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Bear is a 6 month-old Labradoodle.


Favorite Activity:
Joining the family for rides in the van.


Life's Ambition:
To wear all the shoes she has stolen.


Favorite Socialization Spot:
The children's bus stop.


OS Certified Trainer™:
Patti Hight of WOOFS! Dog Training Center LLC.


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Empowering Our Students With Skills

Written by Tia Guest

Tia Guest with her dogsTeaching pet owners has for years been a source of fulfillment in my life. I love seeing the happiness—of both handlers and dogs—as they develop the ability to communicate across species, and as they ultimately deepen their relationships.

Dual Roles


When I present to professional dog trainers, I like to ask, “How many of you teach pet owners?” and then, “How many of you train trainers?” I believe that these roles are one in the same, so I expect to see the same number of hands in response to both questions. Yet I always see fewer hands in response to the second question—many trainers see themselves only in the first role.

I submit that as teachers to pet owners we are training trainers. Not professional trainers, but trainers to their pets. What we can teach our students goes well beyond a few basic behaviors. Of course we teach the typical cues: sit, lie down, come. But we also teach training skills. And by instilling these skills, we empower our students to think and train on their own.

Skills Build Confidence


Think back to a new skill you’ve learned. I remember when I first learned to snow ski. At first it felt like I would never get it; there was so much to learn, and boy did I feel klutzy! But by practicing the individual pieces—how to turn, slow down, and, most importantly, stop!—I developed a level of confidence before that first trip to the top of the bunny hill. Even though I rarely ski these days, when I do those skills are still with me. I may feel rusty at first, but in no time at all I’m getting air. Okay, I’m exaggerating, but in no time at all I am feeling confident in my ability to ski the slopes. I am able to do this because I have skills to draw on.

As professional dog trainers we can empower our pet-owner students with skills. The mechanical skills of clicker training are great example of skills we can supply. New trainers need to get comfortable with the physical process of clicker training: observing behavior, marking the behavior as it’s occurring, reinforcing quickly and cleanly.

"Just as we do for dogs, we must break down the behaviors we’re teaching pet owners into small, easy-to-achieve pieces. Mechanical skills can be taught at orientation, before the dog is in the picture. This way our students can focus on their own skills, without the added distraction of a dog. Once they get comfortable, they’ve got it!"


Learning to build new behaviors through targeting is another valuable skill. When students experience the process of getting new behaviors started with targeting, then fading the target as they introduce a cue, they are developing skills they can use to build any number of new behaviors.

The recall is an excellent example of a behavior that can be built by targeting. I instruct students how to teach a “nose-touch to palm” behavior; over time, students can build this behavior into a reliable recall, building distance and distraction into their practice until they have developed a fluent behavior.

As students begin to work with their dogs to train new behaviors, they can draw on any of the skills they have learned and mastered earlier. As a result, they are confident in their abilities to see, mark, and reinforce the behaviors they would like their dog to repeat. They are also ready to create training plans to build new behaviors.

We are teaching pet owners skills that they can draw on again and again, any time they encounter a new training challenge. By focusing on skills first, before behaviors, students have confidence. With confidence comes motivation, and with motivation, success.

Tia Guest is the Program Director for Karen Pryor Academy. She is Certified Pet Dog Trainer (CPDT-KA), an Associate Dog Behavior Consultant with the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants, and a Canine Good Citizen Evaluator. Tia is a graduate of the Exotic Animal Training & Management Program at Moorpark College in California, where she clicker trained animals ranging from rats to big cats. Tia’s own dogs compete in agility, and offer training demonstrations and entertainment at schools and animal events.

The Ins and Outs of Socializing Puppies to Children

Written by Helen Nicholls

Helen Nicholls Bio photoExposing your new puppy to children is a very important, but often overlooked, area of socialization. However, it is not always an easy, straight-forward process. Here are some things to keep in mind to help ensure your puppy becomes familiar with and happy around children:

Socialize your puppy to children of all ages. Developmental changes in kids happen quickly. Infants make loud sounds, toddlers make unpredictable movements and lack impulse control, and a 5 year-old girl is very different from a 9 year-old boy. Socializing your puppy to your friends’ children is a great start, but don’t stop there. Be sure to cover all bases so your puppy becomes familiar with many different types of children.

Find a venue and prepare ahead. Soccer games, playgrounds and friends’ houses are great places to have your puppy meet and socialize with children. Showing up a few minutes early, without your puppy, will help you determine the best place to sit, the types of children in attendance, and the best strategy for positive introductions.

Focus on quality, not just quantity. Over-socialization or unpleasant socialization can be just as bad as insufficient socialization. Taking your puppy to the local soccer game and letting 10 children pet him at once may be overwhelming, and in some cases actually undermine the socialization process. Sit in an area where you can monitor how many children approach your puppy and end the session before your puppy can get overwhelmed or over stimulated.  

Go at your puppy’s pace.  If your puppy is nervous around children, it is important to build up his confidence slowly. Begin the process by playing sounds of children while at home and pairing it with something positive like food or play. Next, determine how close your puppy can be to children and still be comfortable. Then begin pairing fun activities like playing or eating treats with your puppy seeing children at his comfortable distance. Gradually decrease the distance between your puppy and children as his confidence grows. If your puppy is fearful of kids, consult a professional, positive reinforcement dog trainer to help you with this process.

Supervision is key. It is imperative that children and puppies never be left alone without adult supervision. You don't want your puppy to accidentally harm your child or vice versa.  If you have to leave the room, bring the puppy with you or put him away in a child and puppy proof area.

Monitor and Manage Interactions. Here are some “dos and don'ts” that will help make socializing your puppy to children go as smoothly as possible:


  • DO have an adult around to supervise the child participating in the introduction. You’ll be able to focus on your puppy and you’ll find that an extra set of hands guiding the child is very helpful.
  • DO teach your puppy a simple exercise like hand targeting. Hand targeting is easy for children of many ages and skill levels to cue and it keeps your puppy from developing bad habits like jumping or mouthing.
  • DO deliver treats to your puppy yourself or ask children to toss treats on the ground near your puppy so he doesn't learn to "mug" food from their hands. 
  • DO know when to walk away from a situation that could be detrimental to the socialization process. If you know your puppy will get too excited, or that a child is going to be too much for your puppy, kindly (and in some cases firmly) say “no” and move away.


  • DON'T force your puppy to interact with a child if he doesn't want to.
  • DON'T allow kids to pick up, hug, or heavily pet your puppy. Puppies that are exposed to this can learn that children are no fun and the best thing to do is avoid them all together—or worse. 
  • DON'T allow your puppy to interact roughly with kids. That includes nipping, chasing, biting, etc. When kids are running or wrestling, redirect your puppy with some obedience work, a game, an interactive toy, or put him away in a puppy-proof area that your child cannot access to prevent him from practicing bad behavior. 
  • DON'T punish your puppy for growling or snapping at a child, instead, get help from a qualified professional dog trainer as soon as possible.  

Socializing your puppy to children is a lot of fun. Not only are you teaching your puppy that children are wonderful, but when you educate a child on proper dog etiquette and safety, you are doing your part in preventing child-dog bites. Please remember that if you are having difficulty or are struggling during the socialization process, consult a professional, positive dog trainer as soon as possible.

Helen Nicholls is the owner and operator of No Monkey Business Dog Training. Based in Concord, New Hampshire, she is a Certified Professional Dog Trainer - Knowledge and Skills Assessed, a Certified Dog Behavior Consultant and an OPERATION SOCIALIZATION Certified Trainer. Helen is also the Assistant Director to Family Paws Parent Education Programs, a licensed Dogs and Storks presenter, and a licensed Dog and Baby Connections presenter. Helen loves spending time with her husband, their 18 month-old daughter Grace, and their three dogs, Atlas, Merlin, and Sweet Pea.

Are You Covered? Part Two: Contracts and Waivers

Written by Heidi Meinzer

Heidi and SophieIn the first part of this series, we looked at how insurance is a cost effective way to protect your business.  But insurance is only one of the many tools at your disposal.  A solid, carefully drafted contract is an absolute must for any trainer – particularly if you work with dogs who may be aggressive or have other behavior issues.

The Basics of a Written Contract

A written contract lays out precisely what the terms, scope of services and payment will be.   The contract gives you a chance to make it very clear what is expected of you– and what cannot be expected of you. Here are some things to consider when drafting a contract:

Never guarantee success.  Our society already puts plenty of pressure on our canine companions.  A “100% success” guarantee only serves to set handler and dog up for unfair expectations, and to set you up for a possible law suit when you and your client have a different opinion of “success.”  This also gives the false impression that training comes to an end after a certain period of time, rather than the reality that training takes place all throughout the dog’s and the handler’s lifetime.

Describe the services you will provide. Your contract should emphasize the importance of training and building the bond between human and dog without making promises of success.  To that effect, describe the services you will provide and have a very realistic discussion with your clients about what their training goals are.  Include a disclaimer that you and your client will make all reasonable efforts and work together to attain the client’s training goals.

Explain the necessity of owner participation. One premise of training is the importance of practice, and the fact that even the most well learned behaviors will deteriorate without practice.  This is the heart of another important disclaimer to include in your contract – that it is the handler’s responsibility to implement what you cover in your training sessions, and that without practice and proper reinforcement, the dog will most likely not learn the desired behavior.

Include a liability waiver. Your contract should also have a liability waiver.  The language should include a broad waiver of liability and a release covering you, your company, its employees, and any other vital personnel (such as owners, officers, directors, independent contractors, agents) for claims related to the contract and your services.  Contract law allows you to include these waivers, provided the provisions are not illegal or against public policy.  

Know what special laws may apply to you.  Take care to know whether your state imposes specific laws and liability on you to make sure your waivers do not run afoul of applicable contract law.  The final installment of this series will address this and other liability issues.

Special Concerns for Aggressive Dogs

If you work with aggressive dogs, you know that these are behavior concerns that need to be addressed carefully and very possibly for the lifetime of the dog.  You may want a separate contract for aggression cases.  This contract should include an acknowledgment by the client of the effort and consistency that will be required to address aggression.  Again, never promise to “cure” or “solve” the dog’s behavior problems. In addition, be sure to include:

Important safety measures. Carefully consider what equipment and safety measures to use with aggressive dogs, and be sure to explain to your clients how to introduce harnesses, muzzles and other equipment to their dogs.  Just as important, point out equipment – such as shock collars, prong collars and choke chains – that the client should not use and that can exacerbate aggression.  Include a provision in your contract in which your handler agrees to follow your recommended safety measures.

A clause about owner responsibility. Your contract should also include a recognition that the owner/handler is ultimately and always responsible for the dog’s safety and the public’s safety, and that the owner/handler assumes 100% responsibility for the dog and the dog’s actions at all times.  

A place for the client to include the dog’s history.  Provide a place for the client to list the dog’s relevant history, and include a warranty by the client that the information is complete and accurate.

An indemnification provision. An indemnification provision is the perfect complement to the acknowledgment that the owner/handler is ultimately responsible for the dog and the dog’s actions.  A comprehensive indemnification clause would require the client to compensate you for damages and costs of a claim, as well as attorney’s fees in the event of a third-party lawsuit.  

Other Vital Provisions

Dispute resolution.
I generally do not use arbitration and mediation clauses in dog training contracts because it is simply cost-prohibitive for most disputes that dog trainers will encounter.  An arbitrator or mediator can easily cost $300 to $500 an hour.  By comparison, filing fee costs for civil cases are often under $100.  

Well-crafted attorney fee provisions offset the costs of litigation. Courts in the United States follow the “American Rule,” which dictates in a contract case that each party bears the burden of attorney fees, unless the contract contains a specific provision to the contrary.  Attorney fee provisions can be written to award fees to the trainer specifically, or to the prevailing party.  The attorney fee provision should also cover related court costs, and expert witness fees and costs.

Specify which state’s laws will govern your contract. You should also include a waiver of jurisdiction and venue, and choose courts in which it will be easy and convenient for you to file suit if needed.

Include a notice provision. This clarifies exactly how you and the client will communicate with each other.  If you prefer communicating via email, make this clear in the contract and provide the email addresses that you and your client will use.

Heidi Meinzer has lived virtually all of her life with at least one dog, and currently shares the company of Sophie, a rescued German Shepherd mix, and Boomer, a black lab.  Heidi began her legal career as a public defender fighting for the “underdog.”  She’s currently a shareholder with Bean, Kinney & Korman, P.C., where she has primarily practiced criminal and civil litigation.  Due to her personal and legal experience and her passion for animals, Heidi’s practice has naturally gravitated towards animal law, specifically as the law relates to companion animals.  She handles a variety of matters involving animals, pet owners and pet-related entities and organizations, including defending dangerous dog cases, representing rescue organizations and companies with employment disputes such as those involving confidential and proprietary information, and even assisting in the prosecution of an animal abuse and neglect case. Heidi also runs the Companion Animal Law Blog. You can contact Heidi at  This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it , or at (703) 525-4000, extension 348.

Are You Covered? Part One: Protecting Your Business

Written by Heidi Meinzer

Heidi Meinzer and her black lab, Boomer
You’ve been training dogs for several years, and have been lucky to have no incidents – until suddenly, a dog you’re training slips his leash and bites a passerby.  This is a traumatic event for everyone involved – you, the dog’s owner, the dog, and, of course, the person who was bitten.  But it can also be traumatic – and possibly even fatal – to your business if you’re not insured.  Insurance is very easy to get and inexpensive relative to the risks involved.  So make sure to protect what you’ve worked so hard to build by planning ahead and getting insurance.

Statistics to Consider


Pet Ownership. Pet ownership has steadily been climbing.  In 1988, the American Pet Products Association (APPA) conducted its first pet owner survey, finding that 56% of U.S. households owned companion animals.  The APPA’s 2011-2012 survey, saw this number increase to 62% of U.S. households.  Of those numbers, there are 78.2 million dogs living in 46.3 million households in the United States.  

Dog Bites. Along with these numbers, there may or may not be a corresponding increase in the number of dog bites.  According the National Canine Research Council, there is a debate about whether dog bites are on the rise. Because of the way that dog bites are reported, and what may actually constitute a dog bite, there is a great deal of subjectivity about dog bite statistics.

Dog Bite Claims. However, the statistics regarding dog bite insurance claims are much more straightforward.  According to the Insurance Information Institute (III), there were 15,770 dog bite insurance claims in 2010, down slightly from 2009.  But the average cost of dog bite claims went up, to $26,166.  The III reports that the average cost of dog bite claims has risen by 37% since 2003.

How to Protect Your Business


1. Create a business entity. Make sure that you have set up a business entity for your dog training enterprise.  And be sure that you are conducting all of your business through that entity.  If you fail to set up an LLC or other type of entity -- or run your company through your own name and use your personal checking account for business – you are setting yourself up for personal liability. And that can lead to a $25,000 personal price tag for a typical dog bite claim.

2. Insure your business entity. There are a number of insurance policies that you should look into:  general liability, professional liability and malpractice, umbrella liability, business property, business income and extra expense, animal bailee, equipment and commercial automobile coverage.  A good broker can help tremendously here.

Shopping for Business Insurance


General liability insurance is essential, but may not be enough to cover you.  It will cover a slip and fall on your premises, but it may exclude “damage” to other’s “personal property” – and, unfortunately, companion animals are still our personal property under the law. See Virginia Code Section 3.2-6585

Even if a general liability insurance policy covers dog bites, it may exclude certain breeds, such as pit bulls, Rottweilers, Dobermans and German Shepherds.  Fortunately, some insurance companies refuse to discriminate against breeds, acknowledging that there are responsible owners and irresponsible owners of each type of breed. See State Farm Press Release.

In order to avoid issues such as “personal property” and breed exclusions, it is best to get insurance that specifically covers dog trainers.  Because insurance companies realize that the pet care industry is on the rise, there are now several options for specific dog training insurance and bonding.  

If you work with aggressive dogs, you may have some unique liability issues that you’ll need to address – not just with insurance coverage, but also with well-crafted waivers and contracts.  We’ll explore these issues in Part 2 of this series.

Heidi Meinzer has lived virtually all of her life with at least one dog, and currently shares the company of Sophie, a rescued German Shepherd mix, and Boomer, a black lab.  Heidi began her legal career as a public defender fighting for the “underdog.”  She’s currently a shareholder with Bean, Kinney & Korman, P.C., where she has primarily practiced criminal and civil litigation.  Due to her personal and legal experience and her passion for animals, Heidi’s practice has naturally gravitated towards animal law, specifically as the law relates to companion animals.  She handles a variety of matters involving animals, pet owners and pet-related entities and organizations, including defending dangerous dog cases, representing rescue organizations and companies with employment disputes such as those involving confidential and proprietary information, and even assisting in the prosecution of an animal abuse and neglect case. Heidi also runs the Companion Animal Law Blog. You can contact Heidi at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it , or at (703) 525-4000, extension 348. 


10 Ways to Reduce Stress in the Shelter Environment

Written by Kelly Arbogast

Kelly ArbogastHigh stress and arousal levels in shelters can cause some pretty serious behavior problems that are harmful to the animals and sabotage adoption efforts. Over the years, I have developed several programs at the NH Humane Society that have significantly reduced stress in our shelter and helped dogs become more adoptable. The best part is that many of these programs are easy to implement. Here are my favorites:

1. Play, train or puzzle. Daily play sessions are on the top of our list. We play with dogs individually or coordinate well-matched doggy playgroups. We also rotate in other fun enrichment activities like nose work, short training sessions and puzzle toys.

2. Kennel identification & assignment. Each kennel is assigned according the level of stress (Low, Medium, or High). Stresses = visibility, high traffic areas, noise, sunlight, doors, smells, etc. A dog is then assigned to a kennel according to their individual needs, personality and ability to handle stress.

3. Relief for the fearful dog. We provide fearful or under socialized dogs with a crate inside of their kennel so they have a place to go if they feel overwhelmed. We also give these dogs breaks by draping a blanket over the top half of their kennel door. This way, if anyone wants to look at the dog they must bend down and get on their level.

4. What you read is what you get. Each dog has an ID card on their kennel that indicates what kind of family they are looking for, how much daily stimulation they are going to need and any behavioral issues they may be trying to overcome. This ensures that adopters are not making decisions solely based on a dog’s “cuteness” by shifting the focus to whether or not the dog fits well in their lifestyle.

5. Involve visitors in training. When appropriate, we place little treat buckets outside of a dog’s kennel with instructions that read "Please reward me for not barking” or “Please reward me for coming to the front of my kennel to greet you." This helps decrease the noise level and reinforces the dogs for behaviors that will make them more adoptable. 

6. Sound therapy. Noise levels alone can cause stress - kennel noises can reach over 100 decibels!  Daily exposure to noise levels at or near 100 decibels can cause increased stress, loss of appetite and an inability to socialize. We provide bioacoustic therapy to combat this by playing the “Through a Dog's Ear” CD throughout all of the kennels rooms. Playing this CD is easy to do and makes a real difference.

7. Aromatherapy. We also use aromatherapy by spraying the kennel rooms with Dog Appeasing Phermone (D.A.P.®) or Lavender. Both have been proven to lower stress levels.

8. Working for meals. Instead of giving each meal in a bowl, dogs receive some meals in puzzle toys to provide them with a positive, focused outlet for their energy. Our favorites are: Tug-a-Jugs, Kong Wobblers, Kibble Nibbles and Buster Cubes.

9. Frozen snacks. Before the end of the day employees hand out frozen Kongs full of peanut butter and/or ice toys.*

10. The Bmod Squad. One of the volunteer programs we have created is called the Behavior Modification Squad, or "Bmod Squad.” Each volunteer in the program is assigned to a dog with special needs. Homework assignments may include things such as working on loose leash walking, polite greetings, sitting, staying, bonding exercises, etc. This not only helps the dogs become more adoptable but it also provides them with much needed stimulation. Volunteers seem to love it too!

Each adopter goes home with handouts explaining how to handle their new dog’s transition. We also give them information about the training the dog received while in the care of the shelter. They even receive discounts on my obedience classes.

*How to make ice toys: Take a metal bowl and fill it ¾ of the way with water and add a bunch of kibble, treats, carrots, yogurt or canned food and freeze it. Before serving, run it upside down under warm water until it pops out easily. The result is a snack dogs LOVE that will keep them occupied for quite some time.

Kelly Arbogast is the Director of the Behavior Department at the NH Humane Society and owner of Doggonit Training. She has a BA in Psychology with a focus on Animal Cognition and an Associates Degree in Animal Science. She also worked as a Veterinary Technician for four years. She is a Certified Professional Dog Trainer (CPDT-KA), an OPERATION SOCIALIZATION Certified Trainer (OSCT), a CGC Evaluator and has earned her CAP1. She has helped train service dogs for CCI and is on the board of directors for Happy Tails Dog Park of the Lakes Region.


Sweepstakes Winner Highlight

Written by Admin

Joanne Pazmino and her two dogsWinner: Joanne Pazmino, ABCDT
Business: Clicker Savvy Canines, LLC
Prize: A One-Year Dog Trainer Membership to OS

What is your dog training and education background?
I’m a student at the Karen Pryor Academy for Animal Training and Behavior, an Animal Behavior College Certified Dog Trainer, and certified in dog and cat first aid and CPR. I am also a full member of the Association for Pet Dog Trainers (APDT), the Mid-Atlantic Association of Professional Positive Pet Trainers (MAAPPPT), a Doggone Safe member, and a certified Canine Good Citizen Evaluator for the American Kennel Club.

Why did you decide to start your own business?
For years family and friends would say to me "You're so good with dogs, you should become a dog trainer!" In 2007 I finally decided to take their advice and took my first steps toward becoming a professional dog trainer. I began attending seminars and gaining training experience. I was fortunate to meet Jules Nye, owner of Sit Stay & Play, and she mentored me and introduced me to clicker training and Karen Pryor. I decided to base my own business on positive reinforcement and clicker training, and haven't looked back since.

Why do you want to become a member of OS?
I believe in the OS program and what it stands for. Socialization is SO VERY IMPORTANT and prepares dogs for their future life experiences. You are basically ensuring that a puppy grows into a happy and successful dog!

How do you think becoming a member of OS will help your new business?
I think Operation Socialization has a big future ahead of it. The more people learn about how important this program is, the better it is for everyone, especially the dogs. By becoming an OS Trainer I become part of that movement and nothing makes me happier than seeing people with well socialized, happy, healthy dogs!

just add trainer Sweepstakes Winner

Written by Ariana Kincaid

And the winner of the just add trainer Sweepstakes is.....

Joanne PazminoJoanne Pazmino of Clicker Savvy Canines, LLC. We'll be posting more information about Joanne soon!

All qualified entrants will receive their 10% discount coupon code via email tomorrow.

just add trainer Sweepstakes

Written by Ariana Kincaid


Calling all positive reinforcement dog trainers! Are you:     

Passionate about puppy socialization?
Interested in motivating your clients to socialize their puppies outside of the classroom?
Eager to market your unique skills?

Then enter our just add trainer Sweepstakes for the chance to win a 1-year Dog Trainer Membership to Operation Socialization worth $325. The winner will be announced right here on our Blog and featured in the Spring Newsletter.

But wait. There’s more. Whether you win the draw or not, you qualify for a 10% discount off the first year's membership fee if you join Operation Socialization™ before December 31, 2011. Coupon code will be emailed to all entrants after submission.

Be sure to “Like” our Facebook page or follow @opsocialization on Twitter for important updates. Entries are limited to one per registrant and must be submitted by 10/21/11. The winner will be announced on 10/25/11.

Enter the just add trainer Sweepstakes here.

But first…

It’s no fun to win a membership you can’t accept, so make sure you’re eligible and be sure to follow the Official Rules.

Eligible entrants must: be a resident of the contiguous United States aged 21+, be a professional, positive reinforcement dog trainer that does not use or endorse positive punishment, have 3 years’ experience as a lead trainer, have a high school diploma or equivalent, have a training business located in the U.S., provide 2 references, show a proven history of continuing education, be covered by business insurance, observe professional and ethical business practices, and get a passing mark on OS Certification Exam. (Okay, it’s a long list, but we have high standards, and we know you do, too.)

NO PURCHASE NECESSARY. Read Official Rules here.

Aside from the specific qualifications listed above, we want to know what makes you a good OS Dog Trainer Member candidate. Here’s what being a great candidate means to us:

Education & Experience. Let’s face it, effective puppy trainers are essentially bookworms and science geeks. They eat, sleep and breathe learning theory and canine behavior. They attend countless seminars, conferences and academies. And they have a great deal of experience in:

  • Puppy development and behavior: socialization, mouthing, potty preference development, chewing, isolation avoidance, teething, exploration/independence, frustration intolerance, fear periods, over-arousal, etc.
  • Observing and modifying red-flag puppy behavior
  • Supervising puppy playgroups
  • Getting clients to comply with problem prevention advice

Confidence. Confidence is born from education and experience. All effective puppy trainers have it. They speak and teach with authority. (Of course, humility is important too, and admitting when something is beyond your expertise.)

Professionalism. First impressions count a great deal and dog training is no different. Awesome puppy class instructors are organized and professional from their website down to their registration procedures.

The ability to be succinct. Less is more when it comes to dog training. Puppy owners are bombarded with information every day, and contradictory dog training advice abounds. Awesome puppy trainers are wizzes at conveying messages simply and effectively. They sift through volumes of information and present only the most relevant—so their clients don’t have to.

Clear goals. Effective puppy trainers have a clear picture in their mind of the successful outcome of each class they teach. They know their goals—what they want students to understand and be able to do by the time the class ends—and set precise criteria for what success means.

Empathy. Our profession is uniquely challenging in that our students are handling animals while learning something new. Puppy owners come to class with a lot of baggage and social pressure. Awesome puppy trainers recognize this and endeavor not to make snap judgments, as hard as that may be at times. They have compassion for puppies and their owners.

Sense of humor. When you work with animals you never know what’s going to happen. Awesome puppy trainers can laugh at their mistakes and use humor to make others feel more at ease. They barely skip a beat when a puppy lifts his leg and pees on them in the middle of a demonstration.

Is there a trait you’d like to add? Something you struggle with? Please share your comments with us.


What Training Dogs Teaches Us About Training People

Written by Erica Pytlovany

Erica Pytlovany and her dog Ebony running agilityAs dog trainers, we spend a lot of time learning how to train dogs and practicing how to train dogs, and a lot of time discussing faster, more creative, and more effective ways to train dogs.  But in truth, most of us don’t spend nearly as much time training dogs as we spend training people. Fortunately we don’t need to reinvent the wheel when working with people, we can draw upon what we already know.

Working with Dogs has Taught Us to:

Keep training sessions short ‘n sweet

We have this marvelous gift of language, and we sometimes get caught up talking rather than doing.  In a six- or eight-week class, people need practice far more than they need theory.  My goal is to keep “lecture time” below 2-3 minutes at a shot.  This captures even the shortest attention span, and leaves plenty of time for practical application.

Keep activities focused

Each activity should have a clear start and end.  Students should understand what they are working on at all times, either as a group or individually.  If students are confused or working on the wrong thing, the breakdown is likely in our instructions.  We don’t give our dogs a cue if we don’t have their attention, it makes sense to do the same with their handlers.

Put behaviors on cue

If you regularly repeat certain exercises, you can save valuable explanation time by giving them a name.  Two of my favorites are “circle up” and “line up”.  The first time I teach either, I explain what I want, we practice it, I send everyone back to their seats, and we practice again.  The first time is often messy, but by the third time we often have a nice clean circle or line.  In subsequent weeks, I have a class who can form a circle or line in 10 seconds or less.  The lack of chaos and confusion is rewarding for the dogs, for the students, and for me as well. 

Teach Incompatible Behaviors

Focus on what you want the students to do, not on what you don’t want them to do.  In Rally Obedience class, I often have students who grab the leash with their left hand to “steer” their dog into position.  If I ask them to heel their dog with their left hand on their head, they can’t practice the wrong behavior.  We can then focus on the correct behavior (leash in right hand only) instead of the wrong one (stop holding the leash with your left hand).

Split behaviors into smaller pieces

If you’re teaching students how to cue a sit, practice the hand motion first without the dog.  If you’re showing them how to hold the leash, practice the leash position for the first hand, then add the second hand, then add the dog.  Often, practicing mechanics first without the dog makes the learning process much easier.

Make learning fun

Almost everything we teach can be structured into an interactive activity or game. After teaching sit and down, you might have the class do “the Wave”, or time how many sits each dog and handler team can get in 15 seconds.  The more fun your students have, the more engaged and motivated they will be.

When we train dogs, we want to set them up for success.  When we train people, we should do the very same thing.  By applying what we already know about dog training to our interactions with clients, we ensure that everyone is successful. And, that is hugely reinforcing to us, too.

Erica Pytlovany is a Certified Professional Dog Trainer (CPDT-KA), and runs the Rally Obedience training program at WOOFS! Dog Training Center in Arlington, Virginia. She and her dogs have earned titles and awards in obedience, rally obedience, herding and agility. Erica also works for The Washingon Post and manages the Shakespeare in the Dog Park Blog. She has written pet columns for Natural Awakenings Magazine and was a contributor to the book Top Tips from Top Trainers published by APDT in 2010.

Teaching People and Puppies - Lessons from the Classroom

Written by Veronica Sanchez

Veronica Sanchez and her dog MontyMy clients are sometimes surprised to learn that I worked as a public school teacher for 7 years. My experience as a teacher taught me many things about learning that have been valuable in my current career as a professional dog trainer and behavior consultant. Whether we are working with people or puppies, there are many important concepts that apply to both.

1. Individual learning styles make a difference.

People: Some people are easily able to understand information that is explained to them orally. Others may do better with information presented visually (i.e. handouts) or if they have a hands-on opportunity to practice.

Puppies: A technique that works well for one puppy may need to be adjusted for another. For instance, when training “down” using a food lure, some puppies follow a treat held in front of their nose straight to the floor. Other puppies may learn faster on a different surface (i.e. a dog bed or towel) or may need to be rewarded when they look at the floor a few times first.

Applying the Lesson

I found that presenting the same information in several different ways helped ensure understanding. For example, I often started by modeling a math problem on the overhead projector. Afterwards, I would allow time for students to read the information independently in a textbook. Later, students would have an opportunity to work in a small group to practice a few problems and discuss strategies together. I would also allow time for students to practice using physical objects to count and manipulate.

Because dog training is a hands-on activity, it is readily able to be adapted to multi-modal learning experiences. Instructors can easily incorporate modeling, visual and kinesthetic learning into their lessons.

2. Discover what motivates the learner.


People: People need to be inspired to spend time training their dogs.  For some pet owners the experience of training their puppy is so much fun that it is motivation enough to continue learning how to train their puppy. Other pet owners are more goal oriented and may need to fully understand the need for training in order to feel motivated to learn how to train their dog.  And, positive reinforcement from me—great job!—is often a strong motivator.

Puppies: Many puppies respond very well to food rewards but some puppies may be picky. A treat that one puppy loves may be ignored or disliked by another. Some puppies love toy rewards or a gentle massage.

Lesson in Action
Most dogs are motivated by food rewards, however, my rough collie, Phaser, loved playing with toys even more than delicious treats. When I trained him to compete in obedience I often used toy rewards including balls, Frisbees and tug toys. Phaser’s performance in the ring was enthusiastic and happy because he associated the entire experience with playing.

3. Success early on is important.


People need to experience some success early in the process when they are learning a new skill. Teachers need to touch base with students for feedback and make sure they are setting students up so they can be successful.

Puppies can become easily frustrated. It is important to start with a simple behavior that the pup can quickly learn.  Otherwise the puppy may stop participating in the lesson! As puppies gain experience, they will learn to persist.

Firefly wearing reading glassesPractical Lesson
When teaching young children to read, starting with books they could be successful with was critical.  As a teacher, I helped students choose books that were just challenging enough to encourage them to develop new skills without being so difficult that they would not understand the content.  This was important because if a child chose a book that was too challenging, the child could become frustrated or simply flip through the book without bothering reading the text. As children gained experience and advanced in their learning, they also often became more persistent. They learned how to work through unfamiliar words to gain understanding.

My novice puppy owners are often overwhelmed with the basic care of the pup and challenges like house training. While it is sometimes tempting to move forward and train a bright pup a complex behavior, puppy owners do best if they are shown a few simple behaviors to work on. That way they can quickly experience success and learn to enjoy the training process.

4. The learning environment needs to meet the needs of the learner.


 People: Some pet owners enjoy working in a group with other pet owners, while others may learn more easily with individualized instruction.

Puppies: Some puppies will pay attention to their owners in all kinds of settings and may be able to work outdoors, indoors, or in all types of environments. Some puppies do great in group classes, other puppies may be too distracted or overwhelmed and may do better in a private class.

Building the Lesson
A client’s toy breed puppy spent an entire group training course barking at the other dogs in the class. The experience was stressful for the puppy and embarrassing for the owner. The puppy did not learn any of the basic skills and the owner was so distracted by the barking that she could not follow the instructor’s directions. I worked with this owner and puppy in private lessons and the puppy responded quickly and easily. We were able to introduce the presence of dogs slowly, one at a time. Over time this pup became more confident and was able to work in more complex environments successfully.

While there are obviously significant differences when teaching people and animals, there are some core educational concepts that remain the same. Whether working with people or puppies, it is always important to be sensitive to the unique needs of the individual learner and set them up for success.

Veronica trains puppies and dogs for Cooperative Paws LLC. She had a leading role as a founder and chair of the division on Human Animal Mutualism of the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants (IAABC), which is focused on working animals. She served on the board of the IAABC as a vice president. Her special interest in the area of assistance and therapy animals was also reflected in her work as the Managing Editor and contributing writer for a Dog Writers Association of America Maxwell award winning newsletter, "A Pawsitive Canine Experience," produced by Paws-Up, Inc.

Running a Successful Puppy Playgroup

Written by Leigh Siegfried

Photo of Leigh Siegfried with Her Two DogsPuppy "parties," or off-leash playgroups for pups, can be a great way to provide invaluable socialization opportunities for puppies and be an effective marketing tool for you, too. So, if you've been considering running playgroups or are curious about how to get this off the ground, read on!

Effective Marketing

One of the big bonuses with playtime activities is that a prospective client can get to know you and your business in a fun way. Clients that we see via Puppy Party, ultimately go on to enroll in puppy classes or depend on our training services to help guide them through the sometimes choppy waters of puppyhood. We even schedule play times prior to puppy classes to encourage cross attendance. It's a great word-of-mouth program, too.  What new puppy owners aren't chatting it up with people on the street? And, it's a great way to have clients participate in Operation Socialization™!


Puppies playing off leash can conjure up images of dogs gone wild. Yes, we want our pups to have a good time, but we also strive to create a safe environment for all that participate. When clients are welcomed to our facility, we show them the ropes: outdoor/potty areas, human bathrooms, water bowl locations. And, we also have them sign a liability waiver. This simply lets them know that this is a "swim at your own risk" type of situation.


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