Who's a Good Dog?


You’re doing it wrong!

The “correct” use of punishment (positive punishment or negative reinforcement) involves causing enough pain to the dog to stop a behavior. That is not something I want to do to a dog or my relationship to a dog. And I don’t care if that is a dog living with a loving family or dumped in a shelter for behavior problems. There are better (more humane) ways to communicate with dogs than causing them pain. Period.


Franzi earned his Canine Good Citizen certification and some Rally Qs. All skills taught with positive reinforcement.

But, just for the sake of argument, let’s look at a rationale that I have heard many times from those willing to use force, pain or intimidation: If a [insert painful method of choice here–shock collar, prong collar, finger jab, etc.] is used correctly, it works!  In other words, you’re doing it wrong!  But here’s the thing that those people NEVER say:  that argument also applies to positive training. In other words, when done correctly, positive training also works. Moreover, unlike punishment-based approaches, there is no risk of harming the dog physically or emotionally, or harming your relationship with the dog.

Saying positive training doesn’t work is like saying that that the laws of gravity don’t apply to you. All beings repeat behaviors that work and avoid ones that don’t. If positive training “isn’t working” for a particular dog, there is something wrong with the training plan or the trainer’s skills. And of course you can say the same thing about punishment–if it’s not working (e.g., if a dog continues to pull in spite of multiple collar corrections, or when wearing a certain type of collar), then it’s the training plan or the trainer’s lack of skill.  But here the thing:  when punishment doesn’t work, trainers typically increase the level of punishment (e.g., the low setting on the shock collar isn’t working? let’s turn it up a few notches).

Screen Shot 2018-03-31 at 10.16.52 AM

Arlo using his nose to find all of the smells. He is off leash and there are other dogs in the room. Trained with positive reinforcement.

The problem–and the reason why I don’t use aversive tools or recommend them to clients–is that punishment has fallout that is very hard to predict. There is no guarantee that the dog will associate the discomfort of, say, crossing the barrier for an electric fence with crossing the barrier.  He could, instead, associate the pain with dogs walking by. Why? Because every time he approaches the barrier to chase off other dogs (a common and normal, although not desirable, behavior for dogs left alone in their yards) he receives a painful shock.

Whenever these conversations happen about whether it’s okay to hurt a dog in the name of training, people often turn to the most extreme example–a dog who will be euthanized for aggression.   If that is your concern—if you have such a dog–then you need a certified behaviorist, not a shock collar.

Any knowledgeable trainer will tell you that dog training is not a matter of opinion about this or that approach. It should be based on the most current behavior and canine science. And all of that research says you will get results when punishment and reinforcement are correctly applied.  That research also says that using punishment  comes with the risk of creating new problems (e.g. aggression) or exacerbating existing ones.  Why take that risk when there are humane and effective methods you could use instead?  You will sometimes hear that “different things work for different dogs.” And that is true—again, a good trainer is always monitoring your dog and willing to make adjustments to the training plan as she goes. But saying different things work for different dogs is not the same as saying that the laws of learning (+R, -R,+P, -P) apply differently. The laws of learning affect all animals (humans included) in the same way. We repeat what works. We avoid what doesn’t. And we know that from a long history of peer-reviewed scientific research. Zazie Todd at the Companion Animal Psychology Blog keeps an excellent, up-to-date bibliography of resources on dog training. If you want to understand the science behind punishment- as well as positive-reinforcement-based training, go take a look.


Maria, fresh from digging holes in the back yard. We are working on it… 🙂

Please don’t believe anyone who tells you he has a “quick fix,” or the “secret” to some behavior problem. Or that hurting your dog is the only way to save your dog. It’s simply not true. Training is a process. Problems aren’t fixed overnight, or in a 1-hour television show, or with a single, magical tool. Training your dog is about building trust and relationship, and that can’t happen if your dog is hurting, intimidated or afraid.

Leave a comment


IMG_7090Like a lot of you, I am not sorry to see 2017 come to an end. It was a difficult year. One option for this first post of the new year would be to look back and try to gain some perspective.  Another is to try and move forward.  I’m going with the latter.

So, first, I’ve merged my old training website with this one.  Anyone interested in training can find more information here.

Second, if like me you are spending more time than usual inside because outside it is FREEZING cold, you may want to check out the training fun happening all over the internets in honor of the APDT’s National Train Your Dog Month–an annual event that happens every January.  For more info, visit the APDT website here.

Third, earlier this week, I had the opportunity to meet some very wonderful Camp P dogs who are waiting for their forever homes.  Locals, if you are looking for your next family dog, let me introduce you to Ringo, Lindsay, Lacey and Joe Wilson.  Each of their photos below includes a link where you can find more information.  These are not the only great dogs at Camp P–just the ones I was lucky enough to meet this week.


Leave a comment

Puppy Diaries–Week 1

Yesterday marked puppy M’s one week adopt-a-versary. We are of course still getting to know her, but so far she seems to be a smart, confident little pup. My first training priority is just getting her to like us and to think that interacting with us is the bees knees (grateful for advice about this from books by Denise Fenzi, Kay Laurence, Claudine McAuliffe, Kathy Sdao and Suzanne Clothier). In addition to that, lots of handling—ears, paws, toenails, teeth, tail, etc. And recognizing her name. Pretty standard stuff.

The really big surprise this past week has been Arlo, who turns out to have some excellent puppeh skillz. He has been a huge help socializing her and tiring her out.   As some of my FB friends know, we actually had to bench him for a couple days because he played so much that he was limping.

We are starting to see some progress with crate training. After just a couple days of feeding her meals in the crate, she started racing to the crate when it was time to eat. I’m leaving the door open so she can leave when she wants to—which she does. It will take awhile for her to want to stay in there, but right now, she only has to go in at night (because that’s the only time I can’t watch her). Because we’re all in the same room, she doesn’t complain as much. In fact last night she hardly made a peep. A few whines and then she settled down and slept until she heard me get up around 6:15.

I am a huge fan of Kongs for all kinds of dog training tasks, but I have recently added to my list of favs the Toppl by West Paw Design. The Toppl has a bigger opening and consequently is a bit easier for puppies to empty. I am feeding Maria half her food inside her crate in a bowl, and the other frozen in a Toppl or Kong which keeps her busy in the morning while I do other chores (like feed the rest of the animals). I bought one to try and liked it so much I bought two more so that I can always have one ready.


Toppl by West Paw

Last, I mentioned earlier this week on FB that a new puppy was an opportunity for some creative problem solving. Turns out it’s also an opportunity for some humility and willingness to practice what you preach. How many times have I said to people, set a timer and take your puppy out every 20 minutes unless she’s sleeping. More than I can count.  It took me a few days to follow my own advice, but it is much easier to set the timer than to remember how long it’s been since the last time she went out.



Sources mentioned in this post

Suzanne Clothier, Bones Would Rain from the Sky:  Deepening our Relationships with Dogs

Denise Fenzi, Beyond the Back Yard:  Train your Dog to Listen Anytime, Anywhere!

Kay Laurence, Every Dog, Every Day

Claudine McAuliffe, Mindful Dog Teaching

Kathy Sdao, Plenty in Life is Free

Leave a comment

OMG puppies!

When people find out I volunteer at the shelter, they will often say something like “I could never do that.  It would be too sad.”  And I admit, some days it’s not easy.  But yesterday was not one of those days because–puppies.


I got to spend part of my afternoon hanging out with a litter of five-week-old puppies.  Technically, I was there to help socialize them.  But that pretty much amounted to being buried in puppies and squeeing over their cuteness.

If you’d like to have some of this puppy cuteness for yourself, the Center is looking for fosters.  Visit their Facebook page for more info.

Leave a comment

At the Market


Didn’t have a photo from the market to accompany this post, but here’s Arlo giving a tongue flick (stress signal) in response to my camera.

Arlo can be anxious when he meets other dogs, especially ones he doesn’t know—I think he’s conflicted: he wants to meet them and he doesn’t.   This is not a huge problem, but it is something I’d like to change so that both of us can relax a bit when we’re out in public.   We started inside (with help from our trainer) with CC/DS to a stuffed dog, then reinforcing him for check-ins, then CC/DS with real dogs outside but at a distance, then reinforcing for check-ins with actual dogs first at a distance and then gradually a little closer.  He’s been doing well on walks in our neighborhood, so for the past two weeks, I’ve been working with him at the Farmer’s Market, where there is always a good chance of seeing other dogs. We don’t actually go in to the market area—he’s not ready for that. Instead, we stay in the area across the street so he can see other dogs, but we have good distance and plenty of room to get outta Dodge if necessary. And because it’s a new environment, I’ve gone back to just CC/DS.

The first session went well. The most recent one was less successful, possibly because there was another dog there who was very stressed and barking at all the other dogs. Arlo heard the other dog before he saw him and immediately started whining and worrying. Then he barked at an adorable little dog coming toward us who didn’t even give us a second look.   (This kind of escalation is also known as trigger stacking.)  I needed to get him out of the situation ASAP, so he and my husband took a walk around the block, well away from the stressed out dog and all of the commotion while I did some quick shopping. Interestingly, although they ran into other dogs on their walk, once Arlo was away from the stressed out dog, he was ok. Our walk home was uneventful, so in spite of a rough start, we were able to end on a good note.

I felt sorry for the little dog, though. His owner was oblivious—even laughing at his dog’s stress. He probably didn’t realize the dog was uncomfortable. At least I hope he didn’t.

I love that people can bring dogs to the Farmer’s Market. It’s lovely to see dogs enjoying an outing with their humans. It’s lovely that people want to have their dogs with them, not to mention that we have a dog-friendly Farmer’s Market. But not all dogs enjoy these outings. And I say that as a person with a dog for whom the Market is overwhelming. I hope that with support and training, Arlo will improve, but I also realize he may never be comfortable there.

Another thing I observed at the Market—dogs on choke chains and prong collars. I hate those things, and I wish people would stop using them. Fortunately, there is a lot of information available about the dangers of these devices, and I’ve included some resources at the end of this post.

But if you only read this post: understand that if pinch and prong collars “work” (prevent a dog pulling on the leash), it’s because they hurt the dog. Period. And what concerns me about dogs on these collars in a public space like the Farmer’s  Market is that the collars are adding pain and stress to dogs in what is already a highly stressful environment. So dogs who tolerate the environment are actually learning to associate something negative (pain around the neck) with the environment, and especially with meeting new people (including children) and dogs. And of course dogs who are already anxious about the environment are being made to feel even worse about it. For either kind of dog, these collars are not, in the long run, doing any kind of good. They may make it possible to take a dog to the Farmer’s Market on a given day, but there are costs: pain and the possible association of people and other dogs with that pain.

Also understand that most dogs do not “naturally” walk politely on a leash, especially in a place as distracting as the Farmer’s Market. Neither of my dogs initially had great leash manners—I had to teach them. And that’s how I know that there is better equipment available for teaching leash walking and that doesn’t harm the dog. Two of my favorites are the Freedom Harness and the Ruffwear Front Range Harness.

Apparently when A. was walking Arlo, a woman stopped and asked lots of questions about his harness (he was wearing the Front Range harness).  I hope she was convinced to try it out, or one like it.

Sources and Resources:

“Choke and Prong Collars,” positively.com

“Fallout from the Use of Aversives,” eileenanddogs.com

“Prong Collars,” Glasgow Dog Trainer

Steinker, Angelika and Niki Tudge,“Choke and Prong Collars: Health Concerns Call for Change of Equipment in Dog Training,”

Leave a comment

Dear B&A


Dear B&A,

I see you’ve bought us a new quilt.  I’m not sure why we needed one–to be honest, it seems like I only just got the old one broken in the way I like it.  You know, with the right blend of dog hair, muddy paw prints and holes.  But you have your reasons, I’m sure.  Just wanted you to know that I’ll get to work asap breaking this one in too.  Should only take a few weeks.