In The House of Dog – Conflict and Resolution

Peace cannot be kept by force. It can only be achieved by understanding. — Albert Einstein

Dog training is a form of conflict resolution. The conflict is the dog’s behavior and the owner’s subsequent response to that behavior. The resolution part falls to the dog trainer. As someone who has an understanding of canine behavior, as well as human behavior, it’s my job to bridge the gap and bring peace into a household. But that’s not as easy as it sounds. Actually, it doesn’t even sound that easy.

Unfortunately, there are as many “methods” of dog training as there are of conflict resolution. Every trainer is different, and every dog is different. But we both learn the same way. And that’s what makes dogs and humans compatible. When it comes to dog training and conflict resolution, the method used to resolve the conflict is just as important as the goal of resolution.

Some of you may have heard this comparison before, but go along with this one for me: Let’s say you come to me in the hopes of getting you over your crippling fear of snakes. Now, I can do this a multitude of ways, but only certain methods are actually going to work. I could take an old fashioned approach, and punish you every time you look away from or disengage the snake. The fear of the punishment, in order to keep you engaged with the snake, will need to be strong than your fear of the snake. So, the question becomes is your fear of the snake any less or are you experiencing a greater fear from the punishment? Eventually, you will choose the snake because you are so afraid of the other punishment and you will feel like you will have no other choice in the matter. This is called learned helplessness.

Unfortunately, there are many people out there who call themselves trainers who use this exact process. They believe, incorrectly, that a dog is finally being calm; when, in fact, the dog is displaying learned helplessness. I’ve seen it too many times than I care to count. It’s absolutely heartbreaking.

This is why I prefer scientifically proven methods that employ positive reinforcement. Let’s take the snake example again. I’m going to get you over your fear of snakes. And we’re going to start by giving you an amount of money every time you look at the snake. Then we’ll start moving you closer to the snake, increasing the amount of money if necessary, etc., until you are more comfortable with the snake. Eventually, you’ll start seeing that snake as a form of income. The snake now has a value to you, beyond your fear of it. You might not ever love the snake, but you would learn to tolerate it much better.

Now which method would you prefer? That’s what I thought…

The second method is how I train, and how hundreds of other trainers train dogs. And we see the best results. And more often than not, we are called into cases to help dogs that went through the first method and came out worse.

So here’s the thought I’m going to leave you with: Peace is the only acceptable outcome for conflict resolution, because without that, someone is always going to get hurt.

Happy Tails everyone!


In The House of Dog – Giving Thanks

“Gratitude is the sign of noble souls.”— Aesop

Well, friends, tomorrow is Thanksgiving. I know most of us think it’s corny to sit back and reflect on what we have and should be thankful for. But how often do you really do that? How often do you stop and think about everything good in your life? Are you thankful for your family, friends, pups?

What does this have to do with dog training? Well, in practical application, not a lot. But it helps you with your training and your mental health while you train.

A thankful attitude can help keep you positive when you are running into problems. Can’t quite master that stay? Or need to improve your timing when it comes to your dog’s reactivity? It’s good to be aware of your shortcomings, but also be thankful for where you are and how you have gotten there.

We should also be thankful for these wonderful creatures we share our lives with. I’ve never met a day so bad that Flynn and Phillip couldn’t fix. It doesn’t matter how depressed or lonesome I feel, those two can always make me feel better.

“When the Man waked up he said, ‘What is Wild Dog doing here?’ And the Woman said, ‘His name is not Wild Dog any more, but the First Friend, because he will be our friend for always and always and always.’”—Rudyard Kipling

We should be as thankful for our furry family as much as we are for our human family.

So, this blog post will be shorter. I honestly just wanted to put a few thoughts out there and to say this:

I am very thankful for many things. For my wife, my family and friends, my pets. I am also thankful to get do this for a living. And I am thankful for you, my clients and everyone who has supported my business. I truly could not do this without you and your support means more to me than I can truly express. Thank you so much!

Have a happy and safe Thanksgiving everyone!

In the House of Dog – Learning and Teaching

I’ve spent the last hour looking for a quote, but can’t seem to find it. The quote says something to effect of that teaching a student makes the teacher better. It’s true. Teaching a student makes the teacher better.

As a dog trainer, I’ve got two kinds of students. My clients are one kind of student. What they want me to teach them if focused in a very narrow way. The client wants help with their dog, with the behaviors their dog is displaying. Once that behavior is changed or on it’s way to being changed, the client is no longer in need of my tutelage. While I view my clients as always being one of my students, the truth is that they move on with their lives and so do I.

But there is a second kind of student. There are those individuals that are crazy enough to want to learn how to be a dog trainer themselves. Few of these students last. I’m not the best teacher, but I know when I can or can’t teach someone. The ones I can’t teach say things like “I don’t like people so I want to work with animals!” or “I just love dogs a lot more than people”. Those kind of people shouldn’t be dog trainers. It doesn’t mean they can’t find a good job working with animals, but dog trainers, or people like me who could easily be called an obedience instructor, specialize in working with people.

I don’t just train dogs. I train people to train their dogs. Teaching a would-be dog trainer isn’t much of a change from doing that. There’s a lot more science involved, a lot more reading, and a lot more work on the part of the student. But teaching a new dog trainer has an unintended side effect: it makes the teacher better.

I’ll be honest, before I went on vacation I was in a serious state of depression. But, at my wife’s request, I took on a coworker of hers as a student. And she has been an excellent student. But having her riding along with me, asking questions, watching me teach, has made me want to be a better teacher. It pulled me out of my depression and reignited my passion for training and behavior work. It’s also forced me to keep expanding my knowledge in a more aggressive manner.

I wasn’t lucky enough to have a mentor or teacher to guide me through my early life as a trainer. Most of what I learned, I learned through reading and other resources. But I relish the opportunity to help another trainer learn. And it makes me more excited to work with my clients as well. It keeps me focused, reminds me that I need to keep my skills sharp, and expand on them constantly.

I’ll make an announcement soon about my new apprentice, but thanks for reading today.

Happy tails!


In The House of Dog – Seeking Peace and Control

“That’s how we’re gonna win. Not fighting what we hate, saving what we love.” – Rose, The Last Jedi

Maybe I quote Star Wars too much. Maybe not enough. The reason I do, and the reason I love Star Wars so much, is because there are a lot of good lessons in those movies (and books, cartoons, comics, etc). And a lot of those lessons involve controlling your emotions, facing your fears, and overcoming the things that hold you back. Especially the things in your mind.

When I am working with reactive dogs, the owner’s ultimate goals are peace and control. Peace in their dog, their home, and when they go out. Control in their ability to teach their dog, or in some cases, simply prevent their dog from hurting someone or something. These are excellent goals. But these goals are just that: goals. They are products of something else. We seek these goals, but it is what we do while we are seeking them that is more important.

The first step to reaching peace and control is to understand why we want them. What emotions are driving us towards our goal? In this, in helping our dogs get to a better place, there is nothing that will work except for love. Love has to be why we are doing what we are doing. Not fear, not anger, not exhaustion. Those emotions will not sustain your efforts. Love has to be what motivates your desire to help your dog. It has to be your driving force.

Think about other relationships you’ve had. Which ones have succeeded and which ones have failed? The ones that succeeded, what were those relationships based off of? All successful relationships, the kind that endure through years and storms of life, are based on love. Your dog is no different. Your dog may not live as long as you will, but you will be there for their entire life. Love has to be your motivation if truly want to see a change.

I know this blog post may seem a little sappy for me. But this is a difficult subject and one that I see on a daily basis. The one phrase I hear constantly from owners: “I just love this dog.” They say it like I’m going to judge them harshly for loving a dog that barks at strangers or tries to bite something that terrifies them. And those are the owners that I work the best with. When I hear that phrase, spoken with sincerity, I know that we’re going to accomplish something great.

When you are working with your dog, keep this in mind. Every action you take to teach your dog, or control your dog, or try to make things more peaceful for your dog, should be driven by love.

Happy Tails!


In The House of Dog – Changing of the Seasons

“If we had no winter, the spring would not be so pleasant: if we did not sometimes taste adversity, prosperity would not be so welcome” – Anne Bradstreet, Meditations Divine and Moral

The year passes so quickly. Our years are born in winter and end in winter. And so much happens in those days between.

Time has changed, Halloween is come and gone and as I anticipate the winter holidays, and cold weather, and longer nights I feel like become more introspective. Today, looking out my window at a painfully bright blue sky, winter feels further away. But, for me, winter has always been a time of introspection. I guess it’s the longer nights, or the time spent with family, or the forced perspective of Thanksgiving and Christmas. I don’t always like looking at myself. But it’s something I should do. You should do it too.

I can almost hear you asking, “What does this have to do with dog training?” Stay with me for a second. You’ll see.

Unless you are some kind of Buddhist monk or someone else who has achieved some form of enlightenment, introspection is rarely pretty. We are our own harshest critics. When my mind is turning inward on itself, I am struck with the most profound feelings of solitude and depression. I replay the worst situations from my past in my head, and it seems like I am on trial with myself for things that I did. I felt, and sometimes still feel, like the only person who experienced this. Over the years, I’ve learned that EVERYONE does that. We all just like to rip ourselves to shreds. But if you are wanting to be truly introspective, then you have to learn to move past the point of just criticizing yourself and find ways to change the things that you don’t like.

As a dog trainer, my introspection takes a different turn. For the longest time, I would tear myself down over dozens of things relating to my training work. I would kick myself repeatedly for missing something in a dogs behavior, or how my own dogs acted, etc. It took me a long time to realize that I am human and make mistakes, and I need to acknowledge those mistakes so that I don’t make them again. That is a hard lesson to learn, and one that I still haven’t mastered.

But dog trainers can’t be the only ones who are introspective. Owners need to be introspective as well. The one common theme I see among dog owners that I work with is feeling ashamed, depressed, and isolated. Those feelings are difficult to overcome, even without the behavior issues your dog is having. And I usually recommend talking to people about it. Sometimes I’m that person, but sometimes it’s your friends, family, or strangers in a Facebook group. Once you learn that you are not alone, it’s easier to seek help and to change for the better.

Once you learn to look at yourself objectively, you can begin looking at what you are doing with your dog objectively. And then you can start to really change your dogs view of the world. You can take the fear and uncertainty that your dog is feeling and begin to change that. Together, the two of you can come out of the winter of fear and self doubt, and into a summer of comfort and happiness. The seasons for the two of you will change. And while there will always be winters, the memories of summer will always be there, reminding you of what is to come.

“In the midst of winter, I found there was, within me, an invincible summer. And that makes me happy. For it says that no matter how hard the world pushes against me, within me, there’s something stronger – something better, pushing right back.” -Albert Camus

Keep up the good work everyone! Happy Tails!


In The House of Dog – Tribulation Worketh Patience

“And not only so, but we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience ” Romans 5:3 (KJV)

It shouldn’t be unusual for me to quote Bible verses. Those of you that know me personally know that I was raised in a Pentecostal home. And while I no longer keep that faith, I haven’t forgotten what I’ve learned. Tribulation worketh patience. Translation: Patience is learned through hardship.

Think about the time you spent in college, or learning a new trade. Think about raising your kids, or dealing with family. Think about that friend that’s an acquired taste. Think about the time you have put into those things or people. Think about the time you spent studying or practicing to learn those new skills. It took time…and patience.

Patience isn’t an easy skill to learn. If it were, everyone would be patient and my job would be times easier. You learn patience by trying and failing, and trying again. You learn patience by realizing that results aren’t instantaneous. It’s a lot like gardening, which is why a lot people don’t garden in my opinion.

When you are dealing with your dog, patience is necessary; especially if your dog is reactive in some form. It’s easy to become exasperated when you are working with your dog, and it can be very disheartening that what you have practiced doesn’t seem to be working. And sometimes, you need to go back to the drawing board, work on your technique, change your cues, etc. But here’s the thing: the professionals (like me) do that all the time. If any dog trainer tells you that their dog did what they wanted exactly how they wanted it the very first time, they’re lying. There is a misconception that dog trainers have unlocked some magical power to make our dogs behave exactly how we want them to. That is not how it works for anyone. What dog trainers are (or should be) experts at is waiting, watching and learning. We’ve learned patience through trial-and-error. We have spent countless hours and days perfecting our technique, modifying our cues, observing our dogs reaction and changing what and how we are doing what we are doing. We didn’t set out to become patient, we became patient by accident. And when we see you struggling with your dog, we don’t judge you. We have the benefit of experience of standing where you are standing and can help you get to where we are more quickly than we did. To quote Master Yoda from the Last Jedi “Pass on what you have learned. Strength, mastery, hmm…but weakness, folly, failure also. Yes: failure most of all. The greatest teacher, failure is. We are what they grow beyond. That is the true burden of all masters.”

As a teacher, I don’t want to see you fail. You will, just like I did and I continue to do. But I want to see you succeed where I failed. I want to see you grow where I didn’t. And I will celebrate when I see you do so. Because I know you will.

Here’s the other thing about patience: it’s a promise to your dog and to yourself. As the next verse in Romans says “And patience, experience; and experience, hope: and hope maketh not ashamed.” Your patience is a sign of hope. Your patience is a pledge to a dream or an idea that you have and a goal that you want to achieve. And if you hold on to that patience, and keeping believing in that hope, you’ll get to where you want to be.

Well, this turned out more uplifting than I hoped it would.

Happy Tails everyone!