Why Does My Dog Bark So Much (& What To Do About It!)

My short, tongue-in-cheek answer to the question, “Why does my dog bark so much?” is that they’re a dog and that’s one of the ways they communicate. But that answer doesn’t usually help and doesn’t make for an interesting blog post. So let’s dive in a little further, shall we? Starting with a few fundamental pieces of information about barking that will help you figure out where to go from here.  


Barking is a form of canine communication

I already mentioned that barking is a form of communication. It’s a natural, normal, species-typical behavior for dogs. And while I know it can be frustrating, it’s not “bad” behavior, per se. I appreciate that my dog barks to tell me he wants to come inside or barks when someone approaches the front door. I was less enthused when he would bark and lunge at people, dogs, and loud/large vehicles that passed by us when I first adopted him. 

All of this is to say that barking in and of itself is not necessarily the problem. It’s simply a form of communication and sometimes can even be a symptom of the real problem. When clients come to me asking how they can get their dog to stop barking, I ask them to describe the situations in which they don’t like their dog barking, or want their dog to bark less. Then I ask them in what situations they do want their dog to bark. Most of the time they have at least one situation where they do want their dog to bark or at least where they don’t mind it. 

I bring this up first so you can keep that in mind as you read on about why dogs bark and what we can do about it. Sometimes the answer is- nothing! Let them be their doggy selves! And that’s okay. If both you and your dog (and neighbors within earshot) are happy and healthy then you don’t have to do anything.


Barking works

When a behavior is continuing to happen, that means that it’s working for the individual performing it. Why bring this up? Because very frequently I hear, “My dog is barking for no reason.” The laws of behavior say that that can’t be true. Behavior happens for a reason.

Sometimes the reason becomes clear when we look at the consequences of that barking. Fido barks and the scary person moves further away. Fluffy barks and their favorite person moves closer. Rover barks and their person joins in the ruckus with them!

Other times it can be more difficult to figure out what your dog is getting out of barking. That could be because we’re not experiencing the consequences as our dog does (i.e. they have a different sensory experience than humans do), we’re not yet proficient in observing behavior objectively, or the consequence is something that they are experiencing internally (e.g. barking is fun!) Working with a professional who is proficient in observing behavior objectively can help with some of this, however, there will be times when we just can’t know what’s going on without being able to speak a human language with our dog. 

5 reasons why your dog is barking

Now that we know some fundamentals about barking- it’s a species-typical behavior used for communication and your dog is getting something out of it- we can look at some common reasons why dogs bark. 


1. Attention-seeking

Oftentimes dogs bark because we respond to it. Remember- it’s a behavior that works! And even negative attention can still be attention. Only the learner gets to decide what is reinforcing to them and for some dogs that can include being yelled at or asked to be quiet.  


2. Excitement

Joyful exclamations are not just for humans! Sometimes our dogs are so excited that they can’t contain themselves. 


3. Fear, anxiety, aggression, or a startle response

While these are all different, I lumped them together because they share the same common core issue: discomfort. Many dogs learn that the best way to get something scary or unsettling to go away is to tell it to do so. 


4. Medical conditions 

There are some medical and cognitive conditions that can increase vocalization and some dogs bark when they get injured. Physical discomfort, not just emotional discomfort, can lead to barking!


5. It’s fun, a habit, or some other reason we’ll never know for sure  

I put this as a catch-all category for when dogs bark and we don’t get to know the reason until we can teach them to speak a human language. Behavior is complex and sometimes we just have to accept that while we might not know the reason, we can still modify the behavior. 


How can I tell why my dog is barking?

While barking is a form of communication, it’s not the only one. Dogs primarily communicate through their body language and that body language will give you some insight into why your dog is behaving in a particular way. Here are some questions to think about when it comes to figuring out why your dog is barking:

  • What does their body language look like? Are they loose and wiggly or stiff and tense? Are there other stress signals?
  • What are they barking at?
  • What does their bark sound like? Low or high pitched? Fast or slow tempo? 
  • What usually happens after they bark in this particular way? Do you pay attention to them? Does something move closer or farther away? 

Remember to look for all of the communication signals- not just the vocalizations- in addition to what they’re getting out of the behavior! 


How can I teach my dog to bark less?

Get ready for the standard dog trainer answer that annoys pet parents: it depends. As we discussed, there are a lot of different reasons why a dog barks in the first place. The answer to how you can teach your dog to bark less is going to depend on why they’re doing it in the first place. For example, if you have a senior dog undergoing cognitive decline which is causing them to vocalize more, a dog trainer isn’t the answer. Your vet is. On the flip side, if your dog is barking aggressively at people who enter your home, your vet isn’t the answer. A behavior consultant who specializes in behavior issues is. 


Let’s look at the broad strokes of where to start with each of the above reasons:

  1. Attention-seeking: make sure you’re meeting your dog’s needs before they feel it necessary to tell you about them. Asking for attention isn’t a bad thing. I very much appreciate when my dog let’s me know he is having tummy trouble and needs to go out in the middle of the night! I don’t want to eliminate attention-seeking behavior entirely. I want it to happen in a way I find appropriate (aka I don’t find it annoying), and it’s much easier to do that when we have a successful enrichment strategy first. More information about that in this blog about meeting my Winter Oso’s needs.
  2. Excitement: provide appropriate energy outlets while teaching calming skills. Anyone who has spent some time with elementary school-aged children knows that being calm is a skill and one that takes quite a while to learn. Once again, it’s far easier to teach that skill when we’ve addressed our dog’s needs for an appropriate energy outlet when they’re excited. 
  3. Fear, anxiety, aggression, or a startle response: the first step here is management. By that I mean arrange the environment so as to prevent your dog from being exposed to the thing they’re barking at. Both you and your dog will get some relief! The second step here is to work with a professional who is skilled in working with pups with these particular issues. Anxiety and skill-building are different things, as any human with anxiety would tell you. Successfully and safely working through these issues to help your dog feel more comfortable and confident isn’t necessarily intuitive and can have a large margin for error if you’re not sure what to do. 
  4. Medical conditions: with any behavior, especially those that crop up suddenly, we recommend speaking with your veterinarian first. You may not know how medical concerns could impact a particular behavior, but your vet should! Check out this blog post about medical issues impacting behavior if you’re interested in learning more about this topic. 
  5. It’s fun, a habit, or some other reason we’ll never know for sure: this is another one where I recommend working with a behavior professional, if only because the answer is going to be so dependent on the situation that it’s difficult to provide a solution in a blog post.

Now what?

Happy training,


7 Fun Halloween Activities for Dogs

Holidays are best spent with the ones you love, and for many of you out there, that means your dog (or cat, or bird, or turtle). So if you’re looking for some fun things to do with your dog this Halloween, look no further! 

A note: yes, we’re the enrichment ladies. But notice that I’m talking about “Halloween activities”, not necessarily “Halloween enrichment”. Enrichment is about meeting your pet’s needs to encourage them to perform species-typical behavior and achieve desired behavioral results. While some of these activities may fit that bill for certain individuals, I doubt that all will be for all individuals. This post is really just talking about activities you can do for the purpose of fun instead of for the purpose of meeting needs. More information about this is in this blog post about When Enrichment Isn’t Enriching. 

1. Leaf pile hide-and-seek.

All you need for this one is a pile of leaves, some treats, and your dog! Sprinkle some treats in a safe leaf pile and let your dog go to town sniffing and searching for them. This is one activity that may very well prove to be an enrichment activity for your dog as it has the potential to fulfill the foraging, species-typical needs, and mental exercise enrichment categories.

2. Bobbing for toys.

A twist on the classic bobbing for apples. Fill a small container with water, put some floating toys or treats in it, and let your dog fish them out! Bonus points for dogs who already know how to get a specific toy and asking them to grab one in particular. 

3. Preference test different Halloween treats.

One of the best parts of Halloween as a kid was all of the different types of candy. It was like a neighborhood-wide candy preference test to determine your favorites. We can do the same for our dogs! Pick up some of those fun Halloween treats at your local pet store and go to town with a treat preference test! Check out the video below for how to do a treat preference test. 

4. Treat for looking at Halloween decorations.

I always wonder what dogs think about decorations at this time of year. Some of them must be pretty scary, no matter how well-adjusted they are! We can help make decorations less scary by treating our pups for looking at- but not necessarily approaching- Halloween decorations. If they want to investigate they can as long as you’re sure that the decoration isn’t going to move and startle them. 

5. Doorbell as a “place” cue.

Teaching your dog to go hang out on their bed when the doorbell rings is a useful behavior in general, but it’s especially useful during Halloween! Check out the video below for how to teach a new cue for a known behavior. 

6. Trick-or-treat trick.

This trick involves asking your pet to pick up a plastic pumpkin (in Oso’s case, a cat face) like they’re going trick-or-treating. You can teach this trick like you would any pick-up-and-hold behavior!

7. Play dead trick.

A classic trick that will have your dog rising from the grave! This is a two-part trick: 1) lie down 2) flop over on your side. Oso’s cue is “bang bang”. The first “bang” signals the down and the second signals flopping over. 


Now what?

  • Choose an activity that sounds like fun for both you and your dog and get started!
  • We’d love to see your Halloween activities. Tag us @petharmonytraining on Facebook or Instagram with what you’re working on!


Happy training!


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 About Agency in Training?

Earlier this month, we had a really great question enter our inbox:

I have a 1-yr-old Chow-Pitbull-Cattle Dog-Mastiff mix (Embark). We train nearly daily, with multiple short sessions, 2-4 minutes each. Sometimes he’s really into it, sometimes (and I’m sure partially due to a lack of clarity on my part–working on it) he’d rather flop over and do some maintenance and cleaning of the old undercarriage. I’d really love to teach him an “It’s your Choice” cue–tell him we can use this training session to work on whatever he wants. I honestly don’t care if he chooses to work on positions or heeling, or if he just wants to play a game of tug. He’s the most joyful dog I’ve ever met, he makes your typical lab look grumpy! I’d love to be an agent of even more joy for him and I’m also hoping to increase his engagement in training. So far everything I’ve done with this goal in mind has resulted in a session where he’s just trying to guess at what I want. I’d love to see him express what he wants. 

And really, there are two questions here that we get asked pretty frequently: 

  1. How can you increase agency in training sessions? 
  2. How can I help my dog communicate what they want or need?

These are both fantastic questions, and each deserves its own attention, so today, we’re going to be chatting about introducing agency into training, and stay tuned next month for the conversation of building a way for your pet to communicate their needs!


So, let’s start with what agency is. 

The concept of agency is a pretty big one, heck, there is a whole chapter dedicated to it in Canine Enrichment for the Real World. But in order to answer “how can I introduce agency in my training sessions?” we first need to know what agency is. Allie did a great job of diving into the topic in a past blog, Agency: What It Is & Why Your Pet Needs It and I highly recommend you check that full post before continuing here.

The short answer is agency is the ability to have some level of control in our environment and be able to make choices that will result in a desirable outcome. Agency requires at least two desirable choices. Our favorite demonstration of this is Eddie Izzard’s “Cake or Death” skit. 

Cake or death does not meet the 2+ desirable choices and outcome criterion for agency, it’s a “yay or nay” situation, and what we want is “yay or yay”. 


The difference between “yay” and “nay”

If we are looking to provide our pet with 2 or more choices that result in desirable outcomes, that means, we need to know the difference between our pets saying “yay!” and our pets saying “nay!” 

Knowing the body language of the species of our pet can help us identify when we are getting that “yay” from them rather than the “nay!” We covered how to start identifying those in your pet in our November 2021 Training Challenge: “Yes, please!” vs. “No, thank you!”. Whether you are just starting to observe and communicate with your pet, or you are looking to hone your skills, it can be a great starting point.

Keep in mind, what is desirable is fluid, it can change with a number of factors. What is desirable one time, may not be desirable another!  Being able to observe your pet in real-time, and notice those “yays!” and “nays!” will help you assess whether your pet has agency during an activity. 

For example, Griffey LOVES playing with his flirt pole. He gets wiggly and does his joyful “woowoo!” when it comes out (yay!), but if I brought that out at 4:30 in the morning, he’d dive into his cave bed and grumble (nay!). 

Or for Laika, she gets so excited to go adventuring in the yard (yay!), unless it is raining, and then she’d really rather not (nay!). 

This is really a foundation for introducing agency into the equation.


Okay, so what next?

So, you have a solid idea of what agency is: 

Agency is the ability to have some level of control in our environment and be able to make choices that will result in a desirable outcome.

You can fill in the blanks: 

My pet’s “yay!” looks like:

My pet’s “nay!” looks like: 

Excellent! We can start looking at introducing agency into your training scenarios! 


Provide multiple ways to get the desirable thing.

If you are using chicken in your training because your dog loves chicken, well done! You’re using something of value to your dog. Now, consider the number of ways that your dog can get the chicken. Remember: agency is having the ability to make 2+ choices for a desirable outcome. The outcome can be the same thing, it doesn’t have to be a separate option, as long as it is desirable. 

This could look like this: 

Training with me gets chicken 

Using this puzzle feeder set to the side gets chicken 

Going to your mat gets chicken 

If our dog only gets chicken if they do what we ask, then they don’t have agency. It can really challenge our skills as a teacher if we open the number of opportunities up to our pet!


Provide multiple desirable options. 

You can let your pet pick the treats at the beginning of the session. Offer chicken (or a treat of your pet’s choosing) and cheese (another treat of your pet’s choosing) and see which one they opt for. (This post talks about doing a treat preference test with your pet!) Utilize that in your session for the day. You can even let them choose the exercise you work on with a little bit more intentionality! But that requires quite a bit more intentionality!


Listening to the “nay”. 

There are going to be times your pet is going to give you the “no, thank you”. I thank my dog for each and every “nay” as it gives me more information. Recognizing the “nay” and still providing a desirable outcome is a fantastic way to turn the table from “do the thing I asked or else no chicken” to “do the thing I ask, or communicate your needs and get chicken.” 

If this is a topic you’d like to learn more about, I highly recommend Enrichment for the Real World Episode 21 –  Ken Ramirez: Comprehensive Care. Around the 30-minute mark, Emily and Ken talk about what listening to a pet’s “no” can do for our relationships and our training. 


Now What? 

  • If you’d like a more in-depth look at agency, check out Allie’s blog fully dedicated to agency. 
  • If you’re ready to start identifying what your pet’s “yay” or “nay” looks like, then I recommend starting here. 
  • If you are ready to start introducing more agency into your training sessions, then look at the list above and identify areas for improvement! Make one change at a time so you don’t overwhelm yourself! 
  • Make sure to join our mailing list so that you get notified when our blog for building communication with our pets comes out next month! 

Happy training,


The Common Mistake That Will Cost You

How many times have you made this mistake: you learn something new and go straight to the fun part. The harder part. How can you push this new skill? What else can you do with it? Aaaaand you conveniently skip right over mastering foundation skills before doing all that. 

Sound familiar? Yeah, for me too. I’ve learned many skills that I’ve had to go back and re-learn and master those foundations after the fact. Usually, I would do that after I get myself into trouble or a sticky situation by trying to perform a more advanced skill without having a solid foundation first. And it’s always been harder for me to re-learn and undo those bad habits than it would to have learned the foundation in the first place. 

For some aspects of my life, I’ve learned that lesson (it only takes a few times of trying to crochet without a pattern and undoing 3 hours of work before taking the hint); when I want to try something new I watch foundation videos to make sure I start off on the right foot. I ask the experts what skills I need to perfect before I can get to the fun part. I practice until those skills are comfortable before trying to push the boundaries. For other aspects of my life, I’m still in that stage of recognizing I should do that but thinking this time it will be different. (It never is.)

This seems to be a pretty common trait of human learning: pushing boundaries before we’re ready. I see it a lot with my clients, too, where they gloss over critical foundation skills to get to the fun part. Or, gloss over critical foundation skills to get to the part that they think they need. But, here’s the thing. There’s a whole lot more that goes into what you actually need to develop a skill than the skill itself. 


A Low-Stakes Example

A few Christmases ago, I wanted to crochet bookmarks for a few friends. I had seen a cute pattern on Pinterest for an animal with a long, flat body and a little 3D head that would pop up out of the top of the book. But, of course, I wanted to make everyone’s favorite animals for their bookmarks instead and there were no bookmark patterns for those. 

I had crocheted amigurumi (that’s the fancy term for 3D crochet projects) twice before and kind of knew what made it work. I decided to give it a go and make my own patterns. I already hinted at the result above: I crocheted for hours and unraveled my work several times. I knew how to make a sphere because I had a pattern for that, but what about an animal with a more pyramid-shaped head? What about an oval? I had completely overestimated my abilities because I didn’t actually have the foundation skills; I didn’t know truly why it worked the way it did and I didn’t know enough to be able to break the rules of the patterns I could find. 

It took me a lot longer and many more headaches to try to do something I “kind of knew” instead of learning the foundation skills first and then getting to the fun part. I did eventually figure it out, and now I’m kicking myself that I didn’t write down the pattern for some of these! It will take me a long time once again to figure it out because it was pure trial and error instead of tweaking known rules. 



What does this look like in relation to animal behavior?

There are two ways that I see this often come out in relation to pets that we work with:

  1. Humans trying to speed through their foundation skills, or skip them altogether
  2. Ignoring the foundation skills the animal needs

Let’s take a look at each of these.


Skipping the human skills

The first often looks similar to my crochet example. The human knows a bit about some of the foundation skills and is itching to get to the fun part, or the part that they think is relevant to their goals. They don’t realize how much more laborious (and in the case of aggressive animals, unsafe) they’re making it by trying to speed through their foundation skills. It’s like a tortoise and hare situation. 

Here are some of the foundation skills that humans need to work with their pet who has behavior issues:

  • Observation skills
  • Understanding of body language for that particular species
  • Ability to watch the environment and their pet at the same time
  • Ability to react to the pet’s body language within seconds
  • Timing for training exercises
  • Problem-solving skills
  • Ability to respond appropriately to behavior throughout the day, outside of only within a training session

The results are often very different if one of these skills is lacking. When I did in-person sessions my clients would joke about how well-behaved their pets were for me, like their pet was in the principal’s office on their best behavior. The truth was that I had mastered the above foundation skills, which made my results different. Once my clients were proficient in those skills they saw the same results. 

Sometimes we see folks skipping the foundation skills because they’re not as exciting (like I did in the above example). Sometimes, though, we see this happening because they don’t quite understand how those skills are relevant to their pet’s behavior modification plan. I get that too; it can be hard to conceptualize some of these concepts without seeing a real-time application. 

I see that a lot with learning body language. For those people who understand in theory why it’s important but have a hard time truly visualizing it, I often see a light bulb go off when I start to point out their pet’s body language signals in real-time and then predict what they’re about to do and what the human should do in response. It’s much easier to conceptualize when you see it being put to such a helpful use! If that describes your situation, be sure to ask your consultant to explain what a particular skill is used for and to demonstrate it. 


Skipping the pet skills

In this week’s podcast episode, Kathy Sdao talked about the importance of eating as the first behavior. It’s hard to train using food if we have a pet who doesn’t reliably eat treats! Often when I see folks skipping pet skills, it’s the skills like this that we don’t even think about teaching. The behaviors that we often take for granted, like eating, sleeping, relaxing, sniffing, and mobility. We’re focused too much on the end goal behavior and forget that there’s a whole host of mechanics- aka other behaviors- that make up that end goal. 

This is why here at Pet Harmony we focus on enrichment first when we meet with a new client. Enrichment means meeting all of an animal’s needs and those needs provide the foundation on which the rest of the plan is built. For example, if we have a pet who has trouble sleeping they’re not going to learn and retain information very well. We’re going to work much harder to teach basic skills to that animal than to one who is well-rested. The same goes for a pet who has an upset stomach, or is wired with too much energy, or who doesn’t feel safe in the training environment. Meeting needs is the ultimate foundation. 


How do I make sure I don’t miss those foundation skills?

One of the best answers is to ask an expert. They should know what skills go into a particular exercise, from training mechanics to beyond. But if that’s not currently in your cards, think about the mechanics that go into a particular exercise or behavior with the determination of a toddler. 


For example:

Goal: I want my dog to calmly look at another dog and look back at me for a treat on a walk instead of barking.

To take a treat, they have to reliably eat in that environment. 

To reliably eat in that environment, they have to reliably eat that treat period. 

To reliably eat in that environment, they have to feel comfortable enough to be able to eat. 

To feel comfortable in that environment, they should have an escape route. 

To have an escape route that works, they need to have practiced the escape route ahead of time in an environment where they’re comfortable enough to learn a new skill. 

To practice the escape route, we need to identify an environment that they are comfortable in.

To identify an environment they are comfortable in, we need to be able to see signs of stress and signs of comfort. 

To see signs of stress, the dog needs to be comfortable at some point in time so we can see a difference between stress and comfortable. 

For the dog to be comfortable at some point, they need to be able to relax. 


See how many other behaviors go into that one end goal? And that’s just looking at one piece of that goal! We could do the same thing with the other behaviors included in that sentence: calmly looking at another dog, looking back at the handler, and the handler being able to dispense the treat. 

This is why asking an expert is easier; we’re more proficient at doing all of this. 


Now what?

  • Take a close look at a behavior or skill you’re trying to teach your pet. 
  • If you’re getting stuck, identify where you’re getting stuck. Then, consider all of the foundation skills and behaviors that make up your goal behavior. Is there one that could use some sprucing up?
  • Dive into that foundation skill and focus on applying it in easier situations. When that feels comfortable, then try applying it to the situation you’re stuck on. 
  • Is that situation getting less sticky? If so, great! Continue on that vein. If not, go back to the drawing board. 
  • If that all sounds like a heck of a lot of work, work with a professional. We work with clients all over the world. Check out our services here. 

Happy training!



Predictability, Choice, Control, Oh My!


Over the past few years, conversations in the animal training community about predictability, choice, control, and agency have become more common–which is a great thing! But these terms can be somewhat confusing, and if you’re new to these topics – especially concerning animal welfare – they may seem… you know… a little “why should I care about this?”

So let’s talk more about what these terms mean, how they relate to each other, and why they matter to anyone who lives and/or works with animals.


Choice and Control

Let’s start with agency and work backward from there. “Agency” means that an individual has control over their own outcomes.

In order for a learner to have control over their outcomes, they must have choices so they can select their desired outcome. So, choice is a necessary component of control, but control doesn’t necessarily happen as a result of every choice. For example, a dog in a playgroup who doesn’t want to play with other dogs can choose to either sit in front of the gate, or cower in a corner, or any number of other avoidant behaviors–but if the people running the playgroup don’t honor the dog’s request to leave through the gate when they sit there, the dog’s choice had no impact on their outcome. So think of control like squares and choice like rectangles: in the same way that all squares are rectangles but not all rectangles are squares, all control involves being able to make choices, but not all choices result in having control.

Another point about choice: “do it or else” isn’t really a choice. In order for a choice to be a choice, there must be two or more desirable outcomes. If the only options are carrot or stick, no emotionally and behaviorally healthy individual is going to choose the stick, which means it’s not really a choice. So it’s our job as caregivers to arrange the environment so that our learners have multiple desirable options at their disposal.



Predictability is more distantly related to choice and control, in that it isn’t necessarily a part of the definition of agency, but it does play an important role in why all this stuff matters. Fortunately for us, predictability doesn’t mean that we have to have our days scheduled down to the 15-minute segments and we never waiver from the plan. That wouldn’t be sustainable for most of us! What a relief that ain’t it!

Think of predictability as reliable if-then contingencies. 

  • If mom calls me and I come to her, then good things will happen.
  • If I go to my relaxation station, then I will be safe.
  • If Fluffy gets fed, then I’ll get fed next.
  • If I eat my food at my station, then it will not be stolen by anyone else in the house.

Predictability gives individuals a sense of trust and security.


Ok, but…

So that’s all super neat, but why does it matter?

Well, from the animal’s point of view, it matters because individuals who have a robust amount of agency in their lives are typically physically, emotionally, and behaviorally healthier than individuals who don’t. Similarly, individuals who have a lot of predictability and reliability in their environment and relationships are typically more secure and trusting than those who don’t. Agency and predictability are fundamental components of good welfare.

And from the human’s point of view, pets are expensive, messy, and live heartbreakingly short lives (for the most part). And most animal-related jobs are both physically and emotionally taxing, pay only a fraction of human-oriented parallel professions, and aren’t particularly respected in the rest of society. The overwhelming majority of people who are willing to deal with all of that do so because they passionately love animals.

And that means we don’t only want the animals in our care to be physically, behaviorally, and emotionally healthy so they can be their best selves, we also want to have the best possible relationship with them–a relationship built on trust.


But relinquishing control is hard!

It can be scary to replace control with trust. We want to control the animals in our care because we’re afraid of what they’ll choose if we let them make choices. We want to control them because we’ve been taught since birth that that’s what we’re supposed to do. We want to control them because, yeah, being in control feels good! But time and time again, when we teach our clients and students how to give the animals in their care abundant choice, control, and predictability they tell us the same thing:

“I already loved my pet and had a good relationship with them, but I had no idea how much better it could be. I didn’t think a relationship like this was possible.”


Now What?

What To Do When the Best Defense Is a Good Offense

Much of aggressive behavior, including bites, is based in fear. And the goal of those behaviors is typically to increase the distance between the individual and whatever they perceive as a threat. Oftentimes, when I explain all of this to my clients, the next question I hear is:

“If they’re afraid, why do they approach someone and then bite them?”

That’s a valid question. If the goal is to increase distance, why would the animal then purposefully move closer? My answer? Sometimes the best defense is a good offense. 


The Best Defense is a Good Offense Mentality

There are plenty of people who have this mentality. A large part of the Rom-Com genre is based on it: “I’m going to break things off before I get hurt.” Often when we experience other people with this mentality, we can recognize that it’s coming from a place of past, negative experiences and hurt. But sometimes it’s harder to see how an animal got to that place. 

I’ve talked in previous posts that animals, including humans, have a few different ways to react when they’re stressed: fight, flight, freeze (we’re ignoring the other options). Most of our pets start off choosing flight or freeze when they’re very young. And if those behaviors work for them- i.e. they are able to reduce the threat- they typically continue choosing flight or freeze. Individuals do what works for them. 

The problem comes in when flight and freeze stop working; when they’re either not possible to perform or they don’t work to reduce the threat. When that happens, pets often resort to fight-type behaviors (i.e. aggression), which usually works pretty darn well to get threats to go away. And what they’re learning is that the best defense against threats is a good offense. It’s the only thing that works. 


Continuing the Cliched Sayings: The Road to Hell is Paved in Good Intentions

Sometimes this scenario happens because people don’t know what subtle stress signals to look for to know if their pet is uncomfortable or not in a particular situation. That often means that they’re not seeing flight and freeze behaviors for what they are and making sure their pet has an escape route or helping to remove a threat if an escape route isn’t possible.

For example, here’s a picture where a dog is displaying subtle stress signals, but I’m guessing the photographer doesn’t know what to look for when it comes to signs of discomfort. This is a scenario that could turn south very quickly, especially because one of the dog’s escape routes isn’t possible due to the wall (or furniture? It’s hard to tell what that is.)

I would say that perhaps just as frequently, though, teaching a “best defense is a good offense” mentality happens due to very well-intentioned people who are just trying to help their pet be more comfortable. They know that their pet is afraid but don’t necessarily know how to help their pet work through that. Common mistakes that I see here include:

  • Holding a small dog or cat to be pet by a person who makes them uncomfortable
  • Asking a pet to move closer to a person or animal who makes them uncomfortable using food or treats
  • Asking a dog who is uncomfortable with other dogs on a walk to sit and watch other dogs pass by closely without other forms of behavior modification
  • Continuing to try to harness a dog who is moving away from the harness
  • Continuing to pursue a pet who has stolen something and is running away with it whenever you approach (this can sometimes be a play behavior, and it can sometimes not be a play behavior)

See how easy it is to accidentally teach an animal that flight or freeze aren’t effective? The road to hell really is paved with good intentions. I’ve seen so many well-intentioned, loving, lovely people who have accidentally taught their pet that the best defense is a good offense because they were trying to help their pet. And, if this is you, I’ll tell you what I tell my clients: hindsight is 20/20. It’s really easy to beat ourselves up for making mistakes, but you didn’t know and you can’t beat yourself up for not knowing. Now that you know better, you can do better. All isn’t lost. 

What should I do if this is my pet?

If you have a pet who thinks that the best defense is a good offense, the first thing I always recommend is working with a behavior professional. As illustrated above, very common internet recommendations can make things a whole lot worse. A professional knows how to navigate these situations to keep everyone safe and to make sure that we’re truly helping the pet work through their fear. 

But, in the meantime, while you’re waiting to work with a professional, I have two recommendations:

  • Management
  • If your pet is asking to move away (i.e. flight), you let them move away


Management is definitely not a new topic to this blog. It means setting up the environment and/or situations to prevent the unwanted behavior from being able to happen. If your pet tries to bite people who come in the front door, put your pet in a bedroom or crate with the door safely secured before the doorbell rings. If your dog is sometimes uncomfortable with other dogs on leash, don’t introduce them to everyone on a walk. Management prevents our pets from practicing these fight-type behaviors and continuing to learn that they do in fact work. 


I mentioned at the very beginning of this post that the goal of aggressive behavior is often to increase the distance between the individual and the perceived threat. That’s also the goal behind flight; it just looks very different. 

If fight-type behaviors often happen as a result of learning that flight isn’t possible or doesn’t work, what if we taught them that it does work? That we will let them move away if they’re uncomfortable? That we will actively give them the ability to make a different choice? When done properly, most pets start to make that choice when they’re stressed instead. Stay tuned next week for why I think everyone should teach flight training to their pets. 


But shouldn’t I teach my pet that fight behaviors don’t work?

I get this question every now and then. And I get it. We don’t like those particular behaviors, so why should we keep telling our pets that those behaviors work? Here’s the problem with teaching that fight behaviors don’t work: there’s a really big chance of this backfiring. So much so that there’s actually a term for it: behavioral fallout. 

When we try to “stand our ground” when a dog growls, they often end up biting. When we “stand our ground” when they bite, they often end up biting harder. One of you is eventually going to back down, and it’s not going to be pretty for anyone involved. 

It is possible to suppress these behaviors through pain, fear, force, or intimidation, but trust me when I say that that doesn’t usually work in the long run. A lot of our clients come to us after having suppressed these behaviors for years (again, with the absolute best of intentions and often at the request of professionals using outdated training models) all for it to turn into a giant outburst, usually more severe than the previous behavior. 

We have more long-term success with a much lower chance of behavioral fallout if we teach our pets that, yes, those behaviors do work. Threats will go away if you ask them to. And also, you don’t need to ask them to because you can go away yourself or your human will intervene or they’re not that scary after all. 

I know this can be a hard concept to wrap your head around, so I have a whole separate blog post about why I like growling. Check it out here


Now what?

  • This one should come as no surprise to long-time readers: learn your pet’s body language and subtle stress signals regardless of whether they are a “best defense is a good offense” kiddo or not. Check out this blog post for some of our favorite dog and cat body language resources.
  • If this article is hitting close to home with your pet, make sure that your management strategy is up to snuff. Identify things that make your pet uncomfortable and come up with a game plan for how to avoid those stressors. Make sure to communicate your pet’s management strategy with everyone who is involved in their day-to-day care. 
  • Listen to what your pet is asking for and respond accordingly. Is your pet leaning away when someone tries to pet them? They’re asking to not be petted in that moment. Is your dog reacting at another dog on leash? Even though it doesn’t look like it, they’re still asking for space. If you don’t know for sure what your pet is asking, make sure you rope in a professional to help. Behaviors are not always as they seem at first glance!
  • And, if there’s a safety concern, I always recommend working with a behavior professional. Our team has clients all over the world and is ready to help you! Email us at [email protected] to get started.

Happy training!


Pain Doesn’t Always Look Like Pain


Think back to a time when you have been in pain. 

Now let’s get more specific: think back to a time when you have been in pain and you’ve tried not to show it. There are lots of reasons to not outwardly show that you’re in pain. Maybe you don’t trust that people around you will be empathetic if you show pain. Maybe you have coworkers who accuse you of faking it to get sympathy. Maybe you feel pressure to perform, and demonstrating pain might get in the way or disqualify you somehow. Maybe you’ve been taught that demonstrating pain is dramatic or weak or shameful. There are lots of reasons that we don’t want to let others know that we’re in pain.

One more thought exercise: think about a time when you develop a growing awareness that you’re in pain. Maybe you’ve been excited about something, and only as the adrenaline fades do you start to realize that something hurts. Or maybe it’s a weird, new, amorphous kind of pain that doesn’t feel familiar and isn’t something you can easily identify. You don’t feel good, but you can’t really articulate what exactly doesn’t feel good–or even what it feels like, for that matter.

Ok, so by now you’ve probably started to realize that pain is complicated. Pain isn’t always obvious–to ourselves or to others. And pain can look and feel like a lot of different things.


Non-humans aren’t humans…

Want an added layer of complexity? (Don’t say no! Hear me out!) Now let’s imagine how exponentially more complicated communicating and identifying pain can be across species. Up until now, this entire conversation has been happening between two humans. At least, that’s my assumption. (Feel free to let me know if you’re from another planet or dimension!)

We know that non-human animals experience pain, but we don’t know how they think about their pain. We can’t ask them about their perception of what pain means to them. What we do know is that pain is extremely complicated in all species, and it isn’t always as obvious as we’d like it to be.

This means that you’re not a bad pet owner if you missed recognizing a pain response. You aren’t neglecting your pet! This stuff is just hard sometimes.


…But we share a lot of commonalities

So why am I talking about pain in a blog about behavior? Let’s revisit those thought exercises about the times you’ve been in pain. Does being in pain change your behavior? Do you avoid activities you’d otherwise enjoy? Are you quieter? Louder? Crankier? More anxious? Less patient? More quick to judge or criticize or snap at someone? Less interested in being touched?

Are you picking up what I’m putting down?

In many cases, when we see a change in behavior – especially (though not always) when that change is sudden and has no obvious explanation – it indicates that pain is the culprit. And you simply cannot out-train pain. So, in those situations, if we want to change the behavior, we have to identify and treat (or at least manage) the pain.

We cannot expect our pets to handle their pain more gracefully than we handle ours.


Subtle signs of pain

Here’s the tricky part: how can we identify pain in our pets when it isn’t obvious? It doesn’t always look like limping or crying. This is the part that can be super tricky, but here are some of the common signs that an animal might be experiencing pain:

Loss of appetite

If your otherwise snackalicious pet has suddenly decided to turn up their nose at food, pain might be the culprit. We don’t always want to eat a lot when we’re hurting, either.

Twitching skin

If you’ve ever watched horses’ skin twitch when a fly lands on them, you know what I’m talking about here. If your pet’s skin starts twitching but there aren’t any flies present, that might be a pain response.

Trembling muscles

It’s totally normal for muscles to tremble after long physical exertion or when an animal is cold or scared, but if their muscles are trembling even when they’re at rest, it could be a sign of pain.

Sudden orientation towards a body part

If your pet suddenly swings their head around and stares at a specific body part, they might be experiencing an acute, sharp pain in that part of their body.

Sudden orientation towards your hand when you touch them

If your pet is mostly fine when you touch them, but suddenly orients towards your hand when you touch a specific part of their body, that might be an ouchie spot for them. This is especially true if they growl, snap, or bite.

Compulsively licking a body part

When I use the word “compulsive” here, I mean “to the point of self-harm.” There are lots of animals who like to lick themselves for long periods as a part of their self-soothing wind-down, and that’s totally ok! But if they’re licking so much that they’re losing hair in that area or even starting to damage their skin, that might be a sign of pain. It’s not always skin allergies, either! For example, licking their paws can be a sign of compressed vertebrae damaging nerves and causing root signature neuropathies. Or licking their belly can be a sign of some kind of GI distress.

Reduced range of motion

If your pet won’t raise their head above their shoulders, stop themselves before completing a full stretch, seem to walk and trot just fine but won’t break into a full run anymore, or otherwise don’t move their body to its fullest extent anymore–you guessed it, it could be pain.

And of course, as mentioned earlier, any sudden, inexplicable behavior change – especially an increase in avoidance and/or irritability – can in itself be an indication of pain.


So what do we do about it?

If you see any of these signals in your pet, the first step is to see your veterinarian. Be as specific as possible when describing what you’re seeing. Vets aren’t mind-readers, and there are a mountain of possibilities to sift through. So if you just say, “I think my pet is in pain,” that doesn’t give them a whole lot to go on. They can do a basic exam, but not a whole lot more than that. Telling them exactly what you’re seeing and when you’re seeing it lets them know what exactly they should be examining, and can help them to figure out what diagnostics to run.


Circling back is an option!

If your vet can’t find anything wrong, you can always get a second opinion, but also take care not to get too focused on the pain angle. We often see the pendulum swing from “Unaware That Pain Is A Possibility” to “Fixated On Pain As The Explanation”. 

A good behavior consultant will work with you even if your vet hasn’t been able to identify a medical cause for your pet’s behavior issues. In some cases, it isn’t physical pain after all, but a behavioral issue that manifests as pain. In other cases, as we work through enrichment and skill-building and systematically address some of the behavior issues, we’re able to better identify the medical component later on, and come back to the vet with more helpful information.

The important thing is to start by ruling out medical issues to the best of your and your vet’s abilities first, and if nothing comes from that, we can do the best we can with the information and resources we have to address the behavior issues in front of us. The thing about both physical and behavioral health is that it can be a journey, and that’s ok.


Now what? 

  • If you suspect that your pet is experiencing some pain, make an appointment with your vet to assess your pet. 
  • If you aren’t sure how to talk to your vet about what you’re seeing, check out this blog that helps you to organize and verbalize your observations, The Intersection Between Health and Behavior
  • If you are seeing some undesirable behavior and you don’t suspect pain, we’d love to join you and your pet on your behavior modification journey. You can get started here

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,


Why I Stopped Asking My Dog to “Come”

If you prefer to listen to this blog post, click here.


We say we want to provide our dogs agency.  We say we want to give them options.  We say we want them to feel like they have a choice in the life they live.  So why do all the dog trainers and all the dog owners keep drilling away at recalls???  Why do we keep asking our dogs to come!??!?!?!

Because of safety (and probably many other very appropriate reasons as well).  

We can help manage situations, circumvent issues, and protect our pup if we can get that ever-so-sought-after “Rock Solid Recall.”  There are too many scenarios that may occur where it is in the best interest of our dogs, and of those around them, for the pups to run excitedly to our side when we say “come.”

How do we do it?  The age-old checklist

  • Prepare the environment for success
  • Reinforce/reward desired behaviors
  • Incrementally increase distractions, duration, distance, etc.

About a month ago I was filming some training sessions of myself with Opie and I noticed that he was not consistently coming to me when cued with “Opie, come!”.  Either something else in the environment was more rewarding (continuing to lay on the comfy couch, catching spare shreds of cheese dropping from my son’s hands, etc.), or I was making it too difficult for him (too far away, in a new environment, etc.).  Feeling the pressures of embarrassment from experiencing a failed recall while filming AND re-living it while watching my video, I reflected on this and I sadly realized that I don’t have a Rock Solid Recall.


Until I accidentally found out that I did.

Every time I said “Opie, Come!”, I wanted him to excitedly come by me; however, I wasn’t making it worth his while.  Some of the time, I did not reward him in proportion to the level of difficulty of actually coming.  Most of the time, I asked him to come when I really didn’t care if he did or didn’t come, I just wanted to give some lovin’–if he didn’t feel like it, I let it go because it wasn’t necessary and I don’t need to pet him if he doesn’t want the petting.

I wasn’t consistent with my expectations for his behavior after the cue, and I wasn’t consistent with my reinforcement of the cue “Opie, Come!”

But then, a glimmer of hope shone through my recall woes when I was assembling dinner.  I had a spare piece of fat that Opie just NEEDED to consume, so I said “Opie, do you want this?!” I heard his jingle jangle of tags tear down the hallway and he slid expectantly into home base.  Opie has a recall, it’s just not what I purposely trained.

I took a second to reflect on how I accidentally trained this.  To get the food, Opie needs to be next to me.  I consistently reinforce this by giving him what I have, why else would I say “do you want this?”  The value of the treat changes depending on what is on the chopping block, so I keep his interest piqued.  It’s the perfect combo to keep him excited and interested in moving his body close to mine.  I’ve started to proof this behavior so that I’m not only cuing it from the kitchen, and soon, I’ll be able to use it in the event I really need him to be by my side.


And as for “Come?” 

I still use it, it just makes too much sense in my human brain, but it’s not my recall word.  I now think of it more as an invitation for Opie to join me rather than a cue I can use for safety if I need it.


Now what?

  • Ask yourself, “Do I have a Rock Solid Recall?  Why is this important to me? Why would this be important to my dog?”  The answers will kick start your training plan.
  • Consider resetting your recall cue.  Start back with the basics to get a good reinforcement history going.  If you’re stuck, no worries, your friendly Pet Harmony Team is here to help.

Happy training,