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What to Expect at Your Dog’s Educational Daycare Evaluation


Curious about what to expect when you sign your dog up for an Educational Daycare evaluation at Crossbones? Here is what you can expect, and what our team members are looking for from you and your dog.

Getting Started

The evaluation starts as soon as you and your dog arrive at Crossbones. Educational Daycare attendees must be under their owner’s control in the parking lot and lobby. A member of our staff will come out to meet you in the lobby* and briefly outline the evaluation process. We’ll take your dog into one of our play courts and begin the assessment.

*=At this time, we are still using an outdoor pen for pick-up & drop-off procedures as part of our COVID-19 plan. You can view a video of this process here. At the conclusion of your dog’s evaluation, you may come inside to speak with the evaluator.

You will need to wait outside during the evaluation. For many dogs, it is distracting or upsetting to them if they can hear you and smell you, but not see you. For this reason, we no longer allow clients to wait in the lobby during their dog’s evaluation.

The Evaluation

The first element of the evaluation is your dog’s opportunity to check out our indoor play space. Your dog can walk around and sniff the room, check out our toys, have a sip of water, etc. The evaluator will remain quiet and neutral during this part of the evaluation. This gives your dog a chance to settle in without being distracted by a person. They will observe your dog to make sure they seem comfortable and confident in the space.

The evaluator will watch closely for signs of stress, such as excessive panting, whining, or trying to jump the fence. Any accidents, including urine marking, in the space will also be noted (and cleaned up). More than one accident during the evaluation is a failure. Please give your dog ample time to relieve themselves outside before their appointment.

Next, our evaluator will assess your dog’s interest in interacting with people. They will greet your dog and ask them to sit and come when called in exchange for food rewards. They will also pet your dog, and lead them a short distance by their collar. The goal is that your dog responds to the evaluator’s cues, is comfortable being petted, and goes willingly with them while being led by the collar. If your dog does not respond to our evaluator, they will not pass the evaluation.

Remember that Educational Daycare is meant to maintain the training your dog already knows. If your dog is not trained, they are not going to pass an evaluation here.

Interacting with Other Dogs

If your dog is comfortable in our play space and responding appropriately to the evaluator, the next part of the evaluation is introducing them to other dogs. Your dog will be introduced to 2-4 other dogs, one at a time. The evaluator, joined by an assistant, will watch carefully to make sure your dog is either neutral or friendly towards other dogs.

We recognize that not all dogs are comfortable playing with other dogs right off the bat during the evaluation. That’s okay! Your dog must be comfortable with other dogs approaching, sniffing, and politely soliciting play from them, even if they are not ready or interested in playing back.

If your dog does play with the other dogs – great! Our evaluator will assess your dog’s play style to make sure it is a good fit for the rest of our daycare dogs. Key things the evaluator watches for include:

  • reciprocal play: taking turns being the chaser vs. the chase-ee, wrestling on top vs. wrestling on bottom
  • backing off if another dog tells them they’ve had enough
  • not instigating play with dogs who are communicating that they’re not interested
  • appropriate levels of vocalization: no excessive barking at other dogs

Our evaluator will also assess your dog’s ability to respond to them in the presence of other dogs. Your dog needs to come to the evaluator when they are called. Some dogs do great when no other dogs are present but ignore the evaluator once they are playing with dogs. If your dog does not come when called at the dog park, they need more training before an Educational Daycare evaluation.

Relaxing After Play

If this all goes well, the last phase of the evaluation is seeing how your dog does in a crate in our kennel room. We proudly use a “crate and rotate” model of play here at Crossbones. Dogs alternate between crated rest time and active play time. A little bit of whining or barking at first is common and we will give your dog a chance to settle down. Frequent or excessively loud vocalization, pawing at or attempting to break out of the crate, or refusing to enter the crate for the evaluator are all reasons why a dog might not pass this element of the evaluation.

Wrapping Up

At the conclusion of the evaluation, we’ll invite you back into the building to discuss how the evaluation went, and if your dog is eligible to start right away, eligible for a trial week, needs to attend a certain minimum number of days per week, or did not pass the evaluation. High-energy dogs who tend to play vigorously with their friends need to attend daycare often more often than 2x or 3x/week, so our evaluator may make the decision that your dog needs to come more frequently than that for a period of time.

And there you have it! That’s what we pack into the Educational Daycare evaluation appointment. If you have questions, leave a comment below or contact us!

Flex Class Program Updates


Our instructor team has been hard at work over the past week making changes to our Flex Class program. Our goal is to teach classes that are fun, informative, and build your’s dog manners. We want you and your dog to leave each class with a smile on your faces and a clear idea of what you need to practice going forward.

Part of achieving that is making sure the difficulty level of each class reflects the listed prerequisites, if any. That way, more experienced teams are continuing to be challenged while new students are getting the foundation they need. Most of the changes we’re making are to advanced classes, but we’ve got other tweaks to announce, too.

These changes go into effect immediately for all new registrations. If you’ve already registered for one of these classes prior to today, we recommend, but do not require, that you switch into a class you are eligible for.

Core Manners & Elective Dog Training Classes

Polite in Public, one of our four Core Manners classes, will no longer include matwork as part of the curriculum. We already address matwork in Settle & Stay Put and Self-Control. This change gives us more time to work on loose leash walking and polite greetings. Those behaviors are high priority for a lot of you, so we think you’ll like this change!

Intro to Dog Tricks, an elective class, now has a prerequisite of four Core Manners classes. We want to make sure all of the dogs attending have learned some basic training skills. Additionally, their owners need to be comfortable teaching new behaviors with the clicker and food rewards before joining us there.

Advanced Manners Classes

We’re increasing the prerequisite classes for all of our Advanced Manners classes. CGC Prep now requires 2 of each Core Manners class (Come This Way, Settle & Stay Put, Self-Control, and Polite in Public).

Recall Mastery now requires 4 Come This Way classes, 4 Settle & Stay Put classes, and 4 Self-Control classes. The exercises in this class really depend on your dog having solid foundation skills. The dog behavior requirements have not changed. To take this class, your dog must also have self-control around food on the floor and in containers, a 10’+ stay (either sit or down), solid name recognition, accept collar grabs, and take multiple steps for a hand target.

Power Walking now requires 6 Polite in Public classes. Your dog’s loose leash walking in low- to moderate-distraction level environments needs to be pretty darn solid before you move up to this class. In Power Walking, we focus on reducing treats, crisper turns without getting tangled up, and walking in close proximity to other dogs and people.

A New Class!

We’re thrilled to announce a brand new Flex Class: Distraction Action! In this class, you’ll learn how to use your dog’s distractions to make their manners training even stronger. All distraction types welcome… people, other dogs, critters, toys, skateboards, smells – you name it, and we’ll help you work through it. This prerequisites for this class are the same as for CGC Prep: each Core Manners class (Polite in Public, Come This Way, Settle & Stay Put, Self-Control) taken twice.

We look forward to seeing you and your dog in a Flex Class soon! View the calendar to see what is offered when, and then head to the class roster to make a selection.

COVID-19 Flex Class Guidelines – Updated December 20th, 2020


UPDATE DECEMBER 20th, 2020: Effective immediately, one guest may accompany you to most Flex Classes. Please check the Group Class Calendar for details. At this time, guests are not allowed at Wednesday night Flex Classes. This is subject to change in the future. Thank you for your cooperation and understanding!

As of June 9th, 2020, we are allowed to resume indoor dog training classes in Rhode Island. A few weeks ago we published a blog post outlining class rules & procedures for outdoor classes. Now that the majority of classes are moving inside, here’s what you need to know.

Indoor classes: unless clearly marked on the class calendar, all classes will be taking place indoors, in our 80×45′ training hall. When agility classes resume later in June, Wednesday evening manners classes will be held outdoors. Those outdoor classes will be marked as such on the class calendar.

Click here to learn more about our Flex Class program!

Face masks must be worn and social distancing guidelines must be followed at all times. If you are not able to wear a face mask during class, please email us to discuss accommodations before registering for any classes. 

We have hand sanitizer available for all students, and the sinks in the bathrooms have soap and hot water for hand washing. We encourage you to sanitize before and after class.

You are allowed to bring 1 guest with you to most classes. (See the Group Class Calendar for details on classes with a “no guest” limitation.) Your spouse, family member, or friend is welcome to join you.

If you or your dog are not feeling well, you must stay home. Please email or call us as soon as you perceive symptoms so we may work to fill your spot with someone from the wait list. We will be slightly more flexible with excused absences during this time but you must let us know as soon as possible (prior to the start time of class). 

Just like we did before, we’ll be maintaining a wait list for classes that are full. Please e-mail us to get on the wait list for any class. 

If you need to purchase treats or other gear, our retail store is open for browsing. We do recommend placing an online order for pick-up if at all possible. That way, we can have your items ready for you when you arrive. If you realize you need something during class, we can still accommodate that, but it will interrupt your class experience.

Orientation classes will resume being held in-person. The last Remote Orientation will be held Wednesday, June 10th. Online registration for this class is now closed, but if you have a valid Flex Class Pass, contact us to enroll.

When signing up for classes, please review the list of equipment in the confirmation e-mail and be sure to bring it with you. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, we cannot provide “loaner equipment” to students during classes. If you have forgotten a piece of equipment, you need to purchase it or sit out the exercise.

You will enter and exit class through the training hall door, not the main entrance. The instructor will prop this door open 5 minutes before class time. There is a 15 minute break between classes, but we need time to sanitize, so please do not try to enter the building before this time. If you are waiting outside of your car, please stay socially distant from other classmates as well as clients picking up their dogs from the Academy.

Puppy Playgroups will not resume just yet. We are working on a plan to be able to offer these while maintaining social distancing. Stay tuned!

COVID-19 Flex Class Guidelines – May 2020


NOTE: We have new guidelines effective June 10th! Please read the latest COVID-19 Flex Class Guidelines here.

Our Flex Class program is resuming Monday, May 18th. Some changes to the way we hold classes are necessary in order to follow the dog trainer regulations published by the Department of Business Regulation.

All classes must be held outdoors, weather permitting. If the forecast suggests a greater than 50% chance of heavy rain or lightning, we will cancel classes. We will still train in light rain, so please dress accordingly. Our instructors will make the decision to cancel weekday classes at approximately 3:30PM and weekend classes at approximately 7:30AM. Check your e-mail before departing for class. 

Each class is strictly limited to 4 dog & handler teams and the instructor.

No guests are allowed to accompany you in class. Spouses and family members may watch class from your vehicle, which may be parked facing the training space. Vehicles must be turned off – no idling.

Face masks must be worn and social distancing guidelines must be followed at all times. If you are not able to wear a face mask during class, please email us to discuss accommodations before registering for any classes. 

If you or your dog are not feeling well, you must stay home. Please email or call us as soon as you perceive symptoms so we may work to fill your spot with someone from the wait list. We will be slightly more flexible with excused absences during this time but you must let us know as soon as possible (prior to the start time of class). 

Because class space is extremely limited, only enroll in classes you are certain you can attend. We will shut off online registration for anyone making excessive cancellations or rescheduling. 

Just like we did before, we’ll be maintaining a wait list for classes that are full. Please e-mail us to be added to the wait list for any class.

If you need to purchase treats or other gear, please place an online order for pick-up if at all possible. That way, we can have your items ready for you when you arrive. If you realize you need something during class, we can still accommodate that, but it will interrupt your class experience.

Please be sure to pack water and a bowl for your dog, and bring extra-high value treats that your dog is crazy about!

Current Flex Class Pass Holders

All Flex Class Passes with an expiration date after March 22nd were extended by 12 weeks. There will be no further extensions of Flex Class Passes. If you believe we made an error and your class pass was not extended, please e-mail us and we will look into it.

If your dog’s vaccinations have been updated since March 1st, or if you had a veterinarian appointment to update vaccinations which had to be cancelled due to COVID-19, please contact us to make sure your dog’s vaccinations are up-to-date before enrolling in class.

New Students

We are accepting new students, but they may not begin class until on or after June 1st.

The next Orientation class for new clients will be Monday, June 1st. Orientation classes will be held approximately once per week thereafter. You still must attend an Orientation class before attending any classes with your dog.

Puppy Day School Students

If you have not attended an Orientation before, we are offering a remote Zoom Orientation one just for current and previous PDS students on Saturday, May 23rd at 11AM. This will not be recorded, and you must attend live. Once you attend this Orientation, you can enroll in future classes.

If you cannot attend this Orientation, the next one will be available on Monday 6/1, and weekly thereafter on different days of the week. 

All currently enrolled PDS students will get an additional 2 weeks to attend Flex Classes if their dog’s attendance ends in May or June.

All previously enrolled PDS students who had Flex Class availability interrupted by COVID-19 have received a “COVID-19 Make Up Pass” that expires July 1st.

We are OPEN During COVID-19!


We are getting lots of phone calls and e-mails asking if we are open or accepting new customers during the COVID-19 situation. The answer is YES! We are open for select services and are ready to help you with your dog. Group classes are temporarily suspended, but all other services are available and accepting new clients. (Update 5/17/2020: Group classes resume Monday, May 18th!)

At our facility, we are abiding by all state and federal guidelines for social distancing, disinfecting, and sanitization. Our team members are staying at least 6′ apart, washing their hands regularly, and are constantly disinfecting frequently-touched surfaces (door handles, countertops, tech devices, etc.) using a disinfectant proven to work on the novel coronavirus.

At this time, there is no evidence that animals play a significant role in spreading the virus that causes COVID-19.

At this time, there is no evidence that the virus that causes COVID-19 can spread to people from the skin or fur of companion animals.

–The United States Center for Disease Control & Prevention (Source)

Private Dog Training

Private dog training lessons are available for all dogs, regardless of age or behavior problem. We are currently offering private lessons remotely, via FaceTime or Zoom video conferencing, as well as at our facility both indoors & out. We are not traveling to clients’ homes at this time. (Updated Sept. 2020)

All of our private dog training programs can take place remotely. We have curbside pickup available for all included equipment (see “Retail” section below).

Puppy Day School

With social distancing and the stay-at-home order in place, it can be extremely challenging for puppies to get positive socialization experiences with new people and other puppies at this time. Puppies have a critical socialization period, and it can’t be put on hold – not even during a pandemic. That’s why our Puppy Day School program for puppies under 6 months old is open to new students.

Puppy Day School evaluations and the included weekly Puppy Teacher Conferences (30-minute private appointments with one of our trainers) may take place in person outdoors at our facility or remotely via Zoom or FaceTime.

We have developed a contactless pick up & drop off procedure for dogs in our Puppy Day School program as our lobby is currently closed to the public per state guidelines. Here is a video of the process:

(Update Sept. 2020: In line with RI’s latest guidance for small businesses, and because our disinfectant has a 5-minute contact time, we are now sanitizing the gate intermittently during pick-up and drop-off rather than after every single client. Hand sanitizer is provided in a squeeze tube hooked to the drop-off pen if you would like to use it before returning to your vehicle or handling your belongings.)

Educational Daycare

With state parks, beaches, and Providence city recreational areas closed, we know your options for exercising your dog are more limited than ever. Educational Daycare, our daycare program for trained dogs over 6 months of age, is open and accepting new clients. We are using the contactless pick up and drop off procedure shown in the video above.

Keep in mind that Educational Daycare has a minimum attendance policy. Dogs must attend at least 2 days per week to ensure they mesh with our group dynamics. For more details, read our blog post about how Educational Daycare is different from many daycare programs.


Per state guidelines, our lobby is closed to the public for the time being. We are only allowed to have clients inside for scheduled private lessons.

As of August, our retail store is open to the public Monday through Friday from 3-6:30PM. But, we also built an online store for you to browse from the comfort of your home!

We have a wide variety of chews, food-dispensing toys, treats, and training gear to help keep your dog busy while you work from home. Need help choosing products? Text us at 401-330-5892 – we’re happy to chat with you about your dog and help you pick out some goodies!

Curbside pickup is available for all orders.

Get in Touch

Our receptionist availability is a bit limited, but we’re still eager to help you with your dog! You can schedule a phone call, text us at 401-330-5892, or e-mail us. All of our program details, including tuition prices, are on our website – no surprises here.


Summer Dog Training Challenge!


We’re kicking off a fun new dog training challenge to inspire you to work hard and train your dog this summer. We know it can be tempting to kick back and relax. But just because school is out for the human kiddos doesn’t mean it’s out for your dog!

Here’s how this works: participate in classes and activities to earn stars. The more stars you earn, the more goodies you’ll receive!

This challenge runs from June 1st through August 31st. If you’ve already done cool stuff with us this month, don’t panic – we’re going to award stars retroactively!

How to Earn Stars

In a calendar week (Sunday through Saturday):

  • 1 star for the first class you attend, 2 stars for the second class, 3 stars for the third class, 4 stars for the fourth class, 5 stars for the fifth class… & 1 star for posting about the challenge on social media & tagging us! (@xbonesdog on Facebook & Instagram)
  • 2 stars for attending any Workshop.
  • 1 star for passing any AKC test:
    STAR Puppy, Canine Good Citizen, Community Canine (CGCA), CGC Urban (CGC), and each level of AKC Trick Dog!
  • 1 bonus star for taking an advanced level class for the first time:
    Recall Mastery, Power Walking, CGC Prep, Performance Fundamentals, Agility Skill Building, Agility Competition Prep, Trick Skill Building.
    (You get a star for attending the class AND an extra star for taking something new for the first time!)
  • 1 star for earning an agility title in any organization.
    (Had to throw in a little something for my sport dog peeps!)


Here’s what you and your dog can earn!

  • 5 stars = poop bag roll
  • 10 stars = clicker
  • 20 stars = one ear chew (lamb ear, pig ear, or cow ear)
  • 30 stars = Earth Animal No Hide chew of your choice
  • 40 stars = bag of treats of your choice
  • 50 stars = Benebone OR Happy Howie’s roll of your choice

A special prize will be awarded to the dog & handler team who earn the MOST stars by the end of the challenge.

Registration Raffles

We want to encourage you to sign up early & get started earning stars. So, each dog & handler team will have one raffle ticket toward each of the following raffles as long as they have earned at least one star!

Sign up before 6/22: A food-dispensing toy of your choice!
Sign up before 6/29: A bonus Single Class Pass!

Summer Dog Training Challenge
A goodie basket from a previous challenge

Star Raffles

Each dog & handler team will have one raffle ticket per star toward the following raffles. The more stars you earn, the more chances you have to win!

  • 6/30: Goodie basket with $75 worth of retail items!
  • 7/31: Goodie basket with $75 worth of retail items!
  • 8/31: Goodie basket with $75 worth of retail items!

Ready to sign up?

There are three ways to do it. You can sign up in person at any class with us, via text at 401-330-5892 (yes, you can now text your dog trainers!), or by e-mailing the front desk team at Whatever floats your boat!

Disclaimer: All prizes must be picked up by the end of the day on 9/13/2019. None will be mailed. Prizes limited to stock on hand in our retail store; no rainchecks or substitutions.

Now Enrolling: Educational Dog Daycare in Providence, RI

Educational Dog Daycare at Crossbones Dog Academy in Providence, RI

After four years of offering Puppy Day School for puppies in Providence, we’re thrilled to announce we now offer daycare for all dogs! Our Educational Daycare program launched April 1st and our team is having a blast working with the dogs each day.

What is Educational Daycare?

What does Educational Daycare mean? Each dog in our program is expected to demonstrate basic manners every day, like sitting for attention and to go through gates, and sitting or hand-targeting for rewards. As a result, dogs don’t practice undesirable behavior, like jumping on gates or people or excessive barking. (If your dog struggles with these skills, refresh them first. For example, you could practice around other dogs in Flex Classes. Or, have us do the training for you in an Intensive Training Program.)

Educational Dog Daycare at Crossbones Dog Academy in Providence, RI

We maintain a low dog-to-handler ratio (10-to-1) so your dog gets plenty of one-on-one attention. Our handlers use positive reinforcement with the dogs they supervise. No spray bottles or rattle paddles here! Dogs in Educational Daycare rotate between different activities. They include crated nap time, exploring a fenced-in outdoor space, indoor play time, and small group fetch or recalls in our training hall.

Is Educational Daycare right for me?

This program is not for everyone. Educational Daycare is for owners who are committing to having us provide social time, mental stimulation, exercise, and enrichment for their dogs on a regular basis. It’s a safe alternative to off-leash dog parks and more comprehensive than a stroll around the block with a dog walker.

Does your dog like people and other dogs? Dogs attending Educational Daycare should be social or neutral toward other dogs and friendly with people. If not, this program won’t be a good fit for your dog.

Educational Daycare is not a training program. Our staff maintains training you have already completed, but does not teach new skills. (However, that’s something we offer in Intensive Training Programs.) Also, all dogs need to be comfortable in a crate so they can rest up during nap time.

If you’re looking for a place to drop your dog off once or twice a month, that’s not something we offer. Educational Daycare is for owners who understand that dogs need consistent socialization and exercise. And if you’re looking for the cheapest place in the city to get your dog out of the house for the day, we aren’t it. We pride ourselves on paying our employees a living wage.

Get Started

Are you ready to try our refreshed approach to dog daycare? Come join us! To get started, book an evaluation online. Or, if you have any questions, contact us!

Spring Forth Dog Academy is now Crossbones Dog Academy!

Crossbones Dog Academy Logo | Providence, RI

New year, new name. (Same shade of orange.) New for 2019: Spring Forth Dog Academy is now Crossbones Dog Academy!

So much has changed since Dan and I chose our business name “Spring Forth” in 2010. It was a play on words (think Springer Spaniel) accompanied by my pencil drawing of Tessie jumping. The logo was very personal.

Crossbones is a business name and logo combination I originally came up with in 2013. For a period of time, I used it as a brand while teaching agility classes in Rhode Island. (In fact, some of those students are still taking classes with me today!) I always loved the concept of Crossbones, but was afraid to take the leap and rebrand.

The biggest change in our business, one we never saw coming, is that it grew from two people to an entire team of trainers and support staff. As a result, we decided to update our brand to Crossbones. We wanted to reflect the spirit of how our organization has grown over the past eight years.

Our Evolution

People pursue careers in the dog industry because they want to make a difference for dogs. For example, a lot of people start out training dogs as a hobby, and then open a small business to teach lessons a couple nights each week. But in order to do that, they have to also devote time to marketing, administrative duties, and all the legal mumbo-jumbo that goes along with being a small business owner.

As we gained experience as dog professionals, we had an “a-ha moment.” The way to make the biggest impact was to assemble a group of talented, committed people who also understood that by teaming up with us, they could accomplish more. Our trainers can spend more time working with dogs and owners because our administrative team and facility assistants take care of everything else. In a nutshell: more time with dogs, less time in an office. As a result, we each help far more dogs and owners than we could if we all operated as one-man bands.

This summer, our team collaborated to put our ethos into words. We created a mission statement and list of core values that inspire us to show up each day and do our best. And in the spirit of new year’s resolutions, we’re sharing it in the hopes that it inspires you, too. 

MISSION STATEMENT: We provide exceptional care and a positive education for dogs and their owners.

Our Values

We model & encourage responsible dog ownership.

We provide enrichment & socialization opportunities for all dogs.

We teach effective, positive dog training techniques to strengthen dog & owner relationships.

We make an impact in our community by educating & supporting dog owners & team members.

We make a difference in the lives of dogs & their owners through education, empathy, & creative problem solving.

We work as a team, and believe that by supporting one another we can bring out the best in each individual.

We are a fiscally responsible company that provides a living wage to our team members.

We treat everyone with fairness, kindness, and respect and promote open communication.

We provide a clean & safe environment for clients, team members, & dogs to enjoy.

Remembering Tessie


Tessie the English Springer Spaniel | Spring Forth Dog Academy in Providence, RI

Tessie at 3 weeks old.

This started as an Instagram post but quickly exceeded 2200 characters, despite my best efforts to keep it brief! I hope you enjoy it. –Katherine

March 30th is always a special day at Spring Forth HQ. Today would have been Tessie’s 19th birthday. Tessie is the dog in our logo and the reason I became a professional dog trainer. Without Tessie, there would be no Spring Forth Dog Academy.

From Humble Beginnings

We did everything wrong with Tessie for the first two years we had her. We were first-time dog owners and didn’t know any better. It might be shorter to write a list of Tessie’s behaviors that weren’t a problem, but here were some of our struggles.

She would push open the front door to chase motorcycles. She snatched a hamburger straight out of my brother’s hands. She chewed a huge chunk out of the bathroom door on her first Thanksgiving. She pulled like a freight train on leash. She whined anxiously in the car, occasionally escalating to high-pitched screaming. She barked out the windows at cats, birds, squirrels….

Tessie the English Springer Spaniel | Spring Forth Dog Academy in Providence, RII begged my parents to take us to training classes because I had read about agility, and all of the agility classes required a basic obedience class certificate. When Tessie was 2, we signed her up for obedience classes at the facility closest to our home. The training style was punishment-based at best, militant at worst, but we made progress.

The Turning Point

At one of those classes, a woman was using a clicker to mark her dog’s behavior. The dog was still on a prong collar, like all of the dogs at class, but seemed to be enjoying himself a bit more than Tessie was. I got a clicker at a pet store, found a few training articles online, and got started.

Holy smokes! Tessie was smart. In a matter of weeks, I taught her dozens of tricks…. back up, roll over, fetch, speak, hand targeting, and more. I wondered what would happen if I started using the clicker at obedience class, so I did. The result? Faster recalls, more attentive heeling, closer front position.

Tessie the English Springer Spaniel | Spring Forth Dog Academy in Providence, RIWhen we started agility the following spring, Tessie flew through the class levels thanks to the clicker training I had done with her. I continued to take competition obedience classes with her but ran into a road block: the stay exercises.

Tessie would never move out of position during the stays, but would whine like a teakettle the entire time. My obedience instructors with decades of experience had no solution. “You could try a shock collar, but even that might not work.”

So, we stopped taking obedience classes to focus on agility, and entered our first trial. We were woefully unprepared and struggled with the environment, but I was hooked. For five years we competed at local trials, learned a ton, and earned some titles.

What I Learned

Tessie the English Springer Spaniel | Spring Forth Dog Academy in Providence, RII could write an entire book about all of the lessons I learned from Tessie, all of the things I did wrong, and how I fixed many of them. When you’re a teenager who doesn’t come from a “dog family,” you get a lot of judgment (which sucks) and unsolicited advice (which almost always sucks). I think the most important things I learned were:

1. Only your opinion of your dog matters.

My early obedience instructor told my mother that we’d missed the boat and since we waited so long to train Tessie, she’d never do well in dog sports, and that we should just get a puppy and start over.

This is utter hogwash. It was a convenient excuse to cover the instructor’s lack of knowledge of how to address Tessie’s whining during stays. If your trainer doesn’t think your dog is awesome and isn’t coming up with constructive solutions for your dog’s challenges, get a new trainer!

2. It’s intensely satisfying to stick it to people who say “you can’t,” and I recommend doing it as often as possible.

Tessie the English Springer Spaniel | Spring Forth Dog Academy in Providence, RI“She’s just a pet dog, she’ll never win anything.”
“You can’t train an obedience dog with positive reinforcement, they need corrections.”
“You can’t make a living training dogs.”
“You can’t run a business, you’re too young.”
“You can’t be successful if you don’t go to college.”

Tessie won her competition obedience debut with perfect stays, which I retrained using that clicker that everyone said was only for tricks, not for obedience. She never lost a point on a stay exercise during her entire career. At Tessie’s final obedience competition, showing in Veterans, the other dog got up and started humping her during the sit-stay exercise. Tessie didn’t move a muscle. Not bad for a cookie pusher. She also went on to become the first English Springer Spaniel to earn a weight pull championship, a sport she adored.

As for all that other negativity, I think Spring Forth’s success speaks for itself. We have a team of six full-time trainers and assistants, so not only am I making a living training dogs, so are several other people! Since 2010 we’ve trained over 500 dogs to be more awesome, no physical corrections required. No pain, lots of gain.

Thank You

Thank you, Tessie, for lighting a fire in me that will never go out. I am forever inspired to help others avoid the mistakes I made with you and gain the enjoyment you gave my entire family for fifteen years. Be good, moo-cow dog.

The “Don’t Do It” List: Common Dog Training Mistakes


Even though we focus on the positive here at Crossbones, there are some behaviors (performed by both people & dogs) we recommend you avoid. Here are a few mistakes we see frequently enough to complain about them!

#1. You’re using low-value treats in high-distraction environments.

The "Don't Do It" Dog Training List | Spring Forth Dog Academy, Providence RI

Not training treats, you guys. Bedtime snacks, perhaps, but not training treats.

The value of your rewards needs to match the distraction level of your environment. Kibble and store-bought dog treats are great for your living room, but almost certainly won’t cut it in the “real world.”

As Tim Ferriss put it during his podcast with dog trainer extraordinaire Susan Garrett, “It’s a crowded bar. You’ve gotta tip with twenties.”

(Pro tip – download & listen to that podcast. You will learn a TON.) 

What do most dogs consider to be a $20 bill? Hot dogs, cheese, steak, boiled or baked chicken, meat-based baby food, kielbasa, breakfast sausage, or liverwurst. Bam, there you go – all stuff you can pick up at the grocery store the next time you’re picking up some snacks for yourself.

#2. Your leash is too long.

The "Don't Do It" Dog Training List | Spring Forth Dog Academy, Providence RI

A 4′ long leash is the Goldilocks leash. Not too long, not too short, “just right!”

If you ever feel the need to wrap the leash around your wrist (which is super dangerous, by the way) – it is too long.

Probably 95% of our clients need a 4′ leash. The pet store industry standard is 6′. Unless you are a very tall person with a very short dog, you don’t need that much length.

Can’t find a 4′ leash? We sell them in our retail store! Stop by this week and pick your favorite color.

While we’re on the topic of leashes, here’s a bonus tip: if you’re using a retractible (Flexi) or bungee leash, you’re teaching your dog to pull. Learn more about teaching Loose Leash Walking on our blog, or join our Polite in Public group class for hands-on help.

#3. You’re teaching your dog that sometimes it’s okay to put paws on people.

The "Don't Do It" Dog Training List | Spring Forth Dog Academy, Providence RI

If one paw is okay, then why not this? The more paws, the merrier, right?

If you’re struggling with a dog that jumps up on people, don’t teach them to put their paws on people to earn a cookie. 

This creates a massive grey area for your dog. “Sometimes” it is okay to put your paws on people.

Dogs don’t do well with grey areas and “sometimes.” They do well with black and white: is is never okay to put your paws on people vs. it is always okay to put your paws on people. I just wrote a blog post on this called “Why Paw is Problematic.”

Get the jumping under control (our Self Control group class will help), teach your dog plenty of self-control, then introduce paw – and get it on stimulus control right away so your dog only does it when you specifically ask for it, like Strata demonstrates here.

#4. You’re repeating your cues.

The "Don't Do It" Dog Training List | Spring Forth Dog Academy, Providence RI

Want him to respond the first time? Then only ask him once!

“Sit, sit, sit, sit, sit, sit. Fluffy. Sit. Fluffy. Fluffy! Sit! Fluffy, sit!”

Stop! Get your dog’s attention non-verbally. Get up, move around, walk away. Praise as soon as your dog pays attention to you. While they are still looking at you, ask once. Repeating your cues teaches your dog to ignore you.

If you’re not getting anywhere and can’t seem to get your dog’s attention, ask us for help. We’re happy to help you troubleshoot! (You can learn more about adding a cue here.)

Remember: the definition of insanity is to keep doing the same thing yet expect a different result. Don’t drive yourself insane. Change your training plan!

#5. You’re over-feeding your dog.

The "Don't Do It" Dog Training List | Spring Forth Dog Academy, Providence RI

Calories eaten out of a Kong are still calories, and you need to factor those in when deciding how much to feed your dog.

The “Feeding Guidelines” on your dog food bag has to assume that dog food is the ONLY source of calories for your dog.

No training treats, no rawhide, no edible chews, no peanut butter in a Kong, no table scraps, no biscuits. Just dog food.

Most of our clients need to feed about 30% LESS than what the dog food bag suggests in order to account for their dog’s hard-earned snacks. Yes, even if their dog is getting lots of exercise.

If you’ve got a “young adult” dog, also keep in mind that most dogs need significantly less calories after their “teenage growth spurt” around 6-8 months of age, so you will need to reduce feeding amounts around that time.

You should be able to feel your dog’s ribs easily without having to hunt for them underneath a layer of fat. If you have a smooth-coated dog, you should be able to see the last couple of ribs as your dog moves around and flexes her body.

How does this relate to training? Overweight dogs don’t feel good! The weight puts more stress on their joints and spine and can make sitting, holding a stay, or running on a recall uncomfortable or downright painful.

Over-fed dogs are also generally less motivated to work. (Some people think their dogs “aren’t food motivated,” which couldn’t be further from the truth.) Getting rid of your pup’s “spare tire” is likely to make them more interested in your treats, which will make training them a lot easier!

#6. You expect your puppy to communicate like a human toddler.

The "Don't Do It" Dog Training List | Spring Forth Dog Academy, Providence RI

A busy puppy will not stop what he is doing to signal that he needs to go outside and potty.

At many of my Puppy Day School evaluations, clients lament that their puppy is not signaling to them that he needs to go potty. My response is that signaling to go outside is a double edged sword, so be careful what you wish for.

First – young puppies should not be expected to signal in any reliable way that they need to go outside. They don’t know they need to go outside… they think they should just eliminate when they feel the urge. It’s your job to anticipate their needs and take them out frequently. (Very frequently. More frequently than you probably think.)

Many of my clients persist in teaching their dog some sort of signal, such as pawing at the door or ringing a bell. What happens most of the time? The dog signals because he wants to go outside, not because he actually wants to go to the bathroom.

Going outside and romping in the yard, or going for a nice walk, is way more interesting than lying on the floor listening to your conference call. So, owner beware – most folks ultimately decide that teaching a signal to go outside is a mistake.

Where have you erred?

Have you made any training mistakes you’d like others to learn from? Tell us in the comments section below!