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Leadership: A little bit of knowledge!

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This blog is a continuation of my leadership series of posts.   Please see the last two to “catch up” if necessary.

In my first blog of this series, I talked about the importance of reacting when things are happening around you, whether talking about a dog or a child. Nothing screams lack of leadership like an absence of human direction, so avoid that. I also suggested that exactly what you did to intervene mattered less than the fact that you intervened.

In my last blog, the second in the series, I talked about handling a situation where your dog is behaving badly, and neither the dog nor the human have any training. Your average dog owner got caught flat-footed.   Regardless of the cause, my advice was the same: get out of there one way or the other. First, manage the event; the training will come later.

Now let’s consider a slightly more sophisticated situation. In this case, the handler has some minimal training,  and as a result, she is inclined to be carrying cookies with her. It is also possible that she has had one or more bad experiences in the past, so is “on notice” that things could go wrong.

Ok; here we go again.  For whatever reason, your dog starts misbehaving. Possibly growling, barking, lunging etc. What should the handler, who happens to have food on her, do in a case like this?

As soon as she realizes her dog is in a bad spot, she should take a cookie, wiggle it like a little mouse in front of her dog’s nose, and redirect her dog 180° away from whatever has his attention.  The goal is to magnetize the dog to the coookie while moving away.   After that, the advice is the same:

Get out of there!

The “get out of there” process should happen as soon as the handler recognizes a problem, because the longer the situation goes on, or the closer the handler gets before she realizes there is an issue, the more likely it is that her cookies are not going to attract her dog. The dog may be aware of them but too over-aroused by the situation to really care at that moment.

So let’s run with that for a second. Let’s say that the handler tries the cookies, and the dog ignores them!

Then get out of there however you will. Review the last blog for more ideas on this.

The notable thing for the cookie in hand technique to work is that the handler has to 1)  be paying attention and 2) have a cookie in her hand very very quickly.

So here’s a question for you. If the handler gets into a bad spot and the dog is acting up noticeably, should the handler stand there and fish around in her pocket until she finds a cookie, or should she revert to the no cookie approach?

This isn’t necessarily a black-and-white answer but in general, I would suggest reverting to the no cookie approach. The reality is, the longer you stand there doing nothing, the less likely the dog is going to want it anyway.  That’s because a little over-arousal has a way of becoming big over-arousal when nothing intervenes to stop that process.

So let’s say that happens.   The handler gets into a bad spot.   The handler is not paying attention, so the dog is pretty high by the time she recognizes the need to intervene. She is holding the leash, but struggling to get a cookie out of their bag because the dog is pulling.

Forget the cookie and act like you don’t have any on you. Get out of there one way or the other. Use your voice or physically interrupt the dog’s behavior, and get as far away as you need.

There is a silver lining here, however. If the handler has cookies on her body, whether or not she was able to use them to get out of the situation, she should absolutely use them once they are further away, because food will help to calm the dog down. In that case, the order would look like this:

The dog and the handler approach. The dog becomes agitated. The handler doesn’t notice. The dog starts to act out noticeably. The handler claps or taps the dog physically or blocks the dog, or whatever, and gets the dog out of the situation. The handlers is then able to get the dog further away and the dog is no longer looking in the problem direction. The handler then feeds the dog’s cookies until calm – (both of them, since the handler is probably a wreck by now too.)

And now that all is calm and you have some free time, call your mentor, friend, or dog trainer, and set up a training plan to make things better for the future.

Is this the best possible handling/managing of a situation?  No, it’s not. In this case, you had a handler with some training and a dog with little or none. So what can you do in a situation where the dog has more training, or the handler is possibly on notice that their dog has an issue and really wants to fix it?

Next, we’ll consider bare bones management for a bad situation where the handler is somewhat sophisticated and has taken the time to train their dog, at least a little, in advance. We’ll call that “training for management”.


Leadership; Entry level Management

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In my last blog, I talked about leadership. The importance of reacting when things are happening around you, whether talking about a dog or a child. Nothing screams lack of leadership like an absence of behavior or direction, so that is to be avoided. I also suggested that exactly what you did to intervene mattered less than the fact that you intervened.

Now, I don’t exactly believe that 100%. I do think it matters how you intervene, but I am also pragmatic.  Some dogs (and handlers) have absolutely no training so my preferred forms of intervention won’t apply (because they require some prior training). I consider the damage done with a dog misbehaving and receiving no human feedback against the damage done of a handler dragging a dog away by the collar.  In my mind, lack of feedback is the greater sin.  Not to mention – the one being yelled at has some rights too, and deserves relief.

So let’s call these worst-case scenarios; something has to happen, and neither the dog nor the handler know what that might be. In the name of leadership, I’m expecting the human to step up. To handle the matter one way or the other. This is going to be a one-size-fits-all approach.  Remember, no training, and the dog and the handler are equally naïve. Now what?

First I need to point out that in last blog on leadership, I sort of asked a trick question. I gave a number of scenarios with a child who was struggling, and I suggested that we might want to look at each one and decide how we would handle it. If you did that, did the reason for the child’s misbehavior matter to you?

How I handle behavior IN THE MOMENT has very little to do with what caused it; I take a one-size-fits-all approach.  I’m going to handle it exactly the same no matter what caused the behavior because I’m in management mode. Training is a whole ‘nother story, but right now we are not talking about training, were talking about what to do when misbehavior is in progress.

So here’s the answer:

Get out of the situation however comes to your mind first. It’s that simple. I don’t care if your child or dog is yelling because they are afraid, or angry, or jealous, or pretty much anything else. It does not matter. What does matter is that the more an individual practices a behavior and experiences the related emotions, and the more time you stand around acting like you haven’t got a clue, the more likely you are to see that behavior again. That’s bad.

So you need to get out of the situation.

How does one get out of the situation?

Well, anything you do that inputs into your dog senses is going to influence your dog’s behavior. If your dog hears your voice, you’re interrupting what is happening in front of them. So if your cheerful talking interrupts your dog’s behavior, great! When the dog looks at you, backup as fast as you can and get out of there, so it doesn’t start up again.   But what if your cheerful voice does not interrupt your dog? Fine. Try your not cheerful voice. You’re irritated hey what are you doing now? Voice. And when your dog looks at you? Get out of there.

And if that doesn’t work, because your dog is not influenced by your voice or is too far gone? Fine. physically touch or pick up your dog, or physically block your dog from whatever they are looking at.  You tap your dog on his rear end, and it causes your dog to turn to you? Great! Talk cheerfully to your dog and start backing up – talking and moving the whole while. And if that doesn’t work? Get in front of your dog and block him from whatever it is that is upsetting him. If he can’t see it, it’s going to be a lot harder for him to be yelling at it. So shorten up your leash, hold him back, and get it front of your dog’s face. If that doesn’t make your dog look up at you, walk into his space until he looks up because now you are his problem. He looks up at you? Great! Now get out of there, back away from the situation and bring him with you. If your dog looks back? Block your dog and repeat this. Get out of there!  There is no reason why this will ever take more than five seconds if you were paying some sort of attention in the first place.

Notice that in none of these examples did I mention putting a cookie in front of your dog’s face. Considering that would actually be my preferred relative novice answer, that’s sort of a strange thing. Why didn’t I mention that?

Because your average newbie handler does not have a handful of cookies at the ready, and if they did, then that’s not a naïve dog and handler team; that’s a dog with some training and a handler with the foresight to have a pile of cookies. We’ll get to that in the next blog.

All I want to do now is instantly stop the behavior that is taking place, so that the dog is not rehearsing it, and I want to communicate to the dog that the handler is paying attention. That’s all.

And when I say get out of there, what does that mean? Exactly that.  Get out of there.  How far you have to get out will be determined by the dog’s behavior – maybe 100 feet will do the trick or maybe you’ll be back in the car.  Where your dog is looking is the key to the correct distance. If your dog is still looking continuously in the bad direction, you’re not far enough.  Go back more.

What you decide to do next is not within the realm of management; that would be training so we won’t discuss that here because “it depends”.  Now you have the luxury of time to develop your training plan – call that friend or mentor or dog trainer and see about that.  For now – just get out of there.

In the next blog, I’ll consider a dog that is naïve, but with a handler that has a little bit more knowledge and awareness. What can we do for those people?


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What is a leader?

For my purposes as a dog trainer, it means the one who provides direction; the one who takes responsibility for making “it” happen; the one who takes care of the emotional well-being of the other.

Unlike dominance, there is nothing unpleasant about leadership or being led;
indeed, most of us are more than willing to accept the direction of a good leader. Our dogs are no different.

For the purposes of this discussion, leadership has two components; handling events in the moment and making decisions for the future.

On its most basic level, as I am presenting it here, how might we use this concept to help us become better dog trainers and owners? To make better decisions for our dogs when there is no time to consult a book or call our mentor?

Let’s start by considering leadership as it relates to a parent-child relationship. In this case, visualize a child who is just becoming verbal. An older toddler; two or three years of age.

You take your child into a situation and something happens that you would prefer not to see again. What do you do?

You go to the park and he tries to take a toy from a smaller child. What do you do?

You go to the park and he starts yelling at, or trying to hit, another child (who threatened to hit him the day before). What do you do?

You go to the park and he starts yelling at, or trying to hit, another child (for no obvious reason at all). What do you do?

You take your toddler to a local talent contest and he freezes up and does nothing. What do you do?

Really think about each example. Don’t worry about the fact that you might not put your child into any particular situation or that you may not spend time with children at all; simply think about it as if it is happening, and now you need to react.  What do you do RIGHT NOW?

Do you stand around, watch, and see what happens next? Go catatonic because you’re not sure what the “right” answer is? Hope for the best and smile pleasantly when your child looks to you for direction? Are you silent? Are you paying enough attention to even be aware of what is happening? Hand over a snack and continue to stand in the same spot?

At this time, I am not going to answer these questions for you. To a large extent, how you handle any of these situations is a function of what you believe about parenting. Depending on your philosophy, that response might vary from taking the child further away, to distracting him, to having a quiet conversation, to smacking him.  But in all cases, one presumes that you understand that whatever happens now cannot undo what happened; you’re reacting – damage control.

What you do next, after you get through the initial event, will also vary. You might decide to try again with very close supervision or assistance. You might decide to avoid the situation. You might decide the situation cannot be handled at this time and the best thing to do is go home. But whatever you do next, you will have reacted in some manner and then made a follow-up decision. Hopefully, with an eye to preventing a recurrence.

I would like to believe that no parent would simply stand around, hoping for the best, paralyzed with indecision because they cannot remember exactly what the correct steps are, smiling and nodding at their child while doing nothing at all. Any of those decisions would scream lack of leadership, and if you did parent in that manner then soon enough your child would stop looking to you for help at all.  At the ripe old age of three, your child would figure out that they were on their own…good luck with intelligent decision making at that age.  Your child may become a bully, they may become a victim or they may turn out just fine! But odds that your young child can make the right decisions without intervention aren’t very good – which is why we supervise and provide leadership for them.

The most important thing that a leader does is get involved when needed; when the “other” is being controlled by emotion, then a leader with a clear head needs to step up – right now. Whether you decide to stand quietly coaching your child or yelling at them for their behavior after the fact, you don’t disengage. You don’t leave them on their own. You don’t act helpless like you don’t know what’s going on. You don’t stand and watch with curiosity, fascination or horror – doing nothing. You don’t whine and complain about how good all of the other children are, and your child is the only one who can’t behave, while watching the misbehavior escalate.

That is because responsible parents lead their children; they take responsibility for setting a direction in situations beyond the child’s capacity, and then they make it happen. As a leader, you might make a good choice or a poor one, but you do something.

Your dog is the same. Be a leader.  You might make a good decision in the moment or not, but make sure your dog knows that you’re paying attention. Better yet make sure your dog knows that he can count on you for support while he learns how he is expected to behave.  In the moment, what should you do?


If you do this, your dog will learn to look to you faster and faster over time when they are unsure about what to do.  Get involved.

And then, after you’re out of the moment (management), then we try and make sure it doesn’t happen again.  That’s training – for both children and pets.  That is when we can ask trusted friends for input.

If people are interested in this, we can look at each of the above topics in future blogs, and consider our options.  You will discover that making good decisions for your dog is actually not that complicated when you consider your behavior as a function of leadership (decisions in the moment) followed up by training (to set up success into the future).


Broad Jump Training

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The broad jump is not one of my favorite exercises to teach.  However, I’m approaching it a little differently these days, having some success, and now I’m liking it better.

Funny how that works.

With Brito I shaped the broad jump, much as many people shape the high jump.  I worked on that shaped jump from a standstill so that I could be convinced that he understood the expectation.

When the dog is taught the broad jump by running with the dog, it’s pretty easy for the dog to think that jumping the jump is contingent on handler movement and speed.   That can be really frustrating when the handler has to stand still, and all of a sudden the dog has no idea how to perform independently.

Teaching the dog to jump from a standstill while the handler is not moving gets around this issue.  You can shape that easily enough.

Here’s a short video that should give you a pretty clear idea of the various steps that I went through with Brito.

Obviously, the exercise is not finished but all of the basic pieces are there.   I would still have to lengthen the jump, and work on the front at the end of the exercise.   But because he already knows how to go out of his way to take the jump, and that completing the jump is the task at hand, the odds of corner cutting go way down.

Obviously, there is proofing and generalization to consider as well but that’s a story for another day.

This method will work both to teach the exercise and to re-train dogs that are not clear on the exercise.

Note how I handle errors near the end of the video; I praise his effort! Keep your dog in the game. It’s also worth noting that this session is much too long for this dog. I should have worked for a minute or two and then let it go for the day.

Brito’s Story and….Barking!

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I did a Facebook live yesterday; below is a Youtube link to the conversation.

The first 18:30 is a story out of Brito’s book – it’s basically how he ended up in my home. Go ahead and show it to your kids or enjoy a story for yourself.

The rest is a discussion of barking – why it happens and what we can do about it:


If you enjoy “listening” instead of (or in addition to) reading, you may also want to check out the FDSA podcast.  We release these once a week.  There are currently seventeen episodes for your enjoyment!  You can subscribe or watch them directly off the site.  We also provide a transcript for each podcast on that site.

Human Engagement

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The following is a lecture from my Engagement class. A student asked me to make it a blog so that she could easily share it with her students.  Simple request – so here it is.

The purpose of this lecture was to help people better understand how and why engagement works, using a human to human example.  If you don’t understand Engagement and would like to have a clue, simply search this blog for the word “engagement.”  You’ll find a lot to work with.  If you would like to follow this concept in greater depth, go ahead and join me in the class I’m teaching this term – registration is still open:  Engagement. This class will not run again until next year.

Human Engagement lecture:

You go to a party.  You see a person across the room and you would like to talk to them.

 You go to chat with them, walk up, introduce yourself and start a conversation.  That is Stage 1 – you’re doing all the work – they just receive your attention.

At some point that conversation ends and a half hour later, you find yourself looking in that person’s direction again.  You’d like to talk to them but you don’t know if they would like to talk to you.  You look over and they look up at you.  One of several things happens.

  1. They don’t see you and look right past. (you’re not even on the radar – environment too hard or they are actively ignoring you). Rejecting stage 2.

  2. They see you, smile/nod briefly and continue their gaze to another place in the room (you’re on the radar and they are being polite but they do not want to talk to you) – Rejecting stage 2

  3. They see you, make eye contact and smile.  But they don’t move.  You’re feeling bold so you approach and start up a new conversation.  That is Stage 2.  They started it by smiling and that indicated to you that they wanted to talk – but they didn’t approach.

  4. They see you, make eye contact smile and step in your direction.  That is early stage 3.  They are CLEARLY indicating that they want to have a conversation by moving in your direction.  As soon as they take one step towards you, you head in their direction as well That is the start of stage 3 – not only did they make eye contact but they began to approach.  Great!

  5. They see you, make eye contact, and start heading in your direction.  You stand still and wait.  You are pleasant, you smile. But you don’t move.  They come all the way to you. That is solid Stage 3.

  6. Now…things change a bit.  You’re at that same party and the scenario is the same.  Except this time, when they come over to visit you, you’re actually pretty shy!  So when they approach you’re polite but…you don’t know what to say!  So you just stand there smiling and looking a little shy.  So, they start to work to bring you out of your shell.  They might touch your arm to get your attention. (dog jumping on you) They might start an animated conversation. (dog in your space barking at you)  They might invite you to come look at something with them. (playbow)  That is the other person aggressively pursuing you, rather than the reverse.  And when a person is doing that, they are 100% committed to getting your attention. Not much is going to distract them because they want you to talk to them.  You’re interesting!  And what should you do?  Respond!  But – play a bit of hard to get first. That is hard core Stage 3.  You’re willing and available but…playing a bit of hard to get.

Stage 4 adds in work but we don’t need to worry about that right now

Does your dog prefer a toy or a cookie?

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Many trainers, myself included, will ask you to rank your motivators.  We do this because we want to be able to strategically pair the value of the motivator with specific circumstances in training.  The basic idea is that more difficult work or effort would be paired with higher value motivators, and vice versa.

The problem with this is that while it works reasonably well within a type of motivator (preferences for a specific type of food, type of toy or approach to personal play) it doesn’t work nearly as well if you switch types of motivators.

Brito prefers cookies to toys, in the sense that if I made both available, he would opt for a cookie. But in terms of his energy (caused by knowing he is about to chase a ball), his focus, and his endurance, I’d say the ball gives me a better overall result for practicing known movement-based exercises. I cannot compare food to toys because the entire effect is simply different.

Lyra and Raika always prefer a toy, no matter what type of food I might have available, but I still use food in their training, depending on what I am trying to accomplish.

Some dogs clearly prefer one to the other and their preference is expressed across the board, but plenty of other dogs are not obvious; their preferences might be a function of their environment (food might work where a toy might not), the work under consideration (heeling might benefit from a toy whereas a recall might look better with a cookie), or something else altogether, like time of day, the specific cookie (or toy), how hungry the dog is at that time, etc.

So which is preferred?

There is no real answer, and at the end of the day, it’s not important.  What is important is understanding what motivators are most effective, for a given dog, under a given circumstance. Once you have a handle on that, choose the motivator that is going to give you the attitude, energy, and clearness of thinking that makes sense for whatever you are working on.

When considering motivators, think in terms of “appropriate for the circumstance”.