"Properly trained, man can be a dog's best friend" ~ Corey Ford
When I take my dogs for a walk, I always allow them to sniff, because I know it is not only of great joy to them, but sniffing actually serves a variety of important functions for my dogs.
Let's dive into what sniffing actually means to a dog:
Sniffing is an essential and highly developed sense for dogs, serving various important functions in their lives. Here are several reasons why sniffing is crucial for dogs:
And as the icing on the cake: it makes them very tired, so you can now both go home and enjoy a calmer day in the house.
In these two short videos, I have Cedar on a long line, to allow him to just focus on sniffing in a new environment...and boy, does he sniff!! And just look at how much he enjoys it.
If you are interested in purchasing the same long line as I am using, look here https://amzn.to/3D4uUAd
If you are interested in learning more about Mental stimulation through Enrichment activities, take a look at my online
Canine Enrichment for Everyone - Self Study course
Happy sniffing :)
Dealing with a reactive dog can be a challenging and frustrating experience for anyone with a dog. However, with the right approach and strategies, it is possible to help your dog become calmer and more well-adjusted. Ready to transform your dog into a more relaxed and happier companion? Here are a few ways to help get you started:
Understanding the triggers that provoke a big reaction in your dog is key to managing their behavior. Observe your dog closely to identify specific situations, people, or objects that trigger their reactive response. Once you have identified these triggers, and at what distance your dog has a "negative" reaction to them, write them down on a list. Now work on creating a safe environment to avoid or minimize exposure to them. By proactively managing your dog's environment (often by managing your dog's distance to the triggers), you can prevent unnecessary confrontations and reduce stress for your dog.
Our dogs are constantly telling us how they feel in any given situation: relaxed, happy , agitated, nervous, insecure, anxious, and so on. Our job is to learn how to read them. Learning to observe your dog's body language and identify your dog's current state of mind along with their threshold to their triggers, are all components that are crucial for the success of your training program. The goal is to work your dog "under theshold", where your dog is still calm, thus able to focus and take in new information from handler.
Positive reinforcement techniques are highly effective when dealing with reactive dogs. Reward-based training focuses on reinforcing desired behaviors instead of punishing negative ones. Use treats, praise, and other rewards to reinforce calm and non-aggressive behaviors. This approach helps your dog associate positive experiences with appropriate behavior and encourages them to make better choices in stressful situations.
Desensitization and counterconditioning are valuable tools in reshaping your dog's response to their triggers. The process involves gradually exposing your dog to the trigger at a low intensity while simultaneously providing positive experiences or rewards. Start with mild exposure to the trigger and increase the intensity gradually as your dog becomes more comfortable. This method helps your dog develop a positive association with the previously feared stimulus, reducing their aggressive response over time. Keep the training sessions short with lots of breaks, where you step away from the pressure of the trigger. Never correct your dog for having a big reaction. You are only adding more stress to the situation.
Changing your dog's emotion and its current unwanted reaction, requires consistency, patience, and time. Consistently apply the training techniques and strategies recommended by professionals, and establish clear boundaries and rules for your dog's behavior. Be patient and understand that progress may be gradual. Each dog is unique, and the rate of improvement can vary. Celebrate even the smallest victories and remain dedicated to your dog's well-being.
When faced with a reactive dog, it is often helpful to consult with a professional dog trainer or behaviorist, who specializes in these cases. These experts have the knowledge and experience to assess your dog's behavior accurately and develop a customized training plan. They can guide you through the process of understanding the underlying causes of your dog's reaction and provide you with effective techniques to manage and modify your dog's behavior.
By seeking professional guidance, identifying triggers, implementing positive reinforcement techniques, and gradually exposing your dog to their triggers while providing positive experiences, you can effectively address their reactivity.
With the right support and effort, you can make a positive difference in your dog's behavior and strengthen the bond between you and your furry friend.
If interested in seeking help for your dog's reactivity, you can learn more about my Reactive Rover Program here .
And remember :
Your dog is not giving you a hard time. He/she is having a hard time.
Compassion for your dog's struggle is key to your success.
In our busy daily lives with work, children, errands and also dogs, everything can easily become a bit rushed. Also in our interactions with our dogs.
So, this is your reminder to stop and breathe.
If you are rushed and stressed in your training, your dog will feel it and your training will be less successful.
Stop and breathe.
If you are not present in your interaction with your dog, your dog will know, and you will not get a dog that is focused on you.
Stop and breathe.
If you are in a new setting working with your dog, and you find yourself a bit nervous or overwhelmed. Your dog will feel it. And he/she might be a bit overwhelmed too and therefore unable to focus.
Stop and breathe.
If your dog is pulling hard on your walk, or maybe being super distracted by a scent or other stimuli in the environment.
Stop and breathe.
Does your dog keep "messing" up in a specific exercise or sequence, no matter whether it is Obedience, Rally, Agility, Creative Movement or just your daily tricks at home?
Stop and breathe.
When things are not going as well as we want them to, we often push harder to get it right. And in this quest to "get it right", we sometimes push too hard and instead add too much pressure on our dogs. This can often cause frustration in both handler and dog. And with frustration, we often get a dog that "checks out".
So, when things are not going according to plan, Stop and breathe. Let yourself and your dog take a break, calm down and, if needed, acclimate to the environment. Not until you are calm and present, and not until your dog is able to handle the environment, will you be able to get the focus from your dog, which is needed for a successful training session. Your relationship with your dog is more important than anything else. Therefore, stop and breathe before you get frustrated, because a frustrated handler is never a good teacher.
So, do me, yourself and your dog a favor, and stuff this mantra Stop and breathe in your treat pouch, so you have it with you for your next training session and for your walk.
( and here is a little secret : You will often see progress a lot faster )
(Picture of Murphy hanging out, needing to acclimate to the distractions outside the door, before he could focus and we could do a bit of work together)
I am often asked: "How do I stop my dog from jumping/barking/digging/chewing/chasing/escaping/[insert your own word]?"
And that is indeed a great question...and yes, how do you stop your dog from performing a behavior, which you dislike??
Well, first and foremost we need to first look at WHY your dog is choosing to perform this behavior in the first place.
And when doing so, I always think of this very well known saying :"Reinforcement drives behavior", meaning that most likely, your dog finds some kind a value in performing this behavior. And remember, finding value in doing something, is always a great motivator.
We also know, that "Practice makes Perfect", or maybe I should say "Practice makes Permanent", due to the fact that through the process of repetition, this practice will eventually become a habit, an automatic action that requires little or no front of mind awareness. And that is thanks to the neural pathways. Practice over time causes the neural pathways to work better, and faster, thus becoming the new default behavior. Which makes absolutely sense from a neuroscientific point of view. However, it can definitely still be very frustrating, when your dog once again jumps up and almost knocks over aunt Suzie.
And to our dismay, unfortunately the neural pathways do not distinguish between "wanted" and "unwanted" behaviors. Nope. Neural pathways have absolutely no regard to whether you, as your dog's owner, actually approve of these behaviors.
The good news is, we can change it (Thank God for neuroplasticity and yes, old dogs CAN learn new tricks! ).
Which now leads us to the concept of Behavior Modification.
When wanting to change or modify a behavior, it is a two step protocol:
But please know, that this takes time. Especially if your dog has been allowed to repeat the unwanted behavior for many years. More practice equals stronger and faster neural pathways. So, in order for a behavior modification to be successful, it is of outmost importance, that you do NOT allow your dog to practice the "old" behavior, while you are still working on adding value to the new wanted behavior. In short, management is still important, as well as high value rewards and repetitions.
Here is an example:
Ranger (Labrador puppy) loves to chew on paper towels and be anything than helpful, when cleaning up a mess on the floor.
In the video below, I show you, how I am teaching him a desired behavior versus his own "go-to" choice. By starting slow, and reinforce the desired behavior (laying calming down), I am helping him making the right choice, which eventually will be his own choice, with less management from me. Why? Because he has learned, that not only is this the default behavior, I will ask for, when I sit down to clean up a mess with paper towels, but it is also rewarding for him when doing so.
A calm down has proven to be a very rewarding choice for him.
This method also works with vacuum cleaning, shoveling snow, sweeping the floor, and so on.
Give it a try, stick to the protocol, don't allow your dog to practice the unwanted behavior, when you are not there, and you will see progress.
New Year's Eve is just around the corner, which often brings visitors and loud noises, something that many pets find very stressful....my dogs included. So, it is important to prepare and have a plan for your pets for this upcoming celebration. Here are a few ideas that can be helpful:
I hope this was helpful.
Happy New Year - I wish the best for you and your pet in the new year.
Some of you might recognize the place, where I took this picture...yep, it is on Norm's Island. A nice little island with multiple paths, filled with trees and right by the river. And here, you are allowed to run your dog off leash. Something I have been doing every morning these last 4 weeks, since I moved into a 1 bdr apartment with no yard. And the dogs and I just love it. We go early, so we don't have to encounter a lot of people and dogs, and usually I walk about 1.6 - 2 miles whereas I am sure the dogs run closer to 4-5 miles, running free back and forth on the paths. I get sunshine and trees and exercises, and they get to run and sniff and just be dogs - something they are pretty good at.
However, as you might notice, Cedar is on a long line in this picture. And that is because something changed.
Cedair is a black labrador out of a hunting line, which means, nothing has higher value to him, than following a scent through the bushes and woods. The seeking and the anticipation of finding the animal (scent), activates his SEEKING system, which releases the central neurotransmitter, dopamine through his body ( the "feel good" hormone) and truth is, it is like crack cocaine to him. When he first get a scent of something, he is gone. For the first month, he did good on his recall. BUT the last two days, he would disappear and not respond to my recall for at least 10 minutes. I am sure he was having the time of his life and yes, he did always come back. And when he did, I NEVER yelled at him. No, that would only keep him away.Plus how could I punish a dog for doing something he was BREED to do. Instead, I rewarded him the best way I could in that moment, trying hard to add value to him coming back. However, he was practicing and repeating a behavior, that I definitely did not want to continue. And not only was I losing his response to his recall - as an added "bonus"(sarcasm may occur), Murphy got to practice it too. Not that Murphy is truly that interested in following a scent. No, but he is a herding mix and breed to respond to movement in the environment. So chasing Cedar through the bushes was (and is ) the best game in the world and highly self -reinforcing. And if Cedar didn't respond to his recall, why should Murphy? And again, how can I blame him for doing what he is breed to do....move and herd and chase
Instead I had to realize that I had a gap in my recall training with Cedar ( he didn't perceive me as being of more value or interest, than the high he gets from his dopamine induced search) and I needed to change the set-up in order for both dogs to be successful on our walks.
So this morning, Cedar was on a long line. He didn't necessarily think it was that great. However, it simply was a safety issue when I no longer could trust him being off leash, due to lack of reliable recall. Being on the long line still gave him plenty of opportunities to sniff while also giving me a chance to train recall with lots of success. And being on a long line versus a 6' leash, he still felt he has options when meeting new dogs ( I highly recommend, that do don't take your dog on a 6' leash to an off leash area- it can often create problems due to your dog feeling restrained thus now not having the option to move away from other dogs).
As an added bonus, Murphy would stay close and thereby also practice good and wanted behaviors ( as I mentioned earlier, his main motivation was to chase Cedar, not following a scent).
So a successful walk, even though we only walked 1.6 miles today.
My story is to remind you of a few things:
- When a dog practices a behavior, it will become stronger. No matter whether we like it or not. He does it because it has value to him.
- If you don't like the behavior, you will need to change it and teach the dog the skills needed. First step is to manage the environment, or your set-up so your dog no longer have access to practice this unwanted behavior (in this case a long line). Next step is to teach the dog the skill you would like to see him use instead ( in this case, practice his recall by trying to create more value and interest to me).
- There are certain traits within each breed, that you will need to be aware of, because it matters.
- And finally, when people say;"oh as a trainer, your dogs must be perfect?", I can truly answer, "yes, perfect at being a dog." Which means: barking, digging, chasing, seeking, searching, running, and so much more. And if that doesn't work for me, I better start working on some new stronger skills.
And for now, Cedar is simply going to have to stay on the long line until I can proof his recall enough, that he can safely be off leash again.
Yesterday, I was in a local restaurant to buy some lunch and the cashier asked me about my day and what I did for a living. And as I replied, I am a dog trainer, he asked me a very interesting question: "What is the one thing, you wished people know about dogs and dog training...if you could sum it into just one sentence?"
And without thinking, I quickly replied:" I wish people would realize, that they don't know anything".
I quickly followed this up with..." well, at least they don't know enough!"
It might sound a bit harsh, so I want to quickly elaborate on this, because the last thing I want to sound as is a snob, or someone who thinks she is better than everybody else...I know I am not. My Danish upbringing made sure of this (look up "jantelov" or Law of Jante" if in doubt about this statement...lol)
The point I wanted to make was, that if we - the dog handlers/owners - would realize we don't know everything, and that in fact we have a lot to learn ABOUT our dogs FROM our dogs, we would be much better owners. By acknowledging, we don't know enough, we can keep ourselves humble and keep our minds open to receive new information and knowledge.
And even though this can be a very frustrating state of mind sometimes ( believe me, I know!), it is also where you will grow and understand, that us human beings are indeed very ignorant, when we believe, that we are "smarter and more intelligent " than animals.
The saying: "Ignorance is a bliss" is definitely true to some point. But the question that remains is this: Is it still a bliss, when it involves another specie, which you have taken into your household, but failed to try and understand? If your lack of knowledge leads to confusion and emotional distress to another specie, is it still a bliss? If your ignorance leads to physical and/or emotional abuse and distress in the name of training, is it then still a bliss?
If we are so intelligent, as most of us would like to believe, why can't we see, that we still have a lot to learn? Isn't life in itself just one long journey of learning?
After 10 years ( and counting) of working with dogs as a certified trainer, I still know that I don't know enough. Each dog that comes through my door will teach me something new. And my biggest fear as a trainer is, that I some day will forget this and no longer listen to the dogs with an open mind. That I instead will start to assume that I know what this dog needs. Because that is the day, I will fail you and your dog and even my own dogs. I am aware of this pitfall. And I hope, that I will always remember this.
But for now, I can promise you this: If you allow yourself to have an open mind, and understand that YOU are the student, that will need to learn from your dog
(or other pet you might have), you will find yourself in the presence of the best damn mentor you will ever meet.
Well, in behavioral psychology, “reinforcement is a consequence that will strengthen an organism's future behavior whenever that behavior is preceded by a specific antecedent stimulus”. 
Therefore, in positive reinforcement training, we like to use primary reinforces (such as food and play) to strengthen the behaviors, which we would like to see our dogs continue to offer.
But our dogs don’t only find reinforcement in playing and getting food from us when training. There are multiple scenarios throughout their day, which they find reinforcing. And this often lead to behaviors, which we (the owners) regards as highly unwanted in our daily lives with our dogs. Here are a few examples that I often hear from clients:
My dog jumps on me and/or visitors.
My dog runs along the fence, barking at the neighbor dog.
My dog gets in the garbage.
My dog jumps on the counter.
My dog chases the cat.
and…well, you get the picture.
We might not like these behaviors, but for some reason, our dogs find value in practicing these behaviors – he finds it reinforcing - because frankly, otherwise he wouldn’t continue to do it!
Jumping: Your dog gets excited, when you get home (or when you have visitors over) and his first instinct is to greet by jumping towards your face. For him it is highly reinforcing to greet you like this. Oh and all the attention that goes with it..whoop whoop.
Running and barking at neighbor dog: Oh, the thrill of running and barking – so exciting, best game ever!
Garbage: yes, score – yesterday’s chicken pieces.
Counter surfing: Mmmmmm…butter.
Chase cat: Cat runs..yaaa the chase is on. Again, super thrilling and fun.
My point is, that your dog will continue a behavior if he finds it reinforcing. And he will NOT stop it UNLESS you understand how to modify a behavior through management and training.
Often (unintentionally) we are the ones helping to create these “rude” behaviors by allowing our dogs the “freedom” to practice these unwanted behaviors. Our dogs only do what comes natural to them. Think about the greeting behavior for a moment: Our dog rushes to the door, super excited and shows his excitement by jumping. We react AFTER the fact he did the unwanted behavior and we correct the dog. But next time, we again allow him to rush to the door and since he doesn’t know what else to do in his level of excitement, he jumps again. And time after time, we correct him, yet still nothing works. Why? Because we don’t teach him that there is another behavior that is more reinforcing. And until we do, he will continue to repeat the same behavior over and over again.
Now, I know some of you will say, well just knee your dog in the chest or step on his paws. That will make him stop. I’m sorry, but that is just lazy and rude. Instead, let’s teach him the behavior we WANT him to perform at the door. A sit maybe? or just keeping all four paws on the floor? No matter what our goal behavior is, first we need to change the current set-up and routine. Why? Well, this quote I love might explain it best: The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” In this case it is us, the owners, who are clearly the definition of insanity, when expecting our dogs to behave differently even though nothing changes in the environment or set-up. So, to modify an existing behavior, we need to approach it in two steps:
First, manage dog so he can’t repeat the same behavior. Often a leash on or a barrier, such as a baby gate or exercise-pen, will help stop the dog from repeating the unwanted behavior, because now he can’t rush to the door. But this is only management.
Secondly, let’s train and reinforce the behavior we do want. Teach your dog, that when sitting, or just standing calmly, you or your visitor will walk closer towards him to pet him. But as soon as he pulls on leash, jumps, gets up from the sit, you (or visitor ) stops moving forward towards him. You don’t have to say anything. Your reaction to his action is an instant consequence which doesn’t work in your dog’s favor. And he gets that fast. As soon as he is calm or sits, you can now start walking forward again. He will quickly realize that there is a pattern: When sitting or waiting calmly, he gets what he wants, which is your attention and petting. When jumping or pulling, he gets nothing.
It is our responsibility, as dog owners, to help our dogs navigate through our set of expectations and rules by teaching them, what behaviors we want in different scenarios. And then reinforce the shit out of them, so our dogs learn these new skills and can be successful next time.
And in regards to the garbage can….just put it away. Problem solved.
LEAVE IT (stationary exercise)
Teaching your dog to “leave it” will help improve your dog’s impulse and self-control and is something we often underestimate the importance of. Yet, impulse and self-control are needed in order for a dog to successfully live with us in our world filled with expectations and rules. For example, it requires impulse control to NOT jump on a visitor, to NOT pull on the leash, to NOT run after the squirrel, to NOT steal the food out of the child’s hand, even though it is right in our dog’s nose height. Therefore this “Leave It” exercise is always included in my curriculum for my Puppy class as well as Basic Manner class.
Take five minutes every day and work on this exercise until your dog successfully understands the concept of “leave it” while you have treats on the floor.
If you run out of treats in your right hand, release your dog from the training by saying "free" and give him a break while you prepare with a new handful of treats.
Short, successful sessions are always best. Take your time with this exercise. Spend several days working through the steps.
It is crucial that your dog does NOT have any success trying to steal a treat out of your hand. Remember, a dog will continue the behavior that works for him. This means that if your dog has continuous success in “stealing” the treat out of your hand, it is harder for him to learn that by leaving the treats alone he will get them faster.
No verbal corrections are needed. You only need to say marker word “yes”, the release word “free” and verbal praise, such as “good boy”.
Do not add your verbal cue “leave it” until your dog has fully understood the concept of leaving the treats alone. We are looking for 80-90% compliance rate, before adding any verbal cue.
To test (proof) the behavior and your dog’s understanding of this exercise, try to see if you can stand up, while leaving a treat on the floor. Will your dog still leave the treat alone? If yes, mark with”yes” and give your dog the treat. If not and he tries to eat it, quickly move your foot on top of treat to prevent the dog being successful in eating the treat!
When he masters this exercise, can you drop a treat on the floor and he will still leave it alone?
Can he leave his favorite toy alone? A bone? A piece of paper? A pill?
Keep thinking of new scenarios to help test your dog’s ability to leave things alone on the floor.
Video: Click here to watch video
(Please notice that in the video, I do not show the first step with the two treats in my left hand. I had already worked with Two Dot for about 5 minutes and wanted to make sure we kept the video fairly short)
Now that your dog understands “Leave it” while being in a stationary position, the next step is to teach your dog to “leave it” when walking by the temptation. This is an increase in difficulty for your dog and an exercise that again needs to be taught step by step to help make your dog make good decisions.
With the colder weather approaching, I think it is the perfect time to remind everyone about the joys and necessity of mental stimulation - especially for our canine companions. When it is cold outside, we tend to spend less time on outdoor activities (which I absolutely get. In my dictionary it is stated: "Cold weather equals blanket, a hot cup of tea, cookies and/or popcorn and Netflix). However, this also means less outdoor time for our canine companions and that can turn into some very long and very boring days for them. And when bored, dogs tend to get very creative in their need for entertainment. All of a sudden the newly upholstered chair in the corner might just look like the best chew toy ever created. The trash can turns into an extremely fun forage activity and your daughter's favorite teddy-bear is now seen as a fun "prey" that needs to be totally destroyed....all fun, rewarding and enriching activities for our dogs, but all very unwanted behaviors for any owner.
So what would be better than having to clean up the mess and having to hunt down the exact same teddy-bear, that Target had on sale 8 years ago?
Yep, exactly: Prevention in the shape and form of mental stimulation!
A tired dog is a lot less ambitious when it comes down to planning the next big adventure (read: catastrophe) in your home. And nothing tires a dog out more, than making him use his brain and his nose.
Of course I am all about managing our dogs, so they don't even have the option to get into the trash can or into my daughter's room. This means we need to close the door to our daughter's room, use baby gates and x-pen to manage access to the upholstered chair and hide the trash can. But management will always, at some point, fail. Plus it doesn't really help with the mental stimulation or boredom factor. So I say, "let's bake the cake and eat it too" by combining the management with the Canine Enrichment.
And not only does daily enrichment activities benefit your dog and your home, but it is also quite simple and fun!
So where do we start?
Well, first step 1: Take your dog's food bowl away!
Yes, really that simple. Put it up in a cupboard or give it to your aunt. Or just toss it. Because the goal is for your and your dog to not see this bowl again.
Now it is time to come up with new ways for your dog to get his food (see ideas below image).
Most dogs love to work for their food, so here are some ideas for you to try:
Start first with the above mentioned ideas. If interested in learning more and getting new ideas for your daily canine enrichment program, I do offer an online self study Enrichment course. See more here
As a dog trainer and animal lover, my wish is to help educate the owners, so they can have a harmonious relationship with the animal(s) in their lives. A relationship based on knowledge, trust and respect.