Cura and I have been together since 2009. We want to thank all of you who followed the early days as well as those who popped back on occasion during the long hiatus. Training was done, the days passed, and we were settling into our life together.
Fast forward: Cura is slowing down and a new member of the family is in training. On top of that, we are all busy with our new calling . . . Running the Training Department for Paws and Stripes. Join us on our journey!

Friday, December 19, 2014

Amazing People

One of our trainers had a wonderful experience while they were out training with one of our teams. For those who don't know, we frequently train out in public which can be very challenging for veteran, dog AND trainer!  Understandably, people see us in the stores and are curious so we get all sorts of reactions when we are out. Every encounter is a training experience, but sometimes the team that we are with are not ready for a particular scenario and the interaction makes the session more difficult than intended. So we never know if an encounter is going to help or hinder the learning process.

However, on this instance, the person had excellent sevice dog etiquette.  He was an employees and when he caught sight of the first team (we had two in the store that day), he approached and asked if they needed help finding anything. Before leaving he asked the trainer if they were with Dogs of War.  When he learned that they were, the employee burst into a big smile, stating that he watched the show every week and he loved it.  He walked away, beaming and was still beaming when he came in sight of the second team working in the store, but he didn't approach them.

Why was this wonderful?  The employee did not interfere with the training sessions.  He was polite and asked a couple of quick questions and then left BOTH teams alone after only speaking to one. He is one of those amazing people who appreciate the work that is being done and understand that they should not interfere with the service dog.  This employee is in the same group of people as those wonderful parents who explain to their children that they can not pet that puppy because it is working.

Thank you, amazing people!!

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Top Tips Tuesday: Rewards

When using a reward based training system, it is important to understand what works as a reward for your dog.  Every dog is different and it is your responsibility to figure out what things motivate your dog.  At the same time, it should not be something so wonderful that your dog becomes overly excited and stops listening. So, how do you figure out what your dog likes?

1) Know your dog's body language.
Remember, you are trying to reward your dog.  Make sure your dog's body language reflects enjoyment!  I frequently see handlers being very energetic with their praise even when it is freaking their dog out because they don't like to be handled that way.  If your dog is not enjoying what you are doing, it is not working as a reward and instead of encouraging a behavior, you will be causing your dog to avoid doing the very thing you are trying to train.

2) Be creative!
Sure, food is frequently a reward for dogs -- especially high value treats.  But what if your dog is not food motivated (believe me, it happens) or you just don't want to use food as a reward? What do you do then?  I like to do something with my dogs that they like.  Scratching that special place is a good fall back but it is important to mix things up.  Many dogs love to sniff.  Believe it or not, this can be used as a reward.  Ask your dog to walk with you ignoring all the distractions and then give them a sniff break!  Play fetch, hide and seek, a special voice that tells them that they did something correctly.  There are as many rewards as there are ideas, just make sure your dogs enjoy what you use.

3) Make a list.
I like to write things down.  If there are several people in your home, make a list and keep it on the fridge so everyone knows the ways your dog likes to be rewarded.  You will be surprised how many items you can come up with.  Make it a contest!

4) Know when to take a break.
Remember, your dog has to stay calm in order to follow your cues.  Over excitement works against you.  Things like fetch or tug-o-war may not be the best choices if your dog looses its mind during these games.  My boy can get so excited when playing fetch that he starts jumping on me and trying to grab the object instead of waiting for me the throw it.  So I have to be very careful and give him breaks when he starts to get excited.

5) Remember it is not about you!
The reward is for your dog, not you.  Don't do something because it makes you feel good unless it also makes your dog happy.  If you want your dog to do something for them, you have to make it worth their while.  Just because you like something doesn't mean your dog does!

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Top Tips Tuesday: Manners

Most times, when people think about dog training, they think of obedience.  Things like sit and stay.  But there is more to dog training than just getting the dog to perform "tricks" (even if they are practical "tricks, like sit).  After all, your dog is not always going to have someone around to tell it what to do.  Even if you are with your dog, you are not telling it what to do every second of the time you are together.  But you DO expect a certain level of behavior from your dog even if you are not expecting it to follow a particular cue.  Here are some things that help your dog to learn basic manners.

1) Know what proper manners are to you
Just like with training obedience/skills, having a clear idea of what manners you want from your dog is the first step. What are the "house rules" and how will everyone know what is to be rewarded?  It helps if you put this in writing.  Even if it is not a problem behavior in need of fixing, be prepared!  Just because you do not have small children in the home does not mean that you don't have to teach your dog the proper way to interact with a child-what happens when the nieces and nephews come to visit in the holidays?  Make sure your "rules" provide clear guidelines. For example, when greeting a person, my dog must stay in a sit. Not: when greeting a person, my dog must be friendly. (My friendly and your friendly could be very different, so we might reward different behavior and confuse the dog.). Every adult in the household needs to agree with the house rules and be willing to reward appropriate behavior and discourage inappropriate behavior. V

2) Reward calm behavior
If the only time you engage with your dog is when they are excited or behaving badly, you are teaching your dog that excitement and bad behavior is what gets your attention. Naturally, your dog will resort to these things when he wants your attention, because you are (unintentionally) encouraging it. Don't just ignore your pup when he is calmly laying by your side this is a time to reinforce calm behavior. Be careful that your reward does not cause the dog's excitement to rise. If your praise causes your dog to jump up and bounce around the room (or on you) you are defeating the purpose!

3) Reward small improvements
Just like you would reward small successes in behavior training, it is important to reward small improvements in behavior. If your dog loves to chase the cat, only rewarding him for completely ignoring the fluffy moving object will result in a lot of frustration on your part and a looooong learning process for your pups. If your dog stops straining at the end of the leash, but still jumps up and lunges toward the cat when it angers the room, this is an improvement and must be rewarded. Gradually increase the reward criteria and your dog's behavior will improve quickly.

4) Keep your dog BELOW threashhold
Ok, so this is a technical training term for controlling the dog's environment and exposure to manageable levels. If your dog is so wound up that it can't think and is only running on instincts and adrenaline-she is over threashhold. Learning can not take place if the dog is running solely on instincts. They need to be able to think in order to learn. That is why using distance in socialization is so successful-the dog gradually learns proper behavior around a trigger and the trigger is slowly brought closer while always keeping a distance that the dog can handle without losing it. Understanding a dog's boy language is key to this step so either become fluent yourself or contact a good behaviorist in your area to help you. 

5) Be patient
This requires understanding. It will take time to teach your dog proper manners. Even if they come from a home where they were well behaved, you will need to teach him the rules of your household. Remember, you have to set your dog up for success so you MUST fulfill his needs.  A dog can not be clam if you do not provide an outlet for his energy. Nor can he be calm if you do not teach him to be.  Reinforce the behavior you want and you will find spending time with your dog is one if the most pleasant things on earth!

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Top Tips Tuesday: Teaching a skill

I frequently get the question "How do I teach my dog to (insert skill here)?  The fact is that, like people, not every dog learns the same way. We have come to realize that every dog has a unique cognitive makeup which means that there is no single, universal, step-by-step way to teach a dog a skill and guarantee that it will work for all dogs.  (If you want more on dog cognition, check out The Genius of Dogs: How Dogs are Smarter than youThink by Vanessa Wood and Brian Hare).  But there ARE basic things that you can do that will increase your success regardless of how your dog learns.

1) Make a plan!

Don't just start training!  Be sure you think about what you are going to do BEFORE you work with your dog.  What skill(s) will you work on? What rewards/penalties will you use? What proficiency level warrants a reward? After all, if you are not clear in your own mind about what you expect from a training session, how is your pup supposed to figure it out?!  Establish your teaching structure before you start the hands-on work.

2) Be flexible

Even though you have a plan, be ready to adjust things on the fly!  Don't allow your dog to continually "fail" because you are not flexible in what your are asking or how you are asking for it!  If, for whatever reason, your dog who could bore holes in your face with his eyes for 15 seconds because he was so focused can barely maintain eye contact for 2 seconds today -- stop expecting 15 seconds!!!  Start rewarding for 2 seconds of focus,  This serves two purposes . . . first, your dog is having a positive training experience so you are building confidence and positive associations with you AND training sessions.  Second, you avoid getting irritated and labeling your dog as "stubborn" or difficult.  Every creature has good days and bad days -- just because your dog had a higher level of proficiency earlier does not mean that the skill is solid or that they are little robots and will ALWAYS perform perfectly!!!  Which brings me to the next tip.

3) Have realistic expectations

Your dog is a living, breathing creature -- NOT an infallible machine.  Just because your dog knows how to sit does not mean it understands to do it when you say the word "sit".  Even if they understand what the cue means, it doesn't mean they will do it perfectly every time.  (What if you are asking them to sit on a cold surface?  They may, understandably, refuse completely or sit but pop up again immediately.)  Sometimes, our expectations do not take into consideration that our dogs have needs as well and if we want their best behavior, we need to be realistic about what we are asking them to do for us and when.  Going back the to focus . . . even if your dog can always hold eye contact for 15 seconds when they are at home does not mean that they can do that when you are in a park with dogs and kids playing around them!  Be realistic and adjust your expectations to the situation and gradually build your dog's proficiency around higher and higher challenges.

4) Control your frustration

This does not mean "be perfect" -- after all, if you are going to allow your dog to make mistakes, you should give yourself the same courtesy.  Frustration happens . . . but you should avoid letting it affect your training session.  If you find yourself getting frustrated, change your plan and your expectations.  Take a moment and analyse what is happening.  Are you confusing your dog by mixing cues?  Is there another way you can communicate to your dog what you want from them?  Is what you are doing too much of a leap for the dog to make -- do you need to break the skill down further?  If you find that your frustration is getting the better of you, ask the dog for something that you KNOW it can do and end the training session on success.  One I like to do is get the dog's attention (I am purposely being vague here).  Name recognition is something that is usually fixed very early in the relationship and only requires the dog to acknowledge that you are addressing them.  So, I say the name and if the dog gives me a split second of attention that is a success!  It is asking for very little from the dog AND further reinforces the dog responding to their name.

5) Make it fun

We frequently make the mistake of classifying "training time" with our dogs as "WORK" and viewing success as the dog consistently getting better at doing what we say, when we say it.  But we also expect our dogs to be a source of joy and relaxation in our lives -- that can be difficult to achieve if the time spent training is "work" that is measured by performance standards.  Speaking generally, dogs want to please us and make us happy (this is not universal, but THAT is a discussion for another post).  Sure, from the point of the "student" it is better to learn in a fun and engaging way, but this is also true of the "teacher".  If you enjoy the "game" of training, your dog will be more engaged and WANT to train with you.  Remember this when you make your plan -- create a training plan that is fun for both you and your dog!  Enjoy yourself and each other!

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Time for a regular, new series!  Starting today I will start posting training tips and information on Tuesdays.  Anyone interested in a particular training issue -- feel free to mention it in the comments and I will put it on my list of upcoming topics.

This week: What to do BEFORE you bring a dog home.

1)  Decide that you are committed to caring for another living creature for their ENTIRE life!

The minimum life expectancy of an otherwise healthy dog is 7 years (giant breeds) while the maximum is 16+ years (small dogs).  In the Paws and Stripes program, we use dogs that fall into the medium/large category so life expectancy is 10-13 years.  Now, I have had dogs most of my life, all of them have been medium to large in size and all of them lived to 13+ years. Part of that has to do with genetics while the other part has to do with how they were treated.  The point is:  If you are getting a dog, be prepared to care for them until they pass away.  Too many dogs end up in shelters because people move, have a baby, don't have time, etc. and the dog no longer "fits" in their lives.  I see it all the time and it breaks my heart!

2) Analyse your life style.

Are you extremely active? A couch potato? Somewhere in between?  How many people live in your household and what are their ages?  Is EVERYONE on board with the idea of including a dog in the family?  These are just a few of the many questions you need to ask yourself before you start looking for a dog.  Some dogs need a lot of exercise, others are happy laying on a nice bed in front of a fire most of the day.  If you have very young children or live with a person that has physical limitations, it might be better to avoid a high energy dog.  Regardless of your life style, you MUST have time to train your dog.  If you can not take considerable time over the next 6-12 months training a dog and reinforcing that training, it is not likely that ANY dog will fit into your life style.  Most dogs (even seniors) do not come pre-trained.  You will have to do the work and if you don't, that dog probably will end up back where you got it in short order.

3) Research . . . then research . . . and research some more
Now that you are committed to care for a dog until it's natural life is over and you have a clear idea of the life style it is time to decide what kind of dog will fit well in your household.  You may be interested in a particular breed or size of dog.  Be realistic.  Know what you are getting in to!  If you do not have a lot of space and you can't exercise a lot with your dog, don't get a Husky!  They love to run and like to do it as much as possible.  But don't just assume because a dog is a particular breed that they will follow the "breed specifications".  Every dog is and individual and they don't always fit nicely into categories.  If you can't provide the environment that your dog needs, neither you or your dog will be happy.

4) Decide where to go.
"Kill" shelter; "No-kill shelter"; Rescue; Breeder; Pet store; neighbor; Store front . . . there are many places that you can get a dog.  Some are better than others (don't get me started on puppy mills).  Regardless of what you decide, make sure you have done your research!  Don't just research types of dogs . . . research where you decide to go to get your dog.  Ask for references, tour the facilities, make sure you are comfortable with the way the dogs are cared for before you take them to you home.  Ask questions like: How often are the dogs getting exercised?  What type of enrichment do they receive?  The environment you get  your dog from will affect them, so make sure you know what that looks like so you can decide if you can provide your new family member with what it needs.

5) Prepare your home.
This is really a non-stop activity, but is particularly important before you bring your dog home.  If you don't want your dog to chew on shoes or clothes, make sure these things are not left where the dog can get to them.  Hate counter surfing -- don't leave yummy morsels on the counter!  Prepare a cozy space for your dog to sleep (I am a strong proponent of them sleeping in the bedroom, though not on YOUR bed).  Check your property for things that may be hazardous to your dog (plants, pesticides, etc.) and that the fences and gates are well maintained and will not allow your dog to escape.  It is important, particularly in the early months of integrating a new dog into your home, to limit the ways that your new family member can make mistakes.  If the temptation is not there, then it is easy to avoid it.  Look at your house from a dog's perspective . . . do you have valuable nick knacks on the coffee table where they can be toppled by a dog's wagging tail? Instead of trying to keep the dog from whacking them, put them where they are safe from sweeping tails, at least at first and maybe forever.  If you don't want to prepare your home and maybe change some things about it, make sure you add that into the information you include in #2 above . . . if you don't, your new pup may be the source of many frustrations that could have been avoided.

Monday, November 17, 2014

All aboard!

It takes time and consistency to train a dog.  Even if that dog is the family pet, it is very unlikely that your dog was the perfect, well behaved, angel you expected when you brought him home.  Puppy . . . adolescent . . . adult . . . shelter . . . rescue . . . breeder . . . even if they were fully trained, they needed to learn the new house "rules".

Regardless of how much your dog needs to learn when you bring them home, the key to success is getting everyone who will interact with your pup on the same page.  This requires PLANNING!  You have to figure out:
1) How do you expect your dog to behave?
2) What rules are they to follow (and exactly what does that look like)?

It is not enough to determine that your dog must be "friendly".  After all, behavior your 20 year old cousin sees as friendly might scare grandma half to death (or cause her to fall and break her hip)!  You need to decide what "friendly" LOOKS like so everyone knows when the dog is behaving in a way that deserves praise.  Then, you have to make sure everyone who interacts with your dog rewards acceptable behavior and not unacceptable behavior.

This is a picture of a note one of the Paws and Stripes staff left me after she had taken Treun out for a potty break when I was out of the office for a bit.  Before I go into detail about what a wonderful co-trainer Mandy is when she handles dogs in the office, I need to let you in on a few details.  "Good manners" translates to calm behavior such as sitting to greet, waiting to be leashed, walking calmly by handler's side, and not pulling (Treun is a little bit of a freight train when he is excited).  The big rule is that if dogs are in vest, they are working and must be treated as such (minimal interaction as is necessary to complete the task), out of vest they are fair game!

This is such a good example of a person working within the rules.  Mandy clearly reinforces desired behavior by ensuring that Treun behaves properly and she rewards him without causing him to get over excited.  She also adjusted her behavior by interacting with him more than she would normally because he was out of vest.  She also took the time to write a short "progress report" for me so I was aware of how he did while I was gone.  It is wonderful that everyone in the office loves dogs so much but still remembers that even if they are not the primary "trainer", they still have an important role to play in shaping the dogs that they encounter.  

If you are doing anything that helps to shape a dog's behavior, you are participating in the training process -- remember that when an owner corrects their dog for doing something to you that you don't mind . . . just because you don't mind a pup jumping up on you to say "hi" doesn't mean you should let him -- after all, remember grandma's hip!

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Tension creates tension!

An important lesson to be learned when teaching a dog to walk nicely on a leash is to maintain a loose leash because if one puts tension on the leash, the dog will respond by pulling, or pulling harder.  A great way to teach your dog not to pull is to reinforce the idea that if they pull, progress in that direction ceases.  Some common methods used in leash training are standing still or turning in another direction.  Usually "non-aversive" methods use some variation of stopping movement in the desired direction and rewarding the dog for staying in the desired position.

But it is not just having a taunt leash that may cause your dog to pull!  There are at least two other forms of tension to which your dog may respond by pulling.  One of them, I realized long ago (with the help of other trainers) and the other I experienced more recently.

First, there is the tension in the handler.  Even if there is no tension in the leash and that wonderful "J" shape exists between the handler and the dog, the person's tension can move through the leash and transfer from the handler to the dog.  There are many types of tension that travel through the leash.  Something as simple as having a death grip on the leash or as complicated as being preoccupied by everything left undone for the day, can cause your dog to pick up the pace and practically drag you through that daily walk (or in the case of a service animal, the whole day).

But recently, I discovered another kind of tension that affected how well my dogs maintained a loose leash . . . a collar that was adjusted too tightly.  Treun recently went through another growth spurt and I had not noticed that this one had affected his neck size.  While his collars were not overly tight, they were more snug than before.  Once I adjusted them to give him a looser fit, I noticed that he tended not to pull as often.  Now, he is still challenged by high distractions when walking on leash, but the change was noticeable!

So remember, tension - no matter what the source - will contribute to your dog's desire to pull.  Keep the leash loose, stay relaxed, and keep those collars comfy!

Monday, October 27, 2014


Treun is full of energy and if he doesn't get his exercise he can be a pill!  Fortunately, I have managed to find many creative ways to help him burn his physical and mental energy because some days, traditional methods of dog exercise are just not an option.

One of my favorites is hiding things for him to find.  This is a variation on Canine Nose Work -- a newish dog sport that is becoming very popular.  What we do is not nearly as elaborate or as skilled, but it is something that Treun loves to do.  It helps him learn to problem solve, burns energy, and can be done with little to no exertion on my part.  There are lots of variations that I have been shown and I am able to develop the game to provide a constant challenge for Treun but taking my own limitations into account.

Another thing that he loves is having some serious doggie play time!  Fortunately, because I work with dogs for a living, he has plenty of opportunities to enjoy the company of other pups.  He has a great time playing chase or exploring a new smell.  I am seeing that he is getting a bit more selective about his playmates.  He has his favorites while with others he limits his interactions.  He still gets along well with most dogs, but not everyone is his best friend anymore.  Maybe he is growing up a bit!

Monday, October 20, 2014

When did THAT happen??

In the past couple of weeks, I have noticed that it is much easier to get Treun in and out of the car than it was in the beginning. "Of course" you may say. I have been working with him on it so why wouldn't it be better?  But I don't want to talk about how persistence gets results. I am more interested in reflecting on how we register those results.

As I look back, the actual process was gradual.  Once I was finally able to convince Treun that it was possible for him to jump in the car all on his own, the challenge began. He seemed to think that getting in the car was a license to play . . . hard. I had to pad my schedule by about 20 minutes for every time I had to load him into the car because that is how long it took for Treun to stop jumping around, playing tug with the seatbelt, and nipping at me trying to get me to play.  Ah, patience!

Even though I know the changes were gradual, it seems like just yesterday that I was trying to tame the wiggly fuzzy creature in my back seat.  At one point it became a bit of a spectator sport with co-workers hanging around at the end of the day to watch the adventure.  While the current process is not always flawless, there is usually a rhythm to it.  Treun no longer thinks it is time to play.  He positions himself so it is easier to put on his seatbelt and lifts his paws to help with the process.  But I never really registered all of the little pieces coming together.  Only my subconscious noted all of those little successes that gradually improved and came together until, one day, I realized how much the whole process had improved. 

Treun and I are at a point in the training process where he is doing a lot of things well which makes the things he is still learning seem more frustrating. It will make things easier for both of us if I do a better job of noticing all those little improvements. It is important to notice what still needs work, but FOCUS on the improvements!

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Break Time!

It is amazing how quickly Treun is learning.   He is happy to try new things.  If I confuse him (something that I can easily manage to do - especially if I am pushing him too fast), he does not shut down, he just tries something else . . .what a trooper!

He is doing a wonderful job of picking things up for me.  He brings me his leash when I ask and picks up almost anything that is on the floor.  He even uses this skill to make me take much needed breaks at work.  First, he will sit and look at me, giving me the opportunity to be smart about it and take a break without his direct urging.  I must admit, this does not always work (bad handler!) so Treun will be a little insistent and start to wag his tail and grumble at me.  If I do not respond appropriately to THIS attention getting strategy, he pulls out all the stops and resorts to the one thing that always gets me to take a break . . . and to smile.

He finds something on or in my desk, grabs it, drops it on the floor, picks it up and gives it to me! Mission accomplished!  That always works . . . whether it is paperwork, the phone, or even his food bowl, I stop what I am doing and give myself a break!  Not him, though!  Treun gets to practice so it is possible that he is just bored and wants to do some training.  However, so far, his timing has been right on.  I have noticed that when he uses this trick, I really am in need of a break for some reason (stiffness, headache, hungry, thirsty, bathroom, etc.).  Smart boy!

Monday, October 13, 2014

Awww....and here he is!  Actually this is him when he was technically still a "foster".  He did not become mine officially until February 1, 2014.  That is when he got his new name.  

Keeping with the tradition, I drew from Scots Gaelic and named him Treun Bàn which translates to "Fair-haired Hero".  

The shelter listed him as a 2 year old Walker Coonhound/Retriever mix.  He was picked up as a stray so both age and breed are a wild guess.  Ultimately, I will get him genetically tested to get an idea of the breeds that make up my little Heinz 57.  But, for now, he is developing into quite the young dog.  Almost too smart for his own good and full of curiosity and energy.  Based on how much he has matured and grown/filled out since I got him, both my Veterinarian and I don't think he was two at the time -- maybe now . . . 

As you can see, He loves Cura.  You wouldn't know it from this picture, but Cura loves him, too.  I can't tell if Cura is barely tolerating having her picture taken, Treun getting in her face, or both in this shot.  Probably both!  

Wednesday, October 8, 2014


I realized in early 2013 that my sweet girl was slowing down.  Don't get me wrong, she still LOVED to work, but the days were getting too long and too busy for her to handle easily.  Cura was always excited when she knew we were heading out and she always did amazing -- making things so much easier for me -- but things were changing.

It took a long time (about a year), but Cura finally picked her successor this past February.  A young man who wormed his way into our hearts as a foster . . . and just stayed.  Yes, I am officially a "foster failure".  But it was time and Cura and I seemed ready -- or so I thought.  I came to realize that neither of us were truly ready for the reality of this transition . . . but here we are . . . and Treun makes three! 

Tune in next time to meet the new man of the house . . .