The gift of positive dog training: kindness

Let’s say you’re at school hanging out on the playground. Another kid has some pieces of candy that you really want. You have two possible courses of action: Shove the kid over and snatch a piece, or ask him nicely if he’d be willing to share. The outcome in both instances is the same. You end up with a piece of candy. But in one, you’re a jerk, and in the other, you’re a friend.

Which one do you want to be?

OK, yes, there’s no question that that scenario is a gross oversimplification, but when you compare modes of dog training… it’s not too far off. I want my dog to sit. I can ask him nicely–through positive training techniques like luring or shaping–or I can shove his butt on the ground. In both cases, he sits. Mission accomplished. But in one, I’m a jerk, and in the other, I’m a friend.

That’s kind of how I think of it, and I’d always rather be a friend.

To me, that’s the gift of positive dog training. You have the opportunity to teach–and, thus, spread–kindness.

(Obvi, this pic is from over the summer. I snapped it after a round of Recall Relay, his favorite backyard training game. He looks so stinking happy in this pic that I thought it was the perfect representation of this topic!)

Cooper is so happy!

For dogs like Cooper, that’s particularly important. He’s a smidge neurotic, and what he’s totally fine with one day (nail clipping is nbd, yo!) he decides is terrifying the next (omg, get those clippers away from me, you devil you!) without warning. I need to work at his pace and accommodate his neuroses, and if I were the jerk, shoving him and pushing him and forcing him to do things that truly terrified him even if they make no sense to me whatsoever, maybe I’d get the same outcome but our relationship would suffer.

I’m not working against him.

I’m not pushing him or forcing him to do anything. With positive training, we work together. We’re building a partnership. He trusts me. He knows that if he’s scared, he can count on me to be there with kindness and, OK maybe not understanding (I mean, we clipped his nails for YEARS with the same clippers and never once cut the quick or anything negative, but now it’s terrifying?! huh?), but at least with gentleness and gratitude for his willingness to work with me.

Yes, sometimes he feels uncomfortable. Once we’re totally comfortable at one step, he has to go to the next step. That’s how it works. But by being kind, by being his friend, he trusts me to guide him to the other side of that discomfort, and he knows that when he gets there, I’m going to throw him one hell of a treat party!

This post in part of the Positive Pet Training blog hop, and this month’s prompt was “the gift of positive training.” Honestly, there are many gifts: that moment when you see the lightbulb flare to life in your pup’s head, that moment when something he was scared of becomes nbd, that moment when your tired-from-working-hard dog crawls onto your lap for a big snuggle. All that, to me, comes from the kindness inherent in positive pet training.

And that’s a gift that Cooper and I can keep on re-gifting to one another for the life of our partnership.

This month, thanks to the generosity of the blog hop hosts, there’s a positive pet training GIVEAWAY! Woop! You can enter to win two puzzle toys, a selection of treats, and a trick training book (it’s the same one Coop and I use).


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Thank you to our hosts, Tenacious Little Terrier and Rubicon Days, for making this possible!

Our neighbors got a puppy… and other stories

Our house sits on the corner of two streets that jut off in sharp angles. This creates a backyard shaped kind of like a triangle. Our house forms the base of the triangle, and the other two sides… well, it’s a shared fenceline with the house on either side.

One of those two sides, the left side, got a puppy.

A teeny little wiry thing that loves to screech at the top of his lungs at Cooper through the fence.

So, that’s awesome.

And while THAT statement is sarcastic, what is really, truly awesome is Cooper…

He stands at the fence and wags at the little guy, like, “Hey, friend! Wanna play?” When he gets frustrated that no play is commencing, he starts whining or barking back. But here’s the truly awesome part:

When I call him away from the fence, away from a potential playmate, he actually comes. And quickly, too! The couple times either he or the dog on the other side started digging at the fence, a behavior I do not want to encourage, I used our emergency whistle, and he FLEW! #soproud

These people next door… we haven’t exactly gotten a handle on them or who actually lives in that house. There are a number of people of varying ages who seem to come and go. I’m hoping we’ll encounter them someday and have a conversation, like, “Hey, maybe our dogs can play together!” Or maybe, “Hey, if your dog is outside barking for like three or four hours at a time, could I just lift him over our fence and let him and Cooper play before I go completely crazy, or…?”


These two: my inspiration for blogging

Of late–or, maybe all of 2016 is more accurate–I’ve been feeling this incredible sense of overwhelm. Some of it’s irritating (will this election ever end?!) and some of it’s heartbreaking (will this election ever end?!).

My blog was hacked. Legit hacked. It took about a month and several hundred dollars to repair and restore. I’m on the other side of that debacle now, but… I was feeling so unmotivated, and that zapped me of the remaining energy I had.

I applied to two different sponsored campaigns for next week for two reasons: They’re both products we use and love, and I needed an actual, legitimate, nailed-down deadline to get posting momentum.

I need a push.

Do you ever feel like that? Like if a project or a task doesn’t have a date associated with it, it just keeps getting pushed out into the ether? I think because my writing life is entirely deadline-driven, that when I don’t have those dates for this space, nothing happens. Whoops. Look for those next week! 🙂 (And, thank you as always for supporting/liking/commenting on those sponsored posts! Blogging is a tough business, so we’re grateful to show sponsors support!)

Watching Emmett age and dealing with the hacked site and working on the house and working through big changes in my business and on and on… and I’ve let this space get pushed aside. Which I regret because I love chronicling their lives and telling our stories.


All that said, and to put some accountability on myself, I’ve been reading through your comments, questions, and emails. I’ve compiled some FAQs that will become posts.

Most notably, everyone wants an update on Emmett’s acupuncture. Coming VERY soon. I have lots to say on the subject after we experienced a major setback last week.

I also want to put something together about the emergency recall I mentioned above. It’s probably the most valuable thing I’ve ever taught Cooper, and it occurred to me that I never wrote about it!

If there’s anything else YOU would like, please do let me know in the comments!


Finally, I leave you with this story:

Since I started this post expressing pride in Cooper’s training, I have another similar story, though the “pride” bit got a little muddled.

Last Saturday, my sister and nephew, Owen, were over here, along with my brother, his wife, and their six-month-old baby.

We had lunch for everyone, including a big box of chocolate chunk cookies. Owen was dashing around the house, and when he picked up his cookie, I asked him to park it on the sofa to eat it so that the dogs couldn’t get it… their faces are at about cookie height for Owen.

As he was walking to the sofa, he stumbled and the cookie flew out of his hand.

Cooper, mere inches away, snatched it up.

“DROP IT!” I yelled.

And… I’ll be damned… he did!

Then Owen snatched up the cookie that had fallen to the floor and then into Cooper’s mouth and then onto the floor again… and shoved it in his mouth. “It’s my cookie, Cooper!” he said through a mouthful of cookie.

Guess I need to work on “drop it” with my nephew.

When training takes years, literal years, don’t forget the small victories

It’s easy to forget how much progress is made with incremental, teeny-tiny baby steps.

When you’re in the thick of it, especially when you’re dealing with a problem behavior instead of, like, a fun trick, you can’t even fathom that there is a light at the end of the tunnel, let alone see it.

Once you get there, having taken those itty-bitty steps for God-knows-how-long, it’s easy to forget every teensy step that got you there. Or maybe not forget. Maybe gloss over. I call it self preservation because if you could conceptualize just how much effort some behaviors take… well, it might discourage you from trying.

You might have something in mind that was like that for you and your pup. Your own Everest of Dog Training. For Lucas, it was his dog aggression. Years and years and years of daily work, tears, classes, setbacks, more daily work, more classes, more setbacks… that ultimately made him Most Popular Jock at doggy daycare (title invented by me).

For Cooper, well, he has a series of Everests. Some are foothills, I suppose, because just about everything with him requires some sort of struggle. (Everything but cuddling and running, anyway.)

Our big victory, though, the thing I want to focus on for this blog hop is one of those that took so long and so many incremental steps that one day very recently (Friday) we realized… oh, my goodness… we’re on the other side of the tunnel/over the mountain and through the woods!

That thing?

The vacuum.

About 4 years ago, Cooper decided out of the blue that he hated the vacuum. Not only did he hate it. Oh, no. He needed to kill it. It came out of the blue because we spent a lot of his puppyhood desensitizing him to things like the vacuum that, post-adolescence, he just wouldn’t tolerate. (See: My theory why.)

Anyway, after struggling with his behavior… both vacuums are covered in bite marks… we decided to tackle the unsafe, unpleasant behavior. At the time I contemplated making a “before” video, but I ultimately decided against it because, once I was committed to addressing it, I didn’t want a single other incident!

We did all the usual vacuum-fear-counterconditioning things: Left it out and periodically put treats on and around it, touched the handle without turning it on while giving treats, moving it without turning it on while giving treats, and so on. The entire time, every time we had to actually run the vacuum, we put him outside or in another room to prevent repeats. Then we moved to running it with him nearby but behind a gate while giving him treats and ultimately escalated to tossing treats away from the running vacuum until finally, finally he was able to take treats from you while you were vacuuming.

Years. Also, our floors were never quite clean because all that? Yeah, it was a giant pain in the ass.

Which brings us to Friday. John got the vacuum out, and as soon as he hit the power button…. Cooper ran straight over to him! To where John was vacuuming! And right up to the vacuum!

Of course, four years later, his thought process is now, “Vacuum turns on, and even though I hate it, I get piles and piles of treattttttssssss!!!!” Which was the goal.

Yet, somehow we never really saw or realized: We achieved our goal!

No, he doesn’t trust the vacuum, and no, he’s not 100%. I’ve realized he still goes after the hose if I let his concentration waver. But. He did it. Or, at least, he’s doing it.

And it was so incremental, we didn’t even realize it!

“NBD! Gimme treats, man!” (Ed note: Please ignore the crappy photo. I will learn how to take pics some day… prob as soon as I get a camera… ha!)

Cooper and the vacuum

“OK, maybe a little bit of a BD here with the hose. See these ears? These are BD ears. More treats, please.”

Cooper's still unsure of the vacuum hose

What are you working on in tiny baby steps? What progress have you made that you maybe take for granted? Celebrate those wins, y’all!