Author Archives: connieswaim

About connieswaim

Dog trainer, writer, reader, lover of fine wine

Don’t let your pet become a July 4 statistic

I spent an hour last night rubbing the belly of Harley, the Chihuahua. Outside, fireworks were booming. Inside Harley was jumping up each time he heard a loud boom and racing frantically from window to window. When I went to bed; he followed me as usual; but could not settle or relax. Each new bang brought shivering and barking. I found that rubbing his tummy helped him relax. Every time I heard a boom; I started rubbing his belly and after about half an hour the noise of our neighbors celebrating the Fourth of July early wasn’t as stressful for the little guy and we were both able to get some sleep.

harley napping

This is Harley after an hour of belly rubs. He was able to go to sleep despite the continuing fireworks.

Statistically; more pets go missing in the days leading up to and following the Fourth of July than any other time of year. The ASPCA says July 5 is the busiest day for U.S. animal shelters in terms of people bringing in lost pets or people searching for their lost pet. It is estimated there is a 30 percent uptick on July 5 of lost pets.

Sadly, the statics of people who find their lost pet are not so encouraging. The ASPCA estimates between 15 to 20 percent of lost dogs are reunited with their families and only two percent of cats find their families again.

It isn’t just the fireworks that cause this upswing in lost animals. We LOVE to travel with our pets. Many people take the family pet to their favorite holiday spot or to visit family and friends. If the pet goes missing he is now in unfamiliar territory with no idea where home is.

Here are some tips to keep your pet safe this holiday season.

•••• Identification: seems simple, but so many people forget about it; especially for animals that rarely go outside. Animals have been known to go to great lengths to escape during fireworks including going through screened windows and even through glass. All pets should be wearing some form of identification.

I recommend two forms: A collar with an ID tag and a microchip. The collar with the ID tag will help someone locate you quickly. More people are likely to stop and help a pet if they see an ID tag because they know there will be a way to contact the owner. Don’t rely on your Rabies’ tag. Yes, it can help get your pet home; but the person finding your pet would have to wait until your veterinarian is open to get contact information. Your pet’s ID should have your CURRENT phone number. It is amazing how many pets are found with ID that has an outdated number. My ID tag also says Alone = Lost so anyone finding my dog will know if he isn’t with me; he is lost.

However, you also need a microchip on your pet. Lots of animals lose their collars when they are lost. I deliberately have my collar loose enough so my dog could get out of it if he became stuck. A microchip is a tiny device (the size of a grain of rice) implanted under your pet’s skin. A special scanner can find the chip and read the information. That information then has to be called into the chip company so the owner’s contact information can be located. Again, during holidays it might be 24 to 48 hours before someone can be found who can scan the pet. Veterinarians and animal shelters have the scanners and the information needed to retrieve the owner contact information. If your pet is microchipped now is a great time to log into your microchip company’s website and ensure your contact information is up to date.

There are also lots of GPS tracking systems now available for pets as well. These go on your dog’s collar. Again; only useful if your dog does not lose the collar. Don’t wait until your pet is lost though to try and figure out how the software works.

•••• Does your pet have to travel with you? While you love the companionship of your dog; and you know your dog loves you; is he really going to have as much fun as you are traveling to a Fourth of July Celebration? If he does travel with you; make sure he has a very safe and secure place to be anytime he is not with you.

•••• Don’t take your dog with you to the firework’s display. Even if he seems ok with loud noises, the flashing lights; people screaming, children rushing around with Sparklers, etc. are stressful to dogs. Believe me, your dog does not want to see the fireworks display.

•••• Bring outdoor cats inside. Put them in your garage if there is no other place to keep them. Not only are cats also afraid of fireworks, but each year there are horrific stories of people taking cats and doing horrendous things to them during the Fourth of July.

•••• Bring outdoor dogs inside. Dogs can easily break chains when they are terrified. Imagine being scared and being tied up. It is horrific for dogs. And if you have an invisible fence; forget it. Something like 30 percent of lost dogs are wearing invisible fence collars. Four years ago on July 3 I stopped at a four way stop sign and a huge dog came barreling out of a field frantically jumping at my windows. He was covered in drool and shaking so hard he could barely stand. He jumped in my car as soon as I opened the door. He was wearing an invisible fence collar, but no other ID. Luckily he was microchipped. Sadly, the primary contact number was no longer in service. Luckily, the secondary contact number still went to a relative of the owner and after three hours I was able to contact the owner and get his dog home to him. He said the dog had been out in the yard and had “never gone through the electric fence before.”

•••• If you know noises are problematic for your pet; spend some time preparing for the Fourth of July. Get some of his favorite chew items and stock up. Chewing can be very calming. If your dog heads to the bathtub when he is scared; line the tub with blankets and some chews for him. Do not allow children to bother the dog while he is scared.

harley belly rub

Harley says it is hard to be stressed if you are getting lip licks from Skywalker and belly rubs from Mom.

Some websites still advocate not consoling the animal when it is scared. The thinking is that if you pet the dog or tell him it is ok then you are rewarding him for being scared. This is hogwash. If you were terrified of a spider and I hugged you; would you be more or less scared of the spider? Rubbing Harley’s tummy is a perfect example. Instead of making his behavior worse; I was able to reduce his anxiety because I was pairing something he loved (a tummy rub) with the sound of the bangs. If I was rewarding his barking behavior; then it should have gotten worse, not better.

•••• If your dog is truly phobic of loud noises; please seek the help of a veterinarian. There are several great products available. You can also look into products such as the Thundershirt and ADAPTIL. My previous dog, Condor, was terrified of fireworks. He would pant and drool. The Thundershirt definitely brought down his anxiety. He was still afraid, but it lessened the panting and drooling and allowed him to be in his crate curled up in a tight ball.

I generally don’t go to the local fireworks displays. I stay home and make sure the pets are ok. When I got pets I realized that they were a commitment that would sometimes mean that I had to think of their welfare.




Conflict can be so conflicting


I met with a client yesterday who spent most of our consult saying “but that’s not what the other trainer told me.”

There is a lot of conflicting information out there when it comes to dog training and dog behavior. There are at least two trainers in my geographic region who could not be more different from me in terms of our philosophies. Several times I have gone to someone’s home who has hired one of these other trainers in the past and it is obviously very confusing for the person to hear me say something which turns out to be vastly different from what the other trainer told them.

Who is right? Who is wrong?

First, where I live there are absolutely no regulations overseeing dog trainers. Anyone can be a dog trainer. Many of us who are trainers don’t agree about training procedures. We tend to use words that the average person may not understand. And we don’t all agree on the definitions of the words we do use.

No wonder our clients are confused. I try really hard never to bad mouth a trainer who has come before me. For one thing; I’m sure there are times when that trainer is the person who is called after me. I would hate for him or her to bad mouth me. Instead I try to provide information so clients can make up their own minds.

I explain why I use positive training methods and why I don’t recommend dominance based or force based training methods. I can do that without specifically slamming the other trainer.

For example, with the client I spoke with yesterday; the other trainer told the client that he needed a prong collar on the dog so the owner could do a better job of “asserting dominance” over the dog. The other trainer also slapped the dog on the nose when the dog did something the trainer did not like. The trainer told the client that by slapping the dog on the nose, he (the trainer) was mimicking how dogs communicated with each other.

I could explain to my client that what we know about dominance and how it is applied to training has changed dramatically over the years. The dog was not dominating his owner. No resources were involved. Dominance needs a resource such as a mate; food, a place to sleep. Instead the client had an 80 pound adolescent dog that was destroying furniture. The dog was bored out its mind. He wasn’t eating the table because he wanted to dominate his owner. He was eating the table because he wasn’t being walked enough and he wasn’t being given enough to do with his brain.

Likewise, smacking the dog on the nose isn’t going to help the dog learn not to eat the table. It is just going to make the dog know that his owner is scary and unpredictable. Dogs may sometimes nip each other as a warning and a mother dog certainly could grab a puppy by the snout. But, that has nothing to do with boredom. And dogs know their owners aren’t other dogs. So, even trying to mimic what dogs do to each other probably make zero sense to a dog. Plus, we aren’t fast enough. If you watch dogs interact, when they correct each other it is lightning fast. Humans will never be that fast. So, when we do correct a dog; our correction is often so far behind the behavior we are trying to correct that we end up punishing the dog for something else entirely.

Also, when dogs and wolves interact; there is always a choice when it comes to who is dominate and who is submissive. For example, if I am the dominate wolf in a group; and I see another lesser ranked wolf with a tasty bone, I might decide I would like that bone. I am not going to rush in and smack the other wolf on the nose or grab his neck and pinch him. Instead I am going to walk over in a confident manner and look at the bone. I might raise my front lips and show my canines. I could ruffle up my fur to make myself look taller. The entire point is I want to AVOID a conflict, not start one.

The wolf with the bone now has a choice. Does he want to let me have the bone? Does he want to avoid a conflict? Or, has he decided the time has come for him to take over? If the wolf with the bone wants to avoid conflict and if he has decided he can’t win a fight; he will submit. He may roll over and expose his stomach. He may just slink away and leave the bone. But, it is his CHOICE. The dominant wolf didn’t force the issue. The wolf with the bone could decide he does not want to give up the bone. He could whine; show his teeth back; try and take the bone farther away. The two wolves might engage in a lot of posturing. But, whatever happens it almost always ends without a fight. One wolf just says “fine, let’s not fight about it.” Sometimes it might end in a fight if the two wolves both decide they won’t back down. However, it is still a choice.

So, if you alpha roll a dog (force him to lay on his back and expose his neck and stomach); you are NOT behaving like a wolf. No wolf would have forced the other one on its back. Instead you are acting scary. You are not following canid protocol. You are dangerous and your dog may decide he has to bite you.

But, don’t take my word for it. The American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior has some awesome information on the subject and you can take their word for it. According to their website, “The American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior (AVSAB) is a group of veterinarians and research professionals who share an interest in understanding behavior in animals. Founded in 1976, AVSAB is committed to improving the quality of life of all animals and strengthening the bond between animals and their owners.” These people often have very advanced degrees in both veterinary medicine and behavior related fields.

To read the awesome position statements the AVSAB has put out on dominance and punishment click here.

The bottom line is; do your own research. If a trainer tells you to do something that makes you uncomfortable; then ask the trainer not to do it. That’s what happened in my client’s case. He was not comfortable with a trainer hitting his dog on the nose. So, he looked around for a different kind of trainer and found me.

Reward the good; ignore the bad

Does your dog drive you crazy sometimes? Is he constantly barking at you; pawing you; grabbing things and running around with them?


Give  a dog or puppy something to do before it does something you don’t want it to. While this tiny pup is very cute with the big boot; it won’t be so cute when the puppy is older.


Dogs do many things that annoy us; and unfortunately; we trained the dog to do most of them without realizing it. Dogs are so smart; they put together what rewards them and what doesn’t reward them.

For example; you are cooking dinner and the dog is pawing at you; barking, jumping up on the counter, etc. You may respond with: “stop it;” “bad dog;” “get out of here” or you may push the dog away from you. You might give the dog something to do to make him stop bothering you. Excellent. You just taught your dog how to get you to interact with him. You gave him attention. Negative attention is still attention.

I just worked with a client whose dog has started humping her leg when she ignores it. The woman knew to ignore attention seeking behaviors; but the dog upped the game and started humping. Humping is one thing people have a hard time ignoring. This dog was not dominating the woman; he was learning. He learned that humping got the attention he didn’t get with his previous behaviors. The owner would push him away; tell him “no,” etc. Again the dog got attention.

I asked the owner to just walk away from the dog; cross into a space where the dog could not go (over a baby gate) and ignore the dog for a few minutes. I just got an email from her saying how awesome this worked. The dog figured out quickly the humping behavior not only didn’t get him any attention; but it made his owner go away. This is definitely not what he wanted to happen.

Attention seeking behaviors can be very difficult to ignore because we have done such a great job of teaching the dog they work. Barking is especially difficult because it is so annoying. The same client also had an issue with her dog barking at the back door to be let back inside. If the woman wanted to take a shower while the dog was outside; she would get out of the shower to hear a dog barking and know the neighbors had been listening to the dog bark for the entire time she was in the shower.

The dog knew barking worked. It brought the owner running to open the door and let the dog inside. We put the dog outside and it immediately started barking. I stood just inside the door; but in a position so the dog could not see me. The second the dog took a breath during a huge barking tirade; I opened the door and tossed a treat five feet from the door. The dog ran to get the treat; spent a few seconds eating and sniffing (and not barking). I threw a few more treats. I then waited and the dog began barking again; he stopped for a second; I opened the door; tossed treats. I repeated this several times and gradually went from one second of no barking to six seconds of no barking. The dog began to stand away from the door instead of rushing in and pawing at it (because the treats were falling behind it). Over time the dog will learn barking does not make the door open.

Sometimes we inadvertently train the dog to annoy us so he can get something fun to do. For example; if your dog annoys you and you get up from the couch to get him a frozen Kong; then he just learned how to get the frozen Kong. Instead; put the frozen Kong down before you sit down. The dog will learn to settle when you settle. And think about this: Do you say “good dog” when your dog gets down after he jumps on you? Most people do. The dog may learn he loves to hear “good dog” and make you happy; and the way to do that is to jump on you so he can get off and then hear “good dog.”

Instead; say “good dog” right before your dog jumps on you when he still has four feet on the floor. Ignore him or walk away from him if he does jump on you. He will soon learn “good dog” happens when four feet are on the floor.

Think about what you want your dog to be doing instead of annoying you. When you find him practicing that behavior reward him for it. Believe me; your dog does sleep sometimes or lie down and rest. Find those times and give him a treat or praise him. Your dog does what gets him what he wants; which is your attention. Give him the attention for what you want him to do and life will be happier for both of you!


Just say ‘no’ to saying ‘no’

As a trainer, one of the top questions I receive is, “how do I teach my dog the word ‘no?’”

My response is usually, “how well did that work out with your children?” We tell children “no” often, yet they still will sometimes repeat the behavior. Your child speaks a verbal langue and is smarter than your dog. So, how can we expect an animal that does not speak a verbal language to understand something as complex as the word “no?”


Harley decided the time is right to get into the trash.

Dogs live in a world of safe vs. unsafe. A behavior is either safe to perform or it is unsafe. Imagine you are in the kitchen when your dog sticks his head in the trashcan to go after that pork chop bone he smells. You yell “no, bad dog, get out of there,” often while raising your voice and approaching the dog in a threatening manner. The dog just learned it is unsafe to be in the trashcan while you are near it. You leave the kitchen for a few minutes and when you come back, the trash is everywhere and your dog is happily holding that pork chop bone.

Most people become angry at the dog for “disobeying” them. But, in the dog’s world he did not disobey. You told him not to get in the trash when you were around. When you left the kitchen, you made the trash safe. In the dog’s world, leaving something as tasty as a pork chop behind would mean you didn’t want it anymore. If it had been important you would have taken it with you. If you punish the dog at this point, he will not understand what he did wrong.

If you yell at your dog because he pees in the house, he doesn’t understand you are saying it is wrong to pee in the house. He just understands it is not safe to pee in front of you, so he will learn to be in a different room where you can’t see him because it will be safe to pee when you are not in the same room. And if you try taking him back and showing him a potty accident that already happened, your dog will not understand that you are punishing him for going inside the house. He will learn instead you are scary and he should run from you if you approach him when you are angry. Often dogs respond to our anger by offering submissive gestures such as lowering their heads, tucking their tails, etc. People often read these gestures as “guilt” and assume the dog knows it was wrong. Instead it is the dog’s way of trying to appease you and beg you not to hurt it.

We also get into trouble with our canine companion because we send him mixed signals. For example, if he jumps up on you when you come through the door, it is an attention seeking gesture. If you say “no”, you are giving the dog attention. You spoke to him, you most likely looked at him and you may have touched him when you pushed him away from you. To the dog this was all a win. If you truly do not want him to jump up on you, you have to ignore the dog completely. Don’t look at him or talk to him. Stand still and after several weeks of this new behavior, your dog will learn this game no longer works. When he greets you with four feet on the floor, then give him lots of praise and he will figure out this is the new way to get your attention.

What happens if your dog brings you something he shouldn’t have such as your shoe? If you get up out of your chair and chase him through the house and then try and tug the shoe out of his mouth, you just played the best dog game ever invented: run and chase and tug. Your dog just learned if he is bored and you won’t play with him, he just has to bring something out of the bedroom and you will jump up and play with him.

Instead give your dog a long-lasting chew or a puzzle toy before you sit down so he has something to do while you are relaxing.

Trying to see the world as the dog sees it rather than trying to fit the dog into a human peg will go a long way to helping you have an awesome relationship with your canine companion.


That time I bought a dog

I grew up in Parke County, Indiana, on a road with only four other houses. Our road was a favorite for people who no longer wanted their pets. We even found a pony one year that someone let loose in a field.

We never lacked for a dog or a cat. I never picked out a dog of my own until I was 23 and had graduated from college. I went to the Vigo County Humane Society and picked out a fluffy puppy and named her Pica (I was a journalism major and starting a career in the newspaper business).

She was followed by a succession of animals; all from animal shelters. I got a border collie from the Mount Vernon Humane Society; another border from a rescue that had pets at a PetsMart on Washington Street in Indianapolis. I adopted Batman from the Humane Society of Indianapolis as well as a few cats from that facility.

While I had always adopted pets, I didn’t get into animal welfare seriously until around 2010. Then I was really on the bandwagon: Adopt Don’t Shop. Spay and Neuter. Dogs die when you don’t adopt.

And yet, in December of 2008 I bought a puppy. Even my Mom was incredulous and read me the riot act. I remained in animal welfare and even become more of an advocate for shelters and shelter pets. And yet I had this dog that I bought. When I was first offered a job at the Humane Society of Indianapolis, I brought up the subject in my interview because I wanted to be transparent and I wanted to show I was not ashamed of what I had done.

To top it off, I had a purchased male dog that I didn’t neuter until he was four years old. I was always thankful that Condor had really long fur so when I had him at the shelter no one could tell he wasn’t neutered.

I ended up walking a line between the world of working/sport dog people and animal welfare people. Having Condor helped me bridge this fairly wide chasm. I tried to help both sides of the line take a breath and see the gray and not just the black and white.

Animal welfare people often take a dim view of purchasing a pet and a dimmer view of having unaltered pets. I know several animal welfare organizations that have a hard and fast rule that they will not adopt a pet to any household with an unaltered animal in it. I had to go to bat for an adopter once because she had world-class border collies that she bred, but she wanted a rescued dog for a pet for her son. The shelter was set on not allowing her to adopt because her breeding dogs were unaltered.

I know sport dog people who think dogs in rescues and shelters are there because they have some type of serious behavior or medical issue that caused them to be given up. Also, many sport/working dog lovers don’t want dogs that have been spayed or neutered. So often they bypass dogs in rescue or shelters for that reason.

Condor taught me you have to see both sides and understand each other to have a meaningful dialogue.


Batman carrying a bite sleeve that was almost as big as he was.

So, why did I buy a dog? At the time I was into a dog sport called Schutzhund. I was using Batman, who was 40 pounds on his best day. Schutzhund is a sport built around larger dogs. They don’t change the jump height of obstacles if you have a smaller dog. Batman had the heart and soul of a Schutzhund dog, but jumping a meter-high jump carrying a dumbbell was just too much for him. If I really wanted to be serious about this sport I knew I needed a bigger dog. This is a sport dominated by German shepherds; so at trials we would often encounter other shepherd owners.

One day the Schutzhund club I belonged to hosted a trial and a man showed up with several dogs including two 12-week old puppies. The man was there to get some titles on the mother of the two pups. The mother dog was super sweet and did well at the event. I also watched several videos of the father of these puppies doing Schutzhund in Colorado.

It was a two-day event and it is hard to resist something as cute and fuzzy as a 12-week old shepherd puppy. But, I was adamant I would not be buying a dog.


Condor as a puppy. How could I resist this fluff ball?

Because the female had not titled at all until this trial, the puppies were less expensive than many working line German shepherds would normally be. People in the club kept telling me I should consider getting one of the pups. They had awesome pedigrees. I met the mother and she was great. The pups were both great temperaments and loved fetch. The father of the pups was fairly well ranked in Schutzhund and the pedigrees of both parents were impressive.

I finally decided to seriously consider getting one of the pups. Luckily, the club members were thinking with their heads and not their hearts and suggested a couple of simple tests to see the individual personalities of the pups. It turned out the black fuzzy teddy bear puppy I had fallen in love with was not very confident when it was dark. On a long walk he stayed between my feet and wouldn’t explore. The sable pup was more confident. He would go into the grass and explore, but come right back and check in with me. The sable puppy also had an automatic fetch. Whatever I threw, he went to get it and brought it right back. And he wouldn’t stop.


Condor running through the woods on a search

And that’s how I came to buy Condor. It is something I will never regret. I soon gave up Schutzhund however as Condor and I both decided it wasn’t our thing. We moved into the world of search and rescue and found our home. Condor certified several times in human remains detection with the Indiana Department of Homeland Security and through Law Enforcement Training Specialists. I have no idea how many searches we have been on, but it was a lot. And Condor had some finds over the years. He was an amazing dog. I knew nothing about Search and Rescue before I got into it with Condor. Now I know countless people who devote their lives to a job that pays nothing, requires you spend a lot of your own money, requires countless hours of training each week and at times puts you in situations where the police are wearing bullet proof vests and you are wearing a bright orange shirt that says K9 Handler.

I have gotten to work with numerous police organizations and a few fire departments. I have a tremendous respect for law enforcement. I feel so bad for them now as all anyone hears about are the few unfortunate incidents in which a police officer made a bad call. But, I can tell you from the bottom of my heart that the vast majority of police officers are simply amazing. The police I worked for were always kind, patient, grateful and loved working with us. On Condor’s last search, we had to cross a railroad trestle and Condor fell between some slats. I was panicked thinking he was stuck and a train could come along and hit him. One of the officers with me assured me that if Condor had truly been stuck he would have made sure no trains came down that track until he was freed. All of the police officers I worked with would have protected me and my dog; I have no doubt about that.

Condor also gave me a family. My teammates at Midwest Search Dogs are more than people I train with. They are a family. My teammates helped me move two years ago when I divorced. Like any family, we don’t always agree with each other and we all have individual personalities, but cross one of us and you have the entire team to deal with. My search brothers and sisters have my back and I have theirs. When I was deployed on a search one of my teammates (and often more than one) would be with me helping  keep me and my dog safe and helping me by allowing me to just handle the dog while my teammate took care of navigation, note taking, safety, etc.

SAR isn’t easy and over the last seven years I’ve thought about quitting a lot. I don’t mind


SAR is rain or shine, snow or sleet. Condor LOVED this weather.

the searches and the training, but I have serious test anxiety and the certification process is terrifying for me. I’m also one of the oldest people on our team and I am definitely the most out of shape. Training is physically difficult for me. After you fall down a hill a few times you have to wonder if you are just insane to keep going. When it is 10 degrees with a 20mph wind you really have to wonder if you are insane. Our team trains all year no matter the weather. The only time we call off training is it would be dangerous for the dogs.


Condor lived for tug and a toss of his ball.

Condor on the other hand loved every minute of training and all of the searches. He lived for his ball and he knew that there was always a good chance he would find something that resulted in me throwing that ball when we were working. He climbed ladders, he swam rivers, and he jumped on shifting debris. He crawled through the smoking ruins of a home. He worked no matter what; including when he was dying. He went on a search one week before he died. We were out for a couple of hours and he worked as he always did despite the fact that there were tumors I didn’t know about growing inside of him.

On Thanksgiving Day, one of those tumors burst filling his belly with blood and I made the difficult decision to relieve him of his pain and set him free; even though I did not want him to go.

Condor taught me not to be so black and white.

I do have several things though to clear up before some of the people on both sides of the fence start yelling at me.

One: I do NOT condone buying a pet from any pet store. The vast majority of those dogs are from puppy mills (I don’t care what the pet store tells you). The parents of those dogs lead horrible lives. You did not “rescue” your dog from a pet store. You bought that dog and condemned his parents to breeding more puppies. I also do not condone buying puppies for some person who had a boy dog and a girl dog and decided to let them have puppies. I do not understand paying $1,000 or more for some made up breed like a chiwennie. You can go to any animal shelter and find a made up breed for a lot less.

If you are going to buy a dog from a breeder; do your research. Only buy from a breeder who stands behind his or her breed. A good breeder only breeds to put something back into the bloodline, not to make money. A good breeder will have breeding records that show their dogs are free from whatever ailments might be common to that breed. A good breeder will have dogs that are house pets and not living in a kennel in the barn or the back yard. A good breeder will allow you to meet the parents of your puppy. A good breeder will not meet you in the parking lot of McDonalds and give you a puppy once you hand over some cash. A good breeder often is active in breed rescue for their breed as well. A good breeder makes sure you will be the right owner for that puppy rather than a person willing to pay a fee. Two of my favorite German shepherd breeders have a long questionnaire that you have to fill out to even be on the list for one of their litters. You have to wait for them to find the right pup for you. A good breeder will take your puppy back, no matter what, if something doesn’t work out. A good breeder will ask you for progress reports and want to keep in contact with you. A good breeder will have a limited number of litters and ensure the females are not bred every heat cycle. One of my favorite breeders neutered her breeding male after one of her litters produced a puppy with a serious issue even though there was no true science to say if the parents could have produced that issue. She didn’t even want to take that chance.

Second: Can you find a working dog through a rescue? Absolutely. I know several police and fire departments that scout shelters for dogs. A friend of mine just adopted a dog for the Indy Mega Adoption Event who turns out to be a natural in several sports. I am seeing promise in Skywalker in terms of search and rescue training.

Third: in regards to spaying or neutering; I am absolutely for the spaying and neutering of shelter pets. Yes, there are responsible people like me who can have unaltered dogs without ever allowing them to breed. However, the vast majority of people who adopt don’t realize what it takes to keep dogs from succumbing to the call of nature. I also think science is changing and showing us that there are consequences in terms of long-term health especially in cases of pediatric spaying and neutering. So, sport and working dog people who responsibly choose not to s/n are not the enemy.

Thank you Condor for showing me a path. Walking the path without you is going to be very lonely.



My dogs are not perfect

I’m going to let you in on a little secret. My dogs are not perfect. As a matter of fact, many of the great trainers I know have dogs with behaviors some people might consider annoying.

I often use my own dogs as examples when I try to help people decide what is most important in terms of their dog’s manners.

A client emailed about her dog chewing up DVD cases while she was gone, plus the dog jumped on people who came to visit.

The dog is around a year old and very energetic. He is also easily bored and needs more than exercise to keep him busy. He needs to find things to do. Hence, chewing up DVDs when he was alone and bored. He also loves people and is a big dog. So, when he jumps up on people, he is large enough to push someone over.

I told her how I solved these issues since I have an 11-month old constantly bored 65 pound adolescent dog – He is never left alone and when company comes over he is not at the door.


Sometimes a crate can be an awesome management tool as long as the dog loves the crate and is given adequate exercise and mental stimulation.

Instead of training a different behavior I choose to manage my dog’s behavior in situations such as this.

My client emailed back. “Clearly, if YOU are crating your dogs, we need to return to putting him in his crate. Also, if you as a dog trainer are keeping your dog on a leash or separate from guests, clearly we novices need to be doing something similar!”

I was quick to point out that just because I did this, it didn’t mean she had to follow my lead. I was just providing a management solution vs. a training solution.

If I left Skywalker loose in the house while I was gone, I would come home to a destroyed home. He is a busy boy. I wanted an intelligent, high-energy dog in order to do search and rescue. I did not want a couch potato. Sky gets lots of daily exercise and he spends several hours each day loose in the house under my supervision (and he still manages to destroy things when I’m not watching closely enough).

In terms of jumping up, I could train my dog to be more polite at the door. It just isn’t a priority for me. I have lots of things I want to work on with my dogs. In order not to be overwhelmed I choose the behaviors most important to me and work on those. For the rest, I find a way to manage the behavior. Instead of working with four dogs on polite door behaviors, I either meet someone outside my door (like the pizza delivery person) or I put my dogs up before I let anyone inside the house. I can then choose to allow dogs to greet visitors later if I want to.

However, if a client wants her dog at the door happily greeting visitors, then I can teach the client what to do.

I always try and give my clients more than one option. I want them to have one or two training options and at least one management option.

If you find yourself having a conversation with a dog trainer and you feel overwhelmed don’t hesitate to ask for management as well as training tools.



What I learned from my dog

Animals can teach us so much, if only we would take the time to listen to them.bat st huberts

While I have had animals all of my life, it wasn’t until I adopted a little mutt 10 years ago that I actually paid attention and began to learn from my pets.

For years I had alternated between adopting a border collie mix or a scruffy terrier mix. Ten years ago it was time for a new scruffy terrier. I had seen one on the website of the Humane Society of Indianapolis that fit the bill. I went to meet her and she was everything I was looking for: scruffy terrier face, very playful, right size for me, etc. I took her out to the outdoor runs and threw some balls for her and she loved fetch. She ran around the yard exploring and sniffing, not really paying a lot of attention to me, but I figured she was just happy to be out of her cage.

When I put her back I glanced into the kennel to her left and saw a young German shepherd looking dog shivering on a blanket. He was obviously very scared. Super pathetic looking. I was feeling magnanimous. I decided to take this little dog out and just give him some time outside while I was waiting to process the adoption of the terrier.

I took him into the same outdoor run and threw a ball. He just stared after the ball and looked pathetic. He kind of sniffed around and just sat down. I got down on my knees to see if he would come up to me and he suddenly came alive. He ran over to me, sat right in front of me, put a paw on each shoulder, rested his chin on one shoulder and let out a mighty sigh. This is absolutely a true story. My heart lurched, my eyes misted. This dog PICKED me. He LOVED me. Goodbye terrier tradition, hello little German shepherd mix with a curly tail.

This was the first lesson I learned from a little dog who I eventually named Batman: If we can train shelter dogs to make quicker connections to people who take them out of their kennels they are more likely to get adopted (The ASPCA backs this up with research, they didn’t have Batman). I’m not belittling this instant connection I felt to this dog, but five years later when I actually began working at IndyHumane, it was a story I told over and over. I watched numerous dogs not get adopted because they acted like that little terrier, they just weren’t that interested in the person who took them out. We now tell volunteers and staff how important it is to reward dogs anytime they check in with the human who takes them out of the kennel. People want to adopt a dog that “picks” them.

I always imagine Batman sitting in that kennel plotting how to get someone to take him outside so he could wow them with the sigh on the shoulder. For as I was to learn, Batman was a very wise and extremely intelligent dog.

He was 7 months old when I adopted him. He was given up for being too hard to handle and untrainable. Dogs between the ages of 6 months and 18 months are among the most given up age population. They are teenagers and many people just give up and decide the dog is a bad dog. I’m sure his previous owners didn’t understand that what they really had was a super intelligent dog who was most likely bored out of his mind.
There are going to be some things in this story that I’m not proud of and now we come to the first one. At the time I adopted Batman all of my dogs had lived outside. It wasn’t that I didn’t care for them. I grew up on a farm and dogs just lived outside. My dogs were well provided for. They had dog houses, food, water and I occasionally walked them, but I figured since I had a fenced yard, they were just happy running free outside.

Batman once more took matters into his own paws. He lived outside a few days, then one day when I let him inbat pig for some loving, he took a little rubber squeaky pig toy and ran all over the house squeaking it. It was super fun to watch. I got distracted by something and when I looked for Batman next, I found him on the couch sound asleep with the toy under his paw and his chin resting on it.

I started letting him in more and more. He never had any accidents in the house and I had no idea he would be so entertaining. In a few weeks he was sleeping on my bed. He has the distinction of being my last dog that ever stayed outside 24/7 and the first dog that slept on my bed.

I now know that most dogs actually prefer living inside with their humans. And dogs won’t generally self exercise in a yard. They just sit at the back door waiting for you to come out or they get bored and jump the fence of destroy things in your yard.

Prior to adopting Batman, I had taken two previous dogs to training classes. This was more than 30 years ago now and the types of training classes were the traditional walk in a circle with a bunch of other people and practice jerking up on a choke chain to get your dog to do what you wanted. I thought it was boring, but it was the only option I knew about and the man teaching the classes seemed knowledgeable and had a well-trained dog to show off to perspective clients. I totally bought into that we weren’t hurting the dogs, that dogs needed to be dominated because that’s how they lived in the wild and we were just communicating with them. I even alpha rolled one of my border collies after the trainer said I should. He was the expert right? And the border collie never jumped on me again after that. He also submissive peed when I called him to me after that, but at the time I never understood why.

I bought a choke chain for Batman and practiced all the things I had learned in the two previous classes. Then I found out about dog sports. I met a group of people who had a Schutzhund club. Schutzhund is a dog sport, mainly practiced by German shepherd owners, but other dogs also participate. Look it up on You Tube. There are national and international championships. It is a huge sport with a dedicated following.

I suddenly learned that training did not have to be walking in a circle making your dog sit. Training could be fun. You could teach your dog to retrieve, jump a barrier, “attack” a guy wearing a bite sleeve, play tug. There was a camaraderie in the club. They met twice a week. It bat sleevewas like a family and it was all about the dogs. Batman was the only mutt in the group, but his GSD personality shined through and he did a fantastic job. He earned a BH which is an obedience title in Schutzhund.

At this point I was hooked on training and dog sports. I loved spending time training my dog. I moved from a choke chain to a prong collar and then an electric collar. Just about everyone in the club used these devices. People from other clubs did as well. These people had decades of experience. It must be right. I went to training seminars on effective use of an electric collar in training. I even went to events and helped out with electric collar seminars on a few occasions using Batman as my demo dog to show how wonderful he was.

And then one day I ruined my dog. I tried to make him do something that physically was really too difficult for him. Sadly, one drawback of Schutzhund is that no consideration is taken for the size of the dog. Batman was less than half the size of the average dog doing this sport. So, trying to make him jump a meter high jump carrying a dumbbell was just too much. I shouldn’t have done it, but I WANTED that Schutzhund I title.

This opus isn’t meant to start a debate about the right and wrong way to use an electric collar. What I learned though was that if you use an aversive training method, you can cause a behavior that may be impossible to fix. It is very hard to break a dog completely using non-aversive methods.

At this time in our club was a woman who had a thing called a clicker. She talked about things like operant conditioning, something about quadrants that contained things like positive and negative reinforcement and punishment. It was all very confusing and not nearly as clear cut as the electric training collar remote in my hand.

But, this is when Batman taught me what I consider his greatest gift: he showed me that there might be more than one training method. I did not stop using an electric collar one day and just switch to a clicker. Instead it was a two-year process. But, what I also learned in this two-year period was that there was an entire world of dog training seminars out there. I became a seminar junky. I went to Clicker Expo and the APDT conference. I drove to Chicago and Columbus, Ohio, to attend seminars on all manner of subjects related to dogs. I became fascinated by canine behavior.

The woman with the clicker began to make more sense to me and then I saw her do a demo with her dog Shakespeare, who I will always consider to be the wisest dog I ever met. Once I saw a clicker training demo with this dog, I became hooked.

It wasn’t easy to leave the world of prong collars and electric collars. I loved my friends. I loved what they did with their dogs, but in the end I made a decision that I could no longer do anything that physically hurt my dog. Again, this is not meant to start a debate. This is my journey with Batman and not meant to change anyone’s mind.

bat clickersOnce I switched to positive only training, my world with Batman opened up. I trained him to do all kinds of fun things. At the same time, the Indianapolis Star started a website called IndyPaws. It was a way for pet people to connect and you could “talk” in the voice of your pet if you wanted. Batman and I both had accounts and he often posted about his life. He was quite witty (if I do say so).

Through the other people in IndyPaws I discovered the world of animal rescue. I learned about how many dogs and cats were dying in our state due to over population, out dated facilities, lack of money, poor management at shelters, etc. I became a blogger. I attended meetings. I met Nathen Winograd several times and learned there might be other ways to run animal welfare organizations.

I was offered a part time job at the Humane Society of Indianapolis. I kept attending seminars on animal behavior. I was asked to try and save a dog about to be euthanized for resource guarding. I saved said dog. I became really hooked on positive reinforcement training.

Several years later I was offered the position of Director of Canine Training at the Humane Society of Indianapolis. It was a huge change. It would mean leaving a job I held and loved for 25 years and taking a huge pay cut. I did it. Batman now became my real partner. He went to countless schools and libraries showing people the right and wrong ways to interact with dogs. He taught me if I was too boring, he would take over and make people laugh. He showed me that letting people see what he could do was the most effective way to change anyone’s mind about training and dog behavior. People did not buy training classes from me because they wanted to do clicker training. They bought training classes from me because they wanted their dog to be like Batman.

I decided to enroll in the Karen Pryor Academy, which was a six month course to teach people how to become dog trainers using clickers and positive reinforcement. My world expanded once again. Batman was my demo dog. We did everything together.

Batman taught me one last thing on Nov. 10. Sometimes if you love something you really do have to set it free even if you don’t want it to leave you. Batman was diagnosed with bladder cancer in July. He responded great to the chemo. His oncologist thought he was doing great. He had no side effects. He ran, chased squirrels, did our demos as if nothing was wrong. Until one day when he didn’t eat. The next day he could barely walk and the day after that he couldn’t get up at all. I spent hours in two different vet offices. We tried various things. I could have kept going. His heart and lungs were still strong. But, he lifted his head and put it on my hand and sighed the same sigh that he gave me when we met. He was hurting. He needed me to be strong and make one last decision for him.

He left the world with me scratching his ears in his favorite spot. I promised him I would not stop learning.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.