Category Archives: Training and Behavior

Animal Shelters – “New” Model for Adoption Success, Kelly G Dunbar

Animal shelters adoptions are getting a boost from many quarters, but it takes getting to root causes to solve long-term animal sheltersproblems of market share and negative public perception.  The way animals are kept in shelters often leads to their return when walks, socialization and other quality of life components are missing.  Adopters looking for a family pet end up with a dog who is hard to potty train, chews on the furniture, who has problems with Uncle Joe and his baseball cap, or who otherwise doesn’t “fit in”.  The Open Paw program has taken a look at this issue from a trainer’s perspective and for the past nearly 12 years has offered much success to many shelters employing their behavioral change approach.  By the way, we’re talking about behavior change on the human side of this equation.

Kelly Gorman Dunbar, better known to many as certified dog trainer and the co-founder and executive editor of Dog Star Daily, is President and co-founder of Open Paw.  This international organization works by approaching the problem of unwanted animals through coordinated educational programs, educating owners before and after finding their new best friends so training needs are not ignored.  This works to keep more animals from entering the shelter system, since most give-ups are based on behavior, training or temperament problems. Open Paw also shows shelters ways to reduce returns and increase the pace of adoptions while raising the morale of their employees and volunteers.  And it all serves the highest and best needs of the dogs and cats in the shelter.

Animal Shelters quickly see positive results when the program is implemented, even if it’s only tested on a few.  There is a four-level training program for people and dogs explained on the podcast, and you will be quick to notice that even the first level makes a real difference in the lives of shelter animals. The shelter becomes a quiet place – the frantic barking, pacing, lunging can become a bad memory and the quality of life for everyone in the building, especially the cats(!), improves dramatically.

Animal shelters need to succeed, and they need community support to do that.  The volunteer base of every animal shelter is that shelter’s connection to their community, but the relationship between the two is often one of distrust, even disdain.  Open Paw is a program that will get volunteers and employees on the same page, working toward the same goals using the same methods.

Dog behavior and management in animal shelters using the Open Paw program is a very exciting, thoughtful approach that does not overwhelm with high costs or extensive re-training needs to implement.  Open Paw does offer two implementation grants for those who feel they need a quick start to the program, and they hope to double that number in 2012.  If you would care to sponsor a grant, find out more about the shelter program, or donate to Open Paw you can email or use the contact page on the site.


Setting Rules In Dog Training

Setting Rules in Dog Training with Andrea Arden

Andrea Arden

Setting rules in dog training, as you may expect, is very important. However, what you may not expect is that the very first rules that should be identified when considering adding a dog to your home, or when addressing problem behaviors with your current canine, are rules for you!

Animal Planet pet expert and dog training book author Andrea Arden believes that the starting point of a successful relationship with your dog begins by setting rules for yourself. How are you going to help your dog become the best dog she can be? It’s important to examine your lifestyle and expectations to determine what you’re looking for in a dog, and how you’ll fit a furry friend into your family.

Setting rules in dog training begins by taking time to consider how you are going to approach teaching and caring for your dog, because if you don’t have a clear idea of what your expectations are in advance, it’s really not fair to expect your dog to follow rules you’ve never fully outlined or explained in a way dogs can learn and understand. After all, that’s what training and management are all about – clearly communicating your boundaries and wishes and then guiding and motivating your dog to set them up for success.

Having a well mannered, or to use a more old fashioned term, obedient dog comes down to setting realistic expectations and then taking the time to teach your dog how you want her to behave. Often, because dogs do so many amazing things for humans, such as search and rescue or assistance dog work, and because of childhood fairytale stories of wonder dogs such as Lassie and Bolt, people tend to forget that dogs don’t come pre-programed to do our bidding. Nor do they arrive at our doorstep rulebook in tow.

Additionally, things dogs do naturally often aren’t things we find desirable, or even tolerable. So, while setting rules in dog training is important, ultimately when a dog is untrained, or unmannerly it really is the fault of the owner. Remember, your dog’s behavior is a reflection of you and of the time (or lack thereof) you’ve put into training and explaining.

It’s crucial to keep this in mind, because when a dog “misbehaves” people tend to get very frustrated and either begin to get angry and want to punish their dog or, in many cases just give up on her entirely. The shelters are full of dogs whose humans have failed them.

Please join me and Andrea as we dissect what setting rules in dog training really means, where the breakdown in relationship between dogs and people begins, and the top five realistic expectations of life with dog.

If you’d like to hear more from Andrea you can read her new book, “Barron’s Dog Training Bible” , or look her up on her website

Dog Training: Cues, Commands, Obedience, And Punishment

Dr. Roger AbrantesDog training is a form communication. We attach meaning to cues, signals, or commands to convey information to get our dogs to do what we’d like them to do. In this podcast Dr. Roger Abrantes and I discuss whether the words you use to describe dog training affect your relationship with your dog.

Dr. Abrantes is a dear friend of mine, a scientist, an expert in dog training, a blogger, and someone I very much admire. His experience and knowledge goes way beyond dog training. Roger’s formal education is that of an evolutionary biologist, however, as a well traveled citizen of the world who has lived in places such as Denmark, Portugal, Thailand, and Africa, he has also become a de facto expert in languages, and communication in general.

Words always come along with some sort of association. For example, when requesting a behavior from a dog, such as “high five” or “shake”, many people will tell you they are giving the dog a command. Dr. Abrantes explains that the word “command” has a militaristic connotation. A command is something that is issued and must be obeyed. No questions asked. Disobedience to a command in many cases must be severely punished. But is that really how you see your fun little request to shake your dog’s paw? Must she obey? Or, more accurately, are you simply requesting a friendly interaction with your best friend, or practicing a routine you learned in a dog training session? Is non-compliance truly a punishable offense? Shake is a friendly gesture after all.

Roger points out that before a command becomes a command it is a signal. A dog cannot obey a command he does not understand.

He believes that when we are interacting with, and communicating with our dogs it’s just like communicating with a friend or colleague. We generally don’t command each other but rather signal back and forth in a friendly and reciprocal fashion.

We also discussed whether other words commonly used as dog training vernacular, such as “obey”, should really have a place in describing the partnership that takes place between a human and a trained dog. Especially how often when people use the word “punishment” what they really mean is they are seeking “revenge”.

It was a fascinating conversation, and I hope you’ll tune in below and join in the conversation. Roger and I will be taking questions and entertaining your input in the comments section below.

If you’d like to hear more from Roger he can be found blogging away at both Dog Star Daily and his WordPress blog.

Dog Behavior Adjustment Training For Fear, Frustration, And Aggression

Are you ever embarrassed by your dog’s behavior? Imagine you’re out for a pleasant stroll with your dog. The sun is shining, your furry companion is trotting by your side, blissfully sniffing the breeze and occasionally stopping to leave pee-mail. This is how you imagined it would be to have a dog in your life, comfortable companionship, a partner in leisurely activities. All is well with the world.

Except… you’re not as relaxed as you’d like to be, because instead of enjoying the scenery, you’ve got to constantly scan the horizon for ogres. You are on the lookout for things that might excite or upset your dog. The offending specters could be skateboarders, cyclists, strangers, small children, or even other dogs. No matter the offender, the reaction and outcome is the same. Your dog loses all focus: wines, barks, lunges, and spins! You’ve lost control and your dog acts as though she’s lost her mind. It’s all you can do to hold on to her leash. Forget feigning nonchalance, you are focusing on not toppling over.

We’ve all seen it, if not been there.

When your dog is reactive, fearful, or aggressive out in public (or anytime, really) it’s incredibly stressful at both ends of the leash. Ongoing leash-reactivity will certainly cause you to take your dog out in public less and less, which not only exacerbates the problem when you do venture out, but also can cause a breakdown in your relationship with your dog.

Many training protocols for dealing with fear or frustration are either unpleasant, or simply unreasonably difficult and too drawn out to execute with any success.

That is where BAT comes in. Thanks to her dog Peanut, who proved to be a particularly tough nut to crack behaviorally, Grisha Stewart, creator of BAT and the founder of Ahimsa Dog Training has designed a behavior modification protocol to rehabilitate dogs with reactivity issues, as well as a prevention plan to keep reactivity from developing in puppies.

Your dog’s behavior is a mirror for her emotions. The premise of BAT is to keep dogs (and their humans!) as stress-free as possible while teaching people to read (and honor) the subtle body language cues that their dog is stressed while simultaneously giving dogs the tools to make good choices that ultimately reduce their stress. It sounds like quite a task, but the beauty of BAT is the way it is broken-down and presented for both dogs and humans alike.

However, the best thing about BAT is you are not alone. Grisha has developed an abundance of resources to help you navigate your journey. Her website is packed with information and materials such as her book, DVDs, and even a Yahoo! group for support.

Grisha is also making the rounds, traveling worldwide teaching people how better to communicate kinder, gentler options for their fearful and reactive dogs. Check her event listings to find out when she’ll be in your neck of the woods.

In the interview below Grisha and I chat in detail about what BAT is, what is takes to become a BAT-itioner, and why it’s sweeping the world of dog training. Please join us by tuning in to our conversation below.

Nosework: Letting Your Dog Do What Comes Naturally

The nose knows

Nosework should really be called “noseplay.”

It’s said that every dog needs a job. And many talented canines are trained to use their senses of smell to perform such essential tasks as search and rescue and drug detection. But sometimes, like girls, dogs just wanna have fun.

And now there’s a way to oblige them, one that is sweeping the nation.

Nosework, the Sport

 Among her many pet-related endeavors  — including co-founder and executive editor of, President of Open Paw, and newest member of the Animal Cafe team — Kelly Dunbar is also A Certified Nosework Instructor through the National Association of K-9 Scent Work (the url is, incidentally.) In this week’s interview, Kelly explains the activity that has become a passion with her.

One reason that it’s so appealing is its inclusiveness. Unlike group competitions such as agility, nosework doesn’t involve other dogs or other humans besides the the handler, which means that shy dogs, reactive dogs… really, any pups that don’t feel happy with social interactions… can succeed in it. And there’s no second place or runner up in this sport; it’s just the dog improving upon earlier successes, getting better and better.

The Basic Framework of Nosework: Three Scents, Four Environments

Another beauty of nosework is that it can be done anywhere, from small urban apartments to open rural areas. It doesn’t involve much equipment, just Q-tips dipped in essential oils — birch, anise and clove, scents that the dog won’t encounter anywhere else — and a container of some sort, even a box. The other environments where searches are conducted are buildings, vehicles, and exterior areas.

Letting Go

Perhaps the most unusual thing about nosework is its contrast to standard canine sports that require the dog to live in our world and follow our rules. Here the dog is encouraged to follow his instincts, and do the driving.

“We’re always telling dogs not to explore,” Kelly explains. “Saying things like, ‘Get your nose out of that other dog’s butt, out of that person’s crotch…'” With nosework, dogs learn to feel comfortable doing what comes naturally.

Although treats are initially used to encourage the dogs, this is the antithesis of standard training in some ways. That is, the better behaved the dogs, the more used to following our lead, the more difficult it is for them at first.

In the beginning, it can also be difficult for some handlers, those who are, well, controlling.

As dogs gain confidence, however, the rewards for both partners are tough to match.

Listen to the interview. I dare you not to become an enthusiast, determined to try it with your canine playmate.


Socialization: Starting Puppies Off Right

I love working with puppies. Every week, when I start my puppy kindergarten class the same thought crosses my mind: I’m getting paid for this? I don’t just love working with puppies, I also love working with families with their new puppies. It’s a special time, and being a part of it is a privilege.

But working with puppies has some responsibilities too. Getting a puppy off to a proper start can make a huge difference in the dog’s entire life and as a result, in the life of the family. Puppies need to be taught bite inhibition, need to be housetrained (hopefully with a crate), and by far most important puppies need proper socialization.

Proper socialization to people, places and other dogs teaches a puppy that these things are good things. When insufficiently or poorly done, it can lead to fear and aggression. Many of the behavior issues I see are rooted in socialization issues, and many trainers will tell you that most of the dogs that people think were abused were most likely poorly socialized.

Operation Socialization

Ariana Kincaid founded Operation Socialization (OS) in order to build a network of places for people to socialize their puppies, as well as useful tools for dog trainers. (Proud Disclaimer: I am an Operation Socialization Certified Trainer.)

OS’s stated mission is:

To make sure puppies grow up into behaviorally healthy, happy dogs that make great lifetime companions, thereby saving millions of dogs from surrender and euthanasia.

OS does this by providing puppy owners with a set of “socialization destinations” where they take their puppies and get their socialization passports stamped. By making socialization a game, puppies get what they need and puppy parents get important positive reinforcement.

Interview with Ariana Kincaid

I spoke to Ariana about what lead her to create Operation Socialization, the resources the wonderful Operation Socialization website provides, and her thoughts on veterinarians and breeders that recommend not socializing puppies because of the fear of disease.

Operation Socialization’s website has a great list of resources for puppy owners. One of my favorite part is the idea of behavioral vaccinations. While many people fret over exposing puppies to communicable diseases, the fact is that more dogs die from behavior issues caused by insufficient socialization than from disease. Ariana discusses approaches to helping people with this in our talk.

We also discussed OS’s fun Puppy of the Month feature (look in the sidebar) and how to enter. The email address is here. Send a photo and your puppie’s particulars there.