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!

How to Catch a Dog With the Gotcha Game

LogoanRecallThe Gotcha Game is for you if you want your dog to come all the way to you when you call. If you’ve ever been frustrated that your dog heads towards you, but then stays just out of reach, playing this game correctly should solve that. And if you’d like to make sure your dog is comfortable having anyone grab him or her by the collar, start playing the Gotcha Game. Here it is in three quick steps to accompany the detailed instructions in Puppy Savvy. You’ll also find tips for Bold and Bashful puppies there. (Works for grown dogs, too!)

Notice how I touch the puppy underhand instead of reaching over hand or over his head. Most dogs do not enjoy patting on top of the head and may back away or avoid coming all the way to you. Notice also in Step III how I lavish praise on the pup for quite a long time for coming to me. Be generous and your puppy will want to come close and stick with you.

Many thanks to Sandi and the delightful Logan. (Don’t miss his adorable prairie dog impersonation in this clip.)

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 Introduce Your Puppy to Wearing a Collar

Time for your next video lesson, are you ready? This is short and sweet, but using this approach can prevent biting of your hands and help the puppy feel good about his collar.

For detailed instructions, troubleshooting hints, and tips for Bold and Bashful puppies, see Puppy Savvy.

There is something funny about this video I can’t quite put my finger on…somehow Logan the Puppy seems less goofy than the person doing the talking. Many thanks to Sandi and very mature Logan.


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.


Talk to the Paw: Is It A Good Idea to Ignore Puppy Behavior You Don’t Want?


therighttoyOftentimes dog trainers who recommend reward based training say to reward the dog behavior you want, and ignore the dog behavior you don’t want. Problem is, while you’re busy ignoring the behavior, your dog is having a good old time. His actions of jumping up, chewing on the carpet, pawing at you, grabbing something off the counter, running away from you, or snagging a tidbit out of the trash are pleasurable. He repeats the behavior on another occasion. And you are faced with the same cycle all over again.

The sad thing is that it makes it look like reward-based training doesn’t work. However, what is really going on is that the principles of reward based training are being misapplied. Rewards are powerful. They build behaviors and strengthen doggie habits, whether or not they are habits you like.  The trick, therefore, is to be strategic about which behaviors you reward and allow to be rewarded. Strategic use of rewards means expanding your definition of what a reward is. Your dog’s point of view is what counts here; if your dog finds an action rewarding, no matter how diligently you may be ignoring it, he will repeat it.

Instead of ignoring behavior you don’t like and risking the dog finding it rewarding/repeatable, do not allow the dog to rehearse it to begin with. Then he can’t find it rewarding, and you’ll be presented with the opportunity to reward, and therefore build, the behavior you do want to see in its place. Examples:

  • Assume your dog will jump up and don’t wait for it to happen. Instead, whenever he approaches, preemptively cue him to sit, then reward with attention/a tidbit. Or crouch preemptively, or use a leash, baby-gate or drag line you can quickly step on to prevent the launch sequence.
  • Assume your dog will chew the carpet and don’t wait for it to happen. Provide appropriate chew outlets that your dog finds engaging, appropriate confinement as needed, and roll up a valuable throw rug until you’ve taught the dog desirable habits like working on a food puzzle or relaxing on a mat.
  • Assume your dog will take off running and don’t wait for it to happen. Use a leash, long line, storm door, or a better lock on the gate. Meantime, use rewards to teach your dog to come to you on cue.
    For details on how to prevent common puppy habits and how to teach alternatives with rewards, see Puppy Savvy.

If you can predict when your dog is going to engage in an aggravating action, you are almost there! Prevent it (rather than ignoring it), then reward an alternative behavior that you would like to see more of. The old behavior will fade (starved of the chance to be rehearsed/rewarded), and the new behavior will become the norm (having been strengthened with rewards).



How to Show Dominance Over Your Puppy (While Rocking a Pair of Leg Warmers)

It might make a lot of sense to ask the question, “How can I show dominance over my puppy?”

If it were 1983.

In 1983, dog owners, trainers and veterinarians based their understanding of dog behavior on wolf behavior. Problem was, back then scientists had access to information only about captive wolves. Captive wolves, we now know, do not act like normal, wild wolves. And this is important, because wild wolves thrive using cooperation, not competition. In other words, the model of a pack with a dominance hierarchy is much less relevant for understanding normal wolves than is the model of a family (think “mother” and “father” rather than “alpha”). The parents do not intimidate, physically dominate, threaten, bully or (literally and figuratively) need to stay on top of younger wolves to keep the family running smoothly. 

Sure, we all miss some familiar things that were popular in the 80’s. We may think back with nostalgia to leg warmers (like, totally) or Duran Duran. But not everything that made sense in 1983 has relevance any longer.

Now it is 2013. The updated science goes like this: yes, wolves are the ancestors of dogs. Wild wolves, that is, with wild wolf family structures and the behaviors that make those hum along. Scientists are still trying to figure out exactly how dogs were domesticated, or if they domesticated themselves, or some other option. In any case, from scientific observation of stray dogs in a variety of countries and situations, we know that domestic dogs who live as strays without a human family may form temporary pairs or small groups, but they do not form packs with strict hierarchies. Further, dogs who do live with human families don’t relate to the people as two-legged dogs.

According to preeminent veterinary behaviorist Karen Overall, “By thoughtlessly using the word pack, we have assumed that humans must be the leaders of the pack. This assumption has caused us to behave badly toward animals. While we care for dogs, they know that we are not dogs, and their relationships with dogs and humans will differ. We can best understand the complex interdependent relationship between dogs and humans by letting go of the pack concept.”

(Read what other scientists have to say here,  here and here.) 

So, while it may have been logical based on what we thought we knew decades ago, it doesn’t make sense any longer to raise and train puppies or dogs using dominance as the model. Since that’s not how dogs operate, doing so would be unlikely to produce the training results you hope for and could even cause unintended problems, as I am sure you can imagine.

Instead, create boundaries, respect your dog’s needs, and cultivate a peaceful household using updated training techniques and information about how dogs communicate. To quote Karen Overall again from her article referenced above, “We can use this new scientific knowledge about dogs to help us address canine behaviors that we or the dog find problematic. Fixing problematic canine behavior is actually not about control, leadership or mastery of the dog—it’s about increasing the chance that you can signal clearly to the dog, that you have the dog’s undivided attention while signaling, and that you are actually rewarding the behaviors that you desire.”

This is the kind of communication and training, along with taking your dog’s natural needs and emotions into account, that you’ll find here at Very Fetching and in Puppy Savvy. You should accept nothing less from your veterinarian, groomer, dog walker, dog trainer or day care provider. They should know how to apply the new science. If not, seek out someone qualified who does.

Accepting the updated information means, among other things, the chance to appreciate things about dogs we didn’t notice before. Dogs have very complex relationships with each other and with humans. They have cognitive abilities we’ve not even scratched the surface of understanding, complex emotional lives, and abilities to do things only a dog can do. They are neither lemon-heads nor black boxes that we should train and control like robots, any more than they are captive wolves who need to be “dominated” in order to live in harmony with them.

As amazing as we already know dogs to be, we may be at just the beginning of our journey together. In 2013, let us be humble. Let us allow dogs to teach us something, about themselves and about us. Let us appreciate the complexity and the simplicity of what a successful relationship with a dog requires of us. Let us do our best to listen. Totally.

You, Your Dog, and National Train Your Dog Month

Rescued, loved and very well-trained wonderdogs Murphy and Mico. (Photo by Chris Sims.)
Rescued, loved and very well-trained wonderdogs Murphy and Mico. (Photo by Chris Sims.)

January is National Train Your Dog Month. It is going to be positively chock full of fun and practical ways you can use training to enhance the lives of you and your dog. Here is what’s in store at Very Fetching:

New Blog Posts

How to Show Dominance Over Your Puppy (While Rocking a Pair of Leg Warmers)

Talk to the Paw: Should You Really Ignore Behavior You Don’t Like?

Training with Treats: Are You Using Bribes or Rewards?

How to Let Your Dog Teach You Something (And Why You Should Care)

New Book

Puppy Savvy is available now at Lulu.com (at a sneak preview, discounted price) and will be in wide release soon. Be one of the first to check it out, and let me know what you think! (Tip: order using Media Mail, quick and low cost.) What’s that, you’d like to view the trailer? Click here.

New! Video Dog Training Lessons

Starting with puppy training lessons that accompany the instructions in Puppy Savvy, Very Fetching will bring you step-by-step demonstrations of how to teach your dog fun and practical skills.

Webinars and Training Tips from the Association of Pet Dog Trainers

Webinars including topics like…

I’m Not Co-Dependent, I Just Can’t Live Without You
House and Crate Training
How to Choose a Great Dog Daycare or Boarding Facility

Training Tips and Canine Life and Social Skills

Learn something new, start a new training project with your dog, find a solution, ask a question or try a new game. There will plenty for you to choose from in celebration of National Train Your Dog Month! Friend me on Facebook for more updates, events and ideas.