Nail Trimming

Today’s guest blog is brought to us by Mandy Eakins of Manners Matter Dog Training in the Greater Lexington Kentucky area.  I feel very fortunate that Mandy agreed to help me out with this topic, because I know that nail trimming causes excessive stress to a lot of dogs, and handlers too!  Mandy has done an excellent job of breaking the training down into manageable pieces.

Thanks, Mandy!

Nail Trim Nightmare?

“I don’t know why he hates nail trims—I’ve handled his feet since he was a puppy.”

“It took three people to hold him down last time when I took him to the vet for a trim.”

“Oh, we can’t get near his feet! He will bite!”

“We just muzzle him and hold him down when it’s time for a nail trim.”

“We just gave up and drug him for nail trims now.”

These are all comments I have heard from clients when it comes to that one task that’s probably the most dreaded part of being a dog owner—the dreaded nail trim.

In the past I have struggled with nail trims with some of my dogs, in particular my little dog Scooter (rest in peace). Both of us needed a tall drink of liquid courage to prepare and get through his nail trims. Over the years, as I have evolved as a trainer and worked with many more dogs, I have come to realize how important it is to train stress-free body handling to dogs, especially when it comes to nail trims.

Recently I had the pleasure of working with a wonderful German Shepherd dog named Ranger. I had done several lessons with Ranger and it was on his fourth lesson that I made a suggestion that it might be time to trim his nails. The owner looked at me with blinky eyes and said, “I have never trimmed his nails.”

“Why?” I asked, thinking to myself how in the world this dog has gone 10 months with no nail trimming.

“Trimming nails scares me,” the owner said. “I just take him to the vet and let them do it. It took three people to hold him down last time.”

That’s when I knew it was time to add in some extra lessons with Ranger and his owner.

With a plan in mind on how to help both parties, I gave Ranger’s owner homework—he needed to purchase a set of nail trimmers, as well as work with Ranger on paw target behavior. Paw target behavior is learning to touch an object with his paws on command, done through clicker training.

Below you’ll see video documentation of Ranger and how we have worked with him on accepting a force-free nail trim. It is important to understand that each dog will work at a different pace and progress is dictated by the dog and their comfort level.

Success is best achieved with patience!

After watching the videos below, I’d love to hear your story on how you are making nail trims less stressful for you and your dog. If you have questions about this progression or would like suggestions on variations, please email me:

Getting the dog comfortable with being in position for a nail trim is first. Before trimmers are ever presented you should pick a nice quiet spot for nail trimming and work on reinforcing the position you will be using for nail trims. For most dogs a down is easiest and most comfortable. Small dogs can be done on elevated surfaces such as grooming tables but position must also be taught on the table. Once the dog can be in the designated area and settle into position calmly and quietly it’s time to move to the next step of having the dog target the nail trimmers with their feet. By encouraging the dog to touch the trimmers they become less scary and the dog makes the choice to interact in a safe and predictable manner. Targeting the trimmers may take some time, especially if there is a past history of stressful nail trims. The following video link shows the above described steps.

Once the dog is familiar with targeting the trimmers and having the trimmers around their feet you can then work towards positioning the trimmers around the toe nail as seen in the next video.

Lastly we progress to actually trimming the nails. Don’t feel the need to trim all the nails in one session. It’s actually more beneficial to only do one or two nail per session. Remember, we want to set the dog up for success and our goal is low stress. Once the dog gets more comfortable with the process you will be able to trim more nails per session.

Mandy Eakins KPA CTP, FP-MT

Manners Matter Dog Training

Greater Lexington Kentucky area

Thanks again, Mandy! This article will help A LOT of people!

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Hyper Awareness

Today I took a shower with a spider.

It wasn’t like I volunteered for this; I hopped in and was well along in the process of getting clean before I saw it in the shower pan. And this wasn’t a tiny spider – it was a big one.  I’d’ say 3″ around or so.

Ok.  Maybe it was closer to 1″, including the legs.  But it FELT like 3″ when I realized that I was not alone.

I’m not afraid of spiders but I also do not choose to take showers with them.  I was particularly unthrilled about the thought of one crawling on me when I shut my eyes to rinse my hair.  But I could manage, and anyone watching would not have been aware of the turmoil going on inside of my mind as I kept half an eye on that spider and the rest of my brain on getting done with my shower.

And then my husband unexpectedly  opened the bathroom door.  I startled, screamed, and am quite lucky I didn’t go through the glass.

What happened?

My husband has seen me shower before- after 20 years we’re well past any issues there.  And I had been showering with that spider for a couple of minutes already so that wouldn’t have caused my reaction.  But in my hyper aware state I seriously overreacted, likely risking my health a good deal more than anything that spider could have thought up to do to me.

When we are agitated, we are hyper aware.  That internal state of awareness may or may not show on the outside, but the effort to continue on in a normal fashion absorbs most of our capacity.

Now let’s talk about dogs.

Your dog is nervous around crowds.  He’s never liked them much, but he is not dangerous; just wary.  On this day, you are having a holiday party, so your house is unusually full of people, and your dog is behaving as he normally does; aware but functioning in his private corner of the world.

And then the door behind your dog bangs open, causing your dog to whirl around and almost bite the person who comes through the door and into your house. It was close.

“It came out of nowhere!”

“He loves John; I can’t believe he wanted to hurt him!”

“He was just sitting there quietly, waiting for this opportunity!”

“He’s not a safe dog”.

None of those things are correct. The dog is just a dog, behaving like any mammal under a stressful situation that makes us hyper aware.

The party created a steady source of stress for that dog (a trigger), just like the spider in the shower was a source of stress for me.   Not enough to make me leave the shower and not enough to cause the dog to leave the party.

Triggers, things that cause us to be more emotionally aware and on alert, change our arousal and vigilance levels to much higher than normal, and that, in turn, creates the stage for a possible disaster.

Trigger stacking is what happens when multiple triggers come one after the other.  Trigger stacking is bad.  Trigger stacking causes disasters – no one trigger is enough but in combination….bad things happen.

Triggers stacking can be one low level stressor that goes on for a long time (stuck in a room with a spider for hours), several low level stressors that come one after the other (spider, followed by husband opening the door unexpectedly), or a situation where one trigger ends up being more intense than expected (spider climbing up my arm).  Any of those possibilities can create a panicky response – outside the control of the animal. Remember, humans and dogs are both mammals with similar base emotions, so your responses to fear are likely to apply to your dog as well.

Under circumstances where we are hyper alert, things that might have caused a typical startle under normal circumstances now risk a severe overreaction.

If your dog is sensitive and you know it, consider not subjecting him to prolonged stressors, like a holiday party, even if he has managed to behave well in the past. Even social dogs can become fatigued under the excitement of unusual stimulation and a tired dog – either physically or mentally – can make really poor decisions on the spur of the moment. Better to be safe than sorry.

If your dog has a history of nervous or fearful behavior, this warning should be heeded ten times over.  Do not subject your nervous dog to triggers over an extended period of time, because a poor outcome is a likely result.

It’s not worth the risk.


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Dog to Child Greetings, Part 2

In last week’s blog post I introduced the idea of dog to child interactions – how to get the pair in the same space!  Now let’s look at what to do when the dog and child are interacting.

Dogs generally don’t appreciate having anyone reach over them to pet the top of their heads.  Instead, teach the child to pet the dog’s chest, shoulders or side of the neck.  If the dog is barely looking at the child’s face and is just thrilled to be there with a happy, wagging body, then all is well and it isn’t likely to matter what the child pets.

Personally, I like to see a dog approach and turn sideways, either leaning into the person or walking back and forth in front of the child with a happy body.  If the dog is clearly social and trying to visit,  but needs a bit more structure to prevent the dog from knocking the child over, let the dog approach, stop the dog a foot or two away, ask the dog for a sit – and then let the child approach the rest of the way.  Better yet, train the dog to target their shoulder against the person’s side (see video by Madeleine Gabriel below “Dogs Like Kids they Feel Safe With”)

Next, give some thought to how long the interaction goes on.  Consider implementing the “five second rule;” allow the interaction for five seconds, and then call the dog back – feel free to give a treat at that point.  I’m fine with multiple rounds of interaction of this sort, as long as everyone seems happy and engaged.  I do this so much with Brito that he automatically turns back to me after a few seconds, and it seems to go very well with all parties involved.

Sometimes dogs start out pretty well but then they seem to become uncomfortable, especially as the interaction continues.  Make sure that you are familiar with dog body language and monitor the entire interaction.  If you’re not sure what friendly body language is, take a look at the posters and downloads on Lilli Chin’s website to help you. She has all sorts of excellent resources, and they’re free!

And on a related but slightly different topic, the following articles by Madeleine Gabriel are among my all time favorite on the topic of kids and dogs.  I think they are simply brilliant and not necessarily common knowledge, so it needs to be said:  DO NOT magnetize your small children to dogs and remember that dogs have rights too!  Take a look:

and here; what does it it mean for a baby to “love” a dog?

Does Your Baby Love Dogs?

When it comes to strange children and dogs, I would be willing to bet that the number of dog bites could be slashed dramatically if 1) babies and children were not magnetized to dogs and 2) if dogs had the right to say “no; I don’t want to visit”.

Here’s another excellent resource; again by Madeleine Gabriel.  This video shows how to train BOTH children and dogs, to make greetings as pleasant as possible.  This video is a winner so take the time to watch it:  Dogs like kids they feel safe with

Ok; – so now you have a child friendly dog hanging out with kid who likes dogs.  Great!  But what if the child doesn’t like dogs?  And doesn’t want to visit?  This blog would not be complete without one more paragraph:

KIDS HAVE RIGHTS TOO.  If a child says they do not want to see my dog, even if the child’s parent is insisting, then I thank the child for letting me know and I keep my dog away!  Indeed, I will never allow any of my dogs to approach another person, (child or adult) without explicit permission from that person.

Teach children the words that they need to prevent adults from allowing their dogs to visit.  I happen to believe that slightly nervous kids will come around on their own time if they are not forced into visiting with dogs before they are comfortable.  They can look at dogs from a distance or toss cookies towards the dog, but they do not need to visit, and they should be taught how to say “NO”.

And anyway, being able to speak up to adults and say “no” is an important life lesson for keeping kids safe in a variety of situations.  If a child prefers not to visit a dog, respect their choices.


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Dog to Child Greetings Part 1

Years ago, I learned from Madeline Gabriel that children should be instructed to ask THE DOG for permission to visit.  How clever is that?  Yes, we all know about asking the dog’s owner, but what about the dog??!! I’m sure each person has a different way of doing it, but here’s how I have the child ask the dog:

Child stands or sits still, and calls to the dog.  “Brito, do you want to be petted?”  The child can bend over, pat their legs, make “pup pup pup!” sounds, etc.  If they are overwhelming then the dog will stay back – that’s a clear “no”.  The supervising adult might advise on some possible modifications to the child’s technique, and then try again.

For example, with a small dog or puppy, I might suggest sitting on the floor.  (dog’s head should be at the sitting child’s chest level or lower for this approach; with bigger dogs the child should sit in a chair or stand – avoid face to face situations.)  Still no go?  Try calling cheerfully, patting your legs, make kissing sounds or call “pup pup pup!” The quieter the dog, the softer your enticing behavior should be.

If the dog doesn’t come over, then the child may not approach the dog.  Ever. End of story.  I don’t care how friendly a dog  normally is; I cannot know if they are sick or if something is wrong that might make them unsafe on a given day.  If the dog does not respond to the child’s request to interact, then there will be no interaction.

If the child is being too wild, stomping their feet, or just a bit hysterical -well…I probably don’t actually want them visiting my dogs; regardless, I will advise them of alternatives that might be more likely to get the dog to visit.  If they can’t figure it out and the dog will not approach, then on that day – there will be no child to dog interaction.

It’s up to the dog.

I was at a park with Brito a few days ago and a child of about the age of eight wanted to visit.  He called Brito over and it went fine.  An hour later, he came back, but this time when he wanted to visit he tried stomping his feet which didn’t work very well; Brito stayed away.  Next he tried approaching Brito directly and I reminded him that it was Brito’s choice. Eventually I asked the child if he thought that stomping was his best option and he figured it out from there.  For the rest of the time that he was around us he never tried stomping again, and the two of them had a fine series of interactions.

Kids learn from what works or does not work, so let them try stuff out and see what happens (within reason and with the right dog).  They’ll learn a ton about dog body language and behavior that way, and this “self directed learning” is likely to make a much bigger impression on the kids when there are no adults around telling them what to do.

Children act like children, and lots of dogs like them just fine!  Those dogs are suitable to visit kids.  Other dogs do not enjoy children, which is also fine, and those dogs should not visit kids.  And still other dogs like some kids of certain ages or temperament types but are less comfortable with other ages or temperaments.  It’s all fine, if the dog is given choice in the matter.  Kids that are old enough and sophisticated enough to figure out how to be appealing to a more middle of the road dog?  Great!  They can visit, assuming I have no safety concerns.

Do you see how giving a dog choice in the matter makes the entire interaction much lower risk?

I openly admit that I am no fan of the commonly recommended “approach slowly and quietly with your arm extended for a sniff” approach.  I have never seen an experienced dog person interact with a dog that way.  That’s just weird and suspicious, and perfectly normal dogs often react poorly to weird or suspicious behavior.  I would never do those things so I would never encourage a child to do those things either.  And anyway,  if a dog is so fragile that normal noise, movement and cheerful calling are a threat, then the dog needs to interact with more sophisticated dog people, not your neighbor’s kids.

Look, the dog approached; that means you can pet!  Now what?

In my next blog we’ll look at Part 2 – what to do when the dog and child are together!


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Riding in the Car

Today’s guest blog is written By Katie Brennan of “Boundless Canine” in Levittown, Pennsylvania.  Thank you Katie; so many people struggle taking their dogs in the car and I appreciate the time you took to pull this together!


by Katie Brennan

Almost all dogs will have to ride in a vehicle at some point in their lives. Whether you’re a weekend warrior who likes to take frequent trips, or someone who only drives with your pup for the occasional outing to the park or vet, it’s important to make sure you and your dog are safe and comfortable.

There are quite a few places for your dog to spend their car time.  My most recommended mode of travel is in a crate. It makes sure your pup won’t go anywhere and can help a more nervous dog feel more safe while in motion. Plus, any treats or chews given will not go flying around the car! Seat belt harnesses can be useful in the back seat, and I will recommend those over having a dog riding loose. Hammocks that separate the back seat from the front and provide a cover for the floor space in between are an option for someone who only takes short trips and who has a dog that is not going to be moving around a lot, or for an owner that refuses to crate a dog or use a seat belt. The following links outline crash study results for various harnesses and crates/carriers. I’m not sharing these links with the intention of scaring you! I simply want to give you an idea as to how you can make your car a safe place for all to travel:

There are some dogs that display signs of carsickness. This post is not meant to address that, so here is a wonderful blog post on the subject from Amanda Povraznik CPDT-KA of Cloud Nine Canine:

Some dogs cannot physically hop in to all vehicles for whatever reason. Rather than making it a huge deal, I prefer to help them out either by using a ramp/step stool to give a bit more assistance, or I teach this “paws up” cue that my dog Bubbles demonstrates in the following video:

This lets her know that I will pick her up in a moment (I conditioned a positive response to being picked up as a separate thing at first), and it also gives me a bit extra help in doing so since she sort of “hops” in to my arms! Then I can either close the crate and go for our ride, or continue our training session.

So now that your dog has a safe place to travel, and hopefully is not suffering from any carsickness. What’s next? If you have a reactive dog (a dog that barks and lunges at other dogs or people), you know that it can be stressful and potentially loud! This is definitely not the type of thing you want to have to deal with while driving. I like to use the Look at That game in the car to help with such an issue. Here’s a video by Donna Hill that goes over what this protocol is, as well as how to train it:

To take this idea to the car environment, I start without the car moving, and in an environment appropriate for your dog’s level of reactivity. Here’s a short video of Bubbles working on relaxing/looking at people and dogs while she is in the back seat. At this point, I’m just throwing treats back there for her to search for a bit:

As she gets better at looking and not reacting, I’ll work more on waiting for her to sit calmly and look, and finally to lay down and totally relax.

For dogs who are a bit anxious to get in to the car in the first place, or for those who will dash out as soon as we arrive at our destination, I will use Susan Garrett’s Crate Games ( as the basis for my vehicle training. Here is my dog Kimma demonstrating a couple of the steps in Crate Games:

Now she actually DOES have an anxiety about riding in the car, as well as a bit of a crate phobia. In the video above, the first time she goes in, she does not even eat any treats (and trust me, she’s quite the foodie!). Taking note of that, I released her to get rid of some of the tension, then when she goes in for the second time and she takes treats no problem, I know that we can begin our game. Working on these games has helped her immensely as car time is associated with getting a lot of good treats. Plus she knows that when we go for rides we are most likely going somewhere enjoyable, like a park, or to training class! (If you only ever take your dog for rides when it is time for the vet and your dog does not enjoy going to the vet, there might be a problem eventually!)

If you do not wish to use a crate for whatever reason, that is fine! But I still want my dog to be able to wait nicely while I open the door and hook on their leash and/or unhook a seat belt harness. Again, I use the Crate Games idea in that training. Here is another one of my dogs, Jari, demonstrating:

I could also use a “wait” cue if I needed to, and if he were new to the game in this context (as opposed to a regular crate in the house) I would also keep my body close to the door as it opens so that I can block the exit if need be.

For a dog with severe anxiety, I would take things nice and slow, possibly only working on getting in the car in any capacity for a few weeks before beginning to even turn the car on. Forcing them in will only do more harm than good in the long run! “Meals on wheels,” in which the dog can eat an entire meal either piece by piece from hand or all at once from a bowl, is a tactic I use to get a nervous dog used to just eating comfortably in a stationary car. I add turning the car on, then movement and distance of travel as I can, but never too much too soon if I can help it!

As always, keep training sessions short, fun and upbeat. Your attitude while working with your dog can make a huge positive difference. Safe travels to all!

Katie Brennan CPDT-KA


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Management, Training and Maintenance, Part 2

In part 1 of this blog post, I discussed management, training and the intersection of the two.  Now let’s turn our attention to the concept of maintenance.

Behaviors that I am maintaining are well trained, well understood, and have moved into the realm of habit.  Here’s how that works:

After I have called my puppy into the house hundreds of times, and I have backed up her good responses with a cookie and my genuine praise, then I will stop rewarding most of her responses with a cookie and I’ll offer only praise or a life reward (to be discussed in a further blog post).  People often ask me how I know when it’s time to start reducing reinforcement and the answer is relatively simple:

When I am no longer impressed by the good behavior. 

The first fifty times I call my puppy and she comes, I promise you that I am genuinely impressed, and I respond appropriately.  I praise and feed and squeak about how proud I am!  The next fifty times I’m pleased but not exactly overjoyed because I have come to expect that behavior, so I hand over a cookie most (but not all of the time) and respond with genuine praise and appreciation.  But eventually, I simply expect it, and my puppy simply responds.  From that point forwards, cookies are either “surprise bonuses” or….

Something awesome happens and I am delighted again!  For example, I call my puppy and I see that she has come even when she was looking at something outside the fence.  I am impressed again!  Now, even if I have no cookies on my body, I will tell my puppy she is amazing (I mean it!) and we will go together to the cookie jar for a treat.  Good puppy!

The first time the doorbell rings unexpectedly and my dog comes away from the door and to me when I call, I can guarantee you that whoever showed up is going to have to wait because I will have a party with my dog first.  I will bring out my best treats, my best and most enthusiastic praise, and my warmest response, because I want to see my puppy make good choices into the future!

But after hundreds of recalls under varying degrees of adversity, the time will come when even that recall is not so impressive anymore.  My dog has developed a habit of cooperating, and that habit overrides most alternatives.  Now what?  Not very many cookies anymore. But….

without exception, things will happen in life, either because you arranged them as a training set-up or because they simply happened, that will continue to impress you. This might only happen every couple of weeks, but it will happen.  Your job is to remember to make your response extra special when these occasions occur.  It’s fine that you aren’t carrying any cookies around.  Go get one!  I usually have cookies in my car and I can certainly find tasty in my fridge, so 95% of the time this is not a problem.

At the point where I find that my puppy’s recall is a function of habit rather than conscious choice, then I feel confident that my puppy understands how to recall (is trained), has developed a strong habit of cooperation (is in the maintenance phase) and that my praise and life rewards are going to be enough the vast majority of the time. At that point, I no longer carry cookies on me.

And then, every once in a while for no reason at all, I’ll give my dog a free cookie for a recall – because we all appreciate a surprise snack on occasion, and my dogs are no exception.

Some dogs are either highly cooperative, highly motivated by your reinforcers, or not terribly environmentally driven, and these dogs will get to this point in a matter of months.  Other dogs, either by temperament, inconsistent training or strong alternative interests/weak food interest, will take a very very long time to get to the point where I am no longer impressed by their recall.  Those dogs will experience a good deal more management and ongoing training to develop their reliability. 

And how about other highly valued behaviors, such as a solid stay while I open the door, or a request to have my dog go into her crate?

It’s the same; eventually I stop rewarding most of the correct responses because I am no longer impressed.  I simply expect cooperation as a result of habit, and I get it.  And then here and there, I hand over a bonus cookie – just because.

If you look over these three possibilities, management, training and maintenance, you’ll begin to see that they are significantly intertwined, so there is no logical reason to try to completely differentiate them.  But understanding the basic purpose and approach to each is still useful when creating a training plan, so I have offered each of them here.  Most of the time we start with management while we create a training plan and eventually we’ll work our way to creating a habit of cooperation with most behaviors, while possibly continuing to train or manage others.  That’s fine – create a plan that works for your family or situation.

If you’d like a step by step plan to help you train your dog to cooperate even under distracting circumstances and without a cookie in your hand, take a look at the brand new book I published last month:  Beyond the Back Yard; Train Your Dog to Listen Anytime, Anywhere!  The plan laid out in that book is detailed, systematic, and requires a very reasonable time commitment of no more than ten minutes a day.  You can buy the book directly from me or check out this link to Amazon (where you can also read some early reviews).

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Management, Training and Maintenance Part 1

I’ll refer to these terms over time, so it might help if you have some idea what I’m talking about.

When I talk about management, I’m talking about preventing your puppy or dog from rehearsing bad behaviors, either while you decide to start training or until she outgrows whatever misbehavior is currently expressing itself or….forever, if that is your choice. 

Management may involve applying external controls to the dog, or it may mean structuring the environment.

Here are some examples:

Managing a walk:  Before a puppy has learned to walk nicely on a leash and collar, you might choose to use a front clip harness or a head halter when you need to get your puppy walked.  This equipment may or may not train your dog not to pull on a collar.  On the other hand, management tools do solve a problem because they allow you to get your dog out of your house safely and under control until you’re ready to train the specific skill of LLW.  Equally important, they prevent your dog from practicing bad habits; in this case, pulling against the collar.

Managing a Recall:  Before your puppy has learned to come when called, you may wish to leave a long line dragging from her collar so that you can fetch your puppy back as needed.  You are managing her options so that she doesn’t learn the game of keep away. Again this is an excellent management strategy; you are preventing bad habits from forming while you create your training plan.

Managing appropriate public behavior:  Before your puppy has learned to walk through a crowd without visiting random people and dogs, you might choose to hold a cookie in your hand to lure her through the space.  Your puppy is not being trained to stay with you in crowded spaces because the cookie is keeping the dog with you, and when the cookie is gone so might be your puppy.  On the other hand, she isn’t making any mischief either so it might be exactly the right option under specific circumstances.

Management might also involve controlling the environment rather than the dog.  For example, if you put an ex-pen around your favorite houseplant so that your puppy can’t dig in the dirt, then you are keeping your plant safe by preventing access.  You have managed the environment rather than the puppy.

Now let’s consider training: 

If you throw a cookie onto a mat each time your puppy steps on that mat, you are teaching the start of a “go to mat” behavior.  Over time, good training requires that you raise your expectations for your dog to earn that cookie.  For example, not only do you want your dog to get on the mat, but you want your puppy to stay there.  And eventually, you want your puppy to stay there even when you ring the doorbell.  But these things will not happen with management alone; you must train your dog to understand your expectations.  Unlike training, management has no real criteria and often no expectations of the learner.

And then there is the intersection of training and management:

While your puppy learns to walk nicely on a leash, you may choose to walk in very quiet areas with few or no distractions.  Choosing to walk through a boring parking lot is likely to be much easier for your puppy than walking on a wooded trail with lots of interesting smells.  In this manner, you are structuring her for successful LLW and preventing the development of bad habits.  Excellent!  You are using both training (for LLW) and management (choice of environment to make training success more likely)

When guests come to the house and you want your puppy to practice good manners at the door, you will manage your guests by asking them to wait after ringing the doorbell while you work to teach your puppy what she should do at that time. When your guests enter the house, you may further manage them by asking that they not make eye contact with your excitable puppy until the puppy has all four feet on the floor and is showing calmer behavior.  In addition, you may reward four on the floor behavior with some treats scattered on the floor when the puppy is cooperative.

But what if you are in a situation where you don’t want to train your puppy?  The weather is terrible outside and your guests want to come in immediately?  What if your guests don’t like dogs under the best of circumstances, and have no desire to help you with your training goals?

That’s fine; just revert  back to straight management.  Leave your puppy is a crate or outside in the yard when you are expecting guests, and you either cannot or will not train at that time.  No training will be accomplished, but no harm will be done either.

Understanding and using management strategies are critical to any successful dog training, because a significant part of excellent training is structuring your canine student for success, and that cannot happen if your puppy is repeatedly put into situations that are too difficult for her to succeed.

I’m often amazed at how many behaviors I never really have to train if I demonstrate excellent management while my dogs are young.  For example, if I prevent my puppy from chewing up objects on the floor the first year of her life then many puppies self train to only chew on their own objects, even when you do have things on the floor that belong to you or your kids.

Another example is dogs that are never allowed to wildly greet guests at the door.  If the dog is of a calmer temperament, they will often outgrow their efforts to jump up, simply as a matter of maturity.  And house training is probably the best known example, because house training is largely a function of management from start to finish, since the habit of elimination is the most important piece of that puzzle.  Dogs that develop the habit of eliminating outside tend to end up house trained with no further effort.  Preventing accidents IS the training – that’s management. Our favorite kind!

In the management phase, you may or may not use food to assist you.  In the training phase, you will almost certainly used food because it works, and fast at that!  Since most dogs are motivated by food, and since it’s easy for most dogs to make the connections between what you want (say, lie down) and what they want (say, a piece of chicken), then life just got really easy if you use copious quantities of food in the early stages of training.

In my next blog post I’ll discuss maintenance – how to move beyond management and training, while maintaining your dog’s trained behaviors.  Maintenance matters because the average person has no desire to either manage or train their dogs all the time.

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Cooperative Care (vet visits, nail trims and brushing, oh my!)

Today we have a guest blog; this one is from Andrew Nelson of The Clever Canine in Baltimore, MD.  Andrew, thank you so much for taking the time to write this up!  Andrew’s topic is near and dear to dog owner’s hearts….

Foundation Behaviors for Cooperative Care by Andrew Nelson

Repeat after me:  vet visits are fun, nail trims aren’t the end of the world, and brushing your dog is easy.

Did you repeat that to yourself?  Try it one more time.  Do you believe yourself?  If you don’t, I can’t say that I blame you.  I’ve lived and worked with my fair share of difficult keepers; dogs who ranged from a little wiggly to down right scary when it came time to do something like a nail trim or get a vaccine.  Those dogs taught me a lot about cooperative care and how to accomplish it.

What is cooperative care?  Simply put, cooperative care is where your dog can choose whether or not you are going to do something to him.  If he cooperates, you give him something he values, like a treat.  If he does not cooperate, you stop – no big deal.

I know the bit about allowing your dog the freedom to walk away may seem counterintuitive, but it will pay off.  Your dog will learn to trust you and being handled; he will feel safe, which makes all husbandry tasks much easier.

You can start increasing your own dog’s cooperation by teaching him a few foundation behaviors.  (Remember, if at any point during the training process your dog does not want to participate, stop.  You want true cooperation.)

Slow Treats

Deb Jones’ Slow Treats game is all about teaching a dog to stay still.  I think the value in that is easy to see; things like brushing, nail trimming, and vet exams all require the dog to be still.  Here is my new dog, Rus, learning the game a few months ago: .

Once your dog has the Slow Treats game, you can start incorporating objects like nail trimmers, a brush, and a pen.  (I like to use the pen as a substitute for a syringe; I place it along areas where a vet would either draw blood or give a vaccine.)  Here is a video of Rus learning to stay still as these objects approach him: .

The video above is our fourth session with the objects.  I started with just barely moving them towards him.  I will work up to brushing him more and in different places on his body as well as cutting his nails.  I will also fade the treat as a focal point.  All of these criteria will be developed individually.  And, if at any point he fails (moves), I either lower my criteria for earning a treat or I stop the session.

You can also play this game with two people.  You could use the nose touch or chin rest (see below) instead of the treat as a focal point, while the other person handles the objects.

Nose Touch and Chin Rest

I can’t tell you how much I love using nose touches and chin rests as a means of communication between me and my dog.  For example, you can ask your dog to maintain a nose touch while being examined by a vet.  If you dog is willing to maintain the nose touch, you know that he is okay with what’s happening to him.  If not, you know that he is uncomfortable and you need to reevaluate.  Nando Brown expertly demonstrates the concept in this video (vet visit starts at 1:4): .

The chin rest is great for checking eyes, teeth, and ears.  Emily Larlham (aka Kikopup) has a great tutorial on teaching the chin rest: .

Paw Targets

Paw targeting has many useful husbandry applications;  you can have your dog target his paw to your hand for either examination or nail trims.

Kikopup gives us a nice example of how to start paw targets here:

Donna Hill goes on to show us how paw targeting is useful for nail trimming: .  In this video, Donna also gives us an example of how you can teach your dog to use a scratch board to file his own nails.


In addition to your standard positions (stand, sit, down), teaching your dog to lie on his side and back are also useful, especially in a grooming context for those dogs who have long fur that needs regular combing.

Kikopup shows us how to teach the upside down settle: .

Brush Those Teeth!

Donna Hill gives us a start to finish tutorial on teaching your dog to be comfortable with teeth brushing: .


I hope all of your dog’s care is wellness care, but there may come a time when your dog is either sick or injured.  Expecting a dog to cooperate in such condition is unreasonable.  In such instances, a dog may have to wear a muzzle so that he can be quickly assessed and treated by the veterinarian and staff.  If your dog already knows how to wear a muzzle, it will be much less likely to add unnecessary stress to an already stressful situation.

Kikopup has a great tutorial:

All of these behaviors above are not only useful, but they are also fun to teach.  I’d say that makes it more than worth your time.

Happy training!

Posted in Critical Basic manners - Start here | 1 Comment

Minimalist Training: Incompatible Behaviors

Incompatible Behaviors:

Incompatible behaviors are things that our dogs do that are incompatible with other behaviors; both cannot happen at the same time.  Here are some examples:

Lying down is incompatible with jumping up – they cannot both be happening at the same time.

Pulling on a leash is incompatible with looking at the handler.

A toy in a dog’s mouth is incompatible with mouthing, biting or nipping.

Often the simplest way to manage a dog’s behavior is by thinking carefully about what the dog is doing and then ask ourselves – is there something that our dogs already know that is incompatible with what we don’t like?

If you don’t want your dog to jump up on people, ask the dog to do something that is incompatible with the behavior that you don’t like.  It may not train the dog, but it will get you through that moment in time.

If a person has incredibly limited training time and not a lot of desire to train their dog, I’m going to suggest two key behaviors that will keep most dogs out of big trouble, most of the time.  Put all of your energy into making these behaviors bombproof, and you’ll save yourself a lot of grief.   

Teach your dog “Come” and “stay.”

Come!  If a dog is coming towards you, they are not jumping on another person.  They are not digging in your neighbor’s garden and they are not getting hit by a car.  Hard to beat all of that.

Stay!  I don’t care how or where your dog stays – sit, down, stay on a mat, or a combination the three; all of these work just fine.  If your dog can stay put, then you have something to do with your dog after they come to you.  Now you can open your front door to bring in your groceries, keep your dogs from bothering people, or hold them in one place and eliminate running through the house at inopportune times.

That’s it.  With those two behaviors, life will be much easier.  So train them vigilantly.  Be generous with the cookies and the praise.  Spend a few minutes each week putting these skills to the test under distraction.  And have a reasonably happy life with your dog – at least at home.

Yes, there are plenty of other behaviors that come in handy too, and since I’m a dog trainer, I happen to enjoy training many of them.

But if I’m talking to a a person who only wants to get along with minimal effort; consider starting with those two: come and stay.

Posted in Become a better Trainer, Critical Basic manners - Start here | 1 Comment

Dog to Dog Greetings

This blog is really easy to write, because Suzanne Clothier has already nailed it.  Here’s her  step by step training article on how to introduce dogs to each other: Dog-Dog Interactions.  

And while you’re on Suzanne’s blog, look around a bit.  You’ll find a great variety of topics, well written articles and cool games that you can play with your dog.

She’s a clever one, that Suzanne.  Sensible too.  Hard to beat that combination.


Posted in Critical Basic manners - Start here | 1 Comment