Archives for posts with tag: Dog training

When you are in this business for awhile, you see a fair number of dogs cross over the Rainbow Bridge. This is a tribute to two extraordinary dogs with whom I have had the privilege to work. Both have recently passed. I want to share a little of their second-chapter lives with you, and to celebrate them and the humans who never gave up on them.



Snick was an old boy when he came to me. His parent/owner/guardian (POG) Barb had taken him in after her mother died and was struggling to make him into a safe dog. He had bitten her and others, snapped at people who reached to pet him, bark-lunged at other dogs and was pretty much a doggie train wreck. When I suggested trying him in my group class, Barb was unsure, concerned they would be thrown out because of his appalling behavior and non-stop barking. I assured her that wouldn’t happen. I had a nice, big room in the Cleveland APL building that would allow me to separate him from the class while I assessed him.

Snick came rampaging into his first group lesson, in full-throttle defense mode, pulling poor Barb, who had an apologetic smilie frozen in place. We went to work immediately, and, by the end of the hour, Snick was on his back with Barb rubbing his belly. We had cracked the shell and found the real Snick, a funny, silly boy just dying to trust someone. That’s the boy you see in this picture.

I saw Snick on and off over the next few years, as Barb continued to work with him. What a great time he had with her in his second chapter. Yes, there were bumps in the road, but because Barb was determined to do right by this dog her mother adored, she kept going.

I loved Snick. He was the one and only dog I allowed to jump on me. Every time he saw me, he immediately rushed over, put his paws on my leg and licked my fingers till I petted him. I asked Barb to never correct him for that. Because he had been so distrustful of humans, I wanted him to feel completely secure around someone. So I made sure he never attached a negative to me. Interestingly, that allowed me to trust him completely.  Snick had a profound impact on the way I looked at other “doggie train wrecks” that have rumbled my way since we met.



Pretty Girl and Me

Pretty Girl was actually gorgeous–a striking black/white, 90-pound pit who was taken in by Mary even though she had bitten. She had also passed two separate temperament evaluations. Mary, a huge animal lover, felt PG had been wronged. Instead of allowing her to be put down, Mary took her home to add to her furry family. She called me in for help in making sure Pretty reached her full potential.

That was nearly six years ago. I had been working steadily with them ever since.

When I first met her, Pretty was a tornado encased in dog skin, possibly the most hyper, overstimulated dog I had ever seen. I could see every bone in her body; she seemed to be vibrating away every calorie she took in! Mary and I stood outside her kennel, waiting for her to calm down a bit so I could reward a better behavior. That was a loooong wait. After 15-20 minutes of bouncing on her hind legs and barking, I was finally getting what felt like nanoseconds to stuff treats through the fence.

She had come a tremendously long way since then. The super-hyper girl had calmed a lot and gotten more focused. She still struggled sometimes with self-control (for example, she would sit but tap-dance with her front feet, waiting to be released), but she always worked very hard to do what we wanted. She built a strong bond with a small group of trusted humans who helped her understand and cope better with our world. She became good friends with Mary’s cat Smokey, who liked to follow her around the house and roll on his back in front of her, batting at Pretty’s nose. She was smart, sensitive, goofy, fun. She improved to the point where I felt comfortable bringing my frail 84-year-old mother to meet her. The only challenge we had that day was Pretty showing how eager she was to meet Mom by plowing her head into her chair…and moving Mom and chair a good foot before we restored order. Mom petted her the whole time; she thought that it was all pretty funny.

That was Pretty Girl — she put her whole heart into everything she did. That heart gave out way too soon. There was so much unexplored potential in her. I still can’t believe she’s gone.


I make no secret of the fact that I feel the dogs I work with are part mine. If that’s unprofessional, so be it. This is the only way I can work. I half-jokingly say these are my dogs too.  I’ve been honored with the trust of both human and dog, which has allowed me to do my job to the best of my ability, and to keep improving through all I’ve learned from these marvelous creatures. And occasionally to connect with extra-special dogs like Snick and Pretty Girl.

Rest easy, pups. You’ve earned it.


Some people talk to animals. Not many listen, though. That’s the problem. 

– A. A. Milne, Winnie the Pooh


One of the more interesting things I get to do as a trainer is play around with trigger sequences.

A trigger sequence is the series of things that leads to a particular behavior. So for example when you want your dog to sit, the sequence that you would use to trigger that behavior might be saying the word “Sit” and holding one hand palm up in front of her. If you change the word or the hand signal, you may not get the behavior you want because you have altered the sequence.

Most sequences are more complicated than that, even if they don’t appear so. That sit sequence, for example, might also involve only the right hand, a certain tone, a tilt of the head, a lean forward. Not knowing that could cause one to fail in getting a sit and to frustrate thinking the dog is being “stubborn” because she is not following orders.

Proofing commands involves pulling apart that sequence, presenting one piece at a time, making sure that the dog will perform the desired behavior when only one trigger is available, say just the word “Sit” or just the hand signal. Though somewhat laborious, it is the way to best get a reliable response from your dog.

Trigger sequences are involved in all sorts of behaviors, from sits and downs to separation anxiety to barking at the door or pulling on the leash or snapping, etc.

What’s really cool and fun about them is discovering them (say when I test a rescue to see what commands he knows) and also experimenting with altering them. Sometimes you can stop a “bad” behavior immediately by disrupting the sequence, say removing or altering even one piece.

I have found this can happen a lot with barking. Which is good, because barking drives people crazy, so it’s nice to be able to sometimes get a quick change on something like that. I like to play with my tone. People love to yell at their dogs to knock it off, which typically only serves to escalate the barking. So I will try a “What’s that?” inquiry-type tone, or “Good job!” praise to see if the dog will be confused enough to look at me like “Huh?” or at least hesitate for a moment, long enough for me to get in there and redirect.

One example that’s fun to relate involves a Westie I worked with recently. Her barking at the front window was driving her owners nuts (and they had tried “everything”). While they were standing there, I prevented a barking frenzy as two people passed the house by simply saying “Who’s that? Good girl!” over and over while the people went by. The owners were literally gobsmacked, but all I did was change the trigger sequence. With a piece missing, it didn’t prompt her usual reaction. Was she “fixed?” Heavens, no. But it was a start.

So the next time your dog starts to do something you don’t like, see of you can figure out the trigger sequence, or at least one part of it, and try to mess up the sequence. Try to laugh instead of yelling! If it stops the behavior, remember to jump in with a boatload of rewards so you can cement that “good” behavior sequence in your dog’s brain. Easier said than done, I know…

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