Blogs, Creating a Happy, Healthy Life, Planning for a New Dog

Dog Trainers Make Me Happy!

When I picked up little eight-week-old Jackson to bring him home, one of the things to which I agreed was that I would take him to obedience school. I happily agreed, partially because even though I had lived with dogs my entire life I had not had a puppy in fifteen years, and partially because my breeder was in the process of becoming the person in the dog community who I respected and trusted above all others. However, in the back of my mind, I thought, "Well, it will be a nice refresher but I'm sure I know everything I need to know to train this puppy!"

Oh, how wrong I was about that!

You see, my hubby and I could have trained Jackson to sit, lay down, stay, come when called, and walk nicely on a leash without help. I think we could have pulled it off on our own and we would have raised a nice dog. I mean, we haven't had a class on raising the human kids and they're all turning out ok.

The thing is, though, why try to wrangle dog training on your own when there are these extraordinary people roaming the world, looking like normal ordinary people, who are really magical wizards or fairy dog-mothers with a vast understanding of your dog's brain and body, who can teach you how to give your dog the best possible life ever? 

I seem to write about the importance of working with a professional trainer each and every time I sit down to write a blog, and there is a reason for that. I firmly believe that dog trainers can help owners solve a massive amount of the issues that lead to owner surrenders. Not to mention, not only is the dog owner happier when their dog is nicely trained and knows the rules of the house, but the dog is happier when she knows what is expected of her and how to approach each situation!

You see, the whole reason we love dogs so much is the same thing that makes some people throw up their hands and think that life with that particular dog is impossible: they cannot speak English, and their brains work differently than ours. It is the proverbial blessing and a curse.

Honestly, aside from the fact that they are furry, adorable, walk on four legs and don't have thumbs, what really sets them apart from humans is that they live in the moment, they are not afraid to show complete and utter joy when happy, they never "get in their heads" or lie, cheat, steal. And while that is all part of what makes us love them, it makes it so that a lot of humans have a hard time teaching them things. But dog trainers know how the canine brain works, and their superpower is acting as a translator between humans and dogs to help everyone get on the same page!

What I love the most about watching dog trainers in action, at least the ones who use a positive reinforcement, reward-based approach, is that they are so calm and easy going and make training your dog seem so easy, and how it really can be that easy if you just follow their instructions! In fact, the inspiration behind this post is that last weekend I was "booth-neighbors" at a local dog rescue fundraising event with a trainer from the same facility where I trained both Jackson and Tinkerbell. As we ran our booths in the vendor area, I spent much of the day chatting with the trainer and basically eavesdropping on her conversations with the dog owners who were attending the event, and I realized just how happy I am to watch a trainer in action.

One family was having some sort of issue with their 3 small dogs when someone comes to the front door. I missed the first part of the conversation but I watched as the trainer so easily explained a solution in which they could train the dogs to all run to their kennels and get rewarded with treats every time the doorbell rang, so that it would break the cycle of the dogs doing whatever unwanted behavior they did at the front door. I listened as she explained how to do this, how to practice it by ringing the front door and going through the whole series of events a few times a day, and that pretty soon the dogs would just associate the doorbell ringing with running to their crates and getting food, so that they would begin to view the ringing doorbell with happiness and joy. She was so fun to watch, so relaxed, so confident in this answer and I watched as the owners had a visual "ah-ha" moment just like I have had before when working with a trainer, thinking, "Oh my gosh, that is so simple yet so genius!"

As the crowds thinned and we waited for the official booth tear down time, I laughed as I told her some of the things that my super smart Jackson had taught himself based on some of my puppy rearing practices. For example, when Jax was a puppy and he would get into stuff that was off-limits, I would tell him a firm "no" and then redirect his attention with a toy or antler, and shower him with praise and affection.

Jackson to this day remembers that sequence of behaviors, and will intentionally jump on the sofa, grab a contraband item, look at me to make sure I see him, and then start to destroy the item until I jump up, tell him "no" and watch as he wags his big thick otter tail with a mischievous doggie grin on his face, and grabs a toy for me to play with him. He has been doing this for seven years, and only touches contraband items when I am present and in the room. I can leave him in the room as I go about other activities, and he never touches a thing. It is 100% for my benefit and to get me to play.

Jax grabbing the contraband Love Laugh Woof
Jax grabbing the contraband

I have also noticed that every time the dogs play a round of Zoomies and Bitey Face, that after they are done, Jax runs to the back door and stands there to go outside. Every. Single. Time. For the longest time I thought he really had to go outside to go potty, but then I realized (when he just stood on the deck and looked at me) that he was still going through the sequence of events that we used to do when he was a puppy and we were house-training him, when the rule was that every time he got done playing, it was time for a potty break.

The funny thing is that we trained Tinkerbell exactly the same way, teaching her which items were hers and which were not, and using the same house-training method, and she learned the lessons but not this exact sequence of events. This is why we call him "Sheldon Cooper smart" because he is such a stickler for routine and absolutely the most intelligent dog I have ever met in my life. I tell him all the time that he needs to be more dog-like, but he just snorts and walks a dog.

Love Laugh Woof Blog
"Come on, Momma, come and get me!"

But back to my fabulous fangirl day watching a dog trainer at work, as I relayed the stories of Jackson's odd habits, I told her that I was trying to break the first behavior by simply ignoring him with the hope that if I did not reward him with playing, that he would stop snatching up my magazines and the remote control for the TV, but it was not working. She calmly and quickly offered up the suggestion to insert another behavior in between those 2 things, so to correct him, then have him go through some commands like sit, down, etc, and it would break the association between stealing stuff and getting momma's attention. Um...GENIUS!

I have watched other trainers in action with someone's dog who they have never met, and I just love how calm they are, how their mannerisms are so simple and yet the dogs hang onto their every word and movement and immediately seem to trust them as their leader. Just like human educators, I think these are some of the professionals who need to be paid about 20 times whatever their current salary is, because they are in possession of knowledge that can literally save the lives of dogs who were taught the wrong things early on in life or whose owners are at their wits end and about to surrender them to a shelter.

The next time you are around a dog trainer, hang back and just watch them in action, and you will see what I mean. And make sure you tell them thank you for what they do for dogs because they truly have magical powers.




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Why Every Dog Should Go To Obedience Class
Blogs, Creating a Happy, Healthy Life, Planning for a New Dog, Surviving Puppyhood

Why Every Dog Should Go To Obedience Class

Why Every Dog Should Go To Obedience Class

by Lynn Stacy-Smith

Why Every Dog Should Go To Obedience ClassThe last few weeks have been a seemingly endless stream of stories about dogs that are both frustrating and heartbreaking, including dog bites, re-homing requests, and frustrated owners with 8 month old puppies who are still not house-trained. Sadly they all have a similar theme because all of these could have been prevented or could be fixed by one thing: training. 

I have talked to a lot of people who have never taken a class with their dog or who look somewhat confused when I suggest that they take one. There is also the response “Oh, I’ve had dogs my whole life, I don’t need to take an obedience class.”

I think that sometimes there are misconceptions about what an “obedience” class is all about and what an owner can gain from attending a class with their dog, especially for people who have had dogs before or feel like they have a lot of knowledge about dogs. Actually, until Jackson was born I had never taken one either, having grown up with dogs who came to me rescued and pre-trained like my late Babe, or who were trained by my father.

Dogs have been companions to humans for so long that it seems like it should be second nature for us to live together. The reality, though, is that no matter how harmoniously we are able to live together, at the end of the day they are still another species and we can both use all the help we can get at learning how to understand each other and communicate across our separate and very different species.

Dogs are very different from humans. Their bodies are different, their minds are different, their communication methods are different, their learning requirements are different, even the structure of their brain is different as they are blessed with a whole extra area to analyze scents. Things that are acceptable in our world are rude or aggressive in theirs, similar to someone from another country in another part of the world. Just like trying to speak to a fellow human who speaks another language or has different social norms than we do, we need to learn how to speak in a language our dogs understand, learn how to understand what they are saying to us without words, and understand their cultural norms.

However, despite my analogy comparing your dog to someone from another culture in a different part of the world, a dog is also an entirely other species than we are. They are a very special, precious species that deserves to be treated well, loved for all the days of their life, and considered to be a family member, but they are not a small furry person.

Why Every Dog Should Go To Obedience ClassDog obedience school or dog training classes are first and foremost about teaching humans to teach their dogs the rules of life in a human household. In most beginner obedience classes you will learn to teach your dog how to sit, come when called, look at you when you say their name, stay, lay down, settle and start to walk nicely on a leash. Usually around six to eight weeks in duration, the beginner obedience class is just the very tip of the proverbial training iceberg!

When you find a really good dog trainer, you learn so much more than how to teach your dog how to perform those commands. Don’t get me wrong, those are the must-know commands that can literally save your dog’s life, particularly the stay or come command. But the best dog trainers teach owners about how a dog’s mind works, the importance of repetition and patience, the benefits of positive reward based training, and how to understand your dog despite being two very different species and get your dog to understand you.

The first night of my Basic Obedience class with Jackson the trainer spoke to us with made-up, random words that might not have even been actual words. Her words made literally no sense at all.  There were no dogs in the room, the first session was a human-only orientation.

She said it again, only louder. Then even louder. Then with a raised voice and anger, and asked why we could not understand her, she was speaking English! What was wrong with us that we could not understand what she was telling us?

As you might expect, this exercise was to show us what it is like to be a dog with humans randomly saying words to them and growing impatient when they do not instantly understand. It may sound silly, but that was one of the most impactful moments of all of the classes in which I participated and is something that has stuck with me during every moment working with and living with our dogs.

Different trainers have different nuggets of information and different methods that will stick with different people. Add in the fact that every dog is slightly different in terms of what motivates them, how easy or difficult they are to train, with different backgrounds and life experiences, and you arrive at the same suggestion for all dogs: that every human needs to take every one of their dogs to at least one training class and ideally several additional classes after they graduate from beginner.

Dog training classes are really about training owners to teach their dogs. Most of the class time is spent learning from the trainers, and most of your actual training time with your dog is outside of the classroom. In fact, when you do practice the commands in the classroom it is the owner who the trainer is really watching and correcting rather than the dog because the class is to train the owner how to train the dog.

When you find a good trainer you will understand how to take your training beyond basic obedience because you will know the concepts behind teaching your dog. Once you can teach her sit and stay, it’s not a far stretch to teach her other commands, to teach her tricks, to teach her games. Learning about how your dog learns will help you with socializing her, with teaching her not to bite (bite inhibition), with a variety of situations that you might encounter during your dog’s life.

Why Every Dog Should Go To Obedience ClassNot only will you forever have the skills to teach your dog and future dogs, but you will have a go-to resource should something pop up in the future. I often wonder how many dogs would not be re-homed if their owners had a relationship with a trainer so they could easily reach out when a life change happened like a new baby or the introduction of another dog into the house.

Training your dog can be a lot of fun for you and the dog as long as you are patient and realize that the fun part is for you and your dog to be learning together and to build an incredible bond together. In fact I often look for additional classes to take just for fun and I am strongly considering joining a local dog training club so that one of the dogs and I can go once a week and practice their skills, be around other dogs and dog owners with similar goals, and to continually learn from some of the amazing dog trainers that we have in our area.

If you are looking for a professional dog trainer, check with your veterinarian for recommendations.

Also check out these websites:

Association of Professional Dog Trainers (ADPT):

Karen Pryor Academy:


Blogs, Life with Jackson & Tinkerbell

Reliable Recall To The Rescue Again

When Jackson came home to us in May 2011 I decided to approach his training as if I was a brand new dog owner. Although I had grown up with dogs since I was five years old and watched my Dad train our dogs not just in obedience and household manners but also as bird hunters, the dogs I had owned as an adult had been rescued as older dogs. Jackson was the first puppy of my own to train from scratch, although because we did our due dilligence when choosing a breeder, he came to us knowing how to sit and wait and with a head start on house-training.

As soon as he had received enough of his vaccinations to be around other dogs we enrolled in puppy pre-school at our veterinarian’s office. Just like human pre-school, puppies in this course spent a few minutes working on a new command each class but spent the rest of the session playing with each other. This was a great thing because all of these puppies were certainly missing their litter mates who had been their very first playmates, plus the owners of each of those puppies could look forward to one quiet evening a week after their pups were exhausted from playing with dogs their own age.

Jackson in particular benefitted from this course because he had accidentally broken his leg at two weeks old. He and his brothers were nursing and he was positioned with his back leg under his mother’s elbow. She leaned up on her elbow and his leg caught underneath. As a result he could not roughhouse with his three brothers, so although he had been nicely socialized around other dogs and puppies, he had not engaged in much rough and tumble play.

After six weeks of puppy pre-school we enrolled at a local dog obedience school for an eight week beginner obedience class. As the weeks progressed we covered sit, down, come, look at me when I say your name, stay/wait, settle and off/leave-it.  Around the middle of the course we reached something I had not heard of before: reliable recall.

There are two schools of thought on the concept of training reliable recall. One is that your dog should come to his or her regular recall word all the time without fail, no matter when you say or, what the dog is doing, and where you are. Other trainers ackowledge that the casual dog owner is likely to overuse the come command and make their dog somewhat immune to the word. As a failsafe they teach a reliable recall word that the dog never fails to respond to that is separate from the regular recall phrase.

Although I had been raised with the understanding that your dog’s life depended on his or her willingness to come to its owner each and every time the come command was used, Jackson and I trained on this along with the rest of the class. We started off calling them with their normal command and added in their reliable recall word so that I called him by saying, “Come, Jax, danger!” We rewarded them when they got to us with the best dog party in the world: handfuls of treats, toys, praise, petting, as if it were a human’s New Year’s Eve celebration and birthday wrapped into one.

284499_10150385342932178_4104937_nI chose the word “danger” for our reliable recall word out of the suggestions that the trainers gave us because I wanted it to be extremely different from his regular recall. After a few weeks Jax was rocking this command; for all of his “hey, how YOU doin'” antics as we entered the classroom each training class (and he tried to pull me across the room to play with the three Golden Retreivers in the class) he was the best student in the class at this command. Even when receiving affection and liver treats from the trainers, as soon as I said, “danger, Jax, danger” he ran to me like a Thoroughbred on Derby day.

Over the last five years we have practiced this periodically, much to his delight. What dog would not come running when given an entire handful of treats and their favorite toy along with tons of “good boy, good boy, good, boy” with even more treats being placed directly into his willing mouth. I have only used it a handful of times before in practical use: once when the tornado sirens sounded for an actual storm and he and I were outside in the yard and once when I thought I heard coyotes too close for comfort outside our fence and he was meandering around giving the yard the last sniff of the night, ignorning my “come” command in favor of the scent of rabbit droppings.

Last Sunday evening my human family and I were outside with the dogs. I was playing ball with Tinkerbell, my husband was tending to our swimming pool and Jax and our teenage girls were on the opposite side of the yard. Our oldest daughter had just run up and back down the slide on the playset  just as Jax wandered over to sniff the grass under the slide. She must have upset a hive of wasps that had built their nest under the slide because suddenly I heard the girls yelling, “No, Jax, stop it, no!” I looked over to see around seven or eight wasps buzzing around Jax as he tried to bite at the insects to stop the attack. I quickly grabbed the garden hose that was coiled nearby, turned the nozzle to spray, and called, “danger, Jax, danger!” 

In a split second Jax ran towards me and I sprayed him with water in case the wasps had stuck around and were still buzzing around him. Fortunately they did not follow. We made sure the girls got out of the area of the hive and I took Jax and Tink inside to assess the situation. I grabbed the bottle of Benedryl out of the dog medicine box just in case we would need it and checked him out.

Fortunately Jax did not actually bite the wasps and if he was stung, he did not have a reaction of any sort. I gave him a third of a dose just in case and stayed up with him very late to make sure, since I had been through this before with my parents’ dog Cinder who did in fact bite a wasp and whose head swelled up larger than a Rottweiler for one very terrifying night.

This week we will do some more continuing education on the “danger” command since I do not want Jax’s most recent memory to be of responding to his reliable recall word and being blasted by the hose. Instead a Kong with frozen peanut butter and some blueberry Fruitables will be waiting ensure that he responds the same way the next time we need it.