As we, a country of home-bound dog POGs, do our patriotic duty while trying to stay sane, I offer an easy game for you to play with your dog that will occupy you for just a few minutes at first, but it may well become an addiction that will consume long stretches of your days. …She said from personal experience.

It’s called the 5-Minute Spy, which gives you an idea of how long it lasts at first. I introduced it in my second book, I’ve Never Had a Dog Like This! as part of my five-step plan to help POGs better understand their “problem” dogs and ultimately rid themselves of those “unfixable” issues they keep running into.

Though it’s included in a “problem-solving” book, this little game is a mighty tool for any POG. All of us would be thrilled to know more about the inner workings of our precious pooches, yes? The more we know, the better we can communicate. The better we communicate, the less we misunderstand, get frustrated by, and react inappropriately to, each other. (I’m talking dogs and POGs here, folks.)

One of the best ways to learn about anything is to first simply observe — quietly watch what is happening, look for patterns, causes/effects — and see what conclusions you can draw from what you see. Spend some time quietly observing your dog as she goes about her day, and you might be astonished by what you discover. Even if you think you know your dog, there is almost always something more to learn that can strengthen your bond. I am still observing my own dog, Tawny (as of this writing, around 18 years old), and learning new things about her. What a great prize I keep winning — new information about my wonderful girl! And what a great prize she keeps winning — she expends much less energy trying to tell me what she wants and needs. (Helpful at any age; especially helpful when you are a super-senior dog!)

Want to give the 5-Minute Spy a try? This excerpt from my book breaks it down for you. Enjoy!

5-minute spy

When your dog is up and about (i.e. not laying around/sleeping), devote five minutes to surreptitiously observing his actions. Pretend you are Jane Goodall watching the chimps at Gombe. (Look it up.) Peek out of the corner of your eye — no staring! No talking! Do not engage with her in any way. Just watch.

Notice: How her body language changes as she goes from one activity to the next. Watch for subtle changes in eyes, ears, mouth, tail, posture. Listen for breathing changes as he sniffs or looks at different things, and what he does after sniffing/looking. These things can be used by you to start predicting her behavior as your observational skills develop.

Also notice: How many wonderful, appropriate things he is doing during these five minutes that he probably never gets credit for. In other words, realize that your dog Behaves very well a lot of — if not most of — the time, but you may not notice or tell her you like that because you are so focused on “correcting bad Behavior.”

See how much you can learn in five minutes? How fun is that?


Note: If you feel unsure about reading body language, my book also includes a short and sweet primer of what to look for and how to interpret it. See for more.

Why does your dog pull you all over the place but walk beautifully for your sitter? Why does he pee in one room of your house but not others? Why does she jump on you but not Aunt Sara? Why does she not take stuff off your counters until you are out of the kitchen?

Hard to trust a dog who’s so unreliable. Guess in response you’ll have to monitor/supervise/restrain/constrain/avoid and otherwise completely contort your life forever…. Ha! Kidding. By the end of this post you will know why s/he’s like that and how simple it is to change.

Selective memory? Stubborn? Or something else?

Longtime dog POGs and well as newbies are often flummoxed by this seemingly erratic behavior (oh for a dollar every time a client describes a dog’s “sudden,” “for no reason” action). They give voice to many possible explanations: this is just how dogs are; he’s very stubborn; she’s not very bright; I need to be more dominant, etc.

Thankfully, none of these is accurate in most cases. Here is your Keep It Simple, common-sense reason for unreliability:

Your dog doesn’t do X all the time because s/he doesn’t know s/he’s supposed to. Which means you haven’t finished teaching yet. Your lesson is not complete.

See, dogs have this interesting way of learning that is very specific, and it can often fool POGs into thinking their work is done. Then when their dogs suddenly don’t do that thing, POGs blurt out things like “What is wrong with you?” and “You know this. You’re just being stubborn!”

Take the standard method of teaching Sit: Person says Sit, slowly raises a treat up and over a dog’s head till the butt goes down, then says GOOD and gives him the treat.

Humans see this pattern of two connected dots: Sit-reward.

Dogs see THIS pattern of connected dots: Sunny-warm-family room-TV on-kids nearby-near my bone-Mom standing facing me-staring-wearing shorts-hair pulled back-smells like peanut butter-holding FOOD!-in right hand-hand turned up-I hear a bird-cat just walked in-Mom said SIT in slow, high voice-moving FOOD!-must follow-butt touches floor-I get FOOD! And PRAISE!

…I may have missed a few, but you get the idea. Where you see a simple exercise, your dog sees a string of things all linked together somehow that results in him getting a treat. The more observant the dog is, the more dots he connects. (For the geeks, in trainerspeak, this is called associative learning.)

Our teaching job then must continue past the establishment of the basic exercise we see and enter into our dogs’ world so we can help her identify which specific dots in the long string are actually the ones that produce the reward (in trainerspeak: shaping). If we don’t do that, we then are leaving the dog to think that possibly ALL those dots are somehow connected to the result. Which means they ALL need to be present for her to produce the behavior we want.

So the next time you work your Sit exercise, if even ONE of those dots is not present, your dog may not Sit. Or he may hesitate. Or he may jump at the treat. And you will snatch the treat away. Or say “No, SIT” in a lower, irritated voice. Or push his butt down to “help” him. Now, not only has at least one dot disappeared, all these new dots have appeared! Are they connected to getting the FOOD or not?

It’s pretty easy to see how quickly this could get confusing for both parties. The break in communication and understanding can completely undermine the teaching process to the point where POGs literally throw up their hands and declare their dogs stupid, unable to listen, incapable of learning. Meanwhile, the dogs keep waiting for a clear message that never comes, and may well end up deciding we are not worth listening to.

We don’t realize what has actually happened — that something changed, the dog noticed, and he now isn’t sure what to do.

Dogs are very detail-oriented (good survival skill!), so they tend to notice way more things than we do. If we are aware of this, the learning process smoothes out substantially. POGs realize they need to reconnect the dots repeatedly as they expand their exercises, say moving to a different room, or a noisier place, or weaning off treats. It’s helpful to remember the less dots you remove at once, the easier it is to reconnect. One dot at a time is best. You are telling your dog, “Yes, I know I changed something again, but this is still the way you get the good stuff!”

Trainers call this proofing, I guess to mean they are proving the dog really knows the exercise. Connecting the dots makes more sense to me.

Continue the teaching by backing up a bit

Think back to a time when you were taught a new task. Did you get confused if a new step is added? Did you struggle if the task was done under different conditions, say noisier or with interruptions? How do you adjust — go back to basics by rereading the directions, listening again to the instructor, watching the video? Take a deep breath to calm and focus yourself? Remove the new step, reestablish the basic task, then attempt the new step again?

Dogs need the same help. So, the next time you start practicing with your dog, if she hesitates, does something else, looks at you with that confused Scooby-Doo face, simply back up in your exercise. Go back to the step she can do with enthusiasm and confidence. Repeat a few times then try your next step again.

If you still get hesitation/confusion, then you probably added/subtracted way too many dots at once without realizing it. Go back to the start and repeat the basic task just the way you first taught it. You may only need one or two repeats to reconnect the dots (watch for that little doggie light bulb to come on!). Once that happens, continue on to the next level.

If your dog got nervous/hyper because of the confusion, take an extra moment or two — slowly walk her off, take a few deep breaths, and quietly wait for her to relax a bit. Then go back to the basic task, etc. (If you can’t read your dog well enough to see all this, then it’s time to go back to basics for you — learn some more dog body language. A place to start: I’ve Never Had a Dog Like This! [ ] has a sidebar in it that points out some important stuff about body language that will help you assess quickly.)

Hope this post connected some dots for you!

When I ask clients what their goals are for their dogs, whether we are dealing with basics or behavior problems, they tell me they want a “good” dog — that is, well-socialized, well-behaved, well-trained. They describe dogs that won’t jump on people, walk nicely on leash, play nice with other dogs, can be taken anywhere, always listen and so on. You know, perfect. And impossible.

I contend what they really mean is they want a safe dog. One they trust. One they don’t have to watch all the time. Or constantly have to keep a leash on, put away or be ready to say No or Off to whenever X occurs.

A safe dog is a more realistic and attainable goal than perfect, and it is a more clearly defined goal than “good.” Here’s how I define it:

A safe dog is one that happily and predictably makes the proper choice most of the time without prompting.

The key pieces of that definition are:

Predictability. POGs need to know their dogs will almost always act properly in a given situation.

Most of the time. Dogs will make mistakes sometimes.

Choice. Dogs can learn to reliably make an appropriate choice in a given situation.

Prompts (“Commands”). Dogs can’t make proper choices if they are always waiting for you to tell them what to do. What happens if you forget to tell them, or you aren’t watching, or you’re not even there?

Happiness. A good attitude is everything. It’s the gas that powers the behavior car. When everything a dog learns is taught with delight and great results, she will be happy to use what she’s been taught. Even when a dog fails to make a proper choice, it’s usually a one-off oopsie with no long-term effects.

Doesn’t that sound like something every POG wants?

The path to safety

If we have agreed that a safe dog is the goal, we next have to figure out how to achieve it. So how does one create a safe dog?

As usual, the answer is simple but not easy. Because, loving POG, it involves YOU changing — your thinking, your attitude, your approach.

That means thinking teaching not correcting/punishing/disciplining.

That means realizing your dog does what he does because A) he thinks it will get him what he wants or B) he thinks it’s what you want or C) he has no idea what to do and is just flailing. In all three instances, the dog is working off no information or misinformation. The only way to fix that is or provide correct information.

That means it is up to us to consistently give our dogs the information necessary to make the desired choice (i.e. this is what to do, this is why you want to do it). And regardless of if you are working on a Sit, a jumping problem or reactivity (“aggression”), every molecule of information needs to be delivered without a hint of threat (i.e. no yelling, no grabbing, no smacking, no yanking, no time-outs in a crate, no frustration, no anger). Because critical to the success of this approach is making sure your dog trusts you 110%. In other words, if you want your dog to be predictable, you have to be predictable too. (One of my favorite sayings is ” ‘Sometimes’ doesn’t work in dog training.”)

But just as you are not perfect, dear POG, neither is your dog. And while we don’t require 100% on things like Sit, we do on things like attacking other dogs and jumping on 90-year-old Granny. For those types of things, we cannot allow our dogs to err. To get to and stay at 100% on those things, in addition to teaching, you must add in some management (aka safety nets). Some common safety nets: Not putting your dog in a situation you aren’t sure he can handle without testing his tolerance first. Or if you have put him in a situation and see him getting nervous, calmly calling him away or walking him away. Using management techniques like this, you prevent a mistake from happening and — bonus — your dog will love you for noticing and trust you all the more. Which could lead to less and less management as time goes on.

Kind, joyful teaching builds trust and more

This isn’t rocket science, folks. Let’s put this concept in human terms: If I ordered you to sit in a chair, and every time you tried to get up I shoved you back down and said “No, Sit,” eventually you would probably stay seated, even though you had no idea why you had to sit in that chair. I got what I wanted, but you got — what? Nothing good, that’s for sure. Anger, confusion, anxiety, resentment are just a few of the possible reactions.

However, if I waved $5 at you and told you it could be yours for sitting in that chair, your butt would be down before I finished the sentence, right? And you would sit as many times as I wanted for $5 a pop (well at least until your legs gave out). If you started to get up, and I said whoops and put the bill away, you would quickly sit back down hoping the bill would reappear, making the clear connection between the action taken and the rewards resulting. This time, we both got something we wanted, making it something we both enjoyed doing. A game where everyone wins.

The next time I saw you, you might slide onto the nearest chair before I pulled a bill out of my pocket, just in case the game is again afoot!

This is the beauty of kind, joyful teaching, and the main reason why it is the surest path to a safe dog. Virtually every exercise results in success for POG and dog, with few mistakes! Good feelings are attached to everything your dog does. No fear, anxiety or mistrust appears because it is not warranted.

That happy attitude brings confidence — Look at me, I know what to do here! Confidence promotes qualities in your dog like tolerance and forgiveness. And even if she isn’t sure what to do, she is more likely to make a choice on the good-attitude side (re-read the chair example) because that’s all she has in her behavior bag. Fear-based or defensive-based behaviors are much less likely to come from a happy, confident, trusting pooch.

Proper, reliable choices made happily. Now that is what I call a safe dog!

One of the common questions I get from clients trying to deal with a behavior problem is “What do I do when my dog ___________?” Most are expecting a response that contains a correction or instruction to distract or ignore the behavior.

However, I don’t use what are commonly known as “corrections” because my emphasis is on teaching, not punishment. I also don’t rely on distraction because my emphasis is on permanent fixes, not momentary ones. I don’t ignore the behavior because that fixes nothing and can also be misinterpreted by the dog as tacit approval or tolerance of whatever she’s doing at that moment.

Finally, and importantly, one other thing I don’t do when helping clients with their dogs’ behavior challenges is get on my trainer high horse and proclaim that X should have never happened in the first place if Client was doing things right because, well, humans. Nobody’s perfect. Trainers included.

So, what do I use to succeed? What other choices are there?

I am big on keeping things simple (KIST – Keep It Simple Teaching), so I work to come up with general exercises that can be used in myriad, various situations. Some are intended to get you and your dog out of trouble without adding to the problem and — bonus — can be the start of the solution.

In this post I am going to talk about my favorite get-out-of-trouble response when a leash is on (inside or outside) — the walk away. Sooo many good things happen when you employ this one basic maneuver.

One move casts wide net

What behaviors can you address with a walk away? Just about any that occur on leash, and some that usually don’t but can be progressed appreciably by adding a leash to properly start a rehab.

Behaviors like:









Excitement/’Submissive’ peeing

Reactivity (‘Aggression’)

Bad greeter

Bad house manners

Bad walker

How can one maneuver be so effective in dealing with so many different issues? Easy answer is timing; when you do it makes all the difference. A well-timed walk away can:

Break eye contact

Diffuse tension

Make dog feel safer

Deny dog reward for unwanted behavior

Create calm by adding distance

Loosen leash immediately (tension reduced, trigger removed)

Prevent handler from accidentally reinforcing wrong behavior

Give dog and handler the opportunity to reset and make different, better choices

And, most exciting of all, totally prevent the ‘bad’ behavior from happening, allowing it to fade from the dog’s repertoire!

If the above makes your mouth water, and you are saying “I need that — tell me how!” then read on!

How it works (General rules)

• General rule #1: When your dog alerts and starts moving TOWARDS something, you do a walk away. Go in the opposite direction if possible; if not, go in the direction that will give you the most distance and the least amount of eye contact (between dog and X).

JUST a walk away. That means NO TALKING, NO LEASH SNAPPING, NO STARING, NO INTIMIDATION. Just turn and go.

What if he’s pulling strongly? Possibly: 1) Your timing is off. You waited too long. 2) You need different equipment (front-hook harness is best). 3) You need to develop better leash skills. 4) You need to add an Emergency Turn* to your skill set.

• General rule #2: When your dog is walking willingly with you, say GOOD. Stop and assess what to do next.

• General rule #3: If you don’t have time or ability to properly deal with the problem at that moment, quietly LEAVE/SEPARATE. Don’t try to power through it or give him one more chance to do the “right” thing (he doesn’t know what the “right” thing is!).

• General rule #4: For fastest success, set up the problem scenario so you can control as many elements as possible (take extra safety precautions, eliminate surprises!).

How it works (Specific example):

Here are a few examples that will help you understand the beauty of this simple movement.


1) If dog is friendly but pulling towards someone and you know a jump is coming, at the slightest pull, walk away a few steps and see if you get a calm down. If not, walk a few steps more. Keep checking for calmer. When you see it, say GOOD and walk towards person. Keep saying GOOD till you feel a pull. Repeat.


2) If dog is friendly and not pulling towards someone, but you know a jump may be coming, say GOOD over and over as you approach. Continue to say GOOD as you stand in front of the person as long as dog is not jumping. Keep leash short but loose. The second you see the dog preparing to jump, or front feet leaving the ground, STOP TALKING and walk away a few steps to see if you get a calm down. If not, walk a few steps more. Keep checking for calmer. When you see it, say GOOD and walk towards person. Keep saying GOOD till you see another jump starting. Repeat.

Instead of what most people usually do (yell no/off, berate the dog, explain to the dog why it’s not good to jump, put him away, etc.), the walk away shows a clear cause and effect to the dog so s/he can make better choices. “I want to see X! But every time I put my feet up, I lose X! Okay let me try something else. Oh this must be it because I’m getting closer and closer to X and Mom is telling me GOOD. Hurray, I got it! Oops, got too excited and put my feet up again. Let me try again, Mom, I can do it!”


Caveat: For this to work right, you need to understand WHY your dog is barking.

One example — Barking at someone/something other than you

Your dog is in the back yard, barking at someone walking by, dog next door, bird, squirrel, the plane in the sky, noisy children playing nearby etc.

Leash your dog up, walk him out into the back yard, and as long as he is quiet, say GOOD periodically and let him wander, sniff and do his doggie thing. Keep the leash nice and floppy, no tension at all.

The second he starts barking at the usual targets, walk away with him and go in the house. Shut the door, stand there with him and say nothing/don’t look at him. Wait for a calm down.

When you get it, look at him, smile, say GOOD, then take him out back again.


If your dog likes being outside, he will quickly realize the only way to go out and stay out is to zip it.


When we humans get scared, we generally want to run away from the scary thing until we feel safe. Same with your dog.

When your dog startles at the trash can, the shadow, the bang, etc. immediately walk away. Even if he initially lunges toward the scary thing, usually he will still turn and go if he can. Most dogs would prefer to run away because they are for the most part conflict avoiders. So help him do it! Scurry away with him, and do your best to reach “critical distance” (the distance beyond which the dog feels safe) before stopping.

This move by you will raise your dog’s trust and confidence in you because he realizes you recognize the threats he sees and will help him deal with them. Other results range from an immediate “I’m no longer afraid of that” to the beginning of a desensitization effort.

Reactivity (Aggression)

This is the perfect start to rehabbing a dog- or people-reactive dog. The second your dog alerts (ie ‘gets taller,’ ears prick, eyes lock) or — even better — you see the problem target first, you walk away. If you mis-time it and she blows up on you, use the Emergency Turn*.

Note if you have a reactive dog, you would do well to get professional help. Always look for a trainer that emphasizes KINDNESS, REWARDS and FUN. Anyone who talks about alpha, showing the dog who’s boss, and/or correcting the dog for being “bad” is totally missing what’s going on and will make the situation worse. Run away from those people!

The big difference

Notice how the walk away move prevents the problem behavior from occurring (so it can start to fade away) and/or involves using the dog’s great problem-solving skills plus the handler’s teaching skills to give him the right pathway to succeed (ie get what he wants) through behaving (ie getting what you want). It is a teaching technique, not a punishment.

This is a crucial difference! Your message is “I see you don’t know what to do here, and it’s stressing you out. NBD. I know what to do. Let me show you.”

The happy feelings and lack of negativity in this approach means this is a long-term solution, not a one-off (ie handled in the moment but will recur again and again). The fact that your dog got what he wanted by doing B instead of A will stick with him — that is, if you stick with this approach!

Hope I’ve given you enough ideas so you can get going on your own! If not, a more detailed look at the walk away is in my second book, I’ve Never Had a Dog like This! available through Amazon [].



Practice this ahead of time, before you see a person/dog when you are out walking.

What to do: Walk dog normally. Stop. Put a treat in front of her nose. Say “Sparky, TURN!” Slowly lure her around with the treat until you are facing the opposite way, and then take off running/walking fast and laughing. (Yes, you will look like a fool. Welcome to my world.) Run a few steps, then stop and give her the treat and tell her how wonderful she is. Do this until she is turning on a dime the second she hears TURN.

Now, when you see a dog and you are worried yours will react, you will use Spin-Laugh-Run (aka Emergency Turn). Instead of tension, you are creating a fun way out of a potentially bad situation.

I love love love answering questions. It’s one of my favorite things to do. I’ve been to many events where I’ve put out a donations box with an “Ask the Trainer” sign and reveled in the challenge of coming up with a helpful answer to every question. 

When I am with a client or in a class/seminar, I will answer the same question over and over again without hesitation, knowing it can take many repetitions to get the message across and the answer to stick. 

The questions serve many purposes: They not only allow me to share the most up-to-date information available, but also they give me important insights into what comprises the POGs’ database of information, how motivated they are to work, what is lacking, what is causing the problem. 

Among these many questions are productive, insightful ones which make me glow with happiness. But there is one question that I am almost guaranteed to hear at the beginning of any POG contact; unfortunately, is also the one I have determined is the most destructive, the most counterproductive, and the biggest obstacle to fixing any problem I’ve been summoned to handle.

It is this: What do I do when Sparky does [bad thing]?

The “bad thing” can be anything from doesn’t come to pulls on walks to jumps to growls to bites. It really doesn’t matter what the Thing Dog Does You Don’t Want Dog to Do is. The problem is the question itself. The problem is that the POG is asking it at all.

Asking that question tells me that the POG is:

 – being reactive instead of proactive, meaning s/he is not preventing the “bad” behavior from happening so it can be forgotten and replaced.

 – allowing the “bad” behavior to continue, meaning the dog is practicing and reinforcing that behavior over and over.

 – focused on the wrong thing: correcting the “bad” behavior instead of creating the “good” behavior.

 – sees the unacceptable behavior as something “bad” that needs to be “corrected” instead of a habit that needs to be replaced. (Dogs don’t have a right/wrong value system, so it is an exercise in futility to try to teach them right from wrong.)

When I hear that question, I know that the technique and timing of the loving, caring POG’s actions are so far off that the result is the EXACT OPPOSITE of what s/he is trying to accomplish. To wit: The POG is making the situation worse instead of better. 

How can that be? Here’s a typical scenario:

The question: What should I do when Sparky jumps?

 – Usual scenario: Once dog has jumped, POG reacts in one of many ways — from saying No/Off/Down/Sit, pushing the dog down, holding the dog down or some less-kind ways I won’t go into here. The dog is talked to, touched, petted, etc. all of which are ways of reinforcing behavior. 

All these great things happen AFTER the jump has occurred. Dog is satisfied with the result of the jump and learns that every time he wants attention like that, a jump is exactly the way to get it. 

Meanwhile, POG thinks that the problem has been successfully handled because the jumping has stopped. 

The truth is the following pattern has been taught: Jump => Get Attention. POG has not corrected anything, the jumping will recur. POG reaction will get more intense, further reinforcing the behavior. 

Here’s another typical scenario:

The question: What should I do when Sparky pulls on the leash?

 – Usual scenario: Once dog is pulling, POG reacts in one many ways — from saying No, jerking the dog back, telling dog to sit, winding the leash up until the dog is beside POG in a tight-leash death grip, speeding up to let dog get some energy out/do her business/enjoy her walk and hoping for a slowdown later. The dog is talked to, touched, petted, treated, etc. and also gets to keep walking, all of which are ways of reinforcing behavior.

All these things happen AFTER the dog has pulled. Dog is satisfied with the results of pulling and learns that whenever he wants to get to something and/or get attention, all he has to do is pull.

Meanwhile, POG thinks s/he has successfully communicated with the dog because eventually, from tiredness, satiation or pure luck, the dog walks on a loose leash for awhile.

The truth is the following pattern has been taught: Pull => Get Where I Want to Go. POG has not corrected anything, the pulling will recur. POG reaction will get more intense, further reinforcing the behavior. 

See a pattern? Good! Want to create a different one that will actually address the problem behavior? 

The better question

There is a similar but much much better question to ask that puts POGs in proactive/teaching mode instead of reactive/corrective mode. 

It is: What’s the best way to deal with a dog that does X?

Now we’re talking! And here’s the simple answer: 

  1. Prevent the behavior you don’t like.
  2. Teach a new behavior you do like using fun and motivating rewards like food.
  3. Ask for and reward the new behavior in the situation the old behavior usually happens in.
  4. Repeat, repeat, repeat!!

And if the old behavior does happen (which it will because no one is perfect)? Then interrupt quietly (that means no talking), slowly, with as little energy as possible. Wait for a calm down/different choice from your dog. Pile on the rewards for that. Over time, your dog will make the practical choice to doing the new rewarding behavior instead of the old behavior that no longer delivers for him.

And you will never have to ask the Worst Question Ever again!

Need more? See my books Reverse Dog Training: A Fresh Perspective for Solving Common Problems and I’ve Never Had a Dog like This! How Modern Society Has Impacted Our Best Friend and What We Can Do About It. 

She’s in the trash. He’s jumping higher than your head. She snaps when you reach for the shoe she took. He pulls like a freight train on leash. She pees on your bed. He tears up your couch.

“No!” you thunder. “Bad dog!” To no effect. Doesn’t make a dent in the behavior.

“Good grief,” you wail, “Why is my dog so bad?”

Welp, if you are saying that, that’s where the problem lies. Not with your dog, but with your thinking that what s/he is doing is considered “bad behavior” BY HIM/HER.

Because here’s the thing: In the dog’s world, there is no bad behavior. There’s also no good behavior.


You may want to sit down.

Here is a science-based dog statement: Research indicates dogs don’t possess a good/bad value system. It is simply not the way they operate.

Let me repeat: Dogs DO NOT work using a good/bad value system.

The way they DO operate is through a results-based system: If what they do gets them something they want, they will do it again. Period. Full stop. No more complicated than that.

So for example, getting into trash nets yummy stuff. Jumping snags lots of attention (yelling etc. is attention just like saying GOOD DOG). Snapping when you reach for the shoe gets you to leave her alone with her treasure. Pulling on the leash gets him where he wants to go. Peeing on your bed mixes scents, and of course gives her relief. Tearing up a couch is fun! And also can relieve anxiety and boredom.

See? Every single one of those can be explained without the word “bad” if you use the dog lens to examine it.

But but the ‘guilty look’

Hold it, you say. Then what’s the guilty look about? Ah yes, most people assume that hang-dog expression dogs display when “caught” proves they feel “bad” about what they did.

You know what happens when you assume, right?

Dogs don’t do guilt (guilt comes from knowing the difference between good and bad; dogs don’t get “bad,” so they also don’t get guilt). The guilty look isn’t a guilty look. It’s a “I don’t want to fight with you” expression of appeasement. Your dog is showing anxiety/fear when you see that look.

Longer explanation from my book, Reverse Dog Training: A Fresh Perspective for Solving Common Problems:

Common belief: I can tell my dog knows what he’s doing is “wrong” because he looks “guilty,” even before I say or do anything.

Reverse reality: Since dogs have no sense of “right” or “wrong,” they certainly can’t experience guilt over doing something they shouldn’t. What your dog does “know” is he should repeat behaviors that work for him (e.g. tearing up pillows is fun and relieves stress!). He also knows you are mad when you come in with your mad face and talk in your mad voice (“What did you do?!”), so he offers appeasement gestures (the “guilty” look) to you in hopes you will calm down and stop being so threatening.

POGs will often assume they dog “knows” because he will often slink away the moment you come in, before you even discover the indiscretion. That “pre-reaction” does not come from realizing he’s committed a crime; rather, it comes from learning. Dogs know only the present, not the past or future, but they can learn. That process goes something like this: “Every time Mom comes home and there is a torn pillow on the floor, she is mad and bad things happen to me, so I better do my best to calm her down/get out of here till she calms down.”

Unfortunately, the dog cannot make the connection that if he hadn’t destroyed the pillow in the first place, the bad things wouldn’t happen.

Helpful side note: When your dog looks “guilty,” he could actually be scared. NEVER correct a dog when he is scared.


Do you feel guilty now? Good.

That’s the first step toward changing your thinking so you can better understand and communicate with your dog. When you acknowledge your dog needs information she doesn’t have, and that you must provide in a way she can process and use it properly, you change from “owner/master” into thoughtful, supportive partner.

Next step: Realize that the best way to get a “good” dog is to 1) Prevent the “bad” so it isn’t practiced/reinforced; 2) Teach and reward heavily the “good” so dog wants to repeat it; 3) Repeat 1 & 2 over and over and over and over… until you suddenly realize your dog is doing the “good” without you telling her too; 4) Keep rewarding often so there is no backsliding by you or your dog!

Go guilt-free yourself (your dog is already there!) by taking the time to learn about rewards-based, kind teaching methods. Head to my Resources page [ ] to find out how much is out there!

8522BE73-564B-4DA8-BCC1-DB9B667C767DThis started out as a very different post called “Oh the sad sweetness of the very senior dog” — a melancholy review of the passage of time and the impact on my old girl Tawny (age guess around 16 years). The fatigue, the wandering, the peeing, the wobbling, the panting, etc. etc. Oh sadness, oh sorrow.

Then everything changed when the seizures started. I went from oh well to CODE RED in a heartbeat. Caring for the old dog turned into a panicked, sleep-deprived dive into Oh My Gawd.

I know a bit about seizures, having had a fair number of clients over the years who have had dogs burdened with them. Plus my last dog seizured the last day of his life (he was 17), so there was that terrifying thought leaping around my amygdala. I know there are usually only a few possible causes in an old dog, and most aren’t good: growth/tumor, general body/organ breakdown.

But there was also this possibility: inner-ear infection. Which has no visible symptoms.

I also am intimately familiar with (some might say OCD about) Tawny’s body and health history. She came to me as a foster with a bad ear infection that took 6 months of daily cleanings to clear up. After that, I was obsessive about checking/cleaning to make sure it never recurred. And at the time the seizures started, she was on antibiotics. So an infection wasn’t possible in my view.

Still… Tawny’s unique ears feature corn-maze-like passages that are difficult to keep clear. So was it possible she had not an infection but a blockage? Would that be enough to trigger a seizure?

Crossed my fingers and started flushing (fueled by massive amounts of ground turkey for tolerating it. I mean for Tawny of course). Warm compresses (more turkey). Massages (no turkey needed for this one!).

What happened? A miracle. The seizures stopped.


I nervously started counting days. They’d been happening a week apart. A week passed. Eight, nine, 10 days. Two weeks. Three. Though I never saw a smidgen of dirt flush out of her ears, something was happening. (I did once see a tiny bit of yellow glop from one ear which may have been a blockage.)

As the no-seizure days piled up, I started allowing myself the feeling that I had addressed the problem. Relief washed over me and sleep started returning.

But this story isn’t over. Because the miracles kept coming.

To my delight and astonishment, other changes emerged. Tawny perked up, becoming more aware of her surroundings, more engaged with me, even starting to play again. She was less wobbly. The limping she exhibited in her front leg that caused me to put a brace on her went away. The incontinence stopped. And most astonishing of all, a growth that appeared on her inner eyelid shrank and disappeared.

I thought these were all old-dog things that just had to be managed. I could not have been more wrong.

How long had that inner-ear problem been going on? How could we (me, vets) have missed it?

Know what? I don’t care. All I care about is treatment worked, the seizures are gone and her health is still improving. How far can she go? I have no idea. I am just going to continue to observe, challenge and adjust as needed.


What a gift.

You would think, after being with darling girl Tawny for 14 years, I would have run out of mistakes to make with her by now.

You would think.

Today I stand before her, head hanging, with the realization that I have made the mistakiest mistake there is, and I have been making it for years. It is this: underestimating my dog.

How? By repeatedly telling people she is not the brightest bulb in the lighthouse; not saying she’s dumb, but she’s no border collie, knowwhatImean?

So. Totally. Wrong.

What she is, is sensitive and resilient. Picks up on every shade of mood I have and adjusts. Puts up with all my crap with a wag of the tail and and patient “when’s dinner” check-ins followed by “okay not yet, returning to nap” sighs. And sometimes, because of how I’m acting, she stops reacting altogether. Which makes her…a lot smarter than I am.

This is what she has learned/accomplished in 14 years with me:

• Gone from rocket on leash to best walker on planet

• Gone from most reactive dog on planet to completely manageable

• Gone from largely unsafe around people to completely safe

• Gone from would not go out when drizzling/could not be bathed to goes out in thunderstorms and totally bathable

• Gone from noise-phobic to who cares (before hearing loss of course)

• Stopped door dashing, jumping, mouthing, destroying my belongings, anxious when I left, snapping at people, unable to be bathed, unable to be contained, humping, stealing, guarding her bed

• As my “test subject” helped me develop all the kind techniques I use today including no less than 7 iterations of walking (along the way putting up with all manner of newbie-trainer screw-ups)

• Learned brand-new things like Trickility (Tricks + Agility) and different training techniques I experimented with over the years

• Adjusted to numerous equipment changes and experimentations

• After losing most of her hearing learned a plethora of hand signals and other new ways to communicate non-verbally

• Acted in nearly all my videos (making surprise cameos as well — big surprise that I have a video ham)

• …and more I am sure I’m forgetting.

So who’s the dimbulb for underestimating her?

Today I stand before Tawny, head hanging. But also, I stand resolved to never make that mistake again. I’ll find a new one instead. And Tawny, just like always, will give me that funny look, wag her tail and roll with it. Because she is brilliant.

“My dog needs to learn how to behave.”

“My dog needs to learn some behaviors.”

On the surface, the previous two statements seem to be talking about the same thing. Both have a version of the word “behave” in them, so they must be closely related, right?

Actually, no. In fact, these two sentences are as far away from each other in meaning as Pluto is from Earth in light years. (Okay, maybe not quite that bad; I just wanted to say Pluto, ya know, the dog thing. Anyway, they are not closely related.)

This may seem a bit trainer-geeky, but it is soooo very important to understand the difference between behavior and Behavior (capitalization mine), whether you are teaching your dog to Sit or dealing with a problem.

Allow me to define both and explain the importance.


This is one of the newer ways of talking about what used to be called “commands” — Sit, Down, Come, No, Heel etc. — and also “tricks” like shake, roll over, etc. We think of “tricks” and “commands” as two different things, and we tend to teach them differently, but they are the same thing: single-event actions, generally taught with words. Say the word, the action is performed, and some type of reward is usually provided.

Anyone can teach behaviors, and any dog can learn them. I sometimes call them “circus tricks” because of the automatic/rote nature of them. To avoid confusion in this post, I will also refer to them that way here.


Thisis what happens between the circus tricks, and it occupies the vast majority of your dog’s day! It is the stuff your dog does when you are not specifically telling her what to do; it’s what you are expecting or hoping she already “knows.” Though we differentiate between Good and Bad Behavior, your dog doesn’t — to her, Behavior is simply how she conducts herself in our world. Behavior is what happens after the walk but before dinner, while you are working on your computer or running the vacuum, when you are helping the kids with schoolwork, when you are fixing a snack and leaving it on the counter. While you are doing other things, your dog is Behaving.

Why it’s important to know the difference

When our dogs fail to do what we want them to do, we jump to unhelpful human conclusions. Many of us like to say our dogs are “stubborn” when they don’t perform the circus trick every time or Behave the way we’d like. Let me be clear: Dogs generally are not being “stubborn” when they don’t do what we want. There ARE reasons for their improper response — and they can be very different depending on whether it’s a behavior or Behavior.

Your dog may not perform a circus trick/behavior reliably because:

• there have not been enough repetitions,

• rewards haven’t been consistently provided,

• there is too much else going on around the dog (ie distractions),

• the teaching technique isn’t sound (eg punishing your dog for not Coming will make him less likely to Come).

In this instance, cleaning up and committing to your teaching procedure should get your dog performing reliably (80-90% for most things; dogs aren’t robots!).

Your dog may not Behave because:

• he’s scared,

• he’s overstimulated,

• he’s confused,

• he’s learned bad things happen to him under these circumstances,

• it’s a new place/person/thing,

• he’s being bullied by another dog,

• it’s night,

• it’s day,

• it’s noisy,

• he smells something funny,

• his brain is tired,

• he’s sick,

• something hurts,

• he doesn’t trust you,

• he doesn’t feel protected,

• he’s learned how to get what he wants without doing it,

• he sees no benefit to doing it,

• Behaving a different way benefits him more,

• he is expected to Behave though no one has taught him how to Behave.*

In this instance, as you can see, it’s a wee bit more complicated. Which is why it’s fascinating for me and other pros, but so frustrating for many POGs!

Behavior is internal. It comes from within, not without. It isn’t created with a word. Behavior is impacted by personality, life experience, environment, nutrition, breed(s), etc. etc. It is where DogJoy can happen, where the true connection/bond between human and dog is formed and where understanding, communication and mutual respect blossom.

To impact Behavior, you need to understand your dog on a deeper level. To create Good Behavior, you have to understand Dog Behavior in general, and your dog’s Behavior in particular. If you take the time to do that, both of you will be richly rewarded.

For some good places to start learning about dog Behavior, visit my Recommended Reading page.


*For the record, despite thousands of years of domestication, dogs still have no clue how to operate in our world, and since they don’t have ESP or a chip in their heads that is preprogrammed before they arrive in your home, they need us to supply the missing information in a way they can understand and properly process.

If your dog has it, you may be making huge handling mistakes

Smart. Sensitive. Insecure. Three little words that, when put together, can make or break the quality of life you have with your dog.

Do these words describe your dog or one you know? Then please, please read and share.

There are many common mistakes POGs make with their precious pups, but I would argue these three words cause them to make some of the biggest and most damaging ones.

I have seen dogs returned, rehomed, punished relentlessly and destroyed because of these three words. I have seen dogs make horrific mistakes because of these three words.

I desperately hope POGs will take this message deep into their hearts and take a hard look at how they are relating to their dogs so not one more tragedy happens.

Why this is important

Since the beginning of my career, I have been fascinated by behavior and have concentrated on solving tough behavior problems.

Any experienced trainer worth his/her salt is very cognizant of how important it is to notice patterns while working with the hundreds of dogs s/he sees. Studies/Research can only get you so far; at a certain point, you have to add data you’ve collected through your own experiences to flesh out your abilities.

The Troublesome Temperament Trio is one big pattern I’ve identified that contributes mightily to behavior problems, big and small.

I realized that virtually all the dogs with the worst problems were really sharp brainwise, that is they quickly processed all the information they got — no matter the quality of the information.

Also, I realized that they were taking in a lot of information because they were also very sensitive. So they were noticing everything about the situation they were in. Everything. Every. Little. Detail. And quickly processing it, and trying to make sense of it so they could solve their problem, whatever it might be.

Now, those two qualities, smart and sensitive, can be a great combination — say you have a border collie herding sheep, or a search-and-rescue dog, or an agility champ, or a service/assistance dog. Smart dogs can be challenging to train, but the rewards for both dogs and humans can be tremendous.

However, dogs with those two qualities can also turn into disasters if misunderstood/mishandled. Not just problems, but unsafe, unpredictable timebombs with hair-trigger detonators.

The main determinant of the outcome, in my experience, is the final word in the trio: insecurity.

The smart, sensitive dog that is confident (secure), when faced with a confusing situation (Hey all that information that just blew through my processor doesn’t make sense), will work to figure it out, look for more information/guidance to figure it out, and will generally hold himself together while doing so.

But the smart, sensitive dog that is unsure/nervous/anxious/fearful (insecure) will be quickly overwhelmed by the situation, his anxiety level rising to the point where he can’t process any more information, resulting in all manner of unacceptable results like unresponsiveness, frustration barking, snapping, biting, destruction, running away and more.

Compounding this bad reaction is the human, who doesn’t realize what’s going on and, thinking the dog is “misbehaving,” turns to corrections or other inappropriate reactions that only serve to make the dog more anxious, which escalates the unacceptable behavior, which increases the bad reactions, which makes the dog more anxious, and — well, you get the idea. Simply put, it ain’t gonna end well.

How to go from ‘insecure’ to ‘secure’

The first step is changing our attitude toward the dog suffering from TTT. We have to get rid of our anger/frustration as well as our commitment to correction, neither of which will help us reach a solution. Learning to treat our dogs like friends who need help rather than a “bad” dog will create the trusting bond needed to create the long-term fix.

That fix is contained in this additional, extremely important word: socialization.

Allow me to define it so the connection is clear.

Socialization is PROPER exposure to all types of environments so dogs know what each is and what to do with it, so they are not afraid of it.

It means giving the dog all the information he needs so he doesn’t have to figure it out on his own. When he knows what to do in any given situation, his confidence rises.

If you don’t provide this information, your dog will eventually figure it out himself, but not always in the way you approve of. He may find, for example, that barking incessantly at people who make him nervous gets them to go away. Or he may find that snapping works.

He may find the best way to get your attention is to take something of yours and run off with it. Or jumping on you, maybe grabbing your arm or clothes.

If you yell at him or smack him for things like that, you erode his trust, making him more nervous about his situation. Which leads to a more inappropriate behavior the next time the same or a similar situation arises.

Security is important to good mental health for people. Is it any wonder that it is also important to our dogs?

If you have a dog with TTT, start working on her confidence today!

How? Click here for an excellent article from Partnership for Animal Welfare:

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