Raising Canine

Author Archive for – Page 2

Positive Reinforcement Dog Training: Functional Assessment

A functional assessment is a positive reinforcement dog training method for systematically assessing behavior when trying to determine what is setting up the environment to make it easy for the behavior to happen and what is maintaining the behavior. Once we have those two pieces of the puzzle, it makes our job much easier.

It’s important to always remember that behavior has function. Sometimes it’s difficult to understand what that function is, but it’s there and we need to suss it out. There are functional relationships between an antecedent and a behavior, and between a behavior and its consequence. Bringing it down to its simplest form, a functional assessment is designed to determine those functional relationships and get to the heart of positive reinforcement dog training.

Too often we assume we know what’s going on – and probably the majority of the time, we’re right. When a client calls me and says his seven-month-old Belgian Malinois is out of control and never settles down, I have pretty good idea of what’s going on. Lack of training, lack of parameters, lack of consistency.

When someone calls and tells me their eight-month-old English Springer Spaniel is eliminating in the house when the owners are not home, my first assumption will be that the dog is not properly house trained, yet. And this is a reasonable assumption because of the age of the dog. But, what if it’s actually separation anxiety? That’s also very possible.

Let’s go back just a bit and talk about the principle of parsimony. In psychology, the principle of parsimony states that when there are two or more possible explanations using and accounting for the same set of facts, we should first test the simplest, briefest explanation before moving on to a more complex explanation. (You may have heard of this concept under the name Occam’s Razor.)

In addition to the principle of parsimony, those of us belonging to a professional organization will usually have some kind of guide for behavioral intervention and dog training techniques. For the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers (CCPDT), Association of Professional Dog Trainers (APDTO, and the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants (IAABC), we have the LIMA principle – “least intrusive, minimally aversive.” At the very top of this hierarchy of interventions is physical and mental well-being.

So, utilizing the LIMA hierarchy and the principle of parsimony, the proper path of intervention would be:

  1. Veterinary check to see if there is a urinary tract infection, bladder infection, etc. In my mind, the fact that the dog is only eliminating in the house when the owners are not home makes this an unlikely explanation. However, if it is the explanation, all the training in the world is not going to solve the problem and the dog will be in distress as long as the problem remains, so we need to rule it out.
  2. Go back to basics on house training.
  3. Check for indications of separation anxiety.

Now, basic house training and separation anxiety checks can be done at the same time. There’s no logical reason to go through an extended period of time working on house training if, in fact, the problem is separation anxiety. However, we should never jump straight to separation anxiety without first or coincidentally working on the housetraining issues.

Back to the functional assessment. Again, most of us are doing a mini-FA in our heads as the client is explaining the problem. And, it’s absolutely true that once you’ve been in the business for a while, you’ll have seen the same problems over and over. And that’s fine – we just don’t want to become so sure our hypothesis is correct, that we overlook important information.

When applying positive reinforcement dog training techniques, if the owner is compliant and works on the problem as agreed, execution is good (meaning they understand how to do the training), and the hypothesis is correct, you should see behavioral change in a fairly short period of time – three-to-five days in most situations. This does not mean the problem is resolved, but that you are seeing progress. House training may take a little longer, but if the criteria is raised systematically and everything is in place, that should also happen pretty quickly.

If you are not seeing progress and you are comfortable that the client is doing their tasks properly, then it might be time to do a functional assessment. It’s possible something is going on that you are unaware – and the owner may be unaware of. Here are two examples of situations where something happened to the dog that the owners were not aware that had a great influence on the dog’s behavior.

Example 1 – A dog that had previously had no issues at all suddenly refused to go out into the yard. To the owner’s knowledge, nothing had changed. A trainer was called in and a program of systematic desensitization was implemented. It worked, and everything was fine. Weeks later, the owner found out from a neighbor that the dog had been harassed with a BB gun.

Example 2 – Again, a dog that had no previous problems began having severe panic attacks. All of a sudden he would jump into the owners lap (and this was a big dog!) and begin shivering so hard his teeth rattled. A trainer was called in and the first thought was that perhaps the dog was having seizures. He was about six-to-eight months old and this was a typical age for the onset of some types of seizures. It’s difficult to rule out seizures, because there are so many different things that could be happening. However, the owner was able to get the dog into the vet’s office within an hour of the onset of the attack and the vet was able to do a blood draw and rule out certain things.
Since no one knew what was causing the panic attacks, it was difficult to implement a systematic desensitization program, because they didn’t know what to desensitize the dog to. The only thing that had changed was they had very recently moved into a new house (within weeks of the onset of the attacks). Of course, this was a huge red flag, but it was still difficult to pinpoint exactly what the antecedent was for the attacks.

Eventually, the owners remembered that they had left the dog alone one day while they ran errands. They had just have Venetian blinds installed, had left the windows open, and it was a windy day. The dog had never been around Venetian blinds before and here he is in a brand new environment, alone, and the wind starts rattling the blinds. Taking that information, the owners started paying more attention, and sure enough, it was the wind. The dog was fine outdoors, but in the house, if the wind was blowing he was a nervous wreck. With that information, They were able to institute a systematic desensitization program.

So, these examples show that sometimes it’s very difficult to know what do address. In example #1, it didn’t matter that they didn’t know about the BB gun – they were able to systematically desensitize the dog to the yard without that knowledge. But in example #2, it was more difficult because they didn’t know what the problem was. They could have done straight counter-conditioning, but that’s a much tougher prospect.

In both of these cases, it was a more in-depth analysis of the events surrounding the behavior that led to the solution. And that in-depth analysis is a functional assessment of the effectiveness of any positive reinforcement dog training technique.

For more information on this course, go to A Simple Functional Assessment. While you’re there, don’t forget to check out the hundreds of great on-demand webinars Raising Canine offers – you can find them at this link:  https://www.raisingcanine.com/education/od-webinars/.

Beyond Dog Training Methods: Create a Quick & Easy Marketing Plan

As professional dog trainers, we’re usually very good at: dog training methods! But, of course, most dog trainers are also small business owners. Unfortunately, we’re usually not so good at the business end of things. And if we break it down even further, the thing we hate most is marketing. Eek!

Marketing can be a deep and unfathomable mystery. What works and what doesn’t? Why does Joe Smith down the road do so well when you know you’re a much better trainer than he is? How come every vet’s office you go into is referring to Joe and isn’t interested in taking the time to listen to another trainer’s pitch?

Well, Joe probably understands marketing. A few years ago a friend of mine had that exact issue. There was another trainer in town, considered an expert in aggression, who used some really deplorable methods and had some really crazy philosophies on dog behavior. This trainer was referred by almost every vet in town – a few were beginning to realize that his dog training methods were questionable and some were getting upset because he was recommending pharmaceutical interventions without discussing it with the vet – but for the most part, he controlled the vet market.

My friend, who absolutely was an expert in aggression, mentioned this to me, so I did a very cursory and informal study on dog trainers and their websites. What I found was that most men (traditional or R+) and most women (traditional) used scary graphics on their websites; whereas, positive reinforcement women rarely used scary graphics. They are much more into explaining aggression and positive reinforcement – in text. These are marketing techniques – the scary picture attracts people and takes them further into the website for more information; the long, drawn out explanations are too dense and complex to read. The scary graphic promises results; the explanation gives caveats. Never forget that ALL purchases are emotional, and particularly a purchase that involves a beloved pet that may be on the verge of euthanasia.

So, the moral of this story is that marketing is important and can greatly influence your business. Once you’ve accessed the market, you have to be able to walk your talk and actually know how to use those dog training methods you market, but accessing it is key. Marketing doesn’t have to be a big mystery – as with any other field of endeavor, there are guidelines and a ton of free information available. And, in today’s world, the Internet has greatly leveled the playing field. You can be as good at marketing as the big boys – you may not be able to produce slick online dog training videos as ads or reach a huge market, but you can certainly reach your local market and do fun and engaging podcasts, videos, etc.

One of the things I do every year is create a simple marketing plan. I think one big thing to think about with a marketing plan is linking your marketing – i.e., one form of marketing links to another form of marketing. A blog links to a coupon, which links to a testimonial, etc. By linking everything, you are able to exponentially increase the impact of your marketing.

Too often, small business people don’t know what to do for marketing and are seduced by cheap ads that reach a lot of people, but more often than not, those people are not their target market. It sounds good, but good is measured in results. Having a plan helps prevent these impulse marketing purchases. $25 for an ad doesn’t sound like much, but if the ad doesn’t work, it’s $25 you could have spent on something that does work.

And, speaking of measured – all marketing endeavors should be measured. How else will you know it’s working. If you do a blog, learn how to use Google Analytics to see your click-throughs. If you put a coupon out, have some way to know that the business is coming from that coupon – a special product, reduced price, free handout, etc. And be patient – marketing takes time and consistency. One blog isn’t going to increase your web traffic; 2-3 blogs per week for six months will.

Here’s a picture of a page of my blogging plan for my 2019 webinars (this is just a small piece of my overall marketing plan). Creating this blogging plan took me less than one day, and it’s pretty dense and comprehensive (309 tasks). This seems crazy intensive, but in reality each webinar has the exact same schedule, so all I have to do is plug in the date, course, and speaker name (look at the section on the right – sorry it’s a bit blurry).

I print out one page of the list and keep it on my desk. Each morning I look and see what tasks need to be done, and I do them. It takes maybe 5-10 minutes unless I have to actually write a blog. It’s pretty efficient.

The above schedule is only for blogging to market upcoming webinars. I do another spreadsheet for other types of marketing that I want to do throughout the year. For instance, I tend to focus on upcoming live webinars; but I have over 300 on-demand webinars that I never market. I really need to get on that! It’s a huge profit center that I’m basically ignoring. I worry that I’ll inundate people with e-mail notices, but for my serious dog training market (and that is my market – I don’t target owners or hobbyists) they’re okay with it because they want to know the entire gamut of dog training methods available.

One last thing before I end (it seems like I keep mentioning something which leads to another marketing concept and I want to stick them all in here – but I must focus). However, this is an important marketing concept so I’ll just mention it briefly.

“Market Narrowly, Deliver Broadly”

Market narrowly: What this means is narrow your target market down as much as possible – a lot of people have an avatar of their ideal client. That helps you with targeting your market – you can eliminate marketing venues that don’t reach your target client.

Deliver broadly: This means you still deliver services to people outside your target market. They’ll come through word of mouth, etc. You’re just not marketing to them.

For more information on this course, go to Create a Quick & Easy Marketing Plan. While you’re there, don’t forget to check out the hundreds of great on-demand webinars Raising Canine offers – you can find them at this link:  https://www.raisingcanine.com/education/od-webinars/.

Susan Smith, CPDT-KA, CDBC is the owner of Raising Canine, LLC, (www.raisingcanine.com), which provides remote education for professional dog trainers and dog behavior consultants, as well as business and marketing educations and consulting to help their businesses, including an intensive course for those wanting to learn how to become a professional dog trainer. Sue is also the co-author of the book “Positive Gun Dogs: Clicker Training for Sporting Breeds.” Sue is certified through CCPDT and IAABC. She is an ex-Board member for the CCPDT, an active, professional member of CCPDT, APDT, and IAABC, and was named APDT Member of the Year in 2004.

Dog Training Certification for Professional Dog Trainers: What Does it Mean?

Well, that’s a complicated topic. There are many online courses that promise “dog training certification”. Understanding which ones are meaningful and which are simply for marketing purposes, can be very difficult for owners looking for a qualified dog trainer, or people who would like a career in dog training.

There are essentially three types of certification:

  • There is a certification which indicates you have completed a course of study through an organization and satisfactorily met that organization’s standards;
  • There is a certification through a member-driven organization; and
  • There is a certification that means you have met standards independent of any organization.

The first type of dog training certification is essentially a certificate of completion – you take a course of study and complete the course. There is nothing wrong with this; however, you must always remember that the curriculum of the organization may stress a specific methodology or point of view, and the testing process is geared to the curriculum, which may be quite rudimentary. Some examples of this type of certification would be some type of training course for dogs, a seminar, a vocational school, or even a university (they call it a diploma). Once you receive a certificate of completion, the process is complete.

As with a school, the second type of certification may or may not indicate any real proficiency. The organization is ruled by the membership, so their certification requirements are based on their membership. The certification requirements are often philosophically driven, as with a school. Most organizations that certify do require some sort of continuing education to remain certified.

The third type of certification sets a standard level of competency that must be met regardless of how you received your education. This type of certification is setting an industry standard. Examples of this type of certification are the CPA exam (Certified Public Accountant), or Certified Nutrition Support Practitioners. Some professions are regulated by the government (attorneys and hairdressers, for instance) and must pass a similar exam, but are then licensed, rather than certified. When you receive this type of certification, you will almost certainly be required to continue your education and periodically renew your certification. This continuing education process helps to ensure that practitioners are qualified and up-to-date on current knowledge and best practices.

Again, this does not mean that a certificate of completion does not meet the industry standard – some may even exceed the standard; however, an independent certifying body holds everyone to the same standard and gives the consumer a means of choosing a qualified professional.

In the dog training world, certificates are a dime a dozen! If a dog training school claims that you will be a certified dog trainer when you complete their program, they are simply saying that you have taken their course, learned their material, and passed! There is no guarantee that their course has taught the broad spectrum of training issues.

In the dog training certification world, there is only one truly independent certifying body – the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers (CCPDT). The dog training industry is trying very hard to professionalize and standardize the profession. CCPDT’s duty is to the public, not to the people who sit for their exam; they are not a teaching organization – it is up to each individual to receive adequate education to pass the exam. It is strongly recommended that, once qualified, trainers take the CPDT exam; it is an indication of commitment and professionalism.

The CCPDT has recently added two additional dog training certification levels: one requires a deeper level of knowledge of dog behavior and accepted applied behavior analysis practices, and the other is a skills exam.

For more information on this topic, go to the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers website. While you’re there, don’t forget to check out the hundreds of great on-demand webinars Raising Canine offers – you can find them at this link:  https://www.raisingcanine.com/education/od-webinars/.

Dog Training Techniques: Understanding the Theory Behind Learning & Behavior

What exactly is learning theory and why does someone who wants to learn dog training techniques care? Most people start out loving dogs, perhaps taking a basic obedience class, or dabbling in dog sports. Often they have a dog that has serious behavioral problems and through working with a professional dog trainer, they develop an interest in behavior and training. Sometimes people have been training their own dogs forever and their friends start asking them for advice. But almost always, when you get down to the nitty gritty, they think it’s fun and easy. Well, sometimes it’s fun, more often it’s hard work, and it’s never easy.

The traditional way to become a dog trainer is through mentoring under a professional and watching lots and lots of dog training videos. You can certainly become an adequate dog trainer, and learn important dog training techniques, through this method; and, the better your mentor, the better you’ll be. But you’re also limited by your mentor’s limitations. Apprentice trainers also spend an inordinate amount of time doing non-training work such as cleaning kennels, feeding and grooming.

But, through understanding learning theory combined with working under a knowledgeable mentor, you’ll have the best toolbox possible. You’ll understand the basics of how animals learn and how evolution, genetics, and survival have a huge influence on behavior. You’ll be able to move away from simple rote dog training techniques and actually analyze a situation and be able to figure out why the animal isn’t learning what you’re trying to teach.

When you understand the phases of learning a new behavior and the things that need to be in place for a new behavior to be learned, not to mention the most efficient way to train (which most trainers don’t know), you have less frustration, you satisfy your client’s needs more efficiently (saving them frustration and money), and you develop good word-of-mouth.

Learning and behavior is an established area of study that has been around for a very long time. It’s called psychology. We’ve been studying and practicing human psychology for decades – actually, longer than that as clinical depression was mentioned on a 1550 BCE ancient Egyptian manuscript known as the Ebers Papyruss.  In the mid-1800s, psychology became its own field of study, separate from psychiatry, and by the end of the nineteenth century, psychologists were figuring how to actually measure behavior.

Around the turn of the century, Ivan Pavlov published his findings on what we now call classical conditioning, and B.F. Skinner followed that up with his work in operant conditioning in the mid-1900s. Skinner also made the concepts he studied part of popular culture. He made appearances on popular television shows such as The Mike Douglas Show and Firing Line, as well as documentaries for television. In the 1960s and 1970s, experimental parenting techniques were in full force and much of what had been discovered in psychology was now being practiced in the schoolroom.

These two concepts, classical and operant conditioning – particularly operant conditioning – are what the new school of animal trainers are using. You don’t have to have a degree in psychology to take these concepts and put them to work and apply effective dog training techniques. However, you do need to invest some time into learning the concepts and practicing your new skills –setting good criteria, observing behavior, analyzing behavior, and so on. If you have only a cursory understanding of how animals learn you’ll do okay, but if you have a good understanding of these concepts, you’ll do a lot better!

For more information on this course, go to Understanding Learning Theory. While you’re there, don’t forget to check out the hundreds of great on-demand webinars Raising Canine offers – you can find them at this link:  https://www.raisingcanine.com/education/od-webinars/.

Dog Training Videos & Upcoming Webinars

Don’t miss it! This coming Wednesday – we have two great webinars on dog training techniques and enrichment for cats. Dr. Lore Haug is presenting Cats in Prison, and I’m presenting a very important webinar on Criteria and Rate of Reinforcement. After many years of consulting with trainers, participating on discussion lists, producing dog training videos, etc., I’ve decided these are the two areas where professional trainers have the most problems. Also, I did a short blog on this topic and you can read it here: https://www.raisingcanine.com/2019/01/become-dog-trainer/. And, check out my website, https://www.raisingcanine.com, for hundreds of dog training videos.

For more information on these courses, go to Cats in Prison and Criteria & Rate of Reinforcement. While you’re there, don’t forget to check out the hundreds of great on-demand webinars Raising Canine offers – you can find them at this link:  https://www.raisingcanine.com/education/od-webinars/.

How to Become a Dog Trainer: Criteria & Rate of Reinforcement

I recently wrote a blog on Dog Obedience Training – Four Key Elements, which discusses one of the most basic principles anyone who wants to know how to become a dog trainer must know. However, within those four elements, there are two that are most often misunderstood by professional dog trainers – criteria and rate of reinforcement.

To learn what each of the four elements are, check out the blog Dog Obedience Training – Four Key Elements. In this blog post, I’m going to relay some of my experiences in observing many many trainers. Most of the old-timers understand these concepts, but even they get stuck on criteria once in a while. For newer trainers, I’d say criteria is the biggest single problem they have.

So, some real-life situations and what I see as the problem:

Scenario: A professional dog trainer has been working with a German Shepherd Dog for several months. He’s a one-year-old rescue and the trainer did well on most of his issues, but he barks when he’s in the car with his owners. For about a month the trainer and her partner drove around with the dog in the car. However, he rarely barked when in the car with them, but barks incessantly when in the car with his owners.

Assessment: There are specific triggers (the owners), so a thorough history might help – when did it start, where were they going, etc. But ultimately, that’s just background info, and we still need to set achievable criteria. There are a couple of ways to approach this, but they are both criteria-based solutions (as all solutions in the process of discovering how to become a dog trainer are).

Solution one – it’s highly unlikely he’s really barking non-stop for a long distance. So, they need to set a criteria of no-barking for . . . maybe 1 second, and reinforce every time he stops barking for 1 second. Once you’ve achieved your desired rate of reinforcement (ROR) (maybe 10 reinforcements in 1 minute), raise the criteria to no barking for 2 seconds. Etc. Gradually increase the time between reinforcements, adjusting your desired ROR as you go.

Solution two – under safe conditions, put the dog in the car alone and move away (perhaps out of sight). Wait for the dog to stop barking, then start walking toward the car. If the dog starts barking, go back to where you were. Eventually, the dog will learn that when he barks, you go away, and he will stop barking. This is less desirable than solution one because it’s negative reinforcement, but it can be very effective.

Scenario: A woman has a dog that chases and bites her tail when the woman and her boyfriend are present. The dog is uninterested in redirection, toys, etc. Clapping and walking away works; however the woman has times where that’s not convenient.

Assessment: Again, there are specific triggers, so that actually makes it easier to work with the dog. There’s probably a level of excitement or perhaps stress for the dog in this particular situation.

Management – unfortunately for the owner (and the consulting trainer), learning doesn’t necessarily take place only when it’s convenient, so we need to deal with the times it does not happen. This is called “management.” Because the triggers are specific (the woman and her boyfriend together), when they aren’t able to train, they can make sure the three of them aren’t together at those times. Put the dog in another room or a crate, have the boyfriend go out and run an errand or just sit in the car with a good book, etc.

Solution – there are several things that need to be done, but from a criteria standpoint, the woman needs to do set ups with the boyfriend and the dog, measuring the intensity and the rate of tail chasing/biting. She also needs to assess various situations: For instance, is the behavior stronger when she and her boyfriend are right next to each other (vs. him being in another room or 10 feet away); can she use a recording of his voice and get the behavior, and if so, is the behavior the same or weaker? All these things will help give them a starting point. We already know that clapping works, so if she precedes the clap with a cue, eventually she’ll be able to cue the dog to stop with a word.

Caveat – this could be an obsessive-compulsive behavior, so may require the intervention of a vet behaviorist.

So, there are a couple of scenarios where criteria is not being used to maximum effect in the process of learning how to become a dog trainer. These scenarios make me wish I’d taken some dog training videos of some of my clients to show you!

I feel so strongly about criteria and rate of reinforcement that I’m doing a webinar on that exact topic! You can access more information on this topic by attending the upcoming webinar, Criteria and Rate of Reinforcement: The most misunderstood piece of the puzzle.

For more information on this course, go to Criteria & Rate of Reinforcement: The most misunderstood piece of the puzzle. While you’re there, don’t forget to check out the hundreds of great on-demand webinars Raising Canine offers – you can find them at this link:  https://www.raisingcanine.com/education/od-webinars/.

Dog Training Course: First Meeting Body Language


This is a video I have from when I boarded dogs in my home. I specialized in reactive dogs, so had lots of good opportunities to observe interesting body language. Although this dog training course isn’t about dog training for aggressive dogs, it is some great body language between two reactive dogs meeting for the first time, and what to look for. And, it illustrates the importance of early dog socialization.


In this dog training course video a new dog, Zoe (brindle), is being introduced to my dog, Jimmy Joe (English Springer Spaniel) and a regular boarder, Pete (solid black). These are two separate dog training course videos and the dogs are introduced separately. What’s interesting to watch is the difference in the behavior of Jimmy Joe and Pete. Just a little background on the two dogs.


Jimmy Joe went with me to run the Animal Haven sanctuary in upstate New York when he was 7 months old. This was a sanctuary for dogs that were un-adoptable (i.e., aggressive). So, at a young age, he learned some very good dog skills and maintained those skills throughout his life (Jimmy Joe passed about two years ago at age 16). Jimmy Joe was my adult in puppy class and my test dog in reactive dog classes until I decided to retire him – and I never could find a dog with his skills to replace him.


Pete, on the other hand, was a mess! Although he was an interesting mess. He was extremely reactive except with people he knew well, such as his owner and myself. When first introducing him to dogs, I had to really be on top of him as the slightest misstep on the new dog’s part could turn into a fight. In the video, you’ll hear me asking him to back off periodically, just to diffuse the situation. However, once he got to know the dog, he was great. Pete was one of those dogs that could get the most aloof dog to play – and I’ve seen him in action. However, those first meetings were always an exercise in staying on top of things, for me.


SPOILER ALERT: I’m going to describe what’s happening in these dog training videos – not necessarily every single thing, but a lot. If you’d like to watch the video first, and see what you notice, do that before reading the paragraph before the video, as that’s the paragraph describing the behaviors.


So, in this first video, you’ll see a baseline for Zoe. She’s exploring the yard and there are no other dogs out. She’s cautious – her tail is down, but not tucked, she walks pretty gingerly, but it won’t be long before she feels comfortable in this space on her own.



In the second video, I introduce her to Jimmy Joe. Watch how he handles her. Initially, he approaches appropriately (i.e., not head on), is a little pushy, but moves up to her head and then backs off quickly, allowing Zoe some space. Notice that Zoe freezes while Jimmy Joe investigates, also has some piloerection and does a lot of displacement behaviors (sniffing, etc.). Then, she moves into the middle of the yard at a good pace, tail high, etc., and investigates. Jimmy Joe does another quick butt sniff, but moves off quickly, and as soon as he does, Zoe’s tail relaxes. Then Jimmy Joe does a quick pass by – this is not by accident; he’s inviting Zoe to interact with him, but is not being pushy. Notice that Zoe is not bothered by this pass by, and actually walks over to the part of the yard Jimmy Joe is in (this is a big yard, and she has lots of options). Jimmy Joe continues to give Zoe opportunity without being pushy. Notice when she goes over to the fence, Jimmy Joe takes the opportunity to sniff and, it’s hard to tell, but it doesn’t look like Zoe lowers her tail (or at least not much).



And then comes Pete! What a different story this is. Throughout this video, keep an eye out for Pete’s piloerection –you can see it better at some angles than others, but it’s always there unless he shakes off – throughout the video, Pete cuts Zoe off and invades her space.. Also, Zoe has some piloerection, so watch for that. So Pete comes out of the house and goes directly, head on, into Zoe’s space. He’s standing tall and stiff with a high, stiff tail wag, walks very slowly and gingerly, and you can see some piloerection close to his tail. Zoe stands very still (as she did initially with Jimmy Joe) and gets a few sniffs of her own in. Pete is very persistent and pushy, so I call him off to give the situation a little breather. Notice that when Pete gives Zoe some space, she does not follow him as she did with Jimmy Joe. Pete takes a little break but is back very quickly with his nose in Zoe’s butt, then walking stiff-legged around her head, with Zoe turning away from him. And, more of the same. Toward the end of the video, Zoe heads toward the fence, but Pete’s right on her, not giving her any breathing room, at all. After I stopped videoing, this continued for a bit, but eventually Pete was satisfied and everything went back to normal.



Raising Canine has a large selection of webinars. To find the dog training course that’s right for you, click here:

Dog Behavior Training – Four Ways to Get Behavior

In previous articles, we’ve discussed the four elements that must be present for learning to take place, and the four stages of learning a new behavior. By understanding these concepts, you’re on the path to learning to become a dog trainer. The next piece of the puzzle is how to actually get the behavior you want and the best dog behavior training methods.

Again, there are four ways to get behavior in dog behavior training (four seems to be a very handy number):

  • Prompts
  • Capturing
  • Physical Manipulation
  • Shaping


Prompts cover a lot of territory. To get a little wonky (and we’ll go much deeper into this in later articles), a prompt is an antecedent stimulus. An antecedent stimulus is simply something that sets the occasion for an animal to perform a behavior. In dog behavior training, we strive to find antecedent stimuli which will help the animal achieve the behavior we’re wanting it to learn, and prompts can be very useful in this regard.

Generally, prompts help get the behavior initially – they give the animal enough extra information to head them in the right direction. However, before a behavior can be considered learned, the prompt must be faded. Some human examples of prompts might be:

  • Teaching a child to read – the child comes to the word “chalk” and is having difficulty, so the teacher might say “ch, ch, ch” which prompts the child to say “ch” and the rest of the word follows because he does understand the “alk” piece, having seen it before in words such as talk, walk, etc.


  • Teaching a child to tie his shoes – here are the “bunny ear” steps to tying shoelaces
    • Fold each end of the lace into a single “bunny ear. …
    • Cross the bunny ears so that they form an “X” in the air.
    • Loop the bottom bunny ear over and through the top bunny ear. …
    • Pull the bunny ears out to the side away from the shoe.
      The child can be prompted at any step, but often prompting is only needed at the first step, and the rest follows easily because it has been done before.

Prompts can be all sorts of things: lures, targets, noises (verbal or physical such as finger snapping), etc.


Capturing is when you reinforce an existing behavior. So, if your dog has a tendency to howl, if you reinforce him when he howls, he’s likely to howl more often, creating the opportunity for more reinforcement. So, as someone wanting to become a professional dog trainer, here’s a handy tip: If you have a dog that is really hard to get into a “down” position (which is not at all unusual, because that position puts the dog in a very vulnerable state), you can simply capture the behavior when the dog is relaxed and decides to lay down. That reinforcement will often get the dog to start laying down more often, and once it’s predictable, you can add in a cue. At that point, you have a dog that lays down on cue, and it happened through capturing.

Physical Manipulation

Physical manipulation means you actually place the animal into position. This is a technique that should be used with consideration. Physical manipulation is an aversive technique, which means that the animal is trying to avoid the pressure being put on him by the trainer. It can be fairly benign, such as lifting a dog’s paw to teach it to shake hands, or placing a barrier next to the dog to teach him to walk in a straight line. Or it can be quite painful and/or unpleasant, such as jerking on the leash and causing a slip collar to tighten around the dog’s neck, or rubbing the dog’s nose in its urine when the dog has had a house training accident.


Shaping is not actually a way to get behavior, but it takes an existing behavior (capturing) and through successive approximations, moves the original behavior toward the trainer’s ultimate goal behavior. Shaping is used in conjunction with one or more of the above techniques: prompting, capturing, or physical manipulation.

In producing my animal training courses and webinars, I try to include techniques that will produce the best online dog training course overall. As trainers, most of the behaviors we train will be shaped to some extent, so it is important to understand this concept in dog behavior training.

That’s it for this article. This is a brief overview of the four ways to get behavior. We’ll go into more detail on each technique in future articles. If you want to learn more, here’s a good course:  How to Get Behavior

Become a Dog Trainer – 4 Stages – (Part 2)

When learning how to become a dog trainer, remember that these principles apply to all animals, including humans. We’re specifically talking about dogs, but you can use them with any animal and should use them with owners to help them efficiently build their skill set.

Now that we’re prepared with good timing, adequate motivation, achievable criteria and solid rate of reinforcement (see article: Dog Obedience Training – The 4 Elements That Must be Present for Learning to Take Place), we’re ready to go to the next phase and make sure you do know how to properly train a dog. Let’s discuss actually getting the behavior. There are four phases in learning a new behavior and they are:

  • Acquisition
  • Fluency
  • Generalization
  • Maintenance



Acquisition is when the dog is actually learning the new behavior, i.e., making the associations between the cue and the behavior and the behavior and the consequence. If you really want to know how to become a dog trainer – a really good dog trainer – knowing how to get behavior is crucial. When you first start training a new behavior to a dog he has no idea what you want, so it’s trial and error on their part. A savvy dog who’s been trained in positive reinforcement methods will usually start trying different things until they hit on something close enough to be reinforced. From there, we shape it into the behavior we want. If the dog isn’t so savvy, we may need to help them out a little. We’ll discuss the four ways you can get behavior from a dog (including shaping) in the next article.


Once the dog understands the behavior that is wanted – i.e., they’ve made an association between the cue and the behavior, and another association between the behavior and the consequence – we start working on fluency. Fluency is a combination of speed and accuracy. When the dog understands what the cue means and performs it quickly and accurately, then we can consider him to be fluent in that behavior. This is an important point – many trainers train for accuracy and consider the behavior fluent; however, fluency requires that the behavior also be performed speedily.

In the process of learning to become a dog trainer, it’s helpful to examine some common examples of human behaviors which most adults will be extremely fluent in are things like driving, using eating utensils, tying our shoes, or just walking. All of these behaviors had to be learned, but we learned them when we were young, we’ve used them regularly for years, and today we’re very good at them – we’re fluent. We don’t have to think about stepping on the brake when a car pulls out in front of us, we just do it – we do it accurately and we do it quickly; that’s fluency.


Generalization is the ability to take a new behavior and apply it under other contexts. Usually, generalization is going to deal with distance, duration, distraction and handler orientation (i.e., where is the handler in relation to the dog when he gives a cue).

When an aspiring trainer finally manages to become a dog trainer, we often do generalization as part of the training process. For instance, if we’re teaching loose leash walking we address duration and distraction as part of the criteria – i.e., we don’t think of it as generalization, we think of it as criteria. If we’re teaching a formal stay, we address duration, distraction, and distance as part of the criteria. The goal is to get the dog to stay no matter what, so we think of these elements as criteria rather than generalization. And this is fine, as long as we understand what we’re doing and why.

A great example of a behavior that often isn’t generalized, yet the owner thinks the behavior is well-learned and reliable, is house training. We are often fanatic about house training in our home, but if the dog goes to someone else’s house, they may eliminate. In fact, this probably happens more often than not, and that’s because the behavior hasn’t been generalized.


Once a behavior is learned and fluent, it must be maintained. Practice makes perfect. An interesting exercise for those of you teaching classes and private basic obedience would be to periodically assess your clients after they’ve finished their lessons with you. I’d assess at the following times:

  • During last lesson
  • 3 months after last lesson
  • 1 year after last lesson
  • 5 years after last lesson


I don’t know this for a fact, but I’ll bet they only use two to three of the behaviors they learned from you and the rest have been lost through disuse. If you find this to be true, it might be worth considering what behaviors you really need to teach. Perhaps fewer behaviors to higher fluency, better generalization, and more functionality (i.e., name recognition for recalls, leave it, loose leash walking, etc.) would make your clients happier over the long haul.

An example of a behavior we might have once been fluent in but are no longer, could be something like handwriting. Although I do occasionally write by hand, in the computer age I don’t do it nearly as often as I did when I was younger, and I’m not nearly as good at it – not that I was ever very good! Any sport we played in high school and no longer play on a regular basis, is going to be less fluent than it once was.

Okay, that’s it for the four stages of learning. In the next article  on ‘how to become a dog trainer’ we’ll talk about the four ways to actually get behavior during the acquisition phase of learning. Here’s an in-depth course: Understanding Learning Theory

Training a Rescue Dog: The Story of Guinness

I’m compelled to tell this wonderful story about my pal Guinness. Guinness is about 11 years old and is a re-homed Cocker Spaniel who lives with my good friend Karen at Tails by the Bay in Homer, Alaska. Karen took Guinness into her home several years ago, and has lots of experience training a rescue dog, (or more accurately, re-training) as she has been involved in rescue for many years.

We don’t know a lot about Guinness’s background, but we do know that he had some type of accident that injured his spine. He has had mobility issues since Karen got him, and they have been getting worse over the years.

The first time I met Guinness was in the fall of 2016 when I went to Alaska to watch Karen’s dogs while she was out of town. At that time, Guinness was doing pretty well – he was walking and getting around fine, if a little bowlegged. I went up again this past summer and Guinness’s mobility had deteriorated to the point where Karen had purchased a cart to support his back legs. At this time, Guinness could no longer walk. He was able to scoot around on the floor by pulling himself with his front legs, but his back legs were pretty much useless.

Well, Guinness didn’t need professional training for this – he took to the cart like a fish to water! What he really needed was some off leash dog training instruction! We had to keep a close eye on him, because he’d take off down the road like a sprinter, not realizing his limitations. He did take a couple of spills when rounding corners, but quickly learned not to panic and to wait to be righted. The cart has greatly improved Guinness’s quality of life – he’s now able to go out with the other dogs and able to go to the beach, again.

UPDATE!! I just got this video from Karen.

The cart (among some other things) has strengthened Guinness’s core to the point he can walk, again! Let’s hope he keeps improving and maybe won’t need the cart at all, someday.

It’s so heartwarming to see his improvement. He’s a real trooper – at 9 ½, when most dogs are gearing down, Guinness is taking it to a higher level. And, not to be self-serving, but it’s really helped with the house training, as well. Not that Guinness wasn’t house trained, but now he can take himself outside, rather than having to wait for someone to put him in his cart and help him out.

Here’s a course on Rescue Dog Training: Brainstorm   If you’d like to access more dog obedience training videos, check out our selection here– we have tons of them!