Category Archives: Dan

Dan is 4!

Dan’s 4th Birthday was this month. It is so close to the holidays that I seem to always miss it, but we have been celebrating life together every day so I don’t think he minds.  Here he is doing agility on his birthday week:


I do want to continue my annual “Dan’s Goals” tradition. I have been thinking of writing this post for a week or so, making a list in my head of what we have accomplished and what we need to work on. However, I just looked back at last year’s post for the first time today. I have been having this feeling like we hadn’t accomplished many of our goals, but really when looking over the list we have met about half and made progress towards all of them!  This is why it is so good to write this stuff down – progress is easier to see and feel if it is recorded!

Here are my goals from last year and where we stand with each one:

  • Skateboards: We haven’t tackled this one completely, but I was able to call him away from chasing a skateboard at the park and I can get him to stop barking much faster now. I keep saying this is my priority, but obviously it isn’t as we really haven’t spent much time on this one!
  • Barking like mad at UPS/FedEx/Mailman: Dan will now stop this behavior when we ask. Over the last year we have had some random (creepy) people appear on our porch so I have decided that this one is okay with me. I have noticed that if we have a “substitute” mailman, Dan barks much more intensely. He is very good at recognizing friend vs. stranger. He has a different bark for someone he knows, a stranger, and the UPS/FedEx/Mailman.
  • Herding the cat very intently: This had gotten tons better until about a week ago. I believe it is lack of exercise in these dark winter months.
  • Fine-tune our neighborhood walks: I wouldn’t say these are perfect but Dan hardly pulls at all now, we are more connected with each other when walking, and we can actually walk for exercise, not just training purposes now!
  • Obedience commands in novel environments (parks, parking lots, new buildings, new neighborhoods, etc.): We’ve rocked this one. We’ve been to parking lots, Home Depot, PetSmart, the agility barn, random parks, outdoor eating areas (quiet ones). Dan can heel, sit, down, and stay with almost any distraction now.  Yahoo!
  • Practicing his calm behavior near other dogs in novel environments, separate from playing fetch: We’ve worked hard on this one too! Our biggest accomplishment is a very recent one –we’ve been practicing agility at the barn with new dogs that he’s never met and he has been so good!. I am one proud puppy mama.
  • Continue agility foundation skills: Check!  We took two online foundation classes and one canine fitness class, all to prepare for a solid agility foundation.
  • Do agility in some new places – introduce the rest of the equipment (weaves, a-frame, a full tunnel, dog walk, other jumps): Also check…mostly. Still don’t have the weaves down and we still need to perfect our contacts.  But we’ve done agility in two new places and are working up to a third location (and maybe 4th/5th at some local parks).
  • Take a private agility lesson: Not yet.  But, we did do a couple of herding lessons!
  • MAYBE do a group class – we will see how everything else goes: Not yet.  Maybe this year? We are so close to being able to do this!

So, for this year our goal process is going to change a bit. I want to work on things in several categories: Dog encounters, Agility, and New Sports. This year’s goals are as much for Dan as they are for me!

Dog encounters:

  • Agility with at least 10 new, different dogs – not necessarily all at once. Our club has started hosting monthly fun runs so I think we can practice (work up to this) in that setting. This will need to start with just being onsite while a trial/fun run is going on and we can work up to actually running agility.
  • Walking near other (unknown) dogs at 10-15 feet. Currently across the street is about the distance Dan can handle.


  • Dan’s biggest weakness in agility right now is his right-hand turns, especially tight turns. I believe this is a problem with his footwork so we need to go back to basics!
  • Weave poles
  • Improved, fine-tuned contacts
  • Add some advanced/international cues to our handling toolbox.
  • Fitness!! Dan and I both need to be in better shape in order to excel in agility. Some ideas I have been tossing around are biking with Dan, practicing sprints, and even possibly taking an online class for human fitness for agility.
  • A private lesson, or two, or 10….

New Sports:

  • Nose Work: I’ve gotten interested in this and thing Dan would enjoy it. I’d like to do more training at home and take a lesson or two with Dan to investigate more.
  • Herding: Possibly continue lessons later in the year.
  • FitPaws: While not a sport, I would like to treat this like it’s own area to work on. I think it is very important and we just need to make it a priority!

The big one: Compete in an agility trial. I can finally see that this might be a possibility this year. We will see where the year takes us .

As Dan’s trainer, my main goals for myself are to improve my physical abilities for agility training and to keep better logs/data on our training and our progress. I have some ideas for both of these and will try to share with you here as I go.

Happy Training!


52 Weeks – Week 4 – Pull open a door/drawer

Okay – we are finally back on track with Project 52 Weeks. Dan’s getting better at “hold it” all the time. We ended up using the words “take it” with a “stay” cue for now, because he already understood the “stay”. But later I am going to transition to “hold it” with the meaning of “take” and “stay”. I found that the type of object we practiced with really matters. Soft, small objects (like a tennis ball) are easier for him to hold for longer periods of time. So, we have started with those types of things and will continue to practice holding different textured, weighted, and shaped objects.

The next trick we will work on is “Pull” – this will be pulling on a rope or towel in order to open a drawer or door.

Here are the shaping steps:

  1. Take your rope/towel by itself first – don’t attach to a door yet.
  2. Hold it near your dog and click/treat for any interaction with the object.
  3. Hold it near your dog and click/treat for mouthing or biting the object.
  4. Hold it near your dog and when he bits it, tug slightly and then click/treat.
  5. Now let him be the one to tug on the object to earn a click/treat.
  6. Next attach the rope/towel to a door. Take your dog near the door and hang out. When he pulls a little, click/treat.
  7. Next wait for him to pull increasingly harder to earn a click/treat. Work up to enough strength in the pull to open the door. Drawers are likely to be more difficult, especially if they are full – We are going to start with doors and then try drawers.
  8. When he can open the door/drawer all the way, add the cue “pull” or “open”.

Don’t forget to share your photos on my facebook page!

Week 3 – Update

Hi All,

If you’re following along you are probably wondering where the week 3 recap is!  Last week I had a pretty bad cold/flu bug and we didn’t get much training time in.  So, Dan and I are repeating week three and still working on “hold it”.

Interestingly, this is turning out to be pretty difficult for Dan.  Getting any amount of duration for holding the item is tricky.  He wants to grab the item at the back of his mouth and toss it around or spit it out immediately.  It’s a little surprising to me because he carries his toys around all the time.  So, our shaping sessions are turning into “micro shaping” sessions.  I am working on clicking only when he grabs the object with the middle of his mouth and in a gently manner.  If he’s snatching it rapidly and sloppily he can’t hold it for very long.

We will keep working and have another update later this week.


“Hold it” – Week 3 Training Steps


Okay, in case you need a little help with training this one – here’s the shaping steps I am using.  Dan is pretty good at grabbing things when asked because we’ve practice that in the past so we are focusing on the last few steps involving the build up of duration.

Target Behavior: When I hold an item out and say “Hold it”, Dan will grab it with his mouth and hold on until released.

Shaping Steps:

  1. Choose one item to begin the training with. Ideally it will be something that is easy for your dog to hold in his mouth, perhaps even a toy that he is used to picking up.
  2. Hold the item out and if your dog moves towards it click/treat.
  3. Next wait for an open mouth reach towards the item before you click/treat OR a sniff, lick, nudge if you can’t get the open mouth right away. The idea is that he needs to interact with the item at least a little. (No more than 3-4 interactions that aren’t closely related to grabbing with his mouth.)
  4. You should easily be able to move from open-mouth reach to actually closing his mouth on the object. Click/treat for mouth closing.
  5. Now you’ve got the grabbing part! Next build duration. Wait to click until he has held onto the object for a second or two.
  6. Slowly build up duration a few seconds at a time until you reach your goal. As you build the duration, it can help to sometimes go back and do a shorter duration so that it isn’t too predictable for your dog.
  7. Now add the cue “Hold it. Begin by saying the cue when you present the object. Click/treat for a hold behavior (at least a few seconds)
  8. Finally – repeat with lots of different objects! Sometimes you might have to go all the way back to step one, but other times you might be able to jump right to step 7. It depends on your dog’s history with holding things and the type/texture of object (among many other variables).



Week 2 “Clean” – Toys in the Box and Next Trick

Okay, this week was much easier for us than last week.  The video below is our second training session.  The trick needs fine tuning, but he is starting to really get it.

Next Trick!

For week 3 we are going to work on “hold”.  The goal is for Dan to take and hold an object (a variety of objects will be used) until released.  I am hoping to work up to 30 seconds of duration on this one.  He can sort of  do this trick, but we have never formally worked on it and he only holds the object for a few seconds.

Also, I think I need to change my posting schedule.  It has been difficult to post on Sunday nights, so the final trick and the new goal will be posted on Mondays instead from now on.  An update and shaping plan will be posted on Thursdays.

Don’t forget to post a photo of your dog doing one of the tricks from 52 Weeks to be entered in the October raffle!


Week 2 – Toy to Box Training Plan

Okay, here is the training plan for teaching “put a toy in the box”.  I chose the word “clean” for my cue but you can, of course, choose a different word.

Goal: When cued to “clean” Dan will pick up a toy and put it in the box.

Shaping steps:

  1. Position box in front of you between you and your dog. Hold a toy over the box and ask your dog to take the toy. Once he grabs it, even a little, let go and wait for him to drop it. As soon as he lets go, click/treat.
    • Repeat until he is getting it right every time.
  2. Now place the toy next to the box. If he picks the toy up, click/treat
    • Repeat a few times to reinforce picking up the toy from the ground.
  3. Place the toy next to the box. Wait for your dog to pick up the toy and take a step or two toward the box. Click/treat for moving toward the box. To get the treat, your dog will need to let go of the toy J.
    • Repeat a few times to remind your dog that the box is important.
  4. Now, when you place the toy next to the box, wait for your dog to pick the toy up and drop it over the box. Click/treat for dropping it over the box.
    • For the first few repetitions, even if the toy doesn’t go in the box you should click/treat.
    • Then, require that the toy land in the box before your dog can earn a click/treat.
  5. Next add the cue.  As your dog picks up the toy and heads for the box say “clean” then click/treat for dropping it in the box.
  6. Once you have gotten this far, you can begin to place the toy further from the box or in random locations around the box.

Note: From step 3 on, if your dog makes a mistake, take the toy back and put it back in the same place on the floor. For example, if you are working on step 3 and your dog picks the toy up and drops it without moving, simply put the toy back in “start” position. This way, he won’t get in the habit of picking up the toy, dropping it near the box, then picking it up again and dropping it in the box. Instead it will he will learn the smoothly and deliberately pick up the toy and put it in the box on the first try.

“Crossed Paws” and Next Trick!

It turns out, we picked a tough trick for the first week, at least for Dan.

We are getting very close, but the behavior isn’t quite on cue yet. We will keep working and have it soon.

Here is a photo of Dan practicing with the paw target:

Dan Crossed Paws

I thought for the follow up this week, it would be fun to talk about what challenges we ran into when practicing this trick.  So, here we go.

The first thing we struggled with was the target – Dan’s nose touch behavior is much stronger than his paw touch behavior. So, we had to go back and review the “paw” behavior before we could begin with this trick.

The second challenge was that the place I had to hold the target in him to touch with his paw looked very similar to his cue for “bang”. This was another place where we had to go back and review – “bang” vs. “paw”

Third was getting Dan to lie down in an upright position. We have done TONS of practice on his “relaxed down” where he rolls his hip and tucks one paw. This has helped a lot in situations where he needs to calm down a bit, but in order to perform the “crossed paws” behavior easily, he needs to have his hips square and both front paws out straight. To practice this, I simply worked with him on our ottoman. It was narrow enough that he had to do an upright down rather than a relaxed down or he didn’t fit!

As you can see, Dan’s training history really determined where we had to start. What challenges did you face when teaching this trick?

Don’t forget to share a photo of your trick on my Facebook page for an entry in the October drawing!

Also, it is time to announce the trick for Week #2:

I have been coming up with some themes for tricks and the first one I want to work on is carrying, putting things in, and picking things up.

I am going to start with Putting a Toy in a Basket (Can you see where this one is going? Hopefully we can get to “Dan…pick up your toys!”)



Project 52 Weeks

As a professional dog trainer, there are times where I am so busy with clients’ dogs that training my own dog falls by the wayside. When I do work with Dan, we are often working on a long-term goal – an agility skill, working on calmness around other dogs and people, etc.

I have been thinking about ways to focus more on simple fun with Dan and also to teach him some skills, tasks, or behaviors that I haven’t taught before.

Sometimes I will get on a roll and teach Dan a new trick, but this really only happens a few times a year. When we do this, he learns it quickly – in a week or less! He is happier because he’s gotten some focused, fun attention and it’s easy to practice indoors in the winter when he might otherwise not get enough exercise.

Putting these thoughts all together, I have decided to start “Project 52 Weeks”. I am going to teach Dan one trick/skill/behavior/concept per week for the next year. And, I want you all to try it with me!

Here’s what I will do:

  1. Sunday evenings I will post the behavior of the week.
  2. Tuesday mornings, I will post the training guide/shaping steps
  3. Thursdays I will post Dan’s progress and the following Sunday when the new trick comes out, I will post a video of the last trick.

Here’s your part:

  1. Sunday evenings, look at the behavior of the week – try to come up with a training plan
  2. Practice it Monday/Tuesday
  3. Tuesday you can look at my training plan and compare it to yours. Modify yours as you like and keep practicing!
  4. Sunday, post a video of the final behavior (or the progress you’ve made) on my page. Everyone who posts a video will have his or her name entered into a monthly drawing to win a cool dog book, toy, or treat. The behavior doesn’t have to be perfect in order to post a video, just a start.
  5. If you aren’t able to do it every week, that’s okay – join us when you can!

The main event will take place on my Facebook page, but I will post a weekly update on the blog too so you can all follow along with what’s happening.

Sunday, September 27th will be the real start date with the first drawing taking place October 31st. We will get a head start on the first week with the trick: Cross Paws in a Down like this adorable Boxer.

Paws Crossed

Week 1: Paws Crossed

Hope you can join us in learning some fun new tricks with your pup!


134 Pieces of Kibble

When Dan was a puppy, I used kibble from each meal for his training sessions. Sometimes we used up his whole meal this way, sometimes just a handful.

Lately, I have noticed that my current habit is to just dump his food in his bowl and move on to the next task in my morning/evening pet care routine. Dan eats in about 2 minutes and then is on to something else.

Recently, I decided I really should be doing a better job of using a meal to enrich Dan’s life. I am always telling my clients about toys like the Kong Wobbler or the Buster Cube and we have every version of these food delivery toys I could find. But I had been slacking on using them myself. So I started giving Dan one meal a day in a food puzzle toy. He LOVES it and it keeps him busy for at least 15 minutes, even with toys he has used many times.

Last week, I also got back on track with using his dinner for our evening training sessions.

How many pieces of kibble are in your dog’s meal? Naturally, the number of pieces varies with size of kibble and cups of food given. Dan’s kibble is sort of big – about the size of a small grape. And he gets one cup of food at each meal.

I decided to count the number of kibble in a cup, just out of curiosity. There were 134 pieces of kibble!

On Monday, I only used about half for training. We sat on the front porch, I read my book, and we practiced “check” as dogs walked by. Dan did wonderfully, a dog even barked at him and though he struggled with it, letting out a growl, he maintained his composure and relaxed. The same dog went the other direction a little later and he barely noticed! This is major improvement for Dan. Dogs on the other side of the street he just watched calmly, though alert, and when I asked him to “check” he looked at the dog and looked back at me! before I clicked. This is the first time that he has offered to look back at me on his own. I simply delayed the click a half a second and he just did it. Such a good boy. But this is due to our practice of this behavior over the last year – we have probably practiced “check” hundreds of times with many different dogs.

On Tuesday, I decided to just go for it and use all the kibble. I wanted to see how long it would take to use it up. We practiced loose leash walking in front of the house in addition to practicing “check” with passing dogs and other distractions.  Do you have a guess at how long it might have taken us to use 134 pieces of kibble?

18 minutes. Yup. That means on average, Dan got a treat every 8 seconds. Now that’s a high rate of reinforcement!

If you had 134 treats to use in 18 minutes, what would you use them for? I challenge you to try to use your dog’s kibble for training at least a few times per week. It is an easy way to make it part of your day and your dog will LOVE the attention he gets during training.

Herding with Dan

This past weekend, Justin and I took Dan to his very first herding lesson. We all had a blast!

Dan saw some sheep in a pasture before we even started slowing down to turn into the drive and you could just see his face light up.

We arrived early and while we waited our turn, we practiced relaxed downs in the backseat of the car. He did great. In this type of situation, a new place that seems exciting, many times Dan will react to other dogs even from the car. The German shepherd who went before us walked by our car and although Dan was very aroused, he didn’t bark and was able to “check” (look at that) and remain focused on us.

The lesson began with our instructor working Dan. This was great fun for Justin and I to watch. There was a minute or two where Dan was barking, anxious, and just running in big, uncontrolled circles. His hackles were up; he was clearly on edge. However, he soon relaxed a little, his hair went down, his face relaxed, he stopped barking, and started to move in a more controlled way. It seemed as though he finally started to think about what was going on instead of just exploding! Our instructor started teaching him to turn away so that he would begin to move back and forth, bringing the sheep toward the handler, rather than just circling. Soon he had Dan taking the sheep exactly where he wanted. It was beautiful to watch.

Then it was my turn. Yikes! Poor Dan!! I have a LOT to learn.

The idea is that you turn your dog away from you by moving into his space, putting pressure on him, and when he turns you relax that pressure and let him do a quarter circle or so away from you around the sheep. Doing this back and forth teaches him to bring the sheep toward you. When you go the wrong way, the pressure is not let up as a reward, so basically your dog isn’t getting his reinforcer! I did this to poor Dan several times before the instructor provided more help and you could really see his behavior change. He became more frustrated, driving at the sheep harder and more aggressively. When the instructor stepped back in, Dan immediately relaxed again, doing his job as asked. When it was my turn again, I finally was able to move the right way. Although it wasn’t very smooth looking, it felt better and I was glad to be able to give Dan some resemblance of a reward. Good thing dogs are so forgiving!

I have to say, this was one of the best experiences I have had in dog training in a very long time. Dan and I have practiced so much impulse control, relaxation exercises, and loose leash walking – while these are necessary skills, they are all about fighting Dan’s instinctual and natural behaviors to run, chase, pull and bark. It was such a treat to get to embrace his natural abilities and see him just thrive in that environment.

Not only was it fun to watch Dan doing what he is meant to do, it was eye-opening to be the “student” again. I really know very little about herding. I just know the general goals and rules of herding trials. I have watched herding trials and been around sheep in several different environments, but watching and doing are two very different things!

I will be honest, it was very frustrating to do the wrong thing and feel like I couldn’t figure out how to do it correctly. This only lasted a few seconds before our instructor saved us, but that feeling is a really good one for any teacher or coach to experience regularly because, chances are, your students are feeling that way too!

Kay Laurence, a well-known dog trainer and speaker at the annual conference that my graduate school hosted, always talks about how important it is to her to always be learning something new. The last time I saw her, she was taking a glass-blowing class. I didn’t really understand that at the time, other than just for the sake of learning, but I was still in school. The experience of trying something that I had no idea how to do reminded me that learning is HARD! Getting to that successful moment was so important for me and extremely reinforcing.

We can’t wait for our next lesson!

Here’s a short clip of Dan doing his job, just a few minutes into our lesson: