What makes your dog come running?


All I have to do is let a knife hit a cutting board. My dog Bodhi can be three rooms away or playing with our other dog, but if he hears the sound of a knife on a cutting board, he comes flying.

I have never fed him food from the cutting board, dropped what I am chopping or let him lick the cutting board.

His enthusiasm stems from what the sound of the knife on the cutting board predicts. The smell of dog treats, sure, but more importantly: action.

Action is the most important thing to Bodhi. It’s more important than food, toys or affection. And when I chop treats, it means there is going to be exciting stuff happening. A field trip to go see his dog buddy. A training session to learn a new trick. A new friend coming over. Chopping treats is very special because it always predicts excitement to follow. (It helps that I rarely chop anything else on the cutting board; he does not react this way when the cook in the family chops!)

I wouldn’t have noticed this association, except I started to feel like I was in a Warner Brothers cartoon. Chop, chop, zoom! And there was Bodhi, practically standing on my head.

The moral of this story is this: You may wish your dog would respond to your call with more gusto. Or perhaps you’ve said, as many have, “She knows her name, but get her in [kryptonite situation] and she just won’t listen.”

These so-so outcomes result when we try to apply a training plan that sounds good to us, but leaves the individual dog out of the equation. Have you ever really considered (and applied to a training challenge) what your dog thinks is the greatest thing ever?

Just for fun, think about it. On an average day, what gets him really excited? It might not involve you! It might be gross! It might be something you can’t hold in your hand! Try to drop your own ideas of what counts as a reward, and really ask what your dog likes best.

Next, can you give him that, a version of it, or at least mimic it? Then all you have to do is make your come-when-called word the magic sound, the tip-off, the predictor that his favorite thing is about to happen.

It takes some creativity, and, if you’re like me, you’ll make mistakes along the way. When Bodhi was young it took me a while to figure out that something as intangible as action was what he loves best. Once I let him show me, though, we were in pretty good shape. I made a list of his favorite high action games, and started calling his name only when I had a plan to provide one of them. Whamo, association made.

What does your dog love to do? How can you provide that after you’ve called? Even if you try it just for a week or two, I bet you’ll be amazed what a difference it makes. Happy training!



Why and What Does My Dog Need to Chew?


With rare exception, dogs need to chew like birds need to fly and kangaroos need to hop. It’s part of who they are. Accepting that will save you huge headaches, property destruction and veterinary bills.

Dogs need to chew. So we provide appropriate outlets for what is a perfectly normal doggy behavior. People who live with a creature with a set of predator-style choppers need to plan accordingly, you know?

Here is how to figure out what to give your dog:

  1. A good rule of thumb(nail): Choose items softer than your dog’s teeth. Your ability to supervise, your veterinarian, and your dog’s chew style together determine the best items, which should be soft enough to leave an indentation with your thumbnail, but not so soft pieces can be torn or chewed off.
  2. Don’t believe the packaging. The package may say “safe,” “dental,” “natural…” There are many very popular products sold in stores and online that are a very bad idea because they are harder than your dog’s teeth. Skip them, I beseech you. Exhibit A on what can happen when you fall for the claims on the package (as I once did!).
  3. Toss worn toys that get the outer surface shaved off so that bigger chunks or the ends can be eaten. The two center-most toys in the photo above are past due and should be thrown out (in fact, I fished one of them out of the trash to take the photo, which is gross, but now you know my level of passion for your dog’s chew needs).

The orange Bionic toy on the far left in the photo is one of the few things I’ve found that is softer than teeth that my large, super chewy dog can dig into and not bite chunks off of. The Squirrel Dude and Chuckle from Premier work for him, as does a stuffed Kong. The softer, nubby toy pictured on the far right is usually a good one to try (for a dog less like a T-rex).

Stay away from sticks, rocks, metal, plastic, bones, glass, horns, petrified cheese, antlers, old coffee table legs, ice cubes, corn cobs. You get the picture.

If you think your tiny puppy or new young dog has outgrown the chewing phase, read this.

And if you don’t already, consider brushing your dog’s teeth. It’s pretty easy (your vet will show you), many dogs need it only a few times a week, and it is a great way to make sure your dog’s mouth is in good shape without risking fractures from sketchy toys. Something to chew on.

Housetraining in Horrible Weather: A Tip to Help Your Dog Go Outside in the Snow

Little Ruby models her super-deluxe winter potty area.

Snow, ice and slush are not the most helpful ground covers if you’ve got a puppy to house train, or a diva dog who recoils at the thought of her tiny feet getting cold and wet. I can understand our dogs being too distracted to do their business, on our schedule, especially in extreme weather. But what to do?

One solution is to teach your pooch to go potty on cue. That helps when you want to take them out, get it over with, and return to the cozy indoors. (See Chapter 9 in Puppy Savvy for easy instructions on how to do this. Through 1/25 it’s 15% off with code JANSAVE15 at Lulu.com checkout.)

If you don’t have cardboard handy, a tarp or large trash bag will work.

A simple trick that you can start using today is to keep a preferred potty area dry by covering it with a sheet of cardboard before the frozen stuff accumulates. When it’s time to go out, just lift the cardboard and offer your dog a familiar, inviting spot to go. Clean up afterwards so your dog will continue to want to eliminate there.

Puppies form strong substrate preferences (surfaces that they seek out to pee or poop on) by about 9 weeks of age, so be sure to give your pup opportunities to eliminate in snowier areas, too. This is particularly important if you live in a climate where snow is a sure thing each winter.

Stay warm, and happy housetraining!

The Surprise Factor

Surprise your dog with rewards after he or she has done something you like. This video clip shows me calling my dog and then surprising him with a toy he’s never seen before. His speed and focus as he approaches show the results you can get by using surprises in your training. Powerful stuff!

To teach a great come when called, start with the Gotcha Game.

How can you incorporate the surprise factor into other behaviors you wish would become automatic for your dog?

Surprise! Enter code NEWYEAR30 and save 30% on Puppy Savvy and Happy Kids, Happy Dogs through December 31. (The coupon code is case sensitive.)

Shark Attack! How to Use A Toy to Prevent Puppy Biting

If you have a new puppy, you probably have pulled up your sleeves to show your veterinarian teeth marks covering your forearms. Puppy bites are painful. And most people are shocked to discover the degree to which their puppy bites them.

For a puppy under the age of 5 months old, most biting is perfectly normal. Puppies need to bite to explore the world and to learn about social interactions with humans. A puppy who did not attempt to bite would be like a toddler who did not attempt to put things in her mouth. Just as the toddler is not being bad and in need of reprimand, your puppy is doing only what comes naturally as a part of his normal development. 

But do not despair! The incredible thing is that you can meet your puppy’s normal behavioral need to bite while instilling in him the ability to make alternative choices to biting you. That’s kind of amazing when you think about it.

As you’ve discovered, puppy biting most commonly occurs when you attempt simply to pet your puppy. (There is also leash biting, biting at your clothing, biting your shoes and feet, biting at kids when they’re running or just sitting in a chair, and more—phew!—solutions to all of which you can find in Puppy Savvy.)

If your puppy bites your hands when you pet him, get relief starting today by assuming this will happen and proactively changing your interactions to the following:

  • Attempt snuggle time only when your pup is very relaxed or even drowsy. Anything else will invite a bite fest.
  • Before you settle in to snuggle, hold a plush toy twice the size of your puppy’s mouth. The pup will bite the toy while you pet him or her. Should the pup miss the toy and bite your hand, yelp once, quietly stand up and silently leave the room with the toy. Return after 15 seconds and try again (this usually works after three days of being consistent, and sometimes after just a few repetitions).
  • Play with a toy attached to a line that you flick along the ground to keep teeth at a distance. Keep the toy touching the ground to prevent your pup injuring himself by leaping and landing awkwardly.
  • Interact in constructive ways that bypass biting; teach the puppy fetch, find it, nose touch and come-when-called games.

If the puppy bites when you wrestle with him, pet his face, tussle his ears, or pat him on the head:

  • Don’t touch him like that. I hate to say it, but that kind of touch explicitly invites biting; puppies get other puppies to bite and play with them by grabbing each other’s faces and ears. Instead, pet your puppy gently on the chest. Show others how to do this, and feed your pup a few treats to keep his mouth occupied while they pet him (that’s a great way to prevent leaping during greetings, too).
  • Meantime, teach him to be relaxed about being touched on the head and face because, let’s face it, it’s going to happen when humans want to show affection or when your pup needs to be examined. Just do the super quick and easy body handling exercises in Puppy Savvy. Here is a one-minute video that shows how.
  • No wrestling. Wrestling will sabotage a lot of important skills the puppy needs to get along well in the world, like accepting being touched, restrained, reached for, caught and calmly patted. Instead, get physcial by playing chase, tug, or and hide and seek games (the pup chases the person, never the other way around).

Notice which times of day your puppy is wired so that before the shark attack begins, you can initiate constructive activities or confine him with a chew toy. This simple but powerful change in your routine rewards the pup for behavior you like. Otherwise you risk not only his rehearsal of biting (ouch!), but also him being rewarded if you have been handing him a toy after he bites (gack!).

If you are consistent, you should be bite-free in about a week. Personally I think you should treat yourself to a reward for all that work…perhaps a new, short-sleeved top to show off those teethmark-free arms!

Puppy Savvy Video Lesson: The Animal Game

This game teaches impressive self-control for both dogs and kids, conditions the dog to calmly enjoy the erratic movements and surprise sounds that kids make, and it’s just plain fun!

The goal of the Animal Game is to have the dog feel confident and nonchalant about sounds and behaviors generated by kids. The kids learn that in general they should behave quietly around the dog, unless it’s time for the Animal Game. The coach can even teach the kids to respond to the cue, “Animals, stop!” if the children are starting to get wild (during the game or otherwise).

To play this game, the child acts out an animal and the kid-canine coach rewards the dog for maintaining a sit. The coach should also reward ear flicks and head turns toward the child. Those mean the dog is noticing the child’s activity; when kid activity becomes a tip-off for treat delivery, you have created a positive emotional association between noticing the kids and feeling calm and happy. (You’ll notice the dog in the video automatically turns back to the adult when he notices the kids doing something, that is how automatic the association has become for him.) Start indoors and on-leash to stack things in everyone’s favor.

The kids should choose from low-key animals at first, like a beetle or a turtle. They can work up to more movement or sounds by choosing from animals like butterflies or monkeys. At first the coach should cue the animal helper to act sleepy or purr softly, but they can work up to cuing the child to roar and leap. Start with kids standing virtually still, then moving nearby, then moving around the dog. By increasing the challenge gradually, you help the dog stay calm and help the kids focus on their task and not be too obsessed with the dog.

Should the dog get up from the sit position without being released by you, it just means he needs more practice with a slightly easier challenge. So ask the “animals” to stop. Then ask the dog to sit again (no treat). Cue the kid(s) to act out an easier version (further away, less movement, and/or quieter voices) of what they had just been doing and reward the dog heartily for staying still and relaxed. Keep sessions under 5 minutes and take little breaks throughout.

Work up to playing in locations where jumping up has been a challenge for the dog, such as where kids enter the house or yard. In the Advanced version shown in the video, you will see a couple of ideas for helping the dog feel at ease with kids running up from behind or running all around him. Notice the kid-canine coach sets them all up for success by setting boundaries for the kids, such as using a stick as a  landmark to run to, or creating a circle to stay outside of.

What do you see in the video would be challenging for your dog or child? What kinds of movements or sounds would bother your dog enough for him or her to pop up out of the sit position? How else might your dog let you know something was too difficult or stressful for him?

Many thanks to beautiful Xander, whose heart is as ginormous as he is, and to his wonderful people and their friends for taking his feelings into account when training. This was a field test for the instructions they read for the Animal Game in Puppy Savvy; they had no instruction from me before we filmed and I think they all did a fantastic job!

Puppy Savvy Video Lesson: Body Handling Step III

Today I offer you the third of three videos on how to teach your pup to feel comfortable with being touched. Notice how much more at ease the puppy is with me grabbing his tail, ears and reaching over his head after simply completing Steps I and II

You’ll be ready to move on to Step III once your puppy is feeling relaxed about you touching her anywhere for 7-10 seconds. Step III is the bee’s knees, the cat’s meow, the step that puts the whole enchilada together. It helps your puppy feel great about being touched and restrained away from home, by your veterinarian or groomer, up high, and on a slippery surface. Those are some serious puppy skills that will serve your puppy his or her entire life.

Why go to this bit of trouble? If you were a little puppy, I bet you would prefer to feel great about touch, heights, surfaces and strangers reaching for you before you were required to experience those things in a strange place filled with unfamiliar people and other dogs. It could make a big difference in how you feel about your vet and grooming care, and even how trusting you feel toward your person.

If your puppy is Bold or Bashful, see Puppy Savvy for additional instructions, tips and troubleshooting ideas. (By the way, any of these tips are also ideal for dogs who are no longer puppies.)

Special thanks to Sandi and Logan the Adorable.

Don’t Throw the Puppy Out With the Bathwater: Body Handling in the Age of Hands-Off Dog Training

Dog training has become more sophisticated and much kinder. Now we can take into account the science behind how dogs learn, what they are capable of, their individual personalities, and how their learning experience can and should be one free of coercion, pain or fear of consequences.

This is wonderful, no doubt about it. It is the right thing to do to extend the same respect and empathy to others, including dogs, which we would want shown to us if we were learning something new.

In fact, it is possible to teach virtually any skill or trick without ever laying a hand on your dog. Dogs are great at puzzling things out and, generally speaking, stronger and more reliable training comes from letting the dog put the pieces together without us pushing, pulling, or punishing, but rather rewarding incremental progress toward a finished behavior. (Just like being pushed on a swing does not teach a little kid how to “pump,” however if left to experiment with shifting their weight and kicking, they figure out what to do with their body to make the swing go. Click here for more on this type of training.)

But…we should be careful not to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Just because we don’t use our hands for physical coercion in training any longer does not mean dogs are never faced with human hands coming at them. Puppies and dogs cope with human hands petting, holding, restraining, grooming, lifting, grabbing and touching in all kinds of ways. We should take care to prepare them for lots of different types of body handling, especially now that our training has become so hands-off.

Can you imagine how strange it would seem to have someone brush your teeth, take blood from your arm, or put ointment on your head if you were never shown how benign, even pleasant, touch can be? You might become afraid, strongly object, or develop stronger and stronger defensive reactions over time. Some of us might just judo chop the other person right off the bat.

Let’s not put our dog in this position, feeling like they have to flee or fight when faced with everyday touch, handling and restraint. It is so simple to accustom dogs to body handling, and our dogs are counting on us for help with this. I imagine not only your dog, but your dog’s veterinarian, his groomer and his class instructor will appreciate it as well.

Get started with this short video lesson that shows Parts I and II (of III). For full instructions and how to adapt the process for Bold or Bashful puppies, see Puppy Savvy.

Many thanks to Sandi and Logan the Dreamboat for their help with this video lesson.

Puppy Savvy Video Lesson: How to Pick Up Your Puppy

Time to shake things up! I am hereby launching a new feature that I hope will enhance life and learning for you and your dog. I am offering video lessons to correspond with the instructions in Puppy Savvy. These will be the short-and-sweet versions of the exercises from the book, so that at a glance you’ll be able to see what to do. (You’ll find troubleshooting tips and how to adjust the instructions for Bold or Bashful puppies in the book.) Some things will be very basic and some more involved, all are important for clear communication, fun and/or safety.

You’ll be able to view these videos on your computer screen or smart phone, so I am hoping they might come in handy if you’re in the yard or on the road with your little whippersnapper. Questions? Comments? Let me know what you think!

With heartfelt thanks to Sandi and the (omigosh, so adorable) Logan.