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There has been an outpouring of rage over the arrest of a Salem, Oregan man on Tuesday for using a shock collar on his four kids because he “thought it was funny.” The 41-year-old father is accused of using the shock collar to “torture” his children ages three to nine and was charged with four counts of criminal mistreatment in the first degree. Although it is surprising that someone would get pleasure from scaring and tormenting their children, what is even more surprising is the reaction of the police who investigated the case.

The officers who investigated the case used words like unimaginable and disturbing to describe the man’s actions. One of the investigating officers went on to say “we shouldn’t have to tell people in our society not to do things of this nature.” Why is this reaction so surprising? Because the practice of using shock collars on dogs as a “training tool” is still so widely accepted. Why is it unimaginable, disturbing and considered torment when a device is used on a child yet it is OK to use it on a dog? We know dogs are not human but that does not negate the fact that they also experience pain and fear. If the use of a shock collar made a child cry and run away, why is it considered effective to train dogs if we know that 90% of dog aggression has its roots in fear?

Victoria Stilwell describes the use of shock collars as disgusting, perverse and abusive. She like many other professional dog trainers and behaviorists has to deal with the fallout associated with the use of shock collars on dogs. From dogs who are nervous to offer new behaviors for fear of being punished with a shock to dogs that redirect aggression to people or things they come to associate the electric shock with, these types of collars result in problem behaviors in many dogs. Hopefully with the media attention being paid to the sad case of child abuse in Salem, more people will realize that these are inhumane products that are unsafe for children and our pets.


If you interview a group of reward-based dog trainers you will likely see two common threads. Professionals who use their brain, not brawn to train come from a variety of backgrounds and enjoy different breeds but the two things that dominate this group is a passion for dogs and roots in traditional, correction-based training methods. These “crossover” trainers may have used choke chains, prong or shock collars when they started out but once exposed to the benefits of positive reinforcement, embraced the concept and immersed themselves in a new culture.

When people first adopt reward-based training there is often a strong desire to stay away from any punishments. It is absolutely possible to train without harsh corrections and this will lead to an uncompromised relationship between handler and dog based on mutual trust and respect. However, people often stumble when they crossover because they feel guilty about how they trained in the past and overcompensate by allowing the dog to do what they please without providing guidance if the dog gets into mischief.

With positive training methods dogs are able to think things through and experiment to see what works, but that does not mean they can do whatever they want, whenever they want. It is our responsibility to set the dog up for success and control their environment so they don’t practice behaviours we dislike.

If an unwanted behaviour becomes more frequent, it means two things. First, your dog is getting the opportunity to practice it. Second, your dog is somehow being rewarded for his actions. Take for example the dog that drags its owner wherever he wants to go. Dogs quickly learn whose space they can control and will take advantage of this in order to meet and greet other dogs and people or to explore new places. They get rewarded by moving forward and getting attention (good or bad) from the new friends they meet in their travels. Most dogs are not physically stronger than their handlers but many people will accommodate their dogs and don’t prevent them from moving where they please for fear of appearing “mean.”

You do not need to be mean or a bully to prevent your dog from practicing unwanted behaviours. Usually a calm body block where you place yourself between your dog and whatever it is you want them to stop interacting with will do the trick. If your dog tries to go around you or walk past you, simply move your body as if you were guarding a soccer net from a ball and walk into your dog’s space to back them up. You can also teach your dog to follow a hand target to get them out of trouble without even touching them. Always focus on rewarding the positive when you are training your dog but don’t forget to manage their environment and prevent them from practicing unwanted behaviours so you can have the perfect pooch.

Karen Pryor, the queen of clicker training has just announced the release date for her new book “Reaching the Animal Mind: the Clicker Training Method and What it Teaches Us About Animals” . KPCT is currently offering a launch special with $5.00 off the cover price and this includes an author’s autograph. It sounds like it will be a good read with interesting information on the neuroscience behind the success of clicker training as well as lighter stories about the amazing language we can develop with all animals through reward-based training methods, something the Clicker Leash Co. strives to bring to the general dog-loving public.

The publication date is June 16 and at that time the price will go up to $25.00 which is still very reasonable for the amount of research and personal experiences Karen Pryor has compiled over the years of her vast animal training career. If you haven’t already got it on your shelves, you should also pick up “Don’t Shoot the Dog,”  Pryor’s 1999 “bible” on positive reinforcement training that has sold over 300,000 copies since it was released.

If you are looking for other great books and DVDs on training and communicating with your dog, we recommend Mungo’s Books in Canada and Dogwise in the US.

With the arrival of Bo, the Obama’s new Portuguese Water Dog, the family is likely being bombarded with advice. Of course Cesar Millan, aka National Geographic’s Dog Whisperer, was sure to add his two cents. Featured in People, Milan said:

“The best piece of advice I can give the Obama family is wisdom passed down from my grandfather: Never work against Mother Nature. Fulfill your dog’s inborn needs — exercise, discipline, affection, in that order — and you will have the foundation for a balanced human-canine relationship.”

Hopefully the Obamas will see that it is also a time for change in the world of dog training. Although Cesar’s fan base is huge, there are not many professional trainers that see eye-to-eye with the “dog whisperer.” It is true that most dogs need more exercise than they are provided in today’s busy world, but to put discipline before love often results in a rift between dog guardians and their pooches. Professional trainers are often contacted by people claiming to be experiencing dominance issues with their dogs and much of this stems from Millan’s frequent recommendation to be a “pack leader.”

It is time for the dog whisperer to educate himself with current research instead of relying on out-dated advice from his grandfather. Science has shown us the potential fallout associated with putting discipline first when training our dogs. Dogs become nervous and may stop offering new behaviours for fear of the consequences, resulting in an animal that is difficult to train and may be seen as “stubborn” by the average dog owner. Further, given that approximately 90% of aggression in dogs stems from fear, if we focus on disciplining or correcting nervous or insecure dogs, their behaviour can quickly spiral into fear biting and other forms of aggression.

Love conquers all and this couldn’t be more true than in dog training. When a dog feels loved by their people, they are more likely to want to work for them and they have the confidence to quickly acquire new skills and be a safe family pet. It feels good when you focus on all of the good things your dog does every day and if you reward those behaviours you will see them overshadow and replace any of the unwanted problems your dog may present.

Hopefully the President and his family will take an enlightened approach in their dog training and opt for today’s modern techniques like clicker training to shape the ideal White House pet. It is difficult to imagine the Obamas applying the leash corrections or “alpha rolls” the dog whisperer frequently recommends to their precious Portuguese pup. Instead the Obamas should check out to learn how to quickly teach Bo new life skills and for lots of advice from certified trainers on how to overcome any problem behaviours or training challenges they may face as Bo matures. We wish the Obamas many years of joy with their new family member!

The Washington Post reported Sunday that the Obamas have visited with their new Portuguese Water Dog, a gift from Senator Edward Kennedy who apparently is a big fan of the breed. The Obama girls re-named the dog Bo after their cousins’ cat and because their grandfather was nicknamed Didley after the late, influential musician. Bo is expected to arrive officially on Tuesday. We wish Bo many happy years with his new family and hope he enjoys the spotlight! He certainly is a cutie!

The Obama Puppy Training List:

– Teach Bo a fast response to his new name

– Show Bo where to go (no funny business in the oval office!)

– Sit and stay for photographs

– Don’t jump on reporters or visiting world leaders

– Play nicely with Sasha and Malia

– Walk politely on leash so the family can unwind with a relaxing stroll at the end of the day

– Teach Bo to fetch so he can easily burn some energy while his new dad leads the US in an economic recovery

Five Things Every Dog Should Know

Whether you want a pooch you can let off-leash at the dog park or one who can stroll with you along a busy sidewalk, there are five key life skills that will get you there. With a little digging you will find a trainer who can help you perfect these skills. Whether you are looking for personalized one-on-one training, small classes in a relaxed environment or larger classes with more real-life distractions, all of these options are available in most urban settings. Be sure to consider what teaching methods suit your personal style when you are choosing your trainer. Dogs don’t come preprogrammed to understand human language or any basic obedience so a good trainer will help you develop the skills to communicate clearly with your dog while building a strong bond. You may also want to visit where you can view videos that can show you how to teach your dog these important life skills quickly and with love.


Any time you are teaching your dog a new skill or if you are brushing up on one that may have gotten a little rusty, start off in a quiet environment like your living room or backyard. Once your dog is responding to your requests immediately, take your show on the road. Just remember as distractions increase, your expectations should decrease and you will have to reward good behaviours more often so that your dog understands exactly what you want him to do. Now onto those essential life skills!


A Fast Response to Their Name

Before you can give your dog any guidance through this crazy world, you have to have their attention. Teach your dog a speedy response to their name. Make sure you don’t waste your dog’s name by repeating it over and over, with idle chitchat or by using it if you are correcting a behaviour. Your dog’s name lets him know it’s time to stop catching up on the latest pee-mail and time to pay attention to you.


To play the name game, start off with your dog on a loose leash. Say his name and as soon as he turns around and looks at you, let him know what a good boy he has been. If he does not respond, back away from whatever is distracting him, until he turns around and looks at you. Keep your movements smooth and gentle. Only jerks jerk! Resist the urge to repeat your dog’s name as you are backing up. When we repeat ourselves, our dogs learn that the words we are saying have no real meaning and will not understand them. When your dog finally does look at you, let him know how happy you are with his choice.


Come When Called

You can keep your pet out of all kinds of trouble if he reliably comes when called. Whether it is a small child running with a tasty treat or a porcupine in the woods, your dog should be able to come away from these things and return to you before he has earned the privilege of being off-leash. If you are worried about your dog getting enough exercise before he has mastered this, invest in a long line that can drag on the ground. If you run into a situation that causes your pooch to lose his brain, you will be able to step on the long line and get control of the situation.



Loose Leash Walking

Loose leash walking prepares your dog for off-leash privileges. If you don’t rely on your leash to communicate then you are one step closer to off-leash fun in Point Pleasant Park. Loose leash walking also helps when meeting new puppy pals. A friendly dog can look aggressive to other dogs as well as people if they are pulling or lunging forward.


Many dogs become expert pullers because they are rewarded by getting to explore all of the exciting things at the end of a tight leash. If you would like to stay out of physiotherapy, start playing the red light, green light game. If your dog is pulling, stop walking forward and wait for the leash to become loose and reward your dog by walking forward again. If your dog has become a master puller, it may take you an hour to get around the block but with consistence your dog will quickly understand the rules of the game. For excessive pullers, you may want to jumpstart your training with a head halter like the Gentle Leader or harness like the Easy Walk Harness. Stay away from retractable leashes if pulling is a problem for you. Your dog will feel a constant tension in his leash as he moves forward and think pulling is the correct way to walk. 


Bomb-proof Stays

Whether you choose a sit, down or stand, your dog should know how to stay in one spot for extended periods of time, even if you are out of sight. Stays are a great way to prevent jumping up and can help an otherwise active or excited dog relax and be calm. A dog in a sit or down stay is under control and this will put other people at ease around your fur kid. At home use a stay if you are putting groceries away or preparing a meal and don’t want your dog underfoot.


Once your dog can sit, down or stand on command, gradually increase the length of time you want him to maintain the stay and intensify the distractions. Get creative with your distractions and try to incorporate things you are likely to run into out on your walks. If your dog leaves the stay before you have said it is OK, decrease the amount of time or the distractions so that you can build on success.


Give (Even if you Really Don’t Want To)

There are so many things your dog will think are great for chewing and eating. Pills, children’s toys, sticks, bones and litter are just a few examples that seem irresistible to the canine palate but can be dangerous if swallowed. Besides stopping your dog from ingesting dangerous objects, a give command will help prevent object and food guarding issues.  


As long as your dog has not developed any resource guarding, begin by hand feeding as many meals as possible to get your dog used to your hands around his mouth. Once you have established a trusting relationship, begin teaching a give command by trading an object that isn’t very important to your dog for something he likes better. Remember to always trade up during practice so in an emergency your dog will be happy to give up what he has with the expectation that you will give him something even better.


Life skills training doesn’t have to be a drag and by incorporating it into your dog’s daily routine, you will have a four legged friend you can take anywhere. Remember to make things fun to keep your dog engaged, happy and confident. While timing and consistency are important, you will be successful as long as you keep things positive and focus on rewarding the behaviours you love instead of trying to correct the ones you don’t like.


Humane dog training information.

It is almost time for President Obama and his family to Train Humane! Their new puppy is slated to arrive this week, possibly making an appearance at the annual White House Easter egg hunt on Monday. According to TMZ, the Obamas have chosen a six-month-old Portuguese Water dog from a kennel in Texas. The dog was returned to the breeder and is currently named Charlie.

The Clicker Leash was included in a “First Puppy Gift Box” that was compiled by LA-based PR firm Wow! Creations and given to the Obamas in March. The Clicker Leash can be used to train dogs of any age but provides a great way to bond with newly adopted dogs who may not have been shown love from the start. According to reports, the Obamas plan on re-naming the dog and he Clicker Leash can make that easy too!  Hopefully the family will take 11 minutes out of their day to review the training videos at that demonstrate basic obedience skills including how to teach a dog it’s name.

We wish the Obamas all the best with the new addition to their family! Happy training!