Your Own Agenda vs. Your Dog's Actual Needs

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I've been a much better mom to Bailey since Chilly has come into our lives now almost two years ago. Before him, I never realized how many things that I was doing with Bailey were completely my own agenda. It's normal that as dog parents we sometimes convince ourselves we know exactly what our dogs need. We think we know best for them which often leads to completely ignoring the signs they're sending us that say "hey, I don't really like this!" Sometimes we WANT them to like something or to be a certain way so bad that we fully detach ourselves from what they've been desperately trying to tell us. This is something that is asking for reflection, whether you have a reactive dog or not! 

 

I love long walks. This was one of the main reasons why I wanted a dog in the first place - to be able to stroll around the neighborhood and chill in the park. When I got Bailey, a lot of those dreams didn't come true, for obvious reasons. I managed to make peace with the fact that she's not a park dog, a loves-children dog, a loves-other-dogs dog, a hardly-ever-barks dog ... but for the life of me, I couldn't make peace with the fact that she doesn't enjoy walks. For years, I insisted on long walks with Bailey every single day, even though they caused her anxiety. Even after we worked through a lot of her triggers, she still didn't seem particularly happy about walking around the neighborhood. She does like hiking in nature, but definitely needs a couple of days to decompress afterwards (especially if it's a new environment).

 

I was a student when I got Bailey, so I spent a lot of my days at the university, sitting in a classroom. I needed our long morning and afternoon walks so bad that I couldn't let them go. I kept thinking that Bailey NEEDS them - but this was just my projection, this was what I was needing and wishing from her. I couldn't possibly figure this out ... until Chilly came along. He is an absolute explorer and he LOVES walks. In the morning he's almost exploding of excitement because he wants to go out so bad. He could walk for hours at a time and not get bored, he's completely relaxed on these walks and it's totally his thing.

 

It wasn't until I saw how HAPPY Chilly is on our walks that I realized Bailey expresses this same happiness in completely different environments and activities. A lightbulb turned on in my brain - at last!  

 

Slowly but surely we've developed a new routine, one I recently had a chance to reflect on and truly see how much it has been benefiting Bailey. First thing in the morning, I take Chilly out for a longer walk. He has the chance to sniff around, to explore, we always go to a park or a meadow to do some tricks, basic obedience and he often gets off leash time as well. By the time we come home, I've had my daily dose of a walk, I'm feeling fresh and in good spirits, Chilly is tired and relaxed, so I swap him for Bailey. Instead of mindlessly walking around with her too, she and I go straight to a meadow that's close to our home and she gets to either chase a ball, chase a frisbee, explore if she's up for it (I always give her the option and she decides!) or do some nose work.

 

Everything is done on HER terms. Some days she's in a better mood than others, so we stay longer. Some days she doesn't really feel like exploring at all, so we don't do that part. I'm giving her full control over what she wants to do. I follow her lead. This has been making her SO much happier. When we're walking home afterwards she's practically smiling. She has a big tired grin on her face. She is in a very relaxed state, her instincts are nurtured and satisfied, her mindset is instantly better. When we come home she doesn't need to decompress because this activity was decompression enough! She's happy! 

 

We still take longer walks too, of course. But because they are now less frequent, when we DO take them she is much more relaxed and in a better state of mind. She also knows she'll have the chance to decompress afterwards, if she needs it. She doesn't wake up agitated anymore, thinking that I'm about to drag her around the noisy neighborhood for an hour. When we're setting up to leave the house, she's excited because she knows a super fun activity is waiting for her outside! I think this routine has put her in a better state of mind where she's not constantly put in situations where she's surrounded by a million triggers. We live in the city and there's no way to have a morning walk here without passing dogs, kids, cars, bikes etc. She doesn't react to these triggers anymore most of the time because we've worked really hard and came a long way - but with that said there's still a long way to go and as she feels the presence of so many triggers and distractions at once, I know it makes her uneasy and I don't want her to experience this every single day.

 

I'm happy we've found this routine that works for us and that I was finally able to separate my own agenda from Bailey's needs. I'm inviting you into reflecting on your own routines now - are they serving you or your dog?

 

If you have a reactive and fearful dog ... how do you think THEY would choose to spend their days? What truly makes them HAPPY? Which activities relax them?

 

Is there something that you're doing that you feel like you HAVE TO do, but you know it's not making your dog happy? Is there an ambition you have and you're rushing your dog to achieve it? It's normal to make these mistakes but once we recognize our shortcomings we can decide to do better!

 

Make a list of activities that make YOU happy and a list of activities that make YOUR DOG happy. See what overlaps and make those activities a #1 priority.

 

Things that don't overlap have importance too but they are secondary. Remember that the whole point of opening your home to a dog is to help them THRIVE not just survive.❤️ I hope this gives you some food for thought and you can reflect on how you're spending time with your precious pooch in a way that makes BOTH of you relaxed and happy! 


On this note, I'd love to hear about some things that make your reactive dog happy! What are some (indoor or outdoor) activities that you do together that you both love? Please share them in the comments below! 

 

Blurred Lines: Where Does "Discipline" End and Abuse Begin?

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A couple of days ago I had to call the police because a woman was abusing her dog right outside my kitchen window. He was off the leash (she didn't even have a leash on her!) and I guess he didn't want to jog next to her. She called him to her and the dog practically crawled back to her. This scene alone was heartbreaking. What followed was her grabbing him by the muzzle, violently shaking him (I was actually afraid she might snap his neck) and then proceeding to lift him off the ground by the muzzle. He was whimpering with pain. It all happened within a couple of seconds and as soon as she grabbed his muzzle I opened my kitchen window and started yelling at her to stop. She completely ignored me and started jogging away, her poor dog following, tail between the legs. I called the police on her immediately.



I was shocked and traumatized by what I had seen as well as overwhelmed with anger. It's hard for me to understand what possesses humans to unleash their fury onto their dogs in such a way. I'm sure we've all been angry with our dogs - anger is a normal human emotion. But to lash out at them to the point of physical violence is a whole other conversation we need to be having. I've been noticing that people who believe in physically disciplining their dogs are dangerously crossing the line to abuse.

 

I've been thinking about this for the last couple of days. I know a lot of people who wouldn't call themselves dog abusers but they still punish their dogs physically. I know I've lost my temper in the past and yelled at Bailey for just ... being Bailey. I know I've seen a lot of people interact with their dogs in a way that made me very uneasy.

 

How can we be better than that? How can we start with OURSELVES first and then let our actions reflect on the outside, where they contribute to raising the human consciousness onto a new level of understanding canine behavior? How can we lead with love, kindness and compassion?
 

Let's start with this concept: your dog is NOT to blame when something goes wrong. When he "messes up" it's either because you didn't communicate with him clearly enough or because there was a lack of boundary - which was YOUR responsibility to set in the first place! The next time you want to get pissy because your dog did something "on purpose" ask yourself ... could I have prevented that? Can I use positive communication to make sure this doesn't happen again? Can I seek the help of a professional if I am at a dead end? Can I solve this problem without disrespecting the integrity of my dog?


I really don't think there's such a big void between "disciplining" our dogs and abuse. To me, any physical handling of the dog with the intent to cause pain IS abuse. This doesn't always mean you are a terrible person or a shitty dog owner - sometimes it means that you've been exposed to information in the media that led you to believe you have to "dominate" your dog. That you have to be "the alpha." You may have been exposed to trainers who told you that applying pain to your dog's neck (through prong/choke/shock collars) will "teach" him what's right. You may have been told that smacking your dog over the nose is discipline and that it doesn't really hurt him.



All of this information is false. There is countless scientific research done that PROVES the damage aversive collars do. That PROVES force-free training is the best one for your dog's state of mind. That PROVES there is no such thing as a dog dominating a human.


I don't know what led that woman to believe that she can hurt her dog in the way she did. With her, wasn't just a case of misused "discipline," it was pure violence. What shocked me was how comfortable she was doing it out in the open. Zero shame. Where does this begin? Maybe it begins in the collective belief that when a dog behaves "badly" he deserves to be punished? Maybe it begins in the lack of laws we have to protect dogs? Maybe it begins in believing the trainers who insist that dogs need to be TAMED and their wild spirit needs to be broken in order for us to be "the boss"?



I don't know if the police was able to track the woman down. I know that at best they could have fined her for an unleashed dog and issued a warning that she's been reported for abuse. At best. I don't know what this poor dog's life looks like on a daily basis or what I'm going to do if I see them again. I only know that I am haunted by how normal she seemed. You know, the kind of person you see in a grocery store and never think twice about. I'm haunted by the lack of her shame. The dog's painful whimpering. The police telling me they can't dispatch anyone right away because everyone is out of the station, monitoring snow covered roads. The constant questioning "should I have done more than just yell and report her?"

 

If you only take one thing away from this post I hope that it is this: BE KIND. Be kind to your dogs and to your humans. Self-reflect and hold yourself accountable to being a kind dog parent, a kind dog guardian. Someone who understands where a dog's behavior ends and their own anger begins. Who understands where your own agenda threatens to overpower your dog's integrity as a sentient being.
 

Nobody is perfect and we have all fucked up - but it's what we strive for on a daily basis that matters. It's the conversations we have with our family, friends and neighbors that matter. This woman is someone's friend and neighbor too and I wonder if the people in her life ever address how she treats the dog.



Don't shy away from the tough topics just because you don't want to offend someone. TALK about positive reinforcement, TALK to the person screaming at her dog at the top of their lungs, TALK to the person with a prong collar, TALK about how your emotions affect you as a dog parent/trainer, TALK to someone when you're frustrated with your dog. Start a conversation about raising our dogs with respect. When you respect someone you don't hurt them - it's as simple as that.
 


We can all do (and be) better. I can only hope that I have done my part for that one day and that I am putting enough educative material out there with this blog.



Let me know down below how you're contributing to the way we're treating dogs or if you have ideas on how to be more involved. Any action and idea is welcome - it can be as simple as sharing positive reinforcement Facebook posts or promoting local force-free trainers.


Let's build a better and safer world for the creatures who embody nothing else but unconditional love.❤️

Positive Reinforcement is Not Permissive Upbringing

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I’ve been noticing a pattern of thinking among some dog parents lately and I feel called to address it. It’s the belief that positive reinforcement equals permissive upbringing. I already wrote a little bit about what positive reinforcement represents to me in this blog post, but I wanted to write a separate post to address some main concerns about force-free training that people often have.

 

A lot of people (myself included) have been raised with a lot of punishment. Modeling what we’ve seen our parents do (and sometimes other people as well), we develop a belief that only punishment can show someone what’s wrong. I mean, how else would they know, right?

 

Here’s where it gets tricky - punishment may show someone what’s unwanted behavior, but it doesn’t show them WHY this behavior is unwanted and WHAT they should do instead.

 

Growing up in an environment where punishment is the main choice of “discipline” often leaves us confused and unsure about how to establish constructive communication. We simply try to avoid being punished, often not knowing what the hell we should do to please the one who punishes us. The same thing happens to our dogs.

 

Because the popular media and the self-proclaimed “dog whisperers” have convinced millions of people that dogs need to be “dominated” and that you have to be the “alpha” (despite the fact that “dominance theory” has been disproven by the same guy who came up with it and many other scientists as well), people take on the burden of being the disciplinarian. This is a tough role, a heavy cross to bear. You are expected to be strict, firm, loud and sharp. You’re not allowed to feel bad for the dog you’re disciplining because (like your disciplinarians have told you), “this is for his own good!!!!”

 

Let me stop you right there and first tell you that we can all be so much better than this. We can be so much better than raising our most loved and vulnerable creatures with fear and intimidation. We don’t have to repeat this cycle of fear, just because we don’t know what else to do. It’s on this point that I often run into a pushback from other dog parents. They genuinely don’t know how to explain to their dog what they want, because nobody ever taught them how.

 

As people, we have incredible difficulty communicating with our own species, let alone a different one. It’s normal to feel confused about this. It’s normal to feel a bit helpless. After all, you are on the beginning of a very big learning experience, aren’t you? This fear of the unknown and confusion about everything we have been taught for decades usually leads to people having strong misconceptions about positive reinforcement. Again, this is a totally normal response, but I would like to highlight that it’s your responsibility as a dog parent to always seek knowledge about constructive ways to communicate with your dog. Always!

 

One of such ways is setting up solid boundaries.  

 

The Role of Boundaries

I always say that boundaries are my favorite thing in the world. I love them in all of my relationships, including the one I have with my dogs. Boundaries are essential, but there is always a kind and loving way to set them. People can be a little more complicated, but at least with dogs you’re setting a boundary to someone that always wants to please you. Boundaries are the foundation of any good relationship. Just like you explain to your boyfriend that you need Saturday brunch with your best friend to stay sane, you can explain to your dog that when you’re working at the computer, he needs to leave you alone. Just like you explain to your mom that she can’t come over unannounced, you can explain to your dog that paws don’t belong on the dining table. Kapish?

 

Let’s look at how you can set these boundaries in a way that doesn’t include force or punishment. Instead of yelling at your dog for stealing food from the table, you can simply set up a routine where every time you sit down to eat, he has to wait in his crate or on his dog bed. You can also set up a baby gate on your kitchen door or keep him in another room. No fuss, no yelling. Just a simple way of saying “Hey, when I’m eating, this really has nothing to do with you and it’s best if you wait outside the kitchen.” You can even give him a chew toy in the beginning stages of reinforcing this boundary to really make it clear that when you’re sitting at the table, he has something better to do than trying to steal your food.

 

It’s funny that people think positive reinforcement means the lack of boundaries because it’s actually quite the opposite: positive reinforcement is built on boundaries!

 

The more you set clear boundaries, the less you’ll have to argue with your dog. Prevention is one of the greatest tools in force-free training. When something goes wrong, don’t ask yourself how can you punish your dog. Ask yourself “How can I prevent this in the future?”

 

Do you see the difference? Punishment puts all the blame and responsibility on your dog, but positive reinforcement puts the responsibility on you - where it belongs! If you have been calling your dog for the past 10 minutes and he’s still not coming back it’s not your dog’s fault, dear friend. It’s your fault and your responsibility. You have a responsibility to teach him a reliable recall and to not let him off the leash if the recall isn’t solid enough. You see how this works?

 

Positive reinforcement is NOT permissive upbringing because it’s built on boundaries and prevention. It’s built on us recognizing our own responsibility.

 

If you were raising your dog in a permissive way, this would mean that your dog is always off the leash even though he doesn’t understand the concept of recall, it would mean that he runs up to every dog he sees and is disrespectful of their personal space, it would mean that he can get your attention whenever and however he wants, that he controls when you go out on a walk and when he eats and when he plays (usually with constant whining or barking at the owner until he finally gives into the dog’s wishes) and so on. The thing about permissive upbringing is that it has its limits. At one point, the permissive dog owner loses his temper and - you’ve guessed it - yells at the dog and punishes him.

 

These dogs don’t feel safe at all - they feel confused and exhausted because they always have to be in control. If your dog barks at you three times a day to feed him and four times a day to let him out and he's constantly whining until you give him attention and when you want to work he keeps bringing you toys ... your dog is not happy. He is irritated from all the extra responsibility that should have been on YOU! Failing to provide a stable environment is not good upbringing at all. Failing to provide safety and structure results in our dogs striving to provide it for themselves, usually in very unhealthy ways.

 

You see now that positive reinforcement doesn’t mean anarchy, it means that we recognize our dog’s needs and tend to them in the kindest way possible. It means that we step up to constructive communication and always, always learn about how we can parent them in a way that respects their integrity.

 

Unwanted Behaviors - Do We Just Ignore Them?!

Some people believe that unwanted behaviors should just be ignored and once the dog figures out they won’t grant him any attention, he’ll likely stop with them. I absolutely DISAGREE with this. Sure, some things that our dogs do are attention seeking indeed, but most of them aren’t. Most unwanted behaviors are a result of some kind of a frustration and they are our dog’s way of telling us something is not okay. If we just ignore these behaviors, we’re essentially failing our dog.

 

So how can we stop the negative behaviors without using force? Can we use any corrections at all? What about the word “no”?

 

When an unwanted behavior is in motion, there are numerous things you can do. First, you can simply call the dog by his name and ask him to come to you. That immediately puts a stop to whatever he’s doing. You can also offer him a different behavior to do instead. For example, if he’s trying to jump on you, ask him to sit or lie down. In order to do that, you’ll need to have some solid behaviors already in place, of course.

 

Some people don’t believe in using the word “no” within the frames of positive reinforcement, but personally I’m not too touchy about it. The reason is because “no” is just a word and it means nothing to our dogs until we give it a meaning. You can use any other word that means “stop what you’re doing.” I know a lot of people use “leave it.” Personally, I do use the word “no”, but it’s introduced to my dogs during their basic training and carries the same connotation for them as any other word. It’s simply a cue that means “stop what you’re doing” and it’s always followed by a behavior I would like them to do insteadOn this note, I do recognize that people often abuse the word "no" by repeatedly saying "Nooooo. No. No!!!!!!!!!! NOOOOOO!!!!! HEY, NO!" If you are doing this, ditch the word altogether because your dog doesn't really have a good association with it.

 

Whatever “interrupter” you use, please make sure you’re not just telling your dog what they shouldn’t be doing and failing to provide an alternative behavior. Make sure the dog knows what you want from him!

 

Lastly, you can simply distract your dog with something else - this is usually the technique that works best with puppies who don’t have any solid behaviors yet. Use a toy or food to distract your dog from whatever else he is doing. Show him that if he follows your lead, exciting things happen!

 

Don’t forget that all of these ways of “correcting” a behavior only serve the purpose of interrupting the unwanted behavior in the moment that it’s happening, but after that it’s your responsibility to make sure that the unwanted behavior doesn’t get the chance to repeat itself. You can do that by implementing - let’s say it together kids - boundaries and prevention!

 


I hope I was able to clarify some positive reinforcement misconceptions with this blog post and that you’re walking away from it more secure in the next steps you’ll be taking with your training. Above all, I hope that I was able to bring positive reinforcement closer to some of you that are still struggling with the concept of it.

 

What does positive reinforcement represent to you? How do you set your boundaries? Please share your point of view in the comments below!

 


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3 Things That Might Be Undermining Your Dog's Training Process

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We all make mistakes; that’s a fact. Nobody is perfect and as a passionate perfectionist I can tell you that striving for pure perfection has only gotten me in trouble in my life. So I’ll say it again, for those sitting in the back of the classroom: We all make mistakes.

 

 

When your mistakes set-back your dog’s training or rehabilitation process, that’s when we tend to be super hard on ourselves. Understandably so - this little four legged creature is totally dependent on us and here we are, screwing up! The one thing I’ve learned through some painful lessons of my own is that life happens to all of us. A lot of the things are completely out of our control and on most days we truly do the best we can, with what we’ve been given. I understand that it gets really hard some days and guess what? Your force-free training doesn’t have to be perfect. Before you crucify me for this statement, I think even the most famous positive reinforcement trainers with decades of experiences make mistakes sometimes. You either underestimate the situation, overestimate the dog or just break under the pressure of your own nervousness. It just happens.

 

To me, the point of positive reinforcement is to always strive to be better. Progress is better than perfection.

 

Learning from your mistakes is better than pretending you are not responsible for them and blaming the dog for his “bad behaviors.” Exploring your own patterns of thinking is better than giving up on a training system altogether because it seems like “too much work.” You don’t have to always be perfect, but you do always have to strive to be better - that’s what it’s all about.

 

Let’s look at some of the unexpected things that might be undermining your force-free training and how you can work through them to be a better dog parent, especially if your furry child has a serious case of PTSD.

 

 

1. Your Own Upbringing

How you were raised impacts a lot of things in your life and the way you choose to raise your dogs could be one of them too. Every person is different because every person comes from a unique environment and has a unique story. I don’t know your story - but you do! I encourage you to look into it and see if you can draw some parallels or contradictions between your own childhood and how you are now communicating with your dog. Are you trying to be the ultimate boss? Are you afraid your dog is going to experience discomfort, so you don’t want to set boundaries?

 

Personally, I was raised by two people who were polar opposites. One was completely authoritarian and repressive, while the other one was fully permissive. Between these two concepts, I was hella confused. I was either feeling trapped and afraid or I was trying to cope with all the freedom I was given. When I adopted Bailey, I knew I would never ever use force to raise her because by then I had learned on my own skin that it doesn’t work. So I went to the other side of the continuum: the lack of rules and boundaries. At the time, it was the only other thing I knew, so it made sense to me. I started to deal with her fears by coddling her, pushing her in interactions with dogs and humans because “she needs to socialize” and leaving her totally without protection in those interactions because I fully believed I was giving her “freedom.” I felt so very sorry for her because of the hundred phobias she had, but I did nothing of value to actually help her. My poor little baby she was, until I finally lost my shit every couple of months and yelled at her out of frustration because of her constant barking. Even the most patient humans can break under the weight of their dog being hysterical 24/7. I feel bad about it today, of course, but I want to mention it nonetheless because I’m trying to break the myth that people are either bad dog owners or perfect dog owners.

 

Our first year wasn’t all bad, mind you, there was so so so much good in it ... but as far as her reactivity goes, we were lost. The whole time I knew that while I may not be using force to raise her, something was definitely still wrong.

 

Slowly but surely I started to understand that too much “freedom” isn’t always a good thing either. I started understanding that boundaries don’t have to mean repression - they can mean a safe harbor. Protection. Giving your dog a feeling of safety, showing them that you will always make sure all is well. Once that clicked in my head and I found this middle ground, things improved for us so much. Bailey started to trust me like never before. She knew that I am going to make sure she is safe, as well as guide her rehabilitation in a very slow manner. If she ever felt overwhelmed it was my job to give her space, remove her from situation etc. We finally found balance.

 

2. Blindly Trusting a Training Philosophy

I don’t believe in blindly trusting any doctrine. I don’t believe in either side of the aforementioned continuum. I believe you should always strive to acquire more knowledge, follow what the experts say (not self-proclaimed experts but actual scientists), ask many questions and at the end of the day, think with your own head.

 

All dogs are different. What may work on one of them is not going to work on the other one. I believe in force-free training because I believe fear and intimidation should not have a place in any relationship! But within force-free training there are many roads you can go down and if choose to do so with a blindfold over your eyes, refusing to learn about other paths, it may set-back your training.

 

Some people never use the word “no” when training their dogs. Some don’t want to use treats and go for toys instead. Some feed their dogs from a bowl while others use mental enrichment as part of the feeding routine. Some don’t believe in the game of fetch, some don’t like it if the dogs jump at Frisbee, some believe dogs should never be on a leash, others believe they should always be on a leash. Some socialize their dog by putting him in a pile of puppies, other socialize their dog by hand picking canine interactions. Different owners, different dogs ... different approaches. 

 

Whatever your version of positive reinforcement looks like, it’s still better than using shock collars.

 

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Maybe you find out that some of the techniques you’ve tried haven’t been working for you - that’s awesome! You can dive into exploring others and see what works for you in the end. Always be open to learning new things, always!

 

Positive reinforcement is a journey. It’s an ocean that is hardly ever smooth. It tests our patience and trust. We’ll make mistakes because we aren’t perfect. You’ll lose your temper or re-traumatize your dog or hype up your dog instead of calming him down. Hey, it happens. Do not give up!

 

A smooth sea has never made a skillful sailor.
— Franklin D. Roosevelt

 

3. Forgetting That It Takes Time - A Lot of It

Most people give up on positive reinforcement because it takes time and dedication - something they are not prepared to invest in their own dog. Please don’t be one of those people. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard: “Well we’ve tried with food but it didn’t work. The choke collar is the only way to keep him under control.”  Needless to say, my heart breaks every time.

 

How hard did you try?

How long did you stick with it? A week? A month?

Did you have a system in place?

Were you consistent?

Did you get professional help?

Did you set your dog up for success?

Did you create a pleasant training environment for both of you?

 

Answer these questions every time when you want to give up or resort to an aversive.

 

Yes, maybe your walks are going to be far from perfect for the next three months. Maybe your dog is still going to bark at everything that moves for the next six months, before you even start noticing progress. Maybe you’ll be a little more tired. Maybe your environment will not understand and you will feel a lot of social pressure.

 

I can tell you with a certainty, it is not going to be perfect - but it’s going to be kind to your dog and that’s what makes it worth it!

 

Stick with it, stay patient and trust in yourself and your dog. The results will pay off. Nothing forms a stronger bond than raising your dog with love and compassion. That does not mean the lack of boundaries, the lack of a system, a total anarchy. It means that you are guiding your dog towards being a happier, more confident pooch. It means you reflect on your own patterns of upbringing and see what’s undermining you. It means you are always looking for more knowledge, reading books, attending seminars, talking to experts. It means that you recognize it takes time. And above all, it means dedicate yourself to growing as a person, too.

 

Putting a shock/choke/prong collar on your dog will not solve their problems - it will only solve yours. That is awfully unfair. Success is not linear and force-free training is not always going to be perfect; but it’s always going to be worth it. <3

 


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How to Choose a Good Dog Trainer

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If you have a reactive dog, working with a good dog trainer is one of the first things I’ll recommend to you. I understand that a lot of people either can’t afford a trainer or can’t find any suitable ones in their area; since I was in that same position five years ago when I adopted my dear Bailey, I write about these topics as much as I can so that everybody can learn for free, no matter where you live! In fact, I even have a free 5-day email course for those of you with reactive dogs!

 

But if you can afford a dog trainer, I encourage you to do so! When the decision falls, “Okay, I need help from a professional,” your head is immediately filled with a billion questions. How will I know who’s a good trainer? What would I even ask? What if they give up on my dog? What if I don’t like them? What if they suggest something I’m uncomfortable with?

 

I want to share the four most important things I believe you need to pay attention to when picking out your dog trainer, one that will become your support system and an important piece in the grand puzzle that is training your dog!

 

1. Training Philosophy

What makes a good trainer? Is it the experiences that they have, the number of owners they have helped or is it their values, the respect they show towards the dog, their knowledge about dog psychology and body language?

 

Personally, I put a person’s training philosophy first. Anyone can strap up an aversive collar on a dog and call it a day. Anyone can shove a dog into the ground and repeat the word “alpha” because they heard it on TV from a self-proclaimed expert. Anyone can do leash corrections, raise their voice and blame everything on the dog.

 

But not anyone can sit down and try their best to understand your dog. Not anyone can care enough to ask you as many questions as needed to get a full picture of your dog’s current mentality. Not anyone will try to figure out the why of your dog’s outbursts. Not anyone will be your team member, seeking to work together with you to help your dog. Not anyone will be able to do that - but a good positive reinforcement trainer will.

 

Your core values need to be aligned with a dog trainer’s training philosophy. If you believe in raising your dogs with love and kindness, compassion and patience, then invest into a force-free trainer!

 

 

2. Experience

It’s obvious that your dog trainer needs to have some working experience but I want to stress this: if you are looking for a dog trainer to help you with your reactive dog, not every force-free trainer will do. They need to have experience with fearful/reactive/aggressive dogs!

 

This is a very vulnerable group of dogs, you know that. This group always gets targeted by trainers who use force. I don’t want this to happen to you and your dog! Find a force-free trainer that has worked with reactive dogs before. Somebody that understands their psychology and is fluent in body language. Somebody that will be able to commit to you for a longer time and won’t make promises about “fixing” your dog in a matter of weeks. Traumas don’t work that way.

 

You can ask your friends for recommendation or utilize Facebook groups. There are many groups on reactivity and positive reinforcement. The good thing about social media is that it brings together people all over the world. Ask in the groups if anyone can recommend a good positive reinforcement trainer in your area. The answers may surprise you!

 

 

3. Education

Theoretical education has nothing on field experience, but I do think it’s important to bring it up. Nowadays, anyone can call themselves a dog trainer. People might choose them because they are cheap or conveniently close to their home, but just because someone calls themselves a dog trainer doesn’t mean they are a good one. It sounds harsh, but it’s the truth.

 

I would advise you to check out where your dog trainer has acquired their education and then make a decision whether that particular training institution aligns with your dog training values or not.
 

Words like “certified” and “recognized by” and “featured in” sound very fancy - but make sure you do your due diligence on where those certificates came from in the first place.

 

 

4. Personality

By no means do I think dog trainers should be subjected to a popularity contest - not at all. But you do need to find a trainer whose personality you can cope with. They will be teaching you how to work with your dog, how to help them overcome fears, you will be spending a respectable amount of time together and if something goes wrong they will be your first call.

 

You should find someone that you’ll enjoy working with - even on the really rough days!
 

Find someone that tells you the truth, even if it’s hard to hear. Someone that won’t treat you as just another client but will fully be present with you and your dog in the moment. Someone that will also be compassionate if you are ever struggling and will encourage you not to lose faith. Most of all, somebody that you can trust.


Tell me, do you have any experience with hiring a dog trainer? What did you learn from it and what advice would you give to someone still on the fence? Share your insights in the comments below!
 
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Book Review: Zak George's Dog Training rEvolution by Zak George and Dina Roth Port

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Disclosure: I received a free physical copy of the book from the author. All opinions are my own and from the heart!


Kindness. Something that the world needs so desperately right now.

I firmly believe that kindness begins in the most intimate of environments. How we are with ourselves. Our spouses. Our neighbors. Our children. And, perhaps the most telling, our pets.

How it all began

When I adopted Bailey 4 years ago, as you well know, I got a little ball of big fear. Fear that ran so deep it soon became clear to me there's a long road ahead of us. People in my life, with good intentions, had their own ideas of how I should be raising Bailey.

 

"Speak more firmly with her."

"Yank the leash back and say NO!" "

Just let her bark, who cares!"

 

But in the depths of my heart I knew that this is not how I wanted to raise my baby. And so the search for better, kinder methods of raising a dog began.

 

 

I don't remember which video of Zak's was the first one I came across, nor do I remember how I came across it. But I do remember binge-watching all of his other videos in one night. Replaying the crucial moments over and over again, writing down important things, feeling incredibly motivated to work with my pup. What really drew me in was not only Zak's methods of force-free training, but the love that he was radiating.

 

He is beaming with love, happiness and excitement when he is working with dogs and you know what? That was new to me.

When I watched other people train their dogs, they were very authoritarian, sharp and psychical. When I myself was training Bailey, I used to be incredibly nervous. I only focused on my main goal (for Bailey to stop hysterically barking at everything) and completely disregarded her emotions or the fact that training was supposed to be fun! Then I saw Zak's enthusiasm and it forever changed me. I realized then and there that, even though I was using positive reinforcement, I wasn't getting results because my bond with Bailey was damaged due to my own attitude towards training. 

 

I subscribed to Zak's channel, naturally, and have been following his videos ever since. My interest in positive reinforcement and dog adoption grew into 4 years of adopting rescues and confidently, enjoyably helping them overcome their past anxieties. This life, being the mother of rescues, has led me to many, many +R resources and I keep finding new ones. But I will never stop keeping up with Zak's youtube videos. 

 

When in doubt, I know I can always rely on his videos. I can always return to the basics, always look at things from a different point of view. I can always look to him and that enables me to be Bailey's safety net, anchor and safe space.

 

When I heard about his book, I knew I needed to read it and share his wisdom with you all! I feel it in my heart that this is the knowledge that needs to be shared, needs to be visible, needs to reach as many people as it possibly can. I feel a responsibility to do my part. So here is my review of Zak's incredible book! 


The Dog Training rEvolution

 

From the moment you first open the book, you know that this is not your typical dog training book. You don't feel alienated from the author. If anything, it is clear from the very first lines that he gets you. He is one of us, the hardworking dog parents who love our furbabies beyond belief and just strive to be better for them every single day. You feel understood, heard and above all, not judged.

 

This is a book that gives you confidence as well as reassures you when you make mistakes and urges you, in the most positive way, to simply learn from them.

 

What I've noticed is that Zak uses the same tone of communication in his book as he does in his training - he is clear, direct, kind, sympathetic and a lot of fun. 

 

Throughout the book, he emphasizes the importance of prevention, which is something you'll hardly ever see in other dog training books. It is such an important part of dog training and yet so many dog owners fail to realize that. His methods focus on preventing the unwanted behavior from happening as opposed to waiting for it to happen and then correcting that behavior in a very negative, physical way. Where I'm from, positive reinforcement is still a fairly new concept and I think a lot of people struggle with it because they don't invest into prevention. Instead, they leave their dog to his vices until he develops a whole lot of behavioral problems that are, at that point, harder to change.

 

I really want to point out that if you have any issues with your dog, there's always a big chance that they could have been (or could still be) prevented. So dive into Zak's book and notice how he carefully guides you through the necessary prevention by giving you actual examples that you get to implement straight away.

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Another thing that stood out to me was him talking about the importance of a bond. Like I said, I learned this one the hard way, through personal experience. But I also learned that bond is something that keeps growing and evolving. I love how my bond with my individual dogs keeps changing and deepening.

My dog training philosophy is this: Training your dog is all about COMMUNICATION and BUILDING A BOND. Once that’s established, other things align as well!

To be completely honest with you, there aren't many widely known dog trainers who would either share that philosophy or dare to speak publicly about it. But Zak does! Every time he mentions the bond in his book my heart does a little happy dance! I am overjoyed that this knowledge is finally reaching people and if you're not using the bond as a foundation of your training, then you need this book and you need it NOW!

 

Building a bond is essential to your relationship and you mustn’t do anything to compromise it. Why? Because ”bonding is also a matter of letting your dog know that she can trust you and depend on you.”
— [Zak George's Dog Training rEvolution, page 83].

 

This is why it's called the dog training rEvolution! This dog training philosophy is revolutionary indeed! And luckily, because of people like Zak, our relationship with dogs has an opportunity to evolve. Just like any relationship, it needs trust, communication and safety. Zak likes to draw parallels with raising children or being in a relationship with other humans. He breaks down the barriers that stood so long between humans and their animal companions.

 

He puts a mirror in front of us and urges us to see that our dog's emotions aren't that different from our own, after all. He makes it clear that owning a dog is not something that you can emotionally detach yourself from. In fact, it is precisely your emotions that will help you be a better dog parent. If you tune into those, the rest should come easy!

 

When you prioritize your relationship with your dog, the teaching process becomes easy.
— [Zak George's Dog Training rEvolution, page 2].
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Now that you know Zak's philosophy I also want to tell you a bit more about how his book is structured.

 

It's a journey every single dog parent goes through. It starts with the moment when you decide this is it: you're getting a dog! But before you actually get the dog, there's a whole lot of things to figure out (the dog's breed, rescue/buy, your financial situation etc). Zak really dives into all of these fundamental things every dog-parent-to-be (no matter how experienced) wonders about at some point. He then guides you through the necessary preparations before your pooch of choice arrives home and once he's finally home with you, Zak's book takes you on a journey from welcoming the pup to explaining the basic training principles you need to know.

 

Armed with this book, you will make a badass of a dog parent - that, I can tell you!

What I appreciate so much about the book is that it also covers a little heavier subjects: common behavioral issues and taking care of your dog's health. As both of these topics are very personal to me, I perhaps enjoyed those two chapters of the book the most. Simply because it finally made me feel seen, heard and appreciated.

 

I know, I know, I hate to be that dog mom, but it's the truth! Upon adopting Chilly I borrowed around 7 Border Collie books from the library and they taught me nothing. They weren't helpful at all and I had to seek Border Collie resources elsewhere (god bless the internet). But this book really makes everyone feel included - whether you have a rescue or a purebred, an angel or a little devil, a confident pooch or a traumatized bug like my Bailey. Zak is inclusive and that's very important to me.

 

His book ends on a high note: with fun tricks and activities you can do with your dog. That is perhaps one of the most exhilarating parts about being a dog owner, no? Getting to do fun things together and bonding through them!

 

Whether you read through this book in one go (like I did) or just pick chapters relevant to you (like I will in the future), it will not only leave you richer with information, but also full of enthusiasm and drive for strengthening the relationship with your dog and helping him thrive! 

Make sure you have a highlighter at hand! ;)   

 

My darling sister is already lined up to read this book. I can't wait to pass it onto her and then discuss what we've both learned and how we will implement our knowledge into our daily life with our precious rescues.

 

I want you to do the same. If you haven't yet, I want you to read this book, then come back and tell me how it shaped you as a dog parent. Tell me some of your insights. Tell me how it touched you. Let us all grow together.

 

Let us continue this movement, that Zak has started, in our lives and in all of our communities, wherever in the world we may be! 

 

I also want you to support Zak by:

BUYING HIS BOOK!

Subscribing to his YOUTUBE channel (and clear an afternoon because you'll want to binge these videos).

Liking his FACEBOOK page.

Support him on PATREON

Heart his precious dogs on INSTAGRAM.

And read his tweets on TWITTER

 

Last but not least, I would like to thank Zak for sending me this book and for unselfishly sharing his knowledge all these years! You really are making the world better, one dog owner at a time.<3


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Force-Free Training: The Only Way to Help Fearful Dogs

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Whether or not we should be raising our dogs with love, patience and kindness should not even be a debate - and yet, things still feel blurry and debatable to many. A big part of me is tired of talking about this but an even bigger part of me knows that I have a responsibility to dogs and even their owners who may not have realized the truth just yet. I recognize that every change is a slow process and it’s often not easy. I’ve decided to write about it because I want to share my own perspective and reflect on why I feel so deeply about this matter. But before I dive into my own personal reasons as to why I believe force-free training is the only way to help our fearful dogs, let’s go over some research-based facts.

Fact #1: Positive reinforcement (force-free) training is the only training method backed by science.

Fact #2: The pack theory has been disproven by the same guy who came up with it - and many others after that.

Fact #3: Shock collars have been proven to have negative effects on dogs to the point where manufacturers now have to label them as “not to be used on aggressive dogs.”  

If those three facts are not enough to sway you, I have a couple of more reasons of my own. Before I get into them, let me clarify what ISN’T positive reinforcement: choke/shock/prong collars, hitting the dog, kicking the dog, pressing the dog into the ground (“alpha roll”), starving the dog, yelling at the dog, grabbing the dog by the skin on their neck, yanking the dog’s leash and any other so-called training method or punishment that involves force or intimidation.

What IS force-free training: It’s a method of training that focuses on building up the dog’s confidence and bond with you. It focuses on setting your dog up for success. It uses tools such as food and play to teach the dogs wanted behaviors, rather than punishing unwanted ones. It builds a very clear and strong communication where the dog always knows what is expected of them and feels safe with you at all times.
I personally think that force-free training is the only way to help fearful dogs. Here’s why!

1. Our dogs are already afraid most of the time - why add to it?

Fearful dogs experience fear in completely normal situations. Reactive dogs often have explosive outbursts of barking when faced with that fear (or as we call it, trigger). These dogs spend a lot of their time experiencing some form of fear. They are very different from dogs who are able to just chill in the park or sleep wherever there’s room. They experience great anxiety in new environment and the places they consider safe are very few - sometimes none. It’s not easy living with a dog who is always afraid. We can’t control everything about our environment, so sometimes we’ll be faced with loud noises, off-leash dogs or screaming kids. And our dogs will experience severe fear and will likely have an outburst. If you are a parent of a reactive dog you know that after a barking outburst our precious dogs need some time to decompress. They often stay upset even after the trigger has gone away. I see my job as a guardian of such a dog mainly to FREE them from fear, rather than to add to it. I see no point in making my dog even more afraid than she already is. When I got Bailey, she was afraid of bikes, dogs, strollers, skates, children, old ladies etc. The last thing I would want is for her to be afraid of me, too. You want your dog to feel safe next to you. You want to work towards liberating them from their fears and you can’t achieve that if you are using aversive methods of training.

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2. A scared dog cannot be a confident dog

One thing that most dog owners lack is the basic knowledge of canine body language. I notice this all the time and I used to be like that too. After I’ve studied this topic into detail, I started understanding my Bailey much better and her progress skyrocketed. Dogs display fear and discomfort in many different ways. They turn their head to the side, they lick their lips, they yawn, they pull back their ears. All of that, before any of the growling or barking even happens. A lot of the time I will see dogs that were “cured” of reactivity by shock collars or other aversive methods of training. These poor dogs are walking with their tails between their legs, their ears pulled back, constantly turning their head to the side. It’s convenient for their owners, of course, because their dogs aren’t barking anymore - but those dogs are still afraid! In fact, they might be afraid even more than before. Not only are they still afraid of dogs (or other triggers), they are also afraid of the discomfort that will follow if they express that fear. I urge you to look at what your dog’s body language is saying and adjust your training methods accordingly. Start HERE.

3. You want to represent safety - not pain!

Most of reactive and fearful dogs have a big problem with safe spaces. They simply don’t have them.  It takes a lot of time for the owner to create those spaces for them, spaces where they feel absolutely safe and comfortable. Spaces where they don’t get upset by triggers. It could be a crate or a bed or a room. But it takes time for them to get used to it, fully accept it and relax within. Most of them prefer small and dark spaces (den-like spaces), which are sometimes hard to come by. Safe spaces can also relate to humans and other animals. You’ll notice that your fearful pooch really trusts some people; they fall asleep next to them or allow cuddles. But with other people, however many times they’ve seen them, they continue being wary and distant. You, as their owner, must represent a safe space for them. Force-free training is a first step into that direction. You need your dog to trust you. You need them to feel secure with you. When they are faced with a trigger, they should look to you for guidance. They won’t ever do that if they connect you with something unpleasant - be it a raised voice, a jolt of pain, a physical discomfort. Create a safe space for your dog by first and foremost BEING that space!

4. Pain and fear will damage your bond

Raising someone with love and kindness manifests an incredible bond. Raising them with fear and punishment manifests a lot of confusion, repression and miscommunication - which results in keep having to use those negative tools and punishments to “keep the peace.”

I’ll be honest with you. As a kid, I was no stranger to physical punishment and intimidation. It was a constant thing in my childhood and if there is an equivalent to shock collars for humans, I’ve likely experienced it. The people in my life perceived all of that as normal (some deemed it unnecessary but “didn’t want to tell someone how to raise their children”). It was never frowned upon, never talked about as problematic, never brought up as something that might have negative consequences. It has deeply affected my bond with both parents; one of whom I don’t speak to anymore. I am still close with the other parent and I recognize that it wasn’t her fault but in some way the relationship will always be tinted. This is what fearful upbringing does. It creates an environment where every day you are trying to AVOID being punished - you don’t know what is expected of you because nobody ever told you. You are confused. Your behaviors are centered around avoiding the punishment and not around creating actual constructive behaviors. It is same with our dogs. They are smart and if you hurt them, they will do what they can to avoid being punished. That doesn’t mean their behaviors will be constructive - if anything, they will just be full of anxiety and your bond with the dog will suffer severely. 

Do you truly want that? Do you want a dog that is always confused and anxious? Or would you rather have a dog that feels safe next to you? A dog that you can have amazing communication with, a dog that makes you a better human, a dog that you can always rely on because they, too, trust you unconditionally?
The choice is yours.
Make it from the heart.

 


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Summertime Training

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We've finally said goodbye to summer! Chilly joined our pack in early spring, so we've spent most of our summer consistently training!

One of my favorite things about our pack of rescues is that we get to go on adventures together and they get to learn from one another.

They are such a dynamic trio, I absolutely adore them! I put together a little video of one of our summery training sessions! It features Bailey, Chilly, Lady and my amazing sister Gloria! We had such a fun day and I'm so glad I had my camera with me! They are my sweet lovings! Enjoy the video down below:

 

Tell me how you like this video and if you want to see more of them! I'd also love to know how you spent your summer with your dogs! Adventuring? Training? I want to know! ;)