Teaching Dogs ‘The Basics’


, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The other day during a lesson with a long time client who has a new puppy she asked me, so when do we start teaching The Basics and how long will they take?

I looked at her blankly. The Basics? As she’d said The Basics with capital letters, as if what we were already doing wasn’t The Basics.

“You know, the six basic commands…sit, down, stay, come….”

Oh. (Though I can’t for the life of me figure out what the sixth one might be. Sit, down, come, stay, heel and what? Stand maybe? But how many people outside of the competition world really use a formal stand cue?)

When I think about the education I want my puppy or new to me dog to have I have an entirely different list I’d call The Basics. My Basics revolve around a dog learning to navigate the human world they are in as safely, comfortably and confidently as possible. Sure sometimes obedience cues may be involved, but they aren’t a key component or feature even.

Zora lounging on me on a blanket on the couch

Here are The Basics I strive to teach. As once these Basics are solid teaching those more formal cues is most often a walk in the park as the foundations are now in place. I take The Basics very seriously for the dogs in my life and spend a tremendous amount of energy, time, care and thought into teaching them.

1. Humans will help you. When in doubt, find a human and ask for help. You don’t need to take care of problems alone.

2. Humans are safe. We might be a little slow to understand sometimes, and we make mistakes, but we are safe and can be trusted. If we do something you don’t understand, it’s ok to forgive us and know it wasn’t done maliciously.

3. Humans will keep you safe. No matter where or what’s around. You can go anywhere and be anywhere and know I will do everything I am able to keep you safe.

4. Humans are trustworthy. I will not lie to you. I will not set you up to fail. You can trust me to help you, to be safe, to keep you safe, to be honest, to be accountable, to be who you need me to be. You can trust that if I ask you to do something, you can do it.

5. Body awareness. Know where your body is in space, how to move it in different ways in different places. How to control your body at various speeds and directions, and on different surfaces and objects. Understand your body in relation to other beings, bodies and objects. Learn what your body can and cannot comfortably and safely do. I use this Basic when teaching sit, down, heel, stay, come among other skills.

6. Emotional control. How to go from 0 to 60, and from 60 to 0. Ie the learning and ability to be aware of and understand your arousal levels. With various stimulus and places. How to control yourself emotionally. When you are tired, excited, unsure, Etc. How high is too high. How to recognize that feeling. And coping skills for what to do safely to calm yourself and to handle your excitement or insecurities depending on context. I include in this learning to keep your mouth and paws to yourself when interacting with humans unless otherwise invited. And how to settle. I use this Basic later when teaching stay among other skills.

7. A default automatic leave it response. Assume that everything in an environment is not for you unless otherwise invited to engage with it. This includes: food, objects, other people, other animals. If you want to interact or engage with something either find a trusted human to include in the decision, or pretend what you want isn’t really there. This Basic also ties in heavily to Basic #1. I use this Basic when teaching leash walking, stay and come among other skills.

8. How to hold the need to void, despite needing to go, until taken to an appropriate place. Ie house breaking and toileting. Totally one of my Basics. Don’t pee in the house, don’t pee in my bed, don’t pee because it took me 15 seconds instead of 5 to get my coat on, don’t pee on the tunnel because a dog before you just did.

9. How to be relaxed when confined or restrained. In various ways, environments, contexts. Everything from grooming, to vet procedures, to car rides, to leash walking. From crates, to muzzles, to leashes, to harnesses, to hands.

10. How to be alone. Even if activity is around you.

11. How to play. With people. With safe other animals. By yourself. In different places. With different things. How to feel relaxed and safe enough to be vulnerable, silly, playful. In that how to confidently make mistakes, to confidently try, to take chances and risk.

I think those are my Basics in a nut shell. If my dog has learned those 11 things well, then teaching sit, down, stay, come, heel and the who knows what 6th are a breeze, along with so many other things I may ever wish to teach or do.

What do you consider are The Basics?


Agility Discrimination Seminar with Debi Hutchinson


, , , , ,

Today was the first of the 2 half day seminars our agility club sponsored taught by Debi Hutchinson. Debi is a well known agility handler, instructor and seminar presenter from Maryland. Today’s focus was discriminations. Zora and I participated in the afternoon advanced session which consisted of 3 different set ups

The majority of the seminar we worked on a set up that was 2 straight jumps into a discrimination composed up 2 side by side u shaped tunnels. Making 4 openings and you had to direct your dog into the correct opening.

My personal take always from this exercise with Zora were:

Use my lead out position to my best advantage in communicating the clearest line and path

Mark a couple of jump bars in 4ths and practice directional skills into this type of set up with me in various places working to be able to cue her what part of the bar to jump over making the next obstacle then clear. This is in prep for the idea that at some point a distance line may restrict my movement in some way

We then did a bit of work on a simple dog walk tunnel discrimination sequence. Zora and I have a rather solid clear communication system for such sequences so Debi gave us more to work by really having me practice my pace and speed at further lateral distance and to create the most efficient line and speed for Zora, which was helpful.

The final exercise of the afternoon was a sequence with a tunnel a frame discrimination in a sequence of jumps. Zora and I did it from 3 different handling positions: me lateral distance to the right layering the jumps, me to the left of the a frame/tunnel, and me in the middle. The lateral distance layering position was my most comfortable, but not as efficient a line and therefore speed, as when I was in the middle and Debi had me really pay attention to where Zora was when she was in the tunnel and timing my movement to coincide with Zora exiting the tunnel, which really tightened up her line very nicely. I shall have to remember that.

All in all an excellent seminar. Tomorrow afternoon we return for the advanced distance seminar.

Circus Dogs!


, , , , , , , ,

I think I need to consider renaming my Thursday night advanced class “Mechanics.” Or maybe “Laugh till you cry” as that seems to be what we do each week. Lol.

Last night, per the group’s request, we focused on teaching a number of tricks that built off of skills they already had in their tool box.

We laughed so hard. “Guys, stop a minute, MECHANICS!” As the humans contorted and twisted. We broke the movements down and wa-la the dogs got it.

By the end of the hour we had a group of circus dogs! Weaving through legs, circling canes, leaping over legs and through arms, crawling. It was a hoot and a blast. We all, humans and dogs alike, left smiling and happy.

Blue Merle Australian Shepherd walking around a pole Black lab practicing crawling Mixed breed and owner practicing leg weavingAustralian Shepherd leaping over her owners leg

Weekend Fun – NYC!


, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Last week a good friend of mine, S., who lives in TX called to chat, mentioning she’d be traveling to NYC for the week with her adult daughter.  Miracles of miracles, her trip north coincided with the one free weekend, nothing on the calendar, I had for the next couple of months.  So, Tom and I hopped the Accela this weekend for a trip to Manhattan!

It was a BLAST!  We all had so much fun!

We haven’t seen each other in person for I think bordering on 5 years now, but it didn’t matter.  We catch up on the phone frequently, and she is such a hoot.  Tom and her guide dog, Estrea, seemed to remember each other instantly, again despite not having seen each other in years, they both thoroughly enjoyed the trip as well.

So where to start, well let’s start at my roll the eyes ‘Still the same’ experiences of Penn Station.  Penn Station is a hive of a station that I have a very, very, very tenuous understanding of it’s layout.  As such I requested Red Cap assistance upon arrival to help me figure out how to get to street level.  Red Cap assistance consisted of, “You can do elevator?”  yes.  “Here” as person shoves me onto the up escalator (which by the way isn’t an elevator, you know.  2 totally different pieces of machinery).  I get to the top of the escalator.  Red Cap person has disappeared, and I am definitely not at street level.  I ask a fellow passenger, some Australians who have as little clue as I do.  Then on a stroke of “Trust the dog” I say to Tom, “Tom, find outside, outside, find outside.”  This is one of those parts of guide dog relationships that always amazes me.  I have no freaking clue where ‘outside’ is.  Tom hasn’t been in Penn Station in at least 4-5 years, and yet I ask, “Find outside” and he takes off with purpose.  Brings me to an escalator, we go up, he takes me through a crowd, weaves around a bit, before choosing another path with purpose, up another escalator then magically we are indeed outside at street level just where we need to be.  Granted, he sometimes does take liberties with this level of trust, as you’ll see later in our adventure, but for the most part he uses his skills for good.

After making our way to our hotel and meeting up with my friend, S. in a mass of excited wagging dogs and hugging humans, we decided to brave the on and off rain so she could show me some of the surrounds.  S. has traveled to and through NYC significantly more than I as her daughter comes up a couple of times a year for her work and S. often tags along for vacation.

We visited St Patrick’s Cathedral where there was a mass taking place.  The organ music was beautiful.  The priest’s homily made me smile, he was a character.

We walked around Rockefeller Center with the skating rink and fountains.

Then off to the Roosevelt House for a tour.  Which was fantastic.  I highly recommend.  The tour guide was awesome.  He clearly loved the history, was a great story teller, and incredibly knowledgeable.  A very fascinating historical place to visit.

Sunday we went to The Met for a while.  Tom is not fond of museums.  He’s about as fond of them as he is shopping.  Which is to say on his list of places he’d like to go, they are pretty much lower than low.  He would prefer we either go or we stop, the museum travel of stop go stop go stop go he thinks is nonsense.

So when S. and I reached a point of disorientation and confusion, Tom saw his chance.  He knew we had no idea where we were or how to get where we wanted in the museum, so he took off with purpose.  As he’s usually rather honest, and I’ve learned if he takes off with purpose to trust him and follow his lead.  He was very tricky though so not to be found out.  Just thinking about it I’m sitting here laughing as I type.  He weaves us through crowds, turns through a few galleries, is working methodically, he’s not in any rush, he’s working like he does when he’s comfortably on task, yet the whole time unbeknownst to me at the moment, he’s trying to pull the wool over my eyes of where he really is taking us.  Again I’m laughing right now as I type.  As next thing we know, I realize “No!  He’s taken us to the exit!!”  LOL  Which is of course where he’d rather go, he wants us to leave this boring place!  I tell him as I try not to laugh, “No, we’re not leaving.  Around!”  He sighs.   Turns around, and with obvious displeasure leads me back into the main hall of the museum.  Nice try buddy, nice try.  I commend your efforts and attempt.

Lunch on Sunday, let’s just say Google Reviews did not disappoint!  S. has a very similar diet to me, and gluten free is a requirement.  She found this place Senza Gluten in the West Village through Google, and we figured we’d give it a try.  Oh. My. Gosh. it was fantastic.  Food was delicious.  I haven’t had tiramisu in years.  It was to die for.  Seriously.  So good!  S. had  GF veggie pizza with goat cheese for her main meal, again fantastic.  I had pasta with meat sauce, super good.  We each pilfered from the other, both of our plates were excellent.

Despite the rain, we decided to walk some of the way back from lunch.  Which was fun.  We had a general orientation direction of where we needed to move towards, but everything else was rather fuzz.  We decided to go for it and that’s why there is the backup of GPS and the beauty of smartphones.  As we were walking through the West Village, I suddenly felt like I was in Boston.  Then we moved through an area that felt like Quincy.  And I realized, why on Saturday I had felt so disoriented as a whole in the areas of Manhattan we had traveled in that day.  Those areas didn’t smell like a city.  How that is possible, I have no clue.  They smelt of nothing.  Surrounded by nonstop bumper to bumper traffic, noise, rain, construction, and people, the streets smelt of nothing.  It was the weirdest thing.  No smell of exhaust, no smell of welding, no smell of dirt, or humans. The smell of nothing.  Yet we get to the West Village and I instantly felt at home, it smelled like a city, like Boston.  It was the weirdest thing.  A city that had no odor.  Very disorienting.

A few hours later found Tom and I back at Penn Station to start our travels home.  Where 15 minutes before our train was due to arrive, the announcement that “Due to power outages in Penn Station, all trains are delayed.”  I had to laugh.  How is that possible?  In the major train hub in the middle of down town NYC, how can there be power outages to the point that every single train is delayed, ending in most of the local ones being canceled and Amtrak trains being delayed close to 1.5 hours?  It was comical.  The new station a couple of passengers around me were discussing sounds like it can’t be built soon enough.   Regardless we made it home safe and sound, after a fantastic trip and visit.

Gem of Today


, , , , , , ,

Lyft driver:  “You have a dog.  I can’t take you.  I just had my car cleaned.  Your dog is going to pee in my car.”

Me rolling my eyes, getting into his car as he’s talking cuz give me a break dude:  “He’s a guide dog.  He won’t pee in your car.  I promise.”

Now that’s a first.  Suppose it’s better than the lies about allergies that are really a fear of dogs.

For the record, No Tom did not pee in his car.


Tom with his “Why would I pee in a car?  Who does that?! Humans are weird”  face on

Learning Styles


, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

What’s your dog’s learning style?  What’s yours?  Do you ever think about those factors before taking a class or training your dog?

I’ve learned over the years, many people don’t.  I used to ask each and every one of my private lesson clients, and many of my group class folks as well, “Tell me, how do you learn best?”  After a while, I stopped being amazed that so many people had no idea.  So we’d talk about it, we’d work to figure it out based on their past learning experiences.  If I was working with someone who learned best through demo, then I’d ask if they were comfortable with me demonstrating with their dog or having them move along side me mirroring the movements I wanted them to make.  If I was working with someone who learned best through reading, I’d make sure we included time at the end of each session for me to write up their homework for them to review during their practice.  If I was working with someone who learned best through repetition, I’d provide them the space and patience to repeat as many times as they needed.  And so on.  I always wanted to maximize the chance of the client being able to internalize, remember and really learn the skills we were practicing and I was working to teach, therefore it behooved me as an instructor to provide materials and presentation in the way that was most accessible to that individual learner.

And the same for our dogs.  The dogs in my own life have taught me, just as with people, each has their own individual learning style, strengths and weaknesses.  If I recognize those factors, training is more enjoyable, efficient and down right fun for us all.


Zora practicing her dumbbell holds using a chin target

Take Zora for example.  Her learning style really compliments the parts of the training process I truly love.  Mainly the planning, research, thinking, finding a dozen ways to approach any end goal stage.  With her, once I find the way that makes the most sense to her she’ll have what I am working to teach her down flat in a nano-second.  With her, if she doesn’t have the skill within a couple cumulative training minutes, I know I need to go back to the drawing board stage and figure out another way to approach it.  It’s awesome.  I love it.  I get near instant gratification for the thinking, planning, problem solving, questioning part of the training process that I already love.  Someone once told me as we discussed how I had attempted to complete a BS in chemical engineering, “Oh you’d have been a terrible engineer.”  I asked why?  He replied, “Engineers are really great at filling the box, but terrible at creating the box.  That’s what the managers are for.  You on the other hand are really great at both creating the box and filling it an endless number of ways.  Being a formally trained engineer would have driven you nuts.”  (living with my computer engineer husband, I concur with his assessment of engineers.  W is a really good engineer, he’s great at filling the box.  He cannot though create the box to save his life.)  Zora’s learning style allows me reinforcement to create the box and fill it an endless number of ways.  It’s awesome!


Tom in harness guiding me to a log in the woods

Tom, he has a very different learning style from Zora.  Tom’s learning style, I’m not complete sure how much of it was influenced by the early compulsion training approach he had as a pup in the guide dog raising program (they have now since changed their puppy rearing and training approach) and how much of it is his own natural tendencies, but he’s a dog who if I show him what I’d like him to do, or I bounce the new thing off an already existing behavior he knows well, he’ll grasp it very quickly.  But if I were to ask him to guess, he would find it very stressful.  Tom does well with brief periods of luring or even molding, then shifting to reward based.  He also has an excellent memory, especially for context, and if I teach or ask him for a behavior one time in that context, the next time the context occurs he will offer it usually unprompted.  For example, the very first week I had Tom home, I accidentally cued him to turn up my neighbor’s driveway on the cue ‘home’, and praised him when he took the turn as I thought I was my own driveway.  It then took me nearly 2 weeks to retrain him that ‘home’ was actually the next driveway over, ie our actual driveway.  After 1 week he wasn’t turning up it, but he was still head bobbing as we reached it, that took the 2nd week to eliminate.  But that part of his learning style does come in handy so often.  He can remember things about environments that we last went to once years ago, and he brings them to my attention to see if I’m going to reinforce that behavior once more this time now that we are back in that context.  It’s really awesome and has saved my butt so many times in places where I’m sort of not really familar.


Niche a liver colored flat coated retriever in mid stride with an orange training dummy in his mouth

Niche, my last flat coat, was an incredibly literal learner and really awesome with patterns.  With him, I had to carefully think through anything I wanted to teach him, do all of my research and planning, carefully decide exactly what I wanted him to be learning, and then teach it.  As he would give me 1 shot.  Once I taught it to him, he’d repeat it for the rest of his life upon being asked, but if I wanted to change it, oi that took a lot of work and convincing.  He would happily offer behaviors, loved shaping training sessions, but was usually rather literal in his progressions and as I said once I’d put something on cue and reinforced it a number of times, that was that in his mind, and to be repeated exactly as taught with little to no deviation.  Was really great for competition skills, and made me really improve my training plans, but could be challenging in daily living as he would find and create patterns in the smallest of details.  He was a dog that believed to his core that correlation and causation went hand in hand.  If he felt A caused B then it must be so.  Even though often A really had nothing to do with B and was just a product of coincidence.


Little black flat coated retriever puppy Obi chewing a toy next to my laptop, he was around 8wks old

Obi, now Obi’s style I found incredibly fascinating and really it’s why he was the pup I took home in his litter as I observed this in him as young as 5 weeks old.  Obi was a natural mimic.  It was so super cool.  Thankfully he was also a sweet heart lug head of a dog who wanted nothing more than to be loved, which prevented his learning style from being more challenging than it was to live with.  He unfortunately developed idiopathic epilepsy by the age of 6 months which I think also damaged some cognitive abilities for him, but he was a sweet heart to say the least.  My favorite Obi mimic story was how he learned, through watching me do it many times, how to open crate doors.  He knew how to open spring loaded crate latches, Varikennel turn latches, pull latches.  How do I know this?  Well one day when I apparently didn’t latch his crate, I came home and all the dogs were loose.  Which they hadn’t been when I left.  Then it happened again.  I knew Obi was a mimic, so I had a suspicion it was him.  So with him outside of a crate, I latched a crate door and asked him to then “Kennel up.”  He went to the crate, found it locked, used his mouth to unlock it, opened the door with his paw, and hopped into the crate.  I then did this with every style of crate I had in the house, he knew them all.  The saving grace, he never figured out how to unlatch the crate while he was actually in one (though I was incredibly cognizant of latching all outdoor doors using the deadbolt from then on!  I figured if he learned crate doors it was a matter of time before he figured out door knobs!).

Every dog I’ve had has had their own unique individual differences when it comes to many things, learning included.  The four I gave are just a couple of them.  I find this part of dog training so much fun and fascinating.  Working to figure out my own dog, what makes learning easier and more fun for them, and how I can compliment that through the training approach I take with them.


Leashes in the House


, , , , , , , , ,

Recently a number of folks I know have gotten puppies. And they’ve all asked my advice about house training, and keeping their pup out of trouble and such. And for all of them, as I recommend to anyone who asks when they have a new dog be it puppy or adult, have the pup wear a leash inside. Times you are supervising, they drag it. Times you are only semi supervising, you attach it to you or hold on to it or step on it. Times they are crated, you take it off. They come out of the crate you put it back on.

None of them have done it. Well, one has as of yesterday when they realized it would make life a lot easier, but they resisted doing it for over a month.

One of the new puppies a tan little fluffy guy chewing a bone. As he is in my house he has a black leash on

One of the new puppies, since he was visiting my house, yup black leash on.  He thought the Dinobone was the bees knees!

Why? Why do people not do this?

It makes life so much easier. Seriously. Any dog coming into my home for the first time be it puppy, adult, my own or boarder wears a leash until I’m sure their understanding of where to toilet is solid, until I’m sure they have the social skills to not be an annoyance to the other dogs, until I’m sure they can be consistent with making good decisions in the house. Zora wore a leash in the house for well over the first 2 months we had her. All of my puppies have. Every single dog who boards with me, from the time of drop off until I’m sure of those 3 criteria, wears a leash in the house. Most of them by their second visit means less than 10min, a couple they don’t need one at all as they’ve proven their abilities to me countless times, some of them though, they wear leash for the first couple of days.

Leash already on means no fumbling to get it on as we quickly rush out to toilet. Leash already on means I can find the puppy who is hunting dust bunnies behind the couch. Leash already on means I can quickly interrupt the thought of jumping on the counter. Leash already on means someone at the front door, we are ready to train. Leash already on means we can practice leash walking in an instant, all I need to do is pick up the end as the dog is already walking beside me. Leash already on means I can quietly step on the end, preventing a chase me scenario, and we can work on the trade game or coming to me with the slipper my hubby forgot to put in the closet. Leash already on means I can easily help the “Tom is done with your shenanigans, time to walk away.” Leash already on means they learn super early to ignore the leash, it isn’t for chewing, or tugging, or anything to really care about.

I don’t know how people raise puppies without a dragging leash. How the heck can you keep tabs on them easily without one? When I think back to how small and fast Zora was at 5 months old, without her standard 6 foot extension I’d have had no chance in heck of knowing where she was!


5 month old baby flying Zora.  See look at that, yup dragging a leash.  I think this was her 2nd day home.

AKC Rally trial re-cap


, , , , , ,

Today we went to the Mayflower Pembroke Welsh Corgi Club’s rally trials.  I have to say the short days of these rally and obedience trials is a definite draw for me at present!  2 trials and we were gone from the house a total of 4 hours, so that includes travel and competing.  Pretty sweet.  Hubby also appreciates that unlike agility, we don’t have to be out of the house at the crack of o dark hundred.  Leaving the house at 10am on a Sunday rather suits his preference.

Any how, it was an overall great 2nd rally trial experience for Zora.  We earned the 3rd qualifying score required to earn our Rally Novice title and move up to Advanced.  Where we earned our 1st Advanced Rally qualifier despite some rather major handler errors.  Oops.  The judge was very kind and said as we finished, “So you know that…” and explained the errors I made.  No, no I didn’t know that, but now I do, which is great.

What made me really happy though was a couple of competitors who I didn’t know came over to me to tell me that the team work Zora and I had was lovely and they could just see how in tune to each other we were as we did the course together.  That really made me smile.  As that connection with my dog is what I love about doing anything with my pups.  It isn’t worth doing if my dog isn’t also having a good time and enjoying what we are doing together as a team.  I’m glad Zora is enjoying our forays into Rally.


Zora sitting in our kitchen with her 1st & Q blue ribbon, her New Title ribbon and her 3rd place & Q yellow ribbon


That moment


, , ,

That moment when the last dog resisting an afternoon nap finally finds a comfy spot that meets his exacting standards and for the first time since 6:30am you now have 4 sound asleep pooches…

2 sleeping black labs on the floor amidst blankets and the ears of a sleeping corgi on the couch

And you realize, you have to pee.

How long do you think it will be before they all settle again?

Learning Stuff!


, , , , , , ,

For the next 6 weeks I might be a tad quiet on the blog as I’m currently immersed in learning stuff!  I signed up for a couple of competition obedience skill centric courses through the Fenzi Dog Sport Academy, and the courses began yesterday.  Zora and I are already having loads of fun, loads of homework, loads of ways to use and build on skills we already have, new skills to learn, and lots to think over.  I’m having a blast!

Here’s a few clips from our 2 training sessions this morning for our Stand class.  (I love Tom over there waiting so attentively.  No worries, he got some good dog treats as well.)