The secret ingredient in dog training

secret ingredient in dog training

Get down on the ground with your dog

Have you ever wondered why some dogs just seem to magically be more responsive and engaging with their owners? Do you wonder why all your training seems to go out the window when your dog has other options than paying attention to you? If so, you’re not alone and in this blog post I will attempt to explain why the secret ingredient in dog training is more than obedience.  The secret ingredient might be your relationship.

What do I mean by relationship

Your relationship with your dog is your entire history of not only punishment and reinforcement but also and most importantly the amount of time you spend with them. The amount of time feeding, training, playing, snuggling, walking, and taking for adventures.  It also has plenty to do with how we institute consequences, both good and bad. How predictable our love and affection is as well as our punishments make up a large context for the bond between human and canine.  Your relationship with your dog is demonstrated in large degree by how well we have established ourselves as an opportunity for reinforcement, fun, play, freedom and learning and very importantly, safety.

To Cue or Command?

In dog training these two terms are often interchangeable.  However there is a significant difference with relation to consequences and it can affect your relationship with your dog.  I am often asked when approaching new training clients what commands I teach.  I tell them very matter of factly, I teach cues not commands. Command is a word we all know and it implies a consequence of punishment.  It is authoritative and challenging and removes any options for your dog to disagree with your request. Conversely, if you consider your request to sit, down, stay or come a cue, your thought to correct them may be replaced with thought of why doesn’t my dog want to do this for me right now in this place and time.  With that information we can construct better approaches to asking them to perform next time.  Imagine living with or working for someone who never lets you make your own decisions. In other words imagine having no agency or faculties in your life. That would surely sour any relationship, even if there is love and affection behind it all.

The power of choice

With respect to the cue vs. command scenario mentioned above, what is being offered to your dog and possibly best friend, is the power of choice.  The choice to be safe, the choice to rest, the choice to observe or discover and the choice try again another day.  Choice is control and when humans, dogs or any organism looses control over their lives unwanted behavior patterns will emerge.  Giving dogs a choice is a huge dog training secret and often neglected in traditional dog training. Being able to make more choices of their own lends dogs more confidence and self reliance. Conversely, the more we control our dogs the more they tend to act out and demand or ignore us.  Consequently, the dog becomes more frustrated and even depressed leading to a state of what is called learned helplessness.   Here are two examples of how we don’t offer choice to our dogs.

  • You walk your timid or unsocialized dog past other excited and eager dogs and let them jump on him thus neglecting your dogs disinterest and forcing the interaction on them in hopes of some kind of social interaction.
  • You put your dogs food down and they stare at it and walk away.  As a result you top it off with some kind of topper or human food. Your dog not only learns that no means your will give them better but he also gets pressured to eat the meal you just put down. What if he had a tooth ache, or wasn’t feeling well? Doesn’t he deserve a choice in the matter?

Not so secret ingredients: Fun, Food, and Play


All dogs come wired to love to eat.  If your dog isn’t particularly interested in eating that is an unnatural condition and you should consider looking into how it got that way.  Consider first that all baby animals start their lives associating their food with their primary care giver or “most important person in their life”.  Food and eating creates positive feeling and associations which are long lasting.  For those dog owners who refuse to use food and treats as motivation or who use them very stingily are doing a disservice to themselves as food used generously in training and reinforcing desired behaviors is likely one of the most powerful tools we have for building strong and long lasting relationships with our pets.

Fun and Play:

What are we all working so hard for anyway? Whether your fun is surfing, visiting new places, or just reading a book, fun is what makes all the rest of your life worthwhile.  Without it we are miserable. Likewise, without enough fun in their lives, our dogs unwanted behaviors will become problematic and seep into our lives, diminishing our relationship. In order to keep our bonds strong we need to incorporate more fun into our dogs lives. This means learning how they like to play and what stimulates them.  For example, I just finished a fantastic seminar on play therapy with Dr. Amy Cook which showed huge success’ in using a modified version of play to help dogs cope with stressful situations.  It turns out specific types of play can rehabilitate the most fearful and reactive behaviors in dogs.  Here are some suggestions on how to engage better with your dogs to promote fun.

  • Get on the floor with them and use your body more (dogs love it when you’re on their level)
  • Play with your dog, not at them. Make sure they have time to initiate and say stop during play.
  • Take them to a new park or down a new street (new is fun)
  • Teach them a new trick (learning is fun)
  • Use their noses more. Hide food in your fists or clothing and use them to institute play and keep them involved if they aren’t into your hands.  Go slow and don’t forget to laugh.
  • visit http://playwaydogs.com.  Dr. Amy Cook is amazing and she has affordable online classes.

No more fears

Teaching your dogs what behavior you find appropriate and those you want to discourage doesn’t mean we have to train them with the threat of punishment and pain.  Your dogs relationship with you largely stems from how we respond respond to them over time.  Be the source of security to your dogs and don’t let them down by using harsh training methods and tools that cause pain like pinch, choke and shock collars.  It’s no dog training secret that these tools and methods cause pain and confusion, damaging any relationship. Pay attention to their body language and remove them from situations they find overwhelming.  Use food and touch to calm them in stressful times if possible. Don’t force unwanted social interactions and give them a place to feel safe.  I promise the more you learn to identify signs of stress in your dog and act accordingly, your bond and responsiveness from your best friends will improve.  For an easy read on canine body language check out “On Talking Terms with Dogs”, by Turid Rugass.

Control is a myth

Why do we have the deep desire to control things? Maybe it has something to do with how much is constantly changing in our world.  Maybe the illusion of control offers our minds some kind of stability or traction in this wobbly and wonky world.  If we can control some aspects of our life then we can add more complexity to our lives.  Eventually, when we are in over our heads we tighten up our grips and try even harder to control.  This may be with our dogs or anything actually.

Consider your children if you have them.  Do you offer them choice when teaching them or do you decide everything for them? When they make the right decision on their own did you respond to those actions and choose to reinforce them, hoping for more of the same behaviors in the future?  If so you were teaching the value of choice, not control. If anything, the power of choice teaches self control, furthering our connection to our children and dogs.

In Conclusion, instead of the old paradigm of imposing discipline and obedience onto our dogs as the reason they respond to us, let’s focus on that secret ingredient in dog training.  A strong relationship and bond with our animals that includes more food, fun, freedom, and choice may be what is needed for a more responsive and eager dog.

How to Move Home With Your Dog

cavalier dog image

How to Move Home with Your Dog

Moving home is one of the most stressful experiences you can have. According to Nicky Lidbetter, chief executive of Anxiety UK, this is because it involves “having to cope with change.” However, it can be even worse for your dog.

Dogs become very attached to their regular surroundings, and uprooting them to a new location can be very stressful. If not properly settled, dogs can become stressed and develop behavioral problems. However, with a little forward planning, you can help your dog to experience a stress-free, successful transition to their new home.

House Hunting with Your Dog in Mind

Before you begin your search, work out what you and your dog need in a home. Remember that just because a building allows pets doesn’t make it suitable for your pet. Once you know what you need, find a realtor who really understands your needs. This means that they won’t waste your time showing you unsuitable properties and will be able to answer questions about how pet-friendly the neighborhood truly is.

As well as talking to the realtor, do your own research. Walking your dog around your potential new neighborhood gives you the opportunity to explore local dog parks and talk to other dog owners about the pet friendliness of the area.

You’ll also need to assess how suitable your new home is for your dog. Your most important concern should be safety. For example, if the property has a yard, make sure that it’s fenced-in. However, you may have to install a new fence yourself. Like hiring a removal firm, readying your new home is one of the hidden but necessary costs of relocating; for example, in nearby Anaheim, a wooden fence can cost between $1,520 and $3,000, according to HomeAdvisor. As well as making sure that the property is secure, you’ll need to assess how safe the landscaping is for your pet. Common plants such as daffodils, azaleas, and sago palms can be poisonous to pets.

Moving Day with Your Dog

In the weeks leading up to your move, plan your dog’s transition as well as your own. Moving day is a very disruptive day, especially for your dog. Not only will their whole routine is disrupted, but all of their familiar objects and smells will disappear.  

The easiest and safest option is to ask a friend or family member to look after your dog. This is a low-stress option, especially if your pet is familiar with their home. Should you choose to use a pet sitter or a boarding kennel start looking well before your moving day. You will find many options online so you’ll need to do your research and find a reliable sitter. You may also need to get your dogs worming and vaccinations up to date beforehand.

Helping Your Dog to Settle In

Remember that dogs like routine and familiar scents and places. If your dog does start to exhibit signs of stress, don’t worry. Even the most relaxed dog will take time to settle into a new home so be patient. Try interacting with your pet more than usual. Settling your dog into a routine as quickly as possible brings a sense of familiarity, helping your pet to relax. Studies have also shown that lavender and regularly grooming your pet can reduce stress levels. We suggest using the lavender at home regularly first so your dog associates the lavender smell in the new home with the known lavender smell from before. Another option to help keep your pets calm during a move is Pet CBD.  All Paws Essentials Pet CBD has shown to be helpful when dealing with the stress of moving. Start giving you dog or cat the Pet CBD a few days ahead of time and during the transition for best results.

It can also be tempting to buy your dog a new bed, toys, and even food and water bowls. However, this can be doubly disruptive for your dog. These things all have a familiar scent and their presence in your new home will be reassuring to your dog. Setting up a crate (you can find affordable options at retailers like PetCo for around $33.99 and up) that you can fill with familiar objects, such as blankets, toys, and scents, will provide your dog with a safe place to go while they acclimatize to their new surroundings.

Moving home can be a stressful and difficult time for all members of the family, including your dog. Taking the time to consider your pet’s needs at every stage of the journey can help to ease any added stress from the situation. It can also help your dog to quickly settle into its new home.

Image via Pixabay

credit to

Cindy Aldridge


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