Thursday, September 22, 2022

Halloween Safety Tips

It's that time of year and Halloween is rapidly approaching!

Whether you are training a service dog or a pet dog, you don't want them to be scared on Halloween night by all the spooky decorations. You can do some training now to help you have a more successful Halloween.  The first thing you need to determine is what are plans for Halloween as that will change your approach to training before the activities start.

Trick-or-Treating or Walking the Neighborhood

If you plan to take your dog out on the town on Halloween night doing some trick-or-treating with friends and family, be sure to some training sessions around decorations before the day of fun. Training before the need allows you to slow down and let the dog explore the decorations at their pace and comfort level. If you are going out with kids or attending a costume contest, you will want to desensitize the dog to costumes before the big event too.

Azul has been around these types of decorations since he was a pup so he's pretty comfortable but in this video he is mildly stressed. Can you see it in this video?

The whole idea of desensitizing & counterconditioning (DS/CC) is to start at a distance where your dog can be comfortable and follow your directions. You will slowly move closer based on how your dog acts. If they are calm you move more quickly. If they start showing mild signs of stress you might be able to stay at that distance a bit, then if they relax you move forward more and if not you move back and the end the session there for the day. You want to use a high value reinforcement, most often high value food, for these types of sessions as this conditioning will help to change your dog's emotions from one of fear to one of happy. The dog thinks "This ghost decoration shows up and out comes the chicken. Hey, I like this ghost decoration!" 

You also want to make sure your dog has the choice to move closer or move farther away.  If you're visiting neighborhood decorations you may not want your dog to actually touch the decorations or let them get close enough to nip or pee on the decorations. Your neighbors will thank you for staying back far enough to not allow for damage.

During the training you have to be careful not to push your dog too far too fast! If your dog barks, lunges or otherwise reacts to the decoration you moved too close too fast and you hinder the efforts of counterconditioning because now that decoration is even more scary. Some dogs will curiously go up and sniff or touch a decoration(when appropriate), then be totally fine with it. If your dog is willing to do so, they shouldn't have a problem ignoring them on Halloween.

Outside I suggest doing these sessions in your neighborhood during the day when there are few people around. Often these decorations are less scary in the day time. Then do a few evening walks after dark before Halloween so that your dog is used to walking past the decorations in the dark as well. 

Staying Home, Passing Out Candy, Avoiding People

If you're staying home on Halloween you may not focus as much on training sessions around outdoor decorations.  Instead you may need to desensitize to common sights, sounds, and smells.

Door Safety

If you will pass out candy to trick-or-treaters you need to consider safety first.  Is your dog friendly with strangers? What happens when someone knocks on the door?  Does your dog run out the door the moment it's opened?  First think of your dog's safety first!  

If they are not friendly or like to bolt out the door you will want to either use a crate or baby gate to prevent your dog from getting too close to the door.  If your dog is friendly and will participate in activities, you should consider having the dog drag a leash attached to a collar just incase you need some management to assist with overexcitement behaviors.

From this safe place you can work on creating calm behaviors before the big night.  Will you leave your front door open, using only a screen door that night?  If so, practice this by putting the dog in their safe space with a long lasting food reward such as a chew, stuffed kong, or lickmat.  Then open the door and relax nearby.  This will help your dog get used to the night sights, sounds, and smells in the neighborhood.  

Then add in someone walking up to the door.  You will probably want to practice having someone approach and knock plus approach and say Trick or Treat.  When this happens drop and extra high value reward into your dog's safe space before you approach the door.  If you have a family of kids nearby, invite them over to practice a few times during the day.  Set up your house and safe space before they come. Ask them to approach slowly stopping if they hear barking and just stay there a moment, Once the barking stops they can approach more, knock, or say trick-or-treat.  Once all is calm in the house, move out and give them a treat.  Have them walk back away from the door a few feet while you remain at the door and have them approach again.  If you have a neighborhood parent with a toddler, they will probably love the opportunity to practice!

By having a few dry runs or practice sessions during the day leading up to the big event, your dog can get used to the activity and you can look at your management resources to determine if you need to add another layer of safety or if your current set up will work for the big night.

If you are avoiding people that night, you may experience knocks on the door and shouts of trick-or-treat coming from the neighborhood so you may want to desensitize to those sounds before the event.  If you don't want to set up a practice session as described above, watch some Halloween movies on TV while cuddled with your dog and reward your dog every time you hear someone knock or shout in the movie.  It may seem like you are not even training but you are pairing good things with the sounds heard.  Use movies or sound effects apps you can control the volume starting slow and gradually turning the volume up to replicate what it would be at your front door.  With today's video tech, you can easily reply the same scene of someone knocking over and over again until your dog starts to realize that the sound will predict something awesome is coming.

Teaching Tuck Inside a Vehicle

Teaching a 70 lb Service Dog to Tuck into a Tight Space!

I was recently asked how to train your dog to load up into the floor area in the passenger seat of a vehicle. Since I'm always the driver, Azul typically rides in the backseat and not the floor space therefore I've never taught him to do this. However Service Dogs may need to ride in other people's vehicles where staying on the floor is important. At 70 lbs I wasn't sure if he would fit.

To train this I use a harness and a longline because my driveway is not secure. I want Azul to have the choice to participate in training or leave if he is done or getting frustrated. While you see me touching the line to keep it from tangling a few times, I'm not controlling Azul with the line.  

It's always a good idea to give dogs a choice to participate in training or opt out, especially when you are training something that may present challenges or possibly be aversive.  I want Azul to have the freedom to walk away from the vehicle if he needs a break or is done.  Watch your dog closely during all training sessions for small signs of stress so you can stop the session before they become overwhelmed.

In the video above, I'm using cues Azul already knows: 
  • Paws Up (front paws only) 
  • All the Way Up (all paws up) 
  • Turn Around (spin or change directions) 
  • Sit & Down 
  • Chin (to do a chin rest on my lap) 
Since Azul is already used to doing Paws Up and All the Way in the backseat, I start there simply asking for simple behaviors for my high value reinforcement.  Building up skill momentum by rewarding easy skills can encourage the dog to try more difficult skills.  These easy steps also demonstrate to Azul that I'm OK with him getting in and out of the car as he chooses.  Azul has previously been trained not to get out of the car without permission so I really want to make sure he understands this is training and we are not going for a ride.

Once he's been in and out of the vehicle a few times I start adding in the sit and down.  At this point I'm reinforcing any sits and downs he gives me even if he is not in the perfect position.  He can sit facing me or off to the side and still get rewarded.  When we add down, he mostly chooses to lay with his paws and face out the door.  This is an important step because it is helping him to feel safe and comfortable in a tight and confining space.  I don't want to move on to the next step until he is totally comfortable.  At the end of this video, I'm thinking that we will stop at this point because Azul doesn't seem totally relaxed so I decide to one more video from the inside of the vehicle.

Azul surprises me in this video as I didn't expect him to reach the correct position.  However he sat near perfectly so I decided to ask for a chin rest on my leg to see what would happen. I'll have to admit, I wasn't planning on using the chin rest cue, but Azul was struggling with down and asking for the chin rest on my lap which was lower then Azul's head led to him choosing to lay down on his own. When he gets into the perfect position with his head on my lap, Azul gets a treat party with rapid reinforcement.  During this treat party I can give him the "tail" cue which basically means I'm going to move his tail for him into the position I want.  I need to do this before shutting the door.  I give more reinforcement with the door open to make sure Azul is comfortable then shut the door for just a few seconds.  Once the door is open, Azul is happy to get out as quickly as possible to do a shake off.  The shake off demonstrates the session was just a bit hard for Azul and we definitely quit at the right time.

Azul moves through the positions rather quickly because he knows them all really well and I have a high rate of reinforcement. You may need to break these steps into multiple sessions with a younger or less experienced dog.  Moving forward, I will do a couple more sessions like this before we actually do a session with someone else driving the car.

Wednesday, September 21, 2022

Fall Schedule of Opportunities

Fall is my favorite season and this year will be filled with all new types of FUN!

I recently found out that I need to be off duty for most of November and part of December following surgery. While it's going to be hard for me to go without seeing all my wonderful clients, I'm going to need this time to rest and heel.
  • Beginning Nov 1st I will no longer be taking any new clients until 2023!
  • Nov 6th-12th I will be totally out of service.
  • And for the rest of November I will easy back into virtual services.
Do to the nature of my surgery, I will likely be able to respond in written emails & messages for quite awhile. Thankfully the other Canine Coaches will be able to step up to see that our regularly scheduled Zoom classes and chats will continue to take place until I'm able to be more active again. Hopefully I will be able to finish the year out strong with some blog writing on my website.

Anyone who is wanting a full Behavior Consult should do that before November 1st!

With this rather unexpected health issue taking me out for the end of 2022, I'm going to schedule a very busy fall season from now to Nov 1st!  This will include both in-person and virtual services

Full Fall Opportunities for Local Clients

Tuesday Morning Travelers Club
Tuesday Mornings  
Beginning October 4th
Time to be determined!

This group will meet at various locations around Iron Mountain & Norway to work on new environmental processing, leash management techniques, reaction to distraction responses. The location will change each week therefore you must join the club via text message to 906-399-0548 to learn the secret location.  

There will be a one time fee of $40 to join the club, which covers all sessions in 2022.  
This is likely going to be the first thing I start back up again in December, weather permitting.

Service Dog Coffee Hour
Tuesday Mornings  beginning October 4th, time to be determined!

This will be open to all Service Dog Teams currently working in the Iron Mountain area and Service Dog in Training Teams that have done a basic public access assessment with me.  This will be a chance for teams to practice the restaurant experience around the distraction of other dogs.  Locations will vary for this activity.  Typically we will choose locations that sell COFFEE and possibly other breakfast items.  We will be open to discussing any SD topics and take a look at planning some local SD training events or other activities.  You can drop in for a few minutes or stay the whole hour.

There will be no charge to participate in this activity, however you must pay for your own refreshments.  

Walking Leash Manners Small Group Sessions
Wednesday at 5PM 
Sept 28th (No session on Oct 12th) thru Nov 2nd
Strawberry Lake Park

This small group session will focus on taking your leash manners skills from the training environment to the trail.  The goal will be to walk approximately 1 mile each session starting in the field near the playground.  From 5-5:15PM we will be doing environmental processing activities in the field, then start the walk promptly at 6:15PM.  On the walk we will space out according to our dog's comfort levels and walking speed, then slowly close the gap till dogs are able to walk nicely a few feet apart.  This group is perfect for dogs that are not quite ready to walk in a big group or struggle with passing people or dogs on the trail.  
The cost will be $75 for 5 sessions.
Fall weather may require us to switch days around based on group member availability. 

Saturday Pack Walks
Dates: October 15th, & 29th
Location and Times will be vary based on availability of those wanting to participate.

These are free fun walks!  You may work on training during the walk, but there will be no formal training taking place during this activity.  Dogs will be expected to maintain a safe distance from other dogs during the walk.  Social dogs can greet after the walk if both owners approve.  These walks will be coordinated through the Yooper Paws Friends group on FB so be sure you join the group for the latest info.

Full Fall Opportunities for Virtual Clients

SD Handler Chats 

This is an ongoing project that has been taking place since April!  The full schedule of chats is available at along with the Zoom links to join each session.

October 10th we will host Special Guest, Rosee Riggs who will be talking about Separation Distress.  This chat is on a Monday instead of our regular Tuesday!  (There will not be a chat on Tuesday, Oct 11th)  Join our FB Event here for the latest updates and additional info about this Chat.

Yooper Paws Reinforcement Hour
Wednesdays at 11AM

This will be similar to a Coffee Hour, but you are free to choose your own reinforcement treat!  
We will use this session as open format to discuss whatever is on your topics, trails & tribulations, and/or trophy's.  Seriously this is an anything goes hour that will not be recorded or made available for replays.  I won't be held responsible for anything that is said during this activity!

Yooper Paws Planning & Support Package
1-on-1 Sessions 
Package Cost $100

This package is designed to help you create a 1-month, 3-month, and 1-year plan for your dog and get started with implementing that plan.  During the first session we will review your goals for the next year and create a general plan detailing what it will take to get there.  From there we will break it down further into where do you start and create the behavior shaping plan you will use to accomplish your 1 month and 3 month goals.  This package is available to all my clients including local clients, family pets, Therapy Dog Teams and Service Dog Teams

The Planning & Support package will include one 1 hour session & two or three 30 min sessions.  The first session is to focus on creating the plan and the following sessions will be to review how your training is going.  You will also receive unlimited text/chat support throughout the month to touch base with progress reports, ask questions about the shaping plan, and troubleshoot struggles.

Crazy2Calm Group Q&A Mini-Series
More info coming soon!

The Building a Better Bond Winter Workshop
November 14th - March 31st
Early Bird Price of $50 for registering before Oct 31st.
November Price is $75.

Spending 5 minutes a day doing the activity of the week for 20 weeks will greatly increase your bond with your dog and improve your teamwork skills.  A new lesson will be released each week with text, video and podcast elements for you to enjoy.  There is also a FB Group available for additional support from the Canine Coaches and other participants in the workshop.  

Tuesday, September 20, 2022

Reactive Dog Struggles

Reactive Dog Struggles and Strategies

As any dog parent who is struggling with a reactive dog knows, life is spent in management and/or response mode.  The dog can only be walked certain routes or certain times a day, guests are a rare occasion, and the idea of taking this dog in vacation is terrifying.  As owners we often feel ashamed of our dog's behaviors and may get bothered by other dogs being able to enjoy a park or hiking trail.  Owners often become reactive too, yelling for other people to leash their dog, pulling their dog in tighter and tighter as a person/dog walks passed, and yes venting about encounters on social media.  But really reactive dog owners often feel bad for their dogs, are frustrated because they don't know what to do, and resort to lashing out at others.

Wait? Was I talking about people or dogs in that last paragraph?

Let's look at reactive dogs a moment.  The dog spends much of their time in fight or flight mode.  They are not sure about anything in the environment so they are on high alert the moment they walk out the door.  Dogs just want to spend a nice, peaceful afternoon walking with their human & enjoying their human, but intruders (people, dogs, etc) keep showing up.  The dog often feels their owners emotions when an intruder is spotted.  They are frustrated because they don't know what that intruder will do or what they should be doing. And they lash out at the intruder or anyone around by barking, lunging, nipping the air (or the intruder if they are close enough)

Sound familiar?

What does the person want in that moment?
  • To create distance from others.
  • To love and care for their dog the best they can.
And dogs want that same thing, but both are frustrated and don't know what else to do.


We need to take a moment and look at the word reactive before we talk about solutions.  The most common reasons people label dogs as reactive is because they do a behavior the human doesn't like (bark, lunge, jump, etc) when something in the environment changes such as a new person or dog shows up.  The dictionary definition of reactive is much broader making it so every animal on the planet is either reactive or dead.  People get hungry, they eat.  The phone rings and we make a decision to answer it or silence/ignore it based on the criteria we've set for when we want to talk to people.  The dog needs to pee, does a potty signal to owner (dog's reaction) and the owner takes them out to potty (owner's reaction.) What happens if the dog or the owner fail to react quick enough???

In our world some how the terms reactive and aggressive became intertwined to mean the same thing.  But it's a ton more work dealing with an aggressive dog.  In reality reactive means the dog is over-reacting to something in the environment.  This could be a fearful dog who would rather run away, but can't so they prepare for the fight.  This could also be a young, adolescent dog that is struggling with regulating their emotions and behaviors. l while their brain moves from puppyhood to adult lift.  The problem then occurs that when these dogs over-react to something over and over without learning that distraction is safe, the problem continues to grow until this dog is now aggressive.  An aggressive dog skips the flight response and jumps straight to a fight response anytime they perceive something as dangerous.  There's no turning back to these dogs because they are running on instinct in kill or be killed mode.

Cam is afraid of strange dogs and men!
His anxiety raises every time we go in the car to walk in community places.
As a senior dog that has worked through so much, he spends his time sniffing rural environments away from dogs & men.  If he had a protective bubble that represented his safe zone, when he first came to our family, his safe zone was over 200 feet away from triggers.  Now his safe zone is more like 5 feet away from triggers, but his anxiety still raises the moment we step out of the car and he smells other people or dogs.

There is a solution for both over-reactive and aggressive dogs!

That solution has a ton of common steps with both dogs however the over-reactive dog will typically move through the steps much quicker and an aggressive dog is going to need more distance and time to heal and see a change in their emotions.

I don't talk about aversive tools much because it's such a hot topic, but I can't leave it out here.  Many owners & trainers switch to aversive gear with these dogs to control the situation.  That is NOT the right approach!  When we punish a dog for barking, we are telling them that whatever they are afraid of causes pain. 

(Dog: Every time I see a stranger my neck gets hurt therefore strangers cause pain.)

If our dogs are afraid and barking they are communicating that they need space.  If we take away that communication, the dog is forced to escalate to an even worse behavior. Barking didn't help so maybe they lunge...OUCH!  That didn't work so maybe they nip at the air...OUCH!  That didn't work, what's next?

The only real solution is to change how the dog feels about the intruder.  And yes, the longer & more frequently your dog has practiced these behaviors, the longer it's going to take to change the emotions.

Often the only real solution is to work with a Behavior Consultant who can help you figure out a few things and give you exercises to practice to grow your partnership skills.  This should involve teaching your dog how to safely process the environment without any distractions around.  You would then begin the process of changing the dog's emotional response to a triggering distraction with desensitization and counterconditioning.  This is done by working on focus and basic skills at a distance that dog can feel safe, reinforcing them for focusing on their handler more then the trigger and slowly reducing the distance between your dog and that trigger.  This needs to be done in very controlled conditions where you can set the environment up for success, communicate with the other people that are helping you, and work with a dog professional to determine the best approach for your dog.  Some dogs can move through this process rather quickly while others take more time.  Then last but not least, teaching the dog a new language for communicating their needs and emotions without doing the behaviors we don't want. Instead of barking, maybe they stand between our legs.  Instead of lunging, maybe they sit or down.  Instead of nipping, maybe they grab a tug toy or ball to carry in their mouth.  The alternate behavior doesn't really matter as long as they have a way to communicate with their person.

The very last thing you need to do to solve your reactive dog struggles is to LISTEN to your dog!  If they are telling you they don't like other dogs, walk in more rural areas or walk at a different time of day with less dogs.  If they are telling you that kids make them nervous, avoid walking around playgrounds, schools, or other places filled with kids.  Listen to them and stop putting them in situations they are not prepared to handle.  

Work with a professional to figure out a plan to that will work with your dog.

Adding More Enrichment

As dog owners, we use reinforcement to reward our dogs for the behaviors we like. Enrichment is often confused as being an extra great or j...