Secrets To Getting A Great Come-Recall 

We’ve now reached the top rung of our obedience ladder: come when called. It’s the tenth step in our ten-step program because it demands the most from our dogs in the way of self-control. Therefore, our friend needs the buildup of energy control, handler deference, and distraction management the first nine rungs of the ladder give him in order to meet the necessary challenges and reach the tenth step in our program.

Here is why with the majority of dogs, the recall command (come) is the most demanding when considering self-control. We assume by the nature of the exercise (come back to us) our dog must be some distance away doing his own thing. I would also say that by the time the average dog reaches the age of sixteen to twenty weeks old, he has learned to appreciate his autonomy and has gained enough confidence (by virtue of maturing this far) that striking out on his own in pursuit of happiness (when the opportunity presents itself) can seem like a capital idea, oftentimes at the least convenient moment for the handler. And if you have a dog (young or old) who will bolt away from family and home when given the chance, it usually does not mean he’s repulsed by his pack or den. Instead, he probably possesses a confident, curious, excitable personality and has learned that speed and opportunity equal stimulation and satisfaction (in other words, FUN).

When we assess the challenges of training a dog to come when called, we must factor into the assessment these realities: the dog is out of our reach; he is at least a little stimulated; he is faster than we are and even if he has only followed through with this come idea once before, our good buddy knows that some kind of control or confinement is usually waiting for him when he gets to us. So, in essence, when we command our dog to come, we’re asking him to give up his cherished autonomy and give up his free world of abundant stimulation for some form of restriction when he knows we can’t possibly catch him if he doesn’t want us to! The next time you see a dog run to his handler when called and sit in front waiting for instruction, think to yourself, “WOW. That’s self-control.”

There are reasons we need nine steps of drive control, handler deference, and distraction management under the dog’s belt before we tackle this command.

I used to find it irritating early in my career when a new client, after hearing my explanation of the basic obedience process, would tell me he didn’t need any of that staying or heeling malarkey. He just wanted his dog to come! Now, years and many gray hairs later, I genuinely smile at a naïve client like that and then present him with this analogy. Imagine coaching a young teenager to be an Olympic high platform diver. Rather than start out on the side of the pool working on foot placement and basic water entry techniques, you decide as the teenager’s coach that you will skip the fundamentals along the poolside. In addition, you decide that springboard training has nothing to offer your student. For that matter, it’s a waste of time to dive from the lower platform when it is the high dive you’re really after. It doesn’t take Olympic diving experience to quickly realize that this coach has his student on the fast track to failure with this training approach.

So it is with the recall exercise. A handler is asking for frustration and failure if he doesn’t thoroughly prepare his dog for this high platform event. Having a dog prepared to look through distractions and focus on his handler is a definite must for this exercise. And having a dog in control of his energy is a must before you begin this exercise. Assuming you began reading this book somewhere near the front and assuming that you have worked with your dog with at least limited success through the first nine training exercises, then you and your dog are ready for the “big dive.”

For starters, I want every handler to look at the recall exercise as a position obligation for the dog (sit in front looking at the handler). This will keep everyone (handlers and dogs) zeroed in on what’s really important: a controlled, focused dog within easy reach of his handler.

I teach come with no real distance between the dog and me at first. I begin with the dog’s name (to get his attention) because up to this point, he’s just been hanging out with me on leash. I immediately follow the dog’s name with the designated command (come) or signal for his new obligation.

I then place him in a sitting position directly in front of me, using my leash in the left hand, directing his head toward my belt buckle. At the same time, I use my right hand over his spine gripping his loin to place his rump on the floor in one fluid motion.

As soon as I have him in this sitting position looking up at me, I instantly reward him with praise and/or food. Telling your dog to sit during the placement process is really not necessary, but it doesn’t hurt anything as long as there is a quiet pause after placement before the come command is given. We want the emphasis of this exercise to rest on the command or signal to come, not to sit.

Before you deliver any praise, make sure your canine friend is sitting freely (no leash tension or grip on the loin) and looking up at you while you’re standing erect. We want to make a clear association between the dog’s sitting closely in front of the handler with his attention focused on the handler (who is standing quietly upright) and the appropriate signal and/or command. That’s when our buddy receives his reward—after he fulfills his new obligation.

As you did in all the other preceding placement commands, don’t hurry your dog out of this position once you get him there. Definitely don’t allow your dog to release himself. Remember, we’re teaching our dog that come means to sit in front focused on the handler until the dog is released. During the teaching aspect of this command, like with the previous exercises, we only expect a very brief hold on the dog’s part at first, but we need to insist on a little commitment even the first time we place him.

When I release the dog from these early recall exercises, I don’t allow him to go far. I will continue to hold the leash after I tell him “all done” because I intend simply to pivot away from the dog after a brief moment and repeat the command, the placement, and the praise. Each time I practice this recall exercise, I’ll run through this series of repetitions. Our goal is to drive home during teaching exactly where come is, just as we did with the other placement commands. When we get to the reinforcement aspect of this training, we will accept nothing less.

I typically don’t muddy the waters around this command by calling the dog from a stay position until the dog shows me, while working with the come command, that I can pivot in any direction I want to any degree and back away (with the dog on leash and leash in hand) as far as I want, and he will work to sit in front of me. The dog’s response doesn’t have to be exact before I call him from a stay (with a little distance), but the dog needs to be comfortable with his new come obligation before I complicate it with stay.

Since dogs seem to tend to think in mental images, with enough repetitions of sit placement in front of the handler in association with the command come, the command or signal given prior to placement will eventually conjure up in our friend’s mind the idea that he’s supposed to sit in front of the handler. This association between signal and position and reward is what the teaching phase of training is all about for all formal commands. And you know the teaching is finished when you give the command and your dog is already working into correct posture or position before you have had a chance to place him.”

— Ten Natural Steps To Training The Family Dog

Written by Matthew Duffy, Owner of Duffy’s Dog Training

 

The “come” command is such a fun exercise, perhaps one of my favorites. A few more tips that I would like to add that may help a handler with their canine in training. Food is often a great help, I like to keep the treat close to me when I’m working on the recall. The goal is to encourage your dog to get as close to you as possible when the command “come” is given. Depending on the size of the dog I try to keep the treat close to my belt buckle or my leg.

Don’t pull your dog into you, rather try to encourage them with micro steps backwards or an encouraging repeat of the command. It’s important that we get our dog to come to us on their own free will (of course if needed we still can use leash and collar corrections if our canine has ignored our command, especially when they’ve become advanced). If we pull them into us or force them to come to us we find that it has the opposite effect of making the dog resist you more, oftentimes putting the breaks on.

Concerning voice and tone; like all of the other exercises, the command must be given in a clear and pleasant tone, never harshly nor in a rapidly repeating fashion. As soon as you see any movement on your dog’s behalf toward you warmly praise them. Upon reaching the correct position (sitting directly in front of you, facing you) give them your release command, like “all done” then give a little play as the ultimate reward. The goal is always to make the command the best game possible while decreasing the value of all other distractions.

— Josh Decker, Dog Trainer

Using A Longline To Teach Distance

Before I take this recall exercise into true distraction proofing, I like to practice for a number of days with the dog on a long line. Depending on the particulars of a handler/dog relationship, I usually suggest a length of line from twenty- five to fifty feet. Again, handling adeptness, training environment conditions, and the dog’s personality will determine what length of line is best suited for any given situation.

Along with practicing come on a long line, I will also be reinforcing stay (both in the sit and down postures) from a greater distance and introducing down at a distance. With all these ideas, once I’ve connected the line to the collar and uncoiled its length on the ground, I only work with the amount of line I need at the time, ignoring the rest. As the dog’s proficiency in each exercise improves, I gradually increase my distance from my student, eventually working out to the end of the long line. Begin as close to the dog as needed and then work out.

This long line practice puts real distance between the dog and the handler for the first time in the context of formal command response. For the dog, this means the first opportunity to test his misperceived autonomous options and to blow off his handler’s formal commands. In this stage of training, we actually want our students to test the water over and over again. We want our students to exercise what appears to them to be their independent option of refusing our commands. With enough failed attempts on the dog’s part, his independence doesn’t seem so real anymore and thoughts of putting his spin on our command really don’t come to the surface much.

In order to foster this feeling of autonomy in your dog, you must handle the long line smartly. Think of stealthy management when utilizing a long line or your leash for that matter. The less the dog thinks about the leash or long line, the less it matters to him, on or off. So if we’re careful and manage the long line with the same loose concern, the same minimal hand movements as we’ve practiced with the leash, we’re actually laying the foundation for off- leash control. With this in mind, I typically uncoil my ten-meter line before I clip it to my dog’s collar and simply let him drag it around. Sometimes I will hold on to the end of the line if I am dealing with a new, challenging student.

When the dog walks on the line or when the line gets wrapped up around a bush or a chair leg or when the line is dragged through mud or water, think “So what?!” is long-line work is the indispensable bridge between hands-on and hands-off control over your dog.

Keep in mind that the more a dog wears his long line or leash (loose in hand or dragging around) the more it becomes a part of his body, a tail on the front end. Once a dog is completely accustomed to dragging around a long line, his behavior normalizes. So the behavior we’re shaping with the long line is eventually the same behavior we will get with the long line off.

There are a few things to consider when preparing for long-line practice. First of all, there is no way around the fact that the longer the leash or line is, the more awkward it will be to deal with. So always accomplish as much as you can with your shorter training leash in order to minimize the amount of work you’ll have to do on the clumsy longer line. That’s why with the recall exercise, I suggest a lot of practice with the backward motion and direction change during the close-in shorter leash work. This simulates distance and travel for the dog while still affording the handler the convenience of a shorter training leash for control.

Secondly, corrections are much more difficult to deliver with a long line. Excess slack will accumulate between the dog and the handler. The line will become wrapped around the dog’s legs, people’s legs, bushes, and furniture. Also, given the various amounts of elasticity in the long lines we use, despite our best efforts, the line correction will be somewhat spongy or anemic compared to our leash correction. These difficulties plague all handlers, even professionals, when working with the long line. I will give you a few tips that will be helpful in managing these challenges.

Tip one: Make a habit of throwing excess slack between the handler and the dog behind you when you pick up the long line to use. Let the excess fall on the ground. Only hold a single strand of line in your hand, no loops or bundles.

Tip two: Casually follow the line as your dog drags it around, and, as stealthily as you can, take care of tangles and wraps before they become problematic. Use your foot to move the long line out from under the door. While your dog is engrossed in a smell, unwrap the line from around the bush. As your buddy trots along, smoothly grab the line and unwind his leg though the dog will usually take care of that himself. The long line between the dog’s legs or under the belly is fine. The long line wrapped around the legs or neck is not fine.

To be most effective in long-line work, the key is stealth. We don’t want the dog thinking any more about this line than he absolutely has to, even when we are untangling, dealing with slack, or preparing for corrections. We need our dog to feel as off leash as possible, so allow the line to drag and only refer to it when you absolutely have to.

Tip three: When a long line check is needed, step on the line first before you pick it up. This stops the dog in his tracks and allows the handler to gain a secure grip instantly.

If the line in use is slight in diameter, it may be necessary to wrap it around your hand or wear a glove to ensure a good grip or prevent chafing. Assuming you have picked up the leash, thrown the excess slack behind you on the ground, and secured a grip, you are now ready for the line check (correction).

Depending greatly on the size, strength, and energy level of the dog in training, the line tug could be administered with one hand, two hands, or two hands and a backward step. The goal is always the same. We want a crisp, attention-grabbing jolt that halts undesirable behavior. If the long line happens to be wrapped around one of your dog’s limbs at the moment he needs a correction, you must take the time to quickly unwrap and then follow through with the intended correction. If the line is simply between the legs or underneath the dog, lower the line or the angle of the tug so as not to raise the dog off the ground, but follow through with the correction. Don’t worry about adjusting the line in this case.

I will tell you again, long-line work is awkward but so necessary! Do as much as you can on the regular training leash. There is no need to hurry to the long line. And maybe, after doing thorough foundation work, you might find that your ace canine student doesn’t need much work in this area after all.

Now comes the fun part: recall practice in, around, and over distractions. This is always where the rubber meets the road, so don’t hold back when setting up these proofing exercises. As always, build the intensity of the distractions gradually, but don’t fool around. Make sure you can call your dog over an open box of pizza. See to it that your partner has no trouble coming around another handler and dog to get to your front and sit. And if he does run into a snag and is unable to leave the treed squirrel or the kids playing ball, don’t hesitate to use that leash or long line. That is what they are for. Remember when using the long line (hands on or hands off), we expect the same immediate and complete follow-through from the come command that we did back when we were standing directly in front of the dog with the short leash in hand. With all of our training, what we expect from our four-legged friend with leash in hand, we will eventually expect with the leash off!

In closing, be mindful of the clock when training your friend. Fifteen to thirty minutes should be enough time to work on everything from handling manners through hands-off recall on a long line. We never want to train beyond our dog’s capacity to concentrate.

Enjoy working with your dog and he’ll enjoy working with you. He is a family member after all, not a soldier. Also, make natural dog time a regular part of his life. All of our canine friends need some time just to be animals. Running, barking, jumping, chewing, and smelling are all essential activities for a healthy dog. And a healthy, happy, controlled dog is a joy to live with!

— Ten Natural Steps To Training The Family Dog

A few more pointers to help you in your endeavor to teach control at a distance. Since the whole goal is to be as stealthy with the long leash as possible, if I have the longline in my hand I like to hide the fact that I’m holding onto it by putting that hand in my pocket or keeping it close to my leg. When putting on the longline on your dog’s collar try to distract your pup as you quietly put on the longline. Remember our goal is to not have our canine know that we have the upper hand.

There’s a funny story that I like to tell my clients of the time I was walking my dog. Nine years ago I was just a client myself, at the time I was getting near to finishing up the full program. Our last lesson was about learning how to use the longline and few weeks later I was glad that I had that lesson. One day nine years ago I was walking my dog Basher. He was doing perfect, walking on a loose leash on my left side, minding his own business around distractions, I couldn’t ask for more. Unfortunately I had put on his training collar incorrectly and during the walk it fell off. There he was wearing nothing but his fur. In shock I looked at my dog and he looked at me. I remember thinking to myself “shoot,” I expected him to do what he used to do, run off into the nearby woods initiating a two hour chase me game. That didn’t happen, instead he sat down and waited patiently for me to put the collar back on. I enthusiastically rewarded him then we continued on our walk.

Don’t underestimate the importance of the longline, without it you can’t teach your dog not to take advantage of a situation. The benefits of knowing how to achieve control at a distance goes beyond just having a dependable come/recall. With enough time and consistent training the longline exercises can eventually lead to off-leash training. The joy of having a well mannered dog without the assistance of a leash is indescribable. So remember keep at it, the more time you spend with the longline means an easier transition to off-leash.

— Josh Decker, Dog Trainer

Becoming more natural in our training

“Utilizing a safe doorway, designate a small living room accessed by this door for both handler and dog. Casually hang out in the area with the dog on a leash or long line out of hand. Behave normally, reading or watching television with no commands for the dog. Remember, hang out normally! Wait for your prepared visitor (helper) to ring or knock at the door. Casually answer the door, first with your focus on the dog and his door control.

Just like in a real visiting situation, your dog is allowed to accompany you to the door. Take your time! Handle this exercise in distinct steps. First, fully open the door with confidence. Show your dog that you are in control of this situation. If your dog immediately runs out to greet the visitor, step on his leash and give him a couple of tugs back across the threshold and repeat this step.

Let’s assume the second time the two of you answer the door, your companion hangs with you while the door stands fully open. After a bit of soothing praise, chat with the visitor for a while, the two of you on opposite sides of the threshold. The visitor should be encouraged to speak to the dog while the dog all the while maintains his composure on the handler’s side of the doorway. Once the handler and dog are comfortable with this part of the exercise, move on to step two. Without addressing the dog (but with enough attention directed towards him to effectively train him), the handler should step across the threshold to greet and shake hands with the visitor. If your four-legged friend walks out the door with you (and he will the first couple of times), immediately take hold of his leash and tug him back across to the proper side and repeat the maneuver. Each subsequent time you step out to greet the visitor and your little buddy follows, apply stronger tugs as he is returned to his side of the threshold. It is every bit as important for the handler to leave his visitor to go back and lavishly praise the dog the first time he holds on his own side of the threshold.

This is probably the most difficult aspect of door control. But this is really where the rubber meets the road. Every dog owner should be able to step out onto the porch and pay the pizza man or accept a delivery. Every dog owner should be able to prop the front door open and help family and friends carry in gifts and food at the holidays. Every dog owner should be able to load or unload the vehicle with their dog patiently waiting to get in or get out.”

— Ten Natural Step to Training the Family Dog

Imagine having the ability to confidently bring in groceries with a door that’s wide open and your dog waiting patiently without any commands. Through this exercise that is exactly what we are training for. You’ll need to rely on your experience gained by all five manners for this to be successful. Remember to be calm and confident and to utilize a safe door in the beginning (perhaps a bedroom door). After several successful training attempts with other doors carefully try working with a door leading outside. 

After the fundamentals of door control, this hands free exercise is the next step in our natural progression to a better family dog. Recruit friends, neighbors or family members to play the part of a visitor or delivery person. Try to aim for realism. Our goal is to teach our furry, four pawed family member a default behavior, meaning what we expect of them when no commands are given, in this case concerning visitors and doors. 

During the training we should remain quiet unless we are praising our dogs. Whenever a correction is necessary remember to use leash and collar tugs to bring them back to their correct side of the door. To initiate the training session have the visitor knock or ring the doorbell. As you go to answer the door, take your time and don’t allow your dog to crowd the threshold, correcting if need be. Open the door confidently and make sure to step aside to give your canine student a chance to make a mistake. Talk to your guest, make it realistic. If our pet is doing well we can step out to greet our delivery person. Try to keep yourself angled to keep your canine student in view when you cross the threshold. Make a display of interacting with your guest before inviting them inside. At no time is the dog allowed to force an interaction with your guest, by going up to them or getting in their way. Your visitor should be able to sit down, move around and leave the area without interference. Don’t forget to lavishly praise your dog for all positive behavior. If you have a determined door darter, you may want to keep the loop of the leash in your hand preferably hidden or utilize a longline. 

— Josh Decker, Dog Trainer

The keys to an enjoyable walk with your dog

“The walking exercise is second to none in developing a follow-the-leader relationship with your dog. I can watch a dog properly walking alongside his handler on the other side of a football field, and I can know that the person has very good control over his dog without ever seeing the two work as a team through formal obedience commands.

The essence of this walking lesson for the dog is to follow the leader (you) regardless of pace, direction, or distraction. In a nutshell, the dog only has two conditions to satisfy: He must remain on your general left, and he must travel with a slack full leash.

The purpose of this exercise is to give a person an opportunity to develop handler awareness in his dog and at the same time create a casual but controlled mode of travel. By giving a dog access to a full loose leash (four to six feet) and allowing him to travel anywhere left of the handler’s centerline (an imaginary line running between the handler’s legs) the dog will be able to travel long distances and not exhaust himself mentally from heavy concentration as he would with the formal heeling command.

Under this informal command, walk (and we typically use this one word as a verbal cue to begin this exercise), the dog should be allowed to look around freely and smell the flowers if he wishes, as long as he maintains a loose leash and remains left of the centerline while he does it.

Select a relatively large, flat, and unobstructed training area for this lesson, like a backyard or unfinished basement. As soon as proficiency allows, cruise the neighborhood or the park. One of the keys to success with a new dog, especially a charged-up fellow, is to travel very slowly (as if you have a sprained ankle) at first. You can speed up or vary the speed with proficiency.

Actually, begin the training session by gripping the leash with two hands, allowing the dog sufficient leash length (four to six feet) for comfortable yet controllable travel. Make sure your hands are touching each other when gripping the leash, the way you would hold a baseball bat. This greatly improves strength and coordination when developing your training technique.

With hands held against the chest (heart area), select a destination. Aim for anything that will help you travel in a straight line. Straight lines are important because they ensure that the dog is unable to influence direction. Remember, the handler always establishes pace and direction while keeping the dog on a loose leash and left of the centerline.

Once the command walk is given, 95 percent of the handler’s focus should be directed toward the dog. To maintain sustained visual contact and unbroken concentration, use peripheral vision to see where you are going. Don’t stop to wonder what the dog is thinking as you develop this follow- the-leader relationship.

Here is how you direct the dog into the proper position using the loose leash:

Regardless of the dog’s speed and determination, allow him all of the loose leash. As soon as your dog commits to lead in any direction, very quickly and very quietly spin to your right 180 degrees (exactly the opposite direction the dog is charging toward) with your hands gripping the leash locked against the chest, drive toward a new target while preparing for the impact of Speedy Gonzales running out of leash. The handler during this very moment is defining for the dog that the dog is not the leader (and it’s impossible to follow when you’re leading) and that the handler is the most important thing the dog can focus on. If we can’t accomplish this with our dog, there is little point moving into more formal commands because we will not have the dog’s full attention or respect.

Make certain as the leader of your handler-dog team you have a definite direction to walk in. It would be detrimental to the walking plan to allow the dog to influence our direction of travel, even inadvertently. So don’t just wander around the training area. Demonstrate with positive confidence that you have a purpose for what you do. In truth, this idea is the main point of the walking lesson: Show the dog he must follow. Even though there’s not room for two leaders on your team, the dog will still have a great deal of fun on the walks (with all the stimulation around) especially if you remain lighthearted and try to have fun during the exercise. A good handler should always be on the lookout, especially in early training, for those micro moments when a dog first makes an effort to figure out what it is you want him to do. As soon as you recognize an effort, praise your buddy lavishly and identify for him what he is doing by repeating the command walk: “Good boy. Walk.”

— Ten Natural Steps to Training the Family Dog

When teaching new commands it’s imperative that we introduce the meaning alongside the command. We first say the command walk, which means left side of handler on a loose leash, it will eventually tell our dog where we expect them to be at that time. Next we will refrain from saying walk when the dog is not in a walk position so as not to confuse the meaning. When our canine is in the walk position then that’s the perfect time to say good boy walk and mark that position with the command. Keep in mind that directives do not need to spoken harshly or loudly, most dogs can hear us just fine and we want our commands to be viewed in a positive light.

Think of teaching new commands as if it was us learning a new language. Let’s say I’m teaching you what the Spanish word Rojo means. I point to a table covered with a red tablecloth and say Rojo, it could mean table, red or tablecloth. It would be useless to keep pointing to the same object and expect that you would suddenly know what Rojo means. Now if I next pointed to a red chair and said Rojo you may get that Rojo means red because that’s what common between the two objects. I don’t want to confuse you and say Rojo toward something that’s not red. That’s similar to what we do with the walk command, after the first initial walk directive we only say walk when the dog is in the correct position, left side with a loose leash to associate the command walk with that deed.

There are two moves that the handler needs to be able to do to be successful at teaching walk. Turning away; a 180 degree right turn. Use this technique whenever the dog start walking ahead of you or when your canine is paying too much attention to a distraction. Throw your right leg behind you and pivot on that foot, start walking in that new direction. If your dog keeps walking he will run out of leash causing a correction or they will follow you and then you can praise. After the maneuver feel free to head in any direction that you choose to.

Next is Yielding; a 90 degree left turn into your dog’s position causing them to move out of your way or yield to you. We want to convey that it’s the dog’s responsibility to move out of our path. This is for practical purposes as well as to teach proper positioning. That way if we are carrying something large or it’s dark our dog is not going to assume that we are going to go around them, this is to prevent us stepping on or tripping over our companion. Keep in mind that we want the dog to consistently move to our left so their movement is predictable. Make sure to slide your feet as you bump into their front paws with your toes so as not to step on your furry friend. Reward your canine for any movement out of your way back into the walk position. I find it easiest to begin the left turn exercise next to an unobstructed wall or fence before practicing in a more natural setting.

The walk command is a position and has nothing to do with movement. We want to be able to turn left, turn right, slow down, speed up, jog, and stop all with the dog maintaining left side slack leash. The most common mistake is trying to control our dog with a tight leash, be aware of your leash and attempt to keep a J-shape slack while your dog is in the correct position. Typically our left hand wants to slide down closer to our dog but do your best with trying to keep your hands together. As always go out of your way to praise your canine companion when they are doing well.

— Josh Decker, Dog Trainer

The Formal Command Heel: The beginning of a working relationship with our dog

“Our basic philosophy of positive, calm, focused, and firm handling that I’ve outlined during the good manners instruction is equally important in formal command training. Our concentration in this section, however, will be on the development of a specific response from the dog to a specific signal. The five formal commands we’ll consider are these: heel, sit, down, stay, and come.

In this book, we are not concerned with a competition style of response which would be exact and animated. However, we are going to train for an immediate and dependable response from the dog to a single command. Our goal is to end up with both handler and dog being comfortable and confident about their formal command relationship.

There are three aspects to this training process that will apply to all five formal commands. These are teaching, reinforcing, and proofing. Before you tackle even the first aspect of the first command, be certain that your dog has mastered the first five exercises so completely that you and he can work without a leash. This will ensure smooth sailing through the formal commands, because in the process of developing good manners, the dog has learned to control his drives and energy, he has learned to defer to the handler before making decisions, and he has also learned how to concentrate in the midst of distractions. That is why, at my training center, we consider manners to be the primary concern of basic obedience with formal commands a close second.

Let’s begin our formal training with aspect one of command one: teaching the heel.

Since the development of the heeling position is so similar to the development of the walking position, I’ve covered this exercise as the first formal command. The stationary placement commands of sit, down, and stay will follow, leaving come as the final and most challenging directive to be developed.

The optimal way for a handler to view the heeling exercise is simply as the formal version of walking. Heel is essentially a position a dog must maintain in relation to his handler; specifically, the right side of the dog’s neck should be about nine inches from the outside of the handler’s left leg.

The impetus behind the development of the formal heel command is safety and precision. We already have convenience in handling and easy travel from our walking exercise, but because we allow the dog a generous radius of three to six feet when casually traveling, we lack optimal control in congested areas or tight quarters. For example, when strolling through the park with our dog for fun and physical exercise, we would choose the walk command to allow our companion the freedom to enjoy the surroundings and the experience. Walk again would be the preferred command when taking our friend out for elimination, affording him the relaxed mind-set needed for relief. On the other hand, when crossing a busy street, we choose the command heel to keep our dog close to our leg for safety, allowing for quick starts and stops. Heel would also be the appropriate command when entering a veterinarian’s waiting room, making it possible for the handler and the dog to weave around the sick and unruly dogs.

Heeling requires so much more concentration and effort from the dog (because his obligated radius is so short) that a handler should never require his dog to heel for long distances or stretches of time. It would be unfair to expect our companions to maintain such an exact position for extended periods. In fact, your dog will mentally fatigue if you push for long heeling durations, and he won’t be able to maintain an accurate position.

Remember, we need accuracy for precision and safety. If you find yourself in a situation where your dog needs to heel a lot, give him as many short breaks as possible, even if that means finding a quiet spot to stop and briefly release him with some reward. My advice is to use the walking command whenever possible (which is why we teach it) and preserve the more accurate heeling command for the times when you need it.

With the dog already in the walking position from the warm-up, step toward him so that the outside of your left leg lines up with the right side of his neck about nine inches apart (in other words, the heeling position). As you move into this position, collect your leash so that it’s kept off the ground, out from under the legs, loose and in control. Think of your right thumb as a hanger. During the walking exercise, we usually only have the leash handle hanging in the right thumb with the balance of the leash dangling free at the dog’s disposal. Since the heeling exercise will demand the dog to maintain no more than about nine inches of obligated radius, (assuming you’re training with a standard four- to six-foot leash), we’re left with excess that should hang neatly in a single loop on the same right thumb.”

— Ten Natural Steps to Training the Family Dog

Some points to consider:

  • Allow the dog to concentrate by not overusing or rapidly repeating the command heel. Only say the command the first initial time and anytime the dog is in the correct position. Always keep a polite neutral tone when giving the command.
  • Keep a short but loose leash. Keep any excess leash out of the way of both your legs and the dog’s.
  • Try to keep heel fun and motivating but if necessary correct your canine student for unwanted behavior.
  • Don’t keep your dog on the heel command for too long, it can be exhausting and requires a lot of concentration. Keep the works short and energetically fun.
  • Use food, for most dogs it’s a great motivator. To use the food bonus properly, pick a spot on your left leg that’s easily reached by your dog and place your right hand containing the treat there, keeping the treat within your dog’s reach to facilitate a focused response. It’s important to note that we encourage the dog to come to our treat rather than our treat going to the dog. Don’t give all the treat at once but let your heeling canine nibble it out of your hand. If treats are not a good motivator or unavailable then try wiggling your fingers instead to intrigue your student.
  • When you stop, ask your dog to sit. Don’t allow your dog’s nose to dip to the ground during the heel. The dog’s attention should be on you, if not, then try your best to regain that focus.
  • Don’t be predictable and feel free to change your speed and direction to create excitement over heeling. I recommend slowing down for any sudden direction change though.

Keep these points handy for easy reference. As our dogs become more advanced, it’s even more important to continue to dole out the praise. Begin with easy obtainable goals that slowly increase in difficulty in all the training exercises. Oftentimes, I find watching our training videos helps our clients visualize the technique, especially for the heel command. As you go about the training process (i.e. teaching, reinforcing and then proofing), keep in mind that our canine student will test the situation, it has nothing to do with remembering or forgetting, dogs tend to test the rules at the different phases of training and with different situations, that’s why we never consider a command solid until we have “proofed” it around as many distractions as possible.

— Josh Decker, Dog Trainer

What’s wanted versus what’s needed

“Tom and Doris’ house was situated on a comfortable two acre tract as were the adjacent neighbors on either side of them. Although a tangible barrier did not fence (their great dane) Stony’s yard, Tom did have a signal wire fence installed, and had recently erected a spacious exercise pen in the backyard. Unfortunately, neither one of those products did much to protect innocent people from getting bitten (Stony exhibited intense defensive and territorial aggression). With the signal wire fence, neighbors, delivery persons, and visitors were not physically blocked from walking into Stony’s actively guarded territory. In regards to the very nice pen Tom built, he wasn’t in the habit of using it. The entire reason Tom and Doris bought the two acre home was to afford their dog some freedom to run and exercise. Never imagining owning such an intense watch dog. Too much freedom was how they ended up in this desperate situation of trying to make Stony fit into their dream. So for all intents and purposes, before I helped Tom restructure the home routine, Stony was in charge of all he could see whenever he was outside.

As disheartening as it was for Stony’s owners to hear, the first step in the right training direction was redefining their original dream. Owning a friendly canine companion that loved to hang out around the house and enjoyed visiting with outsiders who ventured on to the property wasn’t the reality of this situation. So, what they wanted to do had to give way to what they needed to do.

If the plan was to keep Stony, protecting the innocent from injury was the first priority. In that light, Tom and Doris’ view of their family dog as a free spirit had to change. Stony had proven more than a few times in a twelve month period that he could not run loose on his two acre property without abusing the privilege. I do mean privilege, not right. This privilege needs to be earned by all dogs through acceptable behavior which is determined by the primary handlers and the environmental demands. For instance a true farm dog might be allowed to run through fifty acres of farm land as long as he doesn’t harass the livestock. A condominium dog may only be allowed to run free outside the building if he maintains proximity to his handler and follows basic obedience rules, so as not to interfere with other residents and traffic. A country dog, On the hand, may be allowed to run over hill and dale as long as he comes home for supper. The amount of freedom a dog is afforded is better measured by what works then what one wants.”

— Eight Faces of Canine Aggression

Behavioral issues can often come about through lack of structure. Once our family canine has proven that they are responsible enough we can slowly introduce them to more and more freedom. Also keep in mind to have realistic goals for your dog depending on their personality and your situation. If the issue is with aggression, steps must be taken to prevent an innocent from being harmed while we are working with our intense fellow. Our environment dictates what we need from our dog. Often times we hear the saying, “a dog needs a job,” keep in mind that the job could be as simple as being a well behaved family dog. It all depends on what we need from our canine.

At the training center, we encounter so many different breeds and temperaments. The challenge for us is taking all the different pieces like the dog’s personality, the handler’s ability, and the situation to guide our clients to a happier, more rewarding relationship between dog and person. As the team captain your responsibility is to setup boundaries, especially when you have more than one dog. With multiple dogs the rules we recommend are, no infighting, the handler will settle all disputes. If we pet on one dog the other is not allowed to join in, stealing your affection from a canine sibling often causes contentions within our artificial pack. The same is true for bones and food, if one dog has a valuable item the other dog is not allowed to interfere or approach, it’s generally seen as a bully tactic. No aggressive action between our family’s dogs is allowed. If any of these rules are broken a correction is highly recommended. A hierarchy should be discouraged except for our roles as a team captain and our dogs as team members.

Look objectively at your dog and your situation and create realistic goals. Example- if your dog is shy around people then they may not enjoy being a therapy dog for a retirement home. The primary handler should keep in mind that training the shy dog for that job would take more effort, time and patience. Another example could be training a low energy dog to do agility. It’s not impossible to train these personality dogs to these tasks, only more difficult.

An objective view of our dog’s ability is necessary to setup a challenging training scenario that still allows our dog to be successful. Increasing confidence in the handler’s and dog’s ability is highly sought after. Any mistake from our dog is not a failure but only the continuation of the trial and error phase of training. Every time our dogs “messes up” it gives us a direction on what we need to train more on. Embarrassment and being self conscious are usually an emotional hinderance to our ultimate training success. Every time we see a “perfect dog” rest assured that they only got that way through lots of mistakes, sometimes embarrassing.

— Josh Decker, Dog Trainer

How to teach your dog to be calm around visitors

“The dog’s role during a visit should be passive; the dog should wait to be interacted with. He should not be allowed to initiate physical contact regardless of what a visitor might say or do. If we approve of the visitor’s interacting with our canine, our dogs must reciprocate within the bounds of acceptable contact (no jumping, mouthing, pawing). We will not allow our dogs to force the engagement by whining or barking at the visitor in an attempt to elicit interaction. It really does not matter how excitable a dog may be or how stimulating a visitor is. These rules are a must, and every dog that passes through our training center is taught to abide by them. 

We have found the easiest way to set up this training scenario is to begin with composure practice relatively close to an entryway or door into your training area. Setting up entry into the training area from behind a closed door is best. Have a friend or neighbor who will be your helper pose as a visitor. This “visitor” should knock or ring a bell before opening the door, creating the feeling of a real visit and bringing about a natural reaction in the dog which is generally at least a heightened sense of alertness. 

This first visit should be looked at as a human-to-human visit. Our helper should ignore the dog in training. This will be the only style of visit until the dog can easily manage the human-to-human interaction. When the helper can begin gradually directing attention toward the dog. By “easily manage,” I mean the dog is command free, correction free, with the leash out of hand, hanging out while the humans visit. No commands should be necessary to control the dog. He is free to sit, stand, lie down, levitate, or in general just peacefully hang out for the duration of the visit. 

When the pseudo-visitor enters the room, he or she should behave in a calm and natural way, approaching the handler and dog as a real visitor would. Keeping the visit low-key at first gives a dog that is new to this kind of training a better chance to grasp the rules and accept his responsibilities. And at the same time, a low-key visit gives a new handler a better chance to be timely with his rewards and deterrents, facilitating better learning for the dog. 

As the dog’s and the handler’s proficiency rise, so should the intensity of the visit. The helper(s) should gradually portray wilder, louder, and more assertive visitors. Sometimes the handler allows the helper to make contact with the dog and sometimes not. Remember the dog handler always controls the visit. During a training exercise or in real life, no one interacts with your dog unless you say so. 

It is very important to practice this exercise in different locations with different helpers. Sometimes the trainer is standing; sometimes you and your dog are walking in the park. The more realistic the lesson, the easier the control transfers to genuine visits.”

— Ten Natural Steps to Training the Family Dog

With every exercise, we always attempt to make it challenging but within the dog’s ability. We always want the dog to be successful with following our rules and directives. And with each success, the dog gains confidence in their ability. When you first begin this exercise we recommend the handler to be seated. This prevents us from being an overbearing presence.

The dog should only be addressed by the handler in a positive way when the dog has shown self-control. The visitor should be able to shake your hand, talk to you, sit down, stand up and move around without being intercepted or interfered with by your canine. The visitor should also be able to initiate contact with your dog (as long as you and your dog are OK with it), as well as end any petting at their discretion without the dog trying to reengage them. Remember your family canine is not allowed to put paw or mouth on the visitor’s body at anytime.

Never allow your dog to avoid the situation by going underneath the chair or leaving the area. That prevents the dog from learning self-control. Most of us don’t mind doggy kisses, but we recommend to limit it to three licks or less. Most guests find being bathed in slobber to be bothersome. Excitedly wiggling is an acceptable behavior and most people find it endearing. 

Any infraction to our rules by the dog, like movement toward the guest, will necessitate a deterrent. A deterrent or correction is the speedy removal of slack from your leash back to a slack leash, try to maintain enough slack in the leash to have a J-shape to it. This is to create a bite like effect that is similar to what a mother would do with a misbehaving pup. Any success by our dog on controlling themselves should be rewarded. Examples of a reward would be a calm verbal praise, a brief slow pet or a small treat that’s easy to swallow. 

As we teach our rules, keep in mind we are teaching our dog and we can’t get mad at them for making mistakes. Successes and mistakes are vital to us being well-rounded. Allow your pet to make their decision and clearly commit before you praise or correct the behavior. Commands (like sit or down) should be avoided during this exercise so the rules can clearly be taught. As we progress, try to make this more difficult and more realistic for our dog. 

— Josh Decker, Dog Trainer

Food Control for the Dog with a Voracious Appetite

“The last critical idea of food control is commitment. Every handler must be observant enough and informed enough to recognize a dog’s coveting behavior and then be willing to take action to effectively quash this undesirable behavior. For instance, the easy-to-recognize (albeit cute and often comical) begging behavior needs to be nixed if you ever hope to relax around your companion and food. Begging allows your dog to fixate on something that’s not his and should be handled with a leash correction. 

If you happen to have more than one dog in your house and one happens to be a fast eater, don’t allow the fast eater to hover around or encroach upon the other dog’s feeding station. I think it is a good idea to feed animals in the same area at the same time (leashes and collars on) to drive home the point that what is given to the first dog is not in any way for the second dog.

By the same token, your dog’s hanging around for food to fall off a high chair, which quickly turns into a waiting game for your dog, is no good. If you want, after the little person has finished throwing things off his high perch, remove the chair from its original spot and give your dog a clear invitation to come in as the clean-up crew. Only when the primary handler gives the dog an invitation does the food become his.

I had a client not too many months ago with a very nice twelve-month- old Great Dane. Needless to say, this fellow possessed a voracious appetite and was notorious for stealing food off the table. After our first lesson, the client was so excited about her Dane’s newfound self-control, she immediately went home and put the food exercise to the test. She called me the next day with a glowing report. ‘Charlie didn’t touch a thing on the table. He just stood there with his head directly over the plate of chicken and didn’t attempt to eat any of it.’

I was happy she was so tickled, but all I could envision was this one- hundred-and-twenty-pound monster breathing and drooling on the chicken. So after praising her efforts, I instructed her to back off a bit to make the dining situation a little more comfortable for everyone. As a general guide, if you feel uncomfortable with your dog’s coveting behavior, take decisive action right away. Don’t wait for the bite out of the birthday cake!

A closing thought: I realize these self-control exercises are challenging for your dog. But you have to look at it as the cost for the privilege and comfort of being a family dog. And don’t forget that the dogs I see coming to my training center live better than a substantial number of the world’s population of human beings. Most of our dogs have better shelter, medical care, and diet than a lot of people, so a little responsibility is not a bad trade for all the benefits.

Any of the sections in this book that involve great detail in setup or exact handling technique should be reread and reread until the information seems clear and familiar.”

— Ten Natural Steps to Training the Family Dog

This is a great beginning exercise for a new dog. Food control is using any inanimate object as a distraction. The typical items used or discussed for food control are food, shoes, socks, clothing, kids toys and furniture.

Utilize any item that your dog tends to have a  attraction to that would be considered negative. This exercise teaches our dogs that if it has not been given to you, don’t mess with it. In many ways it’s similar to what we are taught as children. Commitment in the context of food control is any movement toward the item, usually we wait for a step toward unless the item is in close proximity to the dog, then we watch for any movement toward said item. Ideally we want to take action before the dog makes contact with the item so their negative behavior has no reward.

Any commitment on the dog’s part will result in quick removal of slack from their leash to cause a bite-like effect from their collar (similar to what a mother would do to her pup). A dog’s self-restraint around the temptation will result in our sincere, but calm praise or food bonus. If you want to share food with your canine friend feel free, just make sure your the one who’s giving it to him and that he’s not taking it or demanding it, always teach your dog to be polite.

A dog’s mistake is completely understandable as their testing of the rules is how they naturally explore their pack’s boundaries. And therefore no negative feelings are necessary on the handler’s part. Your obligation is to be a teacher and our goals to have clear communication with our dog. Remember to exclude commands like sit or down during the exercise. If we do add commands, that means we are teaching two things at once (which makes our job harder). Focus on one thing at a time. Most importantly, have fun as we teach our dogs how best to fit in with their family.

— Josh Decker, Dog Trainer

How to have the best pet at the vet

“To teach the dog to find composure and, later, to accept grooming calmly, the handler should begin this lesson seated on a sturdy but utilitarian chair like the plastic patio kind. The seated posture (for the handler) is important here because we need the dog not to perceive the owner as an ominous, towering threat, but a more informal presence. We want to control the dog without the formality of commands and give him freedom within limits. Teaching the handler and the dog to hang out together without using rigid formal directives is the all-important design of beginning training, and it is a significant difference between our instruction program and the rest.

With the handler seated, the leash and collar on the dog, and the leash in the handler’s hand, allow the dog about two feet of loose leash. Your dog should be allowed to sit, stand, lie down, pace, adjust, sleep, roll over, levitate, stand on his head, anything so long as the two feet of leash remains absolutely slack and the dog does not bother the handler or anyone else in any way. And by that, I do mean nobothering in any way.

It is perfectly fine for handlers to pet and talk to their dogs freely (but never constantly), as long as the dog has not coerced or bothered his controller into this reaction. The use of food for a periodic bonus (attached to desired behavior) can be very helpful in bringing about sustained calm focus on the handler during this lesson.”

— Ten Natural Steps to Training the Family Dog

Our goal is to setup boundaries and rules for our dog, giving them a chance to learn what we expect of them. Canines learn through heuristic process (trial and error) and observations. To teach effectively, we have to let our dogs make their own decisions so we can teach them if it was positive or negative. Refrain from adding commands to composure and manners as it only makes the exercise harder, work on one thing at a time.

We tend to ignore negative behavior from our dog until frustration builds, which can turn into anger, instead realize your dog’s behavior was negative and take action before frustration takes ahold. Learn to analyze your feelings quickly, if the behavior is bothersome don’t hesitate to use the leash and collar correction to teach your dog that the negative action wasn’t ok. With the ability to communicate with our dogs frustration naturally dissipates. Our dogs are learning, we can’t fault them for that, it is our job as the team captain to setup boundaries.

These are your rules, if you don’t like doggy kisses that’s fine, if you do that’s fine too. Rules will slightly differ from family to family, the main concern is you teach your dog what the rules are. Corrections, be it positive incentives or negative deterrents are a way of communication. Leash and collar deterrents is similar to the dogs natural way of saying “no” and the petting, praise and food reward is ideal to encourage our dogs to do that behavior again.

Observe quietly, remember we don’t want to be an imposing figure but a more passive one. Think of yourself as a teacher allowing your student to learn as you present a test. Wait for commitment on you dog’s part, which is movement toward a distraction or some other unwanted behavior. It’s hard to be patient but we may find that our furry student makes the right decision, If we react too soon we may miss our chance to praise. Above all else have fun while training your dog and be genuinely pleased with each success. 

— Josh Decker, Dog Trainer

“Training your dog does not take great blocks of time. It is much more important to work frequently with your dog than to work for long periods. I suggest 15-30 minute instruction sessions a couple of times a day as optimal for novice handlers and untrained dogs. That’s plenty of time to accomplish big things without handler or dog lagging too severely in concentration.

When talking to clients, I compare these 10 training steps to 10 rungs on a ladder. When I was a kid, my uncle had a ladder with the third rung missing. That ladder was almost impossible to use. We would always try to turn the ladder so that the missing rung was close to the top where we might not need to go.

These ten steps are like the rungs. The skills build on each other. You cannot skip over one to get to another and hope to make the fastest progress toward getting your dog free of a leash all together. The first five rungs on the ladder, the five manners exercises, are the foundation for general control or pet obedience. They can be looked at as the core of your new, balanced relationship with your dog. At the training center, we begin all basic obedience and problem behavior solving with these handling manners and we finish by emphasizing their importance in order to maintain control over any dog long term. Realize that obedience training is a relationship-building process centered around three concepts or responsibilities for the dog: energy and drive control, handler deference, and distraction management.”

— Ten Natural Steps to Training the Family Dog

In our high-octane lives, we all want the finished product fast but teaching takes time, effort and patience. Each exercise is connected to the next and allows for more solid self control overall. Spending the time to work on each manner and command makes for well rounded training with a lessened chance to allow a dog to take advantages of loopholes. Work on manners and commands separately until each one is solidly ingrained, otherwise working on both at the same time can be an impossible task.

We also must remember, just because our dog knows what to do doesn’t mean they will always follow the rules. Our honor roll canine may decide to test our Aunt when we go out of town. It’s natural for a dog to test new situations to see if there’s any benefit or changing of the rules, rest assured though that your dog did not forget their training and is only testing boundaries.

Set aside time to do the exercises. By allowing our dogs to explore the situation in a controlled environment our handlers have the advantage. Waiting for your dog to make mistakes in real life sometimes catches you distracted. Every success on you dogs part that runs counter to your wishes means that training will take longer. As you gain experience you will become better about being aware of where your dog is and what he is doing.

Let your canine drag their leash around like a second tail when supervised and anytime that they’re not supervised have them in a secure location (crate, pen or dog safe room). Try to have your canine in the same room as the one your in, so that you can monitor them better and catch them in the act of a mistake. When correcting, take your time, it’s more important to have an effective correction then for it to be fast. Once the correction is started then you must finish it, even if your dog tries act innocently right after their misdeed. Some dogs will try to outrun the correction as they rightfully consider themselves faster than you, keep your pace slow to avoid creating the chase me game, don’t forget to take your dog back to the scene of the crime to correct them. Always remain calm and mechanical during corrections and sincerely pleased during praise.

— Josh Decker, Dog Trainer

“Stop petting me I’m not in the mood”

“I’m resting on the couch, don’t sit so close!” “I’m trying to see who’s coming in the door, quit pushing past me!” “I’m not in the mood for affection, stop petting me!” All of these canine reactions can be expressed as hostile complaints. In the vast majority of intolerance aggression cases we work on, all that’s needed to trigger the canine’s hostility is casual, incidental interaction.

“Grumpy” or “grouchy” could describe the average canine with intolerance aggression; however that isn’t fair or entirely accurate. A better description maybe selectively intolerant. A common question we hear at the training center is, “What did I do wrong?” Usually followed by “I was just petting him and he started growling,” or similar statement. When I ask the family with an intolerant canine for their top item on the training wish list; it’s not unusual for them to request a change in temperament or personality rather than a change in behavior.

It’s of the utmost importance to understand the difference between altering a facet of character and shaping a behavioral response. The hope for even a small change in personality is going to be more than what training can deliver. With diligent instruction I can convince a defensive canine that the team captain is in control, so stand down and relax while the outsider comes and goes. On the other hand, no matter how hard I work I will not be able to force a dog that is not affectionate to adore someone. Managing intolerance aggression means teaching a dog to accept what he may intrinsically detest, which is a far cry from teaching him to want what he dislikes. Realistic ambitions set the parameters for satisfied dog owners and happy canines.

When I identify a pup or an adult as intolerant, that doesn’t mean that he won’t fit into human society. It means this is a canine personality that may require more space than the average dog in order to be comfortable. A sensitive pet can benefit from buffer zones that are established by setting up eating, elimination and relaxing areas some distance from the mainstream of activity. A intolerant canine companion would not be the best choice for a high energy, affectionate owner who wants to hug and wrestle. Regardless of how important that physical aspect of interacting is to an owner, it maybe asking more of a dog than he has to offer. A wise owner of a low tolerance pet would be best served by pursuing alternative avenues of interaction.

For “disturb me not” pets, I think it’s prudent to establish household policies that limit opportunities for disturbance incidents. For instance, insisting on crate use for sleeping at night or setting up a comfortable dog bed on the floor for relaxing rather than allowing access to the couch. Even at a young age it’s apparent some dogs, like some people, can be less tolerant when they’re sleepy or uncomfortable due to pain (arthritis, surgery, etc.) or unfamiliar surroundings. A dog’s tolerance level is dictated by mood or mindset; that’s why closeness, bumping or petting is ok and sometimes it’s not. Giving an intolerant dog space, allowing him privacy while securing him peace are the first steps in managing this kind of assertive personality.”

— Dog Training and Eight Faces of Aggressive Behavior

Intolerance aggression or aversion is not only a dog issue. We see similar issues in us humans, some of us are not morning people or we don’t like our face or head being touched. Aversion could be as simple as you having a dog who’s passively resistant to snuggling. If you see your dog consistently pulling away during a particular action then that generally means they don’t like it. Just like people, some dogs love affection and some do not. If the issue is with a particular area like the bed or couch then our assertive pup has the lost the right to be on that particular furniture or area. It’s important to respect your dog’s boundaries but we can still build up tolerance in our intolerant pup. Just like in all training, praise and positive rewards are keys to success but it is especially pivotal in building tolerance for an action that a dog finds repulsive. With that positive bonus you’re saying that if you do this thing that you don’t like for me then you get a great reward. I liken it too how much would I have to pay you to work at a waste treatment plant, some people would do it for $30 an hour, some for $100 an hour for others no amount of money could get them to work in that environment.

Think of building tolerance as a ladder, you have rungs you have to step on before reaching that ultimate goal. Slowly increase the difficulty of what you’re asking of your pup over many training sessions. I recommend only one fifteen minute session per week. At anytime aggression occurs then correct the behavior using a non-emotional leash and collar correction, afterwards immediately going back to the task at hand. Also having the leash on your dog allows you to prevent the dog from avoiding the situation increasing their confidence that they can successfully complete the task. For extreme aggression we recommend seeking professional help.

— Josh Decker, Dog Trainer

“Once again, we begin with the teaching aspect. Even if your dog already sits for a treat or usually sits in some fashion on his own time by command, we’re going to start from scratch to ensure our four-legged friend understands exactly how, where, and when to sit, following a command. We don’t want any of our dogs learning that it’s okay to put their own spin on a response. If your dog is good at sitting already, then it will be easy sailing through this command.

Assuming that the leash and the collar are attached to the dog, step into the heel position so that the right side of the dog’s neck is close to your left leg (about nine inches between his collar and your leg). The leash should be securely held in the right hand only allowing just enough length to keep the dog’s collar loose when your hand is held below the belt. I do want you to be able to straighten the leash while tightening the collar, moving only the right hand from below the belt to no more than chest height. This action, using the right hand only, will completely control the front end of your dog, allowing the left hand to control his rear end.

The plan is to bring his head up at the same time the rump is pushed down, and all of this is done in one swift, smooth motion that immediately follows the single command or signal Sit.

Before the sit command is given, the left hand should be at the ready, behind your dog’s line of sight and just above his loin. We control the position of the dog’s rear end by gripping his lower back with our thumb on the right side of his spine and our four fingers on the left side. The objective is: being able to place your dog in the correct sitting position (on his rear feet, not thighs) in the original place we intend (at our left side, no dancing) after a single command sit.

If a handler wants a dependable, accurate response from his dog each time he gives a command, then he must be prepared to place his canine in the proper position associated with the command or signal given. This result must be connected to the appropriate command over and over again to develop a lasting association in the dog’s mind. A handler should be very careful in this teaching stage of training to ensure that there is absolutely no deviation in command or result so the dog’s image of this connection is as clear as his trainer’s.

Keep in mind there should be no communication with the dog during the actual placement process. The handler should be all about focus and determination. Repeat the command sit once the dog has settled into the appropriate posture. Then add some praise.”

— Ten Natural Steps to Training the Family Dog

Commands should always be given in a polite quiet fashion. Don’t try to intimidate your dog into position via your voice or body language. Instead give the command just barely above a whisper, that teaches the dog to listen. Try not turn your body and give the command as you face forward in your original direction. After the first initial Sit command try to only repeat the command when your dog is in the correct position. Whenever we place our pup into the sit position attempt to take away your hand, loosen the leash and stand up straight, if that is successful and the sit is maintained than our dog has earned a reward.

For resistant or testy puppies you may have to lower your immediate expectations. You may not be able to stand up straight until after several repetitions. Stay calm and positive no matter how difficult. For dogs that will snip or protest at you then it’s better to use the leash to guide them into position. While on a loose leash give the command calmly and then slowly pull upwards and back. Apply pressure in a way that encourages the dog to sit on their hunches, “butt”.

When we are teaching and reinforcing, indeed in all aspects of training keep this saying in mind, “effort in the right direction”. We don’t demand perfection, we ask for effort from our dog. Also it is critical to have some sort of reward be it food or play ready as soon as our goal is reached. Before this placement phase I highly recommend starting with baiting (guiding the dog into position using an item like food) at least for the first few times, we can always wean away from that with the placement phase outlined in the book, Ten Natural Steps to Training the Family Dog.

— Josh Decker, Dog Trainer

How to teach waiting at doors and boundaries

“The handler needs to view the newly exposed threshold as an intangible barrier that the dog cannot cross without permission. This exercise also acts as an introduction to perimeter respect (unfenced yards and camping areas). Permission can be given in two different ways: a command or signal for the dog to cross with the handler (“walk” or “heel” for example) or a command or signal for the dog to cross without the handler (like “outside” or “inside”). But regardless of the reason for crossing the threshold, the dog must wait until signaled; even if the doorway is standing wide open for an extended period of time. 

At the onset of this lesson, we supply at least minimal realism and stimulation. We will typically approach our first training door or gate with the dog on a leash (loose of course), leash in hand, allowing our new friend enough length to easily dart through the opening. Jingling keys, knocking on the door, ringing a doorbell, or rattling a gate hasp will create all the stimulation or realism you need at first. Later on, we supply visitors with dogs and food on the other side of the door or fumble with a lawn mower or garbage can at the backyard gate. 

Anticipating the dog’s pushing his nose through the first available crack in the doorway, the handler should be ready to administer the necessary leash correction (not restraint or pull) to turn the dog’s attention from the doorway to the handler. Assuming you are successful, close the door, then restimulate (by knocking, jingling keys, etc., as before). Then open the door further, ever ready to hand out the appropriate consequences (leash check or praise) depending on the dog’s action. Make sure you’re timely with soothing and calming praise (we don’t need more stimulation at doorways) at the very first signs of self-restraint in your friend. 

What we’re shooting for is an automatic reaction from the dog. Upon fully opening the door, the dog should look at the handler or, at the very least, contain himself with no use of leash or commands. I am talking about the handler’s standing in front of (but not blocking in any way) a fully exposed threshold with attractions of any kind on the other side for as long as he likes with no forward motion from the dog. 

As soon as you can count on this kind of control, you should begin practicing with the leash out of hand. Safe doorways should be a priority when hands-off training commences, regardless of a dog’s dependability when the leash is in hand. Examples of safe doors would be doors to a fenced backyard, doors to a closed attached garage, or doorways to screened porches or gated decks. If none exist in your home environment, a traditional training long line must be utilized. Depending on the risk of escape, given the dog in training or risk of injury if the dog were to rush through the opening, the long line can be loose on the floor or anchored securely to a doorknob or a piece of heavy furniture as long as there is enough slack in the line that it doesn’t serve as a tether and restrain the dog from making his mistakes. Success and safety should be a handler’s priorities.”

— Ten Natural Steps to Training the Family Dog

Anything with a clear discernible marker can be a boundary. A few years ago, I was teaching a seminar that was outside, not in a fenced in area, and right next to a very busy road. I had to demonstrate on leash and off leash control. While I had the utmost confidence that my dog wouldn’t stray from me, I still led him up to the line of trees that were before the busy road and taught him that he’s not allowed to go past that line of trees. Door control can be one of the most useful manners when taught properly. Here’s a list of thresholds and boundaries that I’ve taught my dogs not to cross without my permission: front door, back door, car door, kid’s rooms, gate, garage door, garden and road around my house. It is such a relief when you are able to have the door wide open as you bring in groceries and your dog is waiting politely inside your house. 

To properly teach a dog you must be willing to allow them to make a mistake. Canines learn through trial and error (heuristic learning process). Without that loose leash and the handler’s calm quiet it is much more difficult to teach our dog to wait at boundaries and thresholds. By teaching door control as a rule and not as a command we eventually can have the freedom of not having to watch our dogs like hawks. 

To teach door control lead your canine up to a threshold allowing slack in their leash, open the door wide with confidence. Silently wait for the dog to decide, pierce the threshold or wait politely. Any commitment through the door no matter how small should be met with a correction (speedy removal of slack from the leash back to original slack position). A dog who waits politely should be calmly but sincerely praised. Repeat as many times as necessary to get the desired result of the dog waiting patiently. Always end on a positive result and most importantly have fun.

— Josh Decker, Dog Trainer

How to address a dedicated watch dog and shape their behavior to suit your home life

“I Frequently work with exuberant territorial canines that easily accept and even enjoy the company of guests or strangers once these outsiders have crossed the perimeter and entered the area. The thrill for a dog like this is keeping his designated area (as he defined the area) clean of outsiders. But once a challenge has passed (a guest made entry, a passerby passed, or a delivery person returned to the truck), he’s looking forward to the next opportunity to protect the perimeter. However, more times than not a watch dog that avidly gets into his role will be both territorial and defensive. I often describe this kind of guardian as a canine with a very large personal space! In other words, to an energetic or driven watch dog, space is space and he enjoys keeping it all clean of those bothersome outsiders that don’t belong.

Just like Rooney the defensive Dachshund, territorial dogs are born with this passion to protect their home area against invasion. One of the first concepts I discuss with the owner’s of a home guardian is satisfaction. The canine patroller is not only exhilarated by the potential confrontations with intruders, but the urges to rid home space of danger are satisfied (therefore he’s gratified) every time he’s successful at keeping outsiders out. So the first step in controlling a dog’s aggression in circumstances like these is to remove the rush of hostile exhilaration and the feeling of satisfaction gained from his action. Not unlike the defensive encounters I outlined with my sister’s Dachshund, control of the environment and the outcome of the event must be implemented. Territorial situations can be more challenging for a handler to manage due to a greater working area and the difficulty in setting up training scenarios.

It can be very trying for a primary handler to administer the appropriate timely consequences for a territorial dog’s actions because the event often occurs with the canine student in a separate location from that of the team captain. There is no simple management plan when the dog is guarding the fenced yard against the next door neighbor and the handler is in the house having dinner. If a watch dog is loose in the house running from window to window keeping mail carriers, delivery people, and passerby at bay while the primary handler is at work, there is no possibility for shaping behavior away from this stimulating and satisfying action. In most cases, one of the only ways to remove the rush and gratification of territorial hostility is to remove the opportunity. No matter how hard a handler works to control this type of aggression while he’s present with the dog, if the free opportunities (when the dog is on his own) are not removed the undesirable behavior will persist. Like all the forms of hostility we cover in this book, fruitful displays of territorial aggression is reinforcing and therefore self perpetuating.”

— Dog Training and Eight Faces of Aggressive Behavior

In my career, I’m often reminded of the Hank the Cowdog’s books I was read to as a kid — the same books I read to my kids now. Hank loves to guard the farm, from mailmen to coyotes, in the book he called himself the head of ranch security. For our territorial dogs, they too view it as their job to keep outsiders out and receive a job well-done feeling when they’re successful. Having a guard dog isn’t always a bad thing but like always we need to shape the behavior to best suite our lives. No matter if you want a patrolling dog or not, our territorial dog is born this way and it’s up to us to teach the rules and perimeters of what we need from them. Decide how much of a watch dog you need before setting out to curb or shape behavior.

Utilize a dog safe area (a crate for instance) when you’re not supervising your canine, this prevents them from being able to patrol. When the dog is supervised, then a leash and collar must be worn. Set up scenarios where you would elicit the aggressive response (always keep safety in mind), so we can be prepared. Remember a territorial aggressive dog patrols boundaries so they usually will become intense when a guest is both entering and leaving the area. Wait for your dog to make a decision. Any aggressive action or even movement toward the guest should swiftly be answered by a leash and collar bite. Any time the dog looks back at the handler or away from the guest, then he should be sincerely but calmly praised. It’s not necessary for the guest to interact with our canine student and it’s usually best that the guest ignores our watch dog.

Don’t allow your canine to post a watch, like at the window that usually is reserved for watching for intruders. We must not allow the dog to be all consumed by his perceived job. Often the dog will have a preferred area to patrol. The following areas are the most common: house, yard, car, crate or dog house. The more intense territorial dogs can sometimes even choose any enclosed room or perceived area they’re in.

Keep in mind that with true effort from the handler and after many successful experiences on controlling the aggression it gets easier to control our guard dog. We can’t make it disappear because it’s genetically ingrained but we can teach the dog to control the impulse better and with enough times it can be easier for the dog to control themselves. Be patient and take satisfaction for every successful step in the right direction. The handler and dog team is a unique relationship that can be very rewarding, just remember that the issues your having are far from uncommon and these self control exercises can strengthen the relationship between you and your canine companion.

— Josh Decker, Dog Trainer

What to look for from that litter of cuteness

“Jean (my sister) informed me that she had purchased an 8-week-old miniature Dachshund named Rooney for her daughter’s birthday. I asked, “Is she cute?” That question opened the floodgates and Jean raved about Rooney’s sweet personality and how quietly she studied everything. When I asked what Rooney’s parents were like, my sister told me the breeder had to put away the puppies’ mother so they could look at the litter, and she said the sire of the pups wasn’t on the property because someone else owned him. Of course we planned for Rooney’s basic training to begin at the first opportunity just in case some of my past experiences with puppy behaviors might come true. Jean and Rachel were so pleased with the new addition to the family that I didn’t have the heart to further rain on their parade or mention a few red flags that came up in our conversation. 

I was a little concerned over Jean’s comment about Rooney quietly studying everything. I wondered if what she saw was serious concern or worry over environmental changes and outsiders. I wish Jean would have said their new 8-week-old friend was bouncing around getting into everything and jumping on everyone. Even though these behaviors seem offensive, they’re very easy to correct with training and they are a sure sign that a newly weaned pup possesses a happy, heathy and gregarious character. Since character or personality is not malleable like behavior and habits, it’s much more important to be pleased with personality than behavior when selecting a pup. I also didn’t like the fact that Rooney’s mother had to be put away just so visitors could be around the pups. Even though a mother’s protectiveness is understandable, was it extreme? Maybe the dam was highly defensive or territorial, which would have nothing to do with the pups. It’s possible that Rooney’s mother was simply happy, wild, or unruly, and the breeder was just being courteous by putting her up. Although it’s not unusual for the sire of a litter to be owned by a second party and live elsewhere, if at all possible a prospective buyer should at least peek at fifty percent of their pup’s genetic makeup.”

— Dog Training and Eight Faces of Aggressive Behavior

Things got in the way and Jean couldn’t get little Rooney into training until he was 2-years-old. By that time, he turned into a very dedicated watch dog even going so far as to nip at the heel of their guests. Although with the family, Rooney was mostly respectful, visitors however he tried to run them off any chance he got. They eventually sought training and while Rooney still doesn’t like strangers he tolerates them now. 

Picking the right puppy can be a very daunting task. Which breed works best for your family? Where’s a good breeder? Is the puppy healthy? Most of the time, all those questions fly right out the window when we see the bundle of furry joy. But keeping those questions in mind can save you a lot of work down the line. Whenever one of us trainers are selecting a puppy, we have a checklist.

This checklist works for both purebred and rescued pups.

  • Whenever possible try to see the parents.
  • Make sure the pup is from a clean/humane facility.
  • Look up reviews or find out information on the breeder or rescue group.
  • Observe the litter of pups as you approach, avoid the pups that move away from you or appear shy.
  • Pups should not have excessive discharge from any orifice.
  • Look for the most alert, responsive and focused pup.
  • Fluid in movement and physically comfortable indicates a healthier pup.
  • Try to pick a puppy that is more interested in you then in their litter mates.

Now for us trainers, we’ve handled all breeds and know which breed would fit our lifestyle best. For most other people, research will be required to find out which breed or mix of breeds would fit your lifestyle best. The best way to find out about a breed is not Google though, it’s your local dog trainers and veterinarians. Select a few different breeds that you like, call your trusted sources (a variety of opinions is best) and talk to them about the tendencies of each of those breeds. Try to pair an active lifestyle with an active dog breed and vice versa. There is a dog breed or mix of breeds for everyone. 

— Josh Decker, Dog Trainer

“Besides the leash, collar and chair, the only other tool a handler needs to develop grooming control is a simple wooden- or plastic-handled bristle brush. This brush will serve as a training substitute for all the real grooming tools which will be utilized later, such as nail clippers and irrigation bottles.

We set up this lesson with the dog broadside, directly in front of the seated handler. In this early stage of training, it’s not necessary to insist on a stand or sit position for the dog, that can be developed later. What is important at this stage is the dog’s cooperation, so he should not be allowed to squirm or wrestle or resist. The leash is typically held in the hand corresponding to the head end of the dog, allowing for a short but loose leash.

With the brush in the opposite hand, the handler begins lightly and calmly brushing the dog along the withers and back. Remember to always monitor the dog’s behavior because the focus of this exercise is not good grooming but behavior shaping. The goal the handler should be shooting for is calm acceptance by the dog of any grooming or care-taking, no matter how stimulating or repulsive the dog may find it.

We start the brushing process at the shoulder because we have found after thousands of grooming sessions that this is the least sensitive spot on the dog and therefore the easiest brushing to tolerate. After all, we want this experience to be as pleasant as possible while we kindle a feeling of accomplishment in the dog. As always, the handler closely monitors his dog’s behavior, looking for opportunities to reward his dog for any efforts toward acceptance or self- control. No doubt, along with these efforts, there will also be attempts by the dog to thwart the handler’s manipulations, usually in the form of dancing, wrestling, chewing on the brush, or simply trying to get away. Correcting a dog for these undesirable behaviors can be especially difficult because a handler needs to push on through the grooming process while the checks are being made. The handler demonstrates to the dog that the exercise will not be altered or aborted, no matter how determined the dog is to influence the handler. If necessary, drop the brush and manage the leash with two hands in order to restore control. Then immediately pick up the brush and resume grooming. Don’t forget to reward the dog at the first sign of cooperation and take frequent, very brief breaks following any kind of success during the grooming process.”

— Ten Natural Steps to Training the Family Dog

Nothing creates trust and builds relationships better with our dog than grooming control. Most dogs enjoy the grooming interaction and for the few who don’t, grooming control is a perfect way to build up tolerance and even acceptance. Whenever we are working on a task, remember the dog is working too. Be mostly quiet until praise is needed, this allows our dogs to concentrate. Praise needs to be sincere and calming. Any pulling away or resistance to our manipulation will result in a quick but calm removal of slack from the leash back to slack and if needed calm but firm replacement of our dog to their original position.

Train for realism. Manipulate the ears, the mouth, the paws, the hindquarters and the tail. Take your time with each area. At first the dog can lay down, sit or stand, but eventually we want the dog to be able to hold whatever position we place them in. At the training center we use the position stand because it allows us full access to the dog but it’s the most challenging position for the novice handler. Remember to take lots of quick breaks during the training process. Reward with pleasant touch, praise or a food bonus; try not to have your dog focus on a treat but on the task at hand. The most important part of this exercise is easy manipulation of our dog throughout the grooming process.

— Josh Decker, Dog Trainer

Defensive and introverted dogs

“Tendencies toward aggressive behaviors can often be recognized in the very young pup. I routinely conduct temperament assessments on young dogs and evaluate entire litters of pups for placement. My charge is to identify character traits and project into the future how they will express themselves at full maturity. Recently I sat across from a reserved, 10-week-old Lhasa apso that steadily growled while she stared at me from between her owner’s feet. The first thought that ran through my mind was “this pup is awfully young to be so serious!” If at this innocent, dependent age a pup is heavily concerned over the presence of an outsider and already separates “us” from “them”, I know I’m looking at a formidable defensive dog in the making.

This Young Lhasa I’m referring to is playful and cuddly with family members. She’s even wiggly and highly sociable with other non-threatening dogs. Only when she perceives a threat (monster) does she throw up defensive signals. Monsters to her are strange, potentially harmful entities both animate (an adult human visitor) and inanimate (a curb side garbage can). The Lhasa’s owners didn’t encourage this kind of behavior, but they’ve watched it intensify despite their best efforts to quash it. Furthermore, they were appropriately concerned enough to bring her in for an evaluation early in life.

Many families seem almost shocked and relieved when I tell them that this kind of response in a young pup is not all that uncommon (especially within certain breed types), and inadequate socialization is probably not the sole cause for this visceral reaction to strangers. Just like this female Lhasa, most defensive dogs are born into this world, not created by it. Even though only 10 weeks old, this little watch dog peers out through defensive glasses which unfortunately cannot be removed by any training effort. What we can do is teach her to override the natural, aggressive response to a villain in favor of the handler’s suggestion of tolerance.

Essentially, I’ve outlined the essence of defensive dog management with these two concepts: first, accept that we cannot alter how the defensive dog views the world and it’s inhabitants; second, focus on building acceptance of strangers and not fondness of them. If fondness follows acceptance during the instruction process, then all the better. But our initial training goals need to be realistic so that the canine student and handler don’t succumb to frustration.”

— Dog Training and Eight Faces of Aggressive Behavior

As a young man, I was rather introverted and shy. At home with family and friends, I was fun and easy going but around unfamiliar people or places I would be shy and reserved. For my clients who know me, my shyness may come as a shock but it’s true. Like the dogs in Mr. Duffy’s book, I viewed strangers with a little bit of trepidation and like them I was born with a certain amount of perceptual seriousness. Biologically, a shy personality makes sense. In prehistory, strangers were a cause for concern — would they attack or trade? A cautious personality may aid in survival.

Physical traits and personality traits are inherited from a person’s parents and ancestral progenitors. Dogs also inherit traits (both physical and mental) from their parents and further down their ancestry. Teaching your dog self-control and tolerance can help curb inherited but unwanted behaviors. With good handling, we can guide the dog into behavior but we also need to know what mistakes and pitfalls to avoid. Bad timing or technique on the handlers part can increase the chance of hostile behavior. The most common handler mistake would be trying to soothe the dog like a child during a hostile display. When we talk to, touch or pet our canine we are rewarding them, even if our intention is to calm down our intense companion, only soothe when the dog is exhibiting self-control and tolerance.

Use a standard leash and collar deterrent (quick removal of slack, then back to slack) to illustrate that hostile behavior is unwanted. If you have given as effective correction as possible and yet the hostility continues, you may have to consider using a mild extension (pull up on the leash slowly and steadily, keep applying pressure until your dog calms). Don’t have the visitor interact or touch our canine as that is not beneficial most of the time, instead have the stranger peacefully hangout. Get in the habit of saying “I’m sorry my dog is in training, I rather you not pet him.” It’s our job to control our dog but also show them that we control the visitor/monster and that we will not have them interact with you. Remember, with enough time and repetition a person can go from a stranger to a well-known friend but to get there it takes time.  The same process would be used if the hostility is directed toward an inanimate object.

— Josh Decker, Dog Trainer

Living with a dog who has a need to work. How to convince your feisty terrier that you don’t have a rat problem. Discussion on predatory aggression.

“My first impressions of Roscoe are representative of him today: happy, social, confident, and athletic. A person’s initial response to the family’s request may have been, “What is there to fix?” When I looked at Roscoe I saw a handsome, intelligent animal that was adroitly carrying out his natural duties of capturing prey. One might say, “Roscoe’s business was subduing prey, and business was good!” Of course I understand the family’s predicament, so we discussed all the challenges that lie ahead if they wanted to pursue training. The entire family genuinely liked Roscoe, so they held nothing against him for harming one of their treasured house companions. This meant we could begin Roscoe’s instruction with no emotional hurdles, which is a critical prerequisite in any dog training program dealing with hostile behavior. 

  My first job was convincing this family that although Roscoe’s predatory drive is absolutely natural and necessary in the wild, it doesn’t have to be acted upon in his current domestic situation. No differently than we teach our house pets to override their urge to urinate until the appropriate time and place is made available, we can teach a predatory dog to ignore his desire to chase until the appropriate time, place, and target is made available. Encouraging a dog to discriminate is the key to controlling predatory aggression. Exactly like we demonstrate to our canine companions what is okay to eat, we’ll reveal to our predator what is ok chase and subdue. For any animal, there is not a more basic instinctual need to be satisfied than when your hungry and food is available. However, everyday hungry house pets are taught to leave the juicy roast on the table and wait for the dry, bland kibble. Discrimination is the name of the game. “You can eat this, but you can’t eat that,” or “you can urinate here, but not in here.” In Roscoe’s case, “you can chase or capture this, but you must leave that alone.”

— Dog Training and Eight Faces of Aggressive Behavior

Most people don’t realize when properly channeled aggression can be a positive force. Like with anything, it can be good or it can be negative. For example, a mother forcefully protecting her child from a hostile stranger is considered to be utilizing a good type of aggression. In predatory aggression for dogs, we are teaching them that some targets (i.e., cats) are off limits but others are OK (i.e., a ball). Your dog naturally has the drive to chase and that’s not going away, so we need to focus it in a positive way.

Use that leash and collar deterrent to lower the attractiveness of a negative target, but set aside time each day to play ball (make sure it’s on a long line or secure area) so that we channel your dog’s drive in a positive fashion. Remember also that your dog will be physically tougher chasing his target due to high energy and adrenaline so be prepared to have a more effective correction than what is normally needed. Utilize the 180-degree right hand turn away from the distraction to bring your dog’s focus back on you. Move quietly and stealthily to allow your dog to concentrate and not accidentally add energy to the situation.

Avoid the use of commands when working on specific issues, like predatory aggression toward small animals, as commands only make your task harder. It’s much easier too work on one thing at a time. I highly recommend reading both books, Ten Natural Steps to Training the Family Dog and Eight Faces of Canine Aggression. These books are highly useful to completely understand how to effectively work with a dog that has a high predatory drive.

Try to remain calm and confident during your works with your pooch. Since our roll is to be the team’s captain, we set up the rules and boundaries that the canine pack must follow. As we set up these rules, we must remember our dogs are only using the tools that nature gave them to survive. We can’t get mad at our dogs for their natural potential to be a good survivor. That potential is hard-wired into our family’s furry friend, we can’t remove it, no different than not being able to change their personality. We direct their drive, we develop rules, we teach them if their action was positive or negative, these are the handlers obligations.

— Josh Decker, Dog Trainer

“To muzzle or not to muzzle is a reasonable question. A reasonable answer is absolutely use a muzzle, even if there is only a remote chance that your dog may bite another living being. What’s wrong with a comfortable, open-mouth muzzle after all? Probably only the inappropriate stigma attached to it. A muzzle stigma exists only in the minds of uniformed people, so it shouldn’t matter to you what they think about your muzzle wearing companion. I have found over the years that the moment an assertive dog is fitted with a muzzle, everyone around that animal relaxes and this in turn relaxes the dog. So this one piece of equipment, all on its own, breaks a negative cycle of tension-reaction-heightened tension-heightened reaction that leads to more and more explosive encounters between a hostile dog and his targets. Once the cycle is broken, whether it be by a muzzle or effective leash and collar action, an opportunity had been created to activate a new cycle that runs more like this: difficult self restraint-partial calmness-easy self restraint-complete calmness and this cycle leads in turn to genuine harmony (not fondness) between an aggressive dog and his targets.”

— Dog Training and Eight Faces of Aggressive Behavior

My favorite story involving a dog with a muzzle is Olive. A beautiful mixed breed dog, she had a tendency toward defensive aggression. Olive even had gone so far as to have successfully bitten a couple of house visitors. We recommended a muzzle for her which her reasonable owners agreed to. They immediately began to condition to an open mouth muzzle by having Olive eat treats out of it. When she started dayschool, the muzzle helped her be much more calm around strangers. It was like that muzzle was her security blanket. We slowly weaned Olive away from needing to wear the muzzle and got her used to naturally controlling herself around people. Olive still dislikes being touched by strangers, but today she’s much more confident and practices easy self-restraint around visitors.

I recommend a muzzle for every dog, and not just the aggressive cases. If you’ve ever had a dog that had stitches, hot spots or allergies, then you’ve most likely used the “cone” (Elizabethan Collar). It’s large, comes apart easily and impairs a dog’s vision. I find the cone to be difficult to use. Unlike the Elizabethan Collar, it’s much easier for the muzzle to be positive for the dog. Feed treats and/or regular meals out of the muzzle and most pooches will dive into the muzzle with such gusto as to be comical. As we condition our dogs, remember to take your time and not rush the process. We want the muzzle to be fun.

When we finally buckle the muzzle on, do so for a short time, then increase longevity. Make sure you don’t let the dog turn this into a competition of “can I get this off”. Use leash and collar action if your canine puts his feet on the muzzle, and teach him that it’s not OK. It can be difficult to find good, quality muzzles so we recommend the comfortable open mouth muzzle we sell at Duffy’s Dog Training Center.

— Josh Decker, Dog Trainer

“I think it’s best to think of an aggressive dog as being hard wired that way, in other words, predisposed to respond with emotional force to certain stimuli in particular situations. Any potentially hostile canine, wild or domestic, was born with his aggressive tools already in his box. In wild situations these tools will be the difference between who gets to eat and who doesn’t, who gets to breed and who doesn’t, and who has control over territory and who doesn’t. So from a survival standpoint, those who have the best tools and learn how to use them pass on their genes; that is the name of the game for all creatures. Viewing assertiveness in your canine companion as a tool that needs to be controlled rather than a shameful demonic spirit that needs to be exorcised will make all the difference in the way you approach training.

Keep in mind, with any kind of dog training the handler’s attitude is everything. As the handler, you are the captain of the team. Trying to manage your dog’s hostile behavior with anger or hysteria is simply dumping emotional fuel on an already blazing emotional fire. By placating or consoling your aggressive companion (during the act of being aggressive), you are empowering him. Regardless of what type of hostility your dog expresses, our goal with training will be realistic. We can’t eliminate this hostile potential, but we can restrain it will rules and channel it with our own guidelines.”

— Dog Training and Eight Faces of Canine Aggressive Behavior (chapter 1)

When Mr. Duffy first asked me to take on this project of writing the Tip of the Week, I was a bit overwhelmed. How could I choose which paragraph to write about? There is so much pertinent information to convey. The books need to be read in its entirety as there will be parts in this book that may in particular speak to you. That’s the beauty of these books — an experienced trainer, a veterinarian or a first-time dog owner all can take away something new and exciting to help them in their endeavor no matter how many times they read it. Even with myself, the books give me new, intriguing ideas and insights. You may notice several themes throughout all the books.

  1. There are no bad dogs only dogs in need of direction. I think we all can sympathize with that, if we have ever had a mentor, teacher or boss who took a special interest in our personal growth. It’s that special interest in our dogs that we strive to encourage in our clients. It’s this mutual respect, this give and take, that bonds an animal and human into a cohesive team.
  2. Giving our dog a chance to make their own decisions. We watch, we observe and we teach. Through the books, we attempt to teach you how to speak to your canine companion. Whenever you learn a new language, the first words you learn are yes and no. The bite from a leash and collar correction is the dog’s version of no and the genuine heartfelt praise is the yes.
  3. Work on one objective at a time. If you have trouble with Fido jumping on visitors and you tell him DOWN to keep him from doing so, your working on two tasks at once. Working on multiple tasks at the same time is challenging, so before you attempt it, make sure each exercise is solid before adding them together. Remember there is no time frame for training, just quiet diligence on the part of the handler.
  4. Be a team captain. A good leader is neither harsh nor a pushover but seeks balance. A leader who is quietly confident, aware, determined and yet caring grabs our attention as it does for a dog. Only be as tough as you need to be effective, but the majority of the time we must be positive. Be genuinely happy about your dog’s positive efforts to elicit an excited response for following our rules and directives.
  5. Respect who and what your dog is. An animal that has evolved over thousands of years to be tough enough to survive the rigors and hardships of life; plus an active breeding program on our part to further enhance those traits for a variety of particular tasks and jobs. Our dogs are built to be physically tough, respect that fact. Don’t underestimate your canine companion’s innate robustness, no matter what their size. Each breed was made for a particular task — be it a pocket puppy fearless enough to act as an alarm dog for royalty, a hunting dog courageous enough to do battle with wild animals, a tough compact dog to keep our homes free of vermin, a determined pooch to herd our livestock or a dog built with enough tenaciousness to go to war. These are the animals we have brought into our homes to love and to care for, but we must never forget their origins. The rule we like to instill in our clients about corrections is start soft but observe. If the dog continues the unwanted behavior,  they are communicating that at this time the correction is not effective. Correct then observe, let the dog tell you that the correction is too soft, and then increase the bite if needed.

Even here with these five themes i still have so much more that I want to put down. The best advice as I continue writing the tips of the week, that I can give, is read the books and have fun teaching your unique canine companion. I sincerely hope you enjoy reading this as much as I did writing it. 

— Josh Decker, dog trainer

“The backbone of our training program is to teach each dog to learn to build up and use self-control. We think it is essential to train a dog with a loose leash and the slip collar hanging open to simulate, as much as possible, the feeling of having no constraints. In every situation, then, the dog gets to make a choice about appropriate behavior. Example: Your dog sees a Pomeranian in her fenced yard from the road and longs to go to the fence and tell that Pomeranian a couple of things. You do not wish your dog to lunge over to the fence but to walk by your side. Your dog knows that he is on leash in the walk command and that walk means that he is not allowed to lunge in any direction, assuming you have accomplished the demands of the program through exercise 5. If the dog makes an inappropriate choice (lunges at the fence anyway), the collar very briefly bites the dog on his ruff (the best way to simulate a natural correction) where his mother and other dominant pack members would bite to correct. Your dog then remembers self-control and settles back to the walk. On the other hand, if your dog longs to go to the fence but chooses not to go and ignores the Pomeranian, he will at the very least get heartfelt praise from you and often a small treat. But in this program, your dog always gets the opportunity to make a choice, and then gets the consequences of the choice: the quick bite of the collar or praise from you.”

– Ten Natural Steps to Training the Family Dog

With all the different equipment for training dogs out there, it is often difficult to know what works best. This is where our 30-plus years of experience can really benefit our clients. We have tried it all. From the gimmicky to the traditional, from the quality equipment to the shoddy and we know what works best and what doesn’t.

What I’ll do is recommend the bare essential equipment needed to train your dog and some brands we have found to be the best quality. In the future, we will be selling quality equipment on our website.

  1. Slip Collar – (often times called a choke collar, this is a misnomer however as it should remain loose at all times until used to simulate a nip from the mother then it goes back to being loose). We recommend the Herm-Springer, a very dependable and long lasting training collar. This is the collar we start training with because of it’s lesser bite.
  2. Leverage Collar – also known as a pinch collar, we recommend the brand Herm-Springer. This collar acts in the same way as our slip collar but with more “bite”. The great thing about this collar is that it reduces the amount of corrections so that a handler can become more positive with their dog. Using training collars correctly is instrumental in it’s effectiveness, we’ll be adding videos on our website to demonstrate how to put training collars on and how to take them off easily. We recommend taking any training collars off when the dog isn’t supervised for comfort.
  3. A sturdy dog brush – this tool will be instrumental to teach our dogs grooming control. We use it as an all purpose tool to simulate a toothbrush, nail clippers, dog brush and ear cleaning utensil.
  4. A well-made six foot Leash – we prefer to use a leather leash made locally by a saddlery with a classic brass snap. Using a sturdy nylon leash is fine but may be a bit rougher on the handler’s hands.
  5. Longline – this 30-foot long nylon leash is great for gaining distance in your training. We use this once we have mastered having the dog walking on a 6 leash on our left side.
  6. A dog crate – a plastic Veri Kennel or airline crate is best. We recommend the brand Rough n Tough. Easy to clean and built sturdy it’s well worth the investment. Size the crate to your dog correctly, the dog should be able to stand up and turn around. Remember our canine companion would be a denning animal in the wild, meaning that they would bed down in a small, easily defended area for the night. A crate can be a life (and furniture) saver as we teach our canine how to behave when not supervised. Don’t get rid of your crate even after wrapping up training as it will be a comfortable area for your dog, like their own personal room.

– Josh Decker Dog trainer

“When we are dealing with canine aggression, we need a person who possesses the confidence, emotional balance and physical ability to handle the dog. Another very important human factor that is often overlooked when training aggressive dogs is comfort. Is the family member interested in working the dog comfortable with the animal? This person may have the desire and maturity to train the family pet but the anxiety that stems from their fear will cripple any attempt to communicate and direct the dog. Likewise fondness for the animal is a requisite. You will not develop into a fair and balanced (therefore effective) handler if you can’t find attributes in the canine worthy of admiration.”

— Dog Training and Eight Faces of Aggressive Behavior (chapter 1)

At the Training Center, we really enjoy working with aggressive cases. It is where we truly can make a difference for both humans and canines. Also, I would like to say that aggression in itself is not a bad thing but can be useful when directed successfully by someone that is balanced, comfortable and effective. For instance, the dog barks when someone comes onto your property and/or knocks on your door letting you know someone is there. An alert dog can be very useful as long as you can turn that barking off when it’s not needed anymore.

With our personal dogs, we develop something called the “Hush” command. The meaning, your a good dog but no more barking. Here is how you can develop this very useful command. I like to recruit a neighbor, friend or family member to be my visitor so that I can work on this several times with an understanding person. They knock on the door initiating the response that I’m looking for from my dog. I give the dog a few seconds to bark, then in a clear but polite voice I say Hush. Any woof, no matter how loud, will result in a correction (normally a leash and collar deterrent) until the dog quiets, then i calmly say good boy/girl… hush.

I want to mark the deed with the command. If I only say the command when they are barking, I may miscommunicate what hush means, so I must repeat the command mostly when they are actually being successful. Teaching commands is like teaching someone a new language, so make sure you stress what the command means and keep the meaning of the command simple and straightforward. Never have the command mean several different things. And don’t forget to work on visitor control (lessons located Ten Natural Steps to Training the Family Dog)

– Josh Decker, Dog Trainer

Spring is here! And that means that we all are looking for something to do with our exuberant pups. That’s why we offer our agility course for our client’s use. For fifteen dollars our human and dog customers get an hour on our Agility course. They get to run, jump, climb and tunnel all the while allowing you to further your working relationship with your dog. Since Agility can be so beneficial in confidence building, exercise as well as just something fun to do I think this is a perfect time to explain what Agility is and offer some tips.

In a nutshell, Agility is a type of competition that scores a dog and handler on accuracy and speed as they run through a course. It contains tunnels that the dog must run through, a variety of jumps that must be cleared, an angled wall/ramp that must be climbed up, weave polls that the dog must maneuver through, and my personal favorite walk up and over a teeter totter. It requires the best out of a team, responsiveness and drive (willingness to accomplish a task). For most of us though it’s just a fun way to exercise and work with our dog while using obstacles. Even if you do plan on competing you should always start off with the mindset that this is for fun. The more confidence a dog has and the more fun the dog has the more his drive will increase to do that task.

First timers should begin the course with all of the obstacles on their lowest/easiest possible setting. Keep your voice soft and avoid chattering too much so the dog can focus. Remember this tidbit as you begin teaching Agility; if you begin an obstacle you must finish it. If your dog fails to finish an obstacle their confidence with that obstacle lowers, if you’re successful confidence will raise. When encountering a challenging part of the course I will place my left hand under the dog’s belly to stabilize them and use steady pressure with the leash to encourage them on. It’s best to be slow and accurate at first, speed at the course will increase with experience and proficiency. Remember to be quick to reward them when the task is accomplished. The teaching phase of Agility should always be done with the dog on a leash, that coaxing and guiding is made easier.

– Josh Decker, Dog Trainer

If you have read my other blogs then you may have come across a common theme, we don’t use our voice to chastise our dogs. There are several reasons for this, the main reason is dogs use body language to communicate primarily. If we want to converse or teach new ideas it’s easiest to do it in a dog like fashion. When we omit verbal reprimands it becomes easier to keep our negative emotional responses in check, therefore keeping all deterrents mechanical and reserving amiable emotions to the more positive side of training. Without a doubt keeping quiet and non emotional when our dog has done something wrong is difficult, so we need as much of an advantage as possible. Dogs explore their surroundings and learn rules by trying and seeing if something is positive or negative (heuristic learning process), it would be wrong to get mad at our dog for learning. Keep in mind that nobody is perfect and we look for the same thing in ourselves as we do in our dogs, effort in the right direction.

While dogs do use some verbal cues they use it the same way as we shrug our shoulders or nod our heads, it means something very specific. Listen close to the tone, pitch and intensity the next time your dog barks or whines. There are several different types of noises our dogs make. For instance you may have encountered a bark that’s high pitch when your dog sees a squirrel, you can almost hear, “squirrel, squirrel, squirrel!” Now that same dog when encountering an unknown human walking into their yard will change the intensity and pitch to a more guttural bark, meaning, “intruder, intruder, intruder!”

When teaching a verbal command or cue you want it to mean something very specific and mark the behavior when it matches that definition of that command. Think of it like learning a new language, you would impose the word you are learning onto an item (like a chair) that the new word would stand for and use that word consistently to indicate that item. Generally we humans put emotion into our voice to communicate our state of mind but when giving a verbal command we want to omit any negative emotions and remain as neutral as possible. For most dogs an emotional verbal correction or command does one of two things, either they will ignore it or it can cause an emotionally softer dog to view it as a threat or intimidation.

I like the fact that dogs talk more through body language, not only can it be more calming but also over the years it has become very easy to read dogs. It is amazing to me that dogs have integrated themselves into our lives and evolved in such away to better fit our families. Canis Lupus Familiaris have become better and better about understanding and reading us, now all we have to do is meet them halfway and talk just a little bit more like a dog. The ability to calmly and clearly communicate while remaining decisive in your needs and wants allows for a more solid relationship with your canine. A relationship that’s not only based on communication but also on trust and mutual respect.

– Josh Decker, Dog Trainer

Spring and summer typically are the times most people are active with their dogs. Unfortunately it is also the hottest times of the year, so let’s explore some different ways to help keep our pooches cool while we have some summer fun.

  • Observe your dog; The easiest way to tell if your dog is getting over heated is to watch for certain signs. A fully extended tongue (a third longer then what’s normal) is a sign that your dog is not dissipating enough heat. If the saliva on your dog’s tongue is thick and congealed then that’s a sign that they are getting dehydrated. Another sign to look for is lethargy, if they do appear abnormally lethargic then bring them into a cool place immediately. If your dog exhibits signs of confusion then I would advise taking them to the vet as soon as possible.
  • Some ideas to prevent overheating; Take breaks in the shade, if no shade is available then use your body’s shadow to create a shady spot for your dog. Keep them hydrated but prevent them from gorging on water as that could cause them to vomit, dehydrating themselves more. One of the quickest way to cool your dog off besides giving them a drink is to dip their paws in water or better yet dipping their paws in rubbing alcohol. Also you can wet their fur down with cool water, as it evaporates it will cool your dog down. It may be a good idea to slowly condition your canine to the heat by increasing the time spent outside over a period of weeks. These are some low tech solutions but there are lots of high tech gear (like vests with a built in cooling system) that you can purchase to help keep your dog cool in the hot summer heat.

Practice these bullet points so that they becomes routine. With time, being mindful of the heat gets easier and easier without dampening your fun. Keep in mind that some dogs breeds are better at dealing with the heat then others. Brachycephalic dogs (dogs with short noses), and dog breeds that originated from northern climates tend to have a harder time dealing with the summer heat. German Shepherds, Malinois, and most dog breeds originating from hot or desert climes tend to be better at handling the heat. So have fun this summer but remember that we humans are better at handling heat then dogs are.

– Josh Decker, Dog Trainer

You would be surprised at the numbers of dogs that come in our door who get sick in the car. A fairly common issue, car sickness really limits what you can do with your pooch. Luckily for us there are some things we can do to help remedy that issue. Keep in mind that motion sickness in dogs like in humans may take a while to subside and in some cases may require medication to control but here are some tips that may help you.

First thing we need to do is make sure the area that the dog is riding in is safe and as easy to clean as possible. I recommend having your dog in a sturdy crate (Ruff N’ Tuff crates have held up in crash tests) so that if your dog does get sick it’s contained in one area. If a crate won’t fit in your vehicle then I recommend the use of a harness and tether system with towels or other easy to clean items that protects your upholstery. It may also be a good idea to not feed or give water to your dog just before a car ride as that can upset their stomach.

Anyone that has ever had seasickness can tell you that once that has been experienced just the sight of a boat makes them queasy. Once experienced the memory is tainted with negativity, that’s why a dog once having experienced car sickness will usually begin to excessively salivate (a sign of queasiness) as soon as they get into the car. Once you suspect your dog of having motion sickness then we should begin to take proactive steps. Try making the car as fun as possible, make it a game of getting in and out of the car without driving anywhere. Work on that for a while, try not to rush it, we want the dog to view the car as a game and not as a source of their discomfort. Continue this exercise until they stop salivating in the car and/or they begin to find the car fun. Then reintroduce car rides in a slow fashion. Turn on your vehicle let it run for a second or two, then turn off your automobile and go back to playing with your dog. Next time, turn on the car, go through the routine of buckling your seat belt, starting the car, and putting it into gear. After you turn off the car go back to the normal up and out game we’ve established. This long drawn out effort is to make sure there is no other associated trigger for that motion sickness. The third time you’re going to pull the vehicle out of the driveway before returning it and just like before, begin and end the exercise with that fun game. Begin to slowly increase the length and duration of the drive while still making the car ride as fun as possible.

Remember to be patient during this process and if necessary elongate any of these steps to assure success. Repetition is the recipe for the realization of our goals not only in dealing with car sickness but in all areas of training. Patience is also a much needed ingredient, take pride in every micro achievement that leads you in the right direction. Without each and every prior step our goal would not be attainable. Don’t worry if your not successful at first, without failing we cannot learn what doesn’t work. To quote Samuel Beckett, “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.”

– Josh Decker, Dog Trainer

In this article let’s tackle some issues that’s often embarrassing for our clients to talk about. Always remember that for us here at Duffy's we’ve dealt with everything and we will always offer a sympathetic and understanding ear. So don’t be self conscious we are here to help. There are many issues that fall under the label “embarrassing,” I’ll try to address as many as I can but unfortunately I won’t be able to cover them all. I’ll try to cover the most common issue though. I recommend getting the two books written by Mr Duffy, “Ten Natural Steps To Training The Family Dog” and “Eight Faces Of Canine Aggression.” Reading those two books will help you immensely to tackle any problem you may have.

  • Marking- the act of a dog urinating and/or defecating to mark boundaries. When this happens in the house it’s bad enough but dogs can do this when you take them into new places or even worse yet, they may even mark people. Having a dog urinate on your or someone else’s leg is one of the most embarrassing things that can happen. If that happens use a leash and collar correction. If marking continues or becomes obsessive then we recommend letting your dog alleviate themselves only in designated areas, correcting your dog if they use the restroom without a command or outside the designated area. Please note that both males and females can mark territory, males just tend do it more.
  • Humping- Mr. Duffy a few years ago went on a local television show to answer audience member’s questions. A woman called asking what she could do about her small dog humping her arm. The live audience laughed and thought it was very funny. Mr. Duffy though immediately launched into how to solve that problem. He told the woman that as soon as her dog begins to hump her arm, quickly remove the slack from the leash to create a bite. He recommended keeping the leash on her dog letting it drag like a second tail anytime the dog was supervised, crated if not. Once an effective bite or series of effective bites occurred the offensive behavior stops. A gradual winging away of the leash is needed otherwise a dog may push the rules and renew the bad behavior.
  • Crotch sniffing- It’s very much a dog thing to do but for us humans it can be embarrassing especially if it’s done in front of or to guests. Lots of dogs enjoy smelling areas that contain heavy human scent. Dogs can discriminate different humans/animals by their scent and remember them through their particular smell. To deter that behavior you can bump them away using your knee or by using a leash and collar correction.
  • Underwear stealing/destroying- This falls under our classic Food Control which covers all inanimate objects (that’s not been given to your pooch). Set your dog up using the desired item, leaving it in easy to access areas keep your dog in your sight during this exercise. Let your dog drag the leash around when supervised and crated when not. It’s easier to control a staged environment then it is waiting for it to happen in real life. Remember we’re looking for commitment (a dog’s forward movement toward the distraction) before we correct.
  • Poop eating- Coprophagia (cop-row-fage-ee-uh)- Probably one of the most disgusting habits a dog can have. The most common question I’m asked about this subject is, “why does my dog do this?” The easy answer is because they like it and that they want to, but if I feel I won’t bore the pants off my clients I may give them the long answer. It’s a biologically inherited trait that has some roots in survival. All mammal’s stomachs contain a bacteria colony that’s called a micro-biome which helps breakdown food and protects us from harmful bacteria. Ingesting processed animal waste is the easiest way to add to that micro-biome. Now some dogs will only eat the feces of animals they feel intensely about, so if you dog is really intense about chasing cats there is a good possibility that they may be drawn to the litter box. Again this issue is solved by the application of the food control exercise. I find it helpful if I use flags to mark where the dung in the yard is at first. In the beginning I will always walk my dog on a leash when there is dung present in the area. At any sign of commitment toward the poop I’ll correct the dog. A gradual removal of the leash and flags (but don’t relax your vigilance) is needed so we can create a habit of leaving feces alone.

Thank you so much. I hope you enjoyed reading this as much as I did writing this. Good luck in your training endeavors. If you have any tricky or embarrassing dog issues please call us at 812-948-2120 or contact us via email. If needed we can even set up a free evaluation for you.

– Josh Decker, Dog Trainer

This article will help guide you in how to properly house break a dog, even if they’re young or old. When it comes to urinating or defecating in the house it’s a fairly straight forward process to get them to stop. As always there maybe some variations depending upon your unique situation. For further info on this subject please call us at 812-948-2120 to set up a free evaluation.

Let’s go into the basics of house breaking. No matter if your dog is just a pup or an older member of the family you want to make sure there is no medical reason for inappropriate urination or defecation, if the answer is no, then we should begin training. Keep in mind dogs younger then 16 weeks are just babies, just get in the habit of taking them outside regularly. At first give a young pup a bathroom break every thirty minutes during the day then slowly increase the time that you take them outside. It’s a good idea to take a very young puppy (younger than 12 weeks) outside periodically through out the night to prevent any accidents in the crate. No matter what age your pooch is though, when you first deal with this issue it’s best to let them drag a leash around like a second tail whenever supervised. When your dog is not supervised it’s recommended that you keep them in an area small enough that they won’t pee or poo (like a crate, pen or dog safe room).

Utilize the leash the same way we would for any bad behavior, a fast removal of slack to create a bite like effect. The correction power should be appropriate to your dog’s size and should be given mechanically without any harsh verbal reprimands. Do your best to catch them in the act to reduce any confusion what the correction was about (that is why we recommend the use of a crate, pen or dog safe room whenever the dog is unsupervised). If the dog moves away before you correct, no worries, slowly pursue them while trying not to turn this into a chase me game (even if it takes a while). Step on the leash, pick it up and calmly take them back to the scene of the crime and that is where you will correct them, afterwards take them outside to give them a chance to earn praise for properly going to the bathroom outside.

Dealing with a messy dog can be an infuriating proposition but do your best to remove yourself from the emotional side of dealing with this issue. If you are constantly frustrated then it taints the training with negativity, take a step back and view your dog in a different light. Praise during success doesn’t need to be over the top just genuine. If you want your dog to use puppy pads or some other bathroom spot all you need to do is replace the word “outside” that I used in this article with your particular spot. There are a few different reasons why dogs urinate and/or defecate in the house but the why isn’t as important as the question, “how do I fix it.” I hope this article was helpful. Thank you so much for reading and I hope you are successful in you training endeavors.

– Josh Decker, Dog Trainer

Aggression, simply, put is an assertive dog’s way of getting you or someone else (dog or person) to stop something that irritates them. Assertive humans tend to do the same (just more in a verbal correction). I think it’s safe to say that we all know someone that gets cranky in the morning, doesn’t like other people eating off their plate, or someone who doesn’t like being told what to do. It’s funny when I point out all the things that can make us (humans) irritated and how awfully similar they are to what some dogs find bothersome. The main difference between canines and humans, is that dogs correct more in a physical way, rather then a verbal fashion like we do. Most assertive dogs are more interested in getting a certain behavior or action to stop rather than actually with hurting someone, but with each repeat encroachment onto their trigger, a dog will often feel justified to increase the strength of their action. With that being said, we should not entirely skirt around the dog’s trigger to avoid an aggressive reaction.

When managing a canine with aggression, we must take a balanced approach. Respect your dog’s boundaries, only trespassing upon the trigger when directly able to address the problem through training. Approach the issue in a natural fashion, start slowly, applying only enough pressure or difficulty to make controlling the canine’s temper challenging but ultimately successful. Endeavor to not make the canine feel harassed, respect your furry friend, but as the pack’s team captain, it’s your role to ensure that there is peace within the team. It’s important to note; that we must not allow an unwanted/uncontrolled aggressive action to go unanswered, if we did not follow through with our own effectively strong deterrent the intense behavior will continue, the dog will become more confident in their response. It’s much easier to manage aggression at the first sign of it, rather then addressing it when the dog is bigger and more confident. An accurate analogy would be, it’s much easier to snuff out an errant campfire ember rather then waiting and letting a spark turn into an out of control forest fire, facilitating the need of brave firefighters to battle the blaze.

Aggression in humans and in dogs have triggers that typically make a hostile display predictable. The assumption that a dog that has displayed aggression is now untrustworthy is false, a person only needs to be cautious around that dog’s particular trigger. Now; if successful aggression is left unchecked, then a dog may find that hostility is a useful tool, trying it out in new situations, this is similar to what human bullies would do. A dog maybe genetically hardwired to be assertive but it doesn’t mean that we can’t shape their behavior enough where they can learn to control their temper. Human beings often confuse learned behavior with inherited traits (personality). For example; a dog grabbing human cuisine off the counter whenever you leave them alone is a learned behavior (they connected you leaving the room, with them being able to successfully steal food off the counter), an inherited trait is a behavior/tendency that’s been genetically passed down from the dog’s dame or sire (in this case the dog inherited a trait from one of their biological parents giving them a higher drive for food, making them more likely to steal those edible treasures).

If you have read the book Dog Training And Eight Faces Of Aggressive Behavior; written by Matthew Duffy, you may have read the story about my dog Basher, a lab mix that was fully invested in his aggressive actions. Hopefully you got to read the part that talks about, after training, what a great family pet he became. Basher is such a caring, tolerant animal to my young children, I couldn’t ask for a better family protector and friend than him. Training Basher was a long process but it was so much fun for him and I, that we wouldn’t have had it any other way. Even as I write this; I’m watching him calmly play with my two young children, he maybe older with streaks of grey through his fur, but I enjoy reminiscing on the journey and reflecting on what a good dog he became.

– Josh Decker, Dog Trainer

Think of dog training as steps on a ladder, one can not reach the top, without the subsequent steps below it. If you want your dog to have a reliable come/recall then you must work on the manners first. If your dog won’t come to you, just because another dog is in view than the “come” command isn’t worth a hill of beans. Being able to focus in the thick of distractions is a must to achieve reliable commands, and to achieve proper focus, a handler/dog team must be able to obtain loose leash around distractions. Since training is a step process, don’t be surprised if we are to say we can’t do that right now, we have a few things we must tackle first.

At first, make the challenge easy to overcome, after each success, increase the difficulty. Be realistic on how fast your dog can progress, as some dogs learn fast and with some you need to take a slower approach (keep in mind that the dog’s intelligence plays little to no factor in how fast they learn). Proper handling is about; a quiet confidence, realistic expectations, loose leash, and the exclusion of any negative emotions, all things essential for each of the steps in dog training. When the endeavor of training is first undertaken, write out a list of goals, have an ultimate goal and have smaller, faster achievable goals that will keep you moving in the right direction. Don’t be distracted from your ultimate goal, there will be time to branch out later and teach new, exciting things.

Let the journey, that is training, be a fun game that both you and your dog look forward too, rather than a chore that must get done. Be confident that you will reach your goals, no matter if it’s dealing with aggression or just getting a reliable “sit” command, take pride in each step taken in the right direction. Proper dog training is about having a mix of different philosophies, it’s not about one style but an infusion of psychology and different training techniques, that allows us to quickly navigate the tricky wicket of balancing the relationships between dogs and people. When a client first seeks a trainer, they will often ask us about our training philosophy. Our answer; we use operant conditioning, classical conditioning, positive reinforcement, negative reinforcement (this just means to withhold treats until the proper position or behavior is shown), and marking (often times called clicker training, although we use our voice, “good boy” for instance, to mark the proper behavior, instead of using a clicker tool) in our training. Only through this blending of different systems and ideals can we have a fun experience with obvious improvements in behavior and the dog/human relationship.

What sets us apart from other dog trainers is the amount of techniques that we use and the timing in which we apply them. Think of dog training as you would a carpenter, anyone can have a hammer and saw, and call themselves a carpenter but their workmanship will never matchup to the graceful creations of a true master with a full tool box, and the knowledge of when and how to use them. Our approach is always one of a teacher, and our view of our dog is that of a unique human/animal friendship. You don’t need to have a “magical” ability to work with dogs, there’s no such thing anyway, only the proper knowledge and technique is required to better your relationship with your canine. It’s never too late to forge a better understanding of Canis lupus familiaris and the unique symbiotic friendship that we have formed with them, learning how to better communicate with our furry partner in the process.

– Josh Decker, Dog Trainer

Summer is here. That means our dog will be getting dirty while they have fun in the sun. At the training center we encounter all types of dogs; from dogs who love getting a bath, to dogs who have a true aversion to water, we work with them all. Here’s a few tips on how to properly bathe your pup so that they can quickly go back to having their fun.

Let’s get all our equipment together. We’ll need a simple brush, a good quality shampoo, towels, and/or a blow dryer (some treats handy would also be a good idea). We will also need a sturdy leash and collar. I prefer to bathe my dogs in the bathtub because I like being able to control the temperature of the water (lukewarm is best). Here’s where having a telescopic hand held shower head can come in handy, as it will drastically make the rinsing easier.

The particular emotion associated with and the literal approach to bath time is very important. Avoid building up anticipation or dread by omitting any obvious clues, like always going to the same cabinet just before bath time, or saying, “do you want a bath?” Rather start with putting on the leash or picking up the leash, coupled with a calming pet or stroke of the fur. Lead your pup toward the bath area; if at anytime they put the breaks on, use the leash, in a slow tug and release fashion, all the while continuing to move toward the bath area. Praise your dog at the first sign of them walking with you under their own power, remember a few well placed, “good boys/girls,” is extremely important, but you must not incessantly repeat the praise, as it looses value and meaning if used too much.

Once in the bathroom, it’s a good idea to close the door before you proceed. Pet your dog, then go about arranging your equipment (all necessary equipment should have been placed in the bathroom prior to the training exercise beginning) so that everything is close to hand. Take two or three towels and place them near the tub next to the shampoo and brush. If you have a long coated dog, brush them before and after the bath (I recommend reading Ten Natural Steps To Training The Family Dog, specifically the chapter on grooming control) this will help keep any loose hairs in the tub to a minimal. Don’t forget to praise your dog for a job well done. Now let’s move on to getting them into the tub.

Pick up the leash, it should remain attached to your dog throughout this process. Politely but with determination, lead your dog up to the tub, softly give your pup the command “jump in,” then slowly apply consistent leash and collar pressure toward the bathtub. Then using your free hand or a helper’s, place your hand on the dog’s rump, use this hand to apply pressure or lift up into the tub. At this time your dog should be in the tub. Calmly praise or treat your dog at this time. Slowly and gradually turn on the water while still holding onto the leash (for skittish dogs, really take your time while doing this). Use your leash and collar corrections when needed but remember to keep the leash loose otherwise. If you use some sort of hose or telescopic shower head then turn it on gradually, or fill up the bathtub up to your dog’s knees and use a large plastic cup to scoop up water.

Start wetting your dog’s fur down with water, paying particular attention to easily soiled areas, avoid spraying the face and ears. Take a moistened washcloth (I usually put a dab of no tears children’s shampoo on the washcloth) and clean the head and face of your dog. Take a generous amount of shampoo and thoroughly massage it into your dog’s fur, keeping away from your dog’s ears and face. Use the brush to distribute the shampoo evenly throughout the fur. Use clean water to completely remove the shampoo residue from your dog. Now here is where I brush my dog again, to make sure there are no tangles or remaining shampoo. It’s crucial to not allow your dog to jump out of the tub successfully, at any part of this, until you are finished and have given them permission to do so.

I will start drying in the tub using a towel once the water has drained away. Afterwards, I will praise my dog and then give them permission to exit the tub. Have them stand on a towel laid out to catch any water droplets, then take a new towel and dry your dog more thoroughly. If you’re using a blow dryer, (which I recommend for longer coated dogs) then start on the lowest setting, slowly increase the intensity to decrease the drying time, avoid excessive heat though. For more skittish long haired dogs, it maybe prudent to introduce the blow dryer over the course of a week.

If your dog has that wet dog smell, then you’ll need to dry them more thoroughly, try getting closer to the skin with a blow dryer. Let’s give our dog one last brushing to remove any loose hairs. We want our dog to smell clean and dry before we call it finished. Now we are done, tell your dog “all done,” releasing them from any general command like the “Stand” command that we were using. Exit the bathing area and enjoy your newly cleaned pup. Hopefully you’ve enjoyed this article and find it helpful. It’s a great feeling to help families learn how to bathe their dog easier.

– Josh Decker, Dog Trainer

I think we’ve all had or seen a dog who just refused to walk, be it a Golden retriever refusing to leave the park or a small dog who has declined to walk on their own. One can imagine the embarrassment and frustration an owner goes through when dealing with passive resistance. In this article we will explore the many different ways a dog can display this type of unwanted behavior. We will also outline the proper techniques and timely praise that is needed to overcome this problem. So let us go over a few distinct ways a dog may use this passive tactic and how to turn it into active participation.

The most common display of passive resistance is by small dogs that refuse to walk, usually this is accidentally taught by the owner. As the dog puts the breaks on, it’s human nature to tend to unintentionally reward them, by picking them up or to give them attention in the attempt to encourage movement. Another form is in regards to getting into an area, like a car, bathtub, body of water or onto an object. More difficult but still considered a form of passive resistance is the refusal to get into a dog crate. Passive resistance isn’t typically caused by fear or anxiety like a lot of people assume but simply a dog stating their reluctance to do something. Think of it in terms of a child that’s reluctant to go to school, they may throw a tantrum or refuse to get their clothes on, all the while saying, “I don’t wanna go!”

The techniques that we use for these issues are simple. For the dog that likes to put on the brakes while on a walk, we recommend a slow tug and release of the leash while continuing to walk in the desired direction, at the first sign of the dog walking under their own power reward them (petting, treats, toy, or picking them up). With dogs who refuse to get into/onto an area, like a car, lead them up to the area (use the tug and release method if necessary), then apply slow leash pressure toward the area, don’t let the tension slack otherwise the dog will think you are tiring out and will redouble their effort to resist you, sometimes a well timed goose on the rear end makes this easier. Lavishly praise the dog when you are successful. Concerning dogs who are resistant to getting in the crate, apply the first two methods if needed, oftentimes I find putting treats, a kong toy full of goodies or even their dinner inside the crate makes the whole experience more palatable (don’t overload the crate with rewards and try different rewards each time to keep it fun and unpredictable).

It’s often surprising how easily these methods work. For tougher cases, remember we are always here to help. One of our experienced trainers will be able to customize our techniques to your own individual needs. Most often more determination and a quiet patience is required to be successful. Keep at it but most importantly have fun and take pride of every victory no matter how small.

– Josh Decker, Dog Trainer

Let’s first talk about a particular aggression that is commonly found in dogs but often not discussed, displaced aggression, it is also the most common reason why people get bit. To make this easier to understand we’ll describe it in human terms. I think it’s safe to say that we’ve all experienced a bad day, and sometimes, although they may not have been the cause, you verbally snapped at a person. That’s displaced aggression; frustration concerning a disruption of aggression or denial of aggression toward the cause, that culminates into a hostile action, directed at a closer more obtainable (oftentimes “innocent”) recipient. The reason why displaced aggression is the most common cause for people being bitten, is because we humans have a tendency, when dogs are fighting, to wade into the scuffle. Not only do we tend to put ourselves in the danger zone by placing our bodies in between the combatants but often we attempt to disrupt the fight in the worst possible way, by grabbing for their collars. As we insert ourselves into the fray, we are often treated no differently then as if we were dogs ourselves. In a dog or wolf pack, if two dogs are fighting, it offers a perfect opportunity to settle old scores or to take sides. The term dog pile is derived from this action, so a dog’s reaction is often to bite/snap at whoever is attempting to disrupt the fight. So it’s no wonder why a dog may snap at their human parent, even if that dog is normally very affectionate and mild mannered.

Now that we understand what’s going on we can now talk about how to be safe, if we do find ourselves unwilling participants during a dog fight. First off try not get in the middle. In the heat of the moment, it’s hard to put your own safety ahead of your dog’s but that’s exactly what you have to do. It’s much harder to break up a fight if you are injured. Instead let’s look at a few different options that maybe safer.

Prevention is the best and safest way to deal with these types of situations. Contrary to popular belief it is not best to let dogs “sort it out themselves,” it may sort itself out but too often it leads to worse and worse fights, creating bad blood between the combatants. For dogs who can’t get along or who have injured each other, I recommend using a crate and only having one of the dogs out at a time. For those of us who have caught the signs of hostility early, it should be much easier as we only need to insist that our dogs follow a few simple rules. First, you must have a zero tolerance policy toward aggressive or bullying behavior for all dogs. Second, never allow a dog to butt in whenever you are showing another dog attention, I strongly recommend that this rule is enforced, rather than giving in and petting both dogs. Third, deter any dog’s commitment toward a housemate who is chewing, sleeping or playing by themselves, it’s a bully maneuver, the goal is to pressure the content dog away from their spot and item. Final rule is to be respectful during feeding time, do not allow any pushing or jockeying for position, if they have their own individual food bowls then do not allow any dog to invade another’s bowl, even if it’s empty.

Now the unfortunate reality when it comes to dealing with highly hostile dogs is that mistakes will happen, especially if you’ve never experienced inter pack hostility before. If a fight breaks out between two dogs, take action, the longer a fight persists the higher the chance that an injury will occur. How we take action is important, if you have leashes on the dogs then it’s easier. Grab the leash handles, while keeping your face protected, use the leashes to give a calming mild extension (consult the book, “Eight Faces Of Canine Aggression” for more info). If the leashes are not an option then you may need to get creative, if there are no other options then you can use a chair to thrust in between the combatants (keep in mind for very determined battlers you may need to charge forcefully while using the chair).

Thank you so much for reading.

– Josh Decker, Dog Trainer