Working out together

Long walks through the forest, a morning jog or a bike ride? Going for a swim in the lake? Okay, we’ve done that countless times… what next?

Many of us workout – whether at a gym or at home – regularly while our dogs hang out at home waiting for us to go do one of the things listed above with them. Why not combine the two things and workout together?


I made this video yesterday, more out of silliness and fun than anything else, but it might give you some ideas. You could make certain workouts into a game so that your dogs’ mind and body get stimulated as you work out.

Some other things I do regularly with my dogs that I didn’t show, is telling them to lay down somewhere and practice our “stay” while I workout nearby. Even if your dog has a great stay, you might find him or her having difficulty staying calm and in one place while you are doing jumping jacks or running back and forth! Give it a try… go out with your dog and try some of these things out and I promise you: you will come home sweating and your dog will be panting and wagging his tail right at your side.


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Avoidance of rehearsal

Everything developes through rehearsal. Without rehearsal, nothing can be learned or improved.

Now applying that to our animal training, many unwanted behaviors can simply be avoided. The best example that I can think of right now, is crate training with puppies. It is brilliant in preventing the learning of any bad behavior from your dog in the house. I worded that very carefully, because we aren’t necessarily teaching them anything – we’re preventing them from learning it from the beginning. My puppy Monty is almost 5 months old and has never chewed on a single thing in my house.

What is crate training? To simplify it, crate training is when you leave your puppy in a crate (with a blanket, water, etc in the living room or  other light filled room with the family around) whenever you are not around. This  means – over night, whenever you are not able to keep a constant eye on them and definitely when you leave the house. This way, they are never able to practice any bad behaviors. But the crate is only for the puppy stage. You are actively training them when you let them out of the crate (which should be very often  – whenever you’re home and not too busy), because you are always around in this scenario and are able to immediately correct any signs of a bad habit. Your puppy will have a 0% success rate at doing naughty things.

Once they are reliably well behaved, you can leave them out for longer and longer periods of time. Then you can leave them out while you go cook in the kitchen for example and just check up on them every now and then. This transitions into leaving them out for longer and longer.

The point of this post was not just about crate training, but the concept behind it. If you can in anyway adjust something in your favor, do it! Prevent the bad things from being rehearsed!


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The Motivation Continuum

Punishing — Neutral —Reinforcing

Any motivation can vary in effectiveness depending on factors such as time, place, association and physiology. If a stimulus (motivation) has no meaning to an animal, it is labeled as neutral. It will not change a behavior. That leaves us with either a reinforcing or punishing stimulus on opposite ends of this spectrum.

Often we take a reinforcer to the extreme. Anything in excess can become a punisher, including something as lovely as a dog’s favorite salami or even candy to a child. If you are hungry, something like food can be highly reinforcing. If someone has not had anything to drink all day after working outside, they will do anything for even a sip of water. After a liter or more of water, if you continue to give them water and definitely if you force them to drink it, water will become a punishment.

Using this as a visual, we see the continuum come full cycle:

  • The motivation (water) was neutral earlier in the day when the human wasn’t thirsty. You wouldn’t have been able to motivate them to do much by offering them water.
  • The motivation was reinforcing when the human was thirsty. The water gained value in their eyes, causing them to do almost anything to earn it.
  • The motivation became punishing when the human had enough or too much water. It became something he or she no longer wanted or came to resent.
  • It then goes back to neutral and then reinforcing once they become thirsty again, and so on.

Keeping this information in the front of our mind when approaching a training session, we can set ourselves up for success and plan. When would be the best time to use food as a motivator? Before they have eaten, in the morning or evening. They will be hungry and putting in extra effort to earn their food. Play is a great motivator for an animal who has extra energy to burn (maybe after being at home, bored, all day). A tired animal will do nothing to play with you, of course…

If we find something that motivates our animal it can be a fantastic tool. Once we’ve found it, the tricky part is to not over use it. This would cause it to become neutral or even a punisher. If your dog likes bananas, don’t always use bananas. Save bananas as a special reward if they did something amazingly.

What motivates your animals the most?

What do you think would motivate this baby polar bear?? So cute!

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Thoughts on dominance

Many people see being dominant as negative state and something that should be avoided at all costs. Avoiding dominance with animals and children and anything in life is next to impossible. Why? For this very reason: putting your dog on a leash, whether he pulls or not, is dominance because you are controlling where he can walk. Telling your kid what to eat (putting anything on their plate and presenting it to them without asking) is dominance because you are controlling what they eat. I won’t give more examples, but even trainers who religiously work with “positive reinforcement only” use dominance in some form. The only way not to be dominant would be to let your animal do whatever they want and practically be wild and free. Even then, another animal would tell them what to do and not do.

At the moment I am reading a great book by Jenifer Zeligs (a friend of a former teacher of mine – David Lichman) called: Animal Training 101: The Complete and Practical Guide to the Art and Science of Behavior Modification

This is a book I would recommend to any trainer and anyone who has an animal or wants an animal – no matter what level you are at. She covers everything, as well as what dominance is. Here is a snippet from page 120 of her book;

The term “dominance” has a negative connotation for people that “leadership” does not carry. Dominance has been defined variously throughout the literature and there is not a clear consensus opinion. Burgoon et al. (1998) described the problem that the idea of dominance, for many, implies submission and forceful conflict, although this is not necessarily the case. Dominance is best described by having an unfettered access to resources. In many species, like dolphins or humans for example, the negotiation of dominance occurs through a variety of subtle mechanisms, both social and physical, and often does not involve substantial conflict. Leadership, on the other hand, is related to who is choosing the direction of the group. Leadership has a more positive potential connotation, even though many leaders are, in fact, dominant.


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Where does discipline come from?

Well-behaved, polite dogs aren’t born that way. For every disciplined dog, there is a disciplined (consistant!) handler.

Some concepts you need to understand:

  • No excuses (oh there are so many people watching me or oh well, he already misbehaved)
  • No exceptions – for example letting him go to other dogs while on the leash. You either let him or you never let him greet other dogs on the leash. No exceptions.
  • Be consistent. Correct your dog every time he does the things he isn’t supposed to be doing – whether it be barking, trying to get into the trash, etc.
  • Also be very regular with your rewards and encouragement.
  • EXERCISE. A dog without adequate exercise for his breed (a border collie will need much more exercise than others) can’t be calm and balanced.
  • Structure and routine to some extent
  • A healthy and balanced diet
  • General health (make sure he is not in pain and as healthy as possible).
  • Don’t let other people influence you. Every dog owner and even people who have never had a dog in their life, think they know best. If you know your dog and know that you need to do to correct or not correct him in a certain situation to avoid a behaviour — do it! You know your dog best.


The list goes on. But these were some food for thought. Are you doing these things or are you just expecting your dog to be well-behaved?

A fit, healthy dog usually has a fit and healthy human.

An obese dog is usually accompanied by an overweight human.

A dog who barks usually has a human on the other end of the leash who yells and won’t stop yelling.

A scared dog usually has a worried owner.

An aggressive dog usually has a very masculine and aggressive human.


… and a balanced, disciplined and polite dog usually has a human who mirrors just that! Do you see the pattern? What are some things you’ve observed when comparing animals to their humans? I’d love to hear all about it in the comments!

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When they’re in pain

The woods are still black and covered in frost when I take my dogs out in the mornings… winter is not a trainer’s best friend! After a long walk in the woods, I let them romp and play in the field before heading home. Out of the darkness I hear my young dog, Monty, scream for a good ten seconds. Many people confuse surprise yelps and pain screams when it comes to dogs. If we correct our dog for something they did wrong and they make a sound, even if we didn’t touch them or hurt them in any way, it stems from surprise, not pain. The sound dogs make when they are in pain is high-pitched and long.

First of all, I did notice that when the yipping started, all of my dogs’ first reactions was to run to me which I very much appreciated. That proves that they trust me and our relationship is strong. Holding his left front leg up close to his body, Monty was dramatically limping towards me. Seeing the angle at which he was holding his leg, it really did look like he broke or sprained it. He couldn’t even rest it on the floor. He’s fine, but I wanted to talk to you guys about: what do you do when your animal gets hurt??

Many times we might not see what caused it. The most important thing to remember, is that even the sweetest, trusting dog who you’ve had since he was a puppy, could lash out in times of pain and fear.

  • If your animal is very hurt, keep your face far away from theirs, and see if you can wrap something firmly but not tightly around their muzzle (as long as they’re not vomitting) to prevent any bites.
  • Even though it’s difficult, stay calm.
  • Move slowly but confidently.
  • Talk reassuringly to them but not like you feel sorry for them or using any words you would during training like “good” or something. If you feel the need to speak, then tell them they’ll be alright. My voice caused Monty to wag his tail and come out of his fear.
  • Always have your vet’s number saved on your phone so that if the injury is bad, you can call them right away.
  • At first, as you’re assessing, crouch in a way so that, if your animal does lash out, you can get away quickly.
  • If it is a leg wound, slowly (with a very open and soft hand) touch up and down a few times, always increasing the pressure. Then you can assess if it is broken (you will notice that right away), or if they stepped in something or if it might be a bit sprained.


Usually, it seems much worse than it is. Two minutes later Monty was walking next to me. Well, at first I wanted to carry him home so that he wouldn’t put too much pressure on it right away, but… okay, fine, I got tired and put him down for a second and he just started slowly walking next to me… My heroic moment was short lived.

Many times, depending on the situation, especially leg injuries or scuffs with other dogs, if we give them a minute or so to adjust, they will recover very quickly.

When was a time your animal got hurt? How did you handle it? Let me know in the comments!


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Hey dog, slow down!

We’ve all either seen or own a dog who swallows the whole meal in one gulp. That can’t be healthy, dog! A habit like that is hard and usually impossible to untrain. That being said, there are some tips I can give you to help slow your dog down.

Read them through and let me know what you think and how you expand upon them:

  • If you feed dry food, try not using a bowl and just spreading it on the ground.
  • Here’s a classic: put a tennis ball, big rock, or some (non edible and big enough not to be swallowed) object  into the bowl. This will slow them down as they eat around it and need to move it back and forth to get to the food.
  • Want to have some fun? This one is especially good if you feed your dog raw food. Take chunks of meat and throw it into a field or hide it around the yard for your dog to find. This also allows your dog to use his nose in a positive manner and their natural instincts to “hunt” for food – something most dogs are not given the chance to.
  •  You can buy (or make) a small washable dog baggie that they can carry around, holding their daily food ration. Whenever you are hanging out or they did something correctly, you can give them some of the food. So instead of getting it all at once or twice daily, they get tiny bits throughout the day. This completely eliminates them eating too much at once.
  • Buy a dog puzzle and get your dog to work for their food! This isn’t a great option if you’re short on time, though.
  • Put your dog’s food in a bowl and then have them do some tricks. After each trick was successfully performed, give them a handful of food until nothing is left. Dogs love a job, especially if food follows!


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How can you tell your animal they did an extra good job?

My rewards are very intentionally rationed. When a dog is learning how to lay down and they do it (perhaps slowly or a bit delayed) then they get a treat. If they lay down immediately – fast, alert, and confidently -, then they get a small handful (maybe 5 treats).

When training something, play the jackpot game! If your animal puts in a large amount of effort show them by giving them a jackpot of treats. Sometimes I even excitedly say, “Jackpot!!” (replacing the sound of a clicker) and my animals love it.

If done consistantly, this form of rewarding will make sense to them. More effort = more treats. One treat = Okay, that wasn’t that great….


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Intro to Intermediate Bridge

Playing hot and cold. Very simply stated, that is what training animals is all about. How do we get our animal to understand our game of hot and cold as quickly and confidently as possible?

In my last post, I began to talk about this.

There are times when your animal is unsure if they are about to do the right thing or not. Example: You tell your dog to lay down and they are crouching, looking around, not sure if they should lower themselves completely onto the ground or stay standing. The game of hot and cold begins… Instead of immediately correcting them for not “reacting fast enough”, this is a perfect opportunity to encourage. Not reward, but encourage.

Many trainers don’t teach this, but still do it unconciously. When worked with regularly, it can help you create a confident animal who does what you ask for quickly and happily. Now that I have you sitting on the edge of your seat, may I introduce you to the intermediate bridge? A bridge would be a clicker, or any form of final reward for a completed behaviour. Intermediate is exactly how it sounds — positive feedback before rewarding your animal.

Example: Your animal starts doing something and you say “Gooood, goood, good, good….” and then a “GOOD!!!” for the successful behaviour. The intermediate bridge simply has an encouraging, friendly tone — either very energetic or calm, depending on what you are training. Then, for the final product, the animal receives a very clear reward.


Are you interested in more posts on this subject? Let me know and stay tuned!


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Filed under Behavioral musings, Dogs, Teaching Tricks

Clicker vs Vocal

Clicker training can accelerate any form of training to a surprising extent. But is it really necessary to buy a clicker or could you make a sound with your mouth/voice/body etc and get the same results?

There are many theories stating that the sound the clicker makes is processed much faster by a dog’s brain. Whether this is true or not, I am not sure.

Putting scientific evidence in favor of one or the other aside, here are some pros and cons of using your voice or a clicker;


Cons of a clicker

  • It costs money – even if it isn’t much
  • You can very easily accidently click it – rewarding the wrong behavior. This can also, at times, be hard to reverse. Simply holding it in your hand, your palm or thumb or even the side of your leg could click it unintentionally.
  • It could fall, bringing you in a potentially dangerous situation, depending what animal you’re working with. This could also simply delay your reaction if you need to reward something when you dropped it.
  • Not practical when in water, etc (rusts or gets lost)
  • If your animal does something that needs to be positively reinforced and you don’t have a clicker with or on you, it could have a large effect on your training. It is possible to train vocal and clicker cues simultaneously, but usually one will be stronger than the other.

Pros of a clicker

  • Guaranteed to always sound the same
  • Any other trainer can begin training with an animal using the clicker and the animal will understand.
  • Very easy to condition
  • Quick and snappy sound


Cons of voice/other signals

  • The main con is that it will be much more difficult for someone else to replicate the sound to be exactly the way you do it.
  • If it is a word or sound that the animal might hear in every day situations (even a whistle), an unwanted behaviour could easily be rewarded, for example, “Good!” or “Okay!” are used very often in conversation.
  • When you are sick it is hard to get the sound the same or use your voice for longer periods of time.
  • If your bridge (cue) is something with your body or a unique sound, it might be that you aren’t able to make it in time for the reward if everything happens quickly.


Pros of voice/other signals

  • Most importantly — you always have it with you!


I hope this helped you decide how you will condition your animal while training with positive reinforcement and I will be sure to add on to the lists and make more comparisons in future posts!


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