Category Archives: Dog Training

Conquer the Challenge

Conquer the Challenge: the Human Half of the Agility Team

By Angelica Steinker, M.Ed., C.D.B.C, CAP2 | President & Founder, Courteous Canine, Inc.

Agility is about a dog and a human navigating a course. We spend hours preparing the dog for competition, but little to no focus is on the human part of the team. Our dogs are massaged, fed ideal foods, given chiropractic adjustments; all while we ignore and neglect the human part of the team. This column will focus on the challenges that many of us humans face while trying to be the best agility team, and more importantly on the journeys to overcome those challenges.

Human challenges are limitless: physical challenges, financial challenges, mental challenges, and every imaginable combination. The few lucky handlers who are physically and financially fit can indulge in almost limitless agility successes, however the rest and majority of agility competitors have very different goals. We long for that feeling of connection with our dogs, that last leg to finish off a title that may be meaningless to all but a few. Facing budget constraints, many of us painstakingly pick a few trials to enter. Most of us are not competing to beat others or to gain a spot on the world team, but rather we compete against ourselves. Wanting to perfect, in our own way, our goals that may not draw attention or fame but mean the world to us.

Some examples of goals may be: a trainer who has conquered extensive training issues with a dog that was deemed untrainable, dangerous, and recommended for euthanasia. Or a trainer who despite physical challenges kept competing for years, never even realizing the extent of their physical problems because they instead focused on the sheer joy of being with and communicating with their dog. This column is about these trainers: their stories, and how they conquered their challenges. This column is about us: the majority of agility trainers, the ones who pay the top handlers for seminars, books, and pay the majority of the entry fees. These trainers are the heart of agility. What is your challenge? Starting now, you can overcome it.

The Body Scan

Take a few minutes and evaluate yourself. Start with your head, what do you notice? Next move to your throat and neck. How do your muscles feel? Do you have any chronic tension? Pain? Continue this scan until you have evaluated every part of your body. Here are the results of my own scan from a few years ago.

Head: severe headache, dizziness, runny nose, itchy eyes
Neck and spine: limited range of motion (herniated disks), muscle stiffness
Chest: rare tightness (allergy-induced asthma)
Abdomen: some mild pain (which I’d been ignoring)
Arms: good range of motion, lacking strength and conditioning
Legs: lacking conditioning and strength, slow sprinting speed, room for improvement, massive pain behind left knee (which I’d been ignoring)
Feet: intense pain in both ankles (making front crosses very painful)
General: fatigue

The Pampering

The first thing on the list was a full medical work up and an exploration of why so many parts of my body were hurting or not functioning optimally. The answers I found were not at all to my liking and may have been why I was ignoring a lot of my symptoms in the first place. I was diagnosed by a rheumatologist with Fibromyalgia. This is not a fun diagnosis, since it is not clear what causes this disease or even what it is, and there is no clear treatment. I began with listening to my body. I experimented with what made me feel better and what made me feel worse. I changed one thing at a time to see if one specific change helped me or made me feel worse. I learned that I need to sleep more than most people, and interestingly current Fibro research shows that the disease may be a sleep disorder or related to sleep disorders. I began sleep therapy. Whenever I was able to, I slept. My goal was to heal my body, and so I slept as much as I could. It worked, after a few months I began to feel better.

Next, I decided that since Fibromyalgia is a disease that causes connective tissue to hurt, it would probably be a good idea to strengthen all of my muscles. I hired a professional trainer and began working out. Honestly, every rigorous workout left me feeling horrible. It would take me, on average, three days to feel human again after a hard workout. I basically went through hell, but I was determined to get into shape and to re-evaluate my symptoms at that time. This is where experience in parenting terriers and a miniature pinscher came in handy. I stubbornly persisted. One year after my body scan, I was able to report success. Most of my “trigger points” (extremely painful areas that are part of Fibro) were gone. As I type this only two points remain, and I am hopeful that as I continue to build muscles these points will dissipate. Even if they don’t, I feel so much better that I find myself not caring if they bother me or not. The pain is manageable–or I should say that I am able to ignore it.

Ignoring It

This is an important part of my journey. I ignore things. This is both a curse and a blessing. If the goal is to extinguish a behavior, I will have the motivation to endlessly ignore the undesired behaviors and painstakingly reward the desired behaviors, but when you do this with your own physical pain it is truly not helpful. Since my body scan two years ago, I have learned that I had been ignoring physical pain my entire life. As a child, a fear of doctors prevented me from speaking up about my allergies and nerve pain (it seems that I already had Fibro as a child), and then as I grew up my pain and symptoms just became part of me. I also think that because of my extremely high level of energy, it was easy to ignore pain and discomfort. My fatigue was almost always overridden by my endless energy. Eventually it reached a point where it was too much: going through a divorce, losing several friendships, and nearly losing my business coincided, and I physically bottomed out.

The Result

Two years after my body scan, I am still on my journey to becoming healthier. I am still the same dress size, but I have hugely altered my diet and lifestyle. I work out three to five times a week with a goal of being able to work out every day, with the exception of recovery days which are vital to any healthy exercise strategy. I have made a commitment to completely altering my diet. No fast food ever. One side dish of something fried once a month. I choose to eat grilled fish in restaurants, and I eat fruits and vegetables every day. Most of my Fibro symptoms are manageable. My allergies are improved thanks to my allergist.

I still face a challenge regarding the dizziness. Its cause is still undetermined, but it seems that an Ear Nose and Throat specialist will be able to improve it. As soon as that is the case, I will begin trialing again. It seems to me that only sound dogs and sound handlers should run agility.

What is your challenge, and how did you conquer it?



The Power of Fun

The Power of Fun

By Angelica Steinker, M.Ed., PDBC, CAP2
A version of this article was published in Bella DOG Magazine

Being a fun detective pays off huge in dog training.

It’s six a.m., and while sleeping in your bed feeling cozy and content, your puppy has pounced on you! If your dog is mentally or physically under-stimulated, this could happen to you! Is this an annoying situation or a fun detective opportunity? The truth is: it can be both. Prevent early morning pouncing by spending more time with your dog. Below are some fun ideas for pounce preventing activities. 

In general all your interactions with your dog are opportunities to be a fun detective. It’s ten p.m. now, so do you know what your dog thinks is fun? When investigated, the bed pounce scenario yields an interesting finding: your dog likes movement under sheets. This information can be turned into a wonderful game of “get the mouse” which consists of you moving your hand under a sheet while your dog pounces on your hand.

But it gets better. With every fun game you invent, you are able to use that play to reward your dog for behaviors that you want. Ask for a sit, and then play a round of chase. To help you find the games that your dog enjoys, consider the following.

With every game you invent you are able to use that to reward your dog.

Games That Involve Body Parts

Does your dog think it is fun when you attempt to grab her foot? If you playfully reach for her tail, does she flash you a big smile? Evaluate your dog’s body language, and become a fun detective. If your dog appears stressed (e.g. tongue flicking, head turning away from you, curling her tail) then whatever you just did stressed your dog out. Avoid doing things that stress your dog, since stress can lead to dog bites. Instead become a scientist: observe and collect data on what makes your dog happy!

Do you remember playing tag as a kid? How about becoming a kid again by playing tag with your dog? Gently touching your dog in a specific spot can become a signal for her to chase you. Likewise when your dog gently touches a specific part of your body with her nose or paw, this can become her way of tagging you. It is easy to teach your dog to touch a specific body part: just rub some food on it, and when the dog goes to investigate, say “yes” and give her a treat. Repeat three times, then fade the food and name the trick! “Nose” or “target” are common cues. Be consistent about the body part you touch on your dog to start the game as well as what part of your body the dog touches to tag you!

Games That Involve Food

Most of us are good at experimenting with what kind of food our dog likes, so take it to the next level by doing stuff with the food. Hide the food, and see if your dog can find it. A cheese stick can make for a great toy, so see if your dog will chase a cheese stick you drag around on the ground. What about hiding the food under one of three paper cups then shuffling the cups? Will your dog use her nose to find the treat? 

Games That Involve Toys

Most of us get our dogs toys then make a huge mistake: we leave the toys laying around. The first problem with this is that these potentially super fun toys are now BORING. They are just lying there, and they are always the same. Instead make three piles of all your dog’s toys, and rotate them. One week your dog has access to pile A, then the following week pile B, and the third week the final pile. This way the toys are always fresh and FUN. 

Plus, there are endless fun games you can play with toys. Obviously fetch is a classic, and even if your dog does not play fetch, there is hope that you can teach her! Most certified dog trainers are fun experts and are skilled at helping you teach almost all dogs to play fetch. 

Another source of joy can be playing tug, which is a safe game for adults to play with dogs. If you’re concerned about tug causing aggression, then don’t worry: modern studies have found that playing tug does not cause aggression. If your dog growls while playing, it is probably a play growl. Play growls are soft and in a higher pitch than real growls, which are usually low and guttural. 

Just like with food, you can also hide toys and play hide and seek. Start out with easy hiding places and build up to more challenging ones. Be a truth detective and try to figure out if your dog is using her eyes or her nose to find the toy.

Games That Involve Solving a Problem

Many dogs are mentally under stimulated, and dogs are very intelligent beings. Recent studies have found that dogs fast map. Fast mapping is a cognitive psychology term describing the ability to learn a new word with very little exposure to it, even as low as a single exposure. In other words, dogs are mentally capable of the first stage of verbal language learning, soif you use the same words your dog can learn a very large vocabulary.

Many dogs are mentally under stimulated.

Many dog parents are using larger vocabularies to communicate complicated behaviors like, “take the blue toy and place it in the laundry basket then drag the basket to me.” With a little bit of time, you can teach many dogs to help with your laundry or making your bed. Many folks have even taught their dogs to clean, probably a highly desirable behavior. 

And of course, made famous by the Border Collie Rico, you can teach your dog the names of their toys. Rico was able to learn the names of about 300 toys, and recently another Border Collie named Chaser has been able to learn the names of1022 objects, as well as to show that she distinguishes between verbs and nouns. 

Of course this may not be challenging enough for your super smart dog, so you may want to teach her concepts. Dog trainer Pam Hogle taught her Golden Retriever “large” and “small.” As a result, when she asked her dog to find the small toy, her dog would be able to determine which one she meant. Likewise when Pam asked for the large toy, her dog would bring her the larger toy. Pam was delighted with this and played the game so much that her dog eventually took her toy and placed it in the trash can, giving her a clear signal that she was done playing for now!

Alternately to large and small, dogs are also capable of discriminating by other concepts as well. For example dogs can learn that flat round toys are Frisbees, or that balls come in all different shapes and sizes. You could also teach color discrimination, but be aware that dogs are red/green color blind so the two primary colors they can see well are yellow and blue. Green and red would both look brown to them and be hard or even impossible to discriminate between. 

To train any of these mental challenges, simply reward your dog with play for picking up the correct item, and ignore errors. If you are consistent, your dog will learn the pattern. 


Now for the good stuff! Once you have found the different types of games that really make your dog crazy happy, you can use them to train your dog. One idea for crazy happy is to combine games! How about if you play “I’m gonna get your foot”, followed by chase, followed by a high intensity game of fetch. Again, use your experiments and detective work to find what creates mind blowing fun for your dog. Now you have the power to teach your dog anything she is mentally or physically capable of, so use it wisely!



Being Wrong is Right

Being Wrong Is Right

By Angelica Steinker, M.Ed., PDBC, CAP2


Turns out that humans have a huge problem– we love to be right. The problem is that this is dangerous and actually causes serious tragedies and even death, according to Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error author Kathryn Schulz. Schulz explains how planes crash as a result of a pilot refusing to admit error. And as Schulz delves into the topic you can’t really blame the pilot, but rather punishment. It seems that as tiny kids we are already conditioned to be right.That if you are right you are good and if you are wrong you are bad. Of course this is really not helpful as life is comprised of a whole bunch of grey areas, situational dilemmas and most importantly of humans who desperately long never to be wrong.

So I need to confess, I have been and am wrong. I was wrong for using choke chains and prong collars on my first dogs, I was wrong when I alpha rolled my terrier and inadvertently caused even more problems. I was wrong when I sprayed fluid in my dogs face and when shook shake cans. Frankly when I saw the door to clicker training I jumped through it, I wanted out. I was happy to be wrong, because using aversives did not feel right. But being wrong isn’t always that simple.


Being wrong is not easy. I don’t know why but I feel attracted to being wrong, perhaps it’s the rebel in me, but I see that others struggle and suffer when being even potentially wrong. I don’t relate. Maybe it was my childhood conditioning that prompted a strong opposition reflex. For most of us, years of cultural conditioning have programed us to avoid being different, to go with the crowd and to avoid conflict. Not too long ago conflict was so dangerous that even just triggering one person could cost you your life. The conflict avoiding programming that resulted persists even though the risk involved today for most of us is minimal, but the fear of being wrong persists.

When I am honest I realize there have been things I have dreaded being wrong about. I did not want to be wrong about my marriage failing years ago. I did not want to be wrong about my terriers being really hard to train for agility. I wanted to do agility and so it was really hard to accept that they really did not want to do agility. I was wrapped up in my ego, my want, my joy, my outcome and not considering the truth that one of my terriers had monumental stress issues that made living as a pet difficult and consistently performing in agility nearly impossible. My terrier and I did the impossible we got an Agility Excellent title in AKC and then I retired him. I agonized about retiring him and then noticed that he was unconcerned, relieved to not be doing agility anymore. 

Being wrong is not easy.

It had been my ego that drove me to do it. I had set goals, I had wanted and not listened to what my dog was saying: hey this competition stuff is not for me. I enjoy doing agility in the back yard and at friend’s places but this competition stuff is too much. I had lacked awareness. I had lacked the ability to see the severity his stress so I blindly made decisions. I was wrong. But there were lucky side effects to my bad decision. Doing agility had empowered my scared terrier to become a more confident dog. 


Empowerment training is really just good training. If you follow science along it’s trail of evidence you will find empowerment training. Efficacy, how well a training method works, is not enough; we need to ensure that dogs learn via methods that empower them. James O’Heare has written an outstanding book on Empowerment training which outlines the process of good training. Exploring the book you will find that the road to good training is not an easy one, but is ultimately rewarding to both the learner and the teacher. Empowerment training does not mean that your dog is going to take over your house and that you will be making out your mortgage check to her, it means that your dog will enjoy the learning process. The ultimate compliment to any teacher, an enamored student!

However my being wrong about my first agility dog’s desire to do agility ended up being very disempowering to me. The instructors I was choosing to train with were motivated by being in control. I was told that I should use more deprivation, that my dog’s problems were the result of my bad training. I internalized that I was a horrible trainer but could not accept the concept of needing to deprive my dogs in order for them to play a game with me. I realized that for me control was not going to be motivating. To me the feeling of unity when playing with my dog was what really mattered. Illogically I slipped into learned helplessness. But ultimately what I learned was that I had been wrong. Selecting trainers based on fame and their own personal success was not working for me.I learned that I had to be true to my values and find trainers who were aligned with those values. I committed to learning everything that I could about behavior by enrolling in a trade school and reading every book on behavior I could get my hands on. I became empowered. I started feeling pretty good about myself, I started to think that behavior was everything, that I could solve all dog training challenges. That there wasn’t a challenge I could not meet. I was ranked myself up high and enjoyed being in charge. Then it happened again. 

Dominance Paradigm

I learned I was wrong about dominance. When I first became a professional trainer I told clients they had to do a variety of things to be dominant over their dogs. Turns out two beings of the same species can’t form a dominance hierarchy and that much of the original wolf research was flawed, so my neat hierarchy tumbled. While I did not have the advantage of Barry Eaton’s excellent summary of the scientific findings in Dominance in Dogs: Fact or Fiction? It was the far more technical text by James O’Heare in Dominance Theory and Dogs that prompted my submission. O’Heare states that humans are the ones obsessed with rank and power and that the most likely explanation of our desire for control over others is our own need for dominance. A dominance that we have easily obtained, historically speaking; it hit me like a blow to the gut. The neat system I had in place that explained everything, bad behavior is dominant, good behavior is submissive –was wrong. Suddenly everything was infinitely more complex and I had to reorganize my entire way of thinking.

I no longer had dominance to blame.

My terrier’s stubbornness became my challenge to be unpredictable and their ability to think around me. I no longer had dominance to blame and again I noticed feeling empowered. Being wrong was becoming even more reinforcing. I began asking why is anyone training anything with force? What is it about force that is reinforcing?

Functional Analysis of Force

I analyze everything, all the time. Maybe it is from parenting too many terriers and border collies but I can’t stop the obsessions; thinking about behavior. Learning that behavior is happening all the time I realized this included not just the dog but also the humans. While I thought I was training my dogs, they were also training me, but on an even deeper level the tools I used for training were also having an effect on me. So like layers of an onion, I started peeling. If I used a remote citronella collar to punish a dog for barking the fact that my button pressing stopped the barking was having an effect on me. 

Behaviorally I was being reinforced for punishing my dog. This was something that I found aberrant. Fundamentally it struck me that enjoying punishing another being was controlling and possibly sadistic. A road, I was not going to be traveling on. Yet I remembered training horses and feeling an awesome sense of power being able to control such a big animal. But power over another being was not going to be my reinforcer instead I intentionally chose being a team with my dog. Whether heeling, running an agility course, or throwing a disc I began to build reinforcement history with sharing joy and fun with my dogs. Sharing games and play increased my empathy for all dogs. We were having so much fun, feeling such powerful connection and exchanging communication, I began to feel a burning desire for all dogs and humans to share their time like this. Why didn’t everyone want to be a team with their dog?


Enter empathy, our most affiliative and important emotion. Empathy isn’t easy and it is frequently confused with sympathy, but nothing can be more powerful than empathy. It can literally move mountains when it comes to conflict. When beings feel empathized with, powerful bonds are forged. Marshall Rosenburg travels the world bringing his Non-Violent Communication to seemingly insurmountable conflict. Of course empathy isn’t a new idea, entire cultures are built on it, i.e. Buddhism. 

I started empathizing with dogs, and feeling impatient with people, this caused a lot of problems. Humans don’t always like it when you take the side of the dog. Humans can get defensive when they feel judged and view your training advice as a demand. I was wrong to empathize with the dog. The answer was empathizing with the dog and the human. Both needed empathy to be able to be heard, to be able to listen and to learn.

Just a Word

Dog trainers are taught to give commands to dogs, and that dogs follow these commands. We are expected to create beings that flawlessly follow the wishes of their masters. One of my formerly favorite words: dominance –had already partially opened my eyes to the potential damage of labeling, but now I was seeing even deeper problems. The word “command” was a powerful label. It implies needing control over others, addiction to power and dominance – placing yourself above, all things I had learned to leave behind. The Stanford prison experiment randomly labeled normal college students as prisoners and guards, within a few days the experiment had to be stopped because the guards were seriously abusing the prisoners. However the Stanford prison experiment was only the tip of the iceberg the world over labeling had caused intense and horrifying problems. The power of a word demonstrated, I began to wonder what happens when people label a dog? What happens when I label a client? What happens when I teach people to give their dogs commands? The words we choose matter, just as much as I had to leave that choke chain and prong collar behind I now needed to learn to choose my words much more carefully. Just using one word, could be wrong, and possibly life-ending for a dog. 

Researching Non-Violent Communication, I stumbled across an important word: request. The word request is extremely powerful and an antithesis to the word demand. Both words are so powerful that you don’t actually have to use them to effect communication. It is in your tone, your non-verbal communication that makes the difference. Demands cause beings become resistant. Opposition reflex is activated. Defensive and even aggressive behaviors can be triggered, not helpful for work with humans or dogs. But magically by just changing one word—and the attitude that goes with it, demand becomes a request. The fascinating thing is that when we request, most beings that you have a reinforcement history with, comply and they usually comply immediately. 

By just changing one word, “demand” becomes “request.”

So I request that trainers start requesting. I request that we coach our clients to use requests rather than demands when communicating with dogs. I request that we lay aside the tools of demand: choke, prongs and shock and that we enter the world of compliance with just one word. 

Love Being Wrong

Being wrong is right. Being wrong allows for growth and learning. I challenge all of us trainers to embrace being wrong. To make a commitment to openness and embracing a dog and client centered approach. To side with compassion, kindness and let all your requests show your love. Ask what am I wrong about? And to embrace what you learn. 

The Art & Science of Heeling

The Art & Science of Heeling

By Angelica Steinker, M.Ed., PDBC, CAP2

“Heeling is a dance of special connection with my dog. Some view it as merely a mechanical exercise, but for me it is the ultimate connection of our two spirits.”
– Ruth E Barish, avid obedience competitor and author

In the world of dogs there are essentially three forms of a dog walking on leash. The most common is the meat and potato –loose leash walking. Politely walking on lead enables dog owners to go for enjoyable daily walks without being pulled. The second, formal heeling, is what competitive obedience training requires. Finally, the dog show world desires gaiting, which is a behavior more similar to loose leash walking than it is to formal heeling.

Decades ago, teaching your dog any of these three forms of leash behaviors meant that the dog was going to be jerked around by the collar. The collar was almost always a choke chain or even a prong collar. Today it is understood that yanking on a dog’s leash for training purposes is less than ideal and also potentially harmful. Medical problems such as burst blood vessels in the eyes, increased eye pressure, possible thyroid gland or salivary gland damage or collapsed tracheas may be caused by leash jerking. This old way of training was not fun for the dog or the owner. Enter clicker training, a new fun way to train that is enjoyable to both the dog and owner.

To teach your dog to heel with a clicker is fun. Note that heel position aligns your left leg with the right shoulder of the dog. If your dog is ahead of this position, it is considered forging and is points off your score. If your dog is behind this position the judge will take off points for lagging.


  • Your dog.
  • A clicker.
  • A large dog food bowl or water dish.
  • A lightweight leash that is thin and 3 to 5 feet in length depending on your dog’s size (small dogs will need a longer leash and large dogs a shorter leash).
  • Food treats that are highly rewarding to your dog. Choose a variety of healthy treats as your dog will be consuming a lot of tiny pieces during her training sessions. Good healthy treats are low fat turkey hotdogs, mozzarella cheese sticks, or a premium brand dog food sold in rolls that can be cut into tiny pieces.
  • Comfortable shoes for you to practice your heeling patterns both with and without a dog.

Begin Your Journey

To begin your journey of heeling with your dog, follow the simple steps below. Ideally train for 3-5 minute sessions many times a day. Your dog will be setting the pace of the training. Only move on to the next step if you have consistent success of 90% or better. If the dog seems confused, back up one or two steps to refresh the dog’s memory.

Your dog will be setting the pace of the training.

End your training sessions while your dog is wanting to do more so that her attitude will be wonderful at the next session. Have and create an attitude that heeling is the best part of the day for both you and your dog. Every session should create a smile on both your faces.

Practice heeling without your dog. Create footstep patterns that are always the same and walk with the same rhythm. Decide on the ideal rhythm by having an experienced obedience person watch your dog and tell you the “beat” that fits best with your dog’s gait. In competition obedience, the judge will determine a heeling pattern the day of the competition. Even though there are no set rules as to the order of the pattern, all the movements that will be required of you are clearly described in each hosting organization’s rule book. Future competitors can contact the American Kennel Club ( or the United Kennel Club ( or United States Dog Agility Association ( all of which host obedience or rally obedience trials, to obtain information on what behaviors are required at each level of competition obedience. A typical heeling pattern will include 90-degree left and right turns, an about turn (kind of like a U turn with a car), a change of pace from normal speed to fast speed or from normal to slow, and back to normal again. Normal pace is usually a brisk walk for the handler. Slow pace is a slow walk for the handler. The fast pace requires the handler to run. Heeling patterns will also include a halt, meaning you stop and the dog sits in heel position.

Practice heeling without your dog. Create footstep patterns that are always the same and walk with the same rhythm.

Clicker training is a physical skill; while training your dog to heel you will need to hold the food treats or toy in your left hand and the clicker in your right hand. The leash will also be in your right hand. The leash needs to be loose and forming a J-shape from the dog’s collar to your right hand (see photo above with black and white sheltie for J-shape). Holding the rewards in your left hand is ideal as rewarding the dog from your right hand would cause your shoulders to twist and pull the dog out of proper heel position by encouraging the dog to curl in front of you.

What happens after the click matters as much as what you clicked, so set your dog and yourself up for success. Learn to hold several food treats in the palm of your left hand while holding one treat in between your thumb and forefinger. This will be important when your dog is heeling beautifully; this is the moment to click and reward immediately. There is no time to go treat fishing. You always have to have one treat loaded and ready to deliver in case you need to click something lovely!

Grab that bowl and shape your dog to put her two front feet on the upside-down bowl. It can also be a small stool if the dog is large as pictured on the left. This perch will function as a target for your dog’s front feet allowing her to rotate her hind end around her front end. Put this behavior on cue in both directions. Common cues are swing and close. You will be teaching your dog to heel on both sides of your body plus upper-level competition obedience and rally require body awareness to the point that both directions are necessary in foundation training.

Shape your dog to put her two front feet on the upside-down bowl.

Once your dog reliably swings and closes in both directions on cue you can fade the bowl by replacing it with objects that are smaller and smaller in height until ultimately you replace it with just a coffee can lid or something similar that is flat.

Concurrently you have trained your dog to swing and close to the point where she is no longer facing you but instead, she is fully rotating into heel position. Now you are ready to start doodling.

Doodling means you start playing the game of heeling doing very tiny motions that prompt your dog to realign herself to find heel position and get a click and a treat. As your dog’s skill improves your steps can grow from inches to actual steps.

Another important game is to teach your dog to catch food while he or she is in heel position. You don’t want your dog to be looking for food on the floor you want her to be looking up at you. A great way to create this is to drop food from your hand directly into your dog’s mouth. While this may sound like a project to train it only takes a few sessions and is well worth the investment in time as the result will be much prettier.

Now finally you are ready to ask for your first step of heel. Ask your dog to sit and step into heel position next to your dog. Heel position is when your left leg and your dog’s right shoulder are in alignment. For additional help make a dog sandwich by using a wall or ring gating as a guide for your dog so that her options are limited, and it is easiest for her to stay in ideal heel position. You can fade the wall or ring gating by eventually heeling past the barrier in a straight line.

A fun cue to use for eye contact prior to heeling is “ready?” You can say “ready?” in a playful way and then click and reward your dog for eye contact.

Proofing your heeling is important if you plan to compete. Proofing means mildly distracting your dog while she is heeling. You can have a friend begin creating distractions, such as walking past you. Or you can create an alley of food or toys that you can heel next to and eventually cross. The idea is to build on success. If you fail, you are making it too hard for the dog. Decrease the distraction by 50% and try again.

When you reach ten steps of heeling, you can begin moving in large ovals. Competition obedience will require turns in both directions, but to start with ovals is easiest. You are building on success. If your dog tends to be kind of a slow poke or lag, spend additional time working straight lines until the dog has better heel position and add speeding up and slowing down so she really understands heel position and how she may need to speed up or slow down depending on what you are doing. Click and reward only for proper position. Once you no longer have lagging start to work on the oval to the left. The oval to the right will be harder for the lagging dog as putting the dog on the outside circle will exaggerate the lagging. This is not what you want. Always build on success. Skipping steps will only harm the end training result.

If your dog tends to move quickly or forge, you will start out heeling a large oval to the left. This will help keep your dog in proper heel position. Make sure your footsteps are being taken at a steady rhythm and that you are moving at a brisk pace. As usual we are setting up for success. Observe your footsteps in a mirror and determine if they are even and traveling in a straight line or on the oval path you intended. You will notice that it is easier to walk straight and take even steps if you go slowly, however heeling is more fun for the dog if you walk briskly, and for the dog that tends to forge a brisk pace is key.

At each training session play some proofing games. Can your dog take five steps of heel while your friend rolls a ball 10 feet away? No? How about 30 feet away? Find your dog’s success point, click and reward, and then slowly increase the difficulty of the proofs.

Teaching your dog to heel with attention is a process, but your reward will be a powerful feeling of unity. Heeling with attention can also be a great tool for managing dog aggression and other behavior problems. Aggressive dogs usually have a strong concern regarding other dogs or people near them. Teaching such a dog heeling with attention keeps the dog’s mind busy and can allow an owner to more safely pass by a triggering stimulus. In general, heeling with attention teaches the dog to focus on the owner which is always helpful in any kind of behavior modification program.

For more information on clicker training competition obedience, check out Silvia Trkman’s DVD Heeling is just another trick.

Happy heeling from the staff of Courteous Canine, Inc.!

Tampa Bay Times Interview: Dog’s good manners according to a Lutz expert

Dog’s good manners according to a Lutz expert

Originally published by the Tampa Bay Times here.

Angelica Steinker loved dogs early on.

“When I was little, I begged my parents for a brother or sister, and they said no and they got me a dog. And it all spiraled out of control from there,’’ she says.

Steinker is founder of Courteous Canine, Inc. in Lutz. The 20-year-old company offers basic manners training — no longer called obedience — as well as training for dog sport competitions, such as moving through obstacle courses. Steinker has three dogs, border collies Power and Particle and a Papillon named Moment. She takes them all to scent competitions, where dogs have to find scents hidden around a course.

Steinker, 55, talked about dogs and dog training with the Tampa Bay Times.


Read the answers to these questions by following the link below.

How smart are dogs?

What do dogs do for us?

What is the key to getting the dog to do what you want it to do? And do you also have to train the owners?

How do you train dogs not to be aggressive?

What would be an example?

What’s the best way to house train a puppy?

Read the Interview


Here’s Angie and her pup Power! But you missed the article link, right above this photo.