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The IAABC Dog Division welcomes both seasoned and aspiring professional Dog Behavior Consultants. Learn via discussion lists, guided studies, case study tutorials, mentoring, and networking. We work together to enhance the lives of dogs and their people.

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The Nightmare Before Christmas

Donna Gleason on October 21, 2013

Dogs dressed for Halloween

As a kid growing up, I had my favorite holidays. In my opinion, Christmas always had the top spot and Halloween came in a close second! As we approach Halloween, I am noticing a growing number of pet dog owners are not looking at this time of year with the same sentimental nostalgia that I have. Actually, some owners refer to Halloween as “The Nightmare Before Christmas”.

Here’s the good news: More and more people are asking for advice to help them understand why their dog exhibits unusual behaviors on Halloween and what they can do to make this evening a safe and less stressful time for everyone. Let’s begin by taking a look at Halloween from a canines perspective:

“Dinner time is over and my tummy is full. I know what happens next, we all go for a long walk. When we return, I chew on a bone, take a nap, go outside and then off to bed. Life is very predictable at this time of day.

Ding Dong! Better check out the front door. There is a stranger with a scary face and big hair in the hallway of my house. Not too comfortable with this stranger. GRR!

Will you look at this! My owners just put a big bowl of treats right by the front door - I’m sure they are just for me.

DING DONG! I wonder who’s on the other side of the front door. I really can’t see everything but I do know there is lots of shouting and from what I can see my owner keeps reaching his hand towards something unfamiliar and scary. Not too comfortable with all this activity at the front door. GRRR!

Will this ever be over? DING DONG! GRRRR! I can’t take it any more. I know how to stop this. Next time the doorbell rings, I’m not even going to wait and see who is on the other side. I’m going to growl, bark and scare them away. No one is getting past me.

It’s quiet now, but tomorrow if I hear DING DONG…at least I’ve learned how to make all that scary “stuff” go away.”

Although the above scenario may seem exaggerated, the concepts are not. Dogs love consistency and sometime disruptions in routines may cause stress. Dogs who do not seem comfortable with guests arriving at their home may become overly reactive when many guests arrive in costume on Halloween night. Dogs can make an association that when they are reactive, everything big and scary will go away. So what can we do as pet dog owners to help relieve some of the stress our dogs may experience on Halloween night?

Take your dog for a walk before the festivities begin. If you typically walk your dog in the evening try to get a walk in before the “trick or treaters” arrive. This walk will assist in keeping your routine as close to normal as possible and help to tire your dog out. Many times if a dog is tired they sometimes become less reactive to environmental stimuli.

Keep candy out of reach. Chocolate in candy is probably the number one Halloween hazard for dogs. According to Web MD - Chocolate can sicken and even kill dogs, and is one of the most common causes of canine poisoning, When placing the candy bowl near the front door, make sure it is inaccessible to your dog.

Watch for signs of stress. If your dog shows any signs of stress place him a separate room or in his crate (away from all the Halloween commotion). Offer your dog a new toy or bone, play soothing music or fill a “KONG” product with a tasty treat. Note: Sometimes freezing the contents of the “KONG” will make it even more enticing. Some owners will sit on their front porch to hand out the candy and turn out the light when they are done - this eliminates the stressful “Ding Dong - Trick or Treat”!!

Keep your dog safe at the front door. If you want your dog to greet guests there is a possibility that he might run out the front door and not want to return because it’s much more exciting outside. Consider keeping your dog on-leash, place a gate in the front door or take the top screen/window out of your screen door to eliminate the possibility of this happening. However, just in case he does get out - make sure he is wearing current identification information.

Bottom-Line: Halloween for some dogs (and their owners) can be extremely difficult. Be aware of any signs that indicates your dog is becoming over-stimulated and always take the necessary steps to keep him safe and stress-free all night long.

Teaching Dogs about children

Donna Gleason on July 01, 2013

teaching dogs about children

Several years ago, Robert Fulghum wrote a book entitled. “All I Ever Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten”. In his book, he speaks about how people can live a meaningful life by learning from experiences that occur while attending kindergarten. Share everything. Play fair. Don't take things that aren't yours. Don't hit people. If I was going to write a similar book (from a dog’s perspective), it might be titled: All I Really Need to Know I Learned in my Whelping Box. Some of my thoughts would be similar to Robert Fulgham’s, however “Don't hit people” would most likely be changed to “Don’t bite people”.

While in the whelping box, puppies begin to learn about limitations and boundaries from their mom and littermates. How to play appropriately with other dogs. How to send and receive appropriate canine social signals. How to use their teeth and mouth appropriately when engaging in play. Each one of these experiences will be part of a pup’s behavioral foundation for the rest of their life. So, how can we help our puppies and young dogs learn about children, using previous experiences they may have encountered while living in the whelping box with their mom and littermates?

Children are not puppies with two legs.

If you’ve ever been lucky enough to grab the remote control on Super Bowl Sunday and watch the Puppy Bowl on Animal Planet, you know that puppies engaging in unleashed play are close to the same height, project lots of energy, impulsive and may (at times) forget to be gentle when interacting with another dog. Many of these traits can also be observed when watching small children engage in free-play. Maybe that is why some puppies may view young children as a “buddy” on two legs.

However, your pup no longer has his mom and littermates to correct him, so it becomes the role of the adults (living in the home) to continue this role. Here is what you can do; Control the level of energy that occurs between your pup and child and try to keep their interactions positive and fun. “Mom, he’s biting me again!”...is not fun!!

When energy levels begin to rise and before interactions are no longer positive or fun, stop the play and redirect your pup with his favorite toy or perhaps ask him to perform a learned cue. This tactic will diffuse the energy and redirect your pup’s attention onto something else. It teaches your pup alternative and incompatible behaviors for those times when he needs to burn off a little steam and goes looking for the nearest child.

Children are not chew toys:

Puppies and maybe even most dogs love to chew. Chew on marrow bones, fancy chew toys from pet stores, furniture, shoes, books ...oh my, the list can become quite long!! But now let’s add movement from a young child into the equation. You can just see the pup thinking, “Oh boy! I’ve just been reunited with my littermates…I know I will be corrected when I’ve gone too far, but for now let the games begin!” Off your pup goes to chase, play and nip at your child. Puppies and young dogs sometimes don’t understand that showing good “bite inhibition” - playing with a “soft mouth” makes us humans VERY happy!

Young pups may occasionally bite a littermate to hard when interacting with each other in their whelping box. The recipient of the bite typically will let out a sudden and sharp "yelp" in response to their discomfort. The game suddenly ends and all interactions cease. We can also use those same techniques, when teaching a pup that children/humans are not chew toys. Over time your dog will realize that when he uses a soft mouth, the fun continues, but when he nips too hard…game over!

Final Note: Pups begin to learn the rules of appropriate canine interactions from the residents they shared a space with while in the whelping box. Now that those pups are living in our space, we become the residents who need to teach them the rules of appropriate human/canine interaction, especially when it comes to our children.

Donna GleasonCDBC, CPDT- KA is owner of TLC Dog Trainer (Time Love and Commitment) resides in Sherman, CT. and has a Masters in Behavior Modification. She offers professional in-home dog training (specializing in puppy education, basic obedience and behavior modification for unruly or reactive dogs) as well as group puppy/basic obedience classes. Donna is a member of APDT, Shelter Animal Reiki Association, Pet Partners, mentor/trainer for Animal Behavior College, CGC evaluator and consulting trainer for PawSafe Animal Rescue. Donna can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

Can’t we all get along?

Donna Gleason on March 24, 2013

Dogs are peaceful animals. They are "hard-wired" to avoid or reduce conflicts. Next time you go to the dog park watch how the canines interact. Many times, if you see two dogs are not playing so nicely, a third dog will enter the situation essentially acting as a mediator in an attempt to "split" any potential conflict.

The dog park is not the only place for conflict; many times certain behaviors that our dogs present within the home can become a source of tension. What is interesting, is that our dogs (and humans) just want to co-habitate peacefully. So here are the top five conflict causing behaviors, offered by my canine friends as New Year Resolutions, plus some tips on how you can mediate to achieve success all year long.

I will not use the home as my toilet. In a study conducted by the National Council of Pet Populations, house training issues was one of the top ten reasons why owners surrendered their dog. I'm a firm believer of the following: If your dog hasn't earned his wings, he cannot roam the cabin. Essentially this means, if you know your dog has house training issues, his activities when with you in the home need to be supervised and his space needs to be managed when left alone. Developing scheduled feeding times and consistently taking your dog outside will assist in speeding up the house-training process. If you find an accident in your home and did not see it happen - just clean it up (Nature's Miracle works great!!). Yelling and screaming at your dog after the fact will only teach your dog to fear you.

I will not chew on items that I shouldn't. Chewing on items may have several origins. One being that your dog was given to much unsupervised freedom and developed habits because no one was there to teach him. It could also be the result of boredom. Keep your dog's environment enriched with toys which are designed to keep them entertained. Stuffing interactive toys with treats or even a frozen mixture of kibble and wet food is a great way to keep your dog's attention off of the remote. As simple as this sounds, if there are one or two objects that your dog really loves to chew, dog proof your home by removing access to those highly motivating items.

I will keep "four on the floor" when greeting guests. Typically, this behavior is the result of one of two situations. First, many owners think it's cute to have their new dog jump on them and actually encourage jumping as part of the human greeting ritual. These same owners soon realize what is cute in the beginning can turn into a nightmare as your dog gets older and bigger. Secondly, many dogs are not taught was is considered appropriate when meeting a human. One way to help your dog keep "four on the floor" is to teach him behaviors incompatible with jumping. Teaching your dog a solid sit/wait in different environments and with different levels of distractions are two cues that can be used to help your dog learn how to greet humans appropriately.

I will come back when called. This is a tricky one. Teaching your dog to come back to you, or "recall", is a skill that requires dedication from owners and lots of patience. When beginning to teach this skill do not expect your dog to come back if he is engaged in a higher motivating activity. Here are some general tips when teaching recall. High pitched short staccato sounds will pique your dog's interest. Crouching down or running away typically will get your dog to follow you. The most important tip for teaching your dog a successful recall is to never chase him - unless safety becomes an issue. Chasing your dog quickly becomes a game and your dog learns that when he is called it's "game on"...time to run in the opposite direction.

I will not dig up the yard. When beginning to address digging, it's important to look at potential motivators for the behavior. Here are some of the more common reasons as to why dogs may dig:

  1. Boredom - It could be that your dog is bored and digging offers an opportunity for mental and physical stimulation
  2. Curious - Maybe a smell has caught their attention and they are just investigating.
  3. Attentional - Maybe your dog likes the attention he gets from you when caught digging up the garden.
  4. Instinctual - I find - I dig - I bury. What more needs to be said?
  5. Temperature - What can be better on a hot day than a fresh hole and cool dirt?

Determining your dog's motivation is the first step in changing the behavior.

Bottom Line: No matter how much our dogs try to avoid conflict, they will never have that "Ah-Ha" moment and change their behavior without our intervention. Thus, the responsibility is ours to teach them what is appropriate in order to "keep the peace" when living in a human world.

Donna Gleason CDBC, CPDT - KA is owner of TLC Dog Trainer (Time Love and Commitment) resides in Sherman, CT. and has a Masters in Behavior Modification. She offers professional in-home dog training (specializing in puppy education, basic obedience and behavior modification for unruly or reactive dogs) as well as group puppy/basic obedience classes. Donna is a member of APDT, Shelter Animal Reiki Association, Pet Partners, mentor/trainer for Animal Behavior College, CGC evaluator and consulting trainer for PawSafe Animal Rescue. Donna can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

Dear Inquisitive Canine -January 2013 - This New Year’s, Resolve to Solve: Keep Dogs Out of Shelters

Joan Hunter Mayer on January 15, 2013

This New Year’s, Resolve to Solve: Keep Dogs Out of Shelters

Dear Inquisitive Dog Parents,

The new year is officially here. For many, this means creating lists of resolutions with intentions of modifying one’s behavior. In honor of this tradition, my sidekick, Poncho, and I have decided to join in, talking about resolutions to help dogs stay in their homes and out of animal shelters. We encourage you to team up with us and add the dogs of your community — whether your own or someone else’s — to your list of personal achievements.

Solutions Start with Preparation

According to a study conducted by the National Council on Pet Population Study and Policy (NCPPSP) on Reasons for Relinquishment of Companion Animals in U.S. Animal Shelters, the top reasons dogs are sent to shelters have to do with living situations, cost, time, owners having personal problems and behavioral concerns of the dogs themselves. As a certified professional dog trainer, I can attest to this, as I commonly hear similar complaints. As for Poncho, he used to live in a shelter, so he knows firsthand the reasons he and his buddies landed there. Together, he and I have compiled the following tips to help dog lovers everywhere do what they can to reduce the shelter dog population:

  • Location, Location, Location: According to the study, 17 percent of dogs were relinquished to shelters due to moving, landlords not allowing pets and “inadequate facilities.” We realize it’s difficult to foresee the future, but these numbers indicate that people need to investigate before they bring a dog into their homes. If you’re a homeowner, it’s best to match the home layout with the dog’s personality and temperament. Consider age and energy level vs. size or breed. If you rent, know the current policies where you live. As for moving, determine if you can bring your dog to the new location. If not, have a back-up plan. Make arrangements with a friend or family member to house your dog, even if it’s just temporary, until you can find a place that allows canine residents.

  • Basic Training: The ability to be a dog parent is a luxury and an honor. Therefore, it’s important to keep in mind that putting canine needs ahead of your own is necessary for developing a healthy and happy dog, both physically and mentally. Many behavioral issues that lead owners to relinquish dogs to shelters in the first place can be prevented through management and the use of simple training steps. Even a few minutes a day can buy years of being problem free. The Out of the Box Dog Training Game I developed is designed for busy dog parents who have mere minutes a day to teach the skills and behaviors they want to see from their dogs.

  • It’s All About the Budget: Fortunately, the needs of our domestic dogs are, for the most part, pretty minimal. Water, food, shelter, an old tennis ball or stick, our attention and belly rubs are usually all they’ll ever really want. However, because of some laws, and the fact that we enjoy spoiling them and want to keep them around for as long as possible, health care, licensing, collars, leashes and all the extra goodies we want to provide tend to add up - especially health care. Determine if the expenses calculated over the lifetime of your dog is something you can afford. For those on a tighter budget, check your local area for low-cost health care options. Fostering a shelter dog is another option to fulfill your Fido fix while keeping your list of financial responsibilities to a minimum

  • And Puppy Makes 3 ... or 4 ... or More: Adding another dog to the list of household pets can often lead to unforeseen circumstances, even resulting in sending him or her to a shelter about 4 percent, according to the study either because siblings don’t get along, you find out there really isn’t enough space or there were policies that went overlooked. Again, we encourage you to ask around and plan ahead.

  • Ain’t Misbehavin’: A higher percentage of dogs turned in to a shelter are young, energetic and lacking in basic manners. Therefore, at the top of any pet parent’s list of responsibilities should be to help teach the dog the behaviors they want and to try to resolve any issues they’re experiencing. Attending a dog training class, joining a dog group and/or working with a certified trainer or veterinary behaviorist can help you achieve success in your overall behavior goals.

An Ounce of Prevention

Pet overpopulation resulting in crowded shelters is a great concern in our community, and around the world. In the U.S. alone, millions (yes, millions) of dogs and cats are euthanized every year. But we can do something about it! Poncho and I say, “Resolve to solve.” Take the necessary steps to ensure you’re being a responsible dog parent — or dog-loving friend — by being inquisitive, planning ahead and taking care of your dog’s physical, mental and emotional needs. This way, dogs get to stay in loving homes and out of shelters.

Happy New Year!

On behalf of Poncho, myself and the Inquisitive Canine team, we wish you and your family a joyous and pawsitively reinforcing 2013. Your readership is always cherished and appreciated, and we thank you for continuing to be with us as we venture into the new year. And hey, we’re big fans of holiday photos — we invite you to join our Facebook community so you can share photos and all things dogs with us!

Dear Inquisitive Canine is written by Joan Mayer and her trusty sidekick Poncho. Joan is a certified professional dog trainer and human-canine relationship coach. Poncho is a ten-pound mutt that knows a lot about human and canine behavior. Their column is known for its simple common sense approach to dog training and behavior, as well as its entertaining insight into implementing proven techniques that reward both owner and dog.

Joan is also the founder of Inquisitive Canine and developer of the Out of the Box Dog Training Game where her love-of-dog training approach highlights the importance of understanding canine behavior. If you or your dog have questions about behavior, training or life with each other, please email them directly.

Dear Inquisitive Canine - December 2012 - Greeting Politely

Joan Hunter Mayer on December 20, 2012

Dear Joan and Poncho-

If I arrive at a friend’s home dressed well, and they haven’t trained their dog to keep from jumping, what should I say to keep the peace, while keeping my clothes in one piece as well?


Lisa, CREATIVEGoddess

Dear Lisa,

Allow me and Poncho to commend you on taking such a proactive approach to helping your friend’s dog develop good canine manners, including helping them train their dog to not jump on guests! As a certified professional dog trainer I appreciate when folks like yourself take the initiative to help pet dogs learn proper social skills. And Poncho, being a canine that enjoys socializing with many humans, is delighted to show off the “greeting politely” skills he’s learned in our inquisitive canine dog training classes.

Poncho and I both agree that your question “What should I say?” is a great way to begin the training process: you’re opening your friend’s eyes to their dog’s behavior, while enlisting them in taking part of the decision making. They might want to follow the same steps as this Dear Inquisitive Canine reader who was having “jumping-to-greet” problems at home with her own dog.

Although using your voice is ideal, we recommend you also use non-verbal communication to help teach your friend’s dog to greet politely. In other words, allow your body language to “do the talking” for you. This way, if you prefer not to confront your friends (humans can be touchy about these things), or you don’t have time to discuss it, or the situation doesn’t allow for it, you’ll still be able to teach your friend’s dog how to greet politely. We know, it’s kind of passive, but it’s simple, effective, and fun! Plus, your friend will probably want to have you over more often!

Whether your friend requests something specific or not, you can still use the following steps as your back-up plan to help their dog greet you politely:

  • Reward what you want: Reward the dog only if he or she is sitting, lying down, or at the very least has four paws on the floor when greeting you! That’s it! The owner gives petting, praise, and food treats for sitting/lying down, etc. Then the final reward is you saying hello! Either a scratch under the chin, a food treat, or a “Good dog!” from afar.
  • Ignore unwanted behavior: And we mean ignore! If the dog gets up and begins to launch him or herself to greet you, then you retreat (or turn away) and ignore this inconsequential behavior! Zero eye-contact and zero pushing or yelling. You can even walk out if you have to. Remember, attention is still attention!
  • Practice! Either actively set up sessions with your friends and their dog when you’re wearing your casual clothes, or passively set up practice sessions by arranging to stop by and say *hi*.

Providing some situational awareness to your friends, along with a little practice should help set everyone up for success! As the saying goes, “It takes a village.” On behalf of myself and Poncho, we thank you for being part of our “village” and taking the time to help dogs become better accustomed to our human environment.

Dear Inquisitive Canine is written by Joan Mayer and her trusty sidekick, Poncho the dog. Joan is a certified professional dog trainer and dog behavior coach. Poncho is a 10-pound mutt who knows a lot about canine and human behavior. Their column is known for its simple, commonsense approach to dog training and behavior, as well as its entertaining insight into implementing proven techniques that reward both owner and dog.

Joan is also the founder of the Inquisitive Canine and developer of the Out of the Box Dog Training Game, where her love-of-dog training approach highlights the importance of understanding canine behavior. If you or your dog have questions about behavior, training or life with each other, please .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

Social Learning Theory and Animals:  Observational/Imitation Learning

Cheryl Aguiar, Ph.D. on December 04, 2012

Social learning theory and animals: Does observational/imitation learning have a place in training or behavior in animals?

In human psychology, Albert Bandura, a self-described social-cognitive psychologist developed Social Learning Theory in the 1970’s (Bandura,1977). Bandura’s Social Learning Theory was rooted in Learning Theory but added the social element. Social Learning Theory added that learning and new behaviors can occur through modeling, or, watching other people. Can, or does, the same happen with animals? Do animals learn new behaviors by simply watching other animals? The research on this is complicated at this point and seems to have become muddled in the mechanisms involved and whether or not the behavior needs to be goal-directed. So, for now, we will need to “sort of” leave the research findings where they are at, at least to me: inconclusive.

Bandura’s famous experiment in 1961 was the “Bobo Doll” study (Bandura,1961). Simply, in this study, he showed some children a film of a woman punching a Bobo Doll (these are those inflatable clowns with sand in the bottom) and yelling at it. He did not show this film to another group of children. He then had the children who saw the film play in a room with a Bobo Doll. Some of the children went up to the doll and started punching it and yelling at it. The group that did not see the film…none of the children did this. So the children imitated the aggression of the woman on the doll without any reinforcement. So why did the children punch and yell at the doll? Social Learning Theory says they learned this behavior purely through observation and imitation.

Social learning theory in animals postulates that animals can learn by observation of, or interaction with, another animal (especially of the same species) or its actions (Box, 1984; Galef, 1988).

In learning theory, there are basically three types of experiences that can elicit novel behavior (Rescorla, 1988): (1) stimulus (verbal command, leash taut, moving away, etc.); (2) stimulus-stimulus (a click is paired with a treat, a verbal command is paired with a treat, lights on is paired with feeding, etc); and (3) response-reinforcement (the learner pushes on the dog door and gains entry into the house, the rat presses a lever and receives food, the learner puts up one paw and receives a treat, etc.).

From these three basic types, the last one, response-reinforcement is where social learning is most reasonably a subset of learning. However, unlike our examples above, it is the demonstrator, not the learner, who makes the response that is learned. This effect of exposure to observing a response-reinforcement relationship then producing novel, somewhat matching behavior by the observer is social learning and I believe we should think about using it in our training of our own pets and of clients’ pets.

Personally, I can anecdotally cite many instances where it appears that an animal can and does learn by imitation.

  • One dog is taught to use a pet door by giving encouragement and treats to go through the door. A new dog is introduced to the environment and learns to use the dog door after watching the experienced dog.
  • A dog is afraid to swim. You bring a water-loving-retrieving-loving dog that bounds in and out of the water swimming and soon the other dog is swimming as well.
  • You have a nervous barking dog. You know you did not elicit the behavior as you have had many dogs before and they have never been like this. You get a new puppy that comes from a good breeder. You meet all the dogs at the breeders…you may even KNOW these dogs and you have noted they are all confident, non-barkers. Your new puppy becomes a barker and nervous after just a few weeks.
  • You tie two dogs together. One is a confident dog when going for walks. The other is fearful and unsure when going for walks. After a few days, the unsure dog is exhibiting confidence on the walks as well. After several times, you leave the original confident dog at home and just take the unsure dog and he is now confident as well.
  • You have a new colt and he is about ready to go for a ride off the property. You ride an experienced and confident horse while you “pony” (just hold the lead rope and take the new colt with for the ride…riderless) the new colt several times.

At least at face value (face validity/anecdotally) social learning does occur with animals and, as a subset of learning theory, it seems that we can and should use it in developing new behaviors or changing unwanted behaviors.

Box, H. 0. (1984). Primate Behavior and Social Ecology. Chapman & Hall, London.
Bandura, A., Ross, D. & Ross, S.A. (1961). Transmission of aggression through imitation of aggressive models. Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 63, 575-82.
Bandura, A. (1977). Social Learning Theory. New York: General Learning Press.
Galef, B .G. (1988). Imitation in animals: history, definition and interpretation of data from the psychological laboratory. In Social Learning: Psychological and Biological Perspectives (ed. T. R. Zentall and B. G. Galef), pp. 3-28. Erlbaum, Hillsdale, NJ.
Heyes, C. M. (1994) Social learning in animals: Categories and mechanisms. Biological Review, 69, 207-231.
Rescorla, A. (1988).Behavioral studies of Pavlovian conditioning. Annual Review of Neuroscience XI, 329-352.

Cheryl Aguiar, Ph.D. was trained in Social and Industrial/Organization Psychology. She received her Ph.D. at Colorado State University (CSU). Cheryl Directed an on-campus Institute at CSU for over a decade. While at CSU, she also was the successful recipient of over 3 million dollars in research and program grants, taught courses, served on student committees and published findings from her own research projects along with those of her students. She has been a dog trainer since 1974. Mainly she trains her own dogs in various performance or working roles such as Tracking, Obedience, Schutzhund and hunting trials. She also served in the 1980’s to 1990’s as Training Director for several years in a Schutzhund Club in the Twin Cities and more recently as Training Director in the local NAVHDA chapter. She is now the President of the Rocky Mountain Chapter of the North American Versatile Hunting Dog Association (NAVHDA). Cheryl has successfully titled dogs in AKC obedience, AKC tracking, AKC conformation, Schutzhund and NAVHDA. Since 2005, she pursued her true loves: education and dogs and founded E-Training for Dogs, the first online webinar entity for dog lovers.

IAABC Supporting Member
Cheryl Aguiar, Ph.D.
President, E-Training for Dogs, Inc
Online Dog Training Courses-We Bring the Seminar to You!
Office: (970) 231-9965
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Cheryl Aguilar, Ph.D.

Talk to the Paw:  On Dogs Listening

Jonathan Klein on November 16, 2012

Many years ago I had to choose a name for my dog training business. I picked “I Said Sit!” with no intention of yelling at a dog, but to represent the frustration of owners who couldn’t get their dog to listen. Almost 25 years later this still holds true and the first thing our clients want out of training is for the dog to listen to them.

What they really mean is for the dog to follow commands and not ignore them. It is common for owners to ask their dog over and over to do something without ever setting the dog up for success. What usually happens is that the dog and the owner fail and both of them get upset. In reality, the more you talk to your dog the less it listens.

It is not because your dog is stupid or defiant. It is not because you aren’t being alpha enough. It is because you have expertly taught your dog that your voice is meaningless. The scientific term is “learned irrelevance” which means that after a certain point of repeatedly hearing a command without any result or consequence, the command becomes meaningless. It is basically the principal behind the “boy who cried wolf”. By the time you yell “I Said Sit!” you can be pretty sure your dog has already tuned you out.

These same clients who want their dog to listen, usually also start by telling me how smart their dog is and that it already knows the “commands” sit, lay down, stay and come. Upon further investigation, it turns out that the dog actually only minds when it suits him, not around distractions and never at the time of whatever particular special situation the owner is calling about.

Giving your dog commands can get in the way of teaching your dog manners and the dog actually learning how to behave differently. I commonly see an owner repeat a command every time the dog stops behaving properly. For instance you tell your dog to go to its bed and lay down, and since you have taught your dog it does it. However a little while later it gets up and you tell it again and again and again. Often this process repeats itself for many behaviors.

The dog is actually getting attention and hearing the cue every time it disobeys. Instead of getting rewarded for behaving well, the dog gets attention for misbehaving. The dog is actually being reprimanded with a command. This is a particular drawback to the “psssst” method of getting the dog to do something popularized by training seen on television.

The basic philosophy of teaching our dog not to misbehave might actually be counter productive. Take the “leave it” command for example. Most people use “leave it” to ask their dog not to get into something bad, like food wrappers. In over 20 years of training dogs, I have never taught the command. Don’t get me wrong, I have taught all the dogs I work with to walk by trash and not pick it up, but I expect them to do it always and to do it automatically.

The same reasoning applies to teach a dog street and door manners. It is common for owners to tell their dog “sit” at the curb or front door. That works fine when you are there to tell them, but it does not teach them not to run out the door or not to run into the street. I think it is much more effective to actually teach them to stop at those boundaries automatically.

Walking my dog up to the curb and asking him to sit is fine when I am on a casual walk, nothing special is going on and I have time to stop and ask him to sit. However it isn’t helpful when the leash breaks, there is a cat or a loose dog and my dog is in high-energy mode. But since I teach waiting at a boundary to the dog while in motion, the dog learns to stop even in the event of pretty high drive action.

If we look more closely at how dogs learn we can be successful very quickly. They learn much faster and understand better through trial and error with appropriately placed consequences than when we try repeatedly to actually show them what to do. This is more effective and makes training a lot more fun than punishing the dog. There is a video on our DogProLA YouTube channel titled How To Teach “Wait” and “Leave It” for an example of the success and speed of this training method.

In addition to teaching them to wait at the boundary, I do feel it is important to teach a cue that goes along with it. The cue I teach is “Wait” and what it means to the dog is STOP what you are doing, hang on a sec, and I will then tell you what to do next or when you can go. You can then use that cue if you ever do need to stop the dog dead in its tracks.

To recap, the most effective training is to teach the dog how to behave rather than to tell it to behave. In effect it is better to teach it good manners, rather than tell the dog what to do when it isn’t behaving.

Expert dog trainer and behaviorist Jonathan Klein has been helping owners train their dogs for over 20 years. He runs the award-winning, boarding and training facility, “I Said Sit!” School for Dogs in West LA. Jonathan was recently honored with the “Best Training” award on the L.A. Hotlist 2009-2011. His training segments appear regularly in The Pet Press-LA, Tails Magazine and Dog Days in LA. He is a frequent interview source contributing to such media outlets as The Associated Press, Parents and USA Today. He also answers training questions on his website: The Dog Behavior Expert

Dear Inquisitive Canine - November 2012 - Play With Dogs At The Dog Park

Joan Hunter Mayer on November 06, 2012

Dear Inquisitive Canine,

Our dog Tyler loves going to the dog park. But since he learned to fetch, all he wants to do is play with a ball. He doesn’t play chase and run with the other dogs, and in fact rarely even sniffs hello.

We’ve tried not taking our ball flinger, but the park is covered with abandoned balls and somehow Tyler always convinces someone to throw the ball for him. How can we get him back to playing with other dogs at the dog park?

Do you or Poncho have any advice?

Kevin S.
Northern California

Dear Kevin,

We’d be more than happy to give you pointers for getting Tyler more engaged in dog play with other dogs at the park. The following dog training tips should help make these adventures fun for you, while still making it rewarding for Tyler.

First and foremost, determine what your main goal is. To me it sounds like it would be for Tyler to engage in dog play with various dogs during these outings. You’re correct in taking the ball play out of the picture during park visits. Bringing toys to a dog park is similar to a child bringing his/her Nintendo DS to another child’s birthday party at Great America. If there are no other dogs around to play with, then fetch is fine. But if you want your dog to play with other dogs, then yes, do away with the superfluous distractions.

You’ll also want to think about what behaviors are being reinforced, which ones you’d rather reinforce, and which ones you want to ignore (or limit by withholding rewards).

  • Interacting with other dogs: Reward! Reward! Reward!
  • Ignoring balls: Reward!
  • If another ball is found, ask Tyler to do something else, like walk nicely next to you, get rid of the ball, and reward him for staying with you.
  • If Tyler continues to be ball obsessive, you can always put him on leash for 20 seconds as a “time out,” while ignoring him. Then take him off leash and reward him again for desired behaviors.
  • Other humans and their behavior: Ask for help if necessary. Let others know that you are teaching Tyler to play with other dogs, and that “fetch time” is played elsewhere. You can thank them for helping you out. If they want to give a “Good boy!” to Tyler whenever he shows interest in their own dog, that would be even better, and much appreciated! (If they continue to throw the ball for Tyler, you can always walk away, giving them a “time-out.” However, punishing humans can cause negativity and that’s no fun.)

When it comes to teaching Tyler to play with other dogs, you’ll want to do so in “baby steps.” This is called shaping behavior. Instead of waiting for a full-on play session, you can reward small steps, starting with a glance, then moving up the behavior chain, allowing Tyler to set the pace until he is interacting with multiple dogs at once. The sequence might go something like this; Tyler gets a piece of chicken or steak:

  • Every time another dog walks near him, or walks by him.
  • Every time another dog shows interest in him, wanting to greet.
  • Every time Tyler looks at another dog!
  • Every time Tyler approaches another dog.
  • Every time Tyler and another dog perform their doggy-sniffing-greeting ritual.
  • Every time Tyler and another dog show interest in playing: for one second, two seconds, then three seconds, etc. until they’re wanting to hang out and play together.
  • Periodically during play time to reward Tyler for playing with other dogs.

To really emphasize how fun playing with other dogs is, stop the steak party once you leave the dog park. With time and consistency, Tyler will start to associate other dogs with fabulous steak-parties, and then he’ll want to keep playing. After a few rounds of play, and steak hors d’oeuvres, Tyler won’t want to leave, so be careful what you wish for.

Dear Inquisitive Canine is written by Joan Mayer and her trusty sidekick, Poncho the dog. Joan is a certified professional dog trainer and dog behavior coach. Poncho is a 10-pound mutt who knows a lot about canine and human behavior. Their column is known for its simple, commonsense approach to dog training and behavior, as well as its entertaining insight into implementing proven techniques that reward both owner and dog.

Joan is also the founder of the Inquisitive Canine and developer of the Out of the Box Dog Training Game, where her love-of-dog training approach highlights the importance of understanding canine behavior. If you or your dog have questions about behavior, training or life with each other, please .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

This Dog IS one Stimulus Package!

Joan Hunter Mayer on October 02, 2012

Dear Poncho,

I’m a female 10–month-old puppy with a curious heritage that may be a Lab/Chow mix, although I look like an Australian Shepherd. I have TONS of energy, and my favorite games are digging holes, destroying plant life, eating the laundry off the line, chewing up the arms of the sofa and other fun tricks that drive my humans crazy.

In fact, my humans have gotten so desperate to keep me out of trouble that they went out and got me a small friend, Shadow, who’s another strange mix-maybe Lab/Boxer. At first I was distracted and loved playing with the puppy. Now I’m back to digging holes, and managed to chew through the water lines to the vegetable garden and trees. I even dug up the main water source for all these functions, disconnecting the water system for good!

I get to go for long runs out in the desert every morning and play with my favorite red ball as I love to retrieve things. I also go for walks every afternoon to the mailbox so I can torture the other dogs in the neighborhood who are cooped up behind fences. I’ve learned a lot of tricks for treats-it’s my favorite time of day. If the humans aren’t home at that specific time, I get impatient and destroy something until they get home.

I figure I’ll outgrow all this someday, but my humans are getting very impatient. Is there hope for me?

"Miss Energy"

Dear Miss Energy

Wow, it’s like you’ve created your own amusement park! As a dog myself, I feel compelled to commend you for being such a clever and resourceful inquisitive canine! Too bad your humans can’t capture this enthusiasm of yours to use as "alternative energy"...maybe someday.

From what you’ve described, it sounds like your favorite activities are: digging, chewing, hunting and scavenging, running, chasing, fetching and retrieving, going for walks, greeting the neighbor dogs, and finding your own entertainment if it’s not provided for you. Hmm…if I’m not mistaken, I’d say you are pretty much a normal dog.

Okay, so this is what you need to tell them since they don’t seem to appreciate your curiosity: "Please give me some legal outlets for all of my energy!" As you may know, my mom is a certified professional dog trainer and I think she’d agree that you need to get all of your dogginess out in a healthy manner, but in a way that makes everyone at home happy.

A few training tips your humans will want to consider are:

  • Rewarding the behaviors they like! A few I would recommend are the times when you’re quiet and calm in the house and backyard, ignoring plants, sofas, and water lines, and when you and Shadow play together. Then you’re more likely to perform those behaviors than the ones you don’t get rewarded extra for.
  • Managing your environment! During those times when they can’t monitor your behavior, they should keep you confined to your own special area. Sort of like a doggy den - either a crate or separate room. They can give you stuffed food toys and chew bones that will keep you comfortable, mentally stimulated, and away from enticing things like sofas and plant life.
  • Teaching you the behaviors they want! You sound like you enjoy being busy. How about getting them to take you to a dog training class? Or agility? Flyball? Rally-O? Treiball? Nose-work? They’ll learn all about teaching you the behaviors they want you to have, including walking nicely to the mailbox. Plus you get to use your brain and problem solve, while burning off some of this excess energy of yours.
  • Provide you with a "Stimulus Package!" Enrichment, both physical and mental, are great for dogs in general, but really important for busy-bodies like yourself. These are a few suggestions geared towards your favorite activities:
    • Digging: Have your humans create a digging pit for you in the yard. It’s kind of like a huge sandbox, but just for you to play in. They can fill it with dirt, sand, and other ground cover that feels good on your doggy feet, then bury bones, treats, interactive food toys, and all sorts of other goodies that you like. Finding the buried treasure keeps you focused and busy in one area, while tapping into your innate doggy behaviors. The special items themselves will continue to keep you busy. You end up making the better choice of playing in the legal area… the other areas never "pay off" so why dig there?
    • Chewing: Your humans need to provide legal chew items that YOU like - not items they think you should like. We all have our preferences. Then, when you choose these legal items they can reward you with an extra yummy treat. This communicates to you that your choice was correct! Why choose the sofa when you get extra treats for chewing your own chew bones and toys?
    • Exercise: Okay, so what by definition is a "long run"? Is the distance and time spent by your standards or theirs? Sure some runs and walks are great, but sometimes they’re just more "fun" than tiring. They should make sure you’ve gotten your yah-yah’s out with plenty of mental and physical stimulation, especially before expecting you to be relaxed in the back yard or inside the home.

Is there "hope" for you? Of course! But your humans need to think about teaching you what they want in a way you’ll understand, that is both fun and rewarding. As for "growing out of it"? Sure, but again it’s probably best to teach you what they want themselves versus depending on time, old age, or another dog to do it for them.

Dear Inquisitive Canine is written by Joan Mayer and her trusty sidekick, Poncho the dog. Joan is a certified professional dog trainer and dog behavior coach. Poncho is a 10-pound mutt who knows a lot about canine and human behavior. Their column is known for its simple, common-sense approach to dog training and behavior, as well as its entertaining insight into implementing proven techniques that reward both owner and dog.

Joan is also the founder of the Inquisitive Canine and developer of the Out of the Box Dog Training Game, where her love-of-dog training approach highlights the importance of understanding canine behavior. If you or your dog have questions about behavior, training or life with each other, please email them directly.

Dear Inquisitive Canine - September 2012 - Keeping Peace with the Neighbor’s Dog

Joan Hunter Mayer on September 05, 2012

Dear Joan

My dog is a 16-pound cocker spaniel and the anti-alpha dog. My neighbor has a tiny Pomeranian that’s an absolute nightmare. Every time we walk by, the owner wants me to let my dog off leash to have a "play date" with her psycho dog. The pom "nips" at my dog non-stop, while mine just lies down or cowers and takes the abuse. Very alpha for such a tiny little devil. 

The Pomeranian’s owner thinks her dog is playing, but she is biting at the throat, face, and legs of my dog. Do I just avoid them or is there a way I can get my dog to stand up to this bully?

Our neighborhood does things together a lot and it might be weird if word got out that "I don’t like her bully of a dog."  Maybe I could punt her like a little football across the street when my neighbor’s not looking? This is Texas after all.

Anxious in Austin

Dear Anxious

Hey, I’m all for "Keep Austin Weird," and I can certainly understand how upsetting it can be when our "kids" get picked on, but I’d say it’s best to refrain from physically punishing any animal, so let’s go a different route, shall we?

As a dog mom and certified professional dog trainer I’ve learned to recognize the appropriate behaviors associated with healthy "dog play." In a nutshell, "normal doggy play" is the practicing of the many behaviors dogs would need in order to survive in the wild long enough to pass on their genes.

Imagine your little Cocker, out on her own, hunting for food, chasing down prey, running away from predators, finding a mate, and making babies. Of course we know they won’t need to do any of this, right? We feed them, spay and neuter them, (or arrange "marriages"), protect them from danger etc. But their DNA still says to practice and become proficient in all of these skills.

One of the most important elements of healthy dog play is that it be reciprocal amongst all parties involved. So if the Pom is the one doing all the initiating, then getting turned down, going "non-stop" and not backing off after your dog said "no thanks, don’t feel like playing," then I can see where she would look more assertive, or as you say "alpha".

Although biting and nipping can be part of normal play, from what you’ve described, this situation doesn’t sound reciprocal; it doesn’t appear that the Pom is "listening" to your dog. Sure there are some dogs that would rather be chased, or rather be the one chasing. But it needs to be consensual. If one dog doesn’t consent, then it’s not fun, not "fair", and in your case, brings a whole new level of stress to the relationship between you and your neighbor. I’m sure neither of you adults would put up with this scenario if it were being played out by human children, as opposed to canines.

Okay, so what is the best plan for you and your dog, while maintaining peace in the neighborhood? The following tips should help you get the block-pawty started:

  • Help your Cocker learn to trust the Pomeranian: Pack up your treat pouch with little pieces of the yummiest food you have; something your Cocker will do back flips for. Then, whenever you go for a walk, give your dog pieces of the tidbits, but ONLY when the Pomeranian is around! If the Pom isn’t around, no steak for your Cocker. With repetition and consistency, your dog will start to associate "My Pomeranian neighbor = steak!" You’ll know it’s working when your dog looks at the Pom, then at you, almost saying "Where’s my steak?" I would also add in some "Dallas Cowboy Cheerleader" behavior on your part - "Yippee! There’s the Pomeranian!" As opposed to wanting to play kicker for the Dallas Cowboys.
  • Help your dog build self-confidence around the Pomeranian, (and other dogs of this nature): Again, you’re going to carry treats with you. But this time you’re going to focus in on your own dog’s behavior, and not what’s going on in her environment. Reward-reward-reward! You are going to reward your dog, with a yummy treat and lots of praise (cheerleading), for bravery! At first it will be just for looking at the Pomeranian, progressing to your dog walking closer and closer to the Pom, then eventually having the Pom walk towards your dog. And finally greeting each other. Of course advancing only if it is safe for all parties involved.

Having a basic understanding of what appropriate dog play is, a plan to help your Cocker overcome her shyness and build confidence, and a few ideas of how to handle your neighbor and her Pomeranian, should all add up to peace in the ‘hood. With time and consistency, the dogs might be the ones planning the next block party.

Dear Inquisitive Canine is written by Joan Mayer and her trusty sidekick, Poncho the dog. Joan is a certified professional dog trainer and dog behavior coach. Poncho is a 10-pound mutt who knows a lot about canine and human behavior. Their column is known for its simple, common-sense approach to dog training and behavior, as well as its entertaining insight into implementing proven techniques that reward both owner and dog.

Joan is also the founder of the Inquisitive Canine and developer of the Out of the Box Dog Training Game, where her love-of-dog training approach highlights the importance of understanding canine behavior. If you or your dog have questions about behavior, training or life with each other, please email them directly.


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