Can Your Dog Retrieve A Banana?

Adam and Banjo fooling around in the kitchen. This is a demonstration of the “trained retrieve” … not a “play retrieve”. The difference is that with the “trained retrieve,” the dog will continue holding the object until I tell him to release it.  This is the same approach used with hunting dogs and service dogs.


How To Know If You’ve Got A Good Dog

How do you know if you’ve got a good dog?  Is it because he listens to you?  Is it because he comes when called, even around distractions?  Is it because she sits like a perfect little angel while you’re sipping your latte in front of a seaside cafe overlooking a beach in Sicily?


You may have a well-behaved dog… but whether he’s a really good dog is dependent upon your own personal taste in dogs and what you’re looking for in a companion.

Owning a dog is a lot like being married.  And in marriage, there is a courtship process you go through before deciding to spend the rest of your life (or in this case, the dog’s life) with each other.

This rubs a lot of people the wrong way.  Otherwise rational individuals who might take months or years of dating a person before committing to sharing an apartment together… somehow instantly fall in love with the first dog who crosses their path.


And just like with love, there’s nothing wrong with that, I guess.  (Unless it ends up making you crazy).

See, if you learn the right dog training techniques you can train a dog to be well behaved.   She’ll sit, down, come, heel, stay and display perfect manners around company.  But…

You can change a dog’s behaviors.
You can’t change a dog’s personality.

Do you like to cuddle?  Some dogs love it.  Other dogs hate being touched.

Do you feel safer when your dog barks if somebody (or something) is prowling around the outside of your house?  Some dogs are very protective.  Others could care less and will sleep through a home invasion.

Do you have a lifestyle where having an outgoing, sociable dog is required?  Or do you prefer a dog who is more reserved and aloof with strangers?

So… how do you know if you’ve got a good dog?  A good dog is any dog who’s personality you really like.  Bad behaviors can be unlearned, quickly.  But personality is something– for better or for worse– is unique to your dog.

Either you love your dog’s personality or you don’t.

If you don’t, then find him or her a good home with somebody who does. Life is too short.

It took me a long time to learn this lesson.  I always felt bad about placing a dog that wasn’t a good fit with me,  in another home.  But inevitably, I started getting feedback from the new owners about what “a good fit” the dog was, in it’s new home.

In summation: You’ll know you’ve got a good dog for you when you get past the honeymoon phase and you still can’t imagine yourself living without the dog.

And that’s a wonderful thing to experience.


How The Hippies Ruined Dog Training

The Summer of Love.  Woodstock.  Free love.  No Boundaries.  No Rules.  No Limitations.  The hippies had it all, or so they thought.

An attitude of “do your own thing,” and “do whatever feels good,” eventually gave way to drug overdoses, single parenthood and societal burn outs. “Turn on, tune in and drop out” evolved into the “Me Generation” that eventually led to the excesses of the eighties.

We evolved.  We grew.  We’ve learned and we’ve become more mature and less idealistic as a society.  In essence: We became more balanced.

But not the dog training community.  Apparently, dog training is still stuck in the psychedelic sixties and is rapidly moving toward it’s own form of self destruction.

Image from Flickr LicenseAttribution istolethetv
Image from Flickr License Attribution: istolethetv

“Purely Positive” dog trainers– the dog training community’s hippie element– are now running the asylum and setting the agenda.  Advocating an approach that views boundaries, rules and limitations as absurdly “abusive” to dogs, they have been quietly moving into positions of authority within animal shelters and dog training associations– both here and in Europe.

Their entire hippie attitude of, “Just give warm fuzzies” when the dog does something right and ignore bad behavior is one that didn’t work for the children of the hippie-generation and it doesn’t work for their dogs, either.   In the name of the Beatles, “All we need is love,” more dogs are euthanized each year than saved because somebody running the local animal shelter would rather put a dog “to sleep” than (gasp!) safely and humanely correct a dog with a leash and a collar.

“What?  Surely they must be objecting to more than just using a leash and collar to correct a dog’s bad behavior, right?”

Unfortunately, no… they’re not.  It sounds absurd that anybody — much less a movement of “Purely Positive” trainers– could be so dead-set against a balanced approach to training.  (Telling a dog, “Good boy!” when he makes the right decision and, “No!” when he makes the wrong decision).

Making matters worse, they’ve co-opted terms like, “abuse” and “violence” to now mean tugging on a leash and collar.

Groovy, dude.

Except that it’s not.  It’s a bastardization and perversion of common sense.

This unbalanced hippie-dippy approach to dog training is hurting dogs.  By bastardizing and perverting the use of language, the “Purely Positive” hippies are dooming hundreds of thousands of dogs to an unnecessary death.

“Yes, but our approach is ‘force free.’ Can you dig it?”

No, I can’t.  What you’re really saying is that you’re not willing to make your dog do anything.  You’re giving all of the power to an animal with a three year-old’s intellect and the physical attributes to kill a person.  Brilliant.

Dogs need instruction.  They need leadership.  Like any other animal they do not always make decisions that are in their best interest.  Nor can they be bribed into making the right decisions if they find something else more interesting.

“But Purely Positive training is based on science, isn’t it?”

Yes… hippie science.  Junk science.  It’s the same pseudo-science that told us that the world was flat.  Or that ephedra was a safe diet supplement.  Or that hormones in our chicken and milk won’t make our kids have tits and mustaches by age six.

I’m skeptical about the “science” of psychology in the first place.  But then these hippies take it one step further by trying to apply their so-called, “science” to a field where the skill set of any one practitioner is variable at best, even from dog to dog.  Never mind that they usually start with their end in mind, a highly un-scientific practice.  Introduce a couple of loud-mouth PhDs into the discussion with a library of dog training dvds they’re trying to hock and you’ve got a recipe for a hippie movement that is using junk science to prove a theory of dog training that is more intent on making the practitioner feel good about themselves than it is about saving dogs.

There Are No Dumb Dogs, Only Dumb Owners. Really?

“There are no dumb dogs… only dumb owners,” they’ll tell you.
That was the response we got when we first started using the headline in this ad.

The idea that there are no dumb dogs is bunk. Nonsense.  Total fantasy.  There are dumb dogs just like there are dumb humans.

dumb dog

“There are dumb dogs just like there are dumb humans”

Of course, nobody gets upset when Dog Fancy Magazine publishes it’s annual list of the “Top 10 Smartest Breeds”.  But mention that there might be some real dumber-than-a-box-of-hammers dogs and everybody calls you a heretic.

How can there be smart dogs and not dumb dogs, too?

The problem is that you need experience training at least a couple hundred dogs before you have the insight to know if a dog is actually dumb or just stubborn.

Sometimes owners mistake disobedience for dumb.  (They’re not the same!)

You Can’t Fix Stupid…
But You Can Train It

There’s an old redneck saying, “You can’t fix stupid.”   But you can train it.

Even the dumbest dog can be trained.  He just won’t learn exercises as fast as a smart dog will.

But really… what are we talking about?  Days instead of hours? Months instead of weeks?  No, not even that much.

A smart dog might pick up a new exercise after the second or third attempt.  An average dog, after seven or eight repetitions.  And a dumb dog? Nine to twelve times.

Of course, you’ll need to be an expert to know if your dog is “just a little slow” or if it’s another issue.  Perhaps your dog had a prior association with the exercise you’re trying to teach?  Or maybe his breed attributes are not conducive to the exercise. (Ever try to teach a bulldog to swim?)

But if you’ve trained a few hundred dogs and the dog you’re working with takes consistently longer than most dogs to “figure it out,” well… you might have a dumb dog.

So what if your dog isn’t the sharpest tool in the shed?  It doesn’t make a difference. We love them all the same, and just because your dog might be a little slower than the rest is no excuse to ignore training.  Because even the dumbest dog can be trained to high levels of companion dog obedience.

So, whether your dog is a canine Einstein or a canine “Snookie” — you can get your dog to listen to you, anywhere you go once you learn the right techniques.




Why Punishment Fails in Effective Dog Training

When I started working in the veterinary field, I was enlightened as to the writing of a popular veterinary behaviorist in regards to puppy rearing and training, along with several tips to keep in mind when working with adult dogs.

One of these writings outlines some common scenarios in which dog owners use “punishment,” and why the “punishment” fails.

I touch on a few of these scenarios on my previous blog, Empowering Dog Owners Through Balance part III, when I go over when corrections simply have no effect, or in fact make the problem worse:

…[Y]ou are surprised by the sudden presence of a strange dog, and now yours is out at the end of his leash barking madly, and when you DO try to correct appropriately, they mean absolutely nothing to your dog. It’s as if he can’t even feel them, and this is when many people throw up their hands in disgust, proclaiming that “Correcting him doesn’t work.” Or, if you get the right dog, he feels the corrections, turns around and redirects onto YOU, a situation again which causes people to throw up their hands in disgust, proclaiming that “Corrections only made him more aggressive and now the problem is worse.

The problem with punishment as described here (even though the word “correction” is used) is that it relies on the owner to react to the dog, rather than be pro-active and use a startling correction to redirect the dog’s focus when concentration is starting to be lost: “Hey, you need to pay attention to me, because you’re going to miss something important and I’d rather set you up for success so that you can see it—but you have to be paying attention first. I’m doing all I can to motivate you to do the right thing, you’ve been rewarded in the past so you know what’s right, and now it’s time for you to learn that you need to do the right thing regardless of the situation.”

In the scenario above, you would have been further ahead to issue a correction as soon as the dog focused and locked onto the strange dog, allowing for a greater chance of success for the dog to refocus on YOU.

However, the two situations used as examples by this well-known, oft-quoted veterinary behaviorist have nothing to do with a lunging dog on the end of a leash. With that said, I can certainly say that these situations do hold a lesson or two, though not in the way the author intends.

The first example of how punishment can rightfully fail is when the owner catches the dog on the couch, yells at it and threatens it with a rolled-up newspaper, since the dog is obviously not allowed on the furniture.

Of course punishment will fail in this respect. Let’s postulate why this might be so:

  • The owner is not supervising the dog so that she could prevent the dog from getting onto the couch in the first place
  • The owner is using the negative stimulus far too long after the dog climbs onto the furniture, and now the dog doesn’t know why it’s under attack by its owner
  • The owner is yelling, which is generally a pretty good way of showing that she has no control of her emotions and to which most dogs respond with fear, whose actions and body language owners might mistake for “guilt”
  • The owner has failed to properly teach the dog to stay off furniture by giving it a chance to get up there and then immediately experience an aversive stimulus (which, remember, is NOT always a collar correction depending on the dog!)
  • The owner failed to confine the dog properly so that it could not get up on the furniture while unsupervised, leading to a success and the likelihood that the behavior will continue
  • The owner did not properly teach the dog to lay in its own place, either on a bed, a place mat or simply at the foot of the couch so that it can be with its owner, but not on the furniture
  • The owner has previously allowed the dog on the furniture, but has had a change of heart and doesn’t understand how to properly teach the dog that the furniture is now off-limits in a conducive manner

But, that’s funny.

All of these reasons begin with “The owner.”

Yet “punishment” is at fault here. “Punishment” that is administered in such a fashion that guarantees the dog will most likely not learn the lesson at hand, will create fear, and possibly even lead to a defensive aggression issue (which might then be interpreted by the owner as “dominance”–subject matter for another entry on another day!).

Yes, “punishment” fails here when done in this regard and in this context. I am in complete agreement with this veterinary behaviorist.

A better alternative to the couch

The next example involves a dog that greets people by jumping on them. Obviously, this behavior is unacceptable, so its owners “punish” the dog by kneeing or kicking it in the chest each time it jumps on them.

If this is the only course of action they take in regards to the issue, it will most likely fail. Let’s postulate why:

  • The owners are not teaching the dog an alternative behavior that results in praise (which, although not the be-all end-all of stopping a dog from jumping, certainly is a step in the right direction)
  • The owners are completely mis-using the knee-in-the-chest concept, resulting in kicks to the dog’s chest rather than bumps, or worse, actions that send the dog flying tail-over-teacups for 5 feet, and overall exhibiting bad timing and/or inconsistency
  • The owners are not training the dog in obedience, choosing only to fix this one behavior because they perceive that he’s an otherwise “good dog” except for this one problem
  • The owners are not crating the dog when they leave, creating a logjam at the door as they attempt to go into the house and the dog attempts to come out to see them; the dog jumps on them, and the excitement level of the entire situation is entirely not conducive to behavior modification
  • The owners have not curbed jumping behavior if they bought the dog as a puppy, and what was now “cute” is now a very large annoyance, and they are frustrated at the dog’s “inability” to learn to not jump, even after months or years of such treatment

Yet again, the problem here is the “punishment,” despite the fact that this list of reasons closely resembles our previous one in that all of them start with “The owner.” I am, for the most part in this particular situation, in agreement with this veterinary behaviorist.

So, despite the fact that I am in agreement over her assessment of the use of “punishment” in these scenarios, trainers such as myself and others (many of whom are lacking in the Fancy Higher Education Letters After Our Names Having To Do With Animal Behavior department) are still vilified and thrown under the bus. Why? It all has to do with these:

“But you aren’t one of those CRUEL trainers, are you?”

The presentation of these two issues is supposed to be enough for the veterinary behaviorist in question to convince people that the use of “punishment” in any and all training scenarios is a bad idea. Surprisingly, I find myself in partial agreement with her—with the caveat that I try to limit my use of how often I invoke the broad-paintbrush argument. Of course, punishment should be limited. What I am perfectly fine applying to dogs is an appropriate, properly-timed consequence, provided it is done in a way that the dog understands what it did wrong and how to NOT do wrong again in the future.

This is the general idea of what people have in mind when it comes to making inappropriate behaviors go away: the act of the “punishment.”

Let’s make the dog pay for his transgressions. Let us show him the error of his ways. Let us just wait for him to make one little mistake, and then we’ll blast him so hard he won’t know which end is up.

This is the mindset of a frustrated owner at the end of her rope. This is the owner who, after being told time and again from trainer after trainer that she must NEVER say “No” to her dog, never give it a negative consequence for its actions other than removing incentives, using a “non-reward marker,” managing the environment to high heaven, or bringing out the dreaded water bottle/penny can/air horn/compressed air/etc, resorts to something that feels like an appropriate (if verboten) response to an undesired behavior. In short, instinctive drift.

This is why people buy “shock collars” from the store with the intent on using them as the final, last resort to fry some sense into a dog that has otherwise resisted all remedial attempts (short of those that include working under the tutelage of a competent results-based trainer to solve the problem through effective training).

This is why MOST punishment fails and MOST humane correction works. For the MOST part, the former is reactive and latter is proactive.

Now, does this mean that ALL examples of punishment and correction apply across all situations? Of course not. There are times when dogs resist attempts at correction to startle or redirect them, just as there are times when even the most skilled trainers must react to something that, possibly, has escalated so quickly that the dog must be brought back under control before continuing the lesson.

The examples are endless. My ability to come up with all of them to list here is limited.

The problem is that anytime someone judges my training based on one situation, they are sorely misguided. They do not know my dog. They don’t know the lesson at hand, nor the goal in mind. They do not know the particular issues I am working through at the moment, nor are they most likely aware of the multitudes of techniques I COULD be using to work through them OR why I picked this particular one.

Sometimes it might involve leash pressure or a correction on a training collar, which could be construed as “punishment” in the right scenario by the right person when seen at the right time. And when a lot of my training is done in public places and seen in glimpses by people driving by, of course one moment can be taken out of context. You see it all the time on dog-related sites, as people strive to pick apart a 30-second video, or even worse, a single photograph that represents a moment in time, and the details of which are known to absolutely NO ONE.

Yet this is a dog on which I receive regular compliments on how well-behaved she is out in ANY situation out in public, short of gunfire or fireworks.

Has she been “punished”? Sure. The times were few and far between, but of all that come to mind, they bear one distinguishing characteristic: they all were my fault. Perhaps it was a concept I failed to proof properly, or a crime of opportunity. Whatever they were, I reacted to the situation and afterwards, made it my responsibility to properly teach my dog better so that such concepts would not be questioned in the future, and such opportunities that invite crimes would clearly be a Poor Life Decision on the part of the dog.

Our relationship has not suffered because of this, despite the words of not only the aforementioned veterinary behaviorist, but also others and those who dub themselves “trainers” who would not have given my dog a chance to learn how to act around other dogs in a secure, controlled environment.

But, as with everything else, that’s just my take on it.

Dominant Dog Behavior

Remember all those dominant dog behavior exercises that some trainers and veterinarians recommend -picking the dog up and keeping his feet just off the floor until he quits struggling, holding him on his back until he gives up, not letting him go through doors ahead of you, making him wait to eat until after you have eaten, making him stay off the furniture, and especially not letting him sleep on your bed? By the way, all this is known as “alphabetizing.” It’s all baloney and based on a complete misunderstanding of pack dynamics and dog behavior. None of that stuff happens in the dog world!

Yielding is a concept based on the fact that among group dwelling animals, it is the more dominant animals that control space and that the higher the dominant dog behavior the greater and more specific space is controlled. How does an animal control space? By making other animals get out of it through dominant dog behavior. The corollary to this is that the ability to control space bestows status.

Watching My Own Dogs
For Dominant Dog Behavior

This led me to begin watching my own dogs. I noticed that the higher-ranking ones spent time causing the lower ones to get out of their way. A low ranking one would move off the couch, for instance, when a higher member approached. I also noticed that ranking was not a fixed thing, but was rather a constantly shifting phenomenon. The ability to cause other animals to yield space (i.e., to move out of the way) seems to be a matter of force of personality rather than one of physical size or strength, though they sometimes go hand in hand.

Dominant Dog Behavior
Dog trainer Chris Amick

Along about this same time, I was becoming disenchanted with the usual dominance exercises that we dog trainers had been taught and were teaching. Many (most) of them were more confrontational than was needed, desired, or even helpful. What we were doing was not the things that happened in a stable group of dogs. Living with a stable pack of dogs for any length of time, and observing them, will teach you that appeasement is a much more prevalent mode of interaction than confrontation. “To get along, you go along” … dogs figured this out long before people ever did. A dog’s aim is simply to get through the day as easily and with as little hassle as possible. This is achieved by appeasement rather than confrontation. Dog trainers, most at least, had missed this. They, along with behaviorists and etiologists, had completely missed what was really going on.

Case in point, as an example, the alpha roll. There is no such thing. There is a cinnamon roll, there is rock and roll, and there is a roll mighty river roll on, but there is no alpha roll. What there is a beta roll. The higher ranking dog, except by his personality and presence, has nothing to do with this behavior. It is physically initiated and performed by the lower ranking animal as an act of appeasement. Dog trainers who have attempted alpha roll techniques with dominant, ready to fight, dogs have learned and have the scars to prove, that this is a really spiffy way to get yourself bitten.

What Does Yielding Have To Do With Dominant Dog Behavior?

Initially I practiced Yielding with my own dogs. Then, when 1 would borrow an untrained dog to demonstrate with at class, I’d have him move out of my way a couple or three times before I demonstrated what I had borrowed him for. I noticed a couple of things almost immediately. After a couple or three Yields the dogs gave me their attention. This was not always the case before I started having them Yield to me. Also, they caught on to what I wanted them to catch on to quicker. This change caused an almost 100% improvement in the results that my students were getting with their dogs. The command we use to have the dog Yield is “move.” I call yielding “the magic move.” Having taught the dog to move out of your way makes everything else you will ever attempt to teach him easier to teach.

Yielding Makes Everything Else We Have
Done In The Past To Establish Our
Leadership Completely Unnecessary.

With my own dogs, if they get to a door before I do, I let them go through first if they want. I regularly and deliberately feed my dogs before I eat. I let them hang out on the sofa, the easy chairs and my bed. I purposefully violate every principle in alphabetizing. But, at random times through the day, as our paths intersect, I have my dogs Yield the right of way to me. I do not have aggression toward me problems. I do not face challenges. I do not even have over pushiness. Neither do my students once they start this procedure.

Yielding does not seem to affect the (rare) psychotic dog. Alone, it does not stop fear-aggression. But, used in conjunction with balanced training to give the dog some structure and discipline in his life, we are having very good improvement with older fear aggressive dogs and absolute cures with dogs under a year.

During the first week we have the dogs Yield as we approach them from the front. The second week we come in on both shoulders. The third, we come at about diaphragm level on both sides and the fourth week from an angle behind the dog intersecting him at his hips.

Procedure the first week (and you can extrapolate to the other positions) is to stand in front of the dog with him on a loose lead. Saying, “move, move, move,” walk into his face. Do not kick the dog. Do not move him with the leash. Do not knee the dog. Try not to step on him. Do not stop walking into him until he moves. As soon as he moves, even the slightest, quit moving forward.

Give him relief. Praise and pet him. Teaching Yielding is negative reinforcement training. Folks with little dogs need to “Charley Chaplin” into the dog with their toes turned out and their heels together. Later, you have him move farther to get relief. It is never farther than out of your way.

Yielding works best when it is practiced at random times throughout the day as opposed to being drilled. When you get through with that first cup of coffee in the morning and are going to put the cup in the sink, plot your path through the dog. Have him move. Go rinse the cup out. Later, when you get through playing on your computer, take a moment to have the dog Yield to you. Tell him “move” and go through him. When you get off the phone with your mother-in-law and just really, really need to vent some frustration, walk through the dog. “GET OUT OF MY WAY!!!”

Except for mom-in-law, Yielding is non-confrontational. It allows you to interact with the dog in a way that dogs interact with one another. And, it says to him in a language that he is hardwired to understand, “I am the leader, You are the follower.”  You are– in a very subtle way, demonstrating dominant dog behavior.

I consider yielding one of the most important things I am doing. The instant the dog moves the first time, the relationship between that dog and you has been put on a basis that you are leader and he is follower. When the relationship has been properly ordered, you have the dog’s respect.

He’ll work for you. You can train him. Pure and simple, dominant dog behavior will be a thing of the past.

Teach Your Dog To Lie Down — The Long Down-Stay

There is a major difference between down stay command and the long down, when you begin to teach your dog to lie down. The down/stay can only be taught after the dog has learned to down on command.

How To Teach Your Dog To Lie Down Is Easier Than You Think

Teaching your dog to lie down on a voice command can take up to three weeks of working three sessions per day, every day. The dog must be wearing collar and leash when doing this exercise.  The long down can be taught in a couple of sessions. It has a totally different focus. It cannot be called a long down unless it is at least 30 minutes in duration. The dog has on a collar that it can’t back out of and a 6′ leash is then attached to that collar. The leash is then run, from left to right over the seat of a solid chair that does not have wheels. The owner then sits on the chair and the leash. The leash is adjusted so that when the dog decides to lie down there will be gentle upward pressure on the collar. At no time does the owner touch, look at, or talk to the dog. The dog must be wearing a collar and leash when doing this exercise.

Teach Your Dog To Lie Down

The owner must have something else to do during the long down period. Read a book. Play a computer game. Write out all your complaints about having to do this stupid exercise. Talk to a friend. Eat a meal. Pay some bills. Do some homework. It really doesn’t matter as long as you are doing something. The only time you would acknowledge the dog is to push it away if it tries to climb into your lap or tries to eat the leg off the chair you are sitting in or some other behavior that is equally unacceptable. When this happens, you must take whatever physical means necessary to cause the dog to stop the behavior at once and not resume it at a later date.

Teach Your Dog To Lie Down And You’ll Build Your Leadership In Your Dog’s Eyes

This is an exercise in leadership and dominance. You are supposed to be the dominant one and the leader. As such, you are the one who decides where the two of you will be and for how long and it is not a voting matter. This is an exercise in patience.

Something every dog must learn if it is to survive to live a comfortable life.  There are no maximum time lengths for this exercise. However, the minimum time is 30 minutes. The exercise should be practiced twice per day, every day. The dog must be wearing a collar and leash when doing this exercise.

After the first couple of days, this is a very calming and soothing exercise for both parties. During the first couple of days a really determined dog will go through the most amazing series of behaviors. Not only that, they will repeat the series in the same sequence over and over. When none of the behaviors win them the leadership post, they will literally throw themselves down, give a very loud humph, and refuse to look at you.

After this period has passed it is all smooth sailing and happy tail wags.  Again, the long down has nothing in common with a  down/stay other than the physical position of the dog.

You CANNOT leave a dog that is doing a long down because you are a major part of the picture. You do leave a dog that is doing a down/stay. You CANNOT tell the dog or show the dog how to do the long down.

You must give the dog the chance to figure out what the most comfortable position is going to be. The dog must be wearing collar and leash when doing this exercise.

Written for by Chris Amick — THE DOGGUY — about how to teach your dog to lie down in 2012.

Ever Wonder How Fast To Train Or Work With Your Dog?

Your dog goes through three general phases of learning:

1. “The Learning phase”:
This is when the dog learns to understand what a command means. You use very little correction at this phase, and may use toys, balls, or food to motivate (not bribe!) the dog into doing and understanding what the command means. The problem with most amateur dog trainers is that they feel their dog is trained, once he understands a command and has gone through the “Learning Phase.”

2. “The Reinforcement phase”:
Once the dog has learned what the command means, he needs to be “retaught” the command in a variety of different settings. Because he’ll likely only associate response to the command in the initial setting you’ve trained him in, he needs to “relearn” the command in different types of areas. This happens very quickly. It usually only takes one or two repetitions, and then it “clicks” for the dog. Once you see that it has “clicked for the dog,” is when you need to start working very fast, exciting, and BRIEF sessions. Your goal is to get the dog to respond to commands very quickly.  IF you’re working on the “down” command, then the dog should drop into the down position very quickly—AND THEN IMMEDIATELY GIVE HIM YOUR “RELEASE COMMAND!”  Run 5 or 10 steps with the dog, and then reissue the command. When you give him the release command, toss a ball, or a piece of food. You should be aiming to teach the dog that training is a big, fun game. It is a game that he has to respect. But nonetheless, a game that he loves and looks forward to playing with you—in any environment. Here’s where most new trainers fail: They don’t work the dog fast enough. You need to make your body language fast and exciting to the dog. IF you’re not sweating and huffing and puffing after 5-10 minutes… then you’re not being animated enough. For fastest results, work the dog like this for 3-4 sessions a day and you’ll see dramatic improvement.

3. “The Proofing Phase”:
This phase teaches the dog that 100% reliability in every type of environment is absolutely imperative. How long does it take and how many repetitions are necessary and how many locations with how many distractions are needed to make a trained or even mannered dog? I say it takes a minimum of 21 days… 500 repetitions… 5 different distractions … in 5 different locations over this time period before the dog is truly able to shift a commanded behavior from short term memory to long term memory. And even then, it is going to take a much longer time of reinforcement to insure that said behavior becomes an ingrained habit.

By Chris Amick

How Your Dog Perceives The World

Actually it’s pretty simple, but when you think about all the applications of the concept, it clearly becomes a huge part of your success or lack of it in training. Basically, how your DOG perceives something is all that matters. Regardless of the handler’s intentions, regardless of what the handler was thinking about at the time, or reacting to, or paying attention to… if the dog isn’t thinking about it at the same rime, reacting to it or paying attention to it – what the handler perceives to be true makes no difference whatsoever.

Practical examples would be:

During the retrieves we have all seen a time when a dog went around the obstacle rather than over to retrieve the dumbbell. When the dog picked the dumbbell up and turned around they immediately showed stress and concern, and invariably walked very s lowly and hesitantly back to the handler – if they came back at all. In this case, a few spectators will always exclaim that the dog knows it made a mistake; the dog knows it didn’t go over the hurdle. Most handlers will make the same statement when they come off the field as well.

But. is this statement true? Isn’t the truth that the dog had no knowledge that it made a mistake, for if it knew the right thing to do it would have done it? And when the dog picked the dumbbell up and turned around, his perception of his performance changed by direct result of the handler’s facial and body expressions. The handler shows disappointment or disapproval or even anger, the dog does not understand why the handler is this way. And I submit that if this continues to occur, the dog will eventually not pick up the dumbbell, rather than simply not going over the hurdle the dog will now fail to complete more portions of the retrieve over hurdle exercise. Why? Because the last thing the dog did before he saw the handler’s expression was pick up the

The dog perceives that THIS must be what I did wrong. For the dog does think like a human can, and a dog does not have the same perception of incidents as a human does. The dog only knows and remembers here and now, which is why repetition is necessary to train a dog.

Another example: Recently a handler had a bad experience in a trial. In the obedience the handler did not think the dog was doing well during the routine, and this affected the handler’s facial expression, body posture, and how they communicated with their dog. The handler later told me that the dog didn’t care about pleasing the handler, didn’t exhibit a desire to work for the handler. The truth was the complete opposite. The truth was that the dog tried very hard to please the handler, to seek approval from the handler. The entire performance the dog was looking up at the handler, with a soft expression on the dog’s face. But at no time in the routine did the handler praise the dog convincingly, or acknowledge the dog’s work ethic regardless of ability to attain perfection. The dog perceived that the handler was not pleased, for a while the dog attempted to try harder. But the handler remained unresponsive to the dog. Eventually the dog gave up trying, and became submissive and unsure instead.

Although it is possible that watching the routine on video would show this handler what the truth was, it is also a truth that just as dogs can only perceive what is in their heads, some humans can only perceive what’s in THEIR own head Success in training depends on your ability to understand what the dog’s point of view is. What you intend to correct or reward your dog for, may or may not be what the dog perceives he is being corrected or rewarded for.

Success in trial depends on your ability to work only in the moment, to remain in tune and responsive to your dog throughout the routine. Regardless of performance. The hardest thing for a handler to accomplish is the ability to only look ahead at the next exercise, and not dwell on any mistakes previously or just made. And to show your dog the picture you want him to perceive.

By Chris Amick

You Can Lead A Dog To Water, But You Can’t Make Him Drink


I get asked about all sorts of different dog-related problems and I always do my best to answer the questions truthfully and to the best of my ability.  But although I might be able to answer somebody’s question, from that point onward… the end result is up to them.

“You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink.” And I can tell you how to teach your dog to do such-and-such, but I can’t actually make you do it. It’s up to you to go away and spend the necessary time involved to teach your dog how to accomplish whatever it may be.

Sometimes the task just seems to be too daunting and people don’t have the necessary discipline lo see it through. Fortunately I don’t find that happening too often. But something that is a lot more common is people being too embarrassed to follow out the directions I’ve given them. What do I mean by that? Simply that human nature being what it is. lots of people don’t like other people to see them making fools of themselves.

And quite a lot of people are so self-conscious that they often feel as though they’re making a fool of themselves when it comes to training their dog.

It’s easy to practice with your dog when you’re at home and away from other people, but once you’re out in the “real world’ where other people and dogs are about it can be much harder. You know that I teach you how to walk your dog to heel so that when you stop, the dog automatically sits (without you having to say anything to the dog) and waits beside you until you either tell it can go off and do its own thing OR carry on walking, in which case it’ll immediately get up and keep walking in the heel position The method I show you teaches the dog that you will only give the ‘heel’ command once,
and the dog will not move from its position until you say so, whether that be 30 seconds or 30 minutes later. But until the dog has well and truly learned the command you can run into problems. For instance, imagine you’re walking along with the dog to heel when you meet a friend and you stop for a chat. As soon as you stop the dog immediately sits at your side as it has been taught. While you’re talking to your friend the dog’s attention starts to wander, and after a while it stands up. At this point it’s very easy to ignore the dog – after all it’s doing no harm and you’d feel a bit embarrassed to tell your dog off in front of your friend. Before you know it the dog has moved away from you slightly to investigate some tempting smells. What do you do?
You don’t want to appear rude by interrupting your friend, so you just keep quiet. In effect you were too embarrassed to do what you should have done, i.e. correct the dog the moment it broke the “heel” command.

I’m a great believer in hiding from your dog while you’re out for a walk. It teaches it to pay close attention to you. and also encourages it to use its nose to track you. In a real emergency this can be a valuable skill. But I know people who are just too embarrassed to do this when other people are about. I don’t know why – I suppose they just think they’re going to look foolish. Let me tell you that if you’re ever going to get the very best from your dog you need to be completely impervious to what other people think.
There are bound to be times when you’re out in public and your dog docs something to ‘show you up’. These moments are golden opportunities to correct the dog and help it in the learning process. If you’re just going to let the moment pass because you’re too embarrassed with other people around. how is your dog ever going to learn that it is unacceptable to do whatever it was while out in public? You run the very real danger of simply allowing the dog to learn for itself that while certain behavior is unacceptable at home, it can in fact get away with it in public. Is that what you want to happen? I know

I don’t. That’s why I have absolutely no inhibitions where my dogs are concerned, and I’m not remotely concerned about other people’s opinions about what I’m doing with my dogs.

It’s similar to parents of young children that throw a temper tantrum in the supermarket. You must have seen them – flustered mother with a cart piled high with food and suddenly her two year old starts screaming the place down because she’s told him he can’t have that bar of candy. And passers-by immediately start looking. Mom can just sense all these pairs of eves trained in her direction. She’s starting to feel self conscious and embarrassed now. And those feelings are probably going to intensify the longer the child’s screaming fit continues. What will she do – give in just to shut the child up’.’ Or tough it out and take no notice of all those sets of critical eyeballs? If she gives in she’s set a behavior pattern for life – child’s learned that throwing a tantrum = bar of candy. So every time she goes shopping in the future she either has to give in to the demands or else put up with another hairy fit. Same with your dog. Ignore all those critical sets of eyeballs. It’s your dog, not theirs. Don’t be afraid to look a fool. You’ll end up with a much better behaved dog as a result.

By Chris “Dogguy” Amick