Category Archives: Training and Behavior

Training Companion Dogs For Sport And Competition

Training companion dogs for sport and competition

Sandra Mannion and Havoc Competing in AKC Rally

Training companion dogs for sport and competition may seem a bit like barking up the wrong tree. After all, you see your dog as your best friend and got a dog so you’d have sidekick for strolls in the park, car rides, and life’s various adventures, right? So signing up for a series of classes and spending endless hours of practicing specific skills and routines that have nothing to do with your every day life may seem tedious at best.

San Francisco Bay Area dog trainer and behavior counselor, Sandra Mannion, believes that the notion there is a big difference between pet dogs and working dogs is a myth, because every dog was created for a purpose. Many of the sports available to dogs today are versions of standardized tests that were originally designed to showcase a breed or type of dog’s specialized abilities.

There are sports and competitions for nearly every activity that dogs were originally bred to do. Gun dog trials and dock diving games for retrievers, scenting competitions for hounds, herding trials for collies and shepherds, and so on.

There are even companion dog sports such as rally, obedience, and the canine good citizen test which award titles you can earn to show that your dog is well mannered and excels at being a good companion. These sports highlight basic behaviors that would benefit any dog living in our human society with all of it’s non-doggy expectations and rules. Skills such as focusing on the handler, coming reliably when called, and staying in one spot when required, and not pulling on leash are useful in every day life, so it’s not far fetched at all to try your hand at training your companion dog for sport, in fact it will only enhance your communication and relationship with your dog.

Sandra feels that integrating competition into your companion dog’s routine is a good idea because many pet dogs are underutilized with their natural inclinations and energy left untapped. If a dog’s inherent skills and impulses aren’t appropriately channeled and given an outlet, problems may ensue. Like a pressure cooker, that energy that is being generated must go somewhere!

Sandra argues that beyond basic classes (which she feels are absolutely necessary) it’s important to honor your dog’s history and genetic predispositions from the beginning by providing a fun outlet for her inclinations. Doing so will help you gain appreciation for where those (sometimes to us) annoying habits that are actually a long-standing extremely useful part of your breed or type’s heritage come from and why they exist.

Sandra’s favorite part of her job is helping people realize the amazing potential their dog has when they get past the “behavior problems” their dog is exhibiting and learn to use the dog’s energy and enthusiasm that was previously going in the wrong direction and put it somewhere productive. This leads to rewards beyond their expectations as they watch their dog develop and excel. This fresh perspective often saves relationships that were going down hill and ultimately keeps dogs in their homes with people who have a new appreciation for the amazing creature we call our best friend.

In addition to discussing the benefits of training companion dogs for sport and competition, in the podcast below Sandra and I also cover the top three things all dog owners should consider before bringing a dog into their lives in order to get the most out of the relationship and to produce a happy, well adjusted dog. For more information about Sandra, please visit her website








Circus Tricks for Dogs

Circus tricks for dogs with Francis MetcalfCircus tricks for dogs? Indeed! Recently I had the privilege of chatting with renaissance man and circus dog trainer extraordinaire, Francis Metcalf, of Friends of the Family Dog Training.

Francis is someone I’ve known for nearly 20 years now and I can honestly say he is a uniquely gifted man who always advocates for dogs. They love him. Adore him. Can’t get enough. When Francis walks into the room my dogs act like it’s Christmas morning; and it is, because he always gives them the gift of his full attention and works to make every interaction with dogs as positive and and fun as possible. I’ve not met anyone quite like him in dogs.

In this podcast, recorded in the cozy confines of his european-styled training clubhouse where we sat by a roaring fire and sipped wine, Francis and I first cover his early career and how he first got into dog training. We chat about his first dogs and his first Belgian Malinois, Turbeaux (a dog legends are made of), as well as his introduction to the fine sport of French ringsport.

In the second half of this conversation Francis talks about his circus class, a class that’s taken the San Francisco Bay Area by storm! Circus class teaches dogs to be confident and comfortable with their bodies while also teaches people to take the time to enjoy the process of dog training. The motto of the class is, “Try, try, try!” Rather than focusing on perfect performance, this class is all about learning to enjoy the process. Francis wants people and dogs to enjoy the ride! And because circus class is not about competition or life and death issues, people learn to relax when communicating with their dog. They learn how to be animated and fun to draw dogs out and build focus.

Circus class is also an excellent parallel class, meaning in doesn’t interfere with any other training your dog may be doing, but rather, the skills learned seem to enhance performance in other realms, be they basic manners or agility or nose work.

I had such a fun time creating this podcast, and I hope you have a blast listening to it too. Also, I hope it motivates people everywhere to get out there and teach their dogs some fun tricks.

Oh, one more thing… Francis is such an interesting character and has so very much to offer that my interview ran a bit long. I’m still learning how to audio edit and ran into some difficulties, so, while I did split this interview into two parts, it’s all in the same podcast. The first part of the interview introduces Francis to the Animal Cafe listening audience and is about 10 minutes long, I wanted listeners to really get a feel for the man himself before launching into his latest project… The fabulous circus classes that he offers to pet dogs to help make them the most interesting dog on their block.

If you’d like to learn more about Francis or his circus tricks for dogs classes please visit his website, Friends of the Family.

Happy listening!

Train Your Dog

Ian Dunbar January is National Train Your Dog Month so I thought I’d chat with the inventor of puppy classes and founder of the Association of Pet Dog Trainers (among many, many other things), veterinary behaviorist and author, Dr. Ian Dunbar.

Ian believes that the very best way to train your dog is to incorporate training into your daily routine. He also believes it’s important to consider the dog’s point of view when training, to gain insight as to what each dog in particular finds most enjoyable so that you may then use these favorite things (food, toys, people, or activities) as both distractions and rewards in training.

In this podcast, Ian offers several easy and enjoyable ways to honor both your dog and National Train Your Dog Month including his very favorite exercise “The Dog Walk”.

This exercise takes your average daily stroll to a whole new level. For example, most dogs love sniffing and exploring. Rather than getting annoyed when your dog wants to stop and sniff on a walk, why not intersperse little bursts of heeling, loose-leasing walking, and general attention, with the reward of a few minutes of sniffing and ranging. Now your distraction has become a beautiful life reward and you don’t have to tell your dog that sniffing is verboten.

Training in this way helps handlers to get the very best performance out of a dog because incorporating their favorite things into the teaching process provides as part of the motivation for doing our bidding (which may often including doing things for us that are not intrinsically rewarding for dogs).When you integrate fun into training the line between the two blurs and your dog will enjoy training in and of itself, rather than seeing fun and training as mutually exclusive.

Ian also talks about  his first dog Omaha, reminisces about his favorite dog book, and why he’d rename National Train Your Dog Month if it were up to him. He also implores you to please, train your dog!

Listen in and join us for this, and so much more!

Animal Cafe Team Talks Turkey

Animal Cafe has quite a special team from where I’m sitting, and I thought we should stop for moment at year’s end, take a breath,Animal Cafe and reflect on our work.  We agreed it would be a perfect time of year to look back at the interviews we’ve had and what handful seemed to have the most staying power for us and why.  This was not an easy exercise – just ask Edie! You’ll laugh when you hear what she said, but what you won’t hear is that she actually stuck to her word, and named each and every interview she did – oh…my…dog!  As soon as she finished, I had to pick my jaw up off the floor and remark that she had not been kidding – then we all burst into laughter. And no – she wasn’t going to make you listen to all of that, but since she couldn’t decide, she asked me to do the editing.

Animal Cafe Favorites?

What we all really want to know is: What are your favorites and why? What would you like to hear about that you haven’t? Since we talked turkey, maybe you would like to join in?  Check out the last Animal Cafe podcast of the year (the 12 days of Christmas pet product videos excepted) and see what you think!

As always, thanks for spending time with us each week.  Safe, healthy and Happy Holidays to you!

Pet Behavior Consultant Steve Dale On Good Dogs And Cats

Pet Behavior Consultant Steve DaleSteve Dale is a modern day Dr. Doolittle, but with a twist. Instead of just speaking to the animals, he has dedicated his career to speaking for the animals via his many media venues. Steve is a pet behavior consultant, syndicated columnist, national radio host, and the author of two new ebooks, “Good Dog!” and “Good Cat!”.

I’ve always appreciated the common sense approach that Steve takes on even the most hot button issues among animals advocates. His vast knowledge of every pet-related subject possible, from pet health care to dominance in dog training, illustrates his pure passion and good will for all creatures. Steve always wants what is best for the animals, and they have no better friend.

Last week I was fortunate enough to chat with Steve about what is on his mind in the pet world these days. We discussed the idea of dominance in dog training, whether it’s okay to see dogs and cats as members of the family, how most of what we humans see as behavior problems in our beloved pets, really aren’t, and even how to avoid offending squirrels!

Steve also reveals the number one behavior question he gets asked in his role as pet behavior consultant at his Q & A newspaper column. The question that accounts for over 50 percent of all of the questions he gets.

To hear all of this and more, please join us in our eclectic conversation by listening to the podcast below. And if you’d like to ask Steve a question yourself he can be found in oh-so-many places but the best way to reach him is on his internet home: Steve Dale’s Pet World.

Calming Your Dog with Classical Music — & Classical Conditioning

‘Tis the season to be excited. Whether you’re bustling around, preparing for house guests,  rushing out for some last-minute shopping, or bundling everyone into the car to visit with friends and family, things are likely to be a bit hectic.

And your dog is likely to be a bit stressed.

In today’s interview with Lisa Spector, a Juilliard-trained pianist and the co-creator of the Through A Dog’s Ear CD series, we discuss the help that’s at hand for all the holiday situations you and your dog are likely to encounter.

A bit of background

I’ve known about the Through A Dog’s Ear Music to Calm Your Canine Companion CDs — now available in 3 volumes — since about 2008 and got to know Lisa herself a couple of years ago but I never learned how she came to create her soothing dog music. So I asked her during this interview. I’m not going to give away the answer except to say that it has to do with a 2003 fund raiser for Guide Dogs for the Blind, Lisa’s piano students, and the science of psycho-acoustics.

And that it took almost two years to figure out which music, played at what tempo, worked best with dogs.

How the Driving Edition is different — and how it isn’t

I also wanted to know about a later addition to the group: the Driving Edition CD. The principle is the same, calming dogs who are stressed, in this case by being in an automobile. But here Lisa was faced with the problem of making sure that the driver was not so relaxed as to fall asleep along with the dog.  The solution to the dilemma lies partly in the use of a training protocol, 20 minutes of music designed to be played before you get your dog into the car.

The Driving Edition turned out to be hugely successful — even, to Lisa’s surprise, helping to eliminate anxiety-caused car sickness.

How to use the Calm Your Canine series when you’re expecting holiday guests

Really, you’ll have to listen to the interview, which also talks about the exciting new collaboration between Lisa and Animal Planet trainer/star Victoria Stilwill.  I’ll say only that classical conditioning is involved in both cases.

And speaking of listening: Here are some great samples from all the different Through a Dog’s Ear series.

Be prepared to relax! (I’m assuming you’re not trying to read this and listen to the sound clips while you’re driving, right?)


One of the many ways this season is exciting: Discounts! Get 25% off a combination of Driving Edition and Music to Calm your Canine Companion Vol. 3 until Dec 31, 2011 by using coupon code TravelWithCalmDog; the 25% will be deducted from your total at checkout. Note: This must be a combination of both exact CDs, and it’s good for product purchase only, not on downloads. One discounted purchase per customer.

Okay, now here’s the interview.