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How to correctly potty pad train

I researched indoor toilets for dogs and this was the largest one I could find. Having an indoor toilet option is useful for disabled dogs, disabled humans, bad weather, older dogs, sick dogs, traveling, etc. I recommend them to clients, especially as I often trained service dogs. I recommend the turf types over other kinds because it resembles grass, not rugs or other household flooring.

If trained correctly, you won’t have a dog who goes to the bathroom anywhere in the house. You need something called stimulus control (I’ll explain how in my review). And the sooner you start a puppy or dog on one, the better. I waited until one of my dogs was 15, and she was having all kinds of digestive issues, and she took a long time to catch on after a lifetime of going outside. Until then, it was taking her outside, down two flights of stairs, every two hours, sometimes more often, or cleaning up the carpet when she couldn’t make it. Incontinent dogs can often, but not always, hold it for as long as it takes to get to an indoor potty, but not until they get outside.

I price matched making a potty myself and buying this one, and this one came out cheaper than buying all the supplies separate.

This particular toilet is perfect except for not having a middle layer, but you can easily remedy this by going to a hardware store and purchasing egg crate from the lighting department. I needed two, cut it to size with a Dremel tool, and laid them in the tray. Now the turf won’t sit in urine. I recommend using potty pads and baking powder in the bottom tray, or some kind of scoopable litter. For solids that lay on the turf, I recommend sprinkling the spot with baking soda after you pick it up. This is usually sufficient for odors until you get a chance to clean it. Something you’re not going to want to do in the middle of the night.

For training, you have some options. If your dog has a spot that they prefer outside, bring them out to it on leash to the potty and encourage them to go on it. If they don’t, bring them back inside for a bit and supervise. Keep bringing them back to it and trying. Keep treats in a airtight bag in your pocket (don’t have them wise to it) so you can reward them for using it. Once you’re having success, move it closer and closer to the door, and eventually, bit by bit to where you want it in the house. Rewarding them each time they use it. If you catch them going anywhere else in the house, gently interrupt them and bring them to the toilet. Do NOT punish or they’ll be afraid to go to the bathroom in front of you and will just sneak off. You can also still take them outside to use real grass.

And/or you can pen them in with it with an xpen. Put a bed, food and water bowl, and toys in all areas except for where the potty goes. The idea is that dogs won’t want to go potty where they eat, drink and sleep. Left long enough, they won’t be able to hold it any longer and will use the potty. Once they’ve gotten the hang of it, you can remove the exercise pen.

If your dog stands off the edge of it, you can use an exercise pen or furniture to kind of box it in to make standing off the edge less possible. You can encourage them to mark it by seeding it with another dog’s urine/feces sample. Or you can use your dog’s own to designate it as a toilet. If your dog is having a particularly tough time comprehending it, you can sprinkle real grass and leaves on it. Or order real turf and use that until your dog learns, then switch back to artificial turf.

For cleaning the grass, it’s great to hose it off outside, but if you can’t, then the bathtub or shower is your only choice. I spray it with some animal safe disinfectant (you can use some diluted vinegar), let it sit, then rinse. Pad it off with a towel, then set it back in place to finish drying. It can still smell a bit funky until fully dried.

-Large enough for all dogs, and multi-dogs
-Looks and feels like grass
-Easy(ish) to clean if following directions in my review
-Low enough to the ground for disabled dogs to get on
-Reasonable price, cheaper than if you DIYed it

-No middle layer (my review gives instructions for adding one)

Your dog wants to take over

But does he though? You’ll hear it just about everywhere dogs are remotely relevant. Pet stores, training classes, rescue events, television shows, the dog park, and so on. Someone always seems to bring it up. The dog is trying to dominate someone or something, is trying to be “alpha”, and you must be the “pack leader” and make them “submissive”. This is the root cause of ALL dog behavior. This is all they ever think of; and the only thing that are capable of thinking of. They are megalomaniacs always seeking to take over the world.

The reason why I use quotations is because these social terms are often used as pertaining to their layman’s meanings, not the precise, nomenclature most researchers and (studied) behavioral professionals go by. That aside, doesn’t this way of regarding dogs seem just a tad paranoid to you? What is all this based on?

In earlier times, the social behavior of dogs was judged by research findings of wolves which has since been retracted due to significant design flaws. This involved obtaining a group of unrelated wolves, sticking them together in captivity, and sitting back and watching social dynamics play out. Much of the resulting social interactions were poorly understood. Wolves form tight knit, family bonds much like most human families. This is the make up of a pack. A bunch of unrelated wolves finding themselves living in captive confinement together is quite a different ball game that won’t reflect the usual wolf social behavior.

What happened in this experiment? Certain trends surfaced. Some wolves appeared to be more in charge than others, others appeared to have less veto of power than others. This was both situational and across the board. Aggression was used to obtain valued resources from others, but other social practices were used as well. Sharing occurred, peace-making signals (mainly body language) were offered, and so on. Aggression did not have monopoly here, but regardless, these are strangers thrown together and havoc will occur. The same can and usually happens with any species. Especially humans. We’re constantly warring with other nations. We fight with friends, family, classmates, colleagues, and so on. No one gets along all the time with everyone. Does this mean we’re all trying to dominate each other, or that we’re simply interacting?

Throw together even a group of humans and strengths and weaknesses will surface, those who are better at a task will usually take leadership for that particular activity as it behooves the group to follow their leadership, also it’s quite impossible for multiple individuals to be doing the exact same thing at the exact same time. Only one person can fit in the driver’s seat. How many people can operate the television remote simultaneously? How many chefs can be in the kitchen stirring the pot? Peace or conflict ebb and flow. Occasionally, you have  despotic control where one individual emerges as leader across the board. This is usually the most qualified individual to lead the rest of the group to success. Survival can pend on this individual’s guidance. Experience, intelligence, physical fitness, and more all come into play. A trade off, at least where animal groups are concerned, is that this individual gets prime resources. He or she is being well paid for what s/he’s contributing to the group.

So, we’ve established that most, if not all social species take leadership and follower rolls. Dogs are no different. Dog also aren’t wolves any longer. For thousands of years, evolution has been taking place. This is time enough for social behavior to change. It’s rare that dogs are forced to live in the wild, forced to take matters into their own paws. Even in colonies of feral dogs, their behavior is vastly different than that of gray wolves, which the domestic dog is believed to have evolved from.

In the home environment, we have too much of an influence over a dog’s behavior. They often can’t or won’t react organically without our changing or preventing their choices. Pack behavior can’t exist when it’s constantly interfered with.

Feral dogs are usually known to form loose, shifting, small groups rather than actual packs, sometimes only consisting of only a couple of individuals. Members of the groups often change. Dogs often converge en masse over shared resources (the garbage dump, bodies of water, and so on) and diverge again, territory isn’t usually established. Plentiful resources, even food, are often not worth fighting over. If live prey is had, it’s usually one dog taking what they want, hunts are unorganized and not dependant of each dog’s contributing roll. It’s a free for all. Females mate with multiple males during a heat cycle. Males almost never help with offspring rearing, and very rarely do older offspring stick around to help either.

Compare that to typical gray wolf pack behavior. There is usually an established mating pair. Females don’t usually mate with multiple males, and males usually don’t mate with multiple females. In fact, it’s common that the leaders of the pack are often the mother and father of the other pack members. They defend territory and resources from other packs as a cohesive unit. They also communally take down prey with organized hunting rolls, each contributing a purpose. Males do participate in offspring rearing, and so do older offspring. The breeding male and female don’t always partake of the most valued resources first. In fact, it’s been observed before that the current batch of pups are given first dibs at freshly killed prey. Are wolf pups, only a few weeks old, possibly most dominant or alphas of the pack? And where are the alpha wolves walking first through doors, or in front on leashes?

It’s too easy to explain away all dog motivation for everything they do as a desire to take over. This idea of “dominance” makes everything fit into a neat, little box. But it’s not reality, if even through sheer statistics.

Let’s consider some common occurrences of proposed dominance:

Fido is “stubborn” and won’t sit when told to. Is it possible that Fido doesn’t understand sit when you’re ten feet away when you taught it to him right in front of him? Or maybe he understands sit in the living room, but not on the busy sidewalk. Maybe Fido is distracted by other dogs passing by? Maybe Fido has developed a spine condition and it hurts to sit, or perhaps he’s injured himself in some way?

Fido snaps when he’s being groomed. Is Fido really trying to “be in control”, or could it be that he’s simply uncomfortable or even anxious about the loud, invasive grooming process? Tugging at tangles, loud and hot blow dryers, vibrating clippers, a stranger in your face… It’s a lot for most dogs, particularly as so few were introduced to it early on and taught to view it as a positive experience.

Fido steals food off the table. It’s as simple as the food being available, access being made possible, and Fido wanting some. Dogs tend to like food. Especially novel human food.

Fido pulls on his leash and walks in front of you. But have you taught leash manners or practiced them often enough to maintain them? Could Fido simply walk faster than a human, or want to get where you’re going?

Fido goes through doors in front of you. Again, could he just be a fast walker or really want to get into the next room because his bed is there or it’s dinner time? Did you teach him another option to going ahead of you?

Fido won’t come when called. Maybe you didn’t utilize rewards correctly the times he did recall successfully. Perhaps you didn’t use rewards that he actually wants to earn, maybe you were too stingy with rewards, maybe you didn’t prepare him for the level of difficulty that recalling off a rabbit mid-chase requires, or maybe you keep showing the reward BEFORE he recalled so he’s learned to come only when he knows that it’s forthcoming (not correct usage of food or any reward, by the way. Even with luring (animal follows food), it needs to be phased out as soon as possible).

Fido tries to fight other dogs. Maybe Fido doesn’t like other dogs, or may even be afraid of them for some inherent or developed reason.

Fido tries to er..hump other dogs. Perhaps Fido wants to simply reproduce, or is over excited. Humping is a behavior that some dogs partake of when over excited. Maybe strange to us humans, but commonplace to dogs nonetheless.

In the end, in terms of non-layman’s meanings, dominance and submission are really all about unchallenged access to valued resources. This includes food, water, shelter, mates, and so on. When one has obtained that unchallenged access, one has become dominant over the others in regards to that particular resource. And when the others allow that unchallenged access, they have become submissive in that context.

Let’s not get all caught up in looking at everything a dog does with a dominance scope. You can find animal behavior professionals who can help you resolve behavior issues without rank reduction tactics. You need not create conflict and turn everything into a power struggle. I think you’ll find that removing some of this unnecessary unpleasantness will enhance your relationship with your dog and improve his behavior. Win, win for both of you.

How is your dog being groomed?

Having had poodles most of my life, I have a strong dabbling in the grooming industry. This blog is going to draw me a lot of fire, but I very strongly believe that owners should be given the power of informed consent when it comes to their animal’s care. It’s up to you to decide how your dog is treated, that is your legal right. What you decide is your prerogative.

Like it or not, most dogs require some form of grooming. This can be pleasurable, to endurable, to inspiring abject terror in the hearts of some dogs, a necessary evil. But what makes that difference?

Just like some people, some dogs are simply worriers by personality, by life experience, and some have a low pain threshold and may even have physical traits to groom that are difficult as it is. For instance, very fine, curly coats are often prone to matting (knots), and will require some pulling at tangles. At best, it’s not going to feel great, at worst, it will be painful. It also depends on technique, tool, and upkeep (as in keeping up with frequent brushing).

But this blog focuses on life experience. What, exactly, happens at the groomer’s?

Grooming in and of itself can be a scary, invasive procedure for animals who don’t comprehend the necessity of it; this can be true even with the best, most gentle of groomers. What does a dog understand of a high velocity blow dryer needing to be aimed at them, with the heat, loud roar, and pushing of skin? What does a dog understand of clippers vibrating against their sensitive skin? Or a human’s face in their face (pretty confrontational, try it some time on a stranger if you don’t mind the risk of getting punched) as their hair is being scissored? How about the squeezing of the vein in the nails when they’re being clipped? (Sometimes is the case, and dogs can remember even if it only happened once.)

Dogs are pretty simple creatures, despite what you might hear. They really don’t set out to be difficult just to be difficult. What would be the point? Why should a dog try to prevent grooming by acting up if they were well and fine with the process? If they were just dandy with it, why put the effort into trying to stop it? Your dog isn’t trying to spite you. Your dog isn’t a difficult, complicated human.

But what about when grooming isn’t made to be as endurable as possible? What about when it’s traumatic for the dog? What, exactly, are some groomers doing?

The largest publication in the grooming industry is Groomer to Groomer by Barkleigh Productions. Their spokesperson trainer publishes behavioral advice in this publication, and does consults and seminars for groomers countrywide (USA). Please take a look at the advice groomers are being given, and ask yourself some questions:

1. Did your groomer tell you that they’re doing this to your dog?

2. Did your groomer get your consent to do this to your dog?

  1. Do you want this to be happening to your dog?

This is one of his many articles in Groomer to Groomer, most have similar advice:

You can also see some of his seminars on his YouTube channel, here is one such video, but you can see his others as well:

As you can see, advice is not limited to his patented “bonks”.

Then we have the most famous groomer in the world, and many other groomers subscribe to his teachings: Namely, dogs are always trying to take over, so we must subdue them with a barrage of manhandling. Often, over the top tactics. This usually consists of “alpha rolls”, which is pinning the dog on his side until he stops struggling, jabs to the throat “hand bites”, cutting off air with collars/grooming loops, and similar. I will not name the man here, and I won’t bother linking to one of his videos because they’re often pulled off the internet when they get negative attention. If you can guess who I’m talking about, you can find his videos on your own easily enough and as a bonus, he does have a nice one where he’s giving treats to a scared dog during a bath. Although…. The food isn’t being utilized correctly, I have to say, which hinders success. (Food is another training tool and like any tool, execution must be correct to ensure likelihood of success.)

Some groomers also come up with ideas of their own, of course. I’ve seen dogs sprayed with water bottles for barking, shock collars put on, dogs struck, and so on. Even a dog being given treats without your knowledge would be a concern for me. Allergies, health problems, and other issues may be of importance.

Whether you feel that the kind of handling mentioned in this blog is suitable or not suitable for your dog is besides the point, the point is that owners are not being told that this is occurring, they are not able to grant their permission, and thus they are not able to decide how their dog is treated.

So, what can we do to avoid all this, if you are of mind to? I’m not entirely sure, honestly, because there’s usually no perfect solution. Like me, you can learn to groom your dog yourself, you can hire a groomer to come to your home to groom in front of you, you can hire a groomer who lets you watch (even from a distance where your dog isn’t aware you’re there because some claim this makes the dogs behave poorly), you can use groomers who have to practice on display (think open grooming set ups where shoppers can see), or you can simply talk to your groomer and decide if you’re able to trust that these things aren’t happening.

While it’s no sure bet, red flags for me are usually talk of being the “alpha”, “dominance/submissiveness”, “needing to show them who’s boss/being in charge”, “calm assertive”, and dogs being blamed for being “bad dogs/spoiled/wanting to get their way”.

Sometimes, but not always, the presence of safety gear may indicate a groomer who doesn’t need to resort to manhandling. This could be a tethering system (Groomer’s Helper, LIPs system), Elizabethan collars, Kongs, and similar.

You may be wondering why some groomers manhandle dogs this way? Well, grooming is a difficult job. Dogs don’t understand and make the process a struggle, some owners have unrealistic expectations (please don’t expect long, beautiful coat miracles if you never brush your dog, for example), dogs have never been trained to overcome their fear of certain grooming procedures, and furthermore it’s back breaking labor. It’s a lot of work! Hard work.

Groomers have a job to do and it ain’t easy, for sure. But that doesn’t make subjecting your dog to this kind of treatment without your knowledge and permission okay.

And if you’ve found a groomer who is upfront with you, gentle and makes grooming as pleasant as possible for your dog? Grab a hold of that groomer and don’t let go! He/she is worth their weight in gold! Consider recommending them to your friends, family, and vet so that their business can flourish and they can continue practicing. We have a mantra in the animal behavior field; positive reinforcement works on people too!


Desensitization and Counter Conditioning: Keys to Success

This is a very easy to understand write up on how to conduct a desensitization and counter conditioning protocol.

Their recommendations of finding a professional to work with are also very good (if you’re in the USA). This is money well spent. A sound investment. Make sure that the professional uses reward-based methods, no coercion, and practices desensitization and counter conditioning. Asking to sit in on a session or class, without your dog, can be helpful to find out how they work with animals.

D&CC (desensitization and counter conditioning) is so great because you don’t just stop the undesirable behaviors, you address and mitigate the underlying cause of them, the dog’s emotional state. This is important, anything else would just be a bandaid on a festering wound.

It’s a tried and tested, proven method for modifying behavior. It’s also very humane because when properly executed, the animal shouldn’t be stressed.

And you can use a D&CC protocol for more than just fear. You can use it for aggression, over excitement, and the list just goes on.

My personal tips and tricks (*some* of these are my own personal practices, not set in stone or preferred by every animal behavior professional):

-Make sure that the predictor of the positive outcome is very clear. You don’t want to have a false predictor. Make sure that going to the fridge to grab treats, reaching into your treat pouch, or other false predictors don’t occur. PLAN AHEAD. (You may want to stash treats around the house or randomly wear your treat pouch around the house so your dog eventually stops noticing it.)

-PLAN AHEAD. You want controlled exercises where as many variables as possible are under your control. Don’t try to work with your dog on nail clipping (for example) when people are walking around and distracting or exciting your dog. Don’t work on your dog’s on leash reactivity when your neighborhood is at it’s busiest and dogs are popping up around corners. Unpredictability isn’t in your favor.

-I prefer starting with the level of exposure (to what the dog fears) where the dog is noticing it, but still at emotional neutrality. This isn’t always possible but it makes tipping their emotional state towards the positive easier since you don’t first have to overcome any fear.

-Become familiar with dog body language. Google this (look for reputable sources), and also study your dog as well. This will allow you to prevent pushing your dog too far, too fast and to get an idea of how they may be perceiving your efforts.

-Don’t lure your dog closer to what they fear than they’re comfortable with. This is why the tiniest baby steps are so helpful. Each change is so tiny, there are no leaps and bounds.

If your dog acts fearful, you need to abandon the current step and go back a step or two and work your way back up to where you were. If this doesn’t help, you’ll need to break down your steps further. Breaking your steps down as much as possible (writing them out is helpful, I find) can be the key to success.

-Consider if there’s a behavior that would be helpful for your pet to learn (with positive reinforcement) during this D&CC process. Teaching your dog to rest their paw in your hand for nail clipping may be a good idea. For on leash reactivity, asking for eye contact after they’ve seen a dog/person can be helpful. Teaching a chin rest in your palm can make giving eye drops easier.

-If your dog fears people, YOU can and should be the one to be giving treats to the dog. Not the person they fear. Or you risk luring them closer than they’re comfortable with. This can create a fight response.

-I like short and frequent sessions, while the article recommends longer sessions. You don’t have to reach the end goal during one session, go at your dog’s pace. Slow and steady is better than fast. The article also recommends starting where you left off last time, but I prefer to start again at the beginning to further strengthen what we’ve already accomplished.

Do what works best for your dog.

-FINISH YOUR PROTOCOL. If you don’t *eventually* finish your protocol, you haven’t effected full emotional change so back sliding is possible.

-After you’ve finished your protocol, it’s helpful to do review sessions every once in a while. Especially if the trigger (what they used to fear) isn’t something encountered often.

Feel free to print this out or save it.

Of Brown Marmorated Stink Bugs and Dogs

“Hello, human. You’re looking tasty!”

Halyomorpha halys, or otherwise known as The Brown Marmorated Stinkbug is an alien species to the North East, USA. They appeared and took over in swarms. So massive are these creeping and crawling, stinking, biting, buzzing swarms that they’ve been known to destroy a whole season’s worth of crops, and to cover the entire southern side of buildings.

“Let us in! We just want to chew on your skin a little.”

These guys aren’t tiny either. They’re about the size of a penny. They have thick shells that will cut skin. When alarmed, they spray a sulfurous stinking deterrent. They’ve also been known to bite.

“My… What a long proboscis you have.”
“The better to suck your brains out with, my dear.”

Outside isn’t safe from them… But neither is inside your home. They always get in. You can find them in bed with you, in the clothes you’ve just put on, landing in your soup, jumping into your bathtub while you’re still in it.

People, they may not be a threat to my well being or even my life, but I have a primal, irrational, visceral fear of them. And unfortunately, they’re here to stay.
I apologize ahead of time for sharing too much info with you, but here I was in a bubble bath when I hear the telltale “buzz” of just such a spawn of Satan in the bathroom with me. Foreboding sets in. Fear engulfs me. It’s there, throwing it’s disgusting self into the vanity mirror under the lights, over and over and over again.

I’m at a distance, but I can’t leave the scene, my towel is too close to it! I’m trapped with it for thirty whole minutes. Time enough for desensitization to set in. But it didn’t.

Each time it ventures a little nearer, I grab my Kindle and shield myself instead of screaming, until it goes back to the mirror. I can avoid it! My fear of it should subside, right? Nope. I’m just as afraid as ever.

Finally I’m done, I just can’t take it anymore! The once nice bath has run cold and I’m miserable and terrified.

I make a break for the towel and run screaming and dripping wet from the bathroom to get someone else to take care of it.

It’s just a bug. Yes, I’m aware. And it wasn’t hurting me. I get that too. But I was much more willing to put up with being freezing cold, and stubbing my toe painfully on the way out, than face my fear of this disgusting, loathsome creature. Even with my human logic and reasoning, I didn’t stop to consider that my very survival wasn’t in the balance. I was scared, and sticking around to face it, even with distance and a safety behavior (remember my Kindle shield) didn’t work.

This is a true story. But what does it have to do with animal training though? There are certain protocols making the rounds, based on exposing the animal in small, graduated but still stressful doses to what they fear, and then rewarding the animal with distance from their fear, for doing a behavior alternate to freaking out. Different, non-freak out behaviors are being reinforced, these behaviors are called stress signals. The animal doesn’t do stress signals unless they’re stressed! Just like I wouldn’t feel the need to use my Kindle as a shield unless I was scared and stressed.

This is purposely exposing the animal to what they fear, over and over again, in measured, graduated doses. At a stressful level of exposure, instead of at a neutral level of exposure. And keeping them there until they’ve performed a desired behavior, and then they get to escape.

The desired behavior (the alternate to a freak out behavior) isn’t going to be reinforced unless the animal finds escape to be a reward. For escape to be a reward, they have to be at a stressful level of exposure, where they don’t feel safe and feel the need to escape.

Just like I could have simply gotten used to the stink bug, perhaps if I only had a minor degree of fear, dogs can simply get used to what they fear too. But this is “baseline”. Neutrality. They may not fear it anymore, but they don’t exactly look forward to it either. This makes sliding back into fear a very probable occurrence. Particularly if it’s something that’s inherently unpleasant. This is called return of fear (ROF).

But if that doesn’t happen, if they don’t just get used to it, the fear doesn’t dissipate and the animal is pressured into behaving in a subdued manner, not free of fear. The fear is still there.

So? So what? My point is, we have other methods; more tried and tested, and far less stressful to absolve fear. Methods that, when correctly executed, teach that what was once an unpleasant thing is now perceived as a predictor to a fabulous outcome. Even if the thing is inherently unpleasant, it becomes something worth enduring to get the pay off. That’s where that extra oomph, instead of just baseline neutrality, really comes in handy.

Anyways, even though my stink bug situation is now over, I sit here writing this, in a cold sweat and feeling somewhat sick from the experience. Fear sure doesn’t feel great.

Pictures sourced in order of appearance:

Animal training is not a Queen song and your pet is not a robot

Just what the heck does that mean?! Okay, bear with me.

If you’re anything like the average human being, which most of us are, you probably hear yourself thinking, “I want it all and I want it now”. Kind of like Queen’s 1989 hit, I Want It All.

Freddie Mercury is onto something here. You want something, so why not have it all and why not have it now?

And that’s certainly possible with animal training! I mean, IF you’re training one of those robot puppies. Zoomer Interactive Dog, just $89.99 at your local Toys R’ Us! I think robot parrots, cats, and some other species are available too, but don’t quote me on that.


But… Chances are we’re not training a robot here. Chances are we’re training a living, breathing, thinking, feeling, sentient creature. Rather like yourself! We don’t just insert a chip, press a button on a remote, tighten this wire, loosen that wire, or otherwise program organic creatures. You see, real creatures learn, adapt and change according to what life throws at them. Temperament (your dog’s personality) plays a role too. As does our own behavior, since we control so many aspects of our animal’s lives.

Thus, how can anyone make a guarantee regarding the way a creature will behave, or promise you results overnight? How is such a thing possible? Common sense tells us it’s really not. At least where our pets and ourselves are concerned. While the occasional, “Ah-ha!” moment does occur, and results can be long lived and rather fast, it’s certainly not something that can be predicted. It’s much more likely that behavior change, whether reducing fear, aggression, or even better compliance for obedience cues, will take a while and some work to achieve and stick around. It takes science too, behavioral science. The approach needs to address the underlying issue. It needs to effect a change of emotional response where behavioral issues are concerned, and it needs to address the learning deficit where obedience isn’t being complied with.


If you want guarantees and instant results, I can promise you this: I can guarantee that I can make it so that your pet doesn’t feel safe to communicate the way that they feel. But I can’t wave a magic wand and permanently alter the way that they feel. See conditioned emotional response. I can also (near) instantly make shutting down to be the safest choice for your animal so that they don’t chance unnecessary behavior that carries with it the chance of unpleasant repercussions. This phenomena is called response depression. And you may end up with a robotic-like creature. Which is great… If that’s what you want for your pet… But is that what you really want?

To most of us, it’s not what we want for our pets. To most of us, our dog, cat, parrot, or other pet is a member of the family, our buddies, our pals, and even our work partners. Even though behavior change may not be like programming a robot, it’s well worth the wait and the work. Not only for your own peace of mind, but for your pet’s too.

As the Association of Pet Dog Trainer’s Association says,

We believe it is unethical to make guarantees about behavior results. In fact, as members of the Association of Pet Dog Trainers (APDT), we pledged to refrain from giving guarantees regarding the outcome of training. Instead of guaranteeing specific behavior results, we promise to work with you and your dog to achieve a better relationship.

We are committed to excellence, and that you can count on.
It is unethical for trainers to guarantee changed behavior results. This is due to the variables in dog breeding and temperament, owner commitment and experience, the dog’s future life experiences, etc. You know this to be true when you consider that human behavior cannot be guaranteed, let alone a dog’s behavior. Dogs are independent beings that we cannot sit down with and verbally convince them to comply with our instructions. It doesn’t matter if that session is one hour or 10 hours long. One session is not going to change behavior patterns in either the dog or you. You must understand that when it concerns behavior, it’s up to you to change and learn so that your dog can change and learn. No trainer anywhere can guarantee you and the dog.

Your dog’s success is dependent on YOU doing your homework if you are getting private lessons or coming to group class. If at the end of each week the dog is not showing that he can do that week’s homework, you will repeat that week. The dog cannot progress to the next set of exercises without some proficiency in the ones you were supposed to be teaching him.

So, how and why are animal trainers promising you guarantees and instant results? Because they can! This industry is unregulated. You need to be your pet’s advocate. You’re his/her only protection.

Need some helping choosing an animal trainer? World renowned animal behavior professional Jean Donaldson offers the following suggestions.

The animal training industry is completely unregulated and anyone can call themselves an animal behavior professional in spite of having no formal education or qualifications. So what can consumers do to protect themselves?
1. Ask for formal education and credentials.
2. Ask for continuing education involvement.
3. Ask for scientific evidence supporting any claims about behavior.
4. Ask what actual physical events will be used to motivate your animal (keep asking if you receive obfuscating answers such as “energy,” “leadership,” “status” or “dominance”). For example, ask, “What exactly will happen to my dog if he gets it right? And what exactly will happen to my dog if he gets it wrong?”
5. Ask what side effects each procedure has. Fear is a particularly concerning side effect as it is difficult to undo.
6. If you feel at all uncomfortable, don’t be bullied: get another opinion.
You are entitled to full information before consenting to any training or behavior modification procedure.
Animal Learning Solutions.

Rapid, painless nail length reduction technique

I grind (or shave with clippers from Dollar Tree, they don’t slide at weird angles like more expensive clippers I’ve tried) 360 degrees around the quick until there’s only a very thin nail sheath left around the quick.

This provides some protection from pressure from impact with the ground, but not a full degree of protection so the increased degree of pressure upon impact will help to recede the quick, and less protection also allows more air exchange which will allow the end of the quick to dry and shrivel as well. This will leave a “dead”, painless layer that you can remove painlessly. This layer will be a different color from the “live” quick, that has blood flow and nerve activity.

I haven’t observed any pain or favoring of feet with this technique.

Now that you have a quicker “dying” of the quick, you can shave off a thin layer more frequently and repeat the process, shaving away another layer of nail, again semi-exposing the quick until you get the desired nail length and then go back to normal grinding or clipping to maintain length.

Easy high value training treats recipe. Highly customizable!

Recipe: Easy high value treats. Perfect for training. Customize your flavors.

There are no measured ingredients.

You’ll need your 
-flavor base(s), 
-one egg, 
-oil or water, 
-flour (with NO leavening agents!),
-Gelatin, optional (It helps the pieces keep their integrity and is a natural source of highly absorbable chondroitin), and
-Preservative, optional. I use potassium sorbate and ascorbic acid. You can use vinegar or lemon juice if you don’t have anything else on hand. 

I like to mix it all in a food processor with the chopper blade, not the mixing blade. You need to have everything very finely blended.

Flavor base: Use whatever your dog likes. Cheese and chicken. Tuna fish from a can. A can of dog food. Apples. Whatever. The stinkier for dogs and cats, the better. Must be moist. If using something from a can, include the oil or water. 

Add an egg. Size doesn’t matter. 

If you want chewy treats, add about a tablespoon of oil. If you want crispy treats, add about a tablespoon water or broth. If your flavor ingredients were dry, add more water or broth as needed. Now would be the time to add your preservative. Now stir so everything is broken up and ingredients mixed. 

Now you add flour. I usually use rice or potato flour, or tapioca starch. But you can use corn flour, oat flour, wheat flour, whatever. It’s your binder. You need it to help glue the flavor base together. Don’t use any flour that has leveners (baking soda, baking powder, yeast, etc.)! You don’t want this to rise or become spongey with air bubbles.

You should have added just enough flour so that when you stir the ingredients, you get a spreadable paste with a rich flavor base (should be mostly your flavor ingredient). The thinner your paste, the easier it is to spread it even. If you make it really thick, it’s probably easier to use a second parchment lined sheet and press your paste between the two cookie sheets.

Spread your paste THINLY onto a non-stick tray or parchment paper. Bake at 350 degree F until it starts to dry up a little. I.E. It shouldn’t stick to your finger if you press it. If it does, it’ll also stick to your pizza wheel cutter and you don’t want that. Put it back in the oven for a little longer if this is the case. DON’T turn off your oven but do take it out.

Now get a pizza wheel cutter and score it vertically and horizontally so that you’re making bite sized squares for training, or larger if you desire. A good training treat size to aim for is the size of your pinky nail.

Shove it back into your oven and cook until done (about 10-15 minutes) for soft and chewy, or longer for crispy. 

After it’s cooked, you can easily break it into the bite sized pieces that you’ve scored earlier, the baking will have helped separate the pieces. If you wait for it to cool, you can GENTLY rub the treats between your hands to break the pieces apart a lot faster. 

*Note* that your treats will be somewhat soft when piping hot from the oven but will firm up when cooled, but IF you made your treats too wet and they’re VERY soggy on one side, try flipping sections over CAREFULLY with a spatula and baking for a bit longer so dehydration takes place on the wet side.

I like to make different flavors and put them into the same bag in the fridge so that I have a trail mix. A variety is exciting.

Are pinch/prong collars magic?

pinch collar 3                                                  *

There’s a lot of information going around about training tools. Some factual, some less so. A lot of it is heavily steeped in emotion and bias. I suppose I would be lying if I didn’t make it clear that I’m biased myself, I don’t advocate tools that use pain, fear or intimidation to function. I don’t need them, and if a person is willing to learn, they won’t need them either. But that aside, I feel that it’s important to give factual, unbiased information so that consumers are armed with accurate information in order to make an informed training tool decision. If something uses pain to work, people should be aware. So where do pinch collars stand? How do they work, and why do they work?

You have several variations of the pinch collar. Most have thin prongs of uniform thickness, while a few have triangular projections, ending in a point. Most are metal, while a few are plastic. Most of these collars are martingales, which means that they’re looser at rest, but tighten when pulled on by the handler, or when the dog pulls against the leash and applies pressure. The correct placement is high on the neck, under the ears. In order to stay in proper placement, high on the neck (weakest, most vulnerable point), the collar must fit snug, so tight enough not to slide down, and then even tighter when the collar is being actively utilized.

When a correction (yanked on by the handler or the dog straining on the leash) is given, the collar tightens and the prongs dig in, the standard prongs (not the triangular projection type) also pinch together at the ends. If skin is caught, the skin is pinched between the prongs. Fur and hair isn’t a protection, the smooth metal prongs or smooth plastic triangles part all but the most matted fur/hair and make full on contact with skin.

Handlers often use the collars as positive punishment. This means the addition of a punitive stimulus. An example would be, if a dog is doing an undesired behavior, you’d yank on the collar in order to motivate the dog to decrease this behavior. You can also keep pressure on the collar until the dog gives into your directions. This would be negative reinforcement. This means the removal of the stimulus is reinforcing (rewarding). An example would be keeping the collar tight until the dog stops straining against the leash. The collar pressure being removed is nice by comparison.

You’ll hear a lot of arguments for and against pinch collars. They don’t hurt, it’s like a mother dog’s bite (correction) to a puppy, and so on.

The mother’s bite claim mentioned here is somewhat funny to me. You see, bitches use what’s called muzzle grabbing. You can read about it here. So to keep in line with the logic that the collar brings back old memories of being corrected by their mother when they were pups, the collars should be worn on the face for this to make any sense. Assuming an adult will actually make this leap in logic and memory. I don’t know about you, but I don’t tend to remember much from when I was a baby.

The other mentioned argument for pinch collars is the claim that they don’t hurt. And that can be correct, they don’t always have to hurt in order to work. You can use a lower level of application if you first develop it as a conditioned punisher, by pairing non-painful levels of correction WITH painful levels of correction, to give the non-painful levels meaning. “A conditioned stimulus that signifies that an aversive is coming. Used to deter or interrupt behavior; if the behavior halts or changes, the aversive may be avoided. For example, a trainer that says “ack” to interrupt a behavior, or the warning beep of a shock collar when a dog gets too close to the boundary of an electric fence.” If you don’t first condition these non-painful levels as a punisher, then all but the most sensitive of dogs will easily ignore it because it’s not motivating enough to change behavior. An non-painful correction just isn’t inherently aversive to the vast majority of dogs. You have to make that level aversive. Else, why should the dog care and not just ignore it?

This doesn’t just go for pinch collars, it also applies to other punitive devices and collars. Your shock collars, choke/slip collars, head halters in some cases, some harnesses that act like a noose, and so on.

So yes, initially it must hurt to lend meaning to the non-painful levels. It doesn’t just end there though, you must repeat the pairing (conditioning), or up the ante and increase it, periodically in order to prevent or fix a punishment callous. This is when tolerance develops for the current level, and thus this level no longer serves to motivate behavior change in order to avoid it.

It’s a good idea to try the tool on yourself. While you’re not a dog, and you’re not likely to try it around your throat, although this would be the CLOSEST comparison to a dog’s experience and I DO recommend you get on the floor, put it on your throat and have someone correct you, trying it on your arm is an okay test if you keep some factors in mind.

1. The arm is significantly less sensitive than the throat. This is why most glucose meters have evolved to take blood from your arm now instead of your finger.

2,. The arm doesn’t have fragile structures, such as the hyoid apparatus, thyroid gland, vertebrae, etc.

3. Humans have thicker, less sensitive skin than dogs.

“Canine skin has several layers, including an outer epidermis that is constantly being replaced and an inner dermis that contains nerves and blood vessels. Canine skin is thinner and much more sensitive than human skin.” *

“The epidermis of a dog is 3-5 cells thick however in humans it is at least 10-15 cells thick.” *

4. You hopefully don’t have as much hair or fur on your arms as a dog has on their neck. But remember, the fur doesn’t really play a part as it gets parted by the points. The argument that fur somehow softens the effect is moot.

5. Most dog’s necks are lower than your hand. This means you have to deliver the correction to your arm at an upwards angle.

6. The collar MUST be fitted to your arm’s circumference! A collar much bigger than your arm won’t apply as much pressure as a collar that fits your arm. Your dog is more than likely wearing the appropriately sized collar fitted to his neck’s circumference, if not smaller to apply even more pressure, which will inflict an even greater degree of pain.

For the sake of getting photos, I did the pinch collar test on my arm today.

pinch 1

The first picture is immediately following varying levels of pressure, all of which I’ve observed used in training. From somewhat gentle to much harsher. And yes, at the levels of application that motivate, it does hurt.

pinch 2

 The second picture is several hours later.

After all, pinch collars aren’t magic. If they don’t hurt, and the lower levels don’t promise painful levels if not heeded, why should the dog care? Pinch collars utilize pain as their motivation factor. Pain doesn’t suddenly make the dog understand what you’re trying to teach him, better teaching does. Pain doesn’t solve behavior problems, pain just suppresses the outward signs.

Dogs are strongly associative learners. This means that they can associate what they’re experiencing, say the pain from a pinch collar, with what they happen to be near or even looking at. They lack our human logic and reasoning. For all they understand, yes, the pain did happen because they were near a child, dog, stranger, etc. Hello new or worse behavior problems. Professional trainers who utilize tools such as pinch collars will usually use the collar for this as well, in order to suppress the dog communicating their defensive fear towards whatever they think is causing them the pain.

All in all, not such a great tool after all, in my opinion. But what do you think?

Update! Nope, I still haven’t changed my stance on pinch collars. But I’ve been informed that there is a rare creature called the “Elusive Prong-Collar Loving Dog”.* This not often seen creature will actually jump for joy when the prong collar comes out because he just can’t wait to feel it around his neck! Well, why is it? Is he a masochist? Is he a glutton for pain?

Nope! This dog just can’t wait to go on walkies or whatever other activity the pinch collar signifies. While the pain from the pinch collar is indeed punitive, the enjoyment of getting to go for a walk trumps the unpleasantness of the collar. It’s why we can train animals to participate in their own health care. In your local zoo, the resident lion doesn’t enjoy getting stabbed with a needle for his blood draw, but he’ll willingly back onto it, because the juicy steak reward makes it worth his while.

* Photo credited to Judith Beam, who pulled an old collar out of storage for me. She does NOT actively use pinch collars!





“I only correct my dog when he knows what he’s supposed to do.”

“I only correct my dog when he knows what he’s supposed to do. Or when he knows he’s doing wrong.”

For clarity’s sake, a correction would be some kind of (at best) unpleasant action taken to enforce a behavior or stop a behavior.

It’s something I hear all too often. But unless your dog can actually tell you in words that he actually understands what you’re asking of him, don’t assume! Dogs aren’t humans and they lack our human logic and reasoning skills. They learn a lot like us, but they also differ in some key ways. They lack our morals too, by the way. The concept of “right” and “wrong” is a human concept, largely determined by society. To hold a dog to our belief that they grasp that concept would be anthropomorphic.

There are a LOT of reasons for non-compliance that a correction won’t even begin to address.

And if the choice to comply wasn’t conditioned to be reinforcing enough, that is trainer error too. A positive reinforcer is a tool, and any tool needs to be utilized correctly.

Unless you know better, it’s too easy to hold animals to a human standard of doing things. But they’re not humans. We need to remember that.

Many a trainer who advocates and uses corrections will tell you that the dog “knew better” and the correction was justified. But there’s something many of these trainers have in common; a willful lack of an education in their field.

Some trainers feel that experience alone should be enough. I’ll share a secret with you, sometimes I make the same clueless mistakes over and over again, until I learn different. With experience alone, there’s nothing to prevent this from occurring. And at your dog’s expense.

It’s widely accepted by most people that an education is beneficial to your efforts. Because, scientia potentia est! Knowledge is power! It’s the lack of ignorance. What is a professional in the field of animal behavior doing without an education in their specialty anyways? Without knowing the science and theory behind behavior, the why’s, the how’s, and the what’s behind what’s occurring, more mistakes that could easily have been avoided can be made at your pet’s expense, as well as your own.

Here’s an example:

Trainer A. puts Spike through his obedience paces. First they work on downs, then sits, then leaving cats alone. The session soon goes downhill. Spike started off well enough, but he was never taught duration for the down and sit behavior, nor was he taught these behaviors in different settings and situations before taking it on the road. Spike gets confused and makes a lot of mistakes. Also, Spike is started at a proximity to cats where he’s not in control of himself, and it takes many corrections to get him to stop trying to go for the cat.  This session didn’t set Spike up for success, in my opinion, it was a failure.

Trainer B. puts Sophie through her obedience paces. First they work on leaving cats alone. Sophie is started at a proximity where she notices the cat but is still easily in control of herself. She gets moved progressively closer as she accomplishes self control at each progression. Then they take a break. Then they work on downs, Sophia is taught duration, and is taught the behavior in many different settings and situations. Then a short break. Then they work on sits, and the same goes as it did for learning downs. The session started out well and ended well. Progress never flagged. This session set Sophie up for success, in my opinion. This session was a success.

Why was there such a glaring difference between these two scenarios? Trainer B. has experience AS WELL as an education and can apply her learned knowledge to her training. Trainer B. knows that the research strongly suggests that humans, as well as dogs, have limited amounts of self control that must A. Be well rewarded and B. Allowed time to recharge. Trainer B. also knows that in order for Sophia to succeed, she must be working at a level where this is easily possible before progressing onwards. You don’t learn to run before you learn to walk. Trainer B. is aware of thresholds, a neutral or near neutral level of exposure to a stimuli that can be tolerated. And further more, Trainer B. also knows that dogs need to have criteria (the different components of a behavior like degree of difficult, duration, distance, amount of reinforcement, and so on) split, and they also need the behaviors generalized to different settings and situations. Dog generally do not generalize behaviors well. This needs to be taught.

I’m not a nurse. I don’t have an education in health care. Nurses have the expertise that I lack. That’s what I’m paying a health care professional for! I don’t know about you, but if I’m going to shell out my hard earned money for a professional, I want my money’s worth! I would want a dog trainer who would understand what went wrong, if it happens to occur, and was able to set my dog up for success in order to constructively address the actual cause behind the failure. The goal shouldn’t be to set the dog up for failure when you train. In fact, the goal we should be striving for is called errorless learning. Why practice unnecessary mistakes that we can easily avoid? But just as dogs are dogs, humans are humans, and therefore, we’re not always exempt from mistakes, no matter how careful we may be.

Let’s explore why it’s not safe to just assume that your dog “knew better”. Please take a moment to view some video examples that explore the possibilities behind your dog not complying with what you’ve asked of him, or otherwise behaving in an undesired way. And then ask yourself, would issuing a correction have been beneficial, or even relevant for that matter? How might you have instead addressed the learning deficit?

Elieenanddogs presents a series of four videos where a dog misses cues (traditionally known as commands).

This dog is uncomfortable and fearful of the grooming process. He doesn’t understand that grooming is necessary for his hygiene. He is put over threshold (how much of the stimulus he can handle without reacting) and then is corrected in order to try to control him. Mr. Millan grabs the dog’s head to stop the behavior, but the dog won’t stop biting at the brush so he has to resort to putting a muzzle on, because he can’t figure out how else to get the grooming done.

You can fast forward to 10:10 to see this in action.

The corrections don’t change the dog’s fear for the better, it will only compound the dog’s dear. This can either cause the dog to shut down, or continue fighting. Shutting down  is not “calm”, as Cesar Millan often claims on his shows.

Dr. Sophia Yin, a board certified Veterinary Behaviorist, shows a dog with a similar problem, yet Dr. Yin shows how a qualified behavior professional might handle the situation. She pairs what the dog finds unpleasant (grooming), with something that the dog really enjoys (food). The dog is shown over threshold at the beginning for demonstration purposes (most people wouldn’t believe the dog fights grooming unless seen with their own eyes), but as you can see with the counter conditioning procedure, the dog is kept under threshold so that he doesn’t need to be corrected in order to keep him under control.

She enables the dog to become familiar with being brushed and also conditions a positive emotional response to it via what’s known as desensitization and counter conditioning.

In case you’re wondering, Dr. Yin is not rewarding the dog for being fearful. There is a science behind behavior, and those who have studied it will know how to handle situations in a constructive and relevant way.

Here Dr. Yin has a video and an explanation on why counter conditioning doesn’t reward fear.

There are many, many reasons why a dog may not do what you ask. Your dog may not be ready for practicing recall in a high distraction environment if you haven’t built up to it. This is called lumping criteria. Your dog may not sit without a treat if you’ve used food incorrectly and turned it into a bribe. Your dog may have forgotten some of their skills through lack of practice. These examples, and the examples shown in this blog, are just a few of the many reasons why a dog may fail to do as expected.

Here is a perfect example of a trainer assuming that a dog “is very sniffy” and just isn’t paying attention. So he corrects the dog for this behavior.

What this trainer doesn’t seem to know is that excessive ground sniffing is a displacement behavior! A displacement behavior is brought on by stress, designed to appease the other individual and direct their attention else where. This dog wants to show that he’s busy minding his own business by sniffing the ground and doesn’t want any trouble and isn’t a threat to anybody. However, the dog isn’t even allowed to communicate his stress. He’s punished for it.

You can be sure this is stress by looking at the rest of the dog’s body language. His ears are held low and far back on his head, his head is lowered, he’s walking in a semi-crouch to appear as small as possible, his tail is semi-tucked, and his eyes are very squinty.

You may be able to suppress the ground sniffing by correcting the dog for it, but you do nothing, except to often compound the emotional state, that’s causing the behavior. What good does this do? At best, the dog just gives in and continues to be stressed. At worst, the dog’s stress builds until he reaches a breaking point and puts those sharp teeth to use.

Note that I don’t think that this trainer is malicious, I just don’t think that he’s armed with the pertinent information to know what is going on behind the motions.

Just putting a dog through the motions, without understanding what’s underneath, is more like puppeteering than actual teaching. But we’re dog trainers, not puppeteers. We’re being hired to teach your animals.

A behavior professional who is both educated and experienced will be armed with the pertinent knowledge needed and will be less likely to blame and punish the dog when they’re not at fault.

However, while a dog might very well know better, the likelihood that that’s the case, in my professional opinion, is very small and the dog more than likely hasn’t been set up for success in the way that he’s been taught. But we can change that. Instead of using corrections that doesn’t really address the underlying issue and serve any real purpose, we can train better and set up dogs up for a higher rate of success.