Is Your Dog A Cheater?

Is Your Dog Cheating?

On a trained behavior, a self-reflection of when and how you’re rewarding your dog is key.


The report of the shotgun and the folding of the rooster appeared to happen simultaneously. The aging springer was almost sitting, taking short steps in anticipation, impatiently waiting for his name to be called for the retrieve. As the bird hit the ground, his wish was granted.

“Pete!” rang out in the cool fall air, and the dog was off. A quick pick up and delivery of the bird to his owner finished the work off nicely. After taking the bird from his animated little hunting partner, Fred turned to me with a big grin on his face, “Quite the dog, don’t you think? He likes to cheat a bit on the retrieve, but I don’t mind.”

I was impressed with the dog. He had an amazing zeal for his job and showed wisdom in dealing with these strong flying birds. I was in full agreement with Fred’s opinion of his dog. However, I was not in agreement with his description. Was Pete really “cheating” on the retrieve? “Cheating” would imply that the dog was purposefully violating a rule.

In field trials, springer spaniels are asked to sit once the flush is completed and wait to be released for the retrieve. This is the standard that Fred knew. It’s also the standard Fred expected me to use to measure Pete’s performance. Pete definitely did not abide by the rule. However, to be a “cheater,” Pete would have to be aware of the rule and purposefully break it. Since he can’t read a rule book, the only way Pete can know what is expected of him is to interpret the communication coming from his handler. By releasing the dog when he did, Fred had sent a clear message: almost sitting, accompanied with some short little steps, is precisely the correct action to bring the desired reward. Pete performs that action the same way each time, and each time he gets paid. From what I witnessed that day, I believe, Fred had unintentionally taught his dog the very action he was now referring to as “cheating.”

These scenarios occur quite often in the gun dog world. With both pointing dogs and flushing dogs there are situations where we would like the dog to “wait” until we give them the release command. We would like the dog to stay on the bed until released, or we would like the dog to stay sitting or standing still until released. In our minds, we are wanting the dog to wait. I find, however, the way the dog sees or interprets the situation can be far different.

Progression & Training Desires

Let’s take a minute to look at the process of a small puppy learning to sit.

A very effective way to teach “sit” to a puppy is to take a piece of food and hold it in front of its nose. As the pup tries to get the food from your fingers, you move the food back toward the top of its head. This will put the dog in a slightly awkward position. In an effort to get more comfortable, the youngster will sit. The instant the puppy’s hind end touches the ground, you release the food into its mouth. With repetition it will realize the key to getting the food is to have its hind end on the ground. Before long the pup will be sitting whenever we raise a piece of food above its head. With some effort, and the addition of a positive marker, the dog will be sitting at a distance when we raise our empty fist in the air. The puppy will consistently sit because it understands its hind end on the ground is the action which earns the desired reward. In simple form we can see the dog is identifying specific behaviors tied to the rewards. The action marked will be the action repeated. If the pup does not sit when we raise our fist but still wants the treat we can simply withhold the reward. Soon the pup’s desire for the withheld reward will cause it to sit. This shows us the dog does understand the required action. It will also continue to sit in anticipation, as if begging us to give the reward.

The above progression shows us that the dog is connecting the reward to the action. It’s important you only reward the pup when it is sitting and be sure to deny the reward if the pup stands to receive the food. The pup will soon understand the reward will only come when it is in the act of sitting. Because it wants the reward, it will remain sitting until it gets the food. In the pup’s mind, it is not thinking about the duration of time. Instead, it is thinking about the action required and is continuing the action until rewarded.

Let’s look again at the situation with Fred and Pete. If Pete really understood sitting was the action which brought the reward of the retrieve, then simply withholding the release would bring a sit. An immediate release when the dog sat would reconfirm that sitting was the correct behavior. The well-timed release would create a more prompt response from the dog in the future. The dog would understand that the release comes as a result of fully sitting on the ground. In this mindset, a delayed release will result in a tighter sit as the dog works to earn its desired reward.

In contrast, trying to fix the problem by requiring the dog to sit and hold that position for longer periods of time can increase the anticipation and frustration. The increased anticipation and frustration creates inching forward and standing up. By releasing the dog when inching forward and standing half way up, we mark these behaviors as being correct.

In one case, the dog understands that the quality of its performance brings the release. In the other case, the dog believes that anticipation and frustration bring the release.

As I work with people and their dogs I frequently find myself saying, “Dogs repeat the actions that they are paid for.” Often the payment is made inadvertently, as in the example of Fred and Pete, when the dog’s actions are not what we would like.

Communication is Key

I often hear people use words to describe their dog’s behavior such as cheating, dishonest, or sneaky. These descriptive words imply that the dog is purposely going against their owner’s wishes. At times it can feel this way. However, this view leaves the responsibility for change on the dog. That’s expecting an awful lot out of an animal. Those kinds of expectations are almost a guarantee for failure.

I find the knowledge that our dogs are opportunistic to be very empowering. They are constantly trying to figure out how to get what they want. Our attention to our communication with them will make all the difference in their performance. As we get better at communicating the exact behaviors that bring their desired rewards, our dogs will dependably perform those behaviors. As I like to say, “Dogs repeat the actions they are paid for.”

Photo Gallery

3 Principles for Building a Solid Foundation with Your Puppy

3 Principles for Building a Solid Foundation with Your Puppy

The guide to build your very own canine athlete.

By Talmage Smedley

The relentless cold and darkness forced me through the back door of my home. Mildly frustrated, I removed my coat and gloves. My relationship with the winter months is one of love and hate. I hate that it gets dark so early and limits the amount of work I can do. I love that it gets dark so early and gives me a much-needed break from the long hours I work in the summer. This particular evening I decided to use a bit of my discretionary time to relax and watch a movie. Sitting back into the recliner and thumbing through my movie options I came across the iconic sports movie, Hoosiers. It was like seeing an old friend and I had to stop for a visit. The movie is about a small town basketball team and its unlikely journey to the state championship. I had seen the movie a number of times before and each time I had found it inspiring. This time, however, was a bit different. My attention was drawn away from the main plot and instead focused on the changes I saw the individuals in the movie go through. I saw disrespectful young men with no guidance choose to follow a demanding coach with exacting rules. I witnessed their play go from disorganized and sloppy to well-structured and precise. I then watched as they rose to levels and went places that they may not have even dreamed of before. As I recognized the process they were going through, I marveled at the parallels between their journey and the journey I have traveled with dogs many times before. It may surprise you to see that the principles that created change for the characters in the movie will also create change in your journey with a new puppy. Let’s take a look at these pillars.

Establish & Create Leadership

When Coach Dale met the team, he immediately established rules and boundaries. In an effort to help his players learn to pass the ball effectively, Coach Dale created a “four passes before you shoot” rule. In the first game, one of the players became frustrated with the rule. In response to his frustration, he began shooting at will. Coach pulled him from the game and had the remaining boys play with only four players on the court. By doing so, Coach sent the clear message that his rules were non-negotiable. I noticed that in the next game the boys all played with a greater effort to follow the coach’s direction. As a result, the team began winning. The boys’ desire was to play and win basketball games; through this experience they learned that disobedience resulted in lost game time and lost games. They also learned that, in contrast, obedience increased game time as well as wins.

By definition, leading requires followers. I have found that the most devoted followers don’t follow out of a fear of consequences. They follow because they believe that by doing so they will be able to get what they are looking for, or as I like to say, their dreams will come true. I believe that great leadership in both people and dogs is contingent on the ability to help individuals achieve their dreams. Our dogs all have “dreams.” Their dreams for the most part are quite simple. They consist of fun, companionship, affection, exercise, food, and going out to use the bathroom. If we can help our puppies and dogs realize that these desires happen as a result of their obedience and behavior, they will develop a greater motivation to follow our lead.

Teach the Fundamentals

When Coach Norman Dale arrived for the first day of practice he found the temporary coach, George, running a scrimmage. George stated that he figured they would scrimmage for twenty minutes, take a 10-minute break, then scrimmage for another 20 minutes. Coach Dale had a different plan. He had the boys work on drills to improve their ability to dribble, pass, run, and shoot. Throughout the movie, reference is made to the importance of these “fundamentals.”

When it comes to our puppies, it’s important that we establish an ability to communicate with them. Most of the problems I help people with exist because of a lack of communication. Often clients can communicate the problem to me, but lack the ability to communicate with their dog. It’s quite easy to come up with a solution for their problems; however, communicating that solution to the dog is more difficult. Creating an ability to communicate with our dogs is vital to having a successful relationship.

At T’s Doghouse, we believe that basic communication with a dog should include the ability to ask the dog to sit, to lie down, to get up on things and get off of things, to walk on a loose leash, to come when called and to move away when asked. In addition, we need the ability to let the dog know when it is doing the right thing and when it is doing the wrong thing. This is accomplished by creating marker words or sounds. I refer to these as positive and negative markers. We teach these things to our puppies with three lines of communication: visual, verbal, and physical. Teaching these lines of communication, and using them consistently, teaches a puppy to look to humans for guidance and leadership. It literally changes the way a puppy thinks. We refer to this as “the shaping of the mind.” These basic fundamentals will be used throughout the life of our pets. We can begin teaching these to our puppy the day we bring it home.

Helping Unfamiliar Situations Feel Familiar

One of my favorite scenes takes place when the team arrived at Butler Fieldhouse for the state championship game. As the team walked into the enormous building, Coach Dale took them to the basketball court. He got all his players’ attention and they began to take measurements of the court. They discovered that the basket was the same height as their basket at home. The foul line was the same distance from the baseline as it was at home. There may have been more seats in the stands but the game was still played on the same size court. The coach did this to add a feeling of familiarity to the unfamiliar setting. This is when the team really came together. The situation melted away and all that mattered was each other and the game they played so well together. They showed that they could play anywhere, against any opponent.

For a young pup, the world is constantly changing. Everything is new and unknown. I have found that as I teach the pup basic communication skills and then implement them in new and unfamiliar settings, I can help the dog become confident regardless of the surroundings. I act as the constant and familiar anchor for the pup, anywhere we go. By teaching the pup how to gain rewards, I create the ability to turn a potentially stressful situation into a fun outing filled with rewarded interactions with me. The more the pup focuses on and follows me, the less it will worry about the unfamiliar things in the changing environment.

What an amazing experience it must have been for Coach Dale, his players, and the fans. Coach Dale established himself as a leader, taught them the fundamentals of the game, and helped them experience amazing new opportunities. Together they took a journey to the State Championship! Lives were forever changed for the better.

Each time a young puppy leaves my kennel with a new owner I think of the journey they are embarking on. I know there will be many happy times, some frustration, and sometime in the future there will be an ending. These relationships don’t last forever. However, between the pick-up and the inevitable end are the dreams—and those dreams belong to you. It’s your chance to establish yourself as a leader, to teach, and to go where you and your puppy have only yet dreamed of going.

How To Use Positive Markers In Dog Training

Use positive markers to effectively and precisely communicate the action you want to see from your dog. (Photo By: Kali Parmley)

How to Use Positive Markers in Dog Training

Help your gun dog understand what action you desire from them.


The sport of horseback field trials has always captivated me. The back of a horse has always been one of my favorite places to be. In horseback field trials, the dog is required to stand stationary through the flush of the bird and the shot of the gun. Because the birds are not shot in this event, the dog also must stand until the handler returns to him and takes him by the collar. Performed at its best, the dog happily stands without any cautioning from the handler.

I recall the first time I ever attempted to reach this level of performance with a dog. The dog was a couple of years old and I had shot a fair number of birds over him. He was standing steady for me to walk in front of him and flush, but every time I fired my gun, he would jump forward. This had been a point of frustration for me, and my efforts to help the dog realize that I wanted him to remain stationary had created some concern in the dog as well.

My focus had been on correcting the dog when he would jump from the gun. These efforts were clumsy and poorly timed, at best. Then one day, I fired my gun and the dog stood completely still. I was totally overcome with relief as well as excitement. He had done it! I walked back to him and as I got to him, I couldn’t help but kneel down and hug him where he stood. It’s often hard for me to put into words the connection and understanding that can transpire between an animal and human, but in that moment I knew that he knew exactly what I wanted and that I was very pleased with what he had done. From that point forward he was completely and confidently steady.


Understanding Positive Marking

Dogs that spend a lot of time with humans become very adept at reading our moods. They know when we are happy or sad, excited or frustrated. They learn to see it in our body language, hear it in our voice, and feel the energy coming from us. They readily use this information as they make their choices. Unintentionally, my excitement at the dog’s choice to stand still communicated to him that his action had pleased me. My excitement had marked or identified the action I was looking for. My expression of joy and affection rewarded that behavior. I’ve come to refer to this as positive marking.

In the years that have followed this experience, I have learned to use positive markers intentionally. By intentionally connecting certain sounds with positive rewards we can create positive markers. For example: If I say the word “yes” and then immediately give a food reward, the dog will come to expect the reward every time he hears the word “yes.” Once I have accomplished this connection I can use the word “yes” to communicate that the dog has done the correct task and will be receiving a reward. This gives us the ability to help the dog identify when they did what we wanted, even if there is a slight delay before they receive their reward.

dog trainer giving a dog a treat
A positive marker is a word or sound, charged with positive emotion, that is used to identify the desired action. (Photo By: Kali Parmley)


Simply put, marking is the use of communication to pinpoint an action. A negative marker is a word or sound, charged with negative emotion, that is used to identify an undesirable action. Although both are important in training, I often see negative markers used more frequently. However, the liberal use of positive markers will result in a more dependable action and a much happier dog. As I’ve coached many clients to start to effectively and deliberately use positive markers, I’ve noticed that their and their dog’s frustration decreases and the relationship becomes much happier and more enjoyable. Progress happens more quickly as well.

I saw this demonstrated some years ago on a basketball court. After having four children who all played basketball, the number of memories I have attached to a basketball court could fill a small library. However, if a person were to say two words to me, “basketball” and “yes,” my mind would go back to a very specific game at a grade school in Plain City, Utah.

Two teams of eight year old girls were on the court for the first time. Both coaches had equal time to prepare. The girls were guided to specific spots on the floor. The tallest girl from each team stood face to face in the middle of the court. The referee blew the whistle and the ball was tossed into the air. As the ball came down, it was tapped to the left side of the court and with the bounce of the ball, pure chaos broke out on the floor. Ten little girls swarmed to that spot in an effort to grab the ball. One girl grabbed the ball and began dribbling toward her team’s basket and the small swarm headed with her. I had seen this “bunch ball” many times— a wonderful part of the early development of a young team.

As the girls ran back and forth on the court, the coaches called out instructions in an effort to bring some order to the pandemonium on the court. At this particular game, something truly magical began to unfold. The gym was filled with the sound of voices. Parents and grandparents cheered every action that their team made that somewhat resembled the game they were trying to play, and both coaches earnestly tried to guide their players. One team, however, was quickly changing. The coach called out, “Get to your spot, Beth.! Yes!” “Find the ball, Annie…yes!” “Pass to Christy…yes!” This coach was giving specific instructions and every time the specific instruction was followed she would call out a sharp, “Yes!” The “yes” was used with precision and the girls acted with precision. They turned and ran to specific spots and turned to quickly find the ball. Her team was rapidly coming to order.

I sat mesmerized. Both coaches were fully involved. Both were working equally hard, but one was having far better results! I turned to my wife and asked, “Can you see what’s happening?” She smiled knowingly and replied, “Positive marking.” As parents we had learned the value and power of recognizing good behavior in our children. As a dog trainer, I was very familiar with the value of “marker training” to pinpoint the action I was trying to get a dog to perform.

Precise & Timely Communication

In regards to the basketball game, both teams were cheered when they scored. Both teams were congratulated for a game well played. Both coaches were coaching in a positive, encouraging manner. However, one team was learning and developing at a much faster rate than the other. The difference was in one coach’s ability to effectively and precisely communicate when the athlete did the correct thing, and do it in real time.

In the case of the basketball game, the coach used the word “yes.” The crowd used their cheers to mark the scoring of baskets or the stealing of the ball. In the case of dogs, we can use a clicker or words such as “good” or “yes,” or we can use a happy or excited reaction. Dogs are very perceptive and can read us well.

I think that it is important to recognize that all living creatures watch for and identify markers that help them learn what is working in their quest to gain what they want and avoid what they don’t want. This is important because “marking” is going on all the time in the dog’s mind. The goal is to actively use markers intentionally and deliberately to clearly communicate with our dog. The more effectively we learn to use markers, the better our relationship will become with our dog, and the happier and more confident our dog will become.

How to let your dogs get up without encouraging jumping

Our last blog talked about how dogs often start jumping in an effort to get to our hands. We recognize now that we often inadvertently reward the jumping by giving the dog the interaction it is looking for. We love to show our dog affection, and that interaction is an important part of a healthy, happy relationship with them. However, that affection seems to be the cause behind the jumping that has become such a problem! It seems unfair that something that both the dog and we enjoy so much can be causing a behavior that has to stop. Ahhh! How can we have our cake and eat it too?

Actually, there is no reason that we can’t have it both ways! It is very possible to have the interaction as well as a good mannered dog that does not jump on everyone. In fact, the interaction is the key ingredient to stop the jumping.

Theory of Shaping Behaviors

If we break things down and consider PARR (see PARR video in the theory section of the Adult Dog or Puppy Basics Courses) we will see how to create the change.


P – Pressure – a desire for interaction

A – Action – Jumping

R – Release – Touch of your hand (positive marker)

R – Reward – Interaction/attention


All we have to do is replace the undesirable action with a desirable action. For instance, our dog jumps up on our leg. We step forward to claim the space where the dog is standing. This will cause the dog to get off our leg. When all four feet are on the ground we use the positive marker of the touch of our hand. Soon the dog will look for affection with all four feet on the ground.

Another option might be to take the dog by the collar and lightly lift up and back. Because we already taught the dog that this means to sit in our Foundational Course, the dog will sit down. As the dog sinks into the sitting position, release the collar. When you are no longer touching the dog, use a positive verbal marker, such as “yes” and then give the dog the attention it wants. Soon the dog will learn to ask for affection by sitting.

A Real World Example

Now, here’s how to have your cake and eat it too! I had a customer a while back who loved to have her small dog on her lap. This was only a problem because the dog thought that it could jump on anyone’s lap to receive attention. She remedied this situation by denying the dog from getting on her lap and asking it to sit. When the dog was sitting, then she would invite the dog to get on her lap. Soon the dog began to volunteer to sit when it wanted to get on her lap. By inviting the dog to get on her lap when it asked by sitting, and by denying the dog to get on her lap when it didn’t ask first by sitting, she changed the dog’s perception of how to get attention. As a result the dog began sitting to ask for permission from her and her visitors.

Our dogs are always working to communicate and get the things they want. They choose an action and when it works, they repeat that action. The key to shaping our dog’s behavior is to guide them to the actions we desire and then give them the things they desire. This is precisely what I’m talking about when I say to “make their dreams come true.” Their desires are the key to their behavior, and by understanding these desires we can help coach the behaviors that we want.


Why Won’t my Dog Stop Jumping?

It is easy to identify the “problems” our dogs have. It’s like trying to locate a large sliver in your hand. The pain it causes makes it very noticeable. Jumping seems to be one of these behaviors that is a glaring problem for many dogs. This is one of the most frequent problems we see or hear about. We are often asked, “why won’t my dog stop jumping?” I think coming to an understanding of why dogs jump in the first place is the best place to begin answering this question.

If we step back and consider the life and development of dogs raised with a lot of human contact, I think we can gain some valuable insight. From a very young age puppies draw the attention of adults and kids alike. Before they have even opened their eyes they have often won the hearts of the humans close to them. We seem to find great joy in holding and caressing these small creatures. Before long, they are relaxing in our arms; they are finding equal pleasure in the relationship. As the puppy grows, the interaction increases. We use our hands to hold the puppy, to pet the puppy, to play with the puppy, and feed the puppy. It doesn’t take long for the puppy to learn that many good things come from our hands. Soon the puppy is seeking our hands. It learns that if it climbs up on our leg, it might be picked up. If it climbs into our lap, it will be petted. If it follows our hands, it will receive a treat. In no time at all the puppy has begun seeking our hands. When standing up, our hands naturally hang above the dog’s head; consequently, when the dog is seeking our hands, they are naturally drawn upwards; climbing or jumping to get to our hands. This desire to get to our hands is so cute when the puppy is small. It even warms our hearts to see the puppy’s desire to be in our arms and we tend to be thrilled to grant its wish. However, the cuteness seems to wear off quickly as the puppy grows, as claws scratch, as paws get wet and muddy, or when this jumping is on our guests. What was so cute and endearing has now become a problem! 

So, why do our dogs jump? Because we taught them to! They have learned that these actions create the human contact that they crave. Dogs are obedient creatures. They dependably repeat behaviors that bring the results they are looking for. The challenge is that once they have discovered an action that has proven to bring the results they are looking for, they can become very persistent, repeating the action over and over until it once again pays off. When it comes to jumping, it’s almost a guarantee that if they jump enough times, they will receive the interaction with the hands that they were seeking. (To see this in action, watch our YouTube video about jumping: Why Won’t My Dog Stop Jumping?)


Let’s look at two scenarios: 

First, a natural reaction to a dog jumping is to use our hands to push the dog to the ground, often holding the dog down and speaking to it to prevent it from jumping right back up again. This attention and touch is giving the dog the attention it desires, and actually reinforces the behavior. 

Second, another common reaction is to back away from the dog. This “giving” of ground draws the dog forward and always increases the jumping.


So, if both pushing a dog down and retreating “reward” the jumping, how do we get the dog to stop? This is the dilemma dog owners are often faced with.

However, there is hope! There is a pattern that I apply to most behaviors that I want to change. First, I interrupt the behavior. Second, I lead the dog to a desired behavior. Third, I positively mark the desired behavior. Fourth, I reward the desired behavior. 

With jumping, I interrupt the behavior by claiming the space around me. It becomes difficult for the dog to jump if I’m moving toward it. Because of the work I’ve done with my dogs in the Foundational Courses, the dog will understand as I ask it to move away from me or my guest on whom it is jumping. This also puts me in a place of leadership.

For the second step in the process, I would call the dog back to me and have it sit. When the dog sits, I would mark the behavior (third step in process) and give the dog the affection it was seeking as the reward. (fourth step in process) 

With a little repetition we should see some change. In most cases the dog still shows some tendency to jump, however, when we claim space he will back off and sit. When the dog shows that it understands that we would like it to sit to be petted, we can then begin to negatively mark the jumping. Because we taught the dog verbal negative markers in the Foundational Courses, a simple verbal negative marker as we claim space should suffice. Clear communication and good timing when we give the markers and rewards is vital and makes all the difference in the effectiveness of these techniques. (See our video The Importance of Time and Timing) For additional tips, see our Jumping Series videos where we cover these concepts in more depth. 

Understanding the why of a dog’s jumping can be very helpful. With this awareness we can shape the dog’s behavior and teach our dog how to “ask” for the physical attention it craves; and we can choose when and to what extent we have the physical interactions with our dog that we enjoy.


Applying Real Life Leadership Principles to Dog Training

In our last newsletter I mentioned a singing audition for a popular TV show that I had recently watched. As usual my attention was captured by the communication and leadership that was going on between the judges, and contestant. After the singer finished the song, the judges made some comments on different aspects of her performance; the dialogue that happened there was fascinating to me. The exchange was filled with a lot of the leadership principles that we teach and use with our dogs here at T’s Doghouse: leadership, guidance, positive markers, negative markers, and rewards (praise).

The first thing to recognize is the dynamics of the relationship between the singer and the judges. In this particular situation the judges were in a position of leadership, they were going to decide whether the singer would get to continue on to the next round of the competition or not. Their leadership and guidance would help take her from where she was to where she wanted to be. In their time to critique, they had the opportunity to give some suggestions to the singer. Due to all of these factors, the contestant was all ears.

The first judge to speak began with a very positive statement. He said, “You have magic country stuff going on with your voice.” I saw this as a positive marker as well as a reward (praise). I believe that it established a positive mindset for the singer, or as we like to say here at T’s Doghouse, a gain mindset. The comment let the singer know that the judge liked her and was there to help.

The next statements that this judge made were quite obviously negative markers. These comments were not hurtful, but they clearly identified the problems that he was going to address. The comments were, “You are letting everything else get in your way,” referring to her nerves preventing her from showing her talent fully, and “I would give anything in this world to get you to sing on time a little better.” Timing and nerves were the two things that the judges marked as the problem.

With the problems clearly marked and the fact was well established that the judges were there to help, the real magic began to happen. All three judges stood up and joined the contestant on stage. The judges then started walking around and easing the mood, which helped the performer to relax. I was able to visually see the singers nerves begin to settle as the energy associated with the experience began to noticeably change. 

The music started again and the judges started snapping, clapping, and moving with the rhythm of the music. One could be heard saying “Stomp it out. Timing.” As the singer relaxed and got on time with the music the positive markers really began to show up in the form of both verbal communication through statements like “There it is,” “Yeah,” and “Mmmhm.” I also saw visual communication in the forms of smiles, head nods, and winks.

These markers were then followed by the rewards. Saying things like “The way you say crush is magic,” “That’s good,” “You’ve got talent in spades,” and even some cheering were all ways the judges rewarded the singer.  These statements left no question that the judges were pleased with her improvements and that they had faith in her. Then came the greatest reward, a ticket to the next round of the competition. By using these leadership principles the judges were able to help the singer perform better than they did on their own.

When we are working with our dogs it is important that we help them to understand that we are there to help, the same way the judges did for that contestant. Positive marking the things they do well and the things we are pleased with will help them to recognize what it is that we like. In turn, those actions are what helps them get the reward that they are looking for. It is also critical that we learn how to identify problems within our dog’s behavior and make sure that we clearly point these problems out through effective negative marking. The same way that the first judge marked the issues without being hyper aggressive or overly hurtful should stand as a good pattern for the negative markers we should be implementing while training our dogs. After marking these problems, it is critically important that we give positive markers and rewards when we see the improvements in behavior that we are looking for. This will help solidify that behavior in the dog’s mind and help it to continue to make those choices more regularly in the future. As we learn to show our dogs that we care about them and are there to help, we will be able to better communicate the behaviors with which we are pleased or displeased. We will then have the opportunity to guide our dogs towards the types of behaviors that are going to be best for both them and us. 

One of the things that fascinates me about dog training is how true the principles are in all aspects of life. These leadership principles show up in parenting, business partnerships, romantic relationships, friendships and just about any type of interaction we come across in everyday life. The commonality of these principles in different areas of life are one of the things that helps me to know that they are true principles. The teachings of these true principles is what we are all about here at T’s Doghouse. They apply to leadership within our personal relationships as well as our relationships with our dogs. At T’s Doghouse we teach dogs to look to people, and then we teach the people how to lead.  


Click here to check out the clip and see if you can find all of the leadership principles we discussed!

If you want to learn more about how we teach these principles in dog training check out our video library here!


Understanding Dog’s Anxiety and How to Help

I have been training animals my entire life. Whether it was dogs or horses, my career has revolved around helping animals reach their potential. I absolutely love it. I am passionate about my work, and I have the experience that allows me to be confident and comfortable in my environment. 

However, I recently had a dream. In this dream I was suddenly the CEO of a major corporation in a foreign country. At first glance that might seem like it was a massive upgrade; I had the big office with a great view, a personal secretary, and a large salary. In reality though, I was absolutely terrified. The phone was ringing and people were asking questions that I didn’t understand; it appeared that nobody could speak my language. People were coming and going, but largely ignoring me. If they were trying to communicate with me they seemed mad or frustrated. I began to feel defensive. It felt like total chaos. I knew there needed to be order, so I tried to create some, but nobody seemed to pay attention unless I got really loud and animated. I was being asked to do a job that I didn’t have the knowledge to do.  It is safe to say that in my dream,  I was feeling a lot of anxiety!

Imagine yourself in a similar situation to the one that I just mentioned. You are suddenly thrust into a position that you are not prepared for. You have no idea what you are supposed to be doing and there is nobody to guide you and help you understand. Chances are that this would lead to feelings of stress or anxiety. You might become defensive, or just hide in your office where you could feel safe. This fear might cloud your judgement and leave you extremely vulnerable to making mistakes and making choices that caused problems. This is the exact situation that many dogs find themselves in every day.

Many dogs are living with families that love them very much, but don’t give them guidance or show them how to interpret the human world in which they live.  When a dog interprets the world on their own, they interpret it from a dog’s point of view. This often leads to behaviors that are unacceptable in a human world. Dogs in this type of environment often feel high levels of anxiety or fear. These dogs are in, what we call, an avoidance mindset. They are constantly looking to avoid situations they perceive as dangerous. We see these emotions manifested through their fearful actions: quick to bark and drive threats away,  constantly whining, or hiding, and if we think of it like the scenario described above then it makes sense! They are put into a world that is not familiar to them, they often don’t have effective ways to communicate with the people around them, and they have to try and figure out this entire complicated world all on their own. So of course they exhibit anxiety; that would be a stressful situation!

However, if we think about it in this way, then it is also easy to understand why we have seen leadership to be so helpful in lessening a dog’s anxiety. Imagine how my experience in the dream may have been different if I had a mentor; someone that could help me learn to communicate with the people that I was working with, someone to turn to with all the questions I had, someone that could teach me how to handle these new experiences. I may still have some stressful or unsure situations but I would be far more confident and comfortable if I knew there was someone there to help lead me.

Once again I find that our dogs are the same way, if dogs have a good leader that can be a mentor or guide for them, then anxiety decreases immensely. They no longer have to be worried about needing to understand every single situation that comes up, they just need to be able to know how to look to and communicate with us. If they can look to and communicate with us, then we will help them understand how to handle any given situation. Now their focus goes from trying to understand an entire world, to just following the person that already understands the human world, us! We are the key to helping them live happy and fulfilling lives in a human world.

This is often easier said than done because dogs don’t come with the innate ability to speak our language. But we can create the ability to communicate with our dogs. We can help them know how to handle various situations; and we can learn to recognize the cues they are giving to communicate their wants and needs to us. That is the focus of our Foundational Online Courses, and our overall approach to dog training in general. T’s Doghouse is very unique in the fact that we don’t just focus on teaching dogs tricks and commands. We focus on teaching people how to communicate and teaching dogs how to look to people for this communication and guidance. We have found that by doing this there is no limit to what we can teach our dogs and no limit to the experiences that we can have with them! We can, quite literally, make their dreams, and our dreams, come true!

Don’t miss out new content! sign up for our newsletter here and get a free video too!

About T’s Doghouse.

To Train or Not to Train… (That is the Question)

A couple weeks ago I was reading through a Facebook group that was focused toward dog owners. One post that I looked at asked about people’s experiences with sending a dog to a professional trainer, commonly called a board and train. The responses to the post were interesting; they were incredibly inconsistent. Some people absolutely loved the experience and called it some of the best money they had ever spent. Other people felt that it was a complete waste of money and time. Why the disparity? I don’t personally know any of the individuals in this Facebook group so it is hard to know why all their experiences were so different. Maybe it was because of different trainers that were used, maybe it was the situation or environment, or maybe it was related to the owner themselves. I wanted to share some insights from my time as a trainer and owner on when and why it can be helpful to hire a trainer, but also the important role owners can and should play in training their dogs.

One specific type of situation comes to mind when I think about this set of circumstances. Let’s say my friend Jill sent her dog to a trainer because her dog had a number of problems, one of which was jumping up on people when they came into the house. The trainer worked with this dog on establishing personal space and boundaries. Once the training was finished the trainer sent the dog back to Jill. When the dog first returned, it was fantastic and never jumped on people. Slowly though, it started to go back to its old behaviors and started to jump on people again, first every once in a while, but eventually it was jumping on everybody again just like before the training. Why did this happen? Was it just because the training didn’t “stick” like Jill hoped? 

When asking questions like this we need to remember that dogs are animals, not machines. When a computer is programmed to do something, it does the exact same thing every time.  We would like it to be this way with dogs, but because they are animals, they adapt to the environment that they find themselves in. If the environment at home doesn’t change, then they will come back to the house and start to regress to their original behavior because it is what their environment encourages. 

Whether we train our own dogs or have someone else train them for us, the success of that training ultimately comes down to our ability to communicate with and lead our dog. They are not a robot that can be programmed to perform the same way, regardless of the situation. It takes communication and leadership to help the dog maintain the behaviors that they learned in training.

So why do we ever send dogs to training? There are three things that are needed to train a dog effectively: knowledge, experience, and time. So when a person sends their dog to a trainer, it is usually to utilize the trainer’s expertise in one or more of these areas.

Trainers have knowledge of the processes that are needed to train a dog, as well as knowledge of what the end results of the training should be. They are also aware of the potential challenges that might arise when training a dog. This is very valuable because having a vision for the finished product allows them to be deliberate with all of their actions to help the dog get to a stable and healthy place very quickly.

Another big benefit to hiring a trainer is their amount of experience. They have run the river more times then they can count and have seen a lot of different behaviors and situations. These experiences give them the ability to speak the dog’s language in a very fluent way. That fluency helps the dog find the desired behaviors and become comfortable in a variety of different situations. This experience also allows them to avoid making common training mistakes, and avoid possibly dangerous situations when training.

The biggest thing that a person gets when hiring a trainer is their time. The trainer has the time to go through the repetitions that are necessary to build a solid behavioral foundation with the dog. This opportunity for prolonged, consistent repetition helps build understanding and proper habits within the dog. This is very helpful and convenient for a lot of people because then training exercises don’t have to be another thing added to an already busy schedule.

When an owner sends a dog to a trainer they are getting the trainer’s knowledge, experience and time.  However, when the dog comes home, the trainer’s experience and knowledge are no longer there to shape the dog’s behavior. The things learned can quickly be “forgotten” if the owners don’t know how to use the skills taught. This is why it is so crucial for owners to also learn how to communicate with their dog. The dog could revert back to old behaviors if owners haven’t a knowledge and understanding of how to reinforce the dog’s new behaviors.

Knowledge, experience and time are all crucial elements in the training of a reliable, enjoyable canine companion. A trainer can be a valuable asset to assist in one or more of these areas, but an owner must also gain enough understanding to help the changes from that training to last. In the end, the only way to create lasting change in your dog is to create change in yourself.


What Makes a Good Leader?

In our recent YouTube video “A Dog Trainer’s Tribute to Martin Luther King Jr”, I talk about two traits necessary to be a great leader. First, you need a dream or vision, and second, you need the ability to communicate that dream to others. Simply having a dream and the ability to communicate does not automatically make someone a great leader. A leader can not be a leader without followers.

Let’s take a look at how an individual chooses who to follow. Essentially there are two motivating factors, or pressures, in decision making. I often refer to these motivating forces or pressures as positive pressure and negative pressure. Positive pressure is being motivated by a desire to gain something. Negative pressure is being motivated by a desire to avoid something. Any decisions made due to hopes or dreams fall into the positive pressure category and any decisions made due to fear fall into the negative pressure category.

We all use these two pressures whenever we make a decision. In fact, as near as I can tell, these pressures precede all action. I find this to be true with humans and animals. Nelson Mandela once said, “May your choices reflect your hopes, not your fears.” A quick search online for books on the power of positive thinking reveals a seemingly endless list of books written on the subject. The power of living in a positive mindset has been well documented. At T’s Doghouse we refer to this as being in a “gain mindset” or “living for the gain.” We have found that we are much happier when we live and train in this mindset. We have also found that our animals are much happier and learn faster when they too are in a “gain mindset.”

Negative pressure is also a very motivating power. My search online for books on the power of fear also produced a seemingly endless list of books on the subject. It’s easy to see the power of fear all around us; individuals making choices in an effort to avoid something. At T’s Doghouse, we refer to this as an “avoidance mindset.”

With 2020 being an election year here in the USA, I had the opportunity to watch and take part in the selection of leaders for this nation. Through this process I witnessed both positive and negative pressure at work.

Some people followed their candidates because of what they hoped the candidate would do for the country. These individuals seemed to have a vision or dream of their own, and they chose the candidate that they believed would help these dreams for the country come true. These individuals were acting from a “gain mindset.” It was also evident that some people had very strong fears of what might happen to the country if a certain candidate was elected. These individuals made their decision with an “avoidance mindset.”

During the campaign process we also saw these two pressures at play. Each candidate had the opportunity to share their dream or vision with the people. These efforts were spent in an effort to gather followers that had a similar dream or vision.

We also saw the candidates spend time and money pointing out fears and concerns about the other candidate. These efforts were aimed at gathering followers through creating fear toward the other candidate.

In the end, each voter made a decision and this decision was according to their hopes or their fears.

As we look at the world of animal training we see the same elements at play. Our animals are constantly making decisions and these decisions are based on an effort to either “gain” something or in an effort to “avoid” something.

As leaders to our dogs I feel it is very important to recognize these two motivational pressures. As we come to recognize why our dogs are making their decisions we will be able to help direct our dogs. As we guide our dogs to gaining their desires (food, safety, affection, fun and adventure) they will learn to look to us and follow our leadership. Through our direction they will adopt behaviors that they recognize will bring about their desires. We will also be able to help our dogs understand those things which they should avoid.

Although both pressures are always at play, we focus our training courses on helping dogs live in a gain mindset. We have found that this keeps our dogs happier and it helps them be more obedient because they are following out of a desire to gain what they want. Having a dog in a gain mindset also makes it so that when a negative correction is needed the correction can have a profound effect, even though it can be a very small correction. In essence, as we guide our dogs to their dreams, they will turn to us for leadership so their choices may reflect their dreams, not their fears.

Make dreams come true, my friends!

A Dog’s Foundation: The Key to Lasting Obedience

As I hung up the phone, I couldn’t help but feel a little bit helpless. The scenario was one that I faced all too often, a frustrated owner calling for advice on how to handle their dog’s behavioral issues that were now getting out of control. I knew the answer of how to change the dog’s behavior, but the owner didn’t have the tools yet to create this change.

I thoroughly enjoy helping people create great relationships with their dogs! Dogs have enriched my life in so many ways. My relationships with my dogs have not only taught me some important things about myself, but they have also taught me many lessons that have helped me create better relationships with the people in my life. One of these lessons is the importance of good communication. With good communication, potential challenges melt away. Without it, small issues can become monumental!

Let me illustrate this. For 25 years I made my living raising and training reining horses. One day I asked one of the ranch hands to take a blue bucket of minerals out to the broodmare pasture down the road. This particular employee was a hard worker and very dependable. However, there was one challenge. He primarily spoke spanish and knew very little english, and I spoke english and knew very little spanish.

The next day when I arrived at the field, I found that our expensive blue roan show mare, who was supposed to be inside the heated barn, was now outside in the broodmare pasture in the middle of a January snow storm with a summer haircoat and no blanket. Bewildered, I caught the mare and took her back up the road to the barn. Through further investigation I found that when I had asked our ranch hand to, “take the blue bucket of minerals out to the broodmare pasture” what he had heard was “take the blue mare out to broodmare pasture.” This is a perfect example of how without the ability to communicate clearly a seemingly small challenge can turn into a much bigger problem. 

This is what I was dealing with on that phone call. The frustrated dog owner and I could communicate just fine; however my ability to help them with their problem was greatly hindered by their lack of ability to communicate with their dog. The family loved the dog and they usually enjoyed everything about him EXCEPT this one issue. Often these “one issues” become so large and out of control that it threatens the dog’s ability to have a good home. 

As we can see, the ability to communicate well with our dogs is of the utmost importance! That is why we make it the focus of our courses. The truth is that it is easy and fun to develop a solid foundation with your dog that is centered on communication. It doesn’t take hours of additional drills or coaching. In fact, it takes less time to set this foundation of communication than it does to try and fix problem behaviors down the road if this ability to communicate is not established. A little time well spent developing our three lines of communication (visual, verbal, and physical) will pay off in big ways later on. They will allow you to have simple solutions for otherwise enormous problems, and allow you to enjoy every moment with your dog for the rest of your time together!