Nose Work: What It Is and Why You and Your Dog—No Matter His Age or Ability— Will Love It!


Sniffing. Dogs are so good at it that many of them make a living doing it: think search dogs, bomb-sniffing dogs, drug-sniffing dogs, the list goes on and on. But a new sport takes their natural nose power and puts it to work for fun and excitement. It’s called Nose Work and you and your dog are going to absolutely love it.

ChoCho has picked up the odor, while teacher Pam looks on.

ChoCho has picked up the odor, while teacher Pam looks on.

My three-legged dog, ChoCho, was in need of something fun to do Read more

“Clip a Claw, Get a Cookie!”


Let’s assume you didn’t know that most dogs prefer not to have their paws touched and need to be gently acclimated to paw handling from puppyhood. Or your dog entered your life as an adult who had never had his paws touched and freaks out if you even mention touching his paws.

Either way, you’ve got a dilemma: how to trim his claws and care for his paws when he prefers that you do neither. Enter my solution: “Clip a Claw, Get a Cookie!”

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Why You SHOULD Consider Yourself Your Dog’s Parent


Anthropomorphosis means “translation into human form.” Tell someone you consider yourself your dog’s parent and they may accuse you of anthropomorphism. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

As the brilliant author, researcher, and professor, Temple Grandin, says in her book, Animals Make Us Human:

“What dogs probably need isn’t a substitute pack leader but a substitute parent. I say that because, genetically, dogs are juvenile wolves, and young wolves live with their parents and siblings…Dog owners do need to be the leader, but not because a dog will become ‘alpha’ if they don’t. Dog owners need to be the leader the same way parents do. Good parents set limits and teach their kids how to behave nicely, and that’s exactly what dogs need, too.”

She goes on to explain that the evolutionary process of dogs resulted in their being developmentally arrested, so to speak, at a young age. Less like a wolf, more like a wolf cub. As such, they need parents to guide, protect, and care for them. This is not ‘humanizing’ the dog. Rather, it is an accurate and appropriate behavior response to an animal that has been bred to retain it’s puppy-like characteristics, so as to better co-exist with humans.

You can read all about this in greater detail in Ms. Grandin’s book. But for now, know that the love, guidance, and trusting, responsible care you provide your dog is absolutely the right thing to do.


Fact vs. Folkore


When it comes to training, some people pass off folklore as fact. “My grandfather did it this way, my father did it this way, I do it this way. It works.” That may appear to be true…on the surface.

With the cultural phenomenon of “dog whispering,” we’re lead to believe that there is a simple yet mystical path to gaining CONTROL over your dog. By providing discipline, exercise and affection, we’re lead to believe that our canine companion will be happy and obedient.

That may appear to be what’s happening, at the moment, to the humans. But from the dog’s point of view? Things are very different. By suppressing a desire to act, the dog avoids punishment. That creates an antagonistic relationship…and temporary results.

My Karen Pryor Clicker Training has begun, and it’s so refreshing to be learning the SCIENCE of learning. All living beings with nervous systems have the capacity to learn. Whether fish or fowl, canine or human, or anything in between, we all have the ability to learn, to modify our behavior. And through positive reinforcement (also called operant conditioning), we learn best. But what’s most exciting is the actual process of learning.

Contrary to the out-dated dominance theories that would tell us that dogs are all about pack order, we now know, scientifically, that their existence is quite different, more complex, than that over-simplified trendy talk would have us believe. While wolves in the wild do place a bit more importance on pack order as a necessary means of survival, our canine companions are different. Their interaction with us is like a dance, and they are following our lead, responding to what makes us happy, deferring to what makes us angry. They speak to us and react to us. It’s our job to listen.

How to Avoid Barking and Lunging on a Walk

We at Dog Parent are wagging our tails over this phenomenal video we just found. Trainer Emily Larlham explains exactly how to change your dog’s reactive behavior on a walk, using positive reinforcement, treats, and a clicker. It’s an excellent video that takes you through the process, step by step. We can’t recommend it highly enough!

Her training company is called Dogmantics and is located in Southern California. Her website has lots of great videos and information.

If you need a clicker, you can get one here.

A Training Discovery for Barking in Multi-Dog Families

Antique Italian Guard Dog Trivet (we hate that the dog is on a chain)

When we adopted our little dog, Lucia, it was the first time we had a very small dog in our pack. Although it’s been wonderful to have this little one in our family, she does what some little dogs do: she barks. A lot. Naturally a guard dog, and naturally dominant, she is ever vigilant for anything that might warrant a barking alarm. And the more she sounded those barking alarms, the more our two bigger dogs began to follow suit. Soon, we ended up with three barking dogs who got so caught up in their barking frenzy that they did not want to hear what we said to the contrary.

Not only is excessive barking annoying to you and your neighbors, but it can also escalate tension within the pack. Which can lead to aggression and fighting. We knew we had to do something to interrupt this trend.

Although our dogs are indoors most of the time, we noted that the barking seems to occur most often when they go outside and hear something on the other side of the wall. So we worked with some trainers who came to our house. They suggested that we go outside with them every time they bark, scan the perimeter of the yard and exude a calm, assertive, leader role that says “you don’t need to bark. I’m here now and I’m the pack leader. Everything is okay.” While this seemed like a good plan, and we stuck to it for a few weeks, ultimately, it didn’t work. Plus, it required us to go outside with them every time they went outside (in the warm weather, with doors open, they could go out a lot).

My frustration level rose, as I yelled out to Lucia to come in, or be quiet. But this approach never works with dogs! If you raise your voice to a barking dog, they assume you are barking, too. And if you, their pack leader, are barking—well, then there must be something very urgent happening that requires a barking alarm (or so thinks your dog)!

Seeking another positive approach, I began calling the dogs inside when I heard barking, and offering them treats when they ran right in. I was careful about not praising them or offering treats to them for barking. Rather, it was their ‘coming when called’ behavior that resulted in a treat. And sometimes, I’d have them sit first for their treats. This started to change things for the better. They were given a choice: do I stay out here and bark? Or do I go in to Mummy and get a cookie? Because my dogs are very food motivated (just like their Mummy :-), they usually choose to come in to me rather than stay outside and bark.

But it still wasn’t perfect. Lucia still wasn’t convinced that she should stop barking. And every time she barked, she would look around at her brothers. If they were behind her and alert, too, it made her even more proud and dominant and eager to bark.

And then, like a bolt of lightning, I was struck with an idea. Instead of berating the misbehaving dog, why not praise the dogs who are doing the right thing? Whenever Lucia ran out to bark, her brothers always followed, and there was usually a delay (sometimes only seconds) before they joined in. I realized that if they were not joining in with her barking party, they were being wonderful, good boys, and deserved praise for that! So I started doing just that: going outside and praising them profusely for being such good, quiet boys. Naturally, treats followed.

Lucia practically did a double-take when this first happened. “What? They are getting praised and treats and they’re not doing anything?! Wow! Let me go hang out with them,” she seemed to think. And she would quiet down immediately and trot right over to us.

The transformation has been just wonderful! Using praise for the quiet dogs and calling out “Cookie!” are the methods that work like a charm. Does she still bark, and will the boys sometimes still join her? Of course. But there are no uncontrollable barking frenzies and when I want them to stop, they do. Barking is natural for dogs and those dogs that have natural guarding tendencies use their bark to do their work. As a matter of fact, Lucia’s bark once saved Whiskey’s life, while I was pulling the car out of the garage and didn’t know that Whiskey had run out of the house and was running around the car.

But if you have two or more dogs in your family, praising the good behavior rather than reprimanding the inappropriate behavior might be just the trick to get excessive barking under control.

Finding a Good Trainer or Classes


I bumped into a nice lady and her exuberant 7-month old pup on a walk the other day, and we got to talking about puppy training.
There are so many choices now, for the new dog parent. From individual trainers to training facilities to classes at your local pet store, the options are plenty. You can even find lots of great training books and DVDs and do it on your own.

Whiskey Graduating

Whiskey at his PetSmart graduation

But I’ve found that there’s nothing like a class to get you and your dog motivated. Not only is it easier to learn from a real live human expert, but it’s really good to expose your dog to all that other stimuli while they are learning: other dogs, noises, people, distractions.

I’ve worked with lots of trainers over the years and have to say, the best time both I and my young dog, Whiskey, had in training was at PetSmart. Really! PetSmart. The class was taught by Ryan, and it was just the right size (anywhere from 4 to 9 students in our classes). The methods were all based on positive, current training methods. That means treats (at least at the beginning), using body language to help communicate, and celebrating your dog’s natural learning. We had a great time and Whiskey graduated at the top of each level (he took Beginning, Intermediate and Advanced level classes). To this day, Whiskey whines with excitement every time we drive down the street near PetSmart.

That’s how training should be. Yes, we’re pack leaders. But learning is accomplished best when it’s in a happy environment. Of course there are times when strong, sudden messages need to get through (“Don’t go near that snake!”) but save those for when they’re really necessary—-not when teaching your dog to sit!

I really like Cesar Milan’s training, too, but often see people misusing it. While Cesar stresses “CALM ASSERTIVE” I think most people, especially in the midst of problems or frustrations, forget the “CALM” and only use “ASSERTIVE.” The result, as I’ve seen it, can become bullying. And I don’t think that’s what Cesar is all about.

When you are considering working with a trainer or taking a class with your dog, ask to observe one or more classes. Don’t take your dog. Just yourself. See how the class is taught. Observe things such as:

• How crowded are the classes?
• Is the instructor knowledgeable about current, positive methods?
• Are choke chains or pinch collars used or recommended?
• How are the dogs reacting?
• What’s the mood like? Is the atmosphere scary or are the dogs and their humans having fun?
By watching a class or two, you can really get a feel for the training style and then make a good decision about whether it’s a good fit for you. (And avoid wasting money and time if it’s not).

And you might want to check out PetSmart. Whiskey and all of us at DogParent give their training classes two paws up.

The Dog Parent Philosophy on Training

Although it didn’t seem like it at the time, I guess I should now consider myself lucky that I didn’t grow up with dogs. Sure, there were neighborhood dogs and cats who I knew. But our family was, per my mother’s request, a pet-free zone. Ultimately, I wore Mom down and I did manage to keep a fish tank with neon tetras for quite a while.

But the good part of growing up without dogs is not having an old-school set of rules in one’s head about training. It blows my mind to hear some people still mention “putting his nose in the poop” as a method of house-training a puppy. Yowza. Thankfully, we know a lot more about how dogs think now, and modern training methods are humane, effective and can even be fun for both the dogs and the people.

Here at Dog Parent, we will regularly feature news and notes, suggestions and tips, and links to great products that are in line with a positive training philosophy. We’ll bring you good training knowledge to help you and your dog enjoy each other’s company even more. And while training techniques will vary, ours will always be positive.

We take our inspiration from our favorite trainers, like Patricia McConnell. “The Other End of the Leash” should be required reading for every dog parent. A great read and an enlightening look at how your dog thinks, and why taking that into consideration makes for really successful training and relating. We’ll be reviewing more of her books in posts to come.

Another all-time favorite of ours is Turid Rugaas. “On Talking Terms with Dogs: Calming Signals” is nothing short of life-changing! Ms. Rugaas, a trainer in Norway, has studied dogs closely and documented the intricate ways in which dogs use body language to communicate with each other (and us!) at a very sophisticated level. By learning what your dog is saying with his body, you will have a new relationship with him.

When visiting shelters, I have used body language (ie. yawning, looking away, pretending to be interested in something on the ground in front of the kennel) and the reactions I have received from dogs took my breath away. I actually got a double take from one dog! The dogs would be quiet and fascinated, looking at me as if to say, “You speak our language?”

Our angel, Poco, modeling his Grandpa's glasses.

We hope you’ll enjoy digging into our training sections as much as we will enjoy bringing them to you. Look for videos here, too.