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!

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Some things change, some things stay the same(ish)

Well, August is almost here.  Where in the heck has 2015 gone!

We have a few changes happening in August, mainly in preparation for increasing our numbers as our new Associate Trainers finish start to move from the "training" phase of their probation and into the "doing" phase.  Once our new additions are ready, we will be able to handle more teams in training at one time.  Of course, we are very excited and looking forward to assisting more veterans and dogs.  It also means that our current class structure needs some adjustments to ensure everyone is getting the best service possible for such a large group.  One of the things that will help this restructuring is our budding mentor program.

Summer can be a hard time to make changes because kids are out of school, vacations happen, and generally it is a time of regeneration and recreation for people.  Despite that, we have quite a bit of interest from graduates about the mentor program.  Things should really pick up in August once the kids go back to school.  It is going to be wonderful for enrollees to have access to graduates of the program who have had similar experiences and struggled to the ones they are facing while going through training.  I have already seen some benefits with the limited contact that has taken place already and can't wait to see our graduates in action as things pick up.

Then there is Celebration of Heroes coming up at the end of August!  Time to honor our graduates and recognize all those wonderful people who make what Paws and Stripes does possible.  Each year this event gets better.  Basically, it is a big ol' party and we love it.  Work hard/play hard...see some things stay the same(ish).

Wednesday, July 15, 2015


My goodness, so much has been going on here at Paws and Stripes. I have barely managed to keep up with the other social media duties and CLEARLY the blog has taken a back seat.  But, I think I may have managed to adjust to all the new developments and am back into some kind of routine (fingers crossed).  There is much to share, but I am going to do it in installments so the posts stay on the "quick and easy to read" side of things.

For those who get the Paws and Stripes Newsletter, this blog will be taking the place of "From the DoE's Desk"  in addition to other topics as they come up.  Posts will range from program updates to general training or service dog related topics (and maybe the odd wild hair, just because).

Nathan Savage
Now for the first bit of BIG NEWS!  A few months ago, Paws and Stripes received a grant which provided funding for additional trainers and since then, we have been in the process of hiring.  I am happy to announce that, between May 1 and July 1 our Training Department almost doubled in size! We now have three new Associate Trainers going through their probationary period working a total number 73 hours per week between them. That means that once they are fully trained, we will be able to DOUBLE the number of Teams we can enroll in the program at any given time!

Dianna Franco
Ariel Madrigal-Wisely

We are very excited about the prospect of increasing our capacity.  Each new Trainer has their own strengths and will enhance the program in their own unique way.

As I have done in the past, I will dedicate a whole post to each of them in the months to come.  But here is a little teaser to give you a taste of our new talent and what each of them brings to the table:

served as a United States Marine and is a Paws and Stripes Graduate.  He and his service dog Pepper finished the program in January 2012.

was one of our  interns and impressed us so much that we asked her to become a member of staff.  She has a degree in Psychology and Anthropology and experience working with individuals with various medical conditions.

has experience training pets at an international pet store chain and has an education in companion animals and introductory speech pathology studies.  She relocated from over three hours away to join the Paws and Stripes family.

Normally, I prefer more candid shots, but I am breaking the newbies in slowly so everyone got a few seconds warning that the camera was coming out.  I even let them mess about in front of a mirror before they got to pose for their pictures.

I hope they enjoyed it because it probably won't happen that way very often in the future!

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Meet our Family!: Yvette Magee

Yvette and Ludo
Next in our "meet the family" series is Yvette Magee.  Our most recent Senior Trainer, Yvette has been with us since August of 2012.  She is an amazing addition to the Training Department and our "hands-free" advocate.  She loves to help strengthen that bond of confidence and trust between veteran and dog by using hands-free control.  Here is a bit about Yvette...

1) What made you decide to become a Paws and Stripes Trainer?
Hmm. Let me think. That was a long time ago! I liked the idea of working with dogs while using my previous background and including the “medical” element of working with TBI & PTSD.  I also thought it would be a challenge that allowed for personal growth.  I was looking forward to gaining knowledge that I could not get, otherwise.

2) What do you like most about working at Paws and Stripes?
I definitely have to say it’s the comradery, the atmosphere and my coworkers.  I love the fact that we are listened to and our opinions are valued.  I have seen some of my ideas developed since I have been here.

On top of that, service dog training for veterans makes me feel like I am supporting people who have dedicated their lives for our freedom.

3) What do you find most challenging about working at Paws and Stripes?
It can be hard watching the Teams struggle.  It is frustrating when a veteran does not realize their dog’s potential which can happen throughout the program, especially in the beginning or when they hit a wall.

4) How is Paws and Stripes service dog training different from pet training?
The expectations for the dogs are very different because they are relied on by the veteran.  The skills learned must be spot-on so the Team can be successful in public situations.  When training pets, there is a lot more leniency because most people do not put their pets in such challenging circumstances.

5)  What are your short term goals?
In the near future, I plan to pass the CPDT-KA test, lead my first dog assessment, and continue to develop my skills working with reactive dogs.

6) Do you have any message for the people out there?
Remember that service dogs are essential to the wellbeing of their handlers.  Allowing Teams to go about their business with discretion and respect helps the dog to stay focused and lets the handler lead a productive life.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Top Tips Tuesday: "I know I am not supposed to touch your dog . . . "

One of the more challenging things that the Teams in our program deal with is well meaning people coming up to them in public and distracting their dogs.  Bear in mind, for the Paws and Stripes program, until they complete their Final Assessment, dog and veteran are still learning.  Even after graduation, it may be a rough day for the veteran, requiring the dog to be extra diligent.  So, here are some friendly tips to help all you well meaning people out there to make it easier for all those service dog teams when they are out and about.

1) Ignore the dog
Pretend that it is not there.  This is more than "not touching".  Anything that could take the dog's focus off of their job is a potential problem for their handler.  Kissing noises, snapping fingers, talking to them, bending over them, petting, pointing it out to your screaming child so that s/he stops, you name it-if it could distract the dog, don't do it.

2) Don't bother the Team
Please remember that the person has a service dog to help them accomplish everyday tasks that are made difficult because of their disability or disabilities.  It may be all that person can do to get to the store to pick up a few much needed supplies.  This probably does not include talking to every stranger they come across as they walk through the store.  For all you dog lovers and/or patriots out there that are compelled to say something, try something that is not intended as a conversation starter.  A "beautiful dog", "thank you for your service", or bright smile and a nod is a way to let the Team know you appreciate them without drawing them into a full blown encounter.  

3) About petting the dog . . .
So, you can't help yourself and you just HAVE to ask if you can pet the dog . . . tip one and two have flown out the window!  If you find yourself in this situation, you need to know that even answering that question may be taxing to the handler.  I have gotten to the point where I decide right when I walk out the door whether that day is going to be a day where I will let people pet my dog based on how I am doing that day.  Then, I try to reassess periodically throughout the day in case things have taken a down turn.  This way, I don't have to try an figure out if it is a bad idea or not when I am asked.  Some people are very liberal and allow almost anyone who asks to pet their dog.  I'll be honest, if asked, I would have to classify myself as conservative.  Now, a lot of that is based on how I am doing, but there is a part that is based on my dog.  Treun LOVES people and is still very young so he tends to feed off of the excited energy strangers give off when they are allowed to touch him.  He is still learning to stay calm.  Cura has always been a little standoffish and (apart from a few people) tends to stay pretty calm when greeting.  So, your chances of getting to greet Cura are higher at this point than Treun.  But that is an age and length of working thing.  

Just remember . . . that service dog is out there for the person with the disability.  If they do not let you pet their dog, it is not personal.  That decision has nothing to do with you and everything to do with what is best for the team!

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Top Tips Tuesday: Let's talk "aversive"

It's a huge debate in the dog training world . . .

Call me optimistic, but I want to believe that, in general, dog trainers want to do what is best for the dogs they train.  Which, ideally, translates to doing no harm.  If this is the case, why is there such an uproar about "aversive" training methods.  You may notice that I put quotations around the word aversive.  This is because there are so many training methods and equipment that are considered humane by some and aversive by others.  For example, many trainers classify things like shock collars and prong collars as aversive, while others argue that they are humane if used properly.  How, if we can not come up with a common understanding of what is humane and what is aversive, can we find common ground for discussion?

So . . . what makes a training method or technique "aversive"?

Personally, I define aversive training using a very broad brush stroke.  It is not just about inflicting pain or scaring the dog (although that is certainly aversive) . . . it is also about using any kind of interaction that is unpleasant to the dog.  The key words here are "unpleasant to the dog".  If your dog's body language indicates that they are not enjoying the interaction, then what you are doing can fall under the umbrella of "aversive" whether that is your intention or not.

For example, I have had clients that are very enthusiastic when they give their dog physical affection.  They ruffle the ears roughly, pound on the chest, or any number of other actions that could easily be overwhelming to a dog, depending on their nature.  Some of these clients have dogs that revel in this more "rough housing" kind of handling while others have dogs that want nothing to do with that kind of interaction.  These dogs, instead of responding as desired to a recall,  refuse to take those last few steps to bring them into reach of the handler.  Usually, the handler misses the fact that the dog is trying to please by coming closer while simultaneously trying to avoid the physical "mauling" that takes place when they get within arm's reach of their handler.

Let's say you treat train.  What would you say if I suggested that it is possible to be aversive when using treats for training?  Well, what if your dog hates the treats you are using!?  I have one dog that is crazy about ANY food . . . fruit, veggies, meat.  I honestly do not know of anything that she has turned her nose up on.  However, I have another girl who HATES carrots and most fruits.  How effective do you think my training would be if I decided to treat train her using carrot pieces.  Because she finds carrot unpleasant, using them as a reward when training would, in affect, be aversive!  However, not actually inhumane, since carrots are good for her, but they would have the effect of applying something unpleasant causing a behavior to be suppressed. No wonder the whole debate can be both confusing and filled with emotions!

Bottom line. . . be careful when using training methods that are unpleasant for your dog . . . studies show that the results you get may not be the ones you want!  For more information on potential results of aversive training click here.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Meet our Family! Josh Kendall

I thought it might be nice to introduce you to the amazing people that make up the Paws and Stripes family.  I am going to start with one of our dedicated Trainers, Josh Kendall.  Actually, Josh is more than just a Paws and Stripes Trainer, he is also a graduate of the program.  He is an excellent example of how the Paws and Stripes program can change a Veteran's life for the better. So, here is a bit about Josh . . .

1) What made you decide to become a Paws and Stripes Trainer?
The people.  When I went through the program, I experienced the people working at Paws and Stripes. I had a lot of challenges in my program and I had to get very good at dog handling and stay persistent.  Many times I called someone at Paws and Stripes saying that the program was too hard and I wanted to withdraw.  But, I didn't really want to quit, I just needed the encouragement to continue.  Everyone at Paws and Stripes was very supportive and when I graduated I wanted to give back to the program. So, when I was approached about the possibility of becoming a Trainer, I jumped at the chance.

2) What do you like most about working at Paws and Stripes?
Again, the people.  This is not what I would call a typical job.  The supervisors listen and everyone understands my disabilities.  That makes a big difference to me and makes it easier to come to work each day.

3) What do you find most challenging about working at Paws and Stripes?
I guess the hardest thing for me is to avoid taking work home and taking the Teams' struggles home with me.  I know it is not an easy program, but I also know what a difference graduating has made in my life so I want everyone to succeed.  It can be hard for me to see them struggling.

I do have trouble coming up with the words to provide clear instructions.  I know what I want to say and it is clear in my head, but it doesn't always come out that way when I speak-especially if I am working in front of a group.  It can be frustrating, but I am getting better and it helps to work with people who are patient and give me the space to work it out.

4) What are some of the benefits you experienced while going through the Paws and Stripes program?
Ha . . . let me count the ways!  There are a lot of them, but I will give you the "big" ones.
-I learned to talk about how I was doing instead of bottling things up until I blew.  Now, instead of pushing through and burning out, I have learned to pace myself and accept when I need to give myself a break.
-It opened up communication with my family and friends.  Now, they have a better understanding of what I deal with on a daily basis.  They have all commented on how much I have changed since I got Gromit and went through the program.
-I go out in public now.  That is something I hardly ever did . . . and ONLY when absolutely necessary.
-I have been employed with Paws and Stripes for almost 2 years.  This is the longest I have managed to keep a job since I separated from the Marines.
-I have developed a deep appreciation for dogs.  Before entering the program, I was not a big dog lover.  In fact, I was so uncomfortable around them, I thought Gromit was going to eat my face while I was sleeping!

5)  What are your short term goals?
I want to keep training for Paws and Stripes, of course.  But I am also preparing to that the CPDT-KA exam (a national certification for dog trainers) to add to my ABCDT certification.  After that, I will probably pursue the CPDT-KSA certification.

6) Do you have any message for the people out there?
Live in the present, not the past.  Plan for the future, don't worry about it

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Top Tips Tuesday: National Train Your Dog Month

Wow!  Such a busy week!  It has been so crazy at the office that I almost didn't manage to post today.  Better late than never!

January 2015 is the fifth annual National Train Your Dog Month. According to APDT (Association of Professional Dog Trainers), they developed the campaign to shed light on the benefits and enjoyment of training and socializing one's dogs. In honor of this amazing idea, I want to give everyone some hints that I keep in mind when dog training. 

1) Keep in mind that training is more than introducing a behavior or skill. 
"Teaching" (associating a behavior or action with a cue) is just the first step!  Once the dog knows what a cue means, it is important to continually reinforce this "teaching" by practicing the skill in different locations and scenarios. If you want your dog to respond to a cue with consistency, you need to provide many opportunities to reinforce what you taught them.  This, too, should be considered training; NOT just the 6 class puppy or basic training you attend right after getting your dog. Training is a daily activity that is part of your daily interaction with your dog.

2) Don't train when you are in a hurry or frustrated.
It can be hard, in our fast paced lives, to slow down and relax. Spending time training your dog is a wonderful way to give yourself permission to take a break (after all, you are working on improving your dog)!  On top of giving yourself a break from the daily chaos and irritations, slowing down and relaxing makes you more fun to be around which means your dog will be more inclined to WANT to engage with you and respond to the cues you give.  Rule of thumb: don't do it if you are trying to rush out the door or are upset about something (including the fact that your dog is not getting it - frequently descibed by the handlers as their dog being "stubborn" or "mad").

3) Keep training "sessions" short.
Out of necessity, when you work with a trainer, you frequently have one hour (or more) training sessions.  But when you are working with your dog without a trainer, it is best to work with your dog in spurts throughout the day instead of big chucks of time at once. Believe it or not, this is much easier than having to find a full hour all at once everyday. Instead break it up. Ask you dog for skills when you are engaging with them anyway. For example, reinforce the sit by asking for it before releasing to eat, putting on the leash, going out the door to potty, getting in or out of the car, etc. Make it a game by seeing how many opportunities you can find to reinforce a skill.  Create a competition between family members and be creative with the prizes (like the winner gets to have someone else do a hated household task for them such as doing the dishes, cleaning up after the dog in the yard, taking out the trash, etc.)

4) Take advantages of the resources out there. 
There are wonderful resources available from reputable trainers online. As long as you are an informed consumer, you can get some great information.  National organizations like APDT and individual trainers like Pat Miller of Peaceable Paws put all kinds of tips, webinars, and instruction online free of charge.  Just make sure that the training methods and philosophies being promoted serve to strengthen your dog's bond with and trust in you. For example, APDT has some great stuff available this month at

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Top Tips Tuesday: "Place"

Teaching your dog to settle in a spot that is out of the way is an invaluable skill.  It can help with all sorts of things.  Unpleasant behaviors such as crazy greetings or flipping out when the doorbell rings can be addressed using this skill.  On top of that, it is a great way to keep your dog out from underfoot when you are cooking or working on a project that they are bound and determined to "help" you complete. But how can you teach your bouncy pup to lay still in a particular place?

1) Determine where your pup's place will be
There are a number of ways to do this, but I prefer to use something portable.  Mainly because this allows me to create a "place" no matter where I am because where I put that object is where they need to park.  For this purpose you can use a number of things: yoga mat, towel, travel bed, bath mat, neoprene mat -- basically anything that your dog can lay on in comfort and is easy to transport.  If you choose not to have the place be portable, be sure to put some thought into your location choice.  You want to make sure it is in a safe place for the dog (not underfoot or in a traffic way) but in a location that is not removed from the rest of the activity.  On top of that, you need to be very clear in your own mind where your dog's place is.  If you are not precise, then your dog's placement will be sloppy and therefore, less effective in keeping your dog safely out of the way.

2) "Charge" the place
In other words, associate good things with their place.  Maybe that is the only place that they get to chew on a favorite chewy or cuddle with a favorite toy.  The important thing is that they are given or get to do something that they enjoy.  Some people like to used clickers and/or treats.  What is important is that going to their place means good things happen.  If you don't make being on their place fun, they will have no desire to go there.

3) NEVER use their place as a punishment!
This is one of the reasons you should not choose a location that is away from the rest of the family.  Dogs are social creatures so removing them from all of the activity works as a form of punishment.  On top of that, you want them to be excited about going to their place, not unhappy.  If you use their place as a punishment, you will find that your dog will resist going which makes this skill ineffective as a solution for unwanted behavior.

4) Reward baby steps
I think this should be on the tip list for EVERYTHING we teach our dogs!  Don't just reward perfection, especially during the learning process.  You may have to start of rewarding your dog for putting one foot on their place and gradually build up to standing with all four feet on the place.  Once you get them standing on their place consistently, then work on getting them to sit, then down, and finally stay for increasingly longer periods of time.  Remember, it will take several practice sessions in different locations to ensure that your dog has generalized any skill or behavior.  After all, going to their place at home while everyone is relaxing for the evening is VERY different than going to their place during a birthday party!