Posts Tagged ‘Dog Training’

Videotaping yourself interacting with your dog offers new insights

September 10, 2014 5 comments

As much as I know about dog body language, I am constantly amazed at how much I miss in my own dogs’ behaviors when I am interacting with them.  I am so focused on seeing the expected behavior I am requesting that sometimes I completely miss what they are telling me about how they are feeling about it. Ears back, ears forward, tight mouth, raised paw, lip licks… It all happens so fast that it can be easy to miss. If I am not totally focused on what I am really seeing, I completely miss it.

That could not have been more clearly obvious than during a recent session I spent working with Maggie. Despite being able to “watch me” and hand target when asked, Maggie is still pretty uncomfortable with doing it, even when she chooses to do it on her own. I have known this for some time and have tried to give her the choice in how much she wants to participate. But it wasn’t until I snapped some photos as I was working with her that I realized just how pressure sensitive she was and how much I had been missing.

Take a look at some of the pictures I took one evening while working with Maggie. What do you see? 

Lip lick and ears back and leaning back. Nervous Maggie. She was a little tentative with hand targeting tonight, so we did a lot of "watch mes."

I think I prefer another "watch me" thank you.

Maggie gets this close for chicken. #sheltie #puppymilldog

Eating from my hand. #puppymilldog #sheltie

If you said you saw Maggie lip-licking, displaying her ears way back on her head, looking away, and leaning away from me in some of these photos, you would be correct. She is ultra sensitive to body pressure. It makes her nervous to be this close to me. I need to back it up a bit and give her a little space. (As my friend Nancy from Gooddogz dog training said, a target stick, like a wooden spoon with peanut butter on the end of it, might work better for Maggie right now.)

But, I never would have seen this myself if not for the photos. Why? Because I was too busy looking for what I wanted her to do in response to what I said, instead of looking at her actual response (i.e., body language) to what I was asking of her. It’s a good reminder to me, and to anyone else who works with their dog, that videotaping my interactions with my dog can reveal so much more than what I see with my eyes. It might be uncomfortable, and maybe even a little embarrassing to videotape ones self working with their dog, but the information gained is so worth it. I will be changing how I work with Maggie moving forward by taking it down a step to be even less pressure-oriented than it was already.


My experience with Maggie brought to mind another video I saw last year in which the behavior of the dog described by the trainer did not match what the dog was actually conveying in the video. I don’t share this to pick on the trainer, who sounds like a knowledgeable woman, but merely to point out what we can miss when we are so focused on what we expect to see and not what is really being displayed.

Take a look and tell me what you see. I’ll share my analysis of the video and the dog’s behavior next week.


Want to learn more about pressure sensitivity in dogs? Watch this video from Eileen and Dogs.


The Top 13 Dog Blog Posts of 2013

December 31, 2013 27 comments

IMG_1443It’s become an annual tradition for me to end the year by sharing those blog posts I thought were most touching, interesting, or emotionally powerful throughout the past year. There was no shortage of amazing writing in 2013.

You may not have the same posts on your list that I have on mine, but I hope you will find them worth reading and sharing.

Have one of your own you want to share? Please do in the comment section below.

Happy New Year everyone!

1. Why Supervising Dogs and Kids Doesn’t Work  and My Dog Got Kicked Out Of Daycare Today by Robin Bennett Yes. Robin had two great posts that made my list this year.  The first one covers an issue near and dear to my heart – dogs and kids. The second one covers another topic I wish all dog owners would heed – not all dogs are made for dog parks or doggy daycare. Both are worth reading.

2. A Cautionary Letter by Nancy Tanner – I remember the first time my friend Nancy directed me to this post. I had such strong feelings after reading it – anger, sadness, despair. If ever there were an argument for people to better understand training methods and their impact on fearful dogs then this is it. Trust me, this will leave an imprint on your mind.

3. What My Dying Dog Taught Me About Life by Alisa Bowman of Project Happily Ever After – Even though I read this post in January, I couldn’t stop thinking about it for days afterwards. It is a loving, and at times funny, tribute to a dog who loved well and was well-loved. I cannot help but think that Rhodes left an imprint on many a reader (like me).

4. What Does It Mean to Give Your Pet a Good End? Maybe Not What You Think by Edie Jarolim of Will My Dog Hate Me? – Too often in this world we judge one another based on what “we” would do vs what is right for the person in question. Edie takes on an issue that is often considered taboo in pet lover’s circles – should you be with your dog when their life ends. She handles the issue with her usual class and grace, but makes a great point that I think we could all stand to hear.

5. What’s in a Name? A whole lot of bullshitittypoo by The DogSnobs writers – Okay. I admit it. I really do love The DogSnobs. I love that they have a  no-holds-barred kind of writing style and an I-don’t-give-a-sh*t-what-you-think attitude. This particular post makes fun about all the silly names breeders have given designer dogs. Want to read more? Here are a few that made the Honorable Mention list:  Owner Profile: The Distracted DingbatYour dog isn’t being friendly. He’s an asshole. And so are you., and Put it back, you don’t need that! a.k.a. Picking the correct breed is important. Don’t fuck it up.

6. This test that you keep using…… and Beware the Straw Man by Linda Case of The Science Dog – Although these are two posts in one, they are really linked. Both deal with the issue of canine assessment tests used by many shelters and animal control centers to determine if a dog is adoptable or destined for euthanization. I admit I have a bias on this issue since Daisy and Jasper likely would have fallen into the latter category if they had not ended up at my shelter. Thank goodness they didn’t.

7. What it’s like to meet an angel… by Kaylee Greer of Dog Breath Photography – I first read this story on Kaylee’s Facebook page and was moved to tears. Her big heart and giving nature made one woman’s painful day a little brighter. She later posted it on her blog and I read it all over again. If you haven’t seen any of Kaylee’s photography, it is magical, whimsical and beautiful. You can see some of her work on her blog and on her Facebook page.

8. The Four Phases of a Positive Reinforcement Trainer by Katie Hood of When Hounds Fly – Even though I am not a dog trainer, I could completely relate to this post. In any ways it was the post that created a light-bulb moment for me and changed my overall response to animal welfare issues in general. If you have ever worked in the animal welfare arena, it is worth a read. You will find yourself nodding your head in agreement or holding up that figurative mirror of self-reflection.

9. Chasing Sunsets by Leo of Kenzo the Hovawart (and Viva) – This post may have touched me more than most because it was by a fellow dog blogger and friend, but I thought it would resonate with many of you who have recently lost a beloved four-pawed friend. Recently, Leo and his family went on a journey to retrace the steps he had taken with his late dog, Viva. I thought it was a beautiful follow up to her story.

10. They Never Told Me I Would Love the Snow by Kristine Tonks of Rescued Insanity – Anyone who has read Kristine’s blog knows she has a talent with words. This one in particular is a special one. It’s like poetry. Beautiful and visual.

11. Do Some Dogs Need a Heavier Hand? by Nicole Wilde – Nicole is well-known in the dog training world, but what I love is her unique way of getting a pout across by allowing you to examine the issue from all angles. Here is one particular post that resonated with me this year.

12. Chix-A-Lot Friday: Fostering as a New Years Resolution by Aleksandra of Love and a Six-Foot Leash – I love this post simply because it is so thoroughly covers all the things one should think about and plan for when fostering a dog. If you are considering fostering a dog, read this post first. It can help set your expectations and help you prepare ahead of time.

13. Letting Go Of Ruby: A Lesson In The Dying Light by Lisa from Going to the Dogs – Even though this is a more about her mother than her mother’s dog, their tales and lives are woven together. Poignant and heartfelt. Written beautifully.

Favorite Video Friday – Snow!

November 8, 2013 12 comments

This past week Mr. Winter finally made an appearance. I know I didn’t leave out the welcome mat, but clearly someone did. Was it you???

Despite being less than pleased to see him arrive at my door, I think he’s starting to grow on me. The dogs certainly seem to love him. We shall have to see how this works out. If he overstays his welcome, like last year, we may have to give him the boot. 

In the meantime, it seemed appropriate to feature a fun video featuring old man Winter and a gorgeous Border Collie named, Vicky. You have likely seen her before in other Favorite Friday videos. She’s kind of a favorite of mine. 🙂

Happy Friday everyone! 

Dogs: What do we really want? Control or connection?

October 28, 2013 22 comments

Sad Looking Chocolate LabI first saw her, the young Husky, as the dogs and I entered the dog park. She looked sweet and friendly. She waggled her butt as she sidled up to me and asked for a pet. I reached down to pet her when I heard her scream and watched as she ran down the path to my left. At first I was confused. What had just happened? I watched her run, frenetic and scared, and then scream again and run in another direction. Then I got mad. I couldn’t see the shock collar around her neck, but I knew it was there. Someone was shocking her. I looked around the park, trying to identify the idiot shocking his dog and scaring the shit out of her.

I finally saw him standing across the park near the open field. I watched him as he called his dog’s name, and when she didn’t respond, hit the button on the remote in his hand. Immediately after that, I would hear the now familiar scream and watch as his poor dog ran in yet another direction. She was trying to escape he shock and didn’t know how, so she just kept running. She was completely terrified.

I couldn’t help but wonder what he hoped to gain from this experience. Control of his dog? A sense of superiority? A need to feel all-powerful? What was it that made him think shocking his dog was more preferable to using a more positive method of training? Why did he choose to shock his dog for not coming instead of praising her for coming to him?

con·trol (kn-trl)
tr.v. con·trolled, con·trol·ling, con·trols
1. To exercise authoritative or dominating influence over; direct.
2. To adjust to a requirement; regulate.
3. To hold in restraint; check.
4. To reduce or prevent the spread of.

As human beings, I think we often feel the need to be in control. The need to feel like we have a say or an ability to affect an outcome. I know I do. I try to control the outcome of many things in my life. But I know that the control I “think” I have is really more of an illusion of control than real control.

The man shocking his dog thought he was developing control of his dog through use of force. He thought that using a shock would force her to come to him. The reality is that he never had control – from the first shock to the last one. His dog was scared out of her mind and running in fear. She was so scared that she couldn’t even hear him call her name. The control he had was an illusion.

Recently, I read a blog post that addressed The Control Myth we all have when it comes to our dogs. It was written by a certified dog trainer named Michael Baugh. His words were quite powerful and insightful, and even though his post was directed towards other dog trainers, I think we all can take something from it.

At one point in the piece, Michael asks us “What do we want, control or connection?” What a great question. What is it that we want with our dogs? Is it really control we want? Or is it the bond and connection that we crave?

In Michael’s words… “The illusion of control is alluring. But connection, a real bond with another living being – that’s the stuff. That’s the stuff.”

Yes it is.  It is “the stuff” that we all want.

Controlling a dog using force might make one feel powerful and in control at the time, but it never feels good in the long run. It doesn’t increase the bond with your dog. It doesn’t make you feel good about yourself either. It can often leave you feeling guilt and shame.

Control is temporary and fleeting. Connection is something strong and lasting and so much more powerful. It’s what fills us up. It’s what makes us smile when our dogs greet us at the door after a long day at work and it’s what makes us cry when we have to say goodbye to them. It’s what we crave. What we want most in this world.

The question is can we give up our need to control our dogs so we can have the connection we so fiercely desire?

I really hope so, because there is so much more to be gained by building a connection with our dogs than to be gained by control. 

We can achieve great things with our dogs, or we can find greatness in the simple things with them. Even the dogs who seem to be out of control have a place with us. Chodron was speaking about our fellow humans when she wrote, “Be grateful to them; they’re your own special gurus, showing up right on time to keep you honest.” I think we can apply the wisdom here to our dogs as well. Who’s teaching whom? It’s hard to tell. Maybe not knowing makes the joy even greater. The Control Myth by Michael Baugh, CPDT-KA, CDBC

Treat and Retreat – Something to try with a shy dog (or your own dog)

September 29, 2013 15 comments

Man and Dog Lying on FloorBack when I was a pet sitter, I would schedule an initial meeting with my potential clients and their pets as way for all of us to get to know one another. This meeting was their chance to interview me and to determine if I would be a good fit for their pet, but it was also a chance for their dog or cat to get to know me.

I think many of my new dog clients were surprised when I showed up for the meeting and didn’t make an immediate beeline towards their dog, or in some cases, completely ignored them. It might seem like an odd thing to do for a pet sitter, but I had a good reason for doing it. I wanted the dogs to know that THEY were the ones who got to decide how they wanted to interact with me.  I let them decide how close they wanted to get to me, whether they wanted to be petted or just wanted to sniff me first. If they wanted one of the treats I carried in the pouch hanging at my side, they could have one but they got to decide whether it would be from my open hand or tossed to them (because they felt safer there).

Being a professional pet sitter requires you to work with people as well as their pets, but when it came to my client’s dogs, I wanted them to know from the beginning that I respected their need for space.

Earlier this year, I wrote about attending an educational seminar with Suzanne Clothier. In the day-long session, Suzanne demonstrated (with a Great Dane) how to tell at what distance a dog is comfortable meeting a new person (in this case her and the other attendees). As she explained at that time, every dog is different, but each one has a spatial parameter in which they feel comfortable and uncomfortable. What most people, including experienced dog owners, don’t realize is that space is often much larger than our own.

In her demonstration with the Great Dane, Suzanne used a game that she developed herself when working with dogs. It’s called Treat and Retreat. It’s a wonderful way to observe a dog and to get a better understanding of the spatial perimeter at which they feel most comfortable. It’s also a great way to help a shy or fearful dog to gain confidence and maybe even shorten their spatial perimeter. Even though I didn’t know it as Treat and Retreat back then, it is very similar to what I did with Daisy in the early days.

I thought it might be fun to share a video of this game with you. It’s definitely something you can try with your own dog. As you watch the video, notice how the dog in the video tells the people in the room, the people tossing the treats, at what distance she feels most comfortable. Also, notice how the trainer has them switch off throwing the treats near and far, allowing the dog to retreat to a more comfortable distance. You also see as the dog progresses that the people tossing treats start walking around and kneeling down. This is after weeks of work and progress,but it is a great example how treat and retreat can help a fearful dog.

If you do decide to try this with your own dog, I would love to hear what you discovered. Were you surprised by anything? How close or far did your dog get to you? Did it make a difference if you were sitting down or standing up? Let us know.

Learn more:


Stop Talking – An experiment to try with your dog

September 3, 2013 32 comments


I’ve been conducting an experiment with my dogs over the past couple of days, and I have to admit it has been WAY more difficult than I thought it would be.

You see, when it comes to my dogs I’m a bit of a talker. I talk to them about what I’m going, what they’re doing, what they want to do (“Wanna go outside?”) and where they want to go (the dog park always gets a “yes”). I have conversations with them and they listen and turn their heads or perk their ears or come over for some attention. It’s an integral part of our daily routine.

But recently, I read a post (Why Does My Dog Ignore Me?) that was very similar to another post I read last year (“A Simple Trick for Calming a Hyper Dog“) about how much we talk to our dogs. The advice of both authors? Stop talking. You talk to much and your dog doesn’t care. They don’t communicate by talking, they communicate by body language.

Of course, I already knew that dogs communicated by body language. I also knew that we humans tend to overuse some words when it comes to our dogs (which brings to mind a dog at our dog park that we call “Marley Off” because that’s pretty much all she, and we, heard while she was there). It’s one of the reasons I started calling Jasper by another name (“Trouble”). I had used his real name so much when calling for him that he had learned to ignore me. Finding a new name, one he associated with fun, turned things around. But, I have never tried just shutting up, not saying anything to my dogs. Let me tell you it was hard.

But, I am also glad I did it. Why? Because I learned some things about myself and my dogs:

  1. I talk too much to my dogs.
  2. My dogs seem to already know this and ignore my over-communication .
  3. My dogs and I have a routine, so my not speaking to them made no difference to them because they already knew the routine.
  4. Cupcake follows me around the house, whether I speak to her or not. She wants to be where I am. Daisy and Jasper are used to the routine, so they know I’ll be back.
  5. All 3 of my dogs tend to follow the movements of my hands and body more than the words coming out of my mouth. Me opening the door and motioning for them to go through it had the same effect as me opening the door and asking them if they wanted to go outside.
  6. Jasper is tends to focus on what my eyes and my face are saying to him than the movements of my hands and body. He reads me specifically by watching to see if I am smiling or frowning, happy or sad.
  7. My dogs are much, much smarter than I ever gave them credit for (and trust me, I already knew they were smart).

All in all, I have to say it was quite the experiment. It definitely was hard. So many times I caught myself about to say something to them and then stop and just close my mouth. It’s definitely not easy being quiet.

But, I learned a lot about me and my dogs. I guess all that talking really is for me, not them. Will I stop talking to them? Probably not, but I will try talking less.  Maybe it will bring us both a bit of zen. 🙂

So now I am wondering… Has anyone else tried experimenting with their dogs like this? If so, what did you learn?  If not, will you try it? I would love to hear what you learn from it. 

Are dogs in Europe better behaved than dogs in America?

August 20, 2013 39 comments

MP900405276I like to think I am pretty knowledgeable when it comes to dog-related topics – training, toys, food, behavioral signals, etc., but I heard something yesterday that had me Googling for answers.

A co-worker of mine just returned from a two-week trip to Europe. She spent a good amount of time in Finland and Sweden, and some time in Belgium and elsewhere. Of course, she had a great time (who wouldn’t?) and saw lots of great sights. but there was one thing she said she noticed above all – the huge number of well-behaved dogs walking with their owners. She said she saw dogs everywhere she went and she was amazed at how well-behaved they were. No jumping up on people. No begging for food. No barking uncontrollably.

It seems she isn’t the only one to notice this either. Scout’s mom posted this on Dogster in 2006:

My husband and I took a trip to Paris and Germany and noticed the oddest most amazing thing. EVERY SINGLE DOG WE SAW… that’s right EVERY SINGLE one in the big city in Paris, in the small towns in Germany were well-behaved and walked behind their furless ones! It was so weird. It was like all the dogs were sedated! They didn’t pull on leashes, they didn’t look at people, they didn’t beg for food at the cafes and most of all- none of them were shy! Some were even off leash in Paris walking next to their furless ones- even stopping at the cross walk!! My husband and I took so much video of these dogs because we just couldn’t believe it! All kind of dogs too- big dogs, little dogs, all kind of size dogs. Has anyone else seen this in Europe? It makes me want to send Scout to Europe for training! We can’t figure out why- maybe because their lifestyle is so different? Different quieter home life? It was so cool!

There were lots of interesting responses to Scout’s mom’s question. Some thought it was because dogs in Europe were allowed to go everywhere with their owners and therefore had to behave better. Others thought it was because they got out more than American dogs and got more exercise than American dogs. I suspect there is truth to both of these theories, but it seems like there must be more to the story, so I am asking you, my readers, for some input.

Are dogs in Europe better behaved than American dogs? If so, what makes them appear to be better behaved than American dogs? What behaviors do you see with dogs there that you don’t see here?

Do you live outside Europe and America? How would you describe how the dogs behave in your country? 

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