How Leash Reactivity Taught my Dog Flight

As a dog professional, I want to share a little secret with you. My dog is not perfect. Nor do I expect him to be, because, spoiler alert, neither am I. My dog has some traits that are less than desirable. He is sometimes more vocal than I would like. He is not shy about asking for yummies to be handed to him from the dinner table (thanks, husband for teaching him that neat trick.) He is, shall we say, an enthusiastic greeter when folks walk in the door. All of these “habits” work for him. He has been rehearsing some of the behaviors for years and years. Hello, enthusiastic greetings. He has been rehearsing others for less time. Hello, begging at the dinner table. The common thread that maintains all of these behaviors is his learning history that when he performs x, y, or z behavior, a consequence will very reliably follow. Sometimes it’s someone’s attention, sometimes it’s a tasty dinner morsel. There is really no mystery or magic to it. 

As his guardian, I have to decide which behaviors are tolerable to me and which ones aren’t. If I decide that a behavior is tolerable, well that’s pretty easy. Life marches on. However, if a behavior is intolerable, then I need to get to work and decide on a course of action that is going to help both of us. Again, no mystery or magic. Just good old-fashioned strategizing, implementation, monitoring, adjusting, and then, (and here is sometimes the hardest part of all), reliably maintaining the new replacement or alternate behavior. Because I’m human and sometimes I get sloppy. Or I am feeling lazy. And sometimes, I just don’t want to have to think about it. I just want…………a break. 


Can you please just stop yelling? 

So, here is the most undesirable behavior my dog used to exhibit that I found intolerable: he used to yell at all of the dogs he saw on our walks. All………of………them. Loudly and with gusto. This inability to see other dogs while on leash (for some dogs it’s people or cars, or bikes, etc.) without telling them off is commonly referred to as leash reactivity. Typically, telling other dogs off looks like lunging at the end of the leash, barking, growling, snapping, and I would assume in my dog’s case, landing a bite if we were close enough (which I made sure of never being.) 

This behavior was intolerable to me because it was not safe, it was not peaceful, and quite honestly, it was embarrassing. I mean to tell you, I got some looks. Actually, I got a lot of looks. It wasn’t my dog’s fault. He had been aggressed by an off-leash dog and so he thought he wasn’t safe. And just like his begging at the dinner table works, the dogs that he barked at always moved away from him because, rightfully so, people would always turn away from the snarling and snapping dog at the end of my leash. My dog’s behavior was being reinforced because it afforded him the distance he needed (other dog moving away) to feel safe. And even though the behavior felt intolerable to me, it served an important function for my dog. I knew I needed to help him find a more appropriate and peaceful way to keep the function of the behavior (increase in distance) that would also help maintain my sanity while I was helping him learn that other dogs on leash were nothing to be worried about. So, I did the only thing any reasonable dog parent would do. I taught him how to take flight. 


Fly Dog, Fly

Ok, I didn’t really teach my dog to fly in the traditional sense of what it means to aerodynamically launch into the atmosphere and soar amongst the clouds. But I did teach him a new skill set that included choosing flight as an option as opposed to “fight”  when he saw another dog on our walks. The flight that he was taught meant that he didn’t need to yell at dogs to get them to move away because he could choose to move away himself. He would have the agency to gain the distance away from other dogs that he desired in a more socially acceptable way. That was a Big Win for both of us! Because instead of dreading our walks I could now focus on teaching my dog that the sight of other dogs was actually a predictor of something great instead of the predictor of something awful. 

This training took place a few years ago and I am happy to report that my dog has exponentially improved on our walks. He rarely ever needs to yell anymore. He mostly ignores other dogs on our walks. Every once in a while he will still have an explosion but there are almost always very valid reasons. Usually, it is when the other dog is being a little too intense with their body language or the dog appears around a blind corner and startles us both. There are not a lot of things I can do to control either one of those unfortunate situations but what I can do is give my dog his flight cue and away we walk in a different direction with fluidity and confidence. He gains the distance he desires and I have the peace I desire. Another win! 

Flight training isn’t anything new under the sun (very little is when it comes to how learning and behavior works.) But it is a fairly simple thing to teach and more importantly to maintain. Because if you go back to my first paragraph, you will remember that I said a learned alternative or replacement behavior requires maintenance or it can be extinguished from our pets’ behavioral repertoire. And we can see a resurgence of the old, undesired behavior. I also admitted that I can sometimes be sloppy, lazy, or just want a break as a trainer. The good news is that my dog’s flight cue is so firmly ingrained in both my dog’s and my muscle memory, that I don’t really have to think about a thing and neither does he. Think of how you’ve reliably trained your dog to sit in a variety of situations. It’s kind of like that, only the desired outcome has bigger stakes. If my dog can continue to move away from his stressors without a scene, then our walks are more frequent and more enjoyable for us both. And that, my friends, is what it is all about. Enjoying time together and building a stronger relationship that benefits us both. 


Now What? 

  • If you’d like to learn more about Flight Training in general, check out Episode 16 – Flight Training Mini-Sode of the Enrichment for the Real World podcast
  • If you have a dog with leash reactivity one of the skills to focus on is learning canine body language. I know we might sound like a broken record at Pet Harmony because we state the importance of this so often, but really all successful behavior modification starts and ends with being fluid in “reading dog.” I often tell my clients that the greatest skill set I can teach them has nothing to do with mechanics, timing, or the delivery of reinforcement. It is sharpening their observation skills and learning how their dog (and the species as a whole) communicates. 
  • Be patient with your dog and kind to yourself. Even though you might be on the receiving end of some judgemental and disdainful looks from other folks, I assure you that leash reactivity most often comes from a place of fear on your dog’s part. Teaching your dog that they are safe is paramount to improvement. 
  • If walks are too hard for you and your dog right now, Canine Enrichment for the Real World has a whole lot of information on ways to help your dog be the best they can be. You can also join our enrichment-focused Facebook group:  Enrichment for the Real World  
  • Hiring a behavior professional to help you and your dog learn to “take flight” and feel safe can be a really great way to help you and your dog navigate walks in a more relaxing and enjoyable way for you both. Reach out to Pet Harmony if you need help with leash reactivity or any other troubling behavior. We are here to help in any way we can! 

Happy training,


What If I Told You It’s Not Good, Bad, Or Ugly


We humans like our tidy little boxes, labels, and categorizations. It’s often the easiest and fastest route to help us make sense of a complex world in which we have to interpret information at a sometimes alarming rate. If we can make a quick assessment of something, many times it allows us to move on without too much deliberation. But oftentimes, when we are making quick assessments or categorizing things, an unfortunate side effect is that we also attach a judgment to what we are labeling or categorizing. From the human perspective, this probably makes a lot of sense. Afterall, we live in a world that teaches us from a very young age that certain types of behaviors are good or bad, naughty or nice, sweet or sassy. Even if very young humans can’t understand the meaning of the word morality, they certainly have morality drilled into them early on. 


Let’s define morality

The Oxford dictionary defines morality as “principles concerning the destination between right and wrong or good or bad behavior.” Merriam-Webster dictionary provides us with the following definition: “concerned with or relating to what is right and wrong in human behavior.” I think most people would agree that having a societal system that depends on people sharing a code of conduct is important to maintain order and safety for all people who share that society. In that sense, having an agreed upon code of morality can be a very good thing. But morality is definitely not a one size fits all kind of concept. Furthermore, using morality to categorize behavior can often cause more harm than good. 


What the heck does this have to do with our pets?

If you are reading this blog, it’s likely that you are here because you have some type of relationship with companion animals. And you might be wondering what any of this philosophical talk about morality has to do with being a pet parent. I would say a whole lot. Because humans are primed from a young age to be experts at placing moral values on behavior. And our pets, like all living animals, behave. All-day, every day, while they draw breath and just like us, they behave. Is your pet sleeping? Sleeping is a behavior. Is your pet eating? Eating is a behavior. Is your pet chewing? Chewing is a behavior. So is jumping, chasing, sitting, resting, barking, pooping, mating, digging, growling, and licking. You get the idea. The behaviors your pet exhibits are them acting on their environments. If your pet is resting peacefully, this behavior might be because they are satiated, tired, and/or feeling safe and secure. Very few people have problems with the behavior of resting peacefully. It’s different however when a pet exhibits behaviors that we do not find enchanting or things we categorize as “problem behaviors.” 


Why does it matter?

It matters because when we view behavior through the lens of morality, we sometimes stop there and don’t explore the where, whys, whats, and whens of behavior. If we think of a behavior as being either “good” or “bad” it can cause us to feel stuck and we may just look for quick ways to make the unwanted behavior stop. There is no curiosity in “good” or “bad.” There is mostly a judgment and that judgment is based on a human’s perspective of what “good” or “bad” consists of. Labels like “good” or “bad” don’t teach anything but they presume an awful lot. They presume that your pet, 1) has the capacity to understand the difference between right and wrong and 2)  if they do, they live by the same set of moral conduct that humans do. Those are both big suppositions and put an awful lot of pressure on our pets.  


It’s all just information

One of the laws of behavior is that all behavior has a function. The function of behavior can differ from one individual to another. I think the function of a behavior is so much more interesting when viewed as information. I think framing behavior as just information immediately provides us with the opportunity to look at behavior with a less negative lens and instead approach behaviors we would like to see more or less of as a puzzle to be solved as opposed to a problem to be judged. Judging can cause us to place blame whereas problem-solving helps us become more analytical and objective in our assessments. 

Can we strip down the behavior to simply observing it without interpretation? Can we simply watch what happens before the behavior occurs and what outcome the behavior has for the one performing it? Instead of saying my dog is “bad” for grabbing food on the counter, or “good” because she comes when I call, can we assess the behavior in terms of outcomes? Can we teach our pets to display more of the behaviors we would like to see and give them appropriate outlets to display behaviors that are typical for their species? Can we allow ourselves the opportunity to learn more about why the behavior is occurring in the first place? Asking questions, remaining curious and open, and observing without judgment are all skills that can be mastered. Giving yourself permission to view your pet’s behavior as neither “good” behavior or “bad” behavior can change not only the way you view your pet but can also change the way you interact with them as well. Being good stewards of our pet’s physical and emotional well-being starts with understanding, empathy, and the ability to remain curious about who they are as a species and why they behave the way they do. 


Now what?

Here are some suggestions on how you can practice being an observer of your pet’s behavior:

  • Keep a journal of your pet’s typical behavior on any given day
  • Pay attention not only to your pet’s behavior but also take note of anything that is occurring environmentally before, during, and after the behavior happens
  • Try to simply view your pet’s behavior as information without attaching a moral judgment or interpretation to the choices your pet is making 
  • Learn as much as you can about what species-typical behavior looks like for your pet’s species 
  • Learn how your pet communicates via their body language 
  • Contact a credentialed behavior consultant or trainer to help you gain knowledge and skills if you are feeling frustrated, uncertain, or stuck. Pet Harmony is ready to help you acquire the skills you need to help your relationship with the pets you share your life with! 

Happy training,


Walk This Way


If memory serves me correctly from my youth, it was somewhat a rarity to see dogs out on leashed walks with their pet parents. There were plenty of dogs in my neighborhood, including our next-door neighbor’s Airedale Terriers, Jo Jo the Boxer a few houses down, and every other assortment of breeds combined, milling about in fenced-in backyards but I truly do not recall any of them being taken on walks in the neighborhood. My family’s own small menagerie of beloved dogs were often found hanging out in our backyard with us and the neighborhood kids, sometimes joining in the frivolity, sometimes lying in a sun-soaked spot as far away from the action as space allowed. I am not sharing these memories with a sense of nostalgia for better days gone by but more with a sense of curiosity about the difference I notice now.
In the neighborhood where I have lived for the past 25 years, you can barely go a block without seeing at least one dog being walked by their pet parent. It is far more likely that you will see dozens of walking pairs. For the most part, it seems most of the dogs and their human counterparts are enjoying the companionship of a walk shared together. I know I certainly enjoy taking strolls in the neighborhood with my dog, Fonzy, his nose choosing where and when we turn depending on the scents he picks up along the way. And I think this is a really great thing. Until it isn’t.


Whatever can you mean?

Urban and suburban strolls are great for dogs who love going on them. Walks can provide wonderful opportunities for them to safely explore novel environments. Walks can provide not only physical exercise but undeniably they provide mental exercise too if we allow our dogs plenty of chances to stop and sniff (shameless plug for letting your dog stop and smell all of the things on your walks, now and forever!) However, this presumes that you share your life with a dog who, 1) enjoys seeing other people that aren’t you while out and about, 2) enjoys seeing (not even approaching or greeting, just seeing) other leashed dogs when out and about, and 3) doesn’t have great big feelings about……..I’m just going to say “stuff” because the category of things that a dog can have big feelings about is as varied and immense as the category of things humans have big feelings about too.


Big feelings, small world

If you are the pet parent of a dog with big feelings about one, two, or many things, it can be hugely challenging to find a safe space to walk them where those big feels don’t come roaring to the surface if your dog is exposed to the big feeling’s trigger. This situation is not as uncommon as some folks might think. In fact, if I were a betting woman, I would say that one of the biggest reasons clients hire a Pet Harmony consultant is because their dog is exhibiting leash reactivity, which broadly speaking, is when a dog barks, lunges, growls, or snaps at other dogs or people while on leash. So what is a diligent dog parent to do? We know it can be stressful, oftentimes embarrassing, and sometimes downright hazardous to continue to walk dogs who have leash reactivity. But as a dog parent, you want to do your due diligence and provide your dog with opportunities to get exercise and allow them prospects to engage with the world. That’s what good dog parents do, right?


Walks aren’t a panacea

First of all, let me say that there are many, many ways to be a good steward of your dog’s physical and emotional health and while walking them on leash can be a great activity for some dogs, it isn’t a panacea for meeting all of your dog’s needs. In some cases it might actually do more harm than good. If you live in an urban environment and you have a dog who has sound sensitivity, is worried about fast-moving objects, or does not like being in close proximity to other dogs or people, a walk will not be an enjoyed experience but more likely an experience for your dog to either shut down or rehearse behaviors you would rather she didn’t. This can leave you feeling defeated, worried, and wondering if you are making your dog’s world just a little too small by excluding those treasured walks. This is where troubleshooting the problem is really helpful. If your dog does have leash reactivity, you don’t necessarily have to completely cut out walks (though it is completely ok to find other activities to enjoy while you work with a behavior professional on modifying the behavior.)


Here comes the helpful part

When it comes to finding safe places to walk with your dog, you will want to take a number of things into account. First, there isn’t a one size fits all approach when it comes to finding a safe walking area. You will need to take several things into consideration including your personal dog, what his triggers are, and how much space he needs to stay below threshold (read more about that here.) When you are determining which choice will work best for you and your dog, here are some guidelines to keep in mind:

  1. How much exposure will your dog have to his or her triggers? If your dog is great with seeing other dogs on leash, doesn’t typically seem to notice people either, but loses her mind when a skateboard passes by then going to a park where there is a skateboard park would not be a great option. If your dog is fine with seeing other dogs, people, and skateboards but has a very strong prey drive towards little critters freely roaming the Earth (yes, squirrels, I’m talking to you) then walking your dog in a densely forested area would not be optimal.
  2. How much space does the area provide to move away from a trigger if you see one? Forest preserves are great for avoiding other dogs or people especially during the week and at certain times of the day. But what would happen if you did see a dog and person approaching or following closely behind you on the same path? Most forest preserve paths are fairly narrow so the opportunity to use a flight cue to turn around or simply stepping off the path to let the other dog pass might not give your dog the space he comfortably needs to remain under threshold.
  3. How populated is the area at the time you are most likely to go? This might take a bit of preplanned reconnaissance on your part to determine the likelihood of other folks and dogs having the same great idea during the same time period. If you live near an open field and own a long line, taking your dog for a relaxing sniffy walk can be a wonderful shared experience and a great way to get in some recall practice at the same time. Knowing ahead of time that the field is unpopulated at the time you go can make it more pleasant for you and your dog.
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  4. How secure is the area? Perhaps you have a dog-loving friend, neighbor or family member with a lovely, fenced-in yard or you found what seems to be a great location using Sniffspot and it is ready for you and your dog to use it for some off-leash fun. Great! Here are a couple of things to consider before you go. First, is the fenced area safely secured with no holes or gaps in fencing? Second, is the yard on a busy corner with a lot of pedestrian traffic? If yes, then you might want to check with the homeowner if there are times of the day when fewer people or dogs will be passing by.


Now What?

  • Having helped countless clients with leash reactivity, our Pet Harmony consultants truly understand the challenges you face when it comes to reducing your dog’s exposure to their triggers while at the same time, trying to find solutions for meeting your dog’s needs. And in case you need to hear it, it is ok to find other solutions to meeting your dog’s needs that don’t include going for walks while you are working on the behavior component with a qualified professional. It is also ok to problem solve and get creative about how to safely walk your reactive dog to minimize their potential exposure to stressors. Knowing your dog, knowing their triggers, and knowing how to choose wisely (or not choose at all) can help keep everyone safe.
  • If you are looking for a way to meet your dog’s needs read this: Canine Enrichment for the Real World by Allie Bender and Emily Strong (two of Pet Harmony’s finest!)
  • If you are looking for a qualified professional to help you and your leash reactive dog, Pet Harmony is there for you! Get started here, no matter where you live in the world.

Happy training,


This One is for the Littles

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Can we talk for just a few minutes about the littles? For those of you into children’s literature, I’m not talking about a diminutive sized mouse named Stuart. I’m talking about dogs who, due to decades upon decades of selective breeding by us human folk, come in small to sometimes tiny packages. I’m thinking of breeds such as Shih Tzus, Chihuahuas, Pugs, Malteses, Dachshunds, and Yorkies among many other breeds, as well as any combination thereof. Usually, these pups weigh in under 20 pounds although many are significantly smaller than that. 


The Reason for This Post

Lately, I’ve been providing an abundance of behavior consultations to families with smaller-sized dogs exhibiting bigger-sized behavior concerns. These dogs’ owners contacted Pet Harmony for help with concerns about their small dogs who were snarling, growling, snapping, and in some cases, biting family members or guests in situations where the dog was most likely feeling uncomfortable but the family didn’t realize it. There was never any doubt in my mind about whether these families love their dogs but there had been a breakdown in the relationship due to the dog making behavioral choices that were upsetting and sometimes frightening to the owners. 

The owners were confused as to why their beloved pets were growling or snapping at them or delivering bites when they were just trying to show their dog love, affection, or pampering and care. The unwanted behaviors were oftentimes occurring when the owners were hugging or kissing their dog, or when they were trying to pick up their dog to embrace them or carry them around or move them from one place to another.  I’m not judging the owners for wanting to do this with their dogs. I mean, who could look at the face of a Shih Tzu or a French Bulldog and not want to give them love and affection when their faces are so very smoochable? I understand these feelings all too well as I am the proud pet parent of a small floof myself. But kissing and hugging and touching and embracing are all decidedly human ways of expressing affection and although some dogs can learn to enjoy it, many are simply tolerating it at best. It is this lack of understanding communication styles between two completely different species that can cause problems to come bubbling to the surface and take owners by surprise. 


It All Started When…

Much of the time, an owner will report that the snarling, snapping, growling, or biting behavior started out of nowhere. They will tell me that their dog “FiFi” always enjoyed or never had a problem with:

  • Being carried around or moved from place to place
  • Being hugged or kissed
  • Being physically restrained
  • Being touched, petted, or groomed
  • Being dressed in totes adorbs outfits
  • Being placed in someone’s lap


The Out of the Blue

And suddenly, out of nowhere, tiny “FiFi” started to bite mom, dad, the kids, or visitors to the home. Truthfully though, the behavior most likely didn’t come from out of the blue at all. The more likely explanation is that “FiFi” had been desperately trying to communicate her discomfort with all of the things listed above and the owners didn’t understand her way of saying it. And because they didn’t understand yet, she escalated to biting, which is a behavior that gets the attention of almost all humans, even when delivered by a dog with a smaller-sized mouth. 


Would You Do That to a St. Bernard?

Why is it that things we would never dream of doing to a dog weighing 80 plus pounds, are somehow perfectly acceptable to do to dogs who weigh only 10? Our little dogs often are asked to tolerate us doing so much more “stuff” to them simply because of their size and simply because we can. Can you imagine anyone swooping in to pick up their St. Bernard and whisking them off to another room even if they physically could?  What if the St. Bernard was to emit a warning growl as the person came swooping in?  Would they still proceed anyway? I imagine that growl would give most people pause about whether or not what they are doing is truly necessary. And yet, so often when small dogs emit a growl, people don’t take it seriously. Instead, they either continue to do what they were doing or they punish the dog for using the warning system nature provided. 

In some cases (hello social media, I’m talking to you) you’ll actually see people not only laugh at but actually encourage the little dog to exhibit behaviors that are deemed “aggressive.” All for the sake of some views, shares, and likes. Those types of posts make me cringe the most because they perpetuate the myth that small dogs are inherently laughable and that doing “stuff” to them to elicit a response is not only acceptable but all in good fun. That in turn maintains the misguided labels people use to describe small dogs who are only behaving in certain ways because they have learned that is the only thing that works. 


Unlabeling Our Littles

Aside from height and weight there really are not that many differences between the littles and the bigs (or the mediums for that matter.) They still have the same need to express species-typical behaviors such as sniffing, chewing, digging, and scavenging or foraging for food. They still have the same needs for social interactions, safety and security, health and hygiene, as well as the more obvious need for food, water, and shelter. And yet, so many times little dogs are given labels such as yappy or spoiled, or stereotyped as having “little dog syndrome” or a “Napoleon complex.” I say rubbish to all of that. 

One of the laws of behavior is that behavior works. We all behave in our environments to get more of what we desire or less of something we wish to avoid. The weight or height of a dog doesn’t change that fact. The super “yappy” Yorkie is barking for a reason. The tiny chihuahua with the Napoleon complex? There is a reason for that behavior too and it hasn’t so much to do with the dog’s size but with the dog’s inability to have a say about things that are either being done to or around it. 


Giving Our Littles Agency

In their book Canine Enrichment for the Real World, authors Allie Bender and Emily Strong define agency as “the ability to have some level of control in our environment and be able to make choices that will result in a desirable outcome.” (pg 27) This holds true for not only primates and canids but all of the animal kingdom. In the case of our small dogs, it is very easy to forget that they have the same need for agency as much as their larger counterparts do. Allowing all dogs, the small, the big, and the in-between, to have some say in what is being done to them or with them has a huge impact on their mental well-being.

 I think this is particularly true for small dogs as we have a tendency to treat them like portable playthings instead of individuals with their own need to express behavior in a way that works for them. If a little dog is growling at or biting their person when they are being lifted into the air or they snap at a family member when the family member is playing dress-up with them, then that is a signal from the dog that some help is needed to make them feel more comfortable. Like all dogs, I think the greatest gift we can give to our small dogs is to learn about who they are as a species and adapt our interactions with them to reflect that we genuinely get who they are and care enough to modify our behavior to make our relationship with them be the best it can be. It isn’t just on the dog. It’s on us too. 


Now What?

If  you want to help your little dog feel safe and secure and comfortable in your home but are not sure where to start, here are some actionable items to think about implementing: 

  • Learn all that you can about canine body language, paying especially close attention to signals that dogs exhibit when they are worried or stressed about something in their environment. 
  • Teach your dog how to say “yes” to things like grooming, dressing them up, or husbandry procedures.
  • Conduct a consent test to make sure your dog is enjoying a petting session. 
  • Teach your dog that being picked up will predict something yummy like a small piece of hotdog, cheese, or boiled chicken.
  • Use a verbal cue or a hand signal to let your little know that they are about to be lifted. I use “1, 2, 3, Up” for my dog. It warms my heart to see him sort of launch himself up when I say the “up” part because he knows what to expect each time. Other cues that can work for lifting are “up, up and away,” “super dog,” or “take off.” 
  • And finally, ask yourself if what you are doing to your little dog is really necessary and if the answer is no, find an activity you can enjoy doing together like scent work or trick training. You might be amazed at just how smart, athletic, and eager your little learner is! 

Happy training,


A Behavior Consultant, A Montessori Teacher, and a Case Manager All Walk Into a Bar…

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Ok, that didn’t really happen. But if a behavior consultant, a Montessori teacher, and a case manager did walk into a bar as the old joke goes, you would actually be looking at one person. And that person would be me. You see, prior to joining the wonderful team at Pet Harmony, I had a background as a case manager for a social service agency and then taught at a private Montessori school for close to two decades. My route to becoming a trainer/behavior consultant is circuitous and years in the making and a story for perhaps another time. Instead, this post is about the most perfect partnership between my past and present selves and how I hope that partnership will be beneficial to families with children and dogs.

You see, I recently had the honor of becoming a Family Paws Parent Educator. That means that I took continuing education coursework to become licensed to work with families with dogs and babies and/or young children. To me, it feels like a match made in heaven. I get to use my skill set as a trainer and behavior consultant AND my skill set of working with human learners too! Oh, what a gift it is when the two things you feel most professionally passionate about come together in the most delightful way! 



I will never grow tired of watching learners learn. I don’t care if my learner has two legs or four. I marvel at the process every time I witness it and find it endlessly fascinating. It thrills me to see my learners acting on the environment and discovering that they can influence what happens next. Or when their foundational understanding of certain criteria becomes the building blocks for future, more complex learning. How exciting it is to see confidence grow and learning accelerate! Without becoming too hyperbolic about a thing, to be witness to the transformation your learner experiences as they become fluid in their understanding is incredibly rewarding. 

Having been immersed in all things dog for the past few years has sort of put my background in education (at least of the human variety) on the back burner. But completing the Family Paws curriculum reignited my passion for helping young children be successful in their learning environments too and so I’ve been quietly brainstorming about merging my passions in a way that would be advantageous to both kids and dogs. Like a flash, one day it came to me that I could help dogs by creating learning opportunities for children as they engage in making enrichment items for their four-legged best friend. And VOILA! An idea was born! 


Before I share my first idea with you I thought it would be nice to provide some basic information about Montessori education since most of the ideas I will be sharing are inspired by the practical life area of a Montessori classroom. The following core principles are central to Montessori schools around the globe. Oh, and by the way, hold onto your hats folks because the parallels between the core principles of a Montessori education and what is universally understood about dog development and learning is pretty astonishing. Maria Montessori was ahead of her time and a maverick. Just saying. 



  1. The Absorbent Mind – children are born ready to learn how to learn. I mean, yes of course they are. As are all species including the ones we share our homes with.
  2. The Sensitive Period – sensitive periods are developmental windows of opportunity during which the child can learn certain concepts more readily and naturally than at any other time of their lives. Hello, critical socialization period for puppies!
  3. Children will auto-educate themselves – and sometimes not in the way we want them to. Does this sound familiar to you dog owners as well? We know that many dogs, when left to their own devices, will certainly find self-employment by chewing on the remote control, digging in the garden, barking at all passers-by or any number of other behaviors owners don’t particularly appreciate. 
  4. Respect for the child – Don’t all living things deserve our respect including our beloved dogs?    



This one really speaks to me not only as a former Montessori teacher but as a dog behavior consultant as well: 

The Prepared Environment – Maria Montessori believed that children learn best in what she describes as a prepared environment. Great effort and intention are put into making sure the learning environment is organized in such a way that it supports children’s development and aids in their personal independence. Tables and chairs and shelves are sized so that the child can navigate the classroom independently. The carefully selected and designed Montessori materials are beautifully organized on shelves that set the child up for successful learning and exploration. Dr. Montessori held the conviction that in addition to the student and teacher, the environment is the “third teacher” in the classroom and thus should be prepared in a manner that captivates the child’s attention and maintains their focus. 

Every time I read this description of the prepared environment, all the dog trainer in me can think of is how closely the prepared environment mimics what behavior folks call the antecedent arrangement. In short, the antecedent arrangement describes how the environment that the animal is in has been set up, hopefully deliberately, but sometimes not, to determine which behavior the animal is most likely to execute. 

Just like in the case of children, the goal should be that the environment is set up in a way that allows our dogs to be successful learners. How cool is that?! If you would like to further your knowledge about Montessori Education just click the highlighted text. Likewise, if you would like to take a deeper dive into understanding antecedent arrangements, click the text and you will be diverted to a great article on the subject.



Now that you have learned a bit more about the Montessori method, it is time to share my first idea with you. Remember, my goal is to use a Montessori-inspired approach to give your child the opportunity to learn and develop new skills while they are making enrichment items for your dog to enjoy. It is always a good idea to keep in mind that the item is only going to be enriching for your dog if your dog chooses to engage with or understands the enrichment activity. For more on creating an enrichment plan for your dog, read this:

I would also recommend that you set up the environment so that your child can focus on their task without the family dog trying to “help.” And what I really mean when I say “help” is sample the goods as they are being prepared. Perhaps another family member can take the dog for a walk or play a game of fetch in the backyard during prep time. 

Also, as with all things dogs and kids, parental supervision is a must. I absolutely love this product to help your child be safe and successful: Toddler Tower Step Stool. I only wish such a wonderful tool was available when my kids were younger. (This is an affiliate link. We receive a small commission for purchases made through these links at no extra cost to you. This helps us continue to put out free content to help you and your pets live more harmoniously!)

One final recommendation. As the goal is ultimately for your dog to benefit from your child’s hard work, when it is time for your dog to engage with the prepared enrichment item, the child must not interrupt them. I would encourage your child to watch your dog enjoying their enrichment from a safe distance. The parent can reinforce the child’s hard work and kindness by pointing out how much the dog is enjoying the activity and perhaps capturing it on video to share with other family members later. What a wonderful thing indeed, for our children to learn the invaluable lesson that doing kind things for others, is truly a gift to oneself as well. 



Material needed

  • Muffin tin
  • Colored balls
  • Construction paper that matches the color of the balls
  • Bowl of your dog’s kibble
  • Spoon

Parent set-up

The parent will need to cut small pieces of the construction paper and tape them to the top of each section of the muffin tin as demonstrated in the first photo. Parents will also need to gather all necessary supplies and make them easily accessible to the child. A large tray works well for this. (See photos below)

Child activity

The child will use the spoon and spoon a small portion of kibble into each separate section of the muffin tin. When the kibble has been spooned into the sections, the child can then match the colored ball to the section of the muffin tin that has the corresponding color paper. 

Skills for the child:

  • Practicing fine motor skills as they use the spoon to scoop up the kibble.
  • Hand-eye coordination as they transfer the kibble from the spoon into the muffin tin. 
  • Color matching and discrimination
  • Focus and concentration 



  • Follow us on Instagram for more upcoming ideas, photos, and tutorials on kids and canine enrichment activities.
  • We would love to see your photos of your kids preparing, or your dog enjoying, the enrichment that was made for him or her! Tag us @petharmonytraining on Facebook and Instagram.
  • Read Canine Enrichment for the Real World for a deeper understanding of what canine enrichment is and how adding it to your dog’s daily routine can be a real game-changer for you and your dog. 


When Compare Leads to Despair

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“She is our third Golden Retriever and the other two never growled when we went near their food bowls.”

“Our last Labradoodle loved every person he met. This one hides and growls if people come over to visit.” 

“She’s our second German Shepherd. Our other one just left our cats alone.”

“Our previous rescue dogs have all been super chill but our recent rescue can’t ever settle down and is always getting into everything.”


I’m sure you’ve detected a running theme in these imagined but all too real scenarios behavior consultants and trainers hear all of the time. Well-meaning dog owners can’t help but compare and contrast their current dog with the dogs they’ve shared their homes with in the past. Truth be told, it’s not just clients we are working with that make a habit of comparative thinking. Parents do it. Teachers sometimes do it. Bosses can be guilty of it as well. Honestly, we all do it, even if we aren’t always completely aware of that fact. 


To Compare Is Human…..

We, humans, are hardwired to compare and contrast. It is an adaptive behavior and a survival technique. Our ancestors had to be able to critically assess which of the foods they were foraging for were safe for consumption and which ones would have limited the gene pool by poisoning them. Being able to compare, among many other things, a potential meal’s texture, color, shape, size, and structure was integral for making sure that the item being analyzed was safe for ingestion. Being able to contrast two similar plants, one which was safe to eat and one which was not, was a skill that has kept us humans on planet Earth for generations upon generations. And beyond survival, being able to critically compare can help us classify and categorize information which in turn can certainly help us simplify our lives. 


Orange You Glad I Didn’t Say Lemon?

Take fruit as an example. I, for one, am glad that I can simply look at an orange and a lemon and immediately tell the difference between two fruits that fall under the citrus fruit category. No need to cut open and taste each one. Past experience has taught me to expect that an orange will taste sweet and a lemon’s tang will cause me to pucker up my lips, usually, before the lemon even reaches my mouth. 

Being able to compare the taste of a lemon to an orange saves me a whole lot of time and is incredibly helpful when I am looking for a sweeter beverage to accompany my eggs and bacon in the morning. I challenge anyone to substitute unsweetened lemon juice for orange juice as their breakfast drink of choice and tell me they absolutely love it! This is just one of the many ways that comparison helps us to make an informed (and in the fruit example, a much more palatable) decision. 


Which Brings Us Back To Dogs

When it comes to our dogs, however, one of the unfortunate side effects of comparing one dog to another can be that the comparison very often comes with preconceived expectations (the reason why my lips would pucker before I even brought the lemon up to them) of how our dog will or should behave or perform or what they will enjoy or how they will make us feel or laugh or smile. When the dog doesn’t, or simply can’t, live up to those expectations, there is all too often the inevitable disappointment or letdown that follows. Which typically doesn’t feel all that great and can lead to a sense of defeat or dare I say, a sense of despair. 

We are oftentimes left wondering, “Where did I or my dog go wrong?” Which in turn can damage the relationship we have with the dog standing before us; the one who is currently in need of our guidance and help. 


Here Are A Few Questions To Consider

If we know that making comparisons is a species-typical behavior for humans, what can we do about it? First, being fully aware that we have a propensity for comparative thinking can be very helpful. We can’t change what we don’t acknowledge. 

Secondly, I want you to honestly ask yourself a few questions. Please ask yourself, is the comparison I’m making between past and present dogs helpful? Is it neutral? Or is it harmful? 

An example of a helpful comparison could be thinking about the difference between your dogs’ body language. Learning how each of your dogs expresses themselves can be a very informative exercise. This type of comparison should be done as objectively as possible and can be a great way to learn each of your dogs’ ways of communicating with you.  

A neutral comparison might be that your current dog loves hotdogs more than any dog you’ve owned before. There is no judgment or expectation of your current dog. Rather, you are observing what your current dog likes to eat without any attached expectation of a certain outcome. 

Conversely, a harmful comparison might be that your current dog lunges at and barks or growls at people and dogs when you walk him down the street. This is a behavior that you haven’t seen in your other dogs. Therefore, you might surmise this dog is “bad.” Or “aggressive.” Or “broken.” This comparison does nothing to inform you about the behavior you are seeing and it is applying a label to your current dog that may not be accurate. 

I’m going to go out on a limb and propose that much of the time, this type of comparison is made out of a sense of frustration and a desire for things to be different. Or better. Or like they used to be. Or how we imagine they should be. Which can turn into wishful thinking and a lot of second-guessing ourselves. So, what should we do instead? 


I’m Glad You Asked

Now that we are more aware of how human nature can lead us down the path of comparative thinking, perhaps a better use of our time would be to see our dogs as the individuals they all are and to accept the things about them that are different than the dogs we’ve owned before. 

I personally think one of the greatest gifts we can give to anyone, regardless of species, is to see the individual in front of us and try to get to a place of understanding and perhaps even more importantly, acceptance of who that individual is. I think of it as an active observation, without judgment, of the individual. Acceptance carries no hidden agenda or preconceived notions. It is simply the act of making peace with the way things are. 

But let’s not confuse a state of acceptance with a state of resignation. The difference between the two is that acceptance can feel proactive while being resigned to a situation is reactive and comes with the added burden of acquiescing to something we didn’t ask for or want. Resignation can leave us feeling powerless and feeling like we have no control over any outcomes. 

However, when we truly reach a place of acceptance of an individual, we can let go of the imaginary ( and let’s admit it, sometimes wholly unrealistic) perfection of who that individual, at least in our minds, is supposed to be. Once we alter our original expectations for this individual,  we can start working on a plan to help the individual with whatever issues may be impeding their success. We do not ask for the individual to be perfect. But for our lives with the individual to be meaningful, connected, and genuine. 


It’s Not Nirvana

Let’s not seek a state of perfection based on past experiences with previous dogs because that ideal does not exist. Not for us and certainly not for the dogs that we invite into our lives. Let’s instead find a reason to love the quirky things that make our dogs the individuals they are. After all, they don’t judge us for singing in the shower, eating Cheetos for breakfast (especially if you would be so kind as to share), or laughing uproariously at Schitt’s Creek. 

And if you find that your dog has behaviors that fall outside of the range of what is considered to be typical for most dogs, please do your research to find a reputable, ethical, science-based behavior consultant. One that keeps up with the latest scientific research and holds themselves accountable for continuing education so that they can be best prepared to help design a behavior modification plan to help you and your dog have a meaningful, connected, and genuine relationship that is not influenced or haunted by the ghosts of dogs gone by. 


Now what?

  • If you find yourself making comparisons, ask yourself is the comparison helpful, neutral, or harmful. 
  • If the comparison is helpful or neutral, continue on. If it’s harmful, however, then dig deep as to why you’re making this comparison. Is it because you’re frustrated or wish things were different with this pet?
  • For those quirks that are truly quirks and are not dangerous or harmful to the pet or others, try looking at them through a different lens to see if you can start to feel differently about them. If those quirks are dangerous or harmful, reach out to our team at [email protected] to schedule a consultation.


What is the Difference Between Training & Behavior?

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As someone who sees clients as both a trainer and a behavior consultant, I often get asked the question, is the behavior I see my dog exhibiting a training issue or a behavior issue?  I think it is a legitimate question and one that deserves a closer look, especially because it can help a client determine what type of professional would be best suited to help them work on and implement a training plan for themselves and their dogs. 



When I think of training, the first thing that comes to mind is giving our dogs the tools they will need to help them safely navigate our human world and expectations. Dogs certainly weren’t on the receiving end of a ten-page document on how to live harmoniously with humans in a home! They do what works for dogs because after all, that’s exactly what they are. They don’t come hardwired to understand that open doorways are not for dashing out of or that delicious turkey sandwiches left unattended by humans are not for their consumption. It is up to the humans in their lives to teach them the skills they will need to share our homes in a way that still allows them to be dogs but also addresses safety concerns and good manners from the human perspective. 

So how do dogs typically acquire these essential skills? Perhaps you’ve taken your dog to a group class like puppy kindergarten or beginning obedience. Or you’ve hired a trainer to do a remote training session or come to your home. Or you could have joined an online training forum. Through one of these venues, you have taught your dog some basic manners such as sit, down, stay, or to go to her “place” when cued. Are these acquired skills essential from the dog’s perspective? Probably not. It is highly unlikely that your dog finds it necessary to do a sit/stay or go to her “place” when the pizza delivery arrives. And yet, from a safety perspective, we humans know that these trained behaviors help to keep us, our dogs, and possibly the pizza safe! So, as responsible dog guardians, we train our dogs to respond reliably to these cues. 


Wait, There is More

Now, technically we know that trained cues are behaviors. In the textbook Learning and Behavior, the definition of behavior is as follows: “anything a person or other animal does that can be measured” (Moore, 2011; Reber, 1995; Skinner, 1938). The book goes further by saying that “anything an animal does might qualify as behavior, whether measurable or not, but for scientific analysis we are necessarily limited to those things we can measure” (Baum, 2011). A cued sit or stay is certainly something that a dog does and there is no doubt we could find ways to measure the behavior but it is very unlikely that a measurement is necessary for daily functioning. We just need to know that the cued behavior is reliable in a variety of circumstances. The predictability of our dogs understanding and performing their known cues is helpful for their daily functioning so that they can live cohesively in our homes with minimal stress for both species. 



Now that I have explained what might constitute a training issue, let’s take a look at what would more likely fall under the behavior issue category. When a prospective client contacts Pet Harmony with a concern about their dog’s behavior, we would typically be thinking about behaviors that are considered maladaptive behaviors. 

The American Psychological Association defines maladaptive behaviors as “a condition in which biological traits or behavior patterns are detrimental, counterproductive or otherwise interfere with optimal functioning in various domains, such as successful interaction with the environment and effectual coping with the challenges and stresses of daily life” ( Bearing that definition in mind, typical behavior issues a dog behavior consultant might be contacted to help with could include the cluster of behaviors that help describe things like leash reactivity, separation-related problems, fear of strangers, and dog to dog aggression. In other words, if a dog is exhibiting behaviors that prohibit optimal functioning in their daily lives, a behavior consultation would better address these concerns than a training session. To help us further clarify the differences between training and behavior, I will provide some common scenarios that fall under each category. 




  • Your dog is jumping up on visitors as they enter your home as a form of greeting.
  • Your dog is counter surfing to retrieve food items during meal preparation.
  • Your newly rescued dog or a new puppy is house soiling or chewing or destroying household items.
  • Your dog is pulling you down the street on walks making it very difficult and uncomfortable to walk them.
  • Your dog is emitting a low growl or is barking and lunging at visitors as they enter your home.
  • Your dog took a counter surfed item and is freezing, growling, or air snapping your direction as you approach him to retrieve the item.
  • Your newly adopted dog is soiling in the house or destroying items whenever you leave her alone.
  • Your dog is pulling, lunging, and barking every time he sees another dog on a walk.


As you can see there are some similarities in the scenarios above. For example, in the first example of visitors entering the home, both reactions from the dog are not ideal. We don’t necessarily want our dogs to rehearse the behavior of jumping up on guests to greet them. However, I’m guessing that it would be way more troublesome to owners everywhere if their pet was exhibiting the set of behaviors (growling, barking, lunging) that are described under the behavior category. Both situations are the same in that the style of greeting isn’t well-suited for safe interactions with visitors but in the behavior example, the dog’s behavioral choices are much more likely to include the possibility of escalating to a bite if management and a good behavior modification plan are not implemented. 


Why Does Any of This Matter?

It matters because it’s important to work with the appropriate professional to help you reach the training and behavior goals you have for your dog. Whether you think your dog has training issues or behavior issues, hiring a trainer or behavior consultant who understands learning theory and the behavioral sciences can help you safely, effectively, and ethically address those concerns by providing you with a plan to help you and your dog. We at Pet Harmony are ready to help you address these concerns, whatever they be, because we believe that the relationship you have with your dog should be mutually beneficial to you both so that you can live the best life that is possible for you and your dog. You can find out about the type of services we offer by using this link:

We are here to help and look forward to hearing from you, whatever your concerns may be. 


Now what?

  • Think about a behavior that your dog exhibits. Does it seem more like a training issue or a behavior issue?
  • Determine if you need to work with a professional (this blog post can help you do that.)
  • Choose a professional and start working with them.