Saturday, February 25, 2017

She has too many credentials

This week I worked with shy puppies, dog reactive dogs, fearful adults with odd habits, developing the room to run project opening March first, working with a lot of Dobermans this week, and a worried street dog, as well as teaching basic cues and manners to rescues.  In addition, business stuff like finishing up yearly taxes, learning web development and graphics creation and writing filled in the open spaces.

Too many credentials is a phrase I've never heard before, but it came up second hand this week.  In our industry the fact is there aren't enough credentialed dog behavior trainers/consultants. It isn't a regulated industry.  Yes, I have some credentials, mostly life experience with thousands of tough cases, and life accomplishments.  The reality is you can never have too many. Teaching science-based training means you have to study, to experience, to accomplish.

Bottom line to me was that that meant the prognosis wouldn't be good in this case. It either meant my fees were too high for them or they were not committed to training their dog and would just be hoping the behavior went away over time.

Words like NEVER and ALWAYS

Things will never change and get better with health, or addictions, or behavior issues if you don't apply the correct, systematic processes to make that happen.  There is a saying that goes something like this, "if you think things are bad now, just wait until you hire the wrong person".  The word always is just as negative, as it shows one doesn't want to change or explore other things.

Worry, fear, motivation

Worry and fear might play into it, but I think it is more a lack of understanding of those beings we call our best friends, our companions. They have issues too and worry and fear can be some of those issues that have to be worked through on the animal side of the equation and often the human side of the equation. If you go to a doctor and then don't listen to them, take your medications, work on your exercise and diet plans, then why are you going to that doctor? Why do we listen to the meteorologist on the local news for our daily weather? Why do we call a plumber or a mechanic when we need them, if we think we can simply 'fix' things ourselves? Guaranteed things will get worse versus better, as the credentialed are too costly and aren't to be taken seriously. What really matters are references from others, referrals, testimonials and examples of those canines who were transformed and yes by someone who has some credentials, life experience and accomplishments under their belt. Why? They've seen it before, they can apply a systematic and scientific approach, and they will help said companion and best friend improve to a realistic goal.

ANTs in your Pants

Psychologists call these thoughts automatic negative thoughts or ANTs. Some people are and will be inclined pessimists, holding negative thoughts about everything.  There is a great book written by Rise VanFleet, Ph.D., CDBC, "The Human Half of Dog Training: Collaborating with clients to get results " that talks about all the various human client personalities one might meet in their career and how to understand and talk to them. If we can work with the human, the dog always thrives and transforms.

There is another good book titled, "Breaking Bad (Habits) by the editors of Scientific American. The main premise of the book is "Why Don't People Change?" What is holding them back, why aren't they listening? ANTs may be one very specific reason. We talk about habituated behaviors in dogs, habits that become routine, and automatic negative thoughts can become just that, spontaneous and routine. We all know habits, attitudes are hard to break and it takes a very special type of patience to work through it with those that might hold those beliefs, perceived or real.

Negativity, pessimism are needed and can be a great equalizer, but if it hinders one from moving forward it is because the negative thoughts have become believable thoughts, alive and well, simply because these thoughts have existed in the person for so long.

Dog training, behavior modification, any career involved with animals and their humans involves the understanding of the human end of the leash. This is the most difficult part for many to grasp and work around. It is not an option in our business, it is a fact. Working with people who have pets, we need to also be people-oriented, people persons.

VanFleet has some great advise in her book, "...put yourself in the place of (your client). Think about their motivations and feelings." Sometimes we have to prove ourselves, no matter our credentials and understand what the motivation might be for comments clients make.

Teach to question method of thoughts

When working with automatic negative thoughts, teach to question the method of those thoughts. The proof of the pudding will be in the results and speak loudly for your credentials, life experience, and accomplishments. Don't let the latter stop you from moving forward with the client, or presume arrogance. The bottom line is really,  can we help this animal? If we can, how do we approach it with a systematic process.

Some tactful searching with the client might reveal: What is their biggest fear today? What is crushing hope?

The great walls can be the words living in NEVER"land" and ALWAYS"land". Things will never change, this is how it always works, my friends who have dogs say this always works and so on. We don't need credentialed professionals when we have our free relatives and neighborly advise.

Showing ways to improvement is key

Don't go in touting credentials, spouting language companion dog owners won't understand, but show ways to improve where they are now, where they want to be and develop a systematic, realistic plan to get them there.  Sometimes credentials do not impress others. Can we empathize with the person, have we gone through what they are going through, can we show results is often all that is worth its weight in gold. Are credentials important? Yes, to other professionals and for the world of licensing and showing one might know what they are talking about. To the normal companion dog owner the proof is in the results.

All of us have walked in and while we certainly can have results with the dog themselves, often the easier part of the equation, we also need to have results with the human half, part, end of the leash as they don't have the credentials or training/teachings/accomplishments we have. While we might do our job everyday and it seems simple to us, it is often not so simple for the human.

We have to show progress can and is being made.

Challenge the ANT. Kindness counts.  And it is all a day in the life of a behavior trainer, the human and the animal elements.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Multiple behavior focuses means being flexible

A busy week makes it hard to focus on one issue. Day-by-day this week included board/train Doberman female who loses focus quickly, reacts to dogs, and is a resource guarder;teaching a  puppy class; then a bully pit-mix, learning to develop my own webstie so I can keep it current and save some money. I have also been taking a graphics creation class for the same reason I'm learning to re-create my current website, which is horribly out-of-date.  Coupled with the work of business and tax season, an article for a magazine and working with issues of house training faux pas, diahrrea and diet, jumping up on people and teaching dogs to ring bells, a busy week was carved out. As a result, a brief focus on multiple dog behavior issues, seven issues to be specific, versus choosing one focus is the way this blog will go this week. Dogs are not one dimensional and neither is teaching them or changing behavior that crops up.  Here are some tips and go tos for seven challenges you might be faced with in teaching a dog.

Loss of focus

Losing focus can mean a lot of things such as, taking a training session too long for what the dog is able to handle, environmental distractions take precedent over interaction and participation with handler, handler is not engaged or reinforcing, dog is used to losing focus and/or age of dog means shorter teaching sessions are required.  Whatever the reason, ending on success is a goal so focus builds and work ethic strengthens. Loss of focus equates to the fact, the brutal reality that the dog does not want to listen, to work, to engage with you. Other things are more engaging, reinforcing. A good place to start to teach focus is an attention trilogy formulated by Pamela Dennison in her book "How to Right a Dog Gone Wrong" where she talks about three valuable parts to getting a dog to focus and those are, eye contact; name recognition; and name response plus adding a cue afterwards, like come.  These three pieces then become a nice transition to other engaging training, impulsivity curbing, and a real joy to participate with handler as a team no matter what is in the environment.

Resource Guarding

Resource guarding can come in many forms, to food, to locations, to any space (i.e. digging a hole), to a doggy friend, or to the guardian themselves.  It presents itself in growling, barking at, lunging, hard stare, holding tight on to whatever the prized possession might be, chasing away dog or human, standing ground guarding a location.  It can be very scary and it can escalate and become habituated. The reality is all dogs can become resource guarders and with practice can get worse and worse.

Starting go tos for changing a resource guarder into a willing participant of giving up what they have, sharing locations, asking permission take on three steps.  The goal is to reinforce the behavior you want, not resource guarding.

  • Drop - I teach my dogs and client dogs Chirag Patel's "Drop" technique found here 
  • Trade - simply teaching trading one item for another similar or different item - present item, say "take it" and when presenting other item say "take it" and when item dog has drops from their mouth, you can say "give" OR you can click and reward the item as it drops from the dog's mouth, name it give when it is strong, and reinforce further with giving dog another item - simply a give and take process that is fun and rewarding.
  • Get it, bring it - I use this for ball play, toy play and for bones - anything I'd like the dog to get and bring to me - and I make a game out of it.  Get it said happily. Dog has to have some experience with this, so rolling a ball and cueing going out for it "get it" is first step. I like to click/reward dog bringing item back to me. Click means item will drop from mouth and if I have an extreme resource guarder the last thing I want to do is bend to pick it up. I like to toss a reward left or right or up and over back and as dog scurries to get it, then I pick up the item.  Soon the dog sees this as a fun game and rewarding game.
  • Move over is for dogs who have location guarding issues (not touching on those dogs who have "pass by" issues as in when other dogs or animals or people pass by where they are lying). This is more for couches, bed etc.  Simply have a handful of rewards and as you enter toss a handful of rewards to another area, or off the item and as you do say "move over" (this will translate/generalize in car rides also). Dog will get up, move over, and forage for treats.  
  • Off - Off is four feet on the floor. So when dog is standing, add an off cue and toss a reward away from you.  When you need to say off, i.e. counter surfing, jumping up, then they will know what you mean. It should be more rewarding to stay off versus jumping up.
With my own "extreme resource guarder" we worked through all of the above. Take a look at his story here. (if you are on Facebook)

Puppy socialization

As we all know, this is so vital and so important, but it needs to be done correctly.  Just taking your dog out to public places, to a dog park, etc. is NOT socializing.  Socialization covers seeing successfully many types of people and dogs, interacting with them only if it is safe and confidence building, and also covers movement, variable surfaces, sounds, multiple distractions and more. Taking time to do it properly pays big rewards. One of my favorite websites is The Ultimate Puppy and of course, Dr. Ian Dunbar's book "Before and After You Get Your Puppy" (free online).


Resrouces for working with bully dogs can be found in Jean Donaldson's book "Fight". A dog who is a bully may have learned to be one in the litter, it could be genetic or it could be learned behavior that has become habituated.  Frequent call aways from dog dog interactions, if allowed, is a critical learning piece. Short durations of play time.  In sync with that would be a very good focus, relationship building process and teaching self-control through learning that curbs impulsiveness. Some dogs, like the one I worked with this week, find bullying highly reinforcing and the older the dog it becomes a matter of realistic expectations and prevention and management.  Teaching a get back cue, an interrupter, and a call away cue are all helpful.

Multi-dog households fighting

My article in Barks from the Guild, a PPG online and hard copy magazine will focus on multi-dogs fighting and a step-by-step process to regaining the peace that has been lost.  It will be the May cover story, so watch for it.  Dogs who have gotten along in the past and now have vicious fights can be scary to live with and highly stressful for all involved.

Jumping Up

Jumping up can become habituated. The more it is done, the more it will be done. So teaching alternative behaviors, or putting jumping on stimulus control can be quite helpful. Here are some suggestions:

"Dogs jump up naturally and are quickly and randomly reinforced for doing so. To change behavior, many owners tell their dog to sit instead and reward the sit, but smart dogs learn quickly to repeat the reinforced sequence of the jump-sit-reward. To circumvent this problem, try to anticipate dog's behavior and reward "before" she jumps up. As she approaches or looks at you, mark her standing before you and place food on the ground or below her mouth level. Ask friends and family to do the same and you can avoid jumping in a positive way." Lynn Honneckman

"Some jumpers are seeking touch, so use a good chest scratch as a reward for the sit in advance of jumping up (just making sure people know how to keep their noses out of the way by their position). I've had really good luck with touch as a reinforcer for those types of dogs with this particular behavior." Rise VanFleet, PhD

Top Nine Force Free Ways to Stop Jumping Up 

1. Teach dog to target a palm to greet visitors and then turn away from visitor to get reinforcement.

2. Teach a SURPRISE cue, tossing a hnadful of treats up and out and "over the dog's back", so they turn away from the doog, drop their head and search for food as visitor is coming in door.

    Surprise Technique:
    Toss entire handfuls of very high value rewards (chicken, hot dogs) behind the dog as a guest enters, while saying "find it" or "surprise" (which becomes your cue for turn away from guest.  Then once the dog has finished foraging for food, it will be easier to redirect to a sit or more appropriate greeting or simply walk guest through and drop tiny bits of food as dog walks calmly with you.  As far as those who do not want to use treats, other items need to be high value, like tennis balls, a favorite toy as they enter and say "TOYS!!!"  Surprise is simply a redirection technique that engages the dog "away from" an entering guest.

    3. Reward dog when NOT JUMPING. Practice greeter approaches and feed dog on the floor. If pup jumps you can also turn back, walk away, ignore.  If dog sits or keeps feet on the floor, reinforce with treats, attention and toys.

    4.  Teach a default behavior (sit, down etc.).

    5.  Use a baby gate or xpen (exercise pen) to stop door racing and to introduce dog when they are calm. Allow them to sit for a treat.

    6.  Put on stimulus control, meaning teach the dog to jump (cue it) and then don't cue it. The dog learns that they can jump, when cued, and so might not find it as rewarding anymore to do so "just because".

    7. Teach an off and a jump "up" cue. Off equals cue when four feet are on the floor and "up" is for when you want special cuddling from your dog. If you don't cue "up" (stimulus control cue as in item 6), it is not completed.

    8.  Play invisible dog and wait for dog to calm themselves, meaning they lay down or get involved in a toy before calling them over. Much of jumping up is attention seeking that gets reinforced, so this allows the dog to understand they will receive attention without jumping up and when they are calm.

    9.  Hand dog a filled kong and teach a solid mat behavior. That involves teaching a solid go "to mat", a down, and a strong stay.  Dog is not to move until release cue is given. Guest arrives, filled Kong comes out, and is given behind protected contact (barrier of an xpen or  baby gate or to a dog who has a solid go to mat cue).

    Sample Videos (jumping up)

    Kikopup How to stop jumping up Emily Larlham
    Why we shouldn't use punishment to teach a dog NOT to jump up by Emily Levine, DVM, Psychology Today

    Teaching to ring a bell

    This is a target/touch behavior. Dog touches bells with nose to move them to ring. A solid teaching of targeting a stick, a lid, a sticky note, two fingers and a palm prepare the dog to transfer that behavior to other things like bells.  I like to fade away a target to a click stick. I also like to click and reward each time dog touches the bells and rings them (the reward is going oudoors).  There are many videos on teaching a dog to target something that is static and touch (which requires movement toward something).  Once the dog learns the door opens when the bell rings, it provides them with a choice and the ability to control their environment.

    All of the above are just a day in the life of a behavior trainer.

    Friday, February 10, 2017

    Teaching Moments: Clients Ask Questions - Let them, Answer them, Show them

    This has been a week of client questions. Not what I wanted them to ask, but what was on their mind were things like "being alpha", "dominating their dog or their dog dominating them" and "why is positive better versus resorting to aversion sometimes". 

    Truly, I know these questions will be asked, but I am always shocked they are as this is old news anymore. The 21st century is here and we have science to show that positive reinforcement (R+) works and the discipline of removing something is more than enough for punishment (P-).  

    Looking at  questions as a teaching moment can go a long way in the client trainer relationship.  I love those moments. Let's take a look at these questions.

    To be or not to be alpha, that is the question

    As positive trainers, we hear this all the time. Sadly it is human nature to look to aversive choices, if it is unknown that other choices exist or peer pressure from a neighbor, relative or friend who has "had dogs" starts coaching, or if they are simply not understanding the dog they live with and brought into their household. 

    Understanding a dog's body language, calming and stress signals are important. Our dogs are expected to learn our language and its meaning, but it is rare that the opposite is true, learning a dog's language and how they communicate and creating a communication bridge.

    Stress release chart by Turid Rugaas

    "The term alpha isn't really accurate when describing most of the leaders of wolf packs because it implies, the term implies, the wolves fought and competed strongly to get to the top of the pack . In actuality, they achieve this by mating with the opposite sex producing a bunch of offspring, which are the rest of the pack then." Dr. David Mech, Senior Research Scientist, U.S. Department of the Interior. (His full commentary on this issue can be viewed from resources below.)

    According to an article by Maureen Ross, M.A. titled "Alpha This, Alpha That" (in resources below), "The original alpha/dominance model was born out of short-term studies of wolf packs done in the 1940s. 

    These studies were a good start, but later research disproved most of the findings citing three major flaws: 

    1. Being short-term studies, the researchers focused on the most obvious, overt parts of wolf life-- hunting. The studies drew conclusions about "wolf behavior" based on a small percentage of wolf life/living. 

    2. The studies observed what are now known to be ritualistic displays and misinterpreted them. Unfortunately, this is where the bulk of dominance theory came from and was used by many as the foundation for writing books and training dogs. 

    3.After the studies, the researchers made cavalier extrapolations from wolf-dog to dog-dog to dog-human based on their "findings."

    Our domestic dogs are not wolves, even if they share DNA. The key term is "domestic", thousands of years of domestication has led to the dog having quite different habits from wolves and these are verified in studies of village dogs, stray dogs, and wild domestic dogs.  In our homes, the dog becomes a family member and responds to the environment in which they are raised. In our homes, our dogs do not grow up and are dependent on their humans for food, shelter, comfort and more.  If aversive methods are used, it becomes an unsafe environment and they simply default to survival behaviors.

    What is really wrong with exploring the term alpha when it refers to our canine companions is that it denotes aversion. It denotes "being over your dog" instead of living "in peace with your dog". Dr. Ian Dunbar, founder of the APDT and internationally known positive dog trainer said in reference to a term called alpha rolling that, a wolf would flip another wolf only if he were going to kill it, imagine what that does to a dog's psyche. 

    If there were positive connotations to be had with the term "alpha" it would be that a true alpha doesn't have to fight to get there and that those who do are seen as weaker. So if you think you need to be an alpha and exert power over a dog, in the dog's eyes you are less than worth listening to.  It kind of changes the way you look at the term.  The term will always be out there, it will always mean to humans that they need to "put their dog in their place" or "to be king of the house", all erroneous and the reality is humans can never be dogs nor are they wolves and studies continue to flow when it comes to the domestic dog and behaviors.  Following the science is the best way to make determinations versus taking the advice of various popular television shows or nonprofessionals.  

    It is the connotation of the term itself that messes up the mind when thinking in terms of raising our domestic dogs and teaching them (often referred to as training).  

    Alpha seems to denote that you must be dominant over your dog or your dog will be dominant over you. Let's take a look at the definition of dominance " from the Merrick Webster dictionary:

    • . the fact or state of being dominant : such asa sociology :  controlling, prevailing, or powerful position especially in a social hierarchy (see hierarchy 4) <male dominance> <political dominance> <companies competing for dominance in the market> <dominance over their rivals>b genetics :  the property of one of a pair of alleles or traits that suppresses expression (see expression 1b(4)) of the other in the heterozygous conditionc ecology :  the influence or control over ecological communities exerted by a dominant (see 2dominant 2b)
    • . biology :  functional (see functional 1b) asymmetry between a pair of bodily structures (as the right and left hands) <right brain dominance>

    Dominance is a human term, but in the dog world what is probably more likely is that resource guarding is being seen, which can translate to food, toys, locations, and to people. Labeling is a horrible conundrum to get into with animals and we apply the terms, we as humans are used to and have learned.  The dog is exhibiting either instinctual, learned or ingrained behavior, most likely they aren't trying to take over the household but may have been challenged in some way and see getting through the day as survival.  Some dogs are more active, jumpy, overaroused, hyperactive and many of these behaviors can look like bullying, body slamming, pestering, growling at and also attention seeking.  So being specific about the how, when, why, what of the behavior and when it is displayed is key to solving it. Jumping to conclusions and applying labels helps no one.

    False bravado is how Karen Deeds, CDBC, describes dominance. She says, "Modern, educated dog trainers know it is always extremely important to identify the behavior and body language of the dogs without labeling it. But pet owners have most likely already done that! When they describe their dog as alpha or dominant it is important to get the actual physical behavior instead of the label. I give them another more accurate characterization of the behavior: “False Bravado”. A dog like this displays an almost over-the-top amount of courage but in reality, it is a false show of bravery. As mentioned previously, this behavior is a symptom of insecurity or anxiety. The dog is compensating for their lack of confidence and appropriate communication skills by bullying."

    Positive versus slipping into aversive to get a "quicker" result

    When we discuss using positive techniques (training that uses reinforcement versus fear) versus aversive methods (fear training), it really is as simple as looking at cause and effect.  Both are techniques, but the decision becomes do I want my dog to fear me or not. At least for me, it is that simple.  For companion dog owners who are barraged with tons of information on how to train a dog, it is easy to think that fear is an effective ideology. 

    Focusing the client on places like Dogwise books and DVDs ( where hundreds of positive books and DVDs are available or Tawzer Dog DVDs ( is what I usually do so that they can be exposed to the positive reinforcement aspects of teaching their dog.  Just Google "the fallout of punishment in dogs" and get 19,200,00 links. This is a great start for personal study and revelation.

    In behavior modification, using aversives means you wait for the dog to do something wrong and then punish them (a jerk, shock, manipulation, coercion, loud voice, force), which deals with the "act" in the moment and appears to stop it. Since it stopped, the pet guardian perceives it worked.  Stopping in the moment occurs because the dog fears further punishment. However, does the behavior go away or does it lie under the surface waiting to resurface?  Are you really dealing with changing the behavior? No, you are dealing with the behavior in the moment and that can cause confusion for the dog. The behavior is subdued and the fallout can come in a later occurrence of the same behavior or the behavior intensifies or the dog simply shuts down and would rather do nothing than to be further punished.  This causes stress in the dog, and to me, the biggest benefit of positive reinforcement is using a stress-free, force-free environment for teaching the dog what you want them to do instead of punishing what you don't want them to do. The former is teaching, the latter has an anger element to it. What has happened is a relationship has been tarnished, trust has been tested, and safety and confidence have been violated. 

    In teaching an animal, starting with a strong history of trust, safety and building confidence sets the why of positive reinforcement. Those elements are strongly woven into every interaction with a dog, or any other animal. In our human lives, the dog will come into contact with more than enough scary experiences, and then in those times it is the relationship we have with our dogs that become crucial to working through those scary moments.

    Positive doesn't mean permissive

    Time to destress can be one positive disciplinary tool. Remove, redirect or relax or a combination of the three is a positive communication that speaks loudly.

    In understanding, I think this is where the wheels meet the pavement. People think positive IS permissive, but when it starts to sink in that it is not, then the client has new tools to get better manners, create boundaries and be proactive rather than reactive. In positive reward-based training, discipline means "taking away", "being proactive" in the form of removal (social removal of you or your dog or both, as well as reinforcements). This works because dogs are social and value social contact, food etc. Another tool is to redirect behavior into something else, a game, an alternative behavior, a change of environment. A relaxation period also goes far and is implemented before the dog arouses, or acts out, or is a positive timeout in an environment that allows the dog to destress. One or a combination of any of these are highly effective teaching tools that don't employ pain or fear.

    At the end of the day, any day in the life of a behavior trainer, it is important to listen to clients, embrace those teaching moments, educate and inform and shed some light on a topic if it comes up. Showing what else to do in comparison to what was done is also a big part of helping with understanding what to do instead. Most do not want to use punishing methods, it just doesn't feel right to them and so there is an opportunity to show, to compare, to evaluate, and to progress forward in a positive, results-oriented, systematic process to get to the basis of and change behavior. We can hope that we hear these words and phrases used less and less often.


    Alpha This Alpha That by  Maureen Ross, M.A. The best quote on alpha rolling is from Dr.Ian Dunbar - a wolf would flip another wolf only if he were going to kill it - imagine what that does to a dog's psyche

    "Alpha" Wolves, Dr. David Mech added to the definition of the "alpha wolf" in his studies, but revises his original version because they are no longer scientifically accurate and that was eight years ago on Feb. 15, 2008

    Debunking the Alpha Theory,Whole Dog Journal 

    The Truth About Dominance by Victoria Stilwell

    Tough Love: A Meditation on Dominance in Dogs by Sophia Yin This 2012 documentary feature (produced by Anchorhold Films & Tower Hill Films) traces the history of the “alpha dog” concept from its origins in 1940’s wolf studies to its current popularity among ordinary

    Dog Behavior and Training - Dominance, Alpha, and Pack Leadership - What Does It Really Mean?
    By Debra Horwitz, DVM, DACVB & Gary Landsberg, DVM, DACVB, DECAWBM March 2011, 

    A reference list for the side effects of the use of aversives in punishment, negative reinforcement, and without behavioral change, by Eileen Anderson

    This letter came out just this week and further discusses these issues and the fallout of punishment based techniques. AN OPEN LETTER TO VETERINARIANS ON REFERRALS TO TRAINING AND BEHAVIOR PROFESSIONALS Written by Niki Tudge 

    The American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior, AVSAB Position Statement The Use of Punishment for Behavior Modification in Animals 


    The Ecology of Stray Dogs: A Study of Free-ranging Urban Animals by Alan M. Beck

    The Domestic Dog: Its Evolution, Behaviour and Interactions with People edited by James Serpell

    Friday, February 3, 2017

    Forward movement always better

    What does that mean?  It means don't get in a rut, keep educating yourself, keep working and marketing your business and so much more.  In addition to private sessions with challenging dogs and their owners, implementing stress release protocols, client consults and holding puppy classes my week moved forward with the following accomplishments.

    Renewal of professional organization memberships

    Tellington Touch for Trainers - the touch that teaches - is one organization renewed this week alone. It is a kind, therapeutic and excellent way to interact with people and their animals. To learn more go here:

    Continue to earn certifications

    This week, on February 1,  I earned the Fear Free Certifications a seven module class focusing on "Taking the pet out of petrified" as it pertains to fear free veterinarian visits. It is for veterinarians, vet techs and support staff and is opening up to animal professionals, as well.  This opens up a workshop or class on this topic or a module in a class for my clients.  Dr. Marty Becker, DVM and a specialized committee of veterinarians and pet professionals are responsible for the design of this course.  To learn more go to and hosts the course itself.  The program is approved by the AAVSB RACE. I am very proud to be a part of this effort and a part of a growing group of professionals who embrace fear free practices for animals to decrease fear, anxiety and stress.

    I have made copies of this certification and will have it added to all my veterinarian canine records.

    The business details

    Renewing business insurance, marketing classes upcoming, and meeting to establish Canine Transformations Room to Run program for owners locally of reactive and special needs dogs. Having a place to exercise dogs with issues, health challenges, or puppies for safety is what we will strive to achieve. We have a place to start, and a team to start this endeavor and are moving forward rapidly. Will talk more about this as it unrolls.

    Learning to build and daily change my website is a course I am taking and soon will have my revised website at It is long overdue and I am learning how so I can make changes fast and furiously keeping clients up-to-date to all that is happening at Canine Transformations Learning Center.

    Tax preparations are underway in addition to all of the above.

    Planning reactive dog and public dog walks, cTLC Walks With Dogs program, a yearly offering from April to October.  Where we walk is planned well in advance and that is taking place as I write.

    Continuing Professional Education - Educational webinars

    Today learned about "Errorless Learning" through a webinar by that title given through the Pet Professionals Guild (PPG): an association for force free pet professionals of which I am a founding member.  Continuing education is big with me and I don't care how many certifications someone has not to keep up with what is new, better and progressive is a big mistake.

    These days there is so much one can do online without traveling or leaving your home that it would be very lax if this wasn't taken advantage of and in addition, one can even trial in certain dogsports online, such as Parkour, Treibball and RallyO Freestyle. We've come a long way baby - with professional behavior and dog training and keeping up with technology and advances is primary.

    Professional Writing

    A cover article for "Barks from the Guild" a PPG publication is in process on multi-dog households fighting, which will be a cover feature in May 2017 issue.

    Resurrecting and writing this blog.

    Formatting my upcoming book on systematic stress release and behavior modification. This is an ongoing work and seems to get put on the burner as other details are being handled.

    Putting my work where my mouth is - my dogs

    Bathing and brushing day for the Canine Transformations dogs is underway in preparation for a boarder coming in on Sunday.

    Picking up raw meat from local farmers is a monthly action item.

    Prepping for tomorrow (always)

    Two puppy classes and an adolescent pup private are all in the works.

    Keep moving forward if you are a pet professional, otherwise you might find that things stop. That does not mean to burn out because in all of the above, carving out personal time is also critical and just another day in the life of a behavior trainer.

    Friday, July 5, 2013

    When SPARCS fly, people learn

    SPARCS, The Society for Promotion of Applied Research in Canine Science

    It is common knowledge among those who are in the trenches applying techniques to change challenging dogs, that when many trainers are in a room together the one thing they'll agree on is to disagree.

    When scientists get together the same thing happens.  All might agree on many things, but because of their individual experiences, experiments and research also have different ideas, different opinions, ways of approaching things and varying hypothesis.

    The world is filled with different opinions and that's what makes life interesting. That's what makes life progressive as new and brilliant ideas unfold. The SPARCS 2013 conference held in Redmond, Washington, brought together eight of the most brilliant minds in canine science. Being asked to volunteer, I count myself as one of the very lucky ones who attended this first SPARCS conference under Prescott Breeden and Patty Howard of Pawsitive Packleader, Seattle, and thank them for it was a pleasure to see the operation from the back end as well as absorb learning front and center.

    Patty Howard, Pawsitive Packleader SPARCS creator along with Prescott Breeden (not shown)

    The first thing people wanted to know post-conference was what did I learn? 

    What I learned was where I put my focus, and my individual focus was like a laser beam pointed at the wisdoms and scientific nuggets found in the behavioral talks. Talks on emotions and stress in dogs interested me, but what I found was I learned a lot more than this from other talks.

    It was interesting to note the fact that science has not really pinpointed exactly where the dog derived or when it came on the scene to be tamed by humans. I also learned the difference between domestication and taming and saw behavioral research and comparisons done with village dogs. The one image I cannot remove from my head is the eating habits of the village dogs who aren't fed but have to fend for themselves. Following babies around as they eliminate and eating it was described as a balance to keeping the villages clean, so the dogs serve a valuable purpose. Still it does make one pause.

    What were some standouts?

    One of my favorite quotes of the conference was by Ray Coppinger in day one's end of day panel discussion. He said,

    Ray Coppinger
    Professor emeritus of Biology, Hampshire College, MA     
    "It's totally unfair to dogs" to use pack hierarchy in training, says Ray Coppinger. "Including methods like the alpha roll. First, we don't even fully understand pack behavior in wolves, and second, dogs are not wolves and are behaviorally very different. And there is no evidence that dogs descended from wolves anyway!" From the panel discussion at SPARCS 2013 International Conference on Dog Behavior

    My thought was bah-da-bing!

    Michael W. Fox, DVM

    My ears perked up when Michael W. Fox talked about a study with heart rate and the potential effect of touch.  Heartbeats in a dog (recorded with a biotelemeter) showed how petting, stroking, grooming etc. slows the heart to a slower rate than when sitting and during contact. Heart rate will go down with physical contact, and oxytocin will go up.

    Along those same lines, Clive Wynne talked about "Why your dog loves you so". He did a study correlating the amount of oxytocin released is dependent on how much eye contact a human can make with their dog.  Cortisol was measured in these studies through a saliva test.

    Dr. Marc Bekoff
    Professor Emeritus of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Colorado, Boulder

    I loved it when the comment came up that instead of using the word train to describe what we do with dogs, that instead use the word teach. We are teaching our dogs. This was pointed out by Marc Bekoff in his talk "Beastly passions and compassionate conservation".

    Adam Miklosi's talk on problem-solving behavior was fascinating. He used a Byrne and Bates (2008) (human) cognition as a hypthesis generating tool.  He stated that "problem-solving behavior reflects changes (decisions) in the animal behavior when it responds to regular states and conditions of its environment."  This interests me, intrigues me even, because this is one of the behaviors my Canine Emotional Detox (CED) strives to uncover, how does a dog solve a problem?

    Miklosi demonstrated with a problem solving task called, disappearing objects.

    The purpose was object performance to test the dog's ability to follow the movement in case of discontinuous visual perception (Gagnon and Dumas 1992). There were three experiments.

    The first simply hiding the object and returning to the dog to see if they were visually watching where the item was hidden. Then they were sent to where five boxes were visible.

    The second experiment was an A not B error with a 2-step sequential visible hiding process and the third experiment had a ball on a string and a hidden human provided motion by pulling the ball behind one of the five boxes, no person present.

    First was an ostensive-communicative experiment, second a noncommunicative and third a nonsocial experiment.

    The experiment outcome showed how the dog's mind operates and allowed understanding the dog's world from their perspective.  This was one of my favorite parts of the SPARCS weekend.

    "The natural place of existence for dogs is the anthropogenic environment created by humans" Adam Miklosi

    Can you tell, I live for this stuff?

    As you are starting to realize by now, there was a lot of learning and information packed into the SPARCS conference and something for everyone.

    One of the speakers, Alexandra Horowitz talked about the dog's point of view and was nice enough to autograph her book for me "Inside of a Dog". Of course, she had no choice as I planted myself between her and the doorway, but I digress.  She talked about attribution of emotions. Emotions have been talked about as early as Darwin in his book "Expression of the Emotions". Grieving, being proud, happy, embarrassed, disgusted were some of the attributions to dogs.

    Darwin said "There can, I think, be no doubt that a dog feels shame."

    Horowitz set out to test this hypothesis in 2009 with an experimental examination of the context for appearance of guilty looking behavior, like an averted gaze.

    The simple premise was dog owners would show their dog a treat and ask them to leave it. Then they would leave. If the dog ate the treat, they were to act disgusted and maybe say "what did you do?" and if they didn't, they were to praise their dog.  But could the dog owners tell guilt, if they didn't know if the treat was eaten or not?

    Horowitz's experiments are to really understand the dog's point of view.

    Why do experiments? "The reason we do experiments is because we don't know the answer and you have to be prepared to be wrong," says Clive Wynn.

    What would I like to see more of in 2014?

    There was some reference to application, but in 2014 I'd like to see the hard science mixed with those who work in the application of scientific research. This year there was a new concept titled "Do as I do", an application theory, but those who work with dogs daily in a teaching capacity often have differing viewpoints and ways of approaching the scientific research.

    SPARCS 2013 held June 28th through the 30th contained a wealth of information, networking and conversation hard to capture in one blog. One thing is for sure, it is just another day in the life of this behavior trainer.

    Monday, May 27, 2013

    Games - mentally stimulating brain games for dogs

    Mental stimulation is important in a dog's daily life. Today as I was gathering more ideas for my own and client dogs I ran across a fun and new activity with a ball most people will already have in the toybox.

    Leopold's Crate: Fun Activity for Dogs who like to Disembowel their Stuffed Animal Toys. Thanks to Leopold's owner, a brilliant idea is born and one that doesn't cost a lot of money, nor take a lot of time to resurrect.  Here are a few photos depicting the activity.


    Add this to your dog's activity, of course, varying it with many other homemade or on the market intelligence toys.  Keep you dogs mind active, and you will get better focus, participation, and less reactivity. Activities should challenge all the senses of a canine.  This satisfies foraging, taste, visual, scenting.

    One of the elements of the Canine Emotional Detox: Stress Release for the Challenging Dog is mentally stimulating activities.  There is a reason for each activity in the CED, to evaluate how a dog solves a problem or doesn't, how they may relate to their environment and respond in real life circumstances giving insight to individualized behavior modification programs.  The cover to my book is done as far as illustration and font for title and subtitle, and now it will go to be colorized. Over the next eight weeks I'll be working fervently to complete this book.

    It's all just another day in the life of a behavior trainer.

    Sunday, May 26, 2013

    A passion for challenging cases

    Yesterday, my 23 month old, Valor and I spent the day at a RallyO/Freestyle Element dog show, leaving the house at 5 a.m. We returned at 5 p.m. I challenge myself when I do shows with my dogs, I also do Treibball and Nosework with my dogs and one is titled in RallyO.  I've also done conformation, herding, obedience, tracking and search and rescue, and each I've taken away pieces to use with the challenging dog cases that are my passion.

    Passion often leads to excellence and I have to say working with challenging dogs is quite different than "showing in the ring".  Although precision is important for both, they are different in type.  I have to say I much prefer my job and passion for challenging cases over show ring escapades. However, I also believe it is important to do both for those of us who work with challenging dogs. The protocols are quite different and what you learn in one area, you may be able to apply to another.

    Yesterday perfection was not our goal. My goal for Valor was that he could handle a small show venue - the sights, sounds, distractions. It was my goal to implement the steps of the CED (Canine Emotional Detox) in a show atmosphere - relax - mentally stimulating activity - relax - physical stimulation - mentally stimulating activity - relax - (and ultimately show).  It was all going very well.  We did crate games, Ttouch, a wrap and impulse control exercises.  Valor was so happy up until about 1 p.m. Distraction overload occurred.

    Distractions piled one over the other can suddenly hit the fan - very much like working with a challenging dog.  The realization is that sometimes the dog won't show outward signs, but the influx of distractions affects them internally, nonetheless.  Valor was really handling it all very well - his first show atmosphere of this type - until a client who'd come to watch us, pulled up a chair in our space.  Valor was visibly distressed and wouldn't take treats.  After spending a very few minutes allowing him to take in this environmental adjustment, I simply removed him and we went to the truck, his safe zone.  I allowed him to rest distraction free for 30 minutes.  We came back in, after I had rearranged the environment and asked the client/friend to avert eyes, not talk directly to him at that moment.  He revived slowly, but surely, and was able to take treats again. He took them from a person showing next to us and then a trail up to my client/friend.  Then I took him to the middle of the room.  He was stressed, worried looking backwards (over his shoulder), then tense muscles, lip licking.  So we walked around a bit.

    The bottom line for me was, I would not show him in that state of stress.  I needed to end this on success, just as I would expect a client to do who had a major reaction from their dog.

    We were headed for the showring at 230 p.m. I'd already informed the stewards I may not be showing, if Valor's stress levels didn't come down.  So I tested him a bit outside the ring - and since the ring equals good things happening, he was showing an eagerness to go with me.  Making a few improvs, and doing some displacement sniffing - we went through the signs - not perfectly, but slowly and focusing more on being together and relaxing than showing off and getting claps or a high score.  We had fun and mid-way through the course Valor was engaged and had forgotten why he was distressed.

    This was the first time we showed without a lead and Valor, returned quickly to me. It was good to show in a "match atmosphere" first for us to see what he could handle.  The biggest thing was we ended on success and Valor slept all the way home and then when we got home. He had a huge walk at 530 a.m. the next day.

    Stress enters our dog's lives when we least expect it. Knowing what to do and how to help them adjust is the key to keeping stress chemicals at manageable levels and to show them you are keeping them safe so they build a trust and confidence and a sort of acceptance that distractions will be there and will occur.  Had Valor not been able to recover, I would not have shown him and we would have found another way to end on success.

    For me, I'd much rather work challenging case loads, than be in a show ring, but it stretches me and it gives my dog a job over working with challenging cases themselves.  So it is, in an odd way, a reprieve and a learning ground.

    I learned a lot about Valor yesterday and myself.  And the information learned from a show is information to take back to clients.  Just another day in the life of a behavior trainer/consultant.