you a Happy Howl-O-Ween, we didn’t plan a big photo shoot like previous years since she is still in her orthodic for the achilles tendon injury back in March. But we will share a bit of video we shot a couple weeks ago when she finally got the green light to run off leash again. Her doctors at UW. Madison are pleased with her progress from such a serious injury and credit her remarkable good manners and behavior as a major contributor in the healing process.

We still have a way to go before we are cleared to be “nakked” again but at least she can move and run without being attached to a leash. That ability to be safely off leash is one of the major reasons I pursued an interest in remote collar training so many years ago. Being able to provide people with the security of knowing they could let their dog run and still get their attention when needed is enticing. That lure of freedom and security draws many people to learn more about adding an e-collar to the training bag o’ tricks.

Of course there are many other reasons that we’ve covered here over the years, but the main message that this blog intends to spread is to not be afraid to seek information about training your dog with this tool. If it is not for you, no problem, but don’t let others use dread and doom tactics to deter you from simply inquiring about alternative opinions.

Becoming the subject of an inquisition just because you’re talking to someone about a remote training collar is a witch hunt you don’t deserve…so at least here on TASC know you are among ghouls who will do you no harm! 🙂

Here is Diva back to work. A bit sloppy and we’re going to have to do a lot of clean up to precision once this orthodic comes off, but not too bad after 7 months on injured reserve. And certainly no worse for wear after a few years of having remote collar use as part of her learning repertoire.

Clarity and Conflict in Dog Training

My travels have introduced me to trainers, competitors, and enthusiasts who have a passion for dogs and an obvious understanding of how to connect with them. I’m grateful for having had the  opportunity to meet so many talented dog people through the years. Jonathan Brinkley is one of those people. We met while I was teaching a workshop at Kennel Club USA in Ohio a few years back. Jon understands how dogs learn, has a versatile tool box, and an open mind that is always willing to explore new ideas. I asked him if he would be interested in a guest post and here what I got back. Thanks for sharing your thoughts Jon and tell your wife to say “Lobster” next time you need dinner plans! 😉

Clarity and Conflict in Dog Training

In dog training, I believe understanding clarity and conflict’s role is monumental. In my honest opinion, through the history of the dog, dogs have become conflict resolving experts. So often the idea of dominance is argued, but at best, we generally now interpret it as a way of establishing cohesion, order, and resolving problems within groups of dogs. As dogs have been forced to adapt to human life and expectations (and honestly done a phenomenal job at it) they face conflict on a daily basis. Unfortunately for them, the human dog relationship evolves quicker than nature, and has been somewhat unkind in allowing them to be quite as successful in resolving contention under the terms of human life, which is partly due to the average person’s understanding on dog behavior and communication in general. In part this lack of understanding creates a lack of clarity and reduces the dog’s opportunity not only to develop conflict resolving mechanisms, but hinders their chance to use them. Perhaps this is why social programs such as large field socialization for dogs have been so successful in dealing with social dog aggression, fear, and other social behavioral problems.

In these socials, dogs are given the chance to understand and build confidence in using natural communication to work through stressful scenarios. In most cases, this is most successful when clarity accompanies it. A well-adjusted dog can correct with very little conflict applied to the scenario, through displacement, spatial pressure, calming gestures, or even physical contact. At first, a dog new to this may not understand a correction, and may even react. But the application of pressure and the precise release of it is what it allows for the dog to understand, not escalate and learn from it.   During training, creating clarity remains one of the most important goals we have with each dog we work with. It is what allows resolution to be effective.

So how does this apply to remote training, or balanced training? Recently a dog came to me who would do sit, down, heel, walk nicely, but attack other dogs, bite when you touched its collar, flip out over grooming, and bite its owners during petting. What was most clear to me, was the dog was facing conflict and no one had shown the dog how to avoid it. The dog had been completely reward trained (to provide a disclaimer, this doesn’t mean that the dog couldn’t have succeeded with positive training) but it had failed to create a clear path through stress for this dog. The dog could offer a variety of positive behaviors, but could not use them in the face of discord. A variety of methods including systematic desensitizing, counter conditioning, and classical conditioning were used in her training, alongside a prong collar and a remote collar, corrections and pressure, both conditioned separately to their own purposes.  Let us not forget, a correction or pressure given clearly and clearly understood is a way of resolving social issues among dogs. Instead of just showing the dog that conflict could be resolved by taking action, we can show it could also be resolved by avoiding certain action as well. This perhaps is why I believe so much in open mindedness in training surrounding the tools of the trade. If they are used to create clarity, they increase the chance of resolving conflict. A dog can at one moment, face a wide variety of competing motivators of a wide variety of values to the specific dog. We unfortunately cannot choose what has the highest value. We can manipulate drives, encourage, etc…but in the end, it is what the dog believes is rewarding. Unfortunately, we cannot always control all the elements in real world environments. Perhaps in a sterile environment, where owners were willing to wait months or a year to see the needed change to not give up their dog, we could approach it without using the “dark side” of training. For some dogs, this may be easier to achieve. The question lies in how long drawing out stress in certain situations is less productive or more productive.

Now one may say, you are applying conflict to resolve conflict, isn’t that somewhat counter-productive? Choosing to do a self-rewarding behavior or an owner rewarded behavior produces conflict as well. Choosing between a cookie, and lunging at the other dog is a conflict. Yes, a remote collar can create conflict. The goal is to make it a short term problem, that later provides clarity and reduces the struggle in whole.  Wait, here comes those words coined as bad: Punishment and Suppression! Suppression in training is not a dirty concept. I look at suppression like a lock in a room with multiple doors. If the goal is to get out of the room, only locking the doors is sure to fail. The subject will eventually beat down the door. However, locking one door and placing an exit sign on another, reinforces one path and creates inhibition towards the other. By showing the dog that pressure is applied when certain actions are taken, it creates space for a dog to look for another option in coping with the situation. That pressure can also guide the dog to the alternative option that is also highly rewarding. The stress applied becomes short term, because it allows the dog to practice the alternative behavior or coping mechanism, and allows for the dog to be reinforced for a better mechanism for dealing with the stress as well as not reinforcing past coping mechanisms. When the dog begins resorting to these appropriate coping mechanisms, clarity is achieved.  IT can become easier to choose one rewarding option over another competing motivator, because the value of the uncontrolled motivator can be lowered.

In layman’s terms, I see this as making the choice easier. The easier the choice is, and the more defined the path, the greater chance success can be achieved. The goal of any behavioral modification program should be the reduction of conflict the dog will eventually face in the long term.  How well this is achieved is hardly because of the tool itself, but the application of the tool by someone skilled in using it. If you gave me a cookie every time I walked away from the guitar, I would walk away from it, until playing guitar sounded like a better idea. My cookie drive is pretty low.  However, if the guitar no longer seems like the better option, I would be more likely to choose moving away from it. Only showing what is desirable leaves many options with desirable outcomes. I’ll end with a quick anecdote. My wife and I are the kind of people who can be equally indecisive about what to do with our Friday night. Secretly, I love it when she says, “Well let’s do this!” and puts her foot down. Why? Sometimes options are more stressful than having a clearly defined path, even if it wasn’t the top choice on my list of preferences.

remote collar

Dog Trainers Unite at Workshop

Last weekend there was a trick training workshop that I really wanted to attend but was not able too due to some schedule conflicts. Many of my trainer friends and colleagues were going and I was feeling a little blue about not being able to join them. Through out the weekend I kept seeing Facebook posts of all the fun that was occurring and most importantly of the camaraderie that was being shared at a workshop where trainers from all backgrounds were working side by side. It was that aspect, the being able to respect one another and share information, that most appealed to me so I asked one of my friends, Michael Burkey from Michigan Dog Training LLC if he would mind writing up a short review to share with the readers here:


On August 24th and 25th, 2013 fifty dog trainers from around the country traveled to K9 Ponderosa in Delaware, Ohio to attend a Certified Trick Dog Instructor (CTDI) workshop put on by Kyra Sundance of Lancaster, California. She is an international trick dog performer and instructor, author many times over, movie set dog trainer and owner of the very successful dog training company called “Do More With Your Dog! ®” in addition to many other achievements.
“Do More With Your Dog! ®” is more than a training company though.  Sundance explains,  “… it’s a lifestyle. It is a philosophy which encourages the integration of your dog into your life in a variety of ways—through sport, training, or accompanying you to more places. Dogs have a way of making the activities we share with them more fun, and by giving them training, we allow them to participate in more areas of our life.”
Sundance’s presentation was perfectly structured and polished to a tee. Additionally, she is a very upbeat professional and genuine speaker and instructor. Her enthusiasm and energy is infectious! Behind the scenes was Scottie  MacConachie CPT/CTDI, Lead Instructor/Trainer/Owner at K9 Ponderosa who welcomed everyone to the beautiful 20 acre property where the seminar was held. He and his staff ensured everyone’s needs were accommodated beyond their expectations.

Previously, trainers applying to become a CTDI had to submit a video and written application to Sundance.  She created the CTDI workshop so that applicants could receive training personally from her and she could in turn evaluate their skills personally.
Sundance centered her CTDI workshop around one of her books, “The Dog Tricks and Training Workbook”, a Step-by-Step Interactive Curriculum to Engage, Challenge, and Bond with Your Dog. In addition to training participants how to teach numerous dog tricks, it covered topics such as: her positive training philosophy, how to be an effective teacher, timing and proper application of cue/action/reward, how to build on behaviors, reward markers, five ways to elicit a behavior, how to motivate through positive reinforcement, ways to build drive, how to set up training goals, the hierarchy of value of rewards, reading dog language and stress indicators, and the use of chaining in the training process.
The trainers who came to learn from Sundance were from various backgrounds, specialities and philosophies. Their common purpose though matched Sundance’s tagline, “Do More With Your Dog”. They also had the same desire, to build positive relationships with their dogs.

In the dog training world, there is often division among individual trainers.
Unfortunately, the dog training community labels themselves and each other as purely positive trainers, positive reinforcement trainers, balanced trainers, remote trainers (or shock trainers depending upon the background of whom you are speaking with), compulsive trainers, etc.  I believe these groups labeling themselves, at first, was well intended to give themselves an identity and to give a description of their methodology to the dog owning public.  Unfortunately, later some trainers used these labels to try to discredit the other groups by labeling them as inhumane or ineffective.

Dog owners are not keenly aware of the above labels because knowing a dog trainer’s label isn’t particularly helpful to them and their dog training problems. What they care about is  – can the hired trainer?:
Solve their dog’s behavior problems or teach them new tricks and
Do it effectively and humanely

And yet, many dog trainers still place emphasis on the label of training they ascribe to while attempting to discredit the other groups.
It is said that there are two camps of trainers, those who use clickers and treats and those who use compulsion based methods. Unfortunately, many trainers who use remote training collars properly (at a low setting that gets the dog’s attention and acts as a remote communication system but doesn’t hurt the dog) are inaccurately lumped into the category of compulsion based trainers. And, some clicker trainers are branded as not being able to train a dog for reliability.
Sundance’s workshop proved there is a third category of trainers, a “United” category; consisting of trainers who use many different training tools to fit the dog, handler and circumstance. They may not all agree on which tool to use but they were respectful of each other’s right to use different tools and were all committed to using positive training methods to teach dog tricks.
I am a positive based professional dog trainer who uses clickers, treats and remote training collars in my training system. This was the first time that I have attended a positive training workshop in which I felt totally welcomed and respected by those who do not use remote training collars.  Many of my remote collar colleagues experienced the same welcoming feeling. And, it feels great to finally be – United; all working for the common good of dogs so they can be more a part of our everyday lives and activities. Sundance says, “trainers should be United in doing the best for our dogs in the best way we know how. This means being United in improving our training systems by listening, teaching, and sharing with each other.”
Kyra Sundance and her CTDI workshop served not only to certify trick dog instructors but also a higher purpose – to unite dog trainers from around the country. This ultimately serves both dogs and their companions so you can Do More With Your Dog. ®
Sundance’s next CTDI Instructor Certification workshop is scheduled for December 7-8, 2013 in Richmond, Virginia.

The words Shock Collar make me cringe

Yes, it is a true, those two words, Shock collar, don’t sit well with me. Not because I’m opposed to electronic collars, but because they further a perception that is inaccurate.

I recently gave a presentation for Scott Mueller and 16 of his students at Canine Workshops in Columbus, OH. Early in the day I directed students to this blog but made an apology for it’s title.


shock collar



The words “Shock collar” bother me too but the title of the blog was born out of necessity.


Until people are better informed on the versatility of electronic training collars it takes continual effort to educate about all the none painful ways they can be utilized. Remote training collars are what you make of them, they are no more shocking than a medical professionals TENs Unit. If you turn it up too high, they are certainly uncomfortable and can cause a significant startle response. Used appropriately the stimulation is at worse a mild aversive and at best a unique sensation that can be associated with any number of meanings.

That is what I set out to demonstrate to my fellow dog trainers during our time together. We talked about my belief that there are only 3 true levels on any of the remote collars on the market: too low (the sensation is undetected or does not gain the dogs attention) too high (the sensation startles or disrupts the dogs ability to learn) and Just Right (the sensation gains attention and enhances the dogs ability to learn).


The words “shock collar” apply when we are “too high”. That is a level we are encouraging people to avoid.


Instead of frustration with a dog’s behavior sending one running to the store to purchase a “shock collar” to punish a dog for doing “bad” we talked about the critical step of understanding HOW to TEACH the dog what attention getting sensation means. Teach the dog how to respond and have control of it. The feedback the dog gains is much like the child’s game of Hot and Cold and it is why the learning is so rapid when a remote collar is properly applied.

We talked about the use of rewards, proper timing, how body language influences, how to work in drive for more flashy performance.

I had a wonderful time. Thank you to Scott for hosting me and thank you to all who attended. I hope that the overall theme became apparent to everyone who was there. Our perception of the tool is what influences how we utilize it. I hope we choose wisely. Electronic training collars can be used to teach or it can be used as a “shock collar”

Remote Collar Training? A Users Perspective on What Their Dog Thinks.

Understanding Dog Behavior

A couple months back I shared some of my sentiments on training with a remote collar and speculated what my dog’s might say if given a choice in the matter of training tools. Then I posed a question that caused a bit of a stir. That April blog post received over 100 comments and a lot of emotional feedback.

It gave birth to the idea that I wanted more input from other dog owners who have trained this way. So, recently I’ve been conducting and informal survey. I’m asking other pet owning, e-collar users to share their thoughts via a questioner I and fellow expert trainers are circulating to our students. One of the questions on this feedback form is: If your dog could speak on behalf of this training tool/method, what do you think he/she would say?

I’d like to share the answers I’ve received so far and remind you to bear in mind that ALL answers are provided by people who are currently using a remote collar as part of their dog training process. I think it is also very noteworthy to know that the majority of the participants have worked under the guidance of a professional trainer with specialized expertise in this training tool.

So, in no particular order:

If your dog could speak on behalf of remote collars and remote collar training, what do you think he/she would say?

” The collar – Yippy – we’re going to the park to play Chuck It – wag, wag. Mom doesn’t act like a crazy woman anymore. “

” He didn’t like it at first, because he preferred to be the King at all times! But now he’s happy about it because he has more opportunities to go places and more entertainment outside. “

” She would say that it is an easy way for me to communicate quickly and effectively with her .”

” I think he would give it a good review because it more clearly lets him know what I’m looking for from him, and he’s a happy boy to be off that leash and not stressing from barking, pulling and general misbehaving.”

” It gives me a lot more freedom!.”

” I think he would say that he’s grateful for the freedom that the e-collar has given him. Although I don’t think he’s happy about not being able to get away with stuff at a distance. 11 years old and he’s still pushing the boundaries. “

” You’re putting the collar on? AWESOME! We’re going for a walk. We’re going for a walk. We’re going for a walk. “

” She would say it allows her to go with us everyplace and is well worth it. “


” My mom is calm when I wear my collar. She can get my attention when she needs it. She rarely ever has to tone me anymore. I don’t have to be “on leash” and we can hike anywhere! “

” Gus and Blue Moon would both say “being off leash rocks!!”

” Judging by how they react when I pick up their collar (they go CRAZY in excitement because they know they are getting to go somewhere), I think my dogs would ask me to put their collars on every morning and go do something fun!”

…that is what we have so far to question number 10 on our remote collar training survey.

When I review these answers, I pick up some overall themes about remote collar training…themes of increased freedom, reduced frustration and dogs that display no resentment in putting their e-collars on. Those reasons have been consistent factors in my decision to make this an area of specialization for the past 12 years.

It is not that I feel people HAVE to train with a remote collar to have a well mannered, obedient dog. It is that using one makes the task faster and easier on the average pet dog owner AND ultimately gives the dog an improved quality of life.

Once more I want to point out that these are primarily answers coming back from students of the professional dog trainers listed here. I have long held the belief that skilled guidance influences the outcome…we can chew on that topic together in the future…

If you’d like to share your thoughts and fill out this survey, please request it by e-mailing Robin@ThatsMyDog.com