Monthly Archives: September 2010

Does Housebreaking Feel Like it is Destroying your House?

Ahh, the potty training problem… Aside from socialization issues, this is the next most frequent problem I get calls for.  But before we fully explore the basic principles for potty training, let’s talk about why we have such problems to begin with.

As times change I am seeing an increase of smaller and smaller breed dogs living in smaller and smaller spaces with parents with very busy lifestyles.  Gone are the days  where everyone has a house with a yard and someone is home all day long tending to the family (able to let the dog out).  Now the norm is everyone is living bunched up one onl top of one another and all the members of our family live on a tight schedule of activities.  Space for dogs to roam is a rarity, and time for training can be hard to schedule in.  Combine that with a tiny breed dog and you have a recipie for potty training disaster.

You see dogs are naturally a letrining animal.  They like to relieve themselves far away from their nest or den.  If given the opportunity they will choose to go as far away as possible to do their business.  This is one of the reason why dogs make such great companions.  Unfortunately due to our busy schedules many young dogs don’t get enough opportunities to go away from their nest to relieve themselves.  Instead they may be confined for to many hours and put in a situation where they learn to live with their own waste.  This destroys that natural instinct to keep your home clean.

The other issue is that as our dogs get smaller and smaller our square footage appears larger.  To a small breed dog a 1 bedroom apartment can be a lot of space.  Certainly enough to urinate in one spot and return to play in another.  The guest bedroom, or fancy living room may even appear to not be part of our nest at all, people rarely go in there.  So to a dog that is having frequent “accidents” in these areas it may seem to him like this is the apropriate place to go.

The other most common issue I see when folks call me about potty training problems, is too much freedom and not enough direction.  A young dog cannot be trusted to manage its own bladder and bowels, much the same way you would not trust a crawling baby without a diaper.  Giving your dog the run of the house when it’s under 1-year-old is risky at best.

So what’s a good puppy parent to do? Right now you might be feeling very confused. Thinking to yourself, “Melissa, you told me not to confine my dog a minute ago! Now your telling me I can’t let him run free! What the heck am I supposed to do!”

The solution is balance and direction.  I don’t mean to get philosophical, but isn’t that the solution to all our problems in life?!  Every puppy should have a space to call their own: a crate, a pen, a washroom, a kitchen with a baby gate.  It all starts here.  This is the first place your dog learns to keep clean because it is where his food, his bed, his toys, are located; and he doesn’t want to soil his area any more than you want him to soil yours.  But as I stated earlier if you want this instinct to continue you need to give him frequent, and I mean frequent, opportunities to relieve himself elsewhere.  I encourage you to pick a place, somewhere easily accessible to your dog and take him there every time.  Preferably through the same exit so he learns the path, this will help him later for signaling that he needs to go out.  So in the beginning, it lots of trips from his space to the bathroom and vice versa.  If you feel like a slave to your dogs bladder and bowels you’re doing it right!  The secret here is setting them up for success. Do not wait for your dog to fail and then correct, that is not fair!  You wouldn’t wait for your toddler to wet his pants and then punish him as a way of teaching him. It is the same thing.

If things are going well, you will start seeing that your dogs area is staying cleaner.  Your dog is realizing that you will give him the chance to relieve himself elsewhere and is learning how to hold it until you let him out.  As he ages he will be able to hold it for longer and longer.  I encourage you to put him on a schedule during the hours that he is awake. Dogs are great anticipators, that paired with vigorous praise when he goes in the right place will help things move along quickly.

So now your dog has learned how to keep his space clean what about yours? Once again balance and direction.  If your dog never spends any time loose in your house he is never going to learn how to behave in that area.  I recommend you practice in small doses.  Also set yourself up for success, let your dog have freedom only after you are POSITIVE they are empty, only for a short while, and only in the room that you are in so you can keep an eye on him.  Use freedom in your house as the reward for relieving himself in the right place. As things progress you will see your dog spending more and more time out of the pen and longer and longer between bathroom breaks.

It is a tedious process but one that goes quickly if you are very consistent. I promise you can do it!

Licks and Wags,


P.S. Need more one-on-one help to potty train your dog? Or want some advice on how to set-up your environment for your new pup? Call (866) 412-PAWS and setup a Puppy Consultation. Melissa is happy to help!

The Importance of Being Persistent!

As a dog trainer I have always know how important it is to be consistent.  Good pack leaders are always consistent! But just as important as consistency is being persistent.  It is one thing to be consistent and always ask your dog to sit while waiting at the door, but it does you no good if you give up easily when your dog doesn’t respond the first time.

I was really reminded of how being persistent can be used as a training tool while on my recent trip to Paws with a Cause, in Michigan.  There I got the opportunity to work with folks with disabilities and see how they worked with their service dogs.  I went on many field calls to help teach people how to better work with their assistance dog.  But the most interesting thing of all was that even though I was the dog trainer, the one supposed to do the teaching, my clients taught me a much more valuable lesson.

You see a person in a wheelchair with limited mobility of their arms and legs doesn’t have a lot options when their dog doesn’t obey the command.  They can’t snap the leash and offer a correction, they may not be able to get out a treat and bribe their dog, and they certainly can’t manhandle their dog and force them into doing the behavior.  All they can do is persist and ask again. Imagine if you will this scenario:  You are in your wheelchair and you drop your keys, you ask Fido to retrieve them and Fido looks at you blankly.  What can you do but ask again, you aren’t going to get into your house until he retrieves them so you have to keep trying.  Eventually Fido gets bored with just standing there and grabs those keys, he wants to go someplace too!

Many times those of us with all our capabilities get frustrated or in a hurry and we give up to soon.  We cave to the confused, distracted, or maybe just lazy dog, and our leadership quotient takes the hit.  So much can be gained by just showing your dog that when you say sit, you mean it, and nobody is going anywhere until they sit, so they may as well do it.  Remember good leaders get what they ask for, nobody questions the president when he gives a command!  You are the leader of your pack, empower yourself and get results!

Licks and Wags,


The Power of Consistency…

Part I

I was working with a client tonight and was reminded of another training concept that I feel is important.  We were talking about leash skills and how important it is to be consistent.  While it is true that I spend a lot of time encouraging my clients to be unpredictable to keep their dogs on their toes,  there are also some times  when a consistent pattern of behavior is appreciated.  Keeping the leash soft and tension-free is definitely one of those areas.  It is also something your dog can be taught to be in control of.  This can be good (if your dog is working to keep the leash loose), or it can be a nightmare (if your dog learns that pulling is the norm and an acceptable way of moving forward). So here is one place where consistency saves you a lot of training time.  You just really have to adopt a no-pull policy.  In other words, from now on we will not accept being pulled any longer.  EVERY time you pull ahead of me and I feel that leash go tight I will correct and turn the opposite way even if only for a few steps to get you back in line with me;  and only when I feel the leash is loose again will we move forward.  It is a tedious process  I know! But one that pays off in the long run.  If you are absolute and this is the law, your dog learns very quickly how fruitless it is to pull the leash tight.  You set a boundary for yourself and it must be respected.  Ultimately any behavior that you really want your dog to do without fail this must be your mantra. A word of caution, by the same token realize that any time you ask for a behavior as the leader you need to make it happen.  So as any mother of a small child will tell you, pick your battles.  If you don’t have the time to persist and make it happen don’t even ask! All you do is confuse the dog and show them that your cues sometimes need to be respected and other times not.  Instead, if you don’t have time to walk the dog properly DON’T EVEN WALK! One day without a walk will not kill your dog, you can always play fetch or run around the yard if your pup needs exercise.  Teach them that a loose leash is a state of being, whenever the leash is on there is never any tension on it.  Persist and you shall see the rewards of your labor, I promise.

So if consistency is king then being persistent is its cousin.  Check out Part II for more info…

Catch your dog being good!

A trainer friend of mine sent me an email last night that reminded me of a really important training concept. She always signs off her emails with a tagline that reads “catch your dog being good.” I remember thinking, “wow, what an important concept that is so often forgotten.” I mean how do we expect our dogs to do the right thing if we never show them what we like.

I was reminded again of this concept while walking two of my client’s dogs this afternoon. For whatever reason we were just having a great walk, nobody was pulling or lagging, everyone was just hanging out by my side. I thought to myself, what a great opportunity to show them what behaviors I like. I better praise these dogs soon if I want this behavior to continue.

In the training community this is called capture training.  You capture the behavior the animal does and reinforce it.  Eventually the animal anticipates your reward and offers up the behavior on their own. Dolphin trainers do it all the time during play sessions.  A dolphin will do a really cool jump and the trainers will click and reinforce.  Dolphins are so smart they will often repeat the behavior to solicit more fish.  Parents do it all the time with young children, often without realizing it.  Little Johnny gets done playing with a toy and puts it back in his toy box while he selects another.  His mom pipes up eagerly, “Thanks baby for remembering to put your toy back!”

Whenever I start a new puppy class I encourage my clients to start the Pollyanna Principle.  If you remember the movie Pollyanna from your childhood, Pollyanna was encouraged by her father to look for the good in people.  He said if you look for the good in people you will find it.  More than just perceiving the glass as being half full this encourages us to search for those moments when our loved ones are doing something good and reinforce it.  Even if just with a kind word, you will see that it makes a big difference.

So next time your dog just comes over and lays at your feet instead of jumping all over you, remember to reach down and tell him what a good dog he is, and how much you love it when he lays “DOWN”.  I guarantee if you do this often enough, soon you won’t have to even ask.

Licks and wags,


Welcome to my Dog Blog!

First of all, I want to commend you for taking the first step and coming to my blog.  Behavioral problems are the number one reason that dogs enter shelters today and just the fact that you came here shows that you love your dog and are are interested in transforming your relationship. This blog is all my thoughts and feelings on everything dog.  Come here any time you like and read what has been going on.  Also feel free to contact me with any questions you have I am happy to help.  My journey with animals has been an interesting path and I am excited to share all that I have learned!

The Principle
I believe dog training should work for your life!  It is not some magic science, it is really more intuitive than people think.  There is a lot of common sense that goes into it, I think a lot of dog owners over think stuff sometimes.  I want everyone to have a better more enriching relationship with their pet.  This relationship is built through trust and cooperation.  Through your behavior your dog learns to trust that if he cooperates he will be rewarded. Either with something tangible that he needs (food, water, shelter, etc.), or something he wants (love, a toy thrown, etc.).
This relationship in some ways is like that of an employer and an employee.  Your dog’s one job in life is to pay attention to you and follow the patterns of behavior YOU reinforce.  You one job is reinforce the behaviors you want to stick around and redirect the ones you don’t like.  If you keep this principle in the foreground of your mind you will always see success.

Remember, just like any living creature, training is always occurring for your pet at every moment of the day.  Even right now as you are reading this blog your pet is learning something.  It is your choice what your pet learns.  Just like a human child, raising a puppy is a 24 hour a day, 7 days a week job.  Just as with children, there are no days off from training.  Invest every moment wisely and you will see rewards quickly.

Now if you are one of the fortunate, and you are reading this blog while your puppy is in between the ages of 8 weeks and 16 weeks you are very lucky indeed.  You dog is at the perfect stage to start training, your dog is a clean slate just waiting to be written on.  On the other hand if your dog is a little older, don’t fret, just because your slate may already have some words written on it doesn’t mean they can’t be erased and re-written.  Just recognize you will need to have the patience to take the time to erase and rewrite.  It always takes more time to unlearn a naughty behavior and replace it, than it took to learn the behavior in the first place.

Licks and Wags,