Better Together is Coming Soon

Better Together: the Collected Wisdom of Modern Dog Trainers

Hey, there’s a great new training book hitting the shelves!

Better Together: The Collected Wisdom of Modern Dog Trainers is a comprehensive collection of both practical and inspirational advice from some of the best trainers in the world. Learn the methods of modern dog training through more than 60 articles from 28 experts, specially selected by world-renowned trainer Ken Ramirez. Continue reading

Fear and Fun: A Behavioral Approach to Vacationing

“As I mentioned before, I work in behavior, and my specialty is managing fear and aggression, so all my professionalism is coming to bear right now.”

I have newly returned from a dream trip I’d been planning for fully ten years, a visit to New Zealand and then a cruise back across the Pacific. Yes, it was awesome.

I wanted to take the fantastic opportunity to do things I cannot do at home. Indiana has plenty of caves (our limestone supplied Washington D.C.’s and most other major cities’ buildings and monuments, and limestone country is cave country), but we have a distinct shortage of glowworms, so I wanted to go down under to see them. And rather than take a boat, I wanted to do something a bit more adventurous. So I booked a spelunking tour.

I knew the tour would involve abseiling (also called rappelling) and swimming/floating through 50-degree water. I didn’t realize that the abseil would be 35 meters through a narrow neck into the cave itself, and thus would be the very first task.

Heights, dark, tight spaces, all the classic fears in one go. Whee! Continue reading

Toes for Treats


I really don’t have time for a blog post today, but this is for everyone who’s been told “dogs just don’t like having their nails clipped” (or going to the vet, or being brushed, or whatever).

Of course they don’t like such things straight out of the womb. Those are unnatural, weird human ideas. But we can condition them to enjoy and participate in all kinds of weird games.

So today I went to the drawer where I keep the nail trimmers, and Penny looked up. (I wasn’t even facing her, much less talking to her.) I picked up the trimmers, and she dropped a bully stick from her mouth and ran to me.

So of course we trimmed nails. And of course she got some treats for quietly holding her paws in my hands, which is what she expected and why she thinks nail trimming is a dumb game but worth the time to play.

Afterward, she went back to her bully stick (a favorite treat) and carried on.

It’s all about how you train this stuff!

Mindy-Penny and the Return to Ordinary Life

This entry is part 25 of 25 in the series Service Dog Training

So Penny, née Mindy, is a pet dog now. Aside from the obvious things like no longer accompanying us into restaurants, church, grocery stores, etc., her life has changed in other subtle ways. Like, I can feed her what I want now, instead of sticking to a national brand available at any big box store. And she can have treats beyond her strict diet, like popcorn which falls on the floor during game night, which she previously had to ignore.

This has been a rougher transition than you would think. But really fun. Continue reading

Assistance Dog Blog Carnival!

Assistance Dog Blog Carnival Today the Assistance Dog Blog Carnival goes live! And today I realize that probably the week before Christmas isn’t the ideal time. I heard from several people that they wanted to participate, but just hadn’t had time to get a post done and submitted.

But you know what? We’re all about accessibility and doing what you’re able here at the ADBC, and so we aren’t judging. If you get your posts to me later today or even later this week, I’ll just add them as they arrive. (And remember, you don’t have to be a service dog trainer or user to participate! All are welcome to share their thoughts and experiences.)

And this might be a good thing, because it lets me spotlight a very honest and thoughtful post from Jeremy Medlock, who is training his own dog to aid him. Service dog work isn’t all romantic key-fetching or traffic-stopping — sometimes it is doing what dogs do best, being quietly supportive and there for us, a bias-free slate. I encourage you to read this from someone who uses a dog for an “invisible” disability and is brave enough to discuss why. Continue reading

A Few Photos and Farewell

This entry is part 6 of 8 in the series Cancer & the Fight
Shakespeare balanced on hindquarters, paws way overhead


I mentioned in my last post that I wished I had more good-quality photos of Shakespeare. (Most of his work was in the days before there were decent cameras in phones.) So my mom sent me some more pictures she had, and I pulled a few more from my own collection.

He never did the least possible to get by — he loved training. Once I sent two trainers-in-training out with Shakespeare to train an arbitrary behavior I’d come up with to help them grasp a concept. Two and a half hours later, the two trainers were exhausted and done, but Shakespeare was still offering behaviors and ready to continue!

Shakespeare lying on a mat, attentive and alert

Alert and attentive, ready for the next big thing.

I love this pic, taken at the annual Doberman Club of Indiana picnic. This is what he looked like most of the time, attentive and ready. Note that he’s nine years old here — lean and not a speck of grey! He (and Laev, too) was often mistaken for much younger.

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My friend and brilliant photographer Amanda took some headshots for me and the dogs, for workshop publicity and things. Amanda had told me she was very afraid of dogs, and of Dobermans and Rottweilers in particular. But a day later, she was sitting on the couch with Shakespeare and my other dogs, and three days later she was shaping new behaviors in Shakespeare. Today Amanda even talks about clicker training with her photography customers.

One of the biggest and most amazing things I’ve heard from people this week is how Shakespeare shaped (ha!) their exposure to clicker training — that Shakespeare was instrumental to their training education or even to their adoption of new techniques at all. And that’s simply awesome. I can think of few more wonderful things to say about him. So thank you, all of you. That’s been huge.

He’s on his couch right now, napping after our wandering the property this morning. He’s having a good last day. I really appreciate all the kind words everyone has sent; it helps to know the difference he’s made for others as well.

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Dice as Training Tools

This entry is part 1 of 1 in the series Training Tools

To train an animal, you really need only two things: a marker it can recognize, and something it wants as reinforcement.

To train an animal efficiently, you need a way to track and plan your sessions, or you’ll waste time in moving too quickly (confusing your learner) or moving too slowly (frustrating you both).

Dice five

(Photo credit: @Doug88888)

There are many ways to do this, of course, but I just got home from Gen Con, the world’s largest gaming convention, and I thought I’d mention some less common planning tools you might not have seen. Continue reading

Movies & Monkey Pellets

I need to stick at least one actual behavior post in here between medical updates, I think, so here’s one from the creative side of things.

Besides my day job in training and behavior, I also write fiction. I just spent three days at the Midwest Writers Workshop, charging up my creative batteries and getting new techniques for revision and for developing ideas. And while I didn’t run into this Joss Whedon quote there, it was brought to mind again: Continue reading

Fly Casual: The Importance of Posture, and its Rewards

What does the Millennium Falcon have to do with aggressive dogs? Read on.

What does the Millennium Falcon have to do with aggressive dogs? Read on.

Body language is really important. When dealing with species that don’t use English, it’s really, really important.

Trainers who work with a lot of fearful, aggressive, or fear-aggressive dogs soon learn not only to read dogs’ body language, but to communicate effectively with their own. I often enter a home containing a dog who isn’t really sure he wants me there, and my first priority is to convince him that I mean no harm.

There are three ways to do this, and two of them are dangerous. Continue reading

The Snake Kit Pays Off!

Doberman Laev (and her brain) in prey mode

Laev (and her brain) in prey mode

Longtime readers may remember that Laev is a weeeee bit predatory, and I have an annual springtime mission to keep her from killing my snakes as they come out of hibernation. I even wrote about one year’s “Snake Kit” and how I was handling her.

Well, a few minutes ago I was at the computer when I heard the telltale bark from outside. Laev had found and cornered a snake, the first of the year (our spring has been rather inhospitable thus far). I jumped from my chair, snatched the french fries left over from my Elevation Burger lunch — I knew I’d moderated myself for a reason — and ran out the front door. Continue reading