Monthly Archives: December 2011

Exercising Your Dog

There’s a persistant myth that has gained popularity lately: if you exercise your dog more, it will fix any behavior problem from hyperactivity to aggression. We’ll discuss this common misconception next week.

Before we do so, I think we need to discuss normal exercise needs for dogs. All dogs need exercise. This includes both physical exercise, such as running or playing with other dogs, and mental exercise, such as training or working at a food puzzle toy. Dogs need both, and they need them regularly. If your dog is not receiving both physical and mental exercise on a regular basis, you’re very likely to run into behavior problems. Even if you don’t find yourself dealing with serious issues, your dog probably won’t be very pleasant to live with, as a bored dog will find ways to amuse himself that you may not agree with.

Dexter the Mastiff follows his buddies on an off-leash walk. Dexter is 10 years old in this picture.

So, what is normal physical exercise for a dog? Physical exercise refers to cardiovascular exercise, which is any activity that increases your dog’s heart rate and respiration. Any physical activity that makes your dog pant (with the rare exception of stress panting) is an example of cardiovascular exercise.

Read the above sentence again: activities that make your dog pant. Unless your dog is horribly obese or otherwise out of shape, leash walking is likely not appropriate physical activity. While leash walking does provide some benefit, it likely fits more in the category of mental exercise, as the dog is given the chance to look at and sniff unfamiliar things. Most dogs need much more than a walk on leash.

People sometimes tell me that they don’t need to exercise their dogs because they have a fenced-in yard. This is one of the worst traps you can fall into. Here’s the thing: dogs don’t do a very good job of self-exercising. Sure, a young dog will run around the yard. However, think of this as venting a teakettle when it’s getting close to whistling. The worst of the pressure has been released so the dog doesn’t explode, but he still has a lot of energy bottled up inside. Don’t assume that just because you have a fenced-in yard, your dog is getting enough physical exercise.

Each dog differs as to what physical exercise activities they enjoy the most. Try a variety of activities, and look for activities that the dog clearly enjoys without getting crazed and that result in a tired, contented pup after you’ve finished. Some of my dogs’ favorite activities include running alongside a bike (make sure to get a special attachment for your bike, such as a WalkyDog spring, for safety), off-leash hikes, running in the park on a long line (a 50′ leash), swimming, tug, playing with a spring pole, flirt pole work (occasionally), and playdates with doggy friends. Activities we avoid include fetch, regular/daily flirt pole work, and visits to the dog park. Layla has been trained to run on a treadmill indoors and loves to do so, but Dobby worries about the machine so we skip this activity for him. On the flip side, Dobby loves to pull weight with a special weight-pulling harness, which Layla doesn’t enjoy, so that’s his special thing.

Most young dogs need 30-60 minutes of solid physical exercise 5-6 days a week. This varies widely, but it’s a good starting point. Older dogs may need less.

In addition to physical exercise, dogs need daily mental exercise to be fulfilled. Mental exercise refers to anything that enriches your dog’s life and encourages him to use his brain. Mental exercise can be provided by letting your dog experience new smells, sights, sounds, tastes, and textures, by encouraging him to solve puzzles, and by teaching him new skills. We’ll discuss mental exercise further in later posts, but the important thing to remember here is that it’s necessary to give your dog choices and let him explore and be creative on a regular basis. Dogs have an incredibly rich olfactory world around them that we’re largely unaware of, and this is a great resource to tap into if you’d like to help your dog feel more content.

In future posts, we’ll discuss appropriate mental enrichment as well as common issues with exercise, including inappropriate arousal and the SuperDog syndrome. In the meantime, please tell us about your dog’s exercise needs in the comment section below. How do you know when s/he has gotten enough? Which is more important for your dog, physical or mental stimulation? What’s your dog’s favorite exercise activity?

[Mostly] Wordless Wednesday

My hope and wish is that one day, formal education will pay attention to what I call “education of the heart.” Just as we take for granted the need to acquire proficiency in the basic academic subjects, I am hopeful that a time will come when we can take it for granted that children will learn, as part of the curriculum, the indispensability of inner values: love, compassion, justice, and forgiveness.

-Dalai Lama

Family Holiday Pictures are so Embarrassing!

We’re taking a brief break from blogging for the holidays, so please enjoy this picture of my horrified dogs in place of a blog post today.

We’ll return to our regular M-W-F blogging schedule on December 28th.

Helping Your Dog

One of the first questions I am always asked by clients when they contact me about behavior or training issues is, “can you help us?” The answer is always an enthusiastic yes!

However, there are important considerations that every pet owner needs to make when they seek training.

I can help your dog. What I cannot do is magically fix your dog. I am not a miracle worker, nor do I carry a magic wand in my training bag.

If you are completely unwilling to change anything about the way you handle your dog or his daily routine, I cannot help you. Training involves both ends of the leash. If the techniques you were using were effective, you would not have contacted me in the first place.

If you continue to allow your dog to practice the problem behavior because you cannot be bothered to institute the easy management exercises we discuss during the first training session, I cannot help you. Practice makes perfect, and if your dog is practicing the problem behavior 6 days and 23 hours out of the week and only seeing me once a week for an hour, we are not going to make headway.

If you mix training techniques and continue to try things that your coworkers, family, or the TV show recommend, I cannot help you. Mixing training techniques is confusing to your dog. My techniques work. They are scientifically sound and I use them because they are the fastest and most effective techniques available. You hired me for a reason, and that reason is because I am a certified professional with years of experience. Please remember that you get what you pay for, and free advice from friends and family is oftentimes worth its cost.

That said, I can help you, and together we can help your dog.

I am realistic, and I promise that, unlike popular TV shows, I will not give you impossible exercises to attempt, nor will I tell you to devote impossible amounts of time to fixing your dog’s problem. I will work with you to figure out your schedule and split exercises into simple, manageable chunks. I will never tell you to devote hours of time to daily training, but will instead help you figure out multiple quick 1-2 minute chunks during which you can accomplish your dog’s exercises.

I will never ask you to do anything that hurts or scares your dog, period. Nor will I yell at, deride, or intimidate you. I will be as kind to you as we both are to your dog, and if you are frustrated or overwhelmed I will be there to support you and help you out. I will be your coach, your cheerleader, and your advisor.

I will work with your finances. Dog training services cost what they do because I am a professional. I devote hundreds of hours to continuing education each year. I travel out of state to educational conferences, write for professional journals, and read everything that comes out. I learn about biology, ethology, learning theory, neurochemistry, and canine cognition so that you don’t have to. If you need to set up a payment plan or barter for services, ask me! I want you and your dog to succeed. I do not give my services out for free, but I am happy to work with you to make dog training or behavioral consultations doable for your budget.

So, can we solve your dog’s behavior or training issue? Absolutely! However, we need to do so together. If you are committed to making things work, you will find that I am too. I offer permanent solutions that will make your dog the enjoyable pet you’ve always wanted. Work with me, and we will help your dog together.

[Mostly] Wordless Wednesday

Happy Holidays! Thanks to Dennis B. for this great picture of one of our friendliest client dogs, Annie.

The Rules of Clicking

1. Click = Reward. Every click should be followed by a treat or some other kind of reward. Clicking without reinforcing will desensitize your dog to the clicker. Even if you click accidentally, your dog should get rewarded.

2. Click only once. If you want to show your dog that they have done something really wonderful, click once and give two, three, or more treats. Several small treats given rapidly in succession are more meaningful to your dog than one big treat. Chasing a ball, playing tug, or play with other dogs can also be used after the click if your dog particularly enjoys these activities. When you give many treats or a favorite reward this is called a JACKPOT.

3. Click means “Great Job”. Click whenever your dog is doing something that you like. This doesn’t only have to be while training. If you like that your dog is playing independently with a toy, click and play with him so that he understands that you like it when he is busy by himself.

4. Always click before reaching for the treat. The click must predict that the reward has been earned. If you reach for the treat before clicking your dog will anticipate that the reinforcement has been earned because of your hand movement. You want your dog to understand that the click is what predicts the reinforcement. If reinforcement happens before the sound of the click, the dog will quickly learn to ignore the click because the reinforcement is not contingent on hearing the sound first.

5. It is important to click and treat often in the beginning. Your dog needs lots of feedback about what behavior you like. In the first few weeks you cannot click too often. (Later on you will wean your dog off of the clicker and food treats.)

6. Click ends the behavior. When you click, the exercise is over, so the dog is free to move. Over time your dog may learn to continue offering the behavior after the click (such as continuing to heel or staying in a sit position), but this is his choice.

7. Treat for position. Where you deliver the treat can speed up training significantly. If you are training your dog to lie down, click when your dog is in the position that you like, and then (even if your dog stands up) make the effort to deliver the treat on the ground. If you are teaching your dog to walk on a loose leash, click when the leash is loose, and deliver the treat by your leg.

8. The click is not a cue. The click does not tell your dog to do something; it is a signal to the dog that he’s doing the right thing at that moment. Do not use the click to get your dog’s attention.

9. The clicker is not a Remote Control. It is not necessary or even desirable to point the clicker at your dog. The clicker will work just as well if held in your pocket or behind your back.

10. Be prepared. Be prepared for the dog to suddenly “get it” and reinforce this leap in learning with a jackpot (see Rule #2).

11. Be quiet, and speak in a normal conversational tone and volume. In the beginning stages of training, be quiet and let your dog figure things out. Once you’re ready to add a cue, remember that dogs hear much better than we do. Therefore it is not necessary to raise your voice when speaking to your dog. Furthermore, if your train your dog to respond to cues that are given loudly or harshly, you will train your dog to only listen to cues when given in this fashion. Instead train your dog to listen to your whispers.

Tuna Brownies

This is one of our favorite treat recipes. Use these treats for dogs, cats, or ferrets.


  • 4 6-oz cans tuna
  • 1 c water drained from tuna
  • 12 T scrambled egg
  • 1 c cornmeal
  • 2 c whole wheat flour

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Run the tuna and egg through a food processor (or chop into very fine pieces) and combine with the water. Add cornmeal and flour and blend to form a dough. Knead into a ball and roll out to about 1/4″ thick on a cookie sheet. Set empty bowl on floor to be licked out. Bake for 20 minutes, allow to cool, then cut into bite-sized pieces with a pizza cutter. Refrigerate, freeze, or feed immediately.

[Mostly] Wordless Wednesday

Canine body language quiz: should you approach this dog? What is her body language telling you? How should you change your own body language to communicate with her? Share your ideas in the comments below!

Myth: Tough Dogs Need Tough Training

“Sure, clicker training might work for a Poodle. But a Pit Bull needs to be shown who’s boss.”

We hear this all the time, and I want to put a rest to this myth once and for all. Many people believe that clicker training and other reward-based training methods won’t work for their breed. Whether it be a Pit Bull, Rottweiler, Doberman, Cane Corso, Malinois, Rhodesian Ridgeback, or Dogo, I’m often told that a certain breed is stubborn or dominant, and therefore needs to be trained with harsh corrections in order to become a well-behaved member of society.

Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, I would argue that these breeds especially need to be trained with positive methods, more than other breeds. Let’s bust the myths and discuss ways to present your “tough” dog in a positive light.

Abe, a male Pit Bull from NYC, passed his Canine Good Citizen and Therapy Dog certification tests with flying colors. He was clicker trained.

First of all, the myth that clicker training “doesn’t work” for certain breeds is downright ridiculous. Clicker training is used in zoos and aquariums worldwide for every species of animal imaginable. If we can train tigers, killer whales, wolves, and even goldfish with positive reinforcement, we can certainly clicker train an animal who has been bred to live and work with humans for thousands of generations.

Dolphins are trained to lie calmly upside-down in the water in order to allow blood to be drawn (and did I mention that they need to hold their breath while this is happening?), and to open their jaws and allow feeding tubes to be inserted. Orangutans, who are incredibly strong and can be very aggressive, are trained to offer their arms for vaccinations and routine blood draws. Elephants allow trainers to care for their feet. Zoo animals of every species imaginable are trained to hop onto a scale and hold still for accurate weights, to open their mouths for tooth exams, to go into and out of crates, and the list goes on.

If all of this can be accomplished with wild animals who would as soon kill a person as look at them, you can certainly train your “tough” (but domesticated) dog to walk nicely on leash with a clicker. Even the toughest dog is no match for the danger presented by working with cetaceans or large cats.

But don’t these dogs need to be shown who’s the boss? Absolutely! All dogs should look to their owner as a leader. However, we now know that the myth of a violent or aggressive “alpha” was based on faulty research, and in fact true leaders are almost never aggressive. They don’t need to be. Leadership is all about control of resources. Since our dogs don’t have opposable thumbs, we’re already ahead on this count.

A good leader is benevolent and trustworthy. If your dog is pushy and status-seeking, which some of the “tough” breeds can be, take a good hard look at his day-to-day life. Are you teaching him to be polite and patient? Are you asking him to work for things he wants, or handing him everything on a silver platter as soon as he demands it? A pushy dog is a sign of a poor trainer who’s not utilizing management and who’s not investing time in training. Your dog is not lying awake at night plotting how to overthrow you. Promise.

Still skeptical that your dog can be trained with a clicker? Consider this. Not only have I personally trained hundreds of Pit Bulls using nothing but positive reinforcement methods, but Laws Dogs USA trained bomb- and drug-detection dogs using these methods, and more and more law enforcement, service dog, and military trainers are turning to positive methods as they realize that these techniques produce better long-term results. Dogs trained with positive reinforcement are more reliable for situations that require perfection.

If you’re still using corrections to train your tough dog, there’s a better way. Contact us for help! Remember that certain breeds have a bad enough reputation as it is. Those of us who know and love them know how wonderful these breeds are, but the general public still thinks every Pit Bull or Rottweiler is dangerous. How much damage are you doing to your dog’s breed’s reputation when you walk him around with a huge medieval-looking prong collar around his neck? How much good can you do for his breed’s reputation if the general public instead sees you out walking him on a bright no-pull harness or pretty collar? How much good can you do for his breed’s reputation if your dog becomes a breed ambassador, behaving calmly, politely, and joyfully to your every cue? If you truly love your dog, show the world what a great dog he is!

Please comment below with your questions or stories about your favorite breed. We look forward to hearing from you!

Just Say No?

Of all the words that are overused in dog training, I think “no” is the worst offender. So frequently, I go into a home or work with a student in class where the dog hears nothing but a steady litany of “no, no, no.” I honestly think some dogs even think their names are “no,” because that’s what they hear all the time!

Some clicker trainers will tell you that you should never tell your dog no, and to a certain point I agree with them. However, I don’t think it’s realistic for a pet dog to never be told no. I just think we need to be thoughtful in its use.

My two dogs do get told no on occasion. Here are my rules for its use.

Firstly, and most importantly, you cannot tell your dog no unless you’ve first told him yes.

It is unfair and unkind to yell at your dog if he doesn’t know what he’s supposed to be doing in a given situation. Manage your dog to prevent him from making poor choices until he’s been trained, and for goodness sakes, train him! Tell him what to do by setting him up to do so and rewarding him when he does. There are probably a million poor choices your dog could make in any given situation, but there are usually one or two things you would like him to do. Guide him to make the right choice. For example, let’s say your dog gets overexcited when visitors arrive. Instead of scolding him for misbehaving, put him away in his crate with a Kong toy when people come over, then teach him an alternate behavior to use in greetings, such as fetching a toy or sitting while people pet him.

Your dog should hear “yes” 100 times for every time he hears “no.”

If you’re working on teaching your dog proper manners, make sure you’re telling him when he does something right! How often do owners ignore their dog when he’s chewing on his own toys, then freak out when he starts gnawing on their shoe? If you like it when your dog chews on his own stuff, tell him so! He’s not a mind reader.

So, when is it appropriate to say no? I use negative feedback for my dogs in situations where they already know what they’re supposed to do (because I’ve trained them and given them lots of positive feedback for the correct behavior) and they choose not to do so. For example, Dobby understands the It’s Your Choice game very well and has been rewarded literally thousands of times for controlling himself in the presense of things he wants. If I’m working with him on heeling and he chooses to swing behind me to grab the toy without permission, I’ll gently take his collar (to prevent him from tugging on the toy, which he would find rewarding) and tell him in a firm but calm voice to drop it. Once he does, I return to work. The correction is over and done. The information he got was necessary but was not painful or scary.

A well-trained dog finds joy in work! Dobby has never been corrected for pulling on leash, but chooses to walk in heel position even when he's not being rewarded for doing so because that's what he's been taught.

Corrections should never hurt or scare your dog. If you ever feel the need to yell or get physical with your dog, you are no longer training but are instead reacting. Put your dog away and figure out where you went wrong. And make no mistake: you went wrong somewhere. It’s not your dog’s fault that you were a poor trainer or leader, and it’s not fair to him to blame him for your mistakes.

What about aggression? What about situations where you just can’t tolerate your dog doing something, such as a dog who growls or bites? In those cases especially, corrections are the wrong choice.

99% of aggression is based in fear or uncertainty, and correcting a dog who’s in a fearful or aggressive state will only serve to make that behavior worse in the long term even if it seems to work in the moment. As far as the 1% of dogs who aggress because they’re just jerks who want to control everything: do you really want to get into a battle of wills with an animal who has the equivalent of carpet knives in his mouth? It’s not worth it to fight that battle. Even if you win the battle, you’ll lose the war if the only tool in your toolbox is negative feedback.

Fear, aggression, and other serious issues will not resolve on their own, and they certainly won’t resolve with corrections. Call a professional to help you. If you don’t live in our service area and need help, I’m happy to give you a recommendation for a qualified professional in your area.

The bottom line with corrections is that they’re just not necessary the majority of the time when people feel they need them. Your job as your dog’s owner and trainer is to guide him by teaching him what to do and managing him to prevent him from getting in trouble. There are absolutely times when it’s appropriate to tell your dog to knock it off, but if you’re doing things right those times should be few and far between. Set your dog up for success. Teach him boundaries. A well-trained dog finds joy in doing what he’s learned is right.

Which does your dog hear more often, yes or no? Do you need to change the way you manage certain situations to help him be right more often? Please share your stories in the comments below!