Tag: training

Training How-To: Loose Leash Walking

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What is loose leash walking? Loose leash walking is an informal leash walking behavior. It’s not “heeling”, which is a precision walking behavior required for obedience competitions, but it can be a precursor to that. While loose leash walking it is acceptable if your dog sniffs, lags behind you, or forges ahead of you a little bit, as long as the leash stays loose.

Keeping the leash loose is a two-way street. Remember, your dog can’t walk politely if you are pulling her! (Photo Credit: Dave Fayram)

Why does my dog need to know it? Leash manners are invaluable for all dogs. Imagine taking your dog for a walk around the block, on a hike, or even just out to pee without getting dragged around. It is also important to teach for safety’s sake – a pulling dog is dangerous on icy sidewalks or steep stairs.  Plus, your dog walker will love you for training it!

How do I teach it? LLW is a duration behavior. Duration behaviors are taught in tiny increments. Remember, we don’t ask for a 15-minute sit stay right off the bat, so we don’t ask for 2 minutes of perfect LLW immediately either. Start teaching loose leash walking in a quiet, neutral environment like your living room or bedroom. To teach it, shape it step-by-step: take a step forward, and click and feed your dog a treat right at your side before your dog has the opportunity to sniff or wander off. Take another step, and click and treat for the same behavior. Repeat.

Using a head halter can decrease the likelihood that your dog will attempt to pull. (Photo Credit: Robert Tadlock)

If at all possible, try to feed your dog in motion, without stopping, when giving the dog a treat. It builds the behavior faster. Also, make sure treats are soft and very tiny so they can be eaten quickly while the dog is moving.

Gradually work up to taking two steps before clicking and treating. Then three steps. Once you have worked up to three steps, randomize how many steps you take before clicking and treating. Don’t always make it harder and harder (for example, 5 steps, 6 steps, 8 steps) because it reduces motivation. “Ping-pong” it by randomizing how many steps you ask for (3 steps, 1 step, 5 steps, 2 steps) for the best results. By varying the duration in this manner, you can work up to longer periods of LLW without losing your dog’s focus.

Remember that loose leash walking on a busy road or near the dog park is a lot harder for your dog than doing it in your backyard. As a result, be sure to decrease duration back down to 2-3 steps per click in exciting environments, and use high-value, super tasty treats when working near a lot of distractions to ensure your dog is successful. Loose leash walking is a hard behavior for dogs to learn – do not ask for too much too soon! It takes weeks of training to teach this behavior reliably, so be consistent and practice often.

We recommend that owners purchase a front-clip harness, such as the Freedom harness, and use that while taking their dogs for walks while the dog is still mastering LLW. Front-clip harnesses discourage pulling by gently turning the dog back towards you if he pulls. It is much harder for a dog to pull you anywhere when he is wearing a front-clip harness. Head halters can be used in a similar manner. Regardless of the equipment you decide to use, success comes from using a high rate of reinforcement to reward the dog for staying by your side and not rushing forward. Happy training!

Training How-To: Get on the Mat

01Training, Tutorials and How-To GuidesTags: ,
Dog on a Bed

You can use any object as your dog’s mat! Dog beds are a popular choice, but towels and small blankets work well, too. (Photo Credit: Howard Young)

What is “Get on the Mat”? The dog learns to relax on a ‘mat’ – a specific towel, blanket, or dog bed. This mat can be moved to any location, like your kitchen, the vet’s office, or the car, and your dog will know to stay on it and relax.

Why does my dog need to know it? Getting on a mat is a great behavior for dogs that are “on the go”. Dogs that know a mat behavior can be taken anywhere, because they will be able to settle down and relax once they get there. Their owners are then free to enjoy themselves and not have to worry about what their dog is getting into.

A mat behavior is also excellent for dogs that are a nuisance when visitors arrive to the home. Whether the dog is barking, jumping up on guests, or bolting out the front door, laying on a mat is an easy-to-teach behavior that is incompatible with those actions.

How do I teach it? First, choose your mat. This can be a towel, bath mat, fabric placemat, carpet sample, or dog bed. (In the future, you can generalize this behavior to other mats. Initially, use the same mat each time you train.) Next, get out your clicker, and prepare some tiny, soft, tasty treats that your dog really enjoys.

Sit on the floor, and place your mat in front of you. When your dog approaches, click and toss the treat on the mat. Then, click and treat your dog several times just for being on the mat, placing the treat either on the mat or directly into his mouth. Next, click and throw the treat off of the mat. (This “resets” the dog to approach the mat again. This is a two-part behavior: the dog needs to get on the mat, and then stay on the mat.) Click and treat when your dog gets back on the mat. Once again, click and treat several times, and then click and throw the treat off of the mat.

Dog in Car

This dog is very relaxed on his mat and is safely restrained in the car by a seatbelt harness. (Photo Credit: Jojof – Flickr)

Now move the mat just a couple of inches away from you. Again, click and treat when your dog gets on the mat, repeat several times, then click and throw a treat. Move the mat again. Keep moving the mat a few inches at a time so your dog learns to look for it no matter where it is placed in the room. Once your dog is reliably getting on the mat anywhere you put it, take it to other places in the house, in the yard, and even in the car to help cement your dog’s understanding of the behavior.

Next, shape for relaxation by rewarding sits, then downs on the mat. Delay your clicks to build duration one second at a time. Once the dog is consistently offering to lay down on the mat, encourage relaxation by giving the dog a favorite chew toy or bone on the mat, or by doing gentle, relaxing massage while your dog hangs out on his mat. Happy training!

Leave It! – Or Don’t? Self Control vs. Imposed Control for Dogs

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"Leave it!" Do you need to teach this to your dog?

[Photo Credit: Andrew Hyde]

“No!” “Leave it!” “Off!” These are three cues that are more familiar to some dogs than “sit”, “come”, and “good dog.” Surprisingly, they often work against dog owners and serve to reinforce the very behaviors the owners are trying to punish.

A scenario: At the pet store, a bag of dog kibble has torn open and spilled all over the floor. A man is walking his dog down the aisle. His dog notices the kibble and lunges forward to eat some. “Leave it! No, leave it!” He commands his dog to stop, but it falls on deaf ears, and he sees no other choice but to drag his dog away from the food. The dog has been rewarded (by the kibble) for ignoring the “leave it” cue.

Here’s an idea: What if you didn’t have to constantly tell your dog how to behave?

When my dogs see food on the floor, or a toy on the bottom shelf at the pet store, or gum on the sidewalk, they look at it and then look to me for direction. They do not lunge toward it or grab it. They know that the only way they will get access to that thing they desire is through a verbal cue from me.

My dogs do not know what “leave it” means. What does “leave it” mean to your dog? “Don’t touch that?” What exactly are they supposed to do instead?

Clarity in Dog Training – No “Leave It” Necessary

If I invited you into my house and said “don’t sit on the blue chair”, what would your response be? Two things: you would look at the blue chair (I drew your attention to it by mentioning it, didn’t I?) and you would not know where you should sit. There are lots of other seating options in my house – couches, a rocking chair, dining room chairs, a loveseat, even the floor!

What if instead, I invited you into my house and said “please sit next to me on the couch.” You won’t even consider the other seating options. I told you exactly where to sit. There is no confusion.

To bring this back to dog training, I call my dogs with their name or the cue “come” if they are showing excessive interest in something that is not available to them, like a chicken bone on the street. They know to turn away from that thing and come to me to earn a reward instead. I do not say “no” or “leave it”, because it is incomplete information – those cues tell them they can’t have the chicken bone. Now what?

My mantra in dog training is “teach self control, not imposed control.” I teach my dogs, and my clients’ dogs, to default to asking politely for something (via eye contact, or offering to sit without being told to do so) rather than grabbing for it themselves. The training process is deceptively simple. The hardest part is for owners to embrace the concept of letting the dog make a choice, rather than preventing him from making a decision on his own by commanding him to not do something.

In my next post, I’ll show you a video demonstrating how I teach self-control around food. In the mean time, I have some food for thought for you: if you have taught your dog a very strong “come” cue, why not use that rather than “leave it”? Are two cues better than one? Let me know what you think in the comments.

Puppy Nipping: A Plan to Stop It

10Helpful Hints, Puppies, Training, Tutorials and How-To GuidesTags: , , , , , ,

Puppy nipping is one of the most frustrating behaviors that new owners report. It hurts! But you’ll see a big reduction in puppy nipping in a short period just by getting some human cooperation.

Puppy Nipping - Dachshund

If this is a familiar sight, it’s time for a new training plan! (Photo Credit: Renata Lima, Flickr)

Let’s start by examining why your puppy is putting his mouth on things. I don’t like to spend a ton of time pondering why a dog is doing what he’s doing, but puppy nipping is such a frustrating behavior for owners that I find it helps to consider the puppy’s point of view.

Beginning at a young age, puppies bite each other during play. This behavior starts before you bring your puppy home from the breeder or rescue organization. The puppies are play-fighting and learning their own strength. If they bite a littermate too hard, the other puppy will respond with a high-pitched yelp. This tells the biter to tone it down next time.

This is why a common nugget of advice is “If your puppy bites you, shriek in a high-pitched voice.” This sometimes causes the puppy to stop. But sometimes the puppy thinks your noises are fascinating and bites harder next time; it gets him excited and worked up!

It just depends on your puppy… and your ability to make a high-pitched puppy yelp, something most men can’t do. I prefer to use methods that work more reliably. Here is the plan we use with our clients, as well as in our Puppy Day School program.

Step One

Institute a new house rule: everyone interacting with the puppy is “armed” with a soft, biteable toy. It should be long enough to keep your fingers away from the puppy’s mouth when playing. This is always within the puppy’s reach when you’re petting her, playing with her, or snuggling together. Praise the puppy for interacting with the toy.

Set yourself up for success by keeping a soft toy in your back pocket, another in a basket on top of the puppy’s crate, and another in the room where you tend to hang out with your pup the most. I recommend braided fleece toys and “unstuffed” plush toys (the kind that resemble roadkill).

Puppy Chewing Shoelaces

Tuck in shoelaces, sweatshirt drawstrings, and other dangly bits of clothing and jewelry to set your puppy up for success. (Photo by Nicki Varkevisser, Flickr)

Step Two

Don’t tempt your puppy! For at least the first few weeks, avoid wearing nice clothing or anything loose-fitting or dangling around her. Change out of your nice work clothes before interacting with your puppy. Tuck in shoelaces and sweatshirt drawstrings, and remove large earrings and necklaces, too.

This eliminates the puppy’s opportunity to grab on to these things and elicit an exciting reaction from you. We don’t want the puppy to learn things we wish she wouldn’t, such as “grabbing my mother’s earrings makes her squeak and push me around. That’s fun!” Not a good lesson.

You can also use bitter-tasting spray on things that you’re not likely to touch often, such as your shoelaces. The bitter taste can transfer to your fingers, so if you use this method, be sure to wash your hands thoroughly before handling food or touching your face.

Step Three

When your puppy mouths your hands, pull them away from her and keep them out of her reach for several seconds. I recommend sticking your hands in your armpits – your puppy can’t nip them there! Ignore your puppy for about 5 seconds. If she continues to try to nip during this time, it may be necessary to stand up or even leave the room.

After this little time-out, calmly present your toy to your pup and resume interacting with her. Praise and play with the puppy for engaging the toy, licking your hands, or just being polite. Repeat this step when the pup bites. Be consistent!

Remember that screaming or shouting at the puppy, pushing her away, or physically punishing the puppy by pinching her lips or clamping her mouth closed will either intensify the biting or scare the puppy, potentially leading to fearful and aggressive behaviors in the future.

If your pup bites on your clothing, gently remove the clothing from her mouth and prevent her access to that article of clothing. If she’s chewing on your shirt sleeve, stand up and roll up your sleeves. If she’s chewing on your pant leg, leave the room or step to the other side of a baby gate or puppy pen so she cannot reach you. Ignore her for a few seconds, then offer her the toy to play with.

Closing Thoughts

The purpose of these training steps is to teach the puppy that when she has the urge to put something in her mouth, she should pick an appropriate toy rather than your hands or clothing. Puppies need to bite, mouth, and chew as they grow, so rather than fight that instinct, channel it into appropriate items.

If you need to give your puppy a “time out” more than two or three times in a 10-minute period, she is either very wound up and needs a bit of exercise, or is overtired and needs to be put in her crate for a nap. Remember that the time out does not teach the puppy anything. It just provides an opportunity for your puppy to calm down enough to try other ways of interacting with you, which you must then reward.

Reactive Dogs: Resources for More Information

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There are some wonderful resources available for owners of reactive dogs who want to learn more about helping their canine companions. Many of these books have training plans that can be used to rehabilitate reactive dogs. However, I strongly urge you to seek professional help from a trainer or behaviorist who uses only humane, pain-free methods of training. Any graduate of Karen Pryor Academy will meet that criteria.


Scaredy Dog! Understanding and Rehabilitating Your Reactive Dog by Ali Brown. I feel this is the most user-friendly of the three books I list here, and the one I recommend most frequently to my clients. It is short, sweet, and to-the-point, but contains a ton of valuable information and plenty of photographs, which are useful for visual learners like myself. Ali encourages the reader to approach their dog’s reactivity holistically, looking at the entire picture: not only the dog’s behavior, but also his diet, exercise, mental stimulation, and other facets of day-to-day living. Dogs don’t live in a vacuum! Every moment counts, and you need to examine your dog’s lifestyle to be sure you are making the maximum progress.

Click to Calm – Healing the Aggressive Dog by Emma Parsons. Full disclosure: Emma was my Karen Pryor Academy instructor and mentor, so I know her personally. This book is excellent, because it contains step-by-step training recipes for skills that reactive dogs need to learn. I appreciate that it also addresses the human’s behavior, because many times the owner inadvertently contributes to the dog’s reactivity through actions such as tightening the leash or changing their tone of voice. Click to Calm is primarily geared towards dogs that are reactive towards other dogs, though there is one chapter that addresses dog-to-human aggression.

Control Unleashed – Creating a Focused and Confident Dog by Leslie McDevitt. This is my personal favorite of the three books. That being said, it was written primarily for owners interested in dog sports, like agility and flyball, and as a result, I find it overwhelms some pet owners. I use a lot of the CU foundation behaviors with all dogs and puppies I work with, like “Look at That”, which encourages dogs to look at strange things to earn reinforcement, as well as mat work. I recommend CU more often to motivated owners who think they might like to try dog sports or therapy work than I do to owners of reactive dogs.


Calming Signals: What Your Dog Tells You by Turid Rugaas. I mentioned Turid’s book in my previous post, but I feel that the DVD is an even better choice because you get to see the behaviors as they happen, in context with other body language signals. All dog owners could benefit from watching this DVD, but reactive dog owners need to be particularly aware of calming signals so they can read their dog and prevent a reaction whenever possible. Dogwise sells the book and DVD in a combo-pack for added savings.

TACT Touch Associated Clicker Training

TACT: A Training Program for Dogs that Are Fearful or Reactive Toward People by Julie Robitaille and Emma Parsons. This program is geared toward dogs that are reactive, fearful, or aggressive toward humans, but many of the exercises are useful for dogs who have issues with other dogs, too. There is a handy workbook to go along with the DVD, too.


Reactive Champion is one of my all-time favorite blogs. The author, Crystal, has a reactive terrier mix named Maisy, and this blog eloquently details the trials and tribulations of working with a reactive dog. Her goal is for Maisy to become an obedience champion, so it also documents ways to teach obedience behaviors positively. I recommend this blog to clients who are having a tough time coping with the idea that their dog is somehow “abnormal”. Crystal has written about many topics that are of interest to reactive dog owners, including post series on medication, supplements, and seminar reviews. You can find those posts in the “Best Of” section of her blog.

Fearful Dogs has some excellent articles on working with dogs that are particularly fearful — not all reactive dogs are fearful, but those who are seem to often have the longest road to recovery. This site’s author rescued a dog from a hoarding situation and in addition to sharing her own dog’s tale, she has created some great resources for owners of fearful dogs. My particular favorite is this series of YouTube videos she created.

Doggie Drawings is artist Lili Chin’s collection of dog cartoons. This seems irrelevant, but she has created some spectacular posters and handouts on topics including “Body Language of Fear in Dogs”, “The Do’s and Don’t’s of Dog Training”, and “How Not to Greet a Dog”. She takes commissions for pet portraits and also has an etsy shop filled with fun magnets and calendars, most featuring her (once-reactive!) Boston Terrier, Boogie.

Calming Signals in Dogs: What are They?

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Lip-licking is one of the most common calming signals. (Photo Credit: Dave Lindblom)

What is a calming signal?

Calming signals are behaviors that dogs naturally exhibit when they are feeling stressed and are trying to diffuse a situation. Norwegian dog trainer and author Turid Rugaas coined the phrase “calming signals” and she has identified approximately thirty behaviors as such. These behaviors include: licking the lips, showing the whites of the eye, sniffing the ground, turning away (either just the head, or the entire body), lifting a front paw, yawning, full-body shaking (as if the dog is trying to dry herself off after a bath), and panting. These are documented in her excellent book, On Talking Terms with Dogs: Calming Signals.

Clearly, these signals need to be taken in context. A dog that is panting on a hot summer day, or a dog sniffing a popular fire hydrant, is probably not stressed out. Look for these signs when there is a sudden change in the environment, like a person or dog approaching.

Calming signals are crucial during interactions between two or more dogs. A thorough understanding of these signs can help owners prevent altercations and keep dogs safe. Dog fights rarely, if ever, happen “out of the blue” – video analysis almost always reveals multiple calming signals given by one or both dogs prior to the incident.

Also watch for calming signals if your dog is struggling during a training exercise. Someone or something may be stressing him out to the point that he is unable to focus on you. Take note if you see multiple signs at the same time, like panting and sniffing the ground.

Why do I need to know about calming signals?

Dogs naturally use these signals to communicate not only with other dogs, but also with humans. Failure to react to this body language can increase the dog’s stress level, and that stress could result in the dog escalating his body language to the point of a snap or a bite.

“By failing to see your dog using calming signals on you, and perhaps even punish the dog for using them, you risk causing serious harm to your dog. Some may simply give up using the calming signals, including with other dogs. Others may get so desperate and frustrated that they get aggressive, nervous or stressed out as a result. Puppies and young dogs may actually go into a state of shock.” –Turid Rugaas

Calming signals in reactive dogs

It is very common for a reactive dog to offer one or more calming signals immediately prior to having a reaction. By watching for these calming signals, we can potentially diffuse the situation. By rewarding the dog for demonstrating calming signals, we are promoting appropriate behavior (such as turning away) and not giving the dog a chance to practice undesirable behavior (lunging and barking at the trigger).

Ideally, a training session would be set up in such a way that the dog would exhibit few, if any, calming signals. These behaviors are indicative of stress, and our goal is to keep training as stress-free as possible. But, life happens, and stressful things sneak into even the most well-designed training sessions.

Regardless of the training method you are using, learning about calming signals will still benefit your relationship with your dog and help you make more training progress. If you notice your dog exhibiting calming signals, take note. Alleviate some of her stress by getting your dog out of that particular situation. Try again once your dog is feeling more relaxed and comfortable.

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What is a Reactive Dog?

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Reactive Dog Behavior

One common cause for reactivity is fear. By putting on a fearsome display, the dog effectively scares his trigger away. The increased distance makes the dog feel more comfortable, and is therefore reinforcing. (Photo Credit: Leon G. – Flickr)

(This post is the first in a mini-series I will be writing about canine reactivity. Be sure to subscribe so you don’t miss any future posts!)

What is a “reactive dog?”

Simply put, “reactive dog” is shorthand for a dog who over-reacts to particular things in the environment. Most of the time, those things are other dogs or people, but sometimes we work with dogs who react to cars, bicycles, skateboards, or other objects. The thing which a dog reacts to is called a trigger.

Some dogs will react to anything resembling their trigger, but other dogs are more specific. Dogs may be particularly bothered by a specific type of stimulus, or are only bothered under certain circumstances. For example, a dog might be okay with women but react to men, or relaxed around cars but not large trucks.

We frequently get calls about dogs who react only when they are on a leash. These are dogs that go to daycare or visit the dog park and play just fine, but when restrained by a leash, they lunge, bark, and growl at other dogs. Or, they don’t care about cars when they’re playing in the yard, but go berserk if one passes them while they’re out for a walk.

Many reactive dogs are labeled as “aggressive.” However, that term does not always accurately define these dogs’ behaviors. Reactive dogs are often acting out of fear, frustration, or confusion, and generally will not harm their trigger even when given the opportunity to do so.

What is a “reaction?”

Typical reactions involve lunging at the trigger accompanied by vocalization such as barking, growling, or whining. You may also notice the dog’s hackles (the fur around the shoulders and base of the tail) rise, the whites of the eyes becoming visible, and a stiff tail.

Every dog is different and will have its own unique reaction to its triggers. I have worked with dogs who launch airborne towards their trigger while barking rapidly, accompanied by very “forward” body language. I’ve also worked with dogs who shrink towards the ground, tuck their tails between their legs, and skitter forwards and backwards while making a high-pitched, squeaky bark. More info

Training How-To: Hand Targeting

01Training, Tutorials and How-To GuidesTags: ,

What is hand targeting? It’s simple! The dog learns to touch his nose to a human’s hand. That’s it!

Why does my dog need to know it? Hand targeting is one of the most versatile behaviors you can teach your dog! It gives boisterous youngsters and shy, wary dogs something appropriate to do when presented with an outstretched hand. Instead of mouthing the hand or backing away, the dogs know to nose-poke it instead. It can also be used to teach dogs to walk on a loose leash, and to move dogs from one place to another, such as from the couch to the floor.

Strata touches his nose to Katherine’s hand.

How do I teach it? Get out your clicker, and prepare some tiny, soft, tasty treats that your dog really enjoys. When your dog is paying attention to you, offer your hand to him, about 6” from his face. When he investigates your hand by sniffing or licking it, click and give him a treat. Repeat this several times until the dog is consistently touching his nose to your hand every time you offer it to him.

Next, make the behavior more challenging by presenting your hand in different locations. Move your hand slightly to the left or to the right, and click/treat when your dog touches your hand. With practice, your dog will be able to hand target regardless of where you offer your hand.

When your dog is touching your hand every time you present it to him, and you have practiced the behavior in different locations and around distractions, it is time to introduce the cue. Happy training!