Category Archives: Dog Training

Play, Don’t Train

Play, Don’t Train

By Angelica Steinker, M.Ed., C.D.B.C, CAP2

Are your clients less motivated then you would like them to be? Stop telling them to train their dogs, and start telling them to play. It is often much easier to get them to be consistent when they are having fun. Are you feeling a little bored with your own dog’s training? Stop training, and start playing!

According to Dr. Pamela Reid, author of Excelerated Learning, play is a powerful way of altering a dog’s emotional state (personal communcation). Almost all of us desire a dog that is fun, affectionate, and playful. Play is the ticket to a happy dog and more fun in your own life. Many behavior problems can be rapidly resolved using play-training, and clients can get faster results. A win/win situation!

There are several reasons why play is a powerful way to teach your dog behaviors. When rewarding a dog with play, you can make the reward last as long as you want. This is a tremendous advantage. The dog doesn’t get full! Maybe tired, but not full.

Rewarding with play can make training self–control quick and easy. While playing with your dog, you can stop all movement and cue the dog to sit. After the dog sits, you can give the release cue and ask the dog to play again. This is a great way to practice sit, and teach the dog self-control at the same time. Politely sitting and holding that position gets the game started again.

A dog that knows how to play can usually be more easily counter-conditioned to ignore stimuli that she is fearful of. Play can be a very valuable tool in teaching a dog substitute behaviors: rather than barking and lunging at the other dog, you instead give me eye contact, and then I click and we play.

Playing rather than training is an easy sell, both the dog and the client have fun. Playing is often more reinforcing to clients than simply dispensing a cookie for a behavior. I admit this isn’t scientific, but our clients that play with their dogs report an increase in fun and bonding with their dogs.


Safety First

Use common sense, if the client’s dog is fearful or in any way presents aggressive then do not attempt playing with the dog. Fear is the bases for most aggression, so playing with a fearful dog is very effective in terms of modifying the fear, but is an advanced training skill. If you are not experienced working with fearful or aggressive dogs then you will want to pass on play training.

Clients rely on us to assess their dogs. I recommend only playing with dogs that you know well otherwise modifying all games for safety.

Not all the ideas for games I present may be recommended for all dogs or owners. All games should be on cue, so that the owner can clearly signal the start and end of the game. Do not play a game or recommend that clients play a game, if both the dog and persons will not be safe.


If the Dog Won’t Play

Assess why the dog does not play. There are three common reasons why a dog will not play. In some cases, the dog did not learn how to play as a puppy. Puppy mill dogs, pet store dogs, abused, and neglected dogs may never have learned to play, which is tremendously sad. Depending on the genetic makeup of the dog, on the dog’s resilience, and on the perseverance of the owner, it can take months but it will be worth all the effort. If the dog takes food, then simply pairing food with targeting a toy is a great start. From there you can shape the dog to pick up the toy, hold it, carry it, shake it, “kill” it, and so on.

The second reason can be that the owner doesn’t know how to play. This is also challenging, but usually fixable. Begin with helping the client to relax and get in a silly mood. Making jokes and kidding around can help loosen clients up. Read the person and adjust to what they need you to be, so you can help them get where they need to be. Observe your client as much as you observe the dog you are training. Once you have created a window of opportunity, expose the client to some fun games that can be played with the dog. Show the practicality of the games so the client can be sold on how fast play-training works and how powerful it is.

Often the easiest problem to fix is when the dog has just never been asked to play. I recently worked with a client who insisted her dog would not tug. Within literally seconds I had the dog tugging. The dog was very tug motivated but the owner had never been shown how to play tug with a dog. All her attempts at shoving the toy at the dog, or limply dangling it in front of the dog, got her a big yawn. My attitude was silly and my face one big smile, and within minutes the dog was a permanent member of Tuggers Anonymous.


If the Client Won’t Play

Just as we shape dog behavior, it is important to shape client behavior. If the client isn’t very fun in how she is playing, find the good things about their attempts at play, and reward them. Build the playing behavior just like you build a behavior chain in a dog.

If the client is resistant to play with the dog, model playful behavior: grab a toy, play with the dog, and then demonstrate how willing the dog is to work for you. Explain that this is the power of play and it is an ideal way to establish a reinforcement history very rapidly.

Just as we shape dog behavior, it is important to shape client behavior.

One of our trainers recently worked with a retriever that had been forcefully trained by the previous dog trainer the client had hired and fired. The client noted that the dog would not come to the previous trainer when she called him to her. Our trainer had the dog begging her to give her a cue within minutes. Simply by playing with the dog. Showing the dog that an offered behavior will be reinforced with play. With those kinds of results, it was easy to sell the client on click and play training.


What to Play


Tug! Tug is my all-time favorite play training game. For anyone who has not read Jean Donaldson’s great book the Culture Clash, it has been scientifically proven that tug does not cause aggression (Borchelt, et al.). If a dog with a stable temperament and growls while playing tug, that is usually a play growl. Make your own play growl noises and join in on the fun! Obviously be careful with dogs that have resource guarding issues.

To play tug, evaluate what type of toy movement is enticing to the dog you are playing with. Does this dog like slow toy movements? Does this dog like fast toy movements? Does this dog show interest if you move the toy back and forth? What gets the dog’s curiosity going? Entice. Observe. When playing tug, it is critical that the dog has the impression that he could conceivably grab the toy and get a hold on it. If the dog has no hope of being able to get the toy, the game may be over before it ever got started.

When you play tug it is ideal to move backwards so the dog is moving into you most of the time. There are a couple of reasons for this. Moving backwards makes the tug toy a little harder to get which can be a fun challenge to the dog, and it keeps the dog moving toward you, which is generally a good idea. Think of the recall.

Tease and entice by backing up, but always making it possible for her to grab the toy.

Once the dog grabs hold of the toy, resist the temptation to shove the toy into the dog’s mouth to try to get her to grab harder or intensify the play. Instead tease and entice by backing up but always making it possible for her to grab the toy.

Clearly it is not a good idea to have an elderly lady tug with her Irish Wolfhound, or to pull teeth out of a puppy’s mouth when he is too young to have such pressure on his mouth, but aside from these few exceptions, tug is a great game that can help you help clients attain their training goals.


Fetch! Playing fetch is a great way to keep dogs fit and to keep adolescent dogs out of trouble. Twenty minutes of fetch a day can sometimes make the difference between being euthanized at animal control or staying in a home. Almost all breeds require daily exercise. Teaching your clients to teach their dogs to fetch cannot only help save lives, it can tremendously improve the quality of the dog’s life. Play fetch for life!


Find It

Find it! “Find it” is a great mind activating game for a rainy day. If a client is less mobile it is a fun way for the client to play with their dog. “Find it” can be played by both toy and food motivated dogs quickly and easily. If the dog really enjoys the game, it can be used to reward desired behaviors. Find out what the dog likes and then use it to play. Be a fun detective!


Play, Don’t Train

So, you have your clients tugging, fetching, and hiding. Now what? Use these games to train. Pair the new games with your clicker. Tugging is an excellent reward for coming when called. Start at a short distance, have the owner hide the toy (no prompting please), call come, and then click and play! Any part of the dog’s recall can be clicked: the first step, the half way mark, or the last part. Just choose one part of the recall and click it and reward with tug. As the dog catches on to the game, increase the distance of the recall. Watch the dogs recall at light speed! Wear shin guards, and keep the business cards of a good chiropractor handy.

Playing fetch is a great way to train and proof sit, down, and stand cues. Ask your dog to sit, then throw the toy, then release her to it. Ask your dog to down, pretend to throw the toy several times, then click and feed her steak.


Author’s Note

These recommendations for “games” should be administered only to sound dogs; not those with even a hint of instability. Certainly any dog with an unknown background, or one with problems with reactivity, aggression, lack of confidence, etc. should be treated with extreme caution.


More Games To Play

Raspberries. With or without skin contact. Zoomie loves it if you blow a raspberry on his face. No matter where I am I can always make a raspberry even without making skin contact and therefore reward him or elicit a playful mood. Sit! Down! Release, raspberry!

My Min Pin Turbo, a rescue, loves shoelaces. Lucky me, I am usually wearing shoelaces so I have a toy no matter where I go. Turbo is also obsessed with hair scrunchies, and tugs on them like a crazy fiend, so that is another one that is handy. When I got Turbo, who was dumped for barking too much and being too hyper—the precise job description of a Min Pin—he would not play.

One of my favorite games is simply shoving and grabbing at my dogs. Many dogs with a good opposition reflex (or balancing reflex) really love this game. The truth is dogs, friends, and clients invent new games every day. Join us!


A version of this article was originally published in the APDT Chronicle of the Dog.

Is Your Dog Bored?

Is Your Dog Bored? Enrich Your Dog’s Life!

By Kimberly Archer, Dog Behavior Technician 


Have you ever wondered what a day is like through your dog’s eyes? You may wake up, have breakfast, catch up on the news, do work, socialize with coworkers, relax with your partner, eat dinner, watch TV or read a book, and maybe even do some more socializing at a restaurant or bar. How does this compare to the day your dog has? 

Many dogs have very simple lives: they wake up, eat, take a walk, nap, eat again, and sleep again. Though these dogs are still well loved and have a great time with their parents, there are many ways we can enrich the day for them. 

Enrichment is the process of providing your dog with mental and physical outlets which entertain and exercise them to give them a more fulfilling life. Often enrichment mimics activities which dogs would do in the wild to satisfy the needs, instincts, and desires that are not inherently satisfied by domesticated life with humans.

Mealtimedog using nose to push sliding puzzle blocks and find food

The first enrichment opportunity of the day is mealtime. There are many ways to feed your pup other than to just hand them a filled bowl. The options range from simple to challenging, free to costing money, and quick to more time-consuming to set up. These games are not only fun and interesting for your pup, but they also work out their brains: many dogs need to nap after these brain workouts!


Food Puzzle Toysdog with Kong in mouth

There are tons of fun food puzzle toys that you can put food in, from simple things like Kongs to fancier food puzzles that your pups have to solve. A Kong is a bee-hive shaped rubber toy with a hole inside it. You can fill this hole with food or with healthy snacks like mashed banana, and your pups will spend time slowly licking it like a popsicle. 
There are also “puzzle” games with different moving parts that you put food in. Your dog has to push, roll, and move around different pieces to solve the puzzle and get at the food. These puzzles come in a variety of difficulties so you can use the challenge level that best suits your dog. 


Free / DIY Food Puzzles dog with head in paper bag searcing for food

Get creative. Put their food in a cardboard box and encourage them to figure out how to get it out – yes, let them destroy it! Put food in paper towel rolls, inside a crumpled towel, scattered across the floor, in the grass, or in paper bags.


Searching Games

Hide their food and let them find it! Have your dog wait in a room or in a stay while you hide their food somewhere in the house, then let them have fun using their nose to find it. 


Trick Trainingdog standing tall for a trick

Use their food as trick training rewards! If you can spare a bit of extra time, breakfast is a great time to practice some trick training with your pup. Not only will this work out their brain like all of the other food games, but it will also increase your bond and training skills.


Many of us are very susceptible to impulse purchases when it comes to pet toys – we see a super cute plush duck that quacks, and we just have to get it for our fur baby. There’s nothing wrong with that! However, we should also make intentional pet toy purchases to ensure our dog has a good variety of toys to choose from. Rather than just considering quantity, we should also consider some other characteristics of the toys.


Noise dog with squeaky stuffed animal toy in mouth

Noise is the most obvious characteristic, and many of us already consider it. There are different types of sounds toys can make from simple squeaks to crinkling or animal noises. Listen to the different toys and try to offer your pup different options so they don’t all just sound like the same generic squeaking.


Texture dog with textured rope ball toy in mouth

Regardless of whether you have a super chewer, there are different texture and material options to choose from for your pet. Of course, you always want to keep safety in mind and never offer your dog something you know they will consume, but try to offer them a safe variety. Some different texture options are soft, squishy, ribbed, rough, hard, smooth, and flexible.


Playstyledog with rope toy in mouth

There are so many playstyle options both in how the toy is designed and in how you use it. Dogs that don’t enjoy balls may enjoy fetching a plushie, and dogs that don’t like ropes may prefer to tug with a squeaky toy. Try a variety of toys and use them in creative ways rather than just how they’re typically advertised. Types of playstyles and activity types include chasing, fetching, jumping, running, pawing, rolling, bouncing, chewing, sucking, licking, ripping, and noise making.


Prey Drive Toys

One specific type of toy is a toy that’s intended to cater to a dog’s prey drive. If your dog likes to chase things then they would probably love toys like this. The flirt pole is a great option: it looks like an oversized cat toy that you can spin around and move back and forth so your dog can chase it. One side is a pole that you hold, and the other end has a string with a toy dangling from it.


Dog sports can be tiring for us, but they’re even more tiring and enriching for your pup. There are many different categories of sports which your dog may enjoy and that don’t necessarily require a commitment: many places like Courteous Canine Inc. offer classes and private sessions where you can learn and play various dog sports, whether you want to compete or just have some fun.


Waterdog jumping from dock into swimming pool

Water sports offer everything from dock jumping for length, to retrieving a toy in the air, to getting a toy as quick as possible, or even just swimming. Other places like the beach can be great spots to take your dog, but ensure you discuss water safety with your veterinarian. 



Similar to finding treats, you can teach your dog to find a certain scent (like birch or clove) and challenge them to find that scent in a room or even outside. There are also tracking trials that mimic a search and rescue. Though this sport is more mental than physical, they’ll surely be exhausted afterward from working out their brain.


Lure Coursingthree dogs running to chase a lure

Like the flirt pole but on a large course, in lure coursing a lure (simulating a toy or animal) is quickly moved around a course by pulleys as your dog chases it. This is a great burst of high-speed running that dogs don’t usually have an outlet for.


Discdog with a disc (frisbee) toy in mouth

There are many different disc (think frisbee) sports that range from distance to more performative like dancing. With the range of options you’ll be able to find one that suits both your and your dog’s physical ability and skill.



If you’re into dancing but not discs, in canine freestyle you choreograph a dance with your dog and together use movement and tricks to finish a dance routine. 


Agilitydog running through agility tunnel

Agility has many specially designed obstacles which test certain physical and mental skills of your dog such as balance, speed, strength, and patience. This is a great whole-body workout.


Flyballdog jumping over hurdles playing flyball

If your dog is into jumping but nothing else, consider flyball. Flyball is a race for your pup to jump over hurdles to retrieve a ball and quickly bring that ball back to you.


Herdingdog herding four sheep

Herding dogs like Border Collies and Australian Shepherds are known to try to herd children and bikers, but a safer way to cater to this natural herding instinct is by actually herding! Don’t worry if you don’t own acres of land to house your own sheep, because there are facilities that specifically host herding lessons and trials for this reason.

Other Activities

There are many other activities that can provide enrichment similar to sports, ranging from more mental to more physical. 


Nature Trailsdog running on dirt nature trail

Nature offers many different opportunities to hike, run, bike, and explore so try getting in touch with nature with your best furry friend!



If your dog tries to sniff on your walks, take them on sniff-walks! Go somewhere or at a time there are fewer people and dogs around, use a longer leash if safe, and walk extra slowly so your dog can sniff everything around you. Bonus points if you bring them somewhere with fun smells like a park or a garden. 


Socializingtwo dogs sitting together

Find ways to socialize your pup with other pups so they can have a social life as rich as yours. For safety reasons, we recommend against dog parks, so if you’re not sure what to do instead feel free to read our article Say No to Dog Parks which offers safe socialization alternatives.

Getting Started

We’ve discussed many different options here, so try to consider the types of things your dog already enjoys doing – for example sniffing and chasing – and choose a few options that would best cater to those interests. If you need any help figuring that out or getting started, feel free to email us at, and we’d be happy to help! Or sign up for our Boredom Busters class which offers many more enrichment ideas!


The Truth About Dominance Theory

The Truth About Dominance Theory

By Angelica Steinker, M.Ed., C.D.B.C, CAP2


The truth is there is nothing noble in being superior to another being. The only real nobility is in being superior to your former self.

-Whitney Young, Civil Rights Leader


What is dominance theory? 

As humans we view the dominant animal as superior. Labeling one being as superior causes problems, both in human relationships and in dog and human relationships. A famous study showed how labeling normal college students into two groups, one superior to the other, caused the powerful group of students to become abusive of their classmates. This same dynamic occurs when humans are labeled as being superior to dogs. It seems that an ideal solution to dog and human challenges is to acknowledge that we are different. Dogs don’t do calculus, but we can’t smell a drop of blood in a gallon of water either! 

So what is this dominance thing all about? Social dominance theory only applies to one aspect of dog life: conflict. What social dominance theory predicts is the outcome of conflicts. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to be in conflict with dogs. It seems most people get a dog for companionship, not to have an argument. Social dominance behaviors allow dogs to resolve conflict in a more friendly way, ideally preventing aggression. 


Dangers of Labeling 

When you use the word dominant to describe a dog you may mean one thing but another person may mean it to be something entirely different. In addition when people label a dog as dominant it is often thought that violence is the only solution to make the dog submissive. When the frightened dog cowers the situation is misunderstood as the dog signaling submission, when the dog is actually signaling fear. This is why labeling is potentially destructive. 

The most dangerous problem with labeling could be that some dogs, already in need of behavior modification, may become aggressive when humans interact with them using force or violence. Or even worse, the aggressive dog may be intimidated and the aggression will slumber until it is triggered possibly without any warning signs. Aggression without any warning signs is very dangerous to humans. 

It is easy to avoid labels by simply describing the behavior that you are seeing. This is the ideal way to communicate about a dog’s behavior. 


Dominance Within Species 

The original intent of the scientists who came up with dominance theory was to use it to describe interactions and explain and predict patterns of conflict resolution within a society-forming group of animals. The concept of social dominance deals with social relationships and was originally developed for bees, then chickens, and eventually applied to other species including wolves. Dog trainers of the 1930’s and 1950’s used their interpretation of the wolf research to try to understand dogs. These people were not professional researchers; they simply invented ideas and concepts based on what they had read about wolves. Obviously, this would lead to some serious problems in terms of being accurate. The amazing thing is that much of the misinformation is still being passed around today.

Unfortunately even many professional trainers have failed to update their education and continue to circulate inaccurate information.

Another huge problem with using wolves to describe dog behavior is that dogs are descended from wolves. Dogs are domesticated, which is a genetic process that makes them very different from wolves. Ask anyone who has tried to train a wolf, and you will hear many stories of how tremendously challenging they are to deal with. 


The Alpha 

Dominance theory predicts that all the animals in a wolf pack form a linear hierarchy. Early wolf researchers added the concept of wolf packs having one male and one female “alpha”. These alpha animals are allowed special privileges and access to resources that others are not. However, there are numerous problems with this concept. 

Wolf researchers now know that wolves form family units, pups defer and are dependent on parents, and wolf parents engage in different roles, which help the pack survive. It is a cooperative living situation, not a dictatorship. 

Yet unfortunately for dogs, the concept of dominance communicates to many humans that they must be masters over their dog and that dogs must obey. This leads many dog-human relationships to the path of force and violence. 

Just say no to violence and focus on the love that you and your dog have for each other!

According to linear social dominance theory the alpha wolf always wins all fights over other members of the pack, the beta loses fights to no one but the alpha and so on until the omega which is the wolf considered least likely to win any fights. Researchers agree that the terms “alpha”,“beta,” and so on are “inappropriate for typical [wolf] packs consisting of parents and offspring. … The linear [social] dominance hierarchy concept has been adopted and perpetuated by popular educational materials about wolves. … However, in most wolf packs, family dynamics are more complex (Mech, 2003).” 

Packard recommends considering variation in individual temperaments, as well as mood. She goes on to say,“The autocratic leading wolf does not exist (Mech, 2003).” According to Packard, wolves live in groups that are “qualified democracies (Mech, 2003).”



Most of us have heard the terms alpha roll and scruff shake. Here are the facts. There is absolutely no scientific evidence that alpha rolls or scruff shakes are useful dog training techniques. 

There is evidence that positive punishment (the scientific term for what alpha rolls and scruff shakes are meant to achieve) damages your bond with your dog and may cause stress or even aggression. The originally observed alpha roll was actually a submissive wolf offering his or her belly rather than being forcibly bowled over. Unfortunately for dogs, the alpha roll became popular world-wide. To this day, misguided humans alpha roll dogs thinking they are showing their dominance. In reality, alpha rolls and scruff shakes frighten dogs and may cause some to become aggressive and bite. 

Gradually it became known in professional dog training circles that alpha rolls were not  effective dog training. Yet many trainers cling to the disproved methods either unable or unwilling to adjust their behavior. Now that you have read this article, you can educate them! 

Scruff shakes are used by wolves and dogs to communicate or to kill prey. Tactile communication of wolves is an area relatively unexplored by research so it is unknown what exactly a wolf may be communicating when she grabs her pups by the scruff and gives them a light shake. Other scruff grabbing and shaking behaviors are very easy to understand; they are intended to break the neck of prey, so that they can be consumed. If you grab the scruff of your dog’s neck and shake her, you risk that you scare her and that she bites you. 

According to dog training historian Glenn Martyn, the origin of the scruff shake and alpha roll appears to be from dog training literature in both Northern American and English dog training books of the 1930-1950’s. That was a long time ago; it’s time to get updated!


Punishment Temporarily Stops Behavior

If you have tried alpha rolling or scruff shaking your dog, you may want to argue that it appears to work.

Here is why – both scruff shakes and alpha rolls intimidate the dog. In most dogs, this will cause a freeze response or gesturing of stress signals which are communicating that the dog means not harm. In other words, your scruff shake or alpha roll is aggressive toward the dog and most dogs will respond by stopping what they are doing and signaling that they mean no harm. 

But the plot thickens! When a dog momentarily stops an unwanted behavior, humans are rewarded so they will likely repeat the scruff shaking or alpha rolling. The dog has learned nothing but to fear the human and the human thinks it is working so keeps repeating it. This is a vicious cycle that can and has ended tragically for many dogs and families.

The dog has learned nothing but to fear the human


Muzzle Grabbing 

Another myth states that a human can demonstrate dominance to a dog by grabbing the dog’s muzzle. However, according to wolf researcher Packard, the muzzle grab may actually be a cohesive behavior rather than communicating conflict. This is based on researchers observing that pups are not afraid of parents who muzzle grabbed them and that the muzzle grabbing is followed by the pup moving closer and engaging in affiliative behaviors. In contrast, a human roughly grabbing a dog’s muzzle may frighten a dog and lead to a bite. If your dog does not object to having her muzzle grabbed then you are doing the equivalent of saying hello! 


Myth Busting 

Here is information on common myths in dog training and behavior: 


MYTH: Dogs should walk behind their owners on walks. 

TRUTH: Your dog’s position to you on a walk does not create dominance.


MYTH: In order to be dominant, you must walk in front of the dog on walks. 

TRUTH: There is no scientific evidence that the animal walking in front is dominant, rather who is socially dominant would depend on the situation. Tens of thousands of people world-wide teach their dogs to do obedience, frisbee, herding, flyball, and agility. In all of these sports, the dog is sent ahead of the human in a variety of different situations. To say that these dogs, who are better trained than the vast majority of pet dogs, are all socially dominant over their trainers is illogical. 


MYTH: In order to be dominant, you must walk through doorways ahead of the dog. 

TRUTH: Again, there is no evidence that this affects dominance. Teaching your dog to politely wait at doorways will make your dog easier to live with, but it will not give you “dominance brownie points”. 


MYTH: In order to be dominant, you must eat before the dog eats.

TRUTH: Again, there is no scientific evidence to support this claim. To be helpful, concepts presented by a dog trainer must be logical. If you eat before your dog eats, then after your dog eats, and you will eat again at the next meal, does this mean that the dog actually ate before you ate? Maybe the rule of eating first would be effective in establishing social dominance if you and your dog ate from the same plate, but without an actual study, we can’t say for sure. I love my dog, but we are not eating from the same plate!







MYTH: A female that lifts her leg when urinating is dominant. 

TRUTH: Keep in mind that dominance is about conflict. In this scenario what exactly is the dog in conflict with? Her urine? The grass? Is urinating a conflict? Clearly, it is a bodily mechanism that eliminates waste and can have a marking function, but it is impossible for a dog to have conflict with objects. In reality, it is probable that a leg lifting female may have been partially masculinized in the uterus by being sandwiched between two male puppies and, as a result, flooded with testosterone. 


MYTH: If a dog chews or urinates on an object, she is trying to dominate that object. 

TRUTH: Again, there is no relationship here and no conflict over a perceived resource, so social dominance theory does not apply. 


MYTH: Playing or letting the dog win at tug-o-war will make your dog dominant and aggressive. 

TRUTH: There is an actual study that was done on playing tug. The study found no connection between tugging and aggression. Turns out, tug is just a game. Another study found that letting your dog win at playing tug increased motivation for the game of tug. No dogs playing tug or winning at tug were found holding researchers captive or plotting a takeover. 


MYTH: A dog that fails to perform a cue is being dominant (or stubborn) and needs a correction. 

TRUTH: The relationship here would be between human and dog. The conflict is presumably over the performance of a cue, however the problem is that there are many reasons for why a dog may not comply with a cue: not feeling well, poor training, poor handling, confusing training, lack of generalization training, and so on. It is much more probable that the reason for a lack of compliance is connected to our training than a dog’s secret plot to take over. Although I do think that my Papillon is plotting to take over the world; prepare now or you will be doomed. 

Not feeling well 

Poor training 

Poor handling 

Confusing training 

Lack of generalization training 

…and more!



The Role of Leadership 

Dominance is equated with exertion of influence and control. Submission is viewed as losing and possibly death. There is a problem with this. Wolves could not survive without each other; every member in a pack plays an important role and all are interdependent on each other. A true partnership can’t exist in a relationship where one being is considered superior (dominant) to another. 

We are all interdependent on each other. We are most effective when working as a team. Be a team with your dog! As Dee Ganley, CABC, author of Teaching People, Teaching Dogs puts it,“I feel the human dog relationship is like dancing. Sometimes I lead and other times the dog does!” 

*Social dominance is an ethological theory of conflict management in society forming species. This theory has common interpretations in the area of dog training. I will be addressing the false information commonly spread by some dog trainers.


Recommended Reading & Resources 

Duman, B. (2011, July 7). Letting Go Of Dominance. Dogs Naturally. 

Mech, D.L., Boitani, L. (2003). Wolves Behavior, Ecology, and Conservation. The University of Chicago Press. 

O’Heare, J. (2017). Aggressive behavior in dogs: A comprehensive technical manual for professionals. Dogwise Publishing. 

O’Heare, J. (2003). Dominance Theory and Dogs. DogPsych. 

Overall, K. L. (n.d.). Aggression: Treatment Options. ACVC 2001. 

Rooney, N. J., & Bradshaw, J. W. (2003). Links between play and dominance and attachment dimensions of dog-human relationships. Journal of applied animal welfare science, 6(2), 67-94. 

Sidman, M. (1989). Coercion and its fallout. Boston: Authors Cooperative. 



A special thank you to both Beth Duman and James O’Heare, CABC, for help with this article. Appreciation to Ann P. Fox (Obi) for comment. This article is dedicated to Russell, now Mak, a fearful dog that was labeled dominant and nearly killed as a result.

Preparing Your Dog For Your New Baby

Preparing Your Dog For Your New Baby

By Heather Gibbs, CPDT-KA, ABCDT, SBA


Preparing for a new baby’s arrival can be an exciting and stressful time for all family members  involved – especially your dog! This article from Courteous Canine, Inc. contains information about how to prepare your dog for your new baby. 

For questions and training services to prepare your dog for your new baby, please contact Courteous Canine, Inc. at or 813-949-1465. 

Create a Plan

Make a plan to gradually train your dog in anticipation of your baby’s arrival. Your dog will experience new sights, sounds, smells, and will likely experience a change in their usual schedule when your baby arrives. 

All of these sudden changes may cause stress to your dog. To help reduce these stressors, begin gradually introducing these new schedule changes before your baby arrives. 

Dog Walkers

Consider enlisting the help of an in-home pet sitting or dog walking professional to help maintain your dog’s exercise and play routines during the first few weeks of your baby’s arrival. This can help to reduce your dog’s stress during this time.

Helpful Behaviors

There are several helpful behaviors for your dog to know: Behaviors like sit, down, come, stay, leave it, and drop it can be incredibly helpful for any pup to know. 

These behaviors are particularly beneficial when communicating with your dog around a new baby. 

Consider seeking the help of a certified professional trainer to work on accomplishing these training goals. 

Practice with a Baby Doll

While your pup may not recognize a baby doll in the same way as they will your child, the doll can be a help during the training process above. By allowing your dog to practice cues such as down, stay, and leave it while you are holding and moving the doll, you are setting your dog up for success for the future. 

These distractions should only be added to training sessions gradually, when your pup has a strong understanding of their obedience cues without distractions present. 

New Sights, Sounds, & Smells

Pair positive experiences for your dog, like play time and tasty treats, with new items and smells. Food can be one of the strongest ways to improve a dog’s response to new things, like a stroller or crib. 

Play sounds found online of babies crying at a low volume while engaging your dog in positive play and treat games. 

If your dog appears distressed by any of these exercises, reduce the difficulty and seek the guidance from a qualified, professional positive trainer. 

Personal Space

Baby gates and pens can be helpful ways to give your dog and child their own space during meal times and play time. 

Children should always be supervised and never left unattended with your dog. 

As your child grows older, children should be taught to leave your dog’s toys and food bowls alone. 

If you experience any behavior concerns with your dog guarding their resources, seek the help of a qualified positive trainer immediately for a personalized training and management plan. 

Boredom Busters for Your Dog

Give your dog puzzle feeder toys, like a “snuffle mat” or KONG dog toy, filled with tasty treats and food items. This is a great way for any pup to exercise their mind and help relax them. These items should only be given to your dog out of reach from your new baby. 

For a full list of games and enrichment ideas for your dog, check back for our upcoming article Boredom Busters & Brain Games or join our class of the same name.

Have Patience With Your Pup

Give your pup some love and attention! Welcoming a new baby into your home comes with its own stressors and excitement for everyone. 

Have patience with your dog and be sure to provide them with lots of comfort and attention. 

If you experience any behavior or training concerns with your pup during this transition, seek the help of a certified, positive trainer. 


About the author

Heather Gibbs, CPDT-KA, ABCDT, SBA

Heather is the Business Manager and a Behavior Consultant for Courteous Canine, Inc., a force free dog training school in Lutz, Florida that also offers sport training, behavior consultations, board-and-train, day care, and pet sitting. For more information, visit

© Courteous Canine, Inc. 2021

Pitfalls of Punishment

Author’s Note:

Positive punishment is when you add something unpleasant when an undesirable behavior is displayed to discourage that behavior.

Negative punishment
is when you take away something pleasant when an undesirable behavior is displayed to discourage that behavior.

Positive reinforcement
is the addition of something pleasant when a desired behavior is displayed to encourage that behavior.

Negative reinforcement
is the removal of something unpleasant when the desired behavior is displayed to encourage that behavior.


Positive punishment:
Spanking a child when they talk back

Negative Punishment:
Getting your rights taken away after committing a crime

Positive Reinforcement:
Getting a raise when you perform well

Negative Reinforcement:
Annoying dinging in car stops when you put on your seat belt

Positive punishment is most easily associated with the punisher. It is the use of positive punishment and the deliberate application of negative reinforcement that needs to be avoided. Negative punishment causes less “fall out”. (Sidman, Murray, Coercion and Its Fallout).

Punishment is Familiar

As people and trainers we tend to gravitate toward what we find familiar

The subject of punishment is a sensitive topic because we have all experienced being punished and we have all punished. Due to our knowledge that punishment is unpleasant it is uncomfortable to think about exactly how we use punishment.

However, punishment is familiar and as people and trainers we tend to gravitate toward what we find familiar as this is much easier than coming up with new ideas.

Punishment Begets Punishment

Punishment is popular – in our society we are surrounded by it. Managers use punishment to control employees, teachers use it to discourage misbehavior in the classroom; this popularity of punishment makes it seem like using punishment is acceptable.

The thirst for punishment seems to be driven by people’s desire to control, ironic considering people actually control very little. The very fact that all of us are almost always at a loss of control seems to be the driving force behind the need for control. The best dog trainers seek perfection, and it is this desire for perfection that can cause a desire to totally control their dogs. On the surface this concept of “total control of the dog” sounds ideal, the trainer gets total obedience and the dog gets rewards. However, invariably the dog will make errors. These errors clash with the concept of total control and can pave a road to the use of punishment.

The thirst for punishment seems to be driven by people’s desire to control

We are conditioned to notice errors – when exceptional behavior goes unnoticed, we cannot reinforce it.

While each individual is responsible for how they choose to train their dog, society has primed us to choose punishment. As young children the conditioning begins in school when errors are marked in red. We are conditioned to have laser-error-vision which is programmed to see errors rather than exceptional behavior. When exceptional behavior goes unnoticed or is taken for granted the opportunity to reinforce it has passed.

Another dynamic intertwined with punishment is blame. Blaming is fun because it means that somebody else is at fault so someone else will suffer for the error. First you blame, then you punish.

But I was Punished

While we were growing up we all experienced punishment. This leads to pro-punishment thoughts such as, “but I was punished and I turned out okay”. People do not turn out okay because of punishment – this is a gross oversimplification of a highly complex process. People turn out okay because they are taught values that are in alignment with most of society’s values. People turn out okay because they choose to behave in a decent way.


Punishing is Self-Reinforcing

When a trainer uses punishment it is reinforcing to the trainer in several ways:

  • Punishment elicits strong responses from dogs so the effect seems powerful to the punisher.
  • Anyone watching is likely to be impressed by the dramatic reactions of the dog which is reinforcing to the punisher.
  • Trainer has made the decision to punish, this is empowering and reinforcing to the trainer.
  • If the trainer is feeling frustrated the punishment will have a cathartic effect. The act of punishment is a release of the frustrated feelings and therewith reinforcing to the trainer.
  • It does not require any creative thought or problem solving. It is easier for the trainer to use punishment, than using reinforcement.

In addition, punishment is frequently referred to as “the only thing that works.” The reason punishment is the “only thing that works” is because the trainer has not chosen to put forth the extra effort required to find the proper reinforcement that would be effective for that particular dog. In other words, punishment-training techniques have been practiced more than reinforcement techniques, so trainers are more likely to have better punishment skills than reinforcement skills.

All this ensures that trainers using punishment will never be sure whether they are using it because it truly was the last resort or because they have a history of being reinforced for using punishment. (Murray Sidman, Coercion and its Fallout)

Arguments for Punishment

Traditional trainers, trainers who use choke collars and leash corrections, insist that correction-based training is both faster and more effective. However, both punishment and reinforcement require appropriate timing to be effective. Experienced trainers know what type of punishment will invoke the best results. Consequently, a lot of trainers lack the knowledge of how to creatively use reinforcement. This is one reason why some

trainers find correction-based training to be quicker. For them it is quicker because they choose not to take the time to learn the reinforcement techniques that would lead to the same results.

Punishment is only quicker because trainers choose not to take the time to learn how to use reinforcement techniques effectively.

Both corrections and reinforcement require appropriate timing. A poorly timed leash correction will be ineffective. Poorly timed reinforcement will also confuse the dog the dog. The difference in outcome between these two training techniques is that the incorrectly rewarded dog is less likely to quit working, react stressed, or develop a poor attitude, as the improperly corrected dog may.

Punishment Causes Countercontrol

Nothing is free – the use of punishment comes with a price. Extreme punishment causes seemingly insane behavior. Several years ago there was a shocking story of a circus elephant that “went mad” and attacked its handler and trampled spectators before it was shot to death on the street. In a follow up story, it was announced that the elephant’s trainer had used cruel training techniques. Many examples of the resulting dogs with horrid behaviors caused by excessive punishment can be witnessed at any local animal shelter.

Punished animals will tolerate the punishment to a point. This point is known as the punishment threshold. When the threshold is crossed the animal swings into countercontrol. Countercontrol is usually aggression. People then control this countercontrol with the ultimate punishment of killing the animal. When it comes to control, nothing works better than killing. (Murray Sidman, Coercion and its Fallout)

The bottom line is that punishment erodes your bond with your dog. Likewise positive reinforcement strengthens that bond. It is important not to confuse the submissive licking and

Punishment erodes your bond with your dog while positive reinforcement strengthens that bond

groveling of a punished dog with bonding. A physically or verbally corrected dog will frequently lick the face of the person who just punished them. This is not bonding. The dog does this to signal submission – they lick you to show you that they are not a threat to encourage you to stop harming them. 

Dogs that are shocked will develop a tolerance to shock so the trainer will increase the shock and hurt the dog more

Both punishment and reinforcement are subject to desensitization. This means that when a trainer resorts to the use of a shock collar, if that collar is used to administer a great deal of shocks the shocks will need to become stronger in order to be effective. Dogs that are shocked will develop a tolerance for being shocked. The opposite can also occur, this means that the shocked dog sensitizes to the shocks and actually reacts stronger to the punishment. This sensitizing response can trigger panic. (Pamela Reid, Excel-Erated Learning)

The fact that dogs can desensitize to the use of a shock collar can then lead to abuse. The same process of desensitization can occur with other forms of punishment. A swat becomes a slap, a slap becomes a smack, a smack becomes a kick, and so on.


Reinforcement is subject to the same dynamic of desensitization. If a trainer always gives the dog, the same treat in the same way the treat will become less effective. This is one reason that if a trainer chooses to train with food the dog should be hungry during training times and the food should be varied. (Karen Pryor, Don’t Shoot the Dog)

Punishment Means the Dog is at Fault

Human logic dictates that fair punishment is the result of mistakes on the dog’s part. However, the dog’s mistake could be caused by many other factors, some of these are:

  • Learning has not generalized – what you have taught them is not understood in various contexts
  • Cue was not sufficiently proofed – something else is more interesting to the dog
  • Distraction was too overwhelming to the dog. Dog was set up for failure.
  • Dog does not feel well.
  • Dog is confused.
  • Dog has misunderstood.
  • Dog forgot.
  • Training is poor.
  • Dog was not paying attention – trainer needs to work on attention.
The reality is that the mistakes are either training or handling related. (Sheila Booth, Purely Positive). If the trainer is at fault, the trainer can easily make the changes required. The trainer changes his behavior rather than blames the dog. The trainer is in control. This process also assumes that the dog is intelligent enough to learn and intelligent enough to misunderstand or become confused. It is clear that the dog’s errors are the trainer’s responsibility.

Mistakes are training or handling related, not the dog’s fault

Is Punishment Stronger than Reinforcement?

Punishment elicits dramatic results. A dog that is shocked is highly motivated by the pain she has received to avoid further shocking. A dog that is beaten for messing in the house will go to extreme measures, such as eating her stool, to avoid future beatings. All this evidence suggests that punishment is simply stronger than reinforcement.

punishment will never strengthen a dog’s bond with his owner

However, punishment will never strengthen a dog’s bond with his owner. It is that bond that is proof that Reinforcement is stronger than Punishment.

Creativity and out-thinking your dog are more work than a quick pop. If more trainers chose to dream up doggie-reinforcement-fantasies all dogs and trainers would benefit. Dogs are amoral; we are not. Who has the moral obligation to try to do better?  


Coercion and its Fallout by Murray Sidman.
Don’t Shoot the Dog by Karen Pryor.
So Your Dog is Not Lassie by Betty Fisher and Suzanne Delzio.
Behavior Problems in Dogs by William Campbell.
Train Your Dog the Lazy Way by Andrea Arden.
Culture Clash by Jean Donaldson.
Dogs are from Neptune by Jean Donaldson.
The Man Who Listens to Horses by Monty Roberts
Purely Positive by Sheila Booth.
Excel-Erated Learning: How dogs learn and how best to teach them by Pamela J. Reid.
“Of Hostages and Relationships” by Suzanne Clothier,
“The shocking truth about shock collars” Animal Behavior site
*A version of this article was published in APDT Chronicle of The Dog