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!



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!

Can You Trick Your Dog Into Holding Still?


I am holding verrrry still.

The answer is: yes! Which is oh-so-useful and kind when your dog needs veterinary treatments.

Doesn’t it seem like dog training is on one end of the fun spectrum (tricks like sit pretty, come, don’t jump up) while veterinary needs (hold still for eye medicine, don’t move for having blood drawn) are way on the other end of the spectrum?

I thought about this when my veterinarian advised soaking my dog’s paw twice a day for five minutes. You know how it goes: before you know it, you are soaking wet or have eye medicine up your nose, and your dog is desperately trying to get away from you.

However, if you teach your dog to love learning new tricks, veterinary treatments can be fun. Holding still is a trick (otherwise known as “stay”). Holding still while someone does things to your ear or paw is a slightly fancier trick (otherwise known as “stay with distractions”).

Dogs are pretty good with abstract concepts like “try something” or “don’t move.” So once you’ve taught a couple of easy tricks, the concepts transfer amazingly well to all kinds of scenarios. I love this approach for the way it takes out the fear and puts in the joy.

For foot soaking, I got out an empty bucket and waited for my dog to do something bucket related. (That’s how we start nearly all our tricks. It is called shaping. No coercion, just cooperation. Anyone can do it!) I gave him a treat every time his front foot accidentally moved (but not when he did other buckety things), and soon he was touching the bucket with his foot, then holding it inside the bucket, and then he stood in it. It seems fast, which is just because he is used to the concept of learning a new trick. Your dog can do it, too!

This is one weird trick, lady.

I asked him to stay, which he already knew from his “stay” trick, and quickly took a photo. Next session I added enough water for soaking before beginning. I will soak his foot near his favorite window so he can enjoy looking out for the five minutes (less fidgeting!), and of course he’ll get treats for holding still.

How can you apply tricks training to treatments you or your veterinarian need to administer? I welcome your questions and would be glad to offer tips in the comments section!


Puppy Savvy Holiday Happenings

ScooterSled copy

This is the time of year a lot of people bring dogs and puppies into their lives. If you know of someone who might appreciate a little help with the transition, Puppy Savvy may be just the thing to surprise them with. Lulu.com is offering it 30% off plus free shipping through December 15 when you use the coupon codes from the snowy photo above at checkout. This is a banana-town discount that will leave you with plenty of moola left over for dog treats…

…dog treats that you can buy, freshly baked and in the form of cookies, cupcakes and even cakes, at Oliver’s Collar Treat Bakery and Boutique on Saturday, December 14th! I’ll be there from 11-1 giving out advice on new dogs and puppies and signing books. Mostly Puppy Savvy, but hey, if you’ve got the autobiography of James Madison and really want it signed, I will do my best to do an authentic-looking forgery. And if that’s not entertaining enough, Santa and a professional pet photographer will be at your service as well. I hope to see you there!


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: 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.


The Bowl of Happiness

The Bowl of Happiness
The Bowl of Happiness

I last left you with the advice to never let your puppy out of his confinement area, crate or tether without first having a specific answer to the question, “What will I give the puppy to do next that will set him up to succeed? What game, project, training session, edible toy or other ‘coloring book’ will I offer right off the bat?”

Yet it is one thing to remember to ask yourself this question, but how will you know how to answer it?

The answer to this question will depend on what your puppy likes, your mood, what you have time for, and even the weather. Perhaps you would like to teach the pup to play fetch or go to his spot. Maybe you would rather tether the pup with a stuffed Kong while you finish some emails. Or perhaps a puppy field trip would be a good choice to provide socialization and get you both out of the house.

Now, maybe you are like most people, who have a lot of things on their minds and don’t want to spend their days memorizing puppy games to pull out of thin air in a pinch. I’ve gotta say, that seems reasonable. I find it helpful to write each puppy-occupying game, skill or chew toy on a small piece of paper, put all the slips of paper in a bowl near the puppy’s crate, and fish one out before I release the puppy. I call this the Bowl of Happiness.

What’s that you say, you don’t have time to sit around writing down games on little slips of paper? Again, who could blame you! Not to worry, I have done it for you. Just click on the Bowl of Happiness image (above or on the Puppy Savvy page). You’ll find ready-to-cut-out tips to keep your puppy occupied. Draw one of these slips of paper from a bowl and you’ll have a plan before you risk letting the pooch run wild. These are things you may already have handy or know about; the rest are Magic Wand strategies, Life Lessons and Training Skills described in Puppy Savvy.

Presto! Even with a puppy in your house you can have peace, quiet and happiness. Ahhh…

Are You Puppy Savvy?

Scan 123170008It’s getting pretty exciting around here as we are just days away from the launch of Puppy Savvy. I thought I would offer a series of puppy posts to get us in the spirit of things. Starting with the secret formula to being truly puppy savvy:

a) Imagine what you wish your puppy would do.

b) Set up the situation to make that desired behavior likely, and then, when your puppy behaves as you wish,

c) Surprise! Present a reward that matters to your puppy.

The behavior you reward will become a habit.

One of my favorite restaurants, Elmo’s Diner, uses this approach to great effect (with humans, though I am sure they could teach a puppy to do anything). When you ask for a table at Elmo’s, if you have children the friendly host seats you with menus, crayons, and sheets of paper with the Elmo’s cartoon duck to color in. The Elmo’s staff thereby applies the same principles that will yield great results for you and your puppy:

a) They wish young kids would color instead of whine or tear around the restaurant.

b) They make this coloring behavior likelier by, right off the bat, presenting the opportunity to color in a way that makes it a special ritual (the stuff is not just sitting out on the table).

c) Surprise! In the middle of the coloring session, they deliver the pancakes and juice the parents have ordered. The kids are invited to hang their masterpieces on the Duck Wall.

This is powerful stuff. It is so peaceful (and delicious) a dining experience that I even have an Elmo’s t-shirt. But back to your puppy…

Will you let your puppy gallivant through the environment, letting his adventures and the taste of your favorite shoes be his rewards? Will you then unintentionally pile on more rewards in the form of attention, making these undesirable puppy behaviors even stronger by interacting with him (“No!” “Come back!” “Give me that!”)?

Choose a better way. Harness the power of rewards to your advantage and to help your puppy. Use rewards consciously and strategically. Use a baby gate, a crate or x-pen, an indoor leash known as a dragline and an indoor tether to keep your pup out of mischief, and always give him the equivalent of a coloring book to keep him occupied (a game or a stuffed Kong are often good options). Get in the habit of never taking your puppy out of his crate (or off his indoor tether) without first having a specific answer to the question, “What will I give the puppy to do next that will set him up to succeed? What game, project, training session, edible toy or other ‘coloring book’ will I offer right off the bat?”

Have you tried this approach with your puppy? What questions do you have about how to make this work? Let me know! Up next…ideas for keeping your puppy occupied with the right kind of “coloring book.”

The Truth About Cats and Dogs

By special request, today’s blog entry is about puppies and cats. Maybe your new puppy is suddenly obsessed with your cat. Or maybe your cat won’t leave your puppy alone. You may be wondering if it’s safe to let them play. Here are some guidelines to get their peaceful coexistence off on the right track:

However amusing it may seem, it is not a good idea to let your puppy rehearse chasing or poking your kitty with his nose. It’s not fair to either of them, and one of them could be injured (if you will, please picture puppy eyeball or nose and kitty claw meeting. Yowza!). Don’t wing it. 

Baby-gate a room or two for your pup to roam free, allowing your cat to determine how close she gets to the other side of the gate.

Let your pup drag a long line so you can step on it quickly in case he gets the urge to chase the kitty. Provide your puppy with appropriate chase outlets like fetch and chasing you in come-when-called games.

Keep a handful of treats in your pocket and each time your puppy’s attention turns to your cat, say “good!” and pop a treat in his mouth. Your puppy will figure out that the appearance of the cat predicts getting a goodie from you, rather than the start of a chase game. Regardless of your puppy’s intentions with the cat, if you prevent chasing with a drag line and you are consistent with the treats, soon (usually in just a few days) your pup will see the cat and this will prompt him to look at you. Cool!

Make sure your cat has escape routes (like the ability to jump over, or scamper under, a baby gate).

Consider keeping the cat’s food up high so he or she can eat in peace.

Keep the litter box in a space that only the cat can reach, or the puppy will find a special snack there and you will never, ever want him to lick your face again.

If your cat is one of those precocious types who tries to entice your puppy by strutting right under his nose to get something started, at least get it on video so the rest of us can enjoy it. Meanwhile keep up your puppy’s training and be glad your cat is not afraid of him. Who knows, they may even play. Just make sure they are calm enough that you can easily interrupt them by calling the puppy to you (reward like bananas!). If he ignores you, interrupt much sooner in the action next time, and meanwhile consider saying something like “too bad” or “whoopsie” and separating them. When he figures out that getting too fired up ends the game, he will learn to regulate his own arousal. That would be the cat’s meow, don’t you think?