Play for everyone!

I think playing with dogs is a really good idea.

When people play with their dogs, they like them better.  They smile more.  Their dogs start to look towards them more easily and frequently.

In short – it’s just nice.  It’s nice for people and it’s nice for dogs.

So.  How does one play with a dog?

Here’s a video example of play with Brito.  It’s a nice video to show to kids who have read the book, Blogger Dog, Brito!   Yes, he’s a real dog!  Yes, he has a personality!  And yes, mom really does play with him!

In this video, I am playing with food, toys and just myself.  I am throwing training into the mix as well, because my long term goal with training is always to make it as blended with play as possible

If you incorporate play into your training classes, start small.  For homework, encourage your student to find one form of personal play that the dog enjoys (belly rub?  Chasing your hand?), one form of toy play that works (tug of war?  fetch?  Chew toy while mom cheers you on?) and one form of food play (toss the treat?  Chase the mommy with the treat?  Jump for the treat?).  If you need more play ideas, look for the book, Dog Sports Skills: Play!  written by Denise Fenzi and Deb Jones.

After a few weeks, ask your students how they’re doing with their play.  I bet they smile when they talk about it.

And people who smile when they talk about their dogs love their dogs more and treat them better.  That’s what I want to see!

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Teach your dog Not to Steal Your Things!

Today’s guest blog is brought to us by Mariah Hinds, CPDT-KA of Orlando Dog Manners and More in Orlando Florida.  Thank you Mariah!  This is a topic that most people struggle with as they raise their new family companions, so it’s worth a little training time!

How to teach your dog not to steal your things by Mariah Hinds

Dogs like to steal things. It’s fun and it will definitely get your attention!  Unfortunately, it can also be dangerous if the dog is shredding the item and possibly consuming parts of the stolen goods.

What can we do about this challenge?

Access to lots of appropriate items

If your dog has lots of appropriate items to chew on and destroy then she is less likely to steal your things. However, a puppy isn’t likely to walk 25 feet to grab an appropriate chew toy, so make the “right” choice easy for them! Have 10-20 toys of various textures spread out in the main living space so they are an easy and obvious choice when your puppy is looking for something to do.


Prevent your dog from having access to forbidden items when you are not in the room with the dog. Use baby gates or exercise pens. Ask your family members to keep doors shut and keep high value items out of reach of the dog.  Over time, your dog will not develop the habit of taking things that are not hers for the taking!

Teach the dog that the item is not their toy and that ignoring the item is preferred

If you take a 2 year old child’s toy and put it out of reach, when the child has access to the toy again, the child will play with it. This is true with dogs too, so in addition to preventing inappropriate chewing, we want to do some specific training to help the dog learn to actively avoid our things.  The child or dog needs to learn that the item is, in fact, not their toy. The most efficient way to teach the dog to ignore the item is to reward them for ignoring it.

I prefer to teach this skill without any verbal interruption, such as using a “leave it” cue.  I have found that the dog gets reliant on the cue, and then it takes longer for the dog to leave the item alone automatically.

How to practice

Start on the list below where the dog can be successful.  Not too hard but not too easy either! If the dog does the undesired behavior two times in a row or 50% of the time, go back a step. If the dog is making the desired choice 60-80%, continue rewarding the appropriate choice and starting over if the dog makes an undesired choice. When the dog is 80% reliable, make it more difficult by moving to the next step.

    1. Have your treats ready and the forbidden item in your hand.
    2. When the dog looks at the item, say yes and throw a reward away from you.
    3. Repeat several times until the dog is no longer jumping at the item in your hands.
    4. Put the item on the floor. Throw a treat in the opposite direction the moment the dog looks at the item.
    5. Repeat several times until the dog is offering to look at the item without moving towards it.
    6. Wait until the dog gets 3 or 4 feet from the item and reward the dog by throwing the reward in the opposite direction. Repeat 2 or 3 times.
    7. Wait for the dog to walk up to the item. If the dog sniffs the item or does anything other than grabbing the item, reward the dog by throwing a treat the opposite direction.
    8. If the dog grabs the item, have the dog drop it (by trading for a cookie) and try again. However, it is really important that the dog gets more rewards for ignoring the item or walking past it then they get rewards for dropping it when asked. We don’t want to teach the sequence of grab the item in order to be cued to drop it and then get rewarded!
    9. Vary where you are in the room and continue practicing and rewarding the dog for looking or walking past the item without grabbing it. Practice while you multi-task as well so the dog learns that you are always paying attention.
    10. When the dog has been 80% successful at ignoring the item when you are in the room and the dog has access to the item, you can start working on the dog leaving the item alone when you leave the room. To start, go out of the room for 3 seconds and reward the dog upon your return as long as the dog didn’t bite the forbidden item. Make it more difficult when the dog is 80% successful with that amount of time.

Clever Livy has practiced this skill with different items in the past so she makes fast progress through the steps in this video.

Leave it alone!

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Building Bridges

Yesterday I spent some time looking at the Facebook pages of other dog trainers.  I saw videos that were new to me, became re-acquainted with some “oldies but goodies” and had a chance to hear different points of views on random topics.  Not a bad way to spend some time!

Then I came across the Facebook wall of a trainer who shares a fundamental belief of mine; that dog training should be kind.  And while we clearly take different paths from there, I’d say that’s not very important.  In the bigger scheme of things, we both believe in the importance of kindness to animals.

One of the first things I found on this trainer’s page was a video of another trainer.  There were several paragraphs of text explaining why this other trainer and her video were wrong.  So of course I watched the video.  Who was this person??

Right away I recognized her.  Not only is she an enormous advocate for humane dog training, but she is also an incredibly generous soul who gives away so much free training advice on youtube that the rest of us look absolutely greedy by comparison.  I’m not exaggerating when I say that she has probably changed the lives of thousands of dogs and hundreds of trainers.  For free.

So, what did she do???!!!!

She posted a video that could not harm any person or any dog.  She gave advice which may or may not work; it just depends on what you believe and what your personal experiences are.  Indeed, if you followed the advice, you would have learned some really good stuff about interacting with dogs, regardless of why it worked.

When a dog does something we don’t like, positively minded trainers ignore it if it’s not important in the greater scheme of things.  Over time we work to instill alternatives – we focus on the big picture and get there a tiny piece a a time.  Rarely do we punish because we know that it’s not necessary.

What’s the big picture here; a single video that will cause no harm to anyone, or the person’s entire body of work?  Should we build bridges with each other, or look for tiny threads of disagreement and create fissures in our community?

I have often said that the lack of camaraderie among positive trainers is surprising to me.  What is our big picture?  Be kind to dogs AND people.  Work together to change the broad human perspective of dogs as objects for our convenience – they deserve so much more from us!  We know how to build bridges with dogs, and the science tells us it works with people too.

It doesn’t matter if someone posts a video that doesn’t exactly align with your personal beliefs.  If it causes no harm and will clearly lead to a better outcome, then it’s a net gain for our community.

Figure out what you want to communicate and go there!  Make videos or write blogs giving YOUR point of view and ignore other people’s work that you find less impressive or relevant; there’s no reason to mention it at all!

Criticism and finding fault with others who share our basic belief structure is not who we are, and that type of behavior will dramatically slow down the evolution of dog training.  I’ve heard it said that force free dog trainers are the worst in this regard, but I disagree.  I think it’s more about human nature; the desire to make oneself look better by tearing others down, and I have found it just as prevalent in the balanced or traditional dog training community.  The difference in my mind is that science minded trainers should know better.  We know what works with training animals, and humans are…animals.

I hope the creator of that video does not see that critical piece.  Those of us who choose to be very public with our training have all been the subject of criticism and it’s hurtful.  It makes us want to pull back – not to give more.  It causes us to protect ourselves by avoiding others who might be unkind.  It hardens us and creates division at exactly a time when we need to be building bridges.

The next time you are about to say or post something that is unkind to another person, simply ask yourself this question:  Are you finding fault beacuse you truly believe that they might be causing harm or are you creating enemies and hurt where none need to exist?

Instead, how about this:  Today, take a moment to write a note to someone who has made you a better person or a better trainer.   Tell them you appreciate them.  Build a bridge – and see what that does for both of you.

I have met so many amazing dog trainers over the years.  Some I agree with almost 100% but most – not so much.  The question becomes – on balance – is the dog training world better or worse off with this person’s contributions?  And if I think the dog training world is better off with that person, might I be able to influence this person with kindness and gentle, thought provoking information, or am I better off simply moving on in silence?

Take it from there.



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To Own A Dog


Think about this for a minute. What it is to have a dog, another species, for a friend.  A companion who will be there with you, day after day, asking little more than something to eat and a safe place to live.

I can take my dog’s leash off and know that she’ll return to me. She will chase critters, smell good smells, snack on fresh grass or play ball, but always with an eye on me.  When she is done with her most current adventure, we’ll go home together.

I can ask her to come to me and remain by my side, and she will choose to respond because it’s our habit to cooperate with each other, even though she has freedom to choose otherwise.  Yes, I trained these things but she does not follow my requests out of obedience.  She follows because it works for both of us, to live in harmony together.

My friendship with this dog affects other people as well. Walkers, cyclists, and equestrians all smile as we pass by. My dog’s joyful leaping and running infects other people with her happiness; a reminder of the pleasure of being curious and free.  I am gratified to realize the power I have to make another living creature so joyful as she bounces and runs on our way out.  Alone, it’s just a walk, but with my dog it’s our shared exploration.

And then I see people smile when we return.  Now my dog walks quietly at my side, keeping me company. Everyone is happy to see our companionship. Things feel right in the world when a person is out with their dog, together with friendship.

There is no comparison between a person walking alone and a person walking with a dog. I have all of the benefits of solitude; time to think and breathe, but none of the disadvantages of being alone. I am not alone.

Not all dogs are so beautifully balanced, but a lot of dogs are, or have the potential to be. How amazing this is, a species that is not considered rare or valuable – just a dog that we take for granted, willingly staying in our homes and by our side. Dogs are widely available; many people can have one, which means that you can go out and adopt or buy a friend. Think about that. You can adopt or buy a friend. Doesn’t even matter if you’re a nice person – you can still have a friend.

I put in some time to get to friendship, but that wasn’t work.  As with all relationships, part of the pleasure was finding ways to have both of our needs met.  I enjoyed her youthful silliness as well as the training time that gently helped mold her maturity.  And now, as my dog approaches her twelfth birthday, I marvel at the connection we’ve built with little more than the natural capacity of our species to fall in love with each other.

I can pet her soft fur, share a snack, or we can walk. I can work on my computer and she’ll be found asleep under my desk.  And when I go to bed for the night, I know she’ll sleep nearby.  She is always there, waiting for me, for the price of her name.

In exchange for a few meals, the occasional walk, and a hand on her head when she asks for attention, I have a friend.  Day after day, that’s all it takes for my dog, a different species, to choose me.  An animal living contentedly in my home and giving back to me in ways to numerous to count.  A bit of a miracle, really.

If everyone had a dog for a friend – not because they thought they should get a dog, or to do dog sports, or to guard the house, or because families have dogs – if people got a dog for a friend, and then learned to treat that dog as a friend, the world would be a very different place.  A kinder, warmer and better place.

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Positive Paralysis – Now what?

You’re picking up after the kids in the family room when you hear sounds coming from the kitchen….where your dinner roast is cooling on the countertop.  You have a sinking feeling that your dog is about to make a meal out of your dinner.

You’re a “positive” trainer who doesn’t use fear, intimidation, or physical force to train your dog.

You enter the kitchen to see what is happening and your worst fear is confirmed – your dog is well up on the kitchen counter and heading for your roast.

What do you do?

Wait a sec – I have to change that around a bit, because I have no idea what you do.  Let’s talk about what I’d do.

So, what would I do?

Protect my dinner!

There is a snowball’s chance in hell that I’m going to stand there helplessly, watching my dog eat my dinner, so that I can avoid any unhappiness in my dog.

My dogs do not have more rights than I do.

My dogs do not have more rights than my children either.  And if I came in the kitchen and I found my child sitting on the counter, about to eat the cake that I had sitting there….

I’d put a stop to that too, lickety split!

HOW I put a stop to that would depend on the dog or the child.  Ideally, I’d do exactly what needed to be done to interrupt the behavior.  (By the way, that is what this is called – an “interrupter”).

That interrupter could vary anywhere from saying “eeek!!!!” for a softer dog, to physically taking hold of the dog and pulling my roast right back out of their mouth for a harder or more determined dog.

At which point I might not really want to eat it – but damn it – the dog isn’t going to eat it either.

Going forwards – put the roast somewhere else while your dog learns not to get on counters.  All of mine do figure that out but in all fairness,  it’s generally not a good idea to leave a hunk of hot steaming meat on the edge of the counter.  At the very least, your dog might start licking the bottom and you’ll never know about that.  But it’s still disgusting.

My dogs are not allowed on my table or counters – if I find them up there, I’m going to handle it like I would a toddler – I’m going to remove them very quickly and I’m very likely to be saying something as I move in – how forceful I am is totally dependent on the dog.  No, this will not scare them, or at least not if you know your dog and what gets their attention. But it will certainly put them on notice that you have an opinion about their behavior.

This action may or may not train your dog.  If your dog cares what you think, then they may well never touch your food on the counters again.  If your dog does not care what you think, then you might actually have to put some time into teaching your dogs that food on the counters is not for them.  Or just manage the situation – no tempting food on the edges of the counters.

Positive does not mean becoming paralyzed when something is happening that you don’t like.  Deal with the situation.  Decide if you want to move forwards with management (no food on counters) or training (when food is on the counters the dog is taught an alternative behavior like staying out of the kitchen or on a mat).

Going forwards…what’s your plan?

On another note, registration starts at Fenzi Dog Sports Academy on March 22nd – check out the schedule and come join us if something looks interesting!:  Class Schedule at FDSA

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Simplophile or Complexophile?

These two words were recently added to my vocabulary by a fellow dog trainer.  In a nutshell, the idea is that people have a natural tendency to make topics either simple or complex as a personality trait.

I am a complexophilephobic.  My third newest word!

And I have friends who are theoretical complexophiles with applied simplophile tendencies.

How long did it take you to read those words, break them into pieces, and then process what I was trying to say?  Was it intuitive and obvious or are you still puzzling them out?

I hope you laughed, because if I were actually trying to educate you, it would have made more sense to say “I am afraid of complex explanations” or “I have friends who like to think about challenging ideas but who use simple ideas in practical applications.”

Which brings us to the point of this blog post:

All other things being equal, simplophiles are more successful educators than complexophiles.

If you cannot find a way to communicate effectively with your students, then they will disengage from the conversation, even while they look right at you.  They may not disengage immediately because maybe they really want to learn!  But most confused people will not ask for clarification; eventually they’ll simply stop listening and smile politely instead. Obviously we want to avoid that.

Animals, including humans, can only process a limited number of new words or concepts at a time without becoming mentally saturated, so focus on teaching critical concepts, not vocabulary.  Just because a person can parrot back the definition of a word doesn’t mean they understand the underlying concept. I truly do not care if a novice pet person can define terms like “positive punishment” and “negative reinforcement,” but I care very much if they learn how to get their dog trained in a humane manner.

Of course, as in all things, there may be a tradeoff.  As training becomes more complex, it really does matter if people share a common vocabulary so that we can communicate with each other on a very precise level.  That’s fine!  The complexity of your communication can easily increase as your learner’s capacity increases or when you are speaking with a different audience.  But the students in your “Introduction to pet dog manners” class?  Keep it simple and relevant.

When I wrote the book “Beyond the Backyard; Train Your Dog To Listen Anytime, Anywhere!” I went to a good deal of trouble to use words that would be familiar to the reader. For example, I  alternated the words “cue” and “command” even though the word “command” makes me cringe.  That was a conscious choice; I wanted to keep the book accessible to my target audience.  If I ever wrote a follow up book then I would drop the word “command” altogether, because repeated exposure to the word “cue” throughout this first book would have made it familiar. My readers would be ready!

Remember, I can’t get them to read a more advanced book if they gave up on the first one because they found it overwhelming!

What can you do to simplify dog training to a level that is most easily understood by your entry level audience?

Try analogies!  For example, dogs and children show similar body language and calming signals when stressed, afraid, excited, engaged, etc.  Point that out and watch your students blossom with understanding and excitement – they will get it!  Now they will be asking YOU for clarification of what they are seeing.

Offer sentences over words!  Explaining the four quadrants of learning theory might seem like a good starting point to you, but step back for a moment and ask yourself…is that the best use of your learner’s capacity to process new information?  Does it really matter if the person knows that “positive” is something that we add and that “punishment” decreases behavior? If you start by explaining the four quadrants, your student will be so busy puzzling out the phrase that the part you actually cared about – why positive punishment should be avoided, is likely to be missed altogether.

How about saying, “Your dog will enjoy training more if you train with cookies instead of corrections.  Dogs that enjoy training are like children who beg you to learn to read – they make it easy!  If you spend your energy correcting your dog then they won’t be very interested in working with you and your teaching job will be harder.  Instead we’ll focus on giving our dogs things that they want like cookies, toys and attention in exchange for the commands that we want them to learn.

A few sentences takes longer for you to say, but remember, if you spit out an unfamiliar word and move on to your next topic, they’re still stuck on the new word and they’ll miss whatever you say next.  If you use a full sentence to explain a challenging concept then your audience is more likely to understand.

When you communicate as a simplophile, people will stick with you, so think about skipping the scientific words altogether. Over time they will learn your preferred words – a little bit at a time.  And then one day, they will realize just how much you know and what they have learned from you.

In the meantime, strive to be understood.

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Clicker, Marker Word or…cookie!

Which is best; a clicker, a marker word or just handing over a cookie when the dog does something which makes us proud?

Ask yourself what are the goals for the training session.

If you’re working on simple classical conditioning (for example:  You want the dog to feel good in a new building) then hand over free cookies.  Since the dog’s consciousness of their behavior is irrelevant, there’s no reason to use a clicker or a marker word.  You simply want your dog to enjoy the situation – classical conditioning at work.

If you’re working on a trained behavior that has an element of duration, but the actual moment that you choose to hand over the cookie is not relevant, then there is also no need for a marker.  Just release from the formal work, hand over free cookies with praise, and go from there.

For example, if you’re working on loose leash walking and the dog has been walking for a full minute without pulling, then there really is no specific moment to mark.  You’re just happy with a “period of time.”  Since this exact second is not different than the one before, a marker can’t mark anything.

The additional marker won’t hurt mellow dogs, but if you do much of that with clicker savvy or high drive dogs, they will actually try to figure out what they were doing at that second – which is nothing different than the second before.  Talk about frustrating for the dog!

Which brings us to the clicker.

When shaping behaviors, you want the dog to be very aware of how their choices (at every second) are affecting their likelihood of getting a reward.   You are trying to identify a precise moment in time in as distinct a manner as possible.

For example, let’s say you’re trying to teach your dog to put their head on the ground.  When the head moves the slightest fraction, you want to mark that moment!  Use a clicker, because you want the dog thinking “what did I do at that exact second that was different than the second before?”

That is what a clicker does incredibly well – identifies exact moments in time and marks them in the dog’s mind.  The more “clicker savvy” the dog, the more the dog will start to think about what they were doing at the moment that they heard that distinct sound – what was different than the moment before?

How about a marker word like “yes!”.  Is that as good as a clicker?

In theory it would appear to be so, but my experience is that a click is better if the dog is learning or refining a new behavior.  Maybe because it is so distinct, or maybe because it is devoid of relationship so the dog is more focused on what it takes to earn the cookie- I’m not sure.

I’m pragmatic.  Clickers take up an extra hand, so I’d suggest that a person work strictly with a marker word in training if they are a novice pet person who has no real interest in precision work or learning shaping.  Just let them say “yay!” when they are handing over a reward, and develop that emotional connection with their dog – something our voice can do extremely well!  Don’t go for a neutral reward – it’s not a neutral moment.  Get the handler’s personality in there!

Or just have your students hand over a cookie with no real marker at all. That’s fine too.  If you’re not going for precision and your dog knows the behavior – maybe you’re just giving a cookie for whatever the dog just did, or maybe for a whole chain of things that the dog did.  So then you can give a cookie and you’re good to go.

The goal is to reward our entire time together, not a specific moment or behavior.

Try to keep things simple when the owner is working at a simple level.  As the work becomes more complex or precise, and identifying specific moments in time becomes more important, then consider introducing a clicker.  But not for a novice trainer.  They have their hands full just keeping track of the dog.

This is what works for me.  At the end of the day, you’re likely to find that any method that involves handing over cookies gets you where you want to go.  Dogs are smart like that.

Now, having said all of that, it’s never a bad idea to show a group of new students a quick shaping exercise if you have a clicker savvy dog.  Not only will it knock their socks off, it will help them recognize the depth of intelligence and effort that is wrapped up in their furry little bundle.

Which may well be the moment that pet person turns into a dog person.




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Moments of Pride

Someone working through my Distraction Training Program asked me recently, “When working distraction training with pet dogs, when should the student be instructed to mark the correct behavior?”

I’ll address this based on how I think and problems solve – as a relationship based trainer.

“When should a student mark a behavior?”

Regardless of whether you use a clicker, a marker word, or just stick a cookie in the dog’s mouth, the moment is always the same:

At that moment when your heart knew that your dog would succeed, mark it! When you felt pride! Your dog walked past a tempting cookie on the ground and completed the recall instead.  Did you feel pride?  Great; that’s the timing you want!

That exact moment will depend on the dog.  For some dogs, simply starting the recall without even a blink towards the cookie will signal success to the owner.  For other teams, the owner will not be convinced that their dog might not change her mind until she is directly in front of the owner.

WHEN that moment is does not matter.  What does matter is teaching the owner the skill of observing and responding to their unique dog.  Developing that skill, in turn, will naturally improve the owner’s timing, since the root of dog training is paying attention, not following a trainers instructions about how to handle each incidence of behavior.

This approach changes the locus of control over the exercise from the trainer to the dog handler.  Now the handler is responsible for observing their dog’s actual behavior and monitoring it against their internal reaction, as opposed to simply following instructions and treating their dog as the subject.  The dog is not a subject.  The dog is their pet.  And the most valuable thing that a trainer can do for a student is to help them learn to love, know, and appreciate their pet.

Identifying a “moment of pride” is easy for people to understand, and will improve both a person’s timing and their appreciation for their dog.  Stop the handler from fixating on “right and wrong” and just work with how they are feeling.

And when the handler simply misses the boat altogether, and ignores the dog’s correct behavior?

Ask them “Were you proud of your dog when he ignored that other team and turned back to you instead?”  That’s a gentle reminder to pay attention and to acknowledge their dog’s good choices.

And at the end of class, for fun, it probably wouldn’t hurt to ask people how many times they were proud of their dogs on that day.  It should be a pretty big number. Which sends the handler home thinking they have a good dog who they can be proud of. Really, what else could a trainer want?

Try it.  It’s works.

If you want to pick up my “Distraction Training Guide” for trainers teaching group classes, you might as well grab it.  It’s free so…why not?  The feedback on these classes have been phenomenal . Students become very bonded to both their dogs and to each other.  That means they return for more and more classes, and they want to progress on to more challenging training, which certainly won’t hurt your business!  If you’re running one of these classes, feel free to comment below on your experiences.

Soon I’ll consider the question “Should my students use a clicker, a marker word, or just feed for correct behavior?”

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Reactivity: Training vs. Management

Today’s blog comes to us from Dr. Amy Cook of Full Circle Dog Training in Oakland, CA.  Amy specializes is working with dogs that exhibit reactivity, which makes her the perfect person to help us understand the very important distinction between training and management in relation to reactivity in our pet dogs.

Reactivity: Training vs. Management

By: Dr. Amy Cook

What is reactivity?  Ask three trainers and you’ll get three answers.  Is it aggression?  Is it arousal?  Is it out-of-control friendliness and frustration? Most of these answers center around the underlying motivation, which we are certainly free to guess at, but if we just look at it as a behavior it can be pretty reliably summed up as “my dog is barking at something and lunging at the end of his leash at it!”   Regardless of why he’s doing it or what it is, that’s what he’s doing, right?

And it makes him pretty difficult to take anywhere!  You don’t know whether the thing that triggers him to do this is going to show up unexpectedly, and you don’t know what to do if it does. Frankly, you just want him to not do this at all so…what should you do?  

There are two things you can do. In fact, there are always two things you can do with any issue regarding dogs, whether it’s reactivity, house training, getting in the trash or not coming when called:  you can train your dog and you can manage your dog.

Training your dog means you teach him new behaviors that replace the ones you don’t like.  You reward him for doing them, and they eventually become habit, and the replacement takes hold.  But training takes time, and new habits don’t form overnight.  You need to be consistent, follow sound training principles, and be patient with the learning process.  It can take even more time when the problems have an emotional component.

What do you do until then, though?  If it takes time, what do you do in the meantime?  You still have to go places and do things and live with your dog.

You need a management plan!

Management is what happens when we’re the ones creating good behaviors in our dogs, and not relying on them to do those behaviors on their own. For example, if you know your dog will bark when he sees a dog approaching him up ahead on the sidewalk, management will tell you that instead of continuing to walk that path until you encounter failure, you break out the cookies, make a 90 degree turn, cross the street and get out of the path, keeping your dog’s attention on you as you pass that dog from a wider position.

Training would eventually have him passing that dog without you holding his attention yourself, but until he has the skills and maturity to do that, you manage him by giving him the distance he needs and something to focus on instead of the dog that worries him.

Management is you keeping track of your environment when you’re out with your dog, and knowing where the blind corners are and altering your route to avoid them for now.  Management is being firm with other people who ask to pet your dog, and maintaining the boundaries that he needs in order to feel safe in public (even if that makes you feel a little impolite, or if people don’t understand!).

Management is knowing what your dog can successfully handle and what he can’t, and avoiding the situations that are too much for him while you’re improving his training.  Management has you putting him in a covered crate in the car, so he isn’t looking for all the dogs and people to bark at!

Everyone who has a dog, whether they are reactive or not, has a management plan. All of us put non-housetrained dogs in confinement areas, for example.   But for those of you with reactive dogs, the management plan is crucial to reducing the number of times your dog barks and lunges at the things, and helps you navigate those scenarios proactively.

Training is necessary, but until your dog is proficient, you manage!

Good luck!

Dr. Amy Cook, Full Circle Dog Training

Thank you, Amy, for taking time out of your schedule to help us understand these terms.

 Even better, Amy has generously donated a GOLD level spot in her class at Fenzi Dog Sports Academy “Management for Reactive Dogs,” starting February 1st, to help novice owners who are struggling with reactivity to manage their dogs while they create a training plan to solve the basic underlying issues.   Wow!  That’s a great freebie for a lucky winner!

If you are struggling with reactivity and need help learning to manage it, go ahead and enter the contest.  The winner Winner will be announced on Monday January 30th by e-mail.

Please note that we will not use your name, e-mail or anything else except to run this contest.  No strings at all unless you specifically choose to sign up for the newsletter.  If you’re not interested, just skip that part!  You’ll still be entered in the contest.

Please read the class description with care before you enter – no point in winning a class that you do not need.  You’ll need a videocamera and six weeks to devote to your training.  In exchange, you’ll get six weeks of detailed instruction to allow you to create a workable management plan for your dog.

Thanks again, Amy!

GOLD level spot in Amy Cook’s “Management for Reactive Dogs” class

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Introducing A New Dog to the Household

Most “dog people” have multi-dog households.  In the ideal situation, you will be introducing two “dog friendly” adult dogs, or a dog friendly adult to a well socialized puppy, with relatively little or no concern for the introduction.  Even so, it’s always wise to consider having the dogs initially meet on neutral territory, but it’s probably not so critical.

But how about if you have some concerns?  Maybe your dog hasn’t always taken to every dog he or she has met?  Or you’re bringing in a new dog with an unknown history?

It pays to be safe.

We are fortunate that Amy Pike has agreed to give us some ideas for introducing new dogs!

Amy Pike DVM, Diplomate, American College of Veterinary Behaviorists, and Owner of Veterinary Behavior Solutions in Louiseville, KY, is extremely well qualified to help us with dog to dog interactions.  Amy can be reached for consulations at

Thank you, Amy, for taking time out of your busy schedule to give us some advice on introducing new dogs to each other.

Introducing Unfamiliar Dogs

There are several factors to consider prior to introducing dogs that are unfamiliar to one another.

  • Wha is the socialization history of these dogs to other dogs during the sensitive period of 3 – 12 weeks of age?
    • If either dog was not socialized appropriately during this period, proceed with caution.
  • Has either dog ever had positive interactions with other dogs in the past? If so, how long has it been since the last positive interaction?
    • If either dog has never had a positive interaction with another dog or it has been longer than 6 months since the last one, proceed with caution.
  • Does either dog have a history of aggression (including growling, snarling, barking, snapping, nipping or biting) towards other dogs?
    • If so, again, proceed with caution. Working with a highly qualified trainer or behavior consultant to accomplish introductions may be advisable.
    • Training both dogs to wear basket muzzles prior to introductions may also be advisable to minimize any potential for injuries.
  • Does either dog have a history of being aggressively challenged or bitten by another dog?
    • If so, this dog may show fearful reactions when introduced to a new dog which could manifest as aggression.  Proceed with caution!

Introductions should ideally take place on neutral territory in a setting that is quiet and with minimal distractions for the dogs or people. The two adult handlers should have good control of each dog on a fixed length (non-retractable) leash attached to either a no-pull style body harness or a head collar. Each person should have a treat pouch or pocket full of small pieces of delectable treats to use for rewarding good behavior or redirecting negative behavior.

Start walking the dogs going in the same direction, but at a distance apart where neither dog is overly focused or worried about the presence of the other. Reward each dog for calm behavior with praise and treats and slowly decrease the distance between the dogs as the comfort level allows. Closely watch each dog for body postures or signals that it is worried, anxious or aggressive (ears pinned back, tail tucked up tight, hackles raised, excessive panting, stiff body, staring directly at the other dog, barking, lunging, snarling, lip lifting or snapping). If at any time these signals are seen, increase the distance between the dogs and attempt to refocus each dog’s attention on the handler using the treats, calling the dogs name, or making kissing noises or a high pitched noise such as “pup pup pup”.

Let both of the dogs comfort level determine how quickly this process progresses. Depending on the dog’s temperament and history, introductions may take several shorter sessions over numerous days or they may proceed quickly during the same session. Once the dogs are walking comfortably at a relatively close distance, you can allow them to meet. Handlers should hold the leash during this portion of introductions for safety reasons, but attempt to keep the lead loose so as not to convey any need for worry or concern to the dog. Allow the dogs to sniff one another and continue to monitor them closely for any escalation in anxiety or aggression. If at any time there are concerning body postures from either dog, attempt to redirect both dogs using the methods above. It may be helpful to have a “safety password” that both handlers know ahead of time and can be used to calmly signal to one another the need for redirection, versus just pulling one dog quickly away from the other which could trigger an attack.

If both dogs appear comfortable in this scenario, the next step would be to introduce them in an enclosed, but still neutral, area (such as a tennis court, baseball field or a neutral backyard). Handlers should walk both dogs into the enclosure together and once in the middle of the area, drop the leashes, step back a few steps (but still in reaching distance if needed) and allow the dogs the freedom to sniff and, if desired, run around. If all goes well, you can then proceed to introduce the dogs at the resident dog’s home.

Select an area of the home that can be safely divided with a tall sturdy baby-gate. Since dogs may fight over resources, ensure that all food, bones, toys, and bedding is picked up and put out of visual and physical access for the duration of these sessions. Ideally, the resident dog should enter the home after the new dog is already settled into their sequestered area and is safely behind the baby-gate. Over the next several days, if interactions across the gate are calm and non-threatening, the dogs can start spending more and more time together, but always while supervised by a responsible adult.

Dogs can become over aroused during play or in excitable situations (such as when the doorbell rings), which can lead to aggression. To safely interrupt play that is escalating to unsafe levels, utilize a loud noise (like clapping your hands loudly) or call one of the dogs by name to get them away from the situation. Manage the dogs by separating them during known times of high arousal (visitors, dinner time, etc) at least until it is known how each will respond. It is also a good idea to keep harnesses and leashes on both dogs as a safe way to be able to pull them apart in case of a fight.

In a multi-dog home, it is prudent to feed all dogs in physically separate areas from one another; never give any high value long-lasting treats (such as bones or rawhides) unless the dogs are kept confined away from one another during consumption.

It is important to remember that growling is a normal part of dog communication- it is just their way of saying no or voicing their displeasure. As long as the recipient to the growl backs off, the owners should not interfere and/or punish the growler. Instead, every attempt should be made to try and redirect the recipient dog to a more appropriate behavior.

If the owners or handlers are not well versed on dog body language or play postures, it would be best to hire a trainer or behavioral counselor to assist in the introductions and monitor the progress. If at any time there is aggression from either dog, do not proceed without consulting with a professional. Ultimately, there are just some dogs who do not enjoy sharing their space with other dogs and the owners should respect this and not force them to interact.

Thank you Amy! We appreciate your time and tips for introducing two dogs to each other!


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