Friday, March 22, 2024

Play with a Purpose

Announcing the new Play With a Purpose Mini-Class!

I created this class with puppies in mind, focusing on games for 4-10 months old dogs. Really it's fitting for all ages and skills!
Play With a Purpose is a 4 week Mini-Class designed to teach owners how to get more from play then only a physical workout for the dog. 

Let's face it, we all love to play! And the exercise we all get during play is good for all of us. But unstructured play can create its own problems including the dog learning lessons we sometimes wish they didn't learn. Pick practically any game or activity out there and you can find both pros & cons for that game. It's nearly impossible for dog owners to know all the facts and develop play skills that actually set their puppy up to succeed.

That's where I come in! Over the last 30+ years I've learned a ton about playing with dogs. How I play with Azul & Belle now is nothing like how I played with my first few dogs. Now my games exercise the body, soul, and mind helping to enrich everyone's life.

The Play With a Purpose Class is designed to share my years of experience with you so that you can learn to play with your dog in ways that help you grow your relationship, learn valuable life skills, and avoid creating unnecessary problems.

The next In-Person Class begins April 25th at 6PM! 

A virtual mini-workshop will be available soon as well!

Please email me at if you'd like to be placed on the waiting list for either class.

Tuesday, February 27, 2024

Clear Communication

 What are you asking your dog to DO? Do they understand?

The flip side of that is, what are they asking you to do? Do you understand them?

We ended the February 2023 discussion with developing Conversation Starters for training sessions. Check back to read that blog and others surrounding the topic of the month for February: Focus on Behaviors here. 

Once the conversation has started, it's important to make sure everyone involved is comprehending the discussion. We all know that when dogs talk to other dogs, they are not exactly speaking English! Human speech is not the native language for our furry friends. You may have seen some dogs that seem to understand hundreds of words, but I can guarantee they didn't start that way as a puppy. 

Here is short exert from our "Building a Better Bond Workshop" on the lesson that discusses cues:

We all use different types of cues whether we realize it or not. Verbal cue words (some call these commands), hand signals, body language, and environmental cues. And of course all of these cues have a time and place for team effectiveness. I think of everyone in my house as team members, people & dogs (other animals too) who work together towards the best possible life for all of us. Don't get me wrong, none of us are perfect and we don't live in total harmony but that's my goal.

In the dog training world, most of us think in verbal cues. Think of "sit" for example. This is one of the first things we teach a puppy. But do we just say the verbal cue and hope our puppy responds? No way, not at first! We use body language to lure the puppy into a sitting position & reward. Now most of us probably say the verbal cue as the pup sits and rewards when the action is complete. Thus teaching the pup to do the action. It doesn't take long to teach a hand signal and verbal cue to this action because puppies are sponges soaking it all up quickly. But what varies from that point is what does your pup learn first, the verbal cue or the hand signal, AND which is more important for that particular action? That's what this week's lesson is about.

Verbal cues can be difficult for me at times but I pick my commands with my speech problems in mind while I am planning for training. I have hand signs for most of my cues in case my voice doesn’t cooperate. I have a few environmental cues such as Lilly will sit instead of chasing small animals when she spots them before I do. She also sits for a leash and waits in the car until leashed.

One of the biggest issues I see as a dog trainer is when the human believes a dog should now a specific word, but instead the dog learned a different cue. For example, many of ask our dog to sit at the door before we let them outside or sit before we put their meal down. (See my recent blog on Routines!) We may think the dog is listening to the verbal cue in that context, yet the dog has learned an environmental cue such as, "when the human puts on her shoes and stands by the door, I'm supposed to sit by the door." This is called an environmental cue when the place the behavior happens or something is added to the environment that tells the dog what behavior they can do to earn reinforcement. My dogs easily know that I always use the bathroom before going out to play, but we don't always go out to play every time I use the bathroom. They have learned that some other environmental cues impact the outcome.  For example if I put shoes or a hat on before using the bathroom, we are likely going outside to potty, play, or go for a car ride. Since humans generally rely more on verbal context, we simply assume they know the word we are giving them for a cue. 

Speaking Dog!

I often get asked if I speak to animals and/or do animals speak to me.  This is trick question in my mind.  It's not that I'm psychic and reading the mind of the dog in front of me. But a dog's body language can tell us a whole ton about how they are feeling, what they want most in that moment, and what behaviors they enjoy vs do simply because we ask them to do it. Dogs mostly speak with their body and I've learned ways to communicate using my body language to ask the dog if they will do a certain behavior. 

Many dog owners use hand signals, whether they do it intentionally or not. Have you ever watched someone who talks with their hands?  Lots of owners give their dog a specific hand signal for simple behaviors such as sit or down without even thinking about it. As a Canine Coach, my goal is to help dog owners THINK about it! When we examine our body language, it can be easy to see if we are giving clear communication signals or sending mixed messages.

Azul learned early on that my words easily get messed up! I might tell him to go left when I really want him to go right or vice versa. When my words get messed up, it's part of the vocabulary center of my brain and I can't really fix that as it's disability related. However, my body language is not carried out by the same part of the brain. Basically, it was much easier to teach my arms and hands to give left/right cues then it was to teach my mouth. 

Often dog owners will ask, "How come my dog will do it for you, but they won't do it for me?" That answer is simple! I've spent years paying attention to subtle body movements that I do when I'm around dogs. Originally the intent was to train my dogs to respond without verbal cues. But the skill surpassed that into being what dog trainers refer to as "good mechanics" that makes learning so much easier for the dogs. I often teach owners how to mirror my body language. The problem then becomes, what comes natural for me, isn't always natural for others. So once an owner learns the concept of clear communication through body language, they can change the body language cues to whatever is more natural for them. 

With all the dogs I've trained, I've only seen about 5 different hand signals or sit. Many were formed based on how the owner holds a treat when they want the dog to sit and a few others were more creative based on ASL or some other language known by humans. My son went through a stage where all his hand signals were based on common Star Trek hand positions. Our family loves the Vulcan hand gesture for "Live Long & Prosper!" I still struggle with delivering that signal naturally. LOL

Clear Communication

The bottom line is dogs learn more quickly when we use clear communication. Whether we teach them verbal cues, hand/body cues, or environmental cues doesn't really matter. The best dog trainers & owners often use all 3 types of cues, just not perhaps for all the same behaviors. For example, I have a verbal cue and hand signal cue for sit, down, and stay. Often I give both signals at the same time, but sometimes I will only use one or the other. 

I often encourage my advanced training clients to test which type of signal their dog responds to more quickly and more reliably. This can totally depend on the situation and distractions present when testing the cue. For example, when Azul really wanted to chase a bunny this morning, he was not hearing my verbal cues, nor was he looking at my body to get signals there. I used an environmental cue that I've conditioned and relied on heavily to clearly communicate that I was not going in the bushes the bunny had just fled. Most of you know Azul always wears a harness and if we are on a casual sniff-a-bout I only clip the leash to the back clip so Azul knows he has freedom to move around and sniff. But if/when I need him to slide into work mode, I use a dual clip set up with the leash clipped to the back of the harness and also clipped to the front of the harness or his collar. So when the bunny jumped out in front of us, I quickly reeled Azul in, bringing the leash in short and placing his front clip on. This told Azul it was time to work and although he really didn't want to work because the bushes were too distracting, he knew that we were going to start walking the other direction. In this situation Azul's eyes and ears were too distracted to listen to any other cue, but his body still had to pay attention to the way the leash was connected to him.

I've relied heavily on environmental cues while training Azul. Belle is not there yet! To her all environments are overstimulating so she is not in a place to learn which environments have what type of expectations for behavior. With Belle I use way more verbal and body language cues at the moment.  One of the biggest body cues I use is hand targets. Belle knows to watch my hands and if my hand drops to her level, she is supposed to touch her nose to my hand. Since she knows this signal so well, I've been able to use to teach heel, recall, and many other behaviors without adding the cues. I will eventually add verbal cues to those behaviors, but I don't want to overwhelm her puppy brain by adding too many cued behaviors at once.

Hand targets is often one of the first things I teach all my clients! It's the first step in developing clear communication that both humans and dogs understand.

If you'd like to learn more about clear communication, send me an email and I'll send you the entire lesson on Cues from the Building a Better Bond Workshop! You can request this for free by email to

Friday, February 23, 2024

Making New Friends

 Making New Friends: Relationship Building with Azul, My Little Boy Blue & Adora "Belle" Chaos

A common mis-conception is that dogs, being social individuals, should simple love everyone; human, canine and other pet species. But just like humans, dogs are individuals with unique personalities and simply don't enjoy the company of all other personality types. I'm a person that can find something in common with nearly every person on the planet. My husband, on the other hand, has a small tribe of family and friends that he interacts with and prefers to ignore most other humans on the planet. Our dogs are individuals that should be able to have some choice in the matter of who they interact with and how they choose to interact with other individuals. I'm going to skip discussing the topic of dog vs dog reactive behaviors for this blog as that it a whole series on it's on. For this blog, I'm going to focus on how to introduce a new puppy to the family and let relationships develop with time based on the individuals involved. Here are a few key points:
  • In order for individuals to develop any relationship, they have to first feel safe in the environment where the relationship building will take place.
  • Relationships don't follow a specific timeline or training planning, each relationship develops at it's one speed and can only become strong if all parties are given the time they need to develop trust.
  • No relationship is perfect 100% of the time and is subject to change based on each individual's mood, health, and feeling of secure attachment.
  • No two relationships are identical to a different set of relationships. Comparing relationships or having an expectation that the same type of relationship will be had with a new individual is unrealistic.
In case you don't want to read the whole blog and just want the fun stuff!  Check out this edition of Azul TV where you can watch Azul and Belle building a relationship and watch how they play changes over time.

In order for individuals to develop any relationship, they have to first feel safe in the environment where the relationship building will take place.

Azul has lots of experience dealing with puppies, some of which barked alot, were extra bitey, didn't communicate very well, etc. While he's not fearful of puppies in general, I would say he has a hard time trusting a puppy to follow the household rules. There is good reason for this!  Puppies rarely come into a new house already knowing the rules!

When Belle first came to live with us, she was super tiny despite being 8 wks old. Azul didn't trust her and was also afraid that he'd be in trouble if he hurt her. In the past year, Azul has had a few encounters with obnoxious adolescents that didn't listen to subtle communication and didn't know when it was time to back off and give space. And even though Azul never hurt these adolescents, he learned that I disliked his behavior when he told them it was time to back off with stronger body language. The first few weeks Azul was afraid to get close to Belle.

Management should always be in place when you bring a new puppy home! What that management looks like will depend on the layout of your house and the individuals involved. 

We typically convert our laundry room into a puppy paradise where the other household dogs can watch but not interact with the puppy. However our laundry room is the coldest room of the house and Belle was not a fan of cold temps. Her crate got set up in the living room the first day. 

We soon learned that Azul was also afraid to be in the living room with Belle's crate set up in the corner by the main door in/out of the room. I also had a large crate and playpen set up in the office at work to keep Azul and Belle separated as needed. I ended up changing the set up at work, making the playpen there smaller and taking a portion of the playpen home. That allowed me to move the crate out of the main living room into a side room near my recliner and section off a fairly large part of the room for crate and playpen together. This made Azul feel safe and allowed Belle to spend her time near the family.  I could trade places spending time with Azul and still be within eyesight of Belle and vice versa.

As their relationship developed the management tools slowly disappeared as both dogs could feel safe around the other dog.

Training was a big part in helping Azul and Belle feel safe together!

While the management took place they took turns doing simple behaviors and getting treats with a barrier between them. They also had short sessions of supervised play in the big training room where Belle felt safe standing on the trampoline which put her up higher. We used the training room at work to begin training together without barriers. You can see what some of that training looked like in this video: Taking Turns with Azul & Belle

Relationships don't follow a specific timeline or training planning, each relationship develops at it's one speed and can only become strong if all parties are given the time they need to develop trust.

In the early days, Azul acted as though he were afraid he would accidently hurt Belle. While he felt safe with her behind a barrier, he didn't really want to touch or be touched by Belle. Azul loves playing with his best buddy Maverick so we had Mav over for a destressing play session where Shanna could snuggle Belle while I played with the boys. Once they had their fun, Maverick got a chance to meet Belle. Mav and Belle took an instant liking to each other had a few mini play sessions that Azul was able to watch. 

In the car, Belle rode in a crate to prevent her from invading Azul's space while I was driving. During a rode trip with another human driving, I was able to sit in the backseat with both dogs and help Belle learn to lay near Azul without invading his space. This built additional trust in their relationship. On that trip, Azul was able to watch Belle playing with my son's dog Finn who happens to be one of the adolescent dogs that invaded Azul's pace prior. Management prevented Azul and Finn from having issues during the holiday trip and Belle was able to spend time with both dogs. Once we came home from that trip, Azul starting trying to play with Belle more and more. On that trip I injured my back and spent a few weeks recovering with nothing but short potty outings and no leaving the house which lead to bored dogs that needed to an outlet. That is really where their relationship started to develop! Azul showed Belle that he was able to get low and play at her comfort level and Belle showed Azul that she would listen to his subtle communication and give space when he asked for it. Much of the Azul TV episode above involves their play sessions during this time of my healing.

No relationship is perfect 100% of the time and is subject to change based on each individual's mood, health, and feeling of secure attachment.

For at least a full month if not slightly longer, Azul and Belle were never left alone without barriers in place. Not only did it help Belle with potty training, but it ensured that negative feelings wouldn't develop when a human wasn't there to help if either one of the dogs began feeling unsafe. Slowly over time they started staying alone for short trips such as a bathroom run for me while they were napping in the same room or while I cooked food and could watch them from the kitchen.

Azul had a health issue that made him not want to play as much while he didn't feel good. Thankfully by that time, Belle had learned Azul's subtle signals for giving space and was glad to provide him space when he needed it. This too, helped to increase their trust in each other. I knew Azul really didn't feel well when he was only playing with Mav for short spells and then would back off and watch Belle and Mav play. Azul received the medical help he needed and started to feel better without any negative interactions stressing their relationship.  I'm thankful for that!  But it could have easily gone the other way if Belle didn't respect the boundaries Azul taught her gently.

Now after 2 months, I feel that Azul and Belle have a secure attachment to each other.  They are able to be together, enjoy being together and doing fun things together. They trust each other to communicate clearly with me and with each other.

No two relationships are identical to a different set of relationships. Comparing relationships or having an expectation that the same type of relationship will be had with a new individual is unrealistic.

I'm going to use Azul mostly as a frame of reference for this point as he has longer standing relationships then Belle does at her young age.  Azul and Belle have pretty unique relationship going. They are comfortable together, but also very comfortable doing things without each other. Frequently they get separate walks and outings with me. We free feed, so there are always 2 bowls out with kibble available and they both eat out of both bowls just not at the same time. Azul has meds right now that get delivered in a bowl with special treats and that is done in the bedroom or outside where Belle doesn't have access.  Azul has always loved to eat out on the porch so he's loving those special treats. I still supervise bone time when it comes to their special bones or treats, but both are great at staying on their blanket while the treat is enjoyed and waiting to be released when everyone is done. They have a few non-special bone treats and food balls that are always available and both enjoy as they please.  That's pretty uncommon for dogs to be that comfortable sharing resources.

As I said early, Maverick is Azul's best friend and has been since they were young.  Their relationship is filled with high energy games with lots of running and limited resources because the arousal level runs so high in these moments. Another friend of Azul's is Betsy Ross.  While Betsy and Azul enjoy some high energy games, they are also totally comfortable relaxing together and just hanging out. The relationship between Azul and Maverick has a much higher arousal level then the relationship between Azul and Betsy.

Taking a look at Azul and Cam (our previous dog), their relationship was very different as well. While they could easily function around each other, they both had different loves. Cam loved to play ball and sniff on our property, but loved simply being near me more. Azul doesn't care for ball at all and prefers tug, while sniffing our property is cool, he really loves exploring a wide variety of environments. They could easily live together, but they didn't have much in common with each other.

When Roz came to stay, it was clear to see that they both loved backyard zoomies, chewing on sticks, and WrestleMania. Azul and Roz definitely shared a typical brother/sister relationship. Azul loved to tattle on Roz when she was about to countersurf or chew on something she wasn't supposed to. That's something Azul has never done with anyone else.

The point is none of these relationships are exactly the same as any of the other. Yet for some reason, as humans we tend to expect a new dog in the home to step right in and fill the void from previous dogs we've had in our life. That is a very unrealistic expectation.

That's why it's so important to me that Azul and Belle figure out their relationship. Of course they need guidance and help sometimes. Just like humans, dogs can have squabbles or disagreements, it's our job to give them the skills to understand each other and communicate their needs.

A good example of this is when Belle gets excited because Azul just entered the room, she will launch at his face. She is basically asking Azul to play. If Azul agrees to play he blocks her launch with a bow and WrestleMania begins. If Azul doesn't want to play, he simply steps away and turns his head away from Belle deflecting the launch. At this point, Belle respects his decision and will back off, finding something or someone else to play with. For the most part, I want them to work it out. But I also want to be there to support them, preventing any major disagreements that might happen, especially as Belle goes through adolescence.

If you haven't watched it yet, scroll back up to watch the Azul TV video above to see how their relationship grew over their first 6 wks together.

And reach out to me if you need help setting up your household to help your dog or dogs learn how to develop a healthy relationship.

Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Yooper Paws Nosework Club

Yooper Paws Nosework Club!
This is a group dedicated to Canine Scent Detection Enthusiasts. Members of the group can attend practice sessions with other teams to enhance skills and grow as a human/dog scent detection team. The Yooper Paws Nosework Club is open to all nosework disciplines and skill levels. We will focus mainly on searching for scents, objects, and people, perhaps adding in searching for other dogs when available.

Joining the Club
Once the Intro Workshop or Searching for Scents Class has been completed, you'll receive an invite to join the FB Group: Yooper Paws Nosework Club. This is where practice sessions will be coordinated. Practice Sessions will cost $10 per session or $40 per month. There will be at least 1-2 sessions per week except for holidays, vacations or extreme weather.

We use a traffic light theory system for the Yooper Paws Nosework Club allowing all dogs regardless of their reactions to people or other dogs to participate. All activities can be tailored to your team's needs.

Intro to Nosework: 

The Intro to Nosework Workshop is now available online for you to work through at your own pace. 

Intro to Searching for Scents:
In this class, you will learn the basic foundations for teaching your dog how to search for a specific scent. We will focus on the basic starter scent of Birch to teach your dog about scent value, creating a find indicator, and develop teamwork skills. Then you can decide if you want to pursue competitive nosework, service dog medical alerts or keep it as a fun enrichment activity for you and your dog. This class format is designed to help you get lots of practice developing firm foundations for any type of nosework you want to do.
The cost is $125 which can be paid via PayPal, Venmo or Cash before the first class.

To register for the Searching for Scents Class and/or join the Yooper Paws Nosework Club, please fill out this form.

Thank You for registering, you will receive an email within 48 hrs confirming your registration. 
If you have any questions, please email us at

Play with a Purpose

Announcing the new Play With a Purpose Mini-Class! I created this class with puppies in mind, focusing on games for 4-10 months old dogs. Re...