Is it Purely Positive Training when the solution is Euthanasia?

Positive reinforcement is awesome - it should be an important part of ANY training or teaching approach! However, is that the whole conversation? Should we really just reward the good and ignore the bad?

And when that doesn't work, does that mean there is no hope? Does it mean that no matter how hard you try, if purely positive training can't resolve the problem, that's it?

Does that mean a life of being put in the back yard or a crate for a rowdy dog?
Does that mean having to re-home or get rid of your dog?
Does that mean euthanasia is the only other option?

OR can we have a conversation about having a conversation with our dogs that lets us not only tell them what we like, but also address and correct what we don't, or let our dog know that something is inappropriate?

What if rewarding the sit still doesn't stop the jumping? What if ignoring the bouncy and turning your back only gets you scratched up even more?

What if rewarding the quiet still doesn't stop the barking?

What if rewarding your dog under threshold is hard, because your dog is rarely ever under threshold in every day life?

What if no matter how tasty the treat is, the thing that your dog is chasing is more rewarding and of value to them than what you have when you say "come"?

What if the instructions to "stop walking when your dog pulls" mean you can't get anywhere or much exercise for your dog because they continue to pull, over and over, anyway?

What if someone told you to put down your dog, because a methodology of "never say no" said your dog was too far gone?

If you're trying so hard with your dog in one style of training - if you're frustrated - if you're scared - if you're ready to give up - please know there are other methods, techniques, tools, and approaches out there.

I believe that NO ONE gets a dog with the intention to become frustrated, discouraged, and defeated when the training style they are dedicating themselves to isn't working. No one who loves their dog and has dedicated so much time, effort, emotion, and heart wants to give them up or (worst case scenario) put them down...but when folks are told that they have no other options or a different training style is going to "make things worse or ruin their dog" folks feel like they have no hope.

Positive reinforcement is amazing and should be part of every training program - but it's only part of the conversation. There's 4 quadrants of learning - let's use them all!

Crosby, the border collie mix, is one year old and was told to be euthanized by a trainer that implemented strictly positive reinforcement and, like many, discouraged any type of correction or training tools.

With a balanced training approach this guy is learning how to be a dog again:

bordercollie aggression

Struggling with your dog paying attention to you in public? Be the reward!

Did you know that letting the public pet your dog can slow down your training progress and affect your dog's bond and trust with you? 

If you have a dog who gets nervous or snaps at strangers, you more than likely are advocating for your dog and the general public by discouraging people you don't know from petting them. (And if you arn't, it's time to start - your uncomfortable dog will not become less shy or reactive by having people enter their space, even with good fact it can often make then worse! Your just want to be invisible and observe, while knowing you will advocate for them and guide them through the big scary world!)

Now, if you have a dog who loves people it can seem harder to turn away someone who wants to say "hi!" Often times owners feel rude saying NO to people who ask, so again and again people pet our dog...and again and again our dog's attention is reinforced by the environment and not by their handler 😕 It may not seem like a big deal, but petting outside of the family unit while out in public does a few things that are likely setting back your dog's training and manners.

First, a lot of the dogs we see for training come to us because they get SO EXCITED with new people! Some of the biggest issues these owners are having involve their dog pulling like crazy towards people, jumping up, whining/barking, and not being able to stay sitting or laying down (or anything close to calm) when a person is close by. When we allow people to pet our dog who is acting like that, we're reinforcing two things: excitement about people and having their attention anywhere but on us!

Even if your dog is laying at your feet at a restaurant, if you see them soliciting attention with playful body language and some sneaky "roll over and maybe someone will rub my belly" invitations, that means your dog's not very present with you...they're looking elsewhere for satisfaction! When you think about it, one of the most challenging things for owners to do is to have their dog's attention when distractions are around - if we allow high value distractions to engage our dogs, those people become your dog's priority...not us!

So what can we do to get our dog's attention back? 

First things first, no more petting from the public! You know your dog is friendly, so there is no need to continue to meet new people - the biggest issue you're likely having now is how excited or easily distracted your dog gets! By saying NO to people petting your dog in public, you and making sure that the environmental reinforcement stops - this opens the door for you to be the reward! 

My motto is that when my dog is on a leash with me, we're connected and a family unit - it's time for more people who are trying hard with their dog's training to start doing things that promote that! Not to mention - I don't know about you, but I really just want to enjoy a lunch on a dog friendly patio or a stroll through the park with my dog, not have to stop what we are doing to let someone have their "doggie fix" :) I know people love dogs, and I do too...but, please admire them from a far without expectation of petting, or maybe just toss a compliment to the owner about their lovely pup! 

Before you head out to a people filled place to work on your dog's focus, it's important to be shaping it at home and in lower distraction environments through basic training! Simply having your dog work for their meals allows you to become the source of reinforcement. "Being the reward" starts by working on obedience commands, and paying your dog for staying in position, giving food feed back when a person walks by (or another big challenge happens) and they look to you! This stuff all encourages handler attention, awareness, and bonding. When you are a wealth of guidance, leadership, reward, and value, your dog will choose YOU!

So, next time you're out with your pup, take some time and see where your dog's attention is. Are you reinforcing outward engagement through strangers petting or (a big no-no!!!) allowing other dogs to say "hi" when your dog is on a leash?

In the long run, your dog prioritizing you is much more important than letting the general public get their doggie fix! You can control when your dog gets to greet people at your home, but in crowded and public areas, I want my dogs using their best manners and as tuned-in to me as possible while we navigate through all the things this crazy world has to offer!

If your dog struggles to be calm in general, why make if harder on them by having people petting thrown into the mix! Let's just get them good at holding it together politely in public before even discussing the added distraction of affection from others ;)

If you're looking for a nice way to tell someone that they can't say "hi" or pet your dog, always lead with the interrupter first:

🤚 "NO! I'm sorry, but he's in training. Thanks!" 😊


Is that a sad dog, or a calm one?

Far too often we've been conditioned to think a happy dog is one with a wagging tail and forward posture - and a dog who is sad keeps their head down and doesn't wag their tail.

Dogs who are alert and in arousal will have that flashy look to them, and dogs who are calming down will have a more relaxed and subdued look.

It's not a matter of happy or sad dogs - it's a matter of what state of mind is your dog in, and what state of mind promotes the right behavior for your dog at the time.

Flashy and alert behavior is excellent for obedience drills, tricks, cute pictures, and performance/play. Calmer more relaxed body behavior is preferred for dogs who need to be cool, collected, and behaved in busy environments and in situations that would likely trigger an excited or explosive outburst.

Your dog can hopefully do both of these! Be aware, however, that you may unintentionally start psyching your dog up if you think they are looking "sad" (when really they are actually just calm). Let your dog get lots of practice resting in that calm state - most need more practice with that skill because they struggle to be relaxed around many of life's triggers... and are REALLY good at keying up and being alert (and subsequently impulsive and explosive!) 🙂


Forward ears: Cute for Pictures, Bad for walks

While working on our off-leash heel with the long line, Lola the GSD would occasionally set sights on a squirrel - sending those big Shepherd ears towards the sky and sending ME a message that she is thinking about chasing them!

When you think about how a dog behaves on a walk, you often find that certain things grab their attention and bring their ears forward and alert! What people often don't realize is that constant or steady environmental alertness (fixating or reacting to things around you and your dog) leads to an impulsive reaction. Whether it is lunging towards a dog, diving after a squirrel, blowing up at cars as they pass, barking at a stranger, or jumping on someone as they walk by.

Forward ears (and a wrinkled brow) are usually a big red flag to a chain reaction of events about to happen: lock, load, explode! Basically, the ears are the first thought of "hey, look at that thing" and the longer they look, the harder they stare, the closer "it" is, and all of a sudden you're struggling with your dog.

Instead of going through that unfortunate sequence of events, let your dog's ears tell you what they are thinking! If their ears are forward/alert more than briefly it's time to assess immediately your plan of action: correct, interrupt, move away, and/or re-engage!

Forward ears are so cute for pictures, but are a sign of struggles to come on your walk!

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Big and Littles: Things to be aware of when socializing dogs of different sizes

When it comes to socializing dogs, there are many things to be aware of to keep everyone safe!

Learning how to read body language, de-escalate arousal, address over excitement or bullying, advocate for each dog, and match good social partners are all important foundation skills as you start working on socialization. You have to basically play lifeguard to a sea of dogs!

What some folks may not realize is that size of dog should be taken into account in socialization, as well!

I'm sure we've all see the "small dog section of the dog park" and not questioned it, because it has a shorter obstacle course, smaller water bowls, and appears to be calmer at times (fyi, I don't recommend dog parks at all but the fact that many have a small dog section is commendable!). Have you ever seen a small dog in the big dog section, though?

First off, be very aware that some larger dogs have strong prey drive and view little dogs as something to hunt - just like how they go after cats, squirrels, possums, etc. Predatory behavior is very strong in many breeds. Be careful!

The reality is that many small dogs can "hang" and hold their own with the big guys and isolating them from bigger pals just seems like overkill. That said, the humans responsible for socialization need to be very aware of how much influence they have over their group of dogs at all times, but especially when there is a small dog in the mix.

At first glance it's easy to look and think - well yeah, they're much smaller than the other dogs so getting stepped on or run over during play will be very rough and possibly cause an injury. That's so true! If play gets out of hand, a little could get hurt.

But what if your little doesn't really play and minds their own business? That certainly keeps physical interactions down, but always be aware of what is going on around them. Dogs use body language, growls, snaps, barks, etc to communicate with each other, and if there is a scenario where a little dog snaps, barks, or lunges at a bigger dog (maybe asking for space or possibly guarding something and being possessive) and the bigger dog doesn't take the hint and sees them as "fighting words," you've got a serious problem.

In both of the above scenarios, whether it's a little playing or a little trying to communicate in the yard - if an injury happens (or maybe they just get scared or overwhelmed), they may vocalize/cry - which immediately becomes a safety issue. The crying/yelp of any dog, but particularly a small dog can set off the prey drive of others. Before you know it, you've got instinct taking over and dogs trying to go after the crying dog. I know it sounds gruesome, but the reality is they are dogs...why do you think they love squeaky toys so much? It's because they are designed to click into their predatory instincts by replicating the sound of injured prey! Never forget, dogs are apex predators living in our homes. Owners must be smart and aware about interactions with others!

This doesn't mean that bigs and littles can't coexist or even play well together - what it does mean is that the human responsibility for this "puppy party" needs to be matching appropriate partners (not just every dog can be with any dog), know how to identify and address potential conflict or high arousal situations, and have influence and respect of all the dogs present.

Be smart and aware about socialization so you don't put your dog in a situation to fail!

little dogs prey drive

The problem with feeling guilty about using a crate

When it comes to crating your dog, many people feel very guilty or uncomfortable with a few things - typically the amount of time their dog is in their crate when owners work away from home, if the dog has to go back in their crate if their owner wants to go back out of the house again, and on top of all of that, their dog sleeping in their crate.

Crate training and predictable behavior from your dog while unsupervised go hand and hand! It's not uncommon for folks to feel so bad about the 6-8 hours of crate time while they are at work, that they get home and leave their dog out of their kennel while they run to the store for errands or go out to dinner. Unfortunately, many times people return home to a variety of things - like chewed up furniture, things missing from the trash can or counter top, pee and poop in the house, etc - things that are easily controlled and prevented with their dog's crate training routine, but are given the green light when left out of the kennel.

A similar pattern can happen with dogs who spend time out of the crate overnight. Not to say some dogs won't simply rest on their dog bed in your room, but many dogs (particularly those not mature enough or have not earned the right by general improvement in their behavior and state of mind) will make mistakes or get into trouble while they are unsupervised as their owner sleeps.

If you are giving your dog an opportunity for exercise and potty relief a few times per day, kennel time isn't really that much different than your dog laying somewhere else in your house. The only difference is that when they are done with their nap in their kennel, they may wake up and eat their provided food or chew on their dog toy because those are the options - on the flip side, your dog outside of the crate has more opportunity to make mistakes and get into things they shouldn't.

Utilizing a kennel when you can't supervise your dog helps set your family up for success, and that's why most trainers encourage puppy and dog owners alike to help create routine and boundaries in their home with crate training.

They're going to do a lot of laying down anyway, why not make sure it is in a controlled and safe place? 

All these pups look pretty comfortable - crate or not :)


Sweet Moments

One of the special things in my relationship with dogs are our Sweet Moments. The warm times, where we share gentle and mutual affection with each other.

One of the biggest things stressed during training to prepare owners for success at home, in particular with dogs who have behavioral issues, are setting boundaries. There is necessary application of non- negotiable boundaries, discipline, rules, and accountability to help create a shift in the relationship with a dog to take a dog who is practicing behaviors we don't want (over excitement, aggression, anxiety, territorial tendencies, fear, etc). But I know it can be so hard to look ahead at the first 24 hours, 7 days, 30 days, or 90 days with your dog and visualize how to make all of those important changes, while still sharing companionship and affection with our loved pet.

My best advice is to share Sweet Moments. Moments mean they are there, they are special, but they are limited - these moments aren't happening all of the time. 

Sweet moments are genuine and rewarding periods of affection and adoration between you and your dog. 

But the most important part is that they arn't happening ALL the time. Smothering, spoiling, pampering, over accommodating, too much freedom with unearned affection, and being loose on rules or boundaries are not the same as Sweet Moments. Those dynamics make the majority of your relationship with your dog unbalanced, moving your progress in the wrong direction, by often unintentionally reinforcing and empowering behaviors you are actually wanting to correct.

Sweet Moments are evenly and appropriately balanced with boundaries, rules, and leadership - to create a teamwork effort where your dog looks to you for direction. They move your relationship and your dog's behaviors and choices in the right direction. 

Please, share and enjoy your Sweet Moments - they are lovely and special. And then think about all the other interactions with your dog, and decide if they are helping or hurting your progress and their ability to look at you as a leader, instead of a soft pamperer:)


Socialization Problems: Vampire Dogs & Hulking Out!

I'm sure many people are familiar with this scenario:

Two dogs are playing and both seem to be having a good time. As they continue to bounce around together, you start to notice things speeding up, getting more intense and rowdy - maybe they've started chasing each other or maybe they've started getting more physical with paws on each other's backs, mouthiness, or body slams. Then,very rapidly, there is an altercation between the dogs who were playing/interacting! Whether it's just a bunch of noise, or a full on dog fight, things that we once playful and fun quickly turned into conflict.

This kind of scenario plays out a lot - especially at dog parks, daycares, and even when introducing two dogs to each other for the first time. Even dogs who usually play well with others can get caught up in this moment of "hulking out!" Almost all of the clients we see who have dogs that are leash reactive or snapping at/getting nasty with dogs at one point played just fine! However, their social skills diminished because they got into a situation that escalated beyond their comfort zone.

Just like any relationship, dogs have limits of what is OK and what is not - and often folks don't realize that when unfamiliar dogs are brought together, none of these dogs have a relationship where they've established limits and playstyle with the other dogs. Many of these "socially akward" dogs actually do want to interact with others, but time and again are getting overwhelmed quickly and set up to be reactive to the scenario.

Why does this fine line between play and fight happen? In general the envelope starts to be pushed as intensity, excitement, and arousal increase. Bouncy play bows, and "give and take" are a softer form of play - chasing and lots of body contact is more hear pumping AND puts a lot more pressure on dogs. In general, dogs who have a history of snapping or getting into scuffles generally don't feel comfortable with too much pressure put on them - particularly by a dog they don't trust or have a relationship of limits/understanding play style and mannerisms.

Whenever we have a dog in for training that has a history of getting into fights or scuffles in social settings, our number one job is to advocate for that dog! That means, as we try to re-introduce social cues and interactions to their skill set, we make sure the other dogs they are around are polite, courteous, under control, and not putting a lot of pressure too soon on the particular dog. A huge part of helping the troubled dog is making sure they feel safe with us and know that someone else is controlling the yard (so they don't have to)!

After multiple calm and controlled social sessions, I'm not surprised to see the scuffle-pup start to sniff, engage, and relax around the dogs - not playing, not wrestling, just moving with, sniffing around, and existing with other canines. Shortly after that happens we may even see that awkward dog start to offer some play bows and get a little spunky - and that's fantastic! However, when that is happening it is SUPER important that I make sure things don't get too playful too fast!

This is what I call the "vampire dog" who is having a good time and enjoying themselves (finally!) but quickly gets in over their head as their heart rate raises and they realize they don't really "know the dog" they are playing with. It's really common to get excited our socially challenged dog is trying to play, but then see things turn into a scuffle quickly when the dog gets just a little carried away in soon uncomfortable. Like a vampire who is trying to love and be passionate with their partner, but the heat of the moment becomes to much and the fangs come out!

So, our goal is to take it slow, help dogs build relationships with appropriate and polite partners, and begin to work on their social skills. In controlled and appropriate social groups, these kinds of pups can excel, thrive, and finally get to act like a dog again! That said, these dogs are never great candidates for the dog park or doggy daycares where there is no one controlling the dogs and advocating for pups who are feeling overwhelmed or uncomfortable.

Just like people, your dog may not like every dog, but they can definitely start to rebuild their social skills in the right environment with advocacy and appropriate dog-friends!