Training Tuesday: Good Dog!

Stephanie in Real-Life

If you know me in real life, you know I’m really bad about cleaning out my car. In general, I’m a neat-freak and an organizational nut, but there is something about my relationship with my car (her name is Dallas. Don’t ask…) that makes me feel as though my cleaning preferences do. not. apply. I’m usually so busy trying to get from Point A to Point B and making 27 stops in between, that even though it would be simple to unload my car on the way into the house, what is the point?

Anyway, the other day I totally broke character and took the time (all of about an hour. Woah.) to clean out my car. When J got home from work, I proudly showed him the fruits of my labor. Instead of the respect and admiration I was expecting, J looked at me with an amused smile on his face and said, “Steph, we don’t get rewarded for the things we are supposed to do.”

Oh. Uhhh…. Hmm. Well that’s not the way it works in dog training, is it? So why should my life be any different? He didn’t buy into my argument, but he also didn’t comment when I served myself an extra helping of ice cream that night, so I guess that’s sort of the same thing. Whatever.

Dogs in Real-Life

Of course, like everything else in my life, I began to relate the experience to dogs. This got me to thinking about dog training. In my opinion, one of the biggest mistakes made by the average dog owners I encounter, is that they fail to use every opportunity to reward positive behavior elicited by their pet.

Of course, during a focused training session, most conscientious owners would typically be prepared with treats or other reinforcements. However, I think that it is important to remember that even daily behaviors that have not been offered in response to a request, should be rewarded. For example, if you have a dog that is always underfoot in the kitchen, it will be to your benefit if you offer him food whenever he chooses to lay on his bed in the living room as opposed to being in the kitchen with you.


 Remember, we want to approach issues with our pups by asking “What behavior do I want to see?” as opposed to “How do I make my dog stop this negative behavior?” Dogs are practical creatures, and so they repeat what works. They do not choose to be stubborn or vindictive… because those things don’t serve them! Because of this logical canine approach, it is so much easier to reinforce behavior than it is to eliminate it. If we take this approach to dog training, not only are we going to see positive results, but we are also going to improve our relationships with our dogs. If training is consistently about rewarding our dogs for good behavior, we will be molding dogs who are that much more willing to figure out what they can do to elicit a favorable response from us. Training becomes fun and relationship-building!

The only way to discourage a behavior you don’t want, aside from being forceful (which, remember, we will never advocate!) is to ignore it. While ignoring the behavior and thereby removing attention can be an effective technique, it is not as instantaneous and does require repetition. If we instead focus on reinforcing the behavior that we do want, it becomes increasingly clear to the dog what behavior earns them the reward that they desire.  Remember, dogs are practical creatures… they will repeat what works!


Thank goodness dogs are not like people, because I can promise you that offering myself an extra bowl of ice cream did not equate to a cleaner car the rest of the week. (Darn it, J and your wisdom.) But I can also verify that regularly offering our dogs rewards for staying out of the kitchen, or getting along amicably, or respecting our space, or waiting before going through the door, or staying quiet when visitors come to the door, results in appropriate behavior when those situations arise in the future. I guess you could say that my dogs are smarter (or at least, more trainable) than am I. 😉


First of all: Happy Thanksgiving, friends! I hope you are all enjoying the holiday, in whatever way is meaningful to you. Thanksgiving has always, always been my most favorite of days. Typically, we visit my family in Virginia, which is so special because it is the only time of year that we all get together in one place. I honestly feel like every year, I have even more blessings to count than the year before. This year is no exception, and I truly believe I am the luckiest person in the world. Sure, in a perfect world there are things I might change about my life, but if we choose to look at our lives from a perspective of thankfulness, it is so much easier to be happy and grateful and satisfied.

Along those lines, I spoke earlier this week about our struggles with Kingston’s separation anxiety. Well, I actually flew down to Virginia on Sunday, while Jonathan stayed in Pennsylvania with all of the pups. He just drove down to meet me last night, with Tonka and Kingston as his copilots (Gaige and Georgia stayed home with our awesome pet sitter). I have to be honest friends… until they finally arrived, I had been experiencing some pretty strong separation anxiety of my own! This is the first time visiting my family without either my own pups or my parents’ dogs around. However, as the saying goes, how lucky am I to have someone to love, who makes saying goodbye so hard? It certainly makes for super-sweet reunions. Can you all remind me of these words when it comes time to say goodbye to Kingston? Ugggggh.

Here are some photos of our time together thus far. For the record, Kingston helped us rescue a little lost Shi Tzu we found during our morning walk. The poor thing had just had surgery and had the cone to prove it!

Happy Thanksgiving, friends 🙂 I hope you know how thankful I am for all of you.

He was enthralled by the dog show… Maybe his vision isn’t as poor as we thought!

Even the pups have place cards!

ALL of the boys practicing their knife skills.

My mom is a professional dog spoiler… She calls them her grand puppies!


Training Tuesday: How to Survive Separation Anxiety

…and not lose your marbles (or your spouse) in the process!

(Scroll to the bottom if you don’t care to read about our experience, and would rather check out our list of tips!)

DSC_0009It is no secret that Kingston has dealt with separation anxiety since he first came to live in the AFM5 household. Perhaps he had some sort of constant companionship where he lived previously, or maybe he just thinks we are so fantastic that the thought of being apart from us sends him into a panic. We can’t say for sure the origin of this issue, but panic he does, and our house suffers most for it.

If you’ve never dealt  with a dog who had issues with separation anxiety, then count your shimmery, shiny, (undamaged) lucky stars because it is NOT fun, not for anyone involved. And it’s not just the property damage, the expense, or the grumpy husband… it’s also the awareness that just your absence sends this animal into a state of sheer panic. Couple that with the fact that this pup is planned as only a temporary addition to your family, and you can understand why things get so complicated.

Some of you may remember that nothing about Kingston’s arrival was planned. I was contacted by someone who knew of his abuse, but couldn’t help or get him the medical care he needed. Of course there wasn’t much thought involved… I needed to do whatever I could to assist him. But when you are on emergency time, you aren’t exactly setting yourself up for success. When I finally got Kingston safeuly into our home, we were at a loss as to where to put him. We knew he wasn’t crate-trained, and we planned to practice a two-week de-stress, which would require that he stay separate from the rest of our animals. He seemed pretty quiet and lethargic, but we were told that he was a puppy, and we all know that puppies chew. So we set up our small, finished basement for him to be as comfortable as possible. We included a cozy bed, water, and plenty of toys. The first time we left him was for a few hours the day we brought him home. I know, not ideal, but remember that this wasn’t part of a ‘plan’ and we do have other commitments. We came home to a few ‘accidents,’ but no property damage, so we chalked it up to a house-training issue.

For the first few days, the worst thing Kingston did was panic DURING our departures, and force his way through the door as we tried to exit. Thankfully when he ‘escaped,’ he didn’t go far, considering that his destination was simply wherever I was. However, this repeated dance was anxiety-inducing for all of us.

To solve this problem, I worked on training a ‘stay’ with Kingston. He couldn’t ‘sit’ so well, due to the femur break, so it was a nice way for us to bond over some simple obedience.  This worked well for the physical act of leaving, but it was at this point that he began performing custom carpentry… see below for evidence.

IMG_2404Note: actual removal of  door frames

At this point, it became clear that I needed to dedicate myself to crate-training Kingston. In the past, we had always crate-trained our dogs, even in my childhood, and they had all treated their kennels as their ‘dens’. I had never had a dog that gave me an issue with relaxing in their crate. Nevertheless, I took the process slowly. At first, Kingston was only expected to eat his meals or treats in his kennel, and with the door open. Slowly but surely, I began closing the kennel door and sitting with him for short, increasing increments of time. He was always relatively calm at these times, but the second I walked away, he became a dinosaur.

dinosaur-rawr-dinosaur-club-15762329-480-313No, seriously.

The noises, guys. I wish I could relay them in picture-form. If we had neighbors, they would rank it somewhere between a puppy-torture chamber, and the return of Jurassic Park. Add that to the rocking-and-rattling of his kennel (he flipped it more than once) and you would have about 1% of the noise that this dog created.

It was at this point that we realized we needed to step up our game. We tried Kongs, food puzzles, Rescue Remedy, the Thundershirt, Happy Traveler treats, and DAP diffusers, all to varying levels of success, but nothing hit the ball out of the park.

Disclaimer: This happened while wearing his thundershirt, sniffing the DAPs, absorbing the remedies, and letting his foster sister out of her kennel...

Disclaimer: This happened while wearing his thundershirt, sniffing the DAPs, absorbing the remedies, and letting his foster sister out of her kennel…

As gradually as I tried to proceed with the crate-training for Kingston’s sake, at one point I was given advice that I was taking it too slowly.  It was at this point that I added 3 carabiner clips to his kennel, and left him. For approximately 30 minutes. When I came home, it was to a totally dismantled kennel and a very. outside of said kennel. Not fun, not for anyone. (I will not share those photos, you can thank me later.)

At this point, I was advised by that same person to visit our veterinarian for anxiety medications, and so we made an appointment with the vet. She seemed to be unfamiliar with medicating for anxiety issues, but prescribed Kingston with Prozac. The very first day I gave this to him, all was well. It didn’t seem to have any affect on his anxiety, but it is said that these medications can take weeks to work. However, that night I was awoken multiple times within every hour by a dog who would.not.stop.itching. I panicked that his fleas had returned, but closer inspection (light ON) revealed a dog truly covered in hives. We’re talking no less than one hundred red, inflamed, itchy bumps all over little K’s body, from the top of his head to his twinkly toes and his tail! Truly the ONLY thing that had changed in Kingston’s environment was the medication.


I decided that it was time to call in a professional trainer. The vet had been little to no help, and I knew that even if we were able to find a way to manage his anxiety, it would probably flare whenever he went to his new home. I wanted to be sure that the steps I was taking were correct, so that I could arm his new family with the proper tools to ensure success.

I will spare you the drama that ensued, but it was then outright stated that by me not immediately choosing a second medication (I didn’t know which one to pick, neither did the vet, and I was worried about another allergic reaction. ‘Let’s just spin in a circle until we land on one to try,’ is not my preferred method of veterinary treatment. Sorrynotsorry.) that I was neglecting Kingston and his condition. OH hailnaw, ain’tnobodygottimefo’that. Thankfully, I reached out to Beth McGonigal, force-free dog trainer extraordinaire, and I am so glad that I did. (Thank you to A Positive Promise and all of you who donated funds for helping to make this possible!)

The first thing Beth asked was for me to give her a detailed list of the ‘symptoms‘ of Kingston’s anxiety, or what I saw that, to me, equaled anxiety. This is the list I gave her:

  • Excessive drooling
  • Shaking, trembling
  • Strange vocalization (not barking)
  • ‘Velcro-dog’
  • Won’t eat
  • Destruction of doors and doorframes
  • Some urinating/defecating

Beth also asked what we have done to try to combat the issues, and you can see this list below:

  • Calming Music
  • Bach’s Rescue Remedy (natural herbal anti anxiety)
  • Crate training (panics more)
  • Frozen filled kongs
  • Thundershirt
  • Prescription anti-anxiety meds (allergic reaction)
  • Training (leaving him alone for short amounts of time, rewarding quiet behavior, extending the amount of time he is alone by small increments, etc)
  • Baby gates instead of closed doors
  • Leaving another dog with him (while both are crated)
  • Food puzzles/treat dispensers to burn off some energy

Of that list, the only one that had a notable impact on his anxiety level was when we left Gaige with him. However, he then directed his attention to breaking her out of her kennel, which he was successfully able to do on more than one occasion.

After coming to our home and evaluating Kingston, Beth gave us some great feedback on what we were doing right, where we could improve, and some new tricks to try. The most successful of those was to purchase an airline crate, in place of his current metal one. This has helped immensely, simply by Kingston learning that his attempts to break out are unsuccessful, and he is rewarded (by treats, praise, or freedom!) when he is calm and quiet in it. Beth also said that in her years of experience, she has only ever resorted to psycho-medications for ONE dog, and that pup would randomly attack inanimate (and also totally animate) objects to the death. So there’s that.

When in doubt, get a cat to keep your anxious dog company. That ALWAYS works.

When in doubt, get a cat to keep your anxious dog company. That ALWAYS works.

While we are not at a point where Kingston’s anxiety is ‘cured’ (and we may never truly get there!) we can safely say that it is being properly managed. Here are some tips and tricks we’d like to share with all of you, many of which were inspired by the things we learned from Beth. She was gracious enough to allow us to share them with all of you (have we mentioned, she’s the best?!)


1. Analyze His Behavior

The first thing you need to do is properly analyze your pup’s behavior, in order to identify their triggers. When are they displaying these behaviors? Is it only when a specific person leaves, or anytime they are alone? If the behavior occurs due to a specific person(s) leaving, this is termed Separation Anxiety. However, if it occurs whenever alone, it is actually referred to as Isolation Distress. In Kingston’s case, even in the presence of the trainer, he still exhibited mild to moderate anxiety when Foster Dad and I left the room. Therefore, his behavior can accurately be termed Separation Anxiety. However, as he is also more comfortable with Gaige in the room as opposed to being totally alone, he also has Isolation Distress.

While analyzing their behavior, write down the list of ‘symptoms’ you see, as I did above. This will help you or a training professional to identify the severity of the anxiety, and therefore an appropriate treatment plan. Our trainer identified Kingston’s SA as mild to moderate, and his ID as moderate to severe.

2. Research & Modify the Environment

Using our tips above, books, or even just the handy-dandy google search, come up with some approaches that have worked for other owners in dealing with SA and ID. If you have a dog with ID or SA, you have probably already modified the environment in some way. You should ensure that they are safe, even if they were to escape from their crate or kennel. This means putting up anything hazardous or dangerous.

One reason some dogs exhibit SA/ID is due to lack of enrichment in their environment. By providing them with various sounds, smells, etc you can sometimes relay the anxiety. In addition to the ones I have listed above, you can try these below:

  • Sound/Sight: Experiment with TV vs classical music, etc.
  • Sight: Having access to a window may help some dogs, while it may make the anxiety worse for others.
  • Sight: For some dogs, it is simply the element of the closed door that causes the panic. In this instance, try utilizing baby gates or other similar barriers. You may also try placing the dog’s kennel in an area where they are unable to see you leave.
  • Sight: Lights on vs. lights off or blanket covering the kennel.
  • Smell: Leaving the dog with a piece of worn clothing that smells like the owner
  • Smell: DAP (Dog-Appeasing Pheromone). These are wall plug-ins (diffused) or collars (concentrated) that give off pheromones similar to the ones a lactating female dog would produce, which calms dogs under stress.
  • Touch: Constricting jackets like the Thundershirt have been shown to calm some dogs.
  • Taste: Some dogs do better when left with food or other yummy treats like a Kong or special bone.

Other things to try:

  • I would personally always recommend enclosing an anxious dog in a kennel of some sort. This is as much for their safety as it is for the sake of your home. A plastic airline crate is not only more durable and escape-proof, but it also can offer a more den-like environment for some dogs, as opposed to the cage-like metal kennels. Try to make their kennel as comfortable and appealing as possible.
  • Burn off energy: this can be as straight-forward as a run or walk before you leave the dog alone, or more creative like utilizing treat-puzzles and other enrichment.
  • Medication: Perhaps for some dogs, medication is a necessary option. However, it can’t hurt to at least try herbal remedies, such as Bach’s Rescue Remedy or Happy Traveler treats. If conventional medication is the avenue you’d like to try, simply be sure to consult regularly with your vet on any changes in your dog’s physical or mental state.
  • Companionship: If you have another pet who is more calm and balanced, and if the two animals share a mutually-positive relationship, experiment with leaving them in some sort of proximity to one another. Note: I never recommend leaving any animals, even the most cohesive, free in a home when no one is there to observe. Of course this is just my personal opinion, but I think that doing so needlessly opens up the possibility of a scuffle, fight, injury or other issue.

3. Record the Results and Utilize Training

Experiment with the various options above, and others you may have gathered, first by utilizing them when you are home. This not only allows you to observe any changes in behavior, but also allows the dog to acclimate to the new modifications while in your presence, which may make them more relaxed and accepting. You can then proceed to ‘pretending’ to leave, while observing or listening from behind closed doors. Eventually you will be able to truly leave for short durations, and slowly increase the length of your time away from the home. Be sure to record what works in order to refer to it later, or share with your trainer!

If you have graduated to leaving your dog alone from any distance or for any length of time, only return when the dog is displaying appropriate behavior (no vocalization or destruction). This is their reward for behaving correctly!

Important: While some say that a schedule is crucial for dogs with anxiety, I could not disagree more. The best thing you can do for your anxious dog is vary your schedule and the length of time spent away from the home. This shows them that no matter how long you are gone, that you will always return, and they will gradually begin to become comfortable during your absence. Vary the time the dog is left in the crate, even in the beginning, from 5 minutes to 30 seconds back to 5 minutes to an hour.

One thing that worked well for Kingston was crating him in the same room where Georgia and Gaige were crated. If he began vocalizing or misbehaving while the other dogs were quiet, we would let the girls out while leaving him kenneled. He began to recognize that appropriate behavior was rewarded, and soon followed suit.

4. Stay Positive

As frustrating as it can be to deal with your dog’s anxiety, and the destruction that may follow, try to stay positive. There IS a light at the end of the tunnel, even if it does require the help of your vet or the assistance of a trainer. Recognize that his or her anxiety, while certainly unnecessary, stems from some sort of fear or trauma. Remember that by becoming angry with your dog, you will only exacerbate their panic. Try to make your departures as positive and enjoyable as possible.

carrie101 Things to Do with a Box was a REALLY fun clicker-training game Beth suggested that we play with Kingston. I had played it once before with our service-dog-in-training, Carrie. It can work well for a dog with SA/ID, or any dog who could use a little extra confidence!

5. Remember every dog is different

While it can be helpful to reach out to others for advice or support, don’t let anyone strong-arm you into trying something that you do not feel is right or necessary for your dog, especially if they aren’t there to witness the behavior firsthand. What works for other dogs may work for yours, but it is just as likely that it will not. No dog has the same genetics, cognitive abilities, coping mechanisms, early development, or environment. If you put your dog’s best interests first, you can be sure to identify a management program that works best for you and your family.

6. There is no ‘cure’

Remember that there is no magic cure for SA/ID. Rather, your goal should be to find a way to manage the behavior so that it inflicts the least damage on your lifestyle and environment, and of course, your dog. By setting up an environment in which your dog feels most comfortable (and I don’t mean a fancy dog bed!) they will begin to relax even in your absence, until you see the negative behavior regularly dissipating. This does not mean that the behavior is cured forever, so be aware that if the environment changes (move homes, go on vacation, etc) the behavior may reappear.

7. Reach out to a Trainer

If all else fails, please do not hesitate to reach out to a force-free trainer like Beth. Even if you have tried all of the above, they will still have a bag full of tricks  to try. Not only that, but dealing with SA/ID can be very frustrating. It is nice to have someone there who can remind you of all you have done WELL! The right trainer truly creates a partnership that will ensure success in your household, and we can’t thank Beth enough for having done that for us.

Kingston & Beth

Kingston & Beth

Beth McGonigal: North Pittsburgh Animal Behavior

Don’t VICTIMIZE My Breed!

We’ve all heard the phrase “Don’t Bully my Breed!” in regards to pit bulls and other types of dogs that are typically the recipients of stereotypes. I get it… people are tired of their dogs being the subject of misinformed accusations and outright lies. However, I’m here to tell you that while I get the reasoning behind it, that’s NOT what we should be saying. Confused? Stick with me.

What well-intentioned ‘advocates’ don’t realize, is that by reminding people not to bully their breed, they aren’t actually changing minds and opening hearts… what they are really doing is reminding those fence-sitters (the people who don’t know much about pit bull dogs, or haven’t established a position on them) that there are a lot of people out there who don’t like them. And if a lot of people don’t like these dogs, why would they want to adopt one? There has to be some truth behind it, right? Of course, we know that isn’t the case, but you wouldn’t convince them of that, not by that statement alone anyhow.

By reminding people that pit bulls are more likely to be euthanized in shelters, we also remind them that there must be something ‘wrong’ with these dogs.

By exaggerating how many pit bulls are abused and used for things like dog fighting, we remind them that there must be something ‘different’ about these dogs.

By talking about how pit bulls are so much better than other types, we remind them that there is something ‘unique’ about these dogs.

By comparing pit bull bite estimations to those of smaller breeds, we remind them that it is okay to judge all dogs based only upon breed.

By talking about how great all pit bulls are with kids, we remind them of all the dogs who were supposed to be, and weren’t.

By saying that “it’s all in how they’re raised!” we remind them that dogs who weren’t raised well, don’t deserve a chance.

By coming across as wacky pit bull people, we remind them that there is something ‘strange’ about us, and our affinity for these types of dogs.


Think about the day after the Super Bowl: nobody wants to buy the loser’s T shirt. The same can be said for shelter dogs. Sure, bleeding-hearts and the people who are embroiled in the day-to-day sorrows of animal rescue are going to be best-sold on the sob stories. But what about the real families, the college students, the retired couples? THOSE are the people to whom we want to market our adoptable dogs! And what are they looking for in a pet? They are looking for an addition to their family, a pup that will sleep in bed with their kids and go on hikes every weekend. They want a dog they can take on vacation or whose silly antics will entertain their friends at a party. The average, awesome family is not going to be interesting in taking on a dog with ‘issues,’ so why do we keep marketing our dogs to people just like us? We are ‘protecting’ our dogs from people who may not be perfect by first application-perusal, but all of that might be nothing a little information and conversation can’t fix. And while we are denying applications based on age or income or lack of experience, other amazing dogs are dying every day in the shelter. Guys, we as a society of animal rescuers, are protecting our dogs to death.


Research has shown that any instance of negative marketing has a tendency to result in psychic numbing. When we frame our dogs as an overwhelming problem or negative abstraction, rather than individuals who bring value to our communities, the public is always going to turn the other way. They will walk away from your marketing thinking ‘This hurts” or “This is unpleasant” as opposed to imagining the added benefit to their lives with a new family pet.


In professional marketing, there is a saying that ‘Sadness repels, and happiness sells.’ Let’s start taking a positive approach to marketing our adoptable dogs. Think about the products that possess marketing tactics that draw you in. Do their advertisements make you feel guilty for not purchasing their product, or rather make you imagine how much better your life would be with that product in it? Of course! And aren’t there about 1,257,832 reasons our adoptable pups would make fantastic pets? Then why aren’t we focusing on that?! It’s not as if we can’t come up with amazing reasons to adopt! In order to find adopters who are truly a great fit for our pups, we need to focus on selling our dogs, not their stories.


Let’s stop unintentionally doing such a disservice to our dogs. Let’s stop marketing to ourselves, and instead focus on all the reasons the public would be lucky to have our adoptable dogs in their lives. There are only about a billion to choose from!



Einstein Ain’t Got Nothin’ On Tonk!

It’s time for me to be honest, friends. I have a problem. It started out innocently enough, but it is something that has been worsening over the past 5+ years, and I can’t seem to get it under control. It has become an obsession of inappropriate proportions. When I’m not in close proximity to it, I talk about it, and when I’m not talking about it, I’m thinking about it. It can be incredibly embarrassing, and is interfering with some of my relationships. Most of you probably know what I’m talking about…

I’m obsessed with my dog.

Seriously though. I think Tonka is the bomb-dot-com, and I’m not afraid to let everyone know all the reasons why! Forget the ‘My child is an honors student’ bumper stickers… my dog is WAY smarter than your honors student! But whereas my bragging has always been very much subjective (or so I’m told…) I have finally found a verified tactic to support all of my obnoxious claims: that’s where Dognition comes in!

Dognition is a website designed by specialized canine scientists to evaluate your dog’s personality and intelligence. By putting your pup through his paces in the form of interactive games, Dognition intends to give you further insight into the intricacies of your dog’s preferences and learning style. More than that, the results of these games can be graphically compared to other Dognition dogs, as a whole or based on specifics such as gender, breed, or size. Dognition claims that this is a fun way to learn more about your pet while increasing your bond and relationship. Even more importantly, they believe what sets them apart is their example of ‘citizen science’ – their research can be conducted by everyone, not just people with Ph.D.s! This allows collaboration with dogs and owners all around the world, achieving a much quicker, broader (not to mention more natural and humane) understanding about dogs than what researchers would be able to do on their own.

Picture 3

Of course, I couldn’t wait to get started with Tonka… After inputting his various physical statistics, as well as uploading a picture, we were ready to get started with their basic survey. This included questions about Tonka’s typical behavior and preferences. Some of the questions were pretty straightforward and logical as to their purpose (Does your dog typically get along with other dogs?) whereas others were a little more curious (Does your dog typically tangle his leash on your walks?) I was expecting that the completion of this survey would result in an initial baseline evaluation, but it did not.

Picture 8

Nevertheless, the next step was to begin the series of games! They were broken up into 5 categories with various time estimates: Empathy, Communication, Cunning, Memory, and Reasoning.

Picture 10

Each section suggested using a quiet room, free from distractions and other pets, as well as treats and a (human) partner. While it was fun to complete this with J, I would say that for a dog as perfect as Tonka (I told you, addiction is a disease. I can’t help it!) it probably isn’t necessary to have extra help. Some of the games also required miscellaneous household items, such as cups or sticky notes.

We only had time to complete the first three sections, and we had mixed reviews. It was fun to give Tonka some dedicated focus, and I can guarantee that he relished the one-on-one time. It was also nice to be able to see just how awesome he is (there I go again)… but seriously, I think any dog owner would be proud while watching their pup navigate their way through the games. The results seem to attempt to put a positive spin on any behavior, in order to help owners see the best in their pups.

My only frustration mostly resulted in the fact that there really wasn’t much feedback after each section was completed. While it was nice to see what Tonka’s results were, there wasn’t much explanation as to how the statistical data we reported resulted in their evaluations or why they came to those conclusions. The first two sections were very straight forward: for Empathy, Tonka scored high on the side of bonded, as opposed to individualistic, and for Communication, he scored high on the side of collaborative as opposed to self-reliant.


Then we came to the Cunning portion. Essentially, the dogs were required, through a various set of circumstances, to stay in a sit while in the presence of a tasty treat. They were NOT to take the treat, even when we looked away or turned our backs or did a number of other designated behaviors, until they were given a release. Tonka, of course (guys, I seriously can’t control it) aced it every time… not ONCE did he go for the treat without my consent. However, even after I input this information, they told me that on a scale from trustworthy to wily, he scored directly in the middle. I still can’t figure out how with his perfect score, they came to that conclusion! I trust him more than I trust my husband KIDDING… but seriously.

My few concerns were answered willingly and warmly by a Dognition representative. She acknowledged that the team at Dognition works daily to make improvements as they receive new feedback from satisfied and interested customers. One of the things at the top of their priority list is just what I mentioned: giving additional feedback following each section of the assessment. If Dognition is this awesome as a start-up, just imagine what it will become as it grows and develops in the future!

This was a fun way to spend an evening with two of my favorite guys, and I think that Dognition is on to something great. One of my favorite things about Dognition as a company are their philanthropic efforts toward shelter animals. The Dognition Shelter Program aims to spotlight dogs who may be more commonly overlooked, perhaps due to special restrictions or other ‘less-desirable’ qualities. By quantitatively evaluating and recognizing these dogs for their other unique and appealing traits, the DSP has demonstrated incredible success in finding homes for them. What a great way to give the dogs some fun attention and enrichment, while providing an individualized resume for prospective adopters!


Dognition has various options of enrollment, including a one-time fee ($19), monthly charges, or a yearly membership. If you are interested (and who wouldn’t be?!) Dognition has generously offered our readers 25% off of the yearly membership. All you have to do is enter this code: Tonka20

Let me know what you think! Have you tried, or even heard of Dognition before? If so, where do your dogs stand against the rest of the pack?

Playing Nurse

Yesterday was the date of Kingston’s surgery in which they removed the pin that had been stabilizing his fracture. It is such a relief to know that he is one step closer to recovery. While he is, of course, uncomfortable, this surgery should have a much quicker recovery time. Before we know it he will be able to run and play like a little pup again! (Gaige will be thrilled!)

The original X-ray image

The original X-ray image

I dropped him off for the surgery yesterday morning around 8, but not before going in for the pre-surgery consultation. The good news? Kingston’s fracture site had produced a large amount of calcification, which should be helpful in strengthening the leg and protecting it against future breaks. The doctor (who was amazing, guys! So much better than our last experience…) was confident that Kingston should be able to live a relatively normal life, without worry of re-injury in the future.


Nervous Nelson…

The bad news? Most likely a mix of his past, as well as the traumatic visits to the vet for surgeries and other uncomfortable procedures, has resulted in a dog who is displaying fear-reactive behaviors when at the vet. Can you imagine having suffered a traumatic life, and then meeting the only people who have ever cared for you? Then these people leave you in a scary place, with strange people and new smells, where you are locked away. Those strange people do things to you that make you nauseous and cause you pain, and you have no idea why! Now, as soon as we arrive at the vet, poor Kingston becomes a trembling mess, and then growls and barks whenever anyone but me tries to come close to his hideout in the corner. While he never tries to aggress or snap at anyone, this behavior is still something we want to resolve for everyone’s comfort. Thankfully, the doctors and staff were incredibly understanding, gentle, and cautious with our little guy. When I left him, his tail was wagging as he walked away with an awesome technician who remembered him from past appointments (where he’d been fine!). When I asked if I could make an appointment once he had healed, simply to allow him to come ‘hang out’ and ensure a positive experience, they were more than willing to make it happen. Do you have a dog that is fearful of the vet? Try asking if you can schedule a few appointments with the technicians! Most likely they will be more than happy to oblige you in puppy cuddles during their lunch break! Kingston is an endlessly loving and affectionate dog, and so I have every confidence that this behavior is nothing a little bit of positivity can’t remedy.

What’s crazy about all of this? When I went to pick him up, I spoke with the manager. I asked her how Kingston had been for the staff, and she looked at me like I was crazy. She laughed and told me that in fact, she really needed me to get him out of there, because none of her techs were getting any work done! She said that every time they passed his kennel, every one of them had to stop and have a quick snuggle. She said he was the most affectionate and popular dog she’d seen come through the clinic! So that leads me to wonder if his antics weren’t more in defense of me, since they seem to disappear when I’m not around…


I feel so blessed to be a part of this little dog’s journey to happily-ever-after. He really is a special one, friends. As always, thanks for joining us on his adventures 🙂

Training Tuesday: Building Relationships

My approach to dog training is not altogether different from my approach to my human relationships. Because that is what my interactions with dogs are… relationships. You must give love (or kindness, or respect, etc), to receive it in return, and you must be more focused on what you put in than you are on what you receive. This approach largely explains why I believe that force-free dog training is the best way.

Tonka loves to learn!

Tonka loves to learn!

Relationship Reinforcing

I fully recognize that a more heavy-handed approach is still very much prevalent in our society. Why? Because of Caesar Milan. Because it works. A dog is afraid of punishment, afraid of pain, afraid of the one in charge, so they operate in whatever way necessary to avoid these things. Science has proven that these approaches do not work long-term in real-life, but they do produce results of indeterminate length or consistency. Using punishment to stop behaviors is nothing new. But notice, I use the word ‘stop‘, as opposed to the word ‘teach‘. We can stop any behavior, but I am more interested in teaching my dogs to choose the behavior I seek. If we utilize intimidation and physical punishment, have we truly stopped the underlying behavior issue, or simply made our dog fearful of our reactions to their instincts? I never force, but I always give my dogs a choice, or at least the illusion of such. They make the right choice because they trust me, because I do not hurt them, because I keep them safe, because I make it easier than the wrong, and because the outcome is enjoyable. They make this choice because while training, we establish a relationship and a partnership. They do not just aim to avoid pain… they aim to please.

Even a game of fetch should have fun rules... consider them bargaining points!

Even a game of fetch should have fun rules… consider them bargaining points!

Training Across the Species

Some of you may know that I am as active in horse training as I am in dog training. One thing that is important to remember is that appropriate training practices should be able to be applied successfully to any species, at least as far as your approach and methodology. Do we want to have to rely on disciplining a large or dangerous animal when they have displayed a poor behavior? Of course not, because it might be too late! It might also result in frustration on the part of the animal, which can lead to aggression. Instead, we as the trainer need to be managing the situation and environment during our training sessions in order to avoid the occurrence of the bad behavior in the first place. When in doubt, ask yourself… would I want to tell my horse “No”? What about my elephant or my tiger?!

Awesome infographic from

Awesome infographic from

Pets as Robots?

Punishment-based methods can work. In the right settings and with uniquely tempered dogs, they can produce animals that respond quickly and correctly. In effect, they produce animals that perform. If we train our dogs like machines, with cold punishment and little reward, they will operate in like fashion… with detachment and avoidance. What those methods cannot do, is contribute to building relationships. And why do dogs exist in our lives, if not to be our family members and friends, guardians and partners, cuddlers and playmates?  Rather, if we embrace the natural abilities and traits of our dogs as individuals or as a species, we will create a partnership with a free-willed and independent animal who chooses to do anything in its power to please us. And that is more powerful to me than any other force.

No Effort Dog Training… What?!

While food can be a fantastic motivator to many dogs, it is certainly not the only one. My favorite reward to use with my own dogs are non-food reinforcers, or functional rewards. This allows the dog to tell us what their preferred reward would be. Have a reactive dog who likes to approach other dogs rudely while on a walk? (Provided that the reactivity is not fear-based…) Don’t allow the dog to move toward their trigger unless they are calm and quiet. This approach is used commonly as a parenting practice: you want your teenager to clean their room, and it is a regular battle. Once you find their functional reward (they want to go to the movies with their friends) you prevent them from achieving their reward (movie) until they have performed the desired behavior (cleaning). Make sense? This type of functional training is especially effective, because it doesn’t require you setting aside time for obedience, getting out the clicker and treats, setting up the environment, etc. While that is productive, it isn’t something that the average owner makes time for each day. Functional training is something that is simple to apply in your daily life and schedule, and will directly equate to a dog who is a more compatible addition to your family’s lifestyle, because you use everyday scenarios to improve your dog’s behavior.

By recognizing and utilizing your dogs’ natural behaviors, traits, and preferences, you can be a step ahead in your training. Exploit the fact that your dog’s life is full of rewards! Think of all the pleasurable activities you control access to, and use them to help your dog earn his rewards by displaying good behavior. For example, have a dog who loves to play fetch? Require every session to be a training opportunity. Before the ball is thrown, they must sit, and before it is taken, they must come when called and ‘drop it’ on command. If they fail to respond appropriately, the play session ends. Proper obedience doesn’t always have to take place in formal classes or structured sessions… it can (and should!) be as simple as incorporating cues and rewards into your everyday routines.

Georgia has learned to 'offer' a sit when she is in doubt as to what is expected of her

Georgia has learned to ‘offer’ a sit when she is in doubt as to what is expected of her

Offering Behavior

Think about traditional dog training. The handler verbalizes a ‘command,’ perhaps coupled with a a hand motion. The dog is then supposed to reply with the corresponding behavior. The problem with this, is these training sessions do not always automatically relay to our everyday lives. For example, we want our dogs to sit for attention when guests come into our home, but how do we ‘train’ this in a traditional obedience session? As you are greeting your guests, do you want to also have to command your dog to sit amidst the confusion? To your dog, these are two entirely different scenarios, and the application may not be evident. If we teach our dogs through everyday interactions to ‘offer’ behaviors without a command, and withhold their functional reward until they do so, we are more likely to see these behaviors relayed in everyday events. Remember, dogs are functional beings, and they repeat what works. The dog has learned that jumping and barking = being ignored, while sitting quietly = praise and attention, and so they will repeat it, even in the presence of guests (just make sure your guests are ‘trained’ as well!)

Have confidence in the cognitive abilities of your pup… once you have successfully requested the desired behavior a few times, approach the next session with the goal that you will try to let them figure it out before jumping in and making commands. This gives your dog a chance to demonstrate what you’ve taught them, and teaches them to use their brains to solve the puzzle, by independent figuring out how to appropriately get whatever it is that they desire.

It is important to remember that if we punish our dogs for inappropriate behavior, they are going to be less likely to want to try to offer a behavior on their own. This technique requires a dog who is balanced and confident in his or her relationship with you as the owner or handler, and will never work in conjunction with forceful training practices.


Today’s challenge is to focus on one area of your dog’s behavior that is particularly frustrating. Instead of correcting them when they display an inappropriate behavior, make a choice not to allow them the opportunity to act poorly in the first place, and then focus on the reward. Try to allow them to offer the behavior without making the request. Have a dog that rushes past you through doors, or is pushy during feeding time? Their reward is as simple as the thing that they seek, which makes your job very easy! Withhold the ‘reward’ until they have offered an appropriate behavior, such as a sit. Having a dog with good manners is as easy as making them a habit throughout your daily life.