The Dog Training Hack Every Owner Needs To Know

Are you doing things in the wrong order? Many of my clients are when I first meet them.

“Honey, I’m going to take the dog for a walk so he can go potty.”

“The dog is barking at me and won’t leave me alone. I think he needs more exercise.”

“Go get the treats so Fido will come when I call him.”

If these phrases sound familiar, I have a training hack that’s going to make life with your pup so much easier.

The good news is you’re doing all the right things. There’s just one small problem… you’re doing them in the wrong order! The result is that your dog takes 40 minutes to pee outside, doesn’t know how to relax, and will only come to you if you’re holding treats in your hand. With one small change, all of these problems will disappear.

By the time I meet with clients for the first time, most of them have a basic but incomplete understanding of positive reinforcement. They know that dogs need to eat, food is readily available, and it’s easy to use kibble during training sessions. One of the first things I teach clients is the importance of expanding the reinforcement menu. In order to do things in the right order, you have to understand what reinforcement is – and what it isn’t. Hint: It’s not sparkle dust, rainbows, and good intentions!

Reinforcement is any consequence that happens immediately after a behavior occurs that will increase the likelihood of that behavior occurring again in the future. Your pup is being reinforced all the time whether you’re aware of it or not. My job is to make you aware of it! We will find everything your dog wants and needs and provide these “real life reinforcers” immediately after your dog does something you like.  Once you understand that reinforcement does not just mean food you’ll automatically stop doing things in the wrong order.

Let’s take a look at three scenarios through that lens.

“Honey, I’m going to take the dog for a walk so he can go potty.” In this scenario, the dog has learned that when he eliminates, the walk ends. That’s no fun!! Fido learns to “hold it” so he can stay out longer. This is the opposite of the client’s goal! Imagine if the dog peed FIRST, and THEN went on a short jaunt around the block (or a long adventure). That’s a dog who will run to the curb and pee immediately when it gets outside, even if it’s 15 degrees out!

“The dog is really excited and won’t leave me alone, I think he needs more exercise.” Oh boy. Variations on this theme include “He barks at me constantly.” Here Fido has learned that running around like a lunatic (or barking excessively) results in the humans stopping whatever boring thing they’re doing to pay attention and play with him.

He loves attention! He loves to play! While he might be temporarily satiated and tired from a bout of play, the dog is learning that ramping up and becoming aroused makes play happen. The humans are actually increasing the annoying attention seeking behaviors in their dog that they ultimately wanted to see less of. Imagine instead that you initiate play sessions only when you noticed your pup relaxing quietly? Your pup will still get his needs met, but will also learn to be happy to hanging out on his own when Mom or Dad is busy.

“Go get the treats so Fido will come when I call him.” In this scenario, the dog is learning that “food in hand” is part of the cue for the recall behavior. The cue is no longer “Fido, Come!”… it’s “Fido, Come If I Am Holding Food!” While I do believe that every successful recall should be reinforced, the food (or toy, or game of “chase the human!”) should be produced AFTER the dog arrives. These owners are teaching their dog to ignore them if they are not holding food. Whoops!! That’s not what they wanted to teach at all! By setting up the environment a bit differently beforehand (hiding treats/toys around the house out of reach or in different pockets/bags when outside) this issue can be eliminated.

Happy Training!


The Hurricane Harvey Pet Nightmare: Here’s How You Can Help

Dog is rescued in Texas.

Shelters and rescue organizations are doing everything they can on the ground to support the victims of Hurricane Harvey. I have vetted the organizations listed below personally to ensure that your donation will be put to the best use possible.

The sad reality of the Texas hurricane evacuation is that many human shelters do not allow pets. However, pets do have some place to go – pet shelters. In order to make room for pet dogs in need of emergency housing, Texas shelters began transporting dogs and cats elsewhere to clear the shelters. Some of these animals have ended up here, but our shelters are also full. Emergency foster homes are needed ASAP in order to accommodate all of these additional animals. Emergency volunteers are needed to help walk and care for the additional animals. Emergency funds are needed to provide medical attention and food to these animals.

Please do not send supplies unless they are specifically requested by an organization. Sending extra dog beds or bags of food creates more work for volunteers on the ground. What these organizations need is money so that they can allocate resources appropriately.

If you’d like to send funds straight to Texas

Donate to local shelters on the ground doing the hard work where it’s needed most. SPCA of Texas is handling hundreds of animals who have been displaced and are temporarily housing pets that are not allowed in human shelters. These pets need veterinary care, behavioral assessments, and lots of TLC. Please consider donating here.  Austin Pets Alive! is doing similar work. You can donate here.

If you’d like to help rescues transporting dogs out of Texas

These animals were waiting in Texas shelters to be adopted when they were displaced to make room for pet animals who were flooded from their homes. Many rescue organizations from around the country have been stepping up to help. The cost of transport, veterinary care, and emergency housing adds up quickly. These organizations could use all the help they can get – please consider providing an emergency foster home for one of these animals, volunteering to walk the dogs, and/or providing a monetary donation.

Big Fluffy Dog Rescue, located in Nashville, has been responding to SOS calls and picking up dogs to get them out of Texas. THEY ARE CURRENTLY LOOKING FOR FOSTER HOMES ALONG THE EAST COAST. You can donate to their care here. 

St. Hubert’s Animal Welfare Center – New Jersey has received animals from Texas this week. You can donate here.

Our own lovely Bully Project is looking for a dog-free home that can foster super snuggler Ronnie so that they shift their focus towards Harvey victims. To see this sweetie, click here.

Animal Haven and Bidawee have also been transporting dogs here from Texas.

Help a Harvey Pet, Help Your Own Dog

If you ever wanted to DNA test your dog, this is the time to do it. Embark is the leading DNA testing company. Their DNA test results will even let you know if your mixed breed pup has inherited any breed related medical problems. Purchase a test kit through Sunday 8/3, and 100% of profits will go to Harvey victims. Know where your dog came from? Purchase a kit for a friend.

Evermore Pet Food is donating 10% of their sales to Austin Pets Alive! from now through the holiday weekend. Evermore is a wonderful, nutritious, lightly cooked pet food. It’s great for daily meals or even as a special treat during training sessions.

What You Must Know To Protect Yourself: NY Dog Bite Law

Every dog has the propensity to bite. Yes, even yours! By exiting the door of your apartment, you’ve accepted the risk that you or your dog could get bitten by someone else’s dog. Do you understand NY Dog Bite Law?

As inhabitants of congested NYC, we have a great responsibility to properly socialize and train our dogs to reduce the risk of bites. It’s also our responsibility to know our rights and our responsibilities. Even when we do our very best to be responsible dog owners, bites happen. After a bite incident, I always get a panicked email asking not only about behavior modification but about legal consequences.

To help you be the most prepared NYC citizen you can be, I’ve spoken to personal injury lawyer Tom Moverman to ask him what you need to know to protect yourself and your dog. His answers might not be what you’re expecting.


LL: A bite has just happened. What should the owner of the biting dog do immediately?

TM: The owner of the dog, as well as the victim, should judge the the medical complications of the dog bite. As stressful as that situation maybe, it is important to remain calm. Thereafter, both parties need to exchange names, insurance information, as well as the dog’s vaccination history. If there are witnesses nearby, it’s important to get witness testimonies, as well as their contact information.


LL: What should the victim do immediately?

TM: A victim must seek medical help as soon as possible and thereafter the victim needs to document their wounds, if possible, include pictures of the wounds and pictures of the dog that bit them. If pictures of the animal or even wounds, are not possible in that time, provide a description of the dog including the dog’s breed, color, size, and any other identifying features.

Furthermore, a victim needs to report their dog bite attack, depending on which part of New York the victim resides, there will be different places to report these injuries to e.g. the local SPCA or local police department. Contact a New York dog bite attorney, even if your dog bite incident results in a pending lawsuit or an insurance claim, it is recommended that you contact an attorney.


LL: What protections exist under the law to protect dogs that have bitten a person after the dog was provoked?

TM: Under New York law if a dog attacked out of provocation, New York’s dog bite law allows for several defenses that the dog owner can use in a civil liability claim. Some of those defenses include:

  • The dog attacked while trying to protect its home against a trespasser(s) or someone who was not on legally allowed on the property and or was attempting a criminal activity on the property.
  • The dog was trying to protect its owner or even its own puppies when the attack took place.
  • The dog was reacting to pain or suffering it experienced when it bit someone.
  • The dog was provoked  when it was being tormented, abused or assaulted by the offending injured party.


LL: Is there ever a “no fault” bite case as there are for car accidents?

TM: New York is a “mixed-state” and there is no one specific statute that governs personal injury liability for dog bites. Being a mixed-state means that New York has a dog bite statute that mixes the one-bite rule with a limited degree of strict liability. If the person injured can show that the owner “should have known [sic]” their dog was dangerous, then the owner will be held liable for injuries caused by the dog. But there isn’t a no fault law per se.


LL: If it’s shown that the dog has a medical condition that caused a bite to happen and the medical condition is treated (example: seizures), would that change the outcome for the dog?

TM: With New York being a “mixed-state” means that it has a dog bite statute that mixes the one-bite rule with a limited degree of strict liability, this might be difficult to change the outcome especially if the owner knew that the dog had a condition that might make it dangerous to other people.


LL: When should the owner of an aggressive dog call a lawyer? What type of lawyer should they look for?

TM: As a dog owner, if your dog bites someone you could be faced with a personal injury lawsuit or claim brought forward by the injured person and you could be charged with a misdemeanor, which is legally known as ‘harboring a dangerous dog’ among other charges. The best type of lawyer to help you in this case is an attorney who deals with animal law cases.


LL: When should the victim of a dog bite call a lawyer? What type of lawyer should they look for?

TM: It’s best for the victim of a dog bite to contact a lawyer as soon possible and before speaking to the liable parties such as the insurance agency representing the dog owner. However, before referring the insurance company to your lawyer, be sure to have the insurance company’s name, contact information, and case claim number.

A victim should by all means try to decline answering additional questions, settlement offers, or meeting dates. Knowing this means that the dog bite victim needs to contact a dog bite lawyer as soon as possible in order to secure the best possible compensation. A personal injury lawyer with experience with the victim’s dog state laws is the starting point for the kind of lawyer to look for.


LL: What is the one bite law?

TM: The one-bite law or rule simply put means that the dog only gets “one free bite” before it gets its owner in legal trouble. However, that one free bite under the one-bite rule also means that the dog owner is held liable for injuries the dog causes IF the owner knew or had some reason to know that the dog is capable of causing that kind of injury. New York is a mixed state and under New York law, liability for dog owners for injuries is mixed with the one-bite rule with a limited degree of strict liability as previously mentioned. This also makes it difficult to prove a case which requires the victim to hire an experienced attorney.


LL: What is the legal definition of a “dangerous dog”?

TM: The legal definition of a dangerous dog can be classified as a dog that is  “dangerous” or “vicious” because of it’s breed, actions, or the actions of its owner, either before or after an official hearing, according to the law of the jurisdiction where the dog resides.


LL: What legally constitutes a bite? Does severity matter, and if so, by how much? 

TM: Legally a dog can be seen as harmful if it bites, jumps, slams against, swipes its paws or is over-friendly and jumps up on someone. Severity caused by these actions will matter as additional compensation is dictated by the severity of the victim’s injuries and other details from the incident in question. Severe injuries are physical injuries that result in  fractures, amputations, lacerations, puncture wounds, disfigurement as well as bruises, flesh wounds and other minor injuries. There are also infections, illnesses and other long-term medical treatments to consider when dog bites or attacks happen.


LL: What do dog training and dog behavior consultant professionals need to know?

TM: For dog training and dog behavior professionals, it’s important to have a contract put together that protects you from liability should a dog bite occur with an animal in your care.


LL: What do you wish all NYC dog owners would know about existing dog bite laws?

TM: It is important for all NYC dog owners to know that there is no “one-free bite” in New York and to understand the mixed state laws of New York dog bite liability.


Author Bio: Tom Moverman established the Lipsig Queens Law Firm with Harry Lipsig and his partners in 1989; The firm’s focus is in personal injury, construction accidents, car accidents, products liability, and medical malpractice.


Dog Trainer License Finally Proposed in NY

New York State Senator Todd Kaminsky is introducing a bill that could help the highly unregulated dog training industry gain credibility here in New York State. Senate Bill S8219 proposes establishing a dog trainer license and minimum education standards for obedience dog trainers. You can see the full text of the proposed bill here. 

The bill has been proposed because “dog trainer” Brian DeMartino of NYDogWorks on Long Island was caught on camera abusing a dog. If you don’t want to view animal abuse, don’t click on the link (I personally can’t bring myself to watch it). I love that Senator Kaminsky is pushing for a dog trainer license in order to reduce abuse in the name of dog training. I applaud him for it, and I hope that we can work together and shape the regulations and our industry for the better. Leading organizations I respect such as IAABC have already reached out to Senator Kaminsky to offer their guidance and support.


Dog Trainers Support Licensure, Right?

If dog trainers are all great at one thing, it’s disagreeing. Not all trainers support a dog trainer license. Trainers on all sides are going ballistic over what tools or methods may or may not be banned. Many trainers are worried about educational requirements. Some trainers feel the educational requirements don’t need to include a university degree, stating that materials covered in academic coursework are less applicable than the hands-on training for-profit schools currently provide. Others believe having lenient educational requirements will further devalue the work we do by giving increased credibility to poor trainers who could point to a license to defend their legitimacy. Veteran trainers without formal education are concerned this bill will put them out of work. Many fear increased start-up costs (education, licensing fees) could trickle down to consumers, making professional training assistance unaffordable to many who desperately need it. Everyone is concerned that the “wrong side” will influence the future regulatory body and the bill will set the wrong standards.

Many of these concerns have legs. Cesar Millan was given an honorary graduate degree, though he likely couldn’t pass even the basic CPDT test. Having him on board would be a disaster. Many states (and Canada) have a history of tearing sweet, loving dogs out of their homes and murdering them in the name of irrational and misguided breed specific legislation. Despite evidence that BSL doesn’t work, these laws still exist and continue to be adopted in the face of professional pushback. Luckily, New York State has laws that “identify, track and regulate dangerous dogs individually – regardless of breed – and prohibit BSL.” Even though we live in a state that up until now has made good decisions about canine-related legislation, there is plenty of room for legitimate concern about the way new regulation could unfold. The wrong requirements could be more than ineffective, they could backfire.

In all likelihood, the minimum standards for a dog trainer license will be just that: minimal. It’s not likely that any tools will be banned. The educational standards won’t be set high enough. However, in every training plan there is the first step.

Change more frequently happens in tiny increments, not sweeping leaps. This could be the first step towards great change for an industry with many problems.

I don’t want to be grouped in with trainers who hang dogs in the name of training (yes, I’ve spoken to trainers who do this “for 10-15 seconds” so the dog “never does behavior X again”). I do want to be held to a higher standard, and I believe holding dog trainers to a higher standard will increase the demand for better education.


What “Better Education” Means To Me

Professional dog trainers currently come to different conclusions about how to help our clients because we are coming from different and often incomplete educational backgrounds. We should all be following the same procedures via the tools we have from welfare science, applied behavior analysis, etc. If what I am doing is unethical, if my education is not well rounded enough and I am not making the best decisions, I should not be licensed. It doesn’t matter how much time or energy I’ve spent on education and certifications up until this point nor how long I have been working professionally. I don’t know of one comprehensive program that currently covers everything, and that’s a huge problem both for dog trainers and for dog owners.

I would love to see the future pet dog trainer license requirement include a bachelor’s degree that was both academic and practical, but no such bachelor’s program currently exists. Some dog trainers point to undergraduate psychology degrees as a qualification but these departments are not catering to dog trainers. Psychology undergrad students aren’t currently learning ethology,  genetics, applied behavior analysis, welfare science, hands-on skills, or professional ethics.  I would love to see a bachelor’s program where students learn theory in the classroom and earn credits doing practical work by teaching shelter dogs, provided low-cost dog training classes and consultations through a university dog training school (supervised), and have internships at local zoos. Most dog trainers I currently know have bachelor’s degrees – just not ones that support the work that we do. A program like this would not only be good for future dog trainers, it would provide free or low-cost support to shelters, community dog owners, and underfunded zoos.

I would love future behavior consultant licensing requirements to include education requirements (Masters or Ph.D.), supervising requirements, and testing similar to the licensing requirements for social workers and psychotherapists. A licensing board isn’t going to take your tools away, but they could make sure that you understand multiple scientific disciplines well enough to make informed decisions about any training scenario or tool you may use. This would further draw a distinction between “dog trainer” and “dog behavior consultant”. Too often dog trainers don’t know that they don’t know how to help a dog with a serious behavior issue and take on clients that they shouldn’t. This leads clients to believe that “science-based” “force free” professionals don’t know what they’re doing. Regulations would help owners find more effective help so they don’t waste time and money on professionals who may be quite talented but who aren’t quite ready to take on a severe behavior challenge. Dog trainers teach manners and help owners with nuisance behaviors like inappropriate jumping and chewing. Dog behavior consultants deal with problems ranging from separation anxiety to aggression, often in conjunction with veterinary professionals. This is a delineation most pet dog owners (and many dog trainers) are completely oblivious of.

I imagine a world where academic scholars and veteran trainers work side by side and challenge each other. I imagine a world where all trainers are able to read and understand a research study. I dream of a world where we all have awareness of our own biases and are better equipped to make educated decisions based on research and science instead of dogma.


How Do We Get From Here To There? One step at at time.

There are many wonderful organizations and leaders in our field. Historically, professional organizations have fought for legislation to improve and protect the work they do (See: NYS Society for Clinical Social Work – History). Our existing professional organizations and our educated and respected veterans must come together and lead us forward to help shape the next generation of canine experts. These organizations already set our code of ethics, provide our coursework and organize our conferences. Working towards licensure and legitimacy is the natural next step, so I am not surprised that these organizations are pro-licensure.

To start, perhaps the dog trainer license will require us only to pass a basic theory test, agree to a code of ethics and meet continuing education requirements. All legitimate trainers have already done these things. These minimal standards will weed out only the truly abysmal trainers and will need to be improved upon. As the average trainer gains knowledge, minimum standards will rise again. I am no expert on regulatory bodies, but this is what I hope to see over the next 50 years. When higher standards evolve, our collective knowledge will push both licensing requirements and the research envelope. New discoveries will help us all to make even more refined, effective, and ethical choices for the companion animals who depend on us for everything.


Hair of the Dog: NYC Dog Training, Safety, and Beer

In lieu of this week’s blog post, I bring you a podcast. Why? Because I’m the guest this week!

If you’ve ever seen Drunk History on Comedy Central, this podcast is just like that except we’re talking about all things dog. The podcast is Hair of the Dog, and the guest gets to pick the alcohol of choice. Since the hosts are huge fans of beer, I chose my favorite beer. Sarah picked up that beer and two related beers (all excellent), I made dinner and we did a tasting.

If you like to listen to podcasts while you walk the dog, you can listen to me on this week’s episode of Hair Of The Dog here.

Hair Of The Dog

Want more podcasts? Here are my favorite podcasts to listen to while out strolling with Grayson:

Invisibilia – About the Invisible Forces that Control Human Behavior

Radiolab –  Science meets human interest meets great storytelling

Science Vs – Science takes on hot topics. So far they’ve covered attachment parenting, fracking, and gun control. What they find might surprise you!

The Longest Shortest Time – A parenting podcast for everyone

The Modern Dog Trainer Podcast – Tips for dog trainers

ABA Inside Track – A podcast about Applied Behavior Analysis and recent research in the field.

TED Radio Hour – Ted Talks in Podcast form


Dog Friendly NYC Restaurants – The East Pole

Welcome to my new summer series “Dog Friendly NYC Restaurants”. Thanks to a new bill that was passed in 2015, restaurateurs are now legally able to invite pups to dine at their establishments. Dogs must be on leash, but are allowed to relax tableside in outdoor areas. NY is still a long way from reaching the dog friendly status Parisians enjoy, but this is a step in the right direction! In the summer Evan and I refuse to go to dinner without Grayson. We’re thrilled there are now many more dining options for the WHOLE family and have been spending our Friday and Saturday evenings finding the best of the best.

Beautiful Golden Retriever sits leash free inside cafe while we eat breakfast. (Paris, 2013)

Beautiful Golden Retriever sits leash free inside cafe while we eat breakfast. Cafe creme, crepes, et un chien. (Paris, 2013)

In this series Grayson and I will let you know where to go. We’ll rate each restaurant’s food quality, service, and dog friendly nature. Grayson will let you know how quickly the servers brought him water, if he was offered a biscuit or special treat, and how thrilled the staff was to see him. The first restaurant we are reviewing is one of my new favorites where I’ve spent 2 of the past 4 Friday evenings.

The East Pole

5.0         |            5.0           |        6.0

food                 service                dog

Neighborhood: Upper East Side
Cuisine: New American, Farm to Table, Vegetarian and Vegan Options
Price: $$$

Water for Grayson: Immediately
Treat for Grayson: Bacon
Love for Grayson: From 100% of the staff

Must Try: Grilled Shishito Peppers with Citrus Salt, Daikon and Fried Barcat Oyster Salad, Striped Bass, Reginetti Pasta, Goat Cheese Cheesecake


Located in a Brownstone on E 65th St between Lexington and park, The East Pole is the perfect place to bring your dog before or after a romp in nearby Central Park. The outdoor seating area is depressed, so your pup won’t be eye to eye with dogs passing on the sidewalk. If you have just taught Fido to settle calmly on a mat but haven’t tested his skills at an outdoor restaurant yet, I recommend starting here because of the reduced visual distractions.

When you arrive you will be greeted by Dennis, a talented multidisciplinary artist known in the neighborhood for his bold fashion statements. Dennis is an anomaly, and at first you might question why he is the host at this upscale farm to table restaurant on the UES. Let him take you on a journey. His character reflects everything that is great about this hidden gem. Allow people (and vegetables!) to express themselves eloquently and you will find divine flavor seeping into your life.

The dogs come first here. Before we began our evening with cocktails and the chef’s amuse bouche – radishes dressed in olive tapenade and olive oil (you will ask for a second portion) – Dennis asked us if Grayson was allowed to eat bacon. Of course! The chef fried some up and brought him out his own plate. Yes, Grayson got his own plate of bacon. Six out of five stars automatically awarded to the dog friendly category.

There is a creative cocktail list and an extensive wine list, and it’s hard to make a bad choice. The food here is just as I love it – fresh and organic, enhanced by carefully selected oils, vinegars, and spices. I am a big believer that the best food starts with high quality ingredients prepared by a great chef who knows when to leave those ingredients alone. The East Pole makes me remember the garden tomatoes of my youth, salted and consumed straight off the vine in the afternoon sun. You can taste the local (and see the local on their map of purveyors).

While we have only been to The East Pole for dinner, their brunch also looks divine. Soon we’ll be sipping peach bellini’s after off leash time in Central Park. I have my eye on the Maine Lobster sandwich.

Can Your Dog Trainer Solve Your Problems?

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At my very first clicker expo, one of the talks I attended was “Common Trainer Mistakes” by Ken Ramirez. The mistake Ken closed his talk with was “Assuming All Training Can Be Done By Anyone”. I thought of this talk again while reading this blog post recently. If you haven’t seen it, it’s a worthwhile read. In it, my friend and colleague Andre Yeu argues that good trainers are turning down hard cases for fear of not knowing enough. He makes some great points and his post resonated with me. I am The Dog Trainer Colleague Who Undersells Herself, and I might suffer slightly from both Imposter Syndrome and the Dunning-Kruger effect he references. Andre warns that when well informed trainers pass on difficult cases, clients are more likely to fall into the hands of aversive “shock and pop” trainers. My differing perspective is that taking a case you might not be ready for is unethical and just as likely to lead clients into the hands of trainers who offer sub par, harmful solutions. Accepting a client without certainty of your ability to solve their problem is a common trainer mistake Ken warned us of.

A quick glance at my books reveals that I’ve spent over $20,000.00 on continuing education over the past five years. Last year I had four times the continuing education credits required to maintain my certification. While I am not a seasoned veteran, I’m good at what I do and I take the responsibility I have to my clients seriously. There are many specialties in training and many paths I could follow to broaden my abilities. I could focus on puppies, manners, tricks, various sport training, working dog training , body conditioning for canine athletes, or behavior modification. Within these specialties are further subspecialties. Some trainers only teach agility. Others only work separation anxiety cases. While I am focusing on behavior modification, many of my clients are interested in more than just manners work. While I would never purport to be an expert in a specialty I have only a basic knowledge of (when was the last time you saw a gun dog working in Manhattan?) I feel that it’s important to have a foundation in all of the above disciplines to best serve my clients needs. The trainers I most respect are humble education junkies, continuing to expand both their intellectual knowledge and their skills. As Aristotle said, the more you know the more you know you don’t know.


Shouldn’t we know what problems we’re qualified to help our clients solve? This is the crux of the issue. There are great schools and organizations, but there is no one school, program, or organization that teaches it all. I  must put my own curriculum together and connect the dots by myself. While I have fabulous mentors guiding me, it’s not the same as attending a well designed comprehensive program where material  builds on itself. Unlike therapy for humans, there are no supervision requirements. When you are continually learning, it’s hard not to feel like you know nothing when there’s nobody there to tell you that you’re doing a great job. We rely on our clients satisfaction to keep tabs on our capabilities, but there can still be a seed of doubt. Could I be doing this better? Quicker? Is there a different approach?

It’s up to each individual trainer to listen to their inner voice and make responsible decisions about accepting a case or referring out. I would rather decline a case than provide a partial solution to a client’s problem, leaving them questioning the efficacy of humane training methods. If we are thoughtful with our self assessments and honest about our current level of knowledge and skill sets, we can make very good decisions for ourselves – and for our clients – about what cases we shouldn’t take on. In this profession, clients come to us with high stakes problems. If a case is handled incorrectly, the safety of a client or the public at large may be compromised. Rehoming or euthanasia may be on the table. If a professional has 90% of the knowledge they need to help these clients, 90% of the knowledge they need is not good enough. The sliver of information missing could result in prolonging the suffering of an animal in severe physical or emotional distress or suggesting euthanasia to an animal that might otherwise be helped.

While not every trainer has the luxury of being surrounded by a community of other excellent professionals to refer to, we are lucky to have that here in NYC. There is an excellent network of trainers, behavior consultants, and veterinary behaviorists in the NYC area that are happy to work together. On the occasion I feel a case might be beyond my experience level, I provide the client with immediate management suggestions while sending the client to both a veterinarian (medical issues can cause behavior change) and a colleague better equipped to handle the case. If you are a fellow trainer, for the good of our profession and our clients, I urge you to to do the same.

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Tips For Dog Owners
  • Read your trainer’s biography and philosophy. If they don’t have one listed, keep looking.
  • Make sure your trainer has obtained a certification. This is not necessarily proof of competence, but it’s a good start.
  • Ask for your trainers official resume listing the courses they have taken and continuing education they have done and/or the seminars and workshops they have taught to other professionals.
  • Ask if your trainer has solved your problem before.
  • Ask who your trainer turns to when they’re stuck. Look up that person’s biography.
  • Ask your trainer in what scenarios they refer out to other professionals. If they don’t list any scenarios at all, keep looking. Even the most experienced behavior modification professionals need to refer to veterinary behaviorists on some cases.

NYC Dogs Are Not Traveling Petting Zoos

NYC Dogs Are Not Traveling Petting Zoos

My pup Grayson is pretty cute, if I do say so myself. Even though he’s four, many people still think he’s a puppy and many people want to touch him. Some people ask permission, but most do not. The first time I took him to a public dog park, within 5 seconds a total stranger picked him up. I am often the person saying “Please stop touching my dog!”. This happened most recently at Deux Amis, where my husband, my dog, and I go for dinner most Friday nights in the summer. Grayson settles on the mat I bring for him, and he earns his bread and butter (and filet mignon) by staying relaxed on it — see video below. I don’t want him to learn that leaving his mat gets him attention and free food from other patrons. I’m glad we’re surrounded by fellow dog lovers who think he’s cute, but he’s not a traveling petting zoo. These table neighbors are ruining our training and his future behavior, making it harder for me to take him into public. Touching an animal that doesn’t belong to you is inappropriate.



I fully believe in training our dogs to behave appropriately in public and to help them feel safe and comfortable in all of the human centric environments they will encounter. Strangers approaching without asking makes it much harder for me to accomplish this task.

Even if I’m with a dog who behaves politely in public, dogs don’t speak English so he can’t advocate for himself. We expect our dogs to not only tolerate but to love every interaction that is forced up on them. Yes – forced – they are on the end of a leash and can’t get away. Many dogs tolerate interactions but give off stress signals that are unread and ignored. I don’t think this is reasonable or fair. There are plenty of reasons our dogs shouldn’t have to endure certain situations. It’s up to us to speak up for them.

Here’s why you shouldn’t touch a dog you don’t know without asking permission:
  1. He could be training (learning to settle, learning to ignore people or dogs, learning to sit for pets, learning how to walk, insert behavior here: X)
  2. He could not be in training but need to be in training (just because he’s in public doesn’t mean his owners are responsible)
  3. It might be a puppy going through proactive socialization
  4. He could be stressed out, fearful, or aggressive (see #1 and #2)
    • He could not like strangers, the bag you’re carrying, the skateboard you rode in on, the suitcase you’re dragging, the smell of your cat on your clothing, the fact that you’re loud and wobbling around tipsy, etc. etc. etc.
    • He could not like being touched
    • You have a dog with you he might not like, might be scared of, or might behave inappropriately with (barking/lunging/over aroused greetings, etc.)
  5. He could be sick, in pain, or recovering from surgery
  6. You’re modeling dangerous behavior for your kids (who are more likely to get a bite to the face if they run up to and grab/pet a dog without asking)
  7. Your toddler is running around and/or screaming and it’s freaking the dog out (just because your kid is in public doesn’t mean they’re behaving appropriately)
  8. He’s about to go potty and his owner doesn’t want you to interrupt him
  9. His owner doesn’t feel like interacting with strangers right now
  10. He could have limited sight or hearing
  11. He’s not your dog


Before I was a dog trainer, I was that obnoxious stranger on the street stopping to pet your dog and hold you hostage while I went at it with your furry friend on the leash, so… I GET IT. Dogs are CUTE and interacting with them makes everything better.  At the time, I was a professional dancer whose constant anxiety about life and making a decent living in my chosen profession was ruining my mental health. I didn’t have a dog, and I really really needed one. When I quit dancing, it was my then-boyfriend/now-husband who suggested I walk dogs while I figured out my next moves. Since then, I built and ran a dog walking company while simultaneously getting an education in training and behavior and have taken on progressively more challenging cases as my education and experience allows. Here in NYC I have worked with puppies, with dogs who are reactive to other dogs, and dogs who bite strangers. “Don’t Touch” vests, “In Training” vets, DINOS (dogs in need of space) gear, yellow dog project ribbons – all of these visual cues meant to instruct strangers to leave these dogs alone are often ignored. Telling people to please stop approaching or stop petting earns eye rolls and shouted profanities. I have had to walk a mile out of my way to avoid other dog owners who insist their illegally off leash dogs need to greet my legally on leash ones to keep the dog I’m working under threshold.

I have had to learn the most effective ways to get strangers to leave me and my dogs alone. Here they are:
  1. Telling a stranger “he’s sick and contagious” usually works even for the rudest of rude people, because it gives them a reason to stay away that they care about. Strangers don’t care if they ruin your training but they do care about getting sick.
  2. If the dog I’m working has a solid leave it behavior, I will tell the dog to “leave it” – the stranger is the “it” they leave while we walk on by. If they don’t have a leave it and we are outside, they likely have a hand target or eye contact behavior. I will ask the dog to hand target, to look at me, to go find a treat I’ve tossed in the opposite direction, or to do anything incompatible to interacting with the stranger.
  3. If I am in the middle of a training exercise and clearly and obviously actively training a dog, sometimes I have no choice but to pretend like the person does not exist. So often I am working a client dog outside when a stranger approaches and starts talking to me or the dog. The rate at which this happens while I am obviously training (treat bag out, clicking and treating rapidly, dog doing behaviors) is actually quite astounding. In this situation, I drop my criteria for the behavior and increase my rate of reinforcement since the stranger is now a huge distraction. My focus is on my dog, the criteria we’re working at, my timing, and my treat delivery. It’s not on the stranger.
  4. If I am working with a dog for whom getting close to a stranger is not an option (due to fear, aggression, or for whom getting close to a stranger will elicit or reinforce pulling or jumping up) I simply turn around and walk the other way without comment. I might feed the dog while doing so – not as a training strategy but as a distraction or to prevent unwanted behavior in a pinch.
  5. I am not going to abandon a dog mid-session to meet a stranger’s needs. My responsibility is to the dog I am with. I have worked with dogs who are triggered by their handler talking to a stranger. In this situation, I literally can’t stop and talk to the stranger while I am with the dog. If I do, the dog will bark and lunge, and that causes a huge training setback for us. It’s not worth it. I have gotten on an elevator at floor 25 and rode all the way down to floor 1, facing the wall and pretending like the stranger does not exist for the entire ride.
  6. If I am in the middle of a training session and the dog has the skill, I sometimes put the dog in a down or sit stay so that I can turn to the stranger and point out to them that we are in the middle of training and it’s not a good time.
  7. Body blocking can help prevent strangers from physically touching the dog I’m with. If the stranger is very pushy, this doesn’t always work so I prefer to just get away from the person. I have had strangers reach around my body to touch a dog I have in a sit stay behind me in the corner of the elevator after I have asked them not to approach. (Elevators are so hard!)
  8. Putting out your hand in a “STOP” sign and stating firmly “please do not approach” or “please call your dog” while body blocking or just before turning to walk away sometimes gets the message across. If I can, I will sometimes hold a hand out while I am training to try to silently convey this message.

It shouldn’t need to be said, but I’ll say it. Aggressive dogs shouldn’t be going out to restaurants with their owners. Any dog with a bite history should be muzzled if they are in public. Owners should be responsible. But sometimes they’re not, and sometimes they’re not in the mood to talk to you, and sometimes they’re proactively training or retroactively working on a behavior modification protocol. Please, read the situation and if you’re asked to leave the dog alone – do so without an attitude. You expect dogs to behave politely and appropriately in public, and you should too.

A Shaping Plan That Sparks Joy

The decluttering technique known as the “Konmari Method” outlined in The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo makes very good sense when viewed through the lense of behavior analysis. Kondo sets her followers up for success. Her process looks an awful lot like a well thought out shaping plan, and boy do I love finding good examples of effective human behavior modification in real life.

No matter where on the neat freak to slob spectrum you land, I’m willing to bet two things:

1. You wish your home was beautifully organized and would stay that way forever.

2. You know the current location of your kitchen plates.

Dishes have an easily defined place and after mealtime they get washed, dried, and go back in the cupboard where they belong. Why isn’t everything we own that easy to clean and put back? My husband and I are not slobs, but we’re busy and during the workweek items tend to land… anywhere. We pick up on the weekend, and we LOVE when everything is tidy and in it’s place. It would be lovely if our apartment looked more put together on a daily basis, but our focus is elsewhere.

As busy as I am, my dresser drawers are living proof that Marie Kondo’s method works. I dumped and organized my tops in October.

Here are those drawers now (8 months later), still perfectly organized. And no, I did not clean up before taking this photo. I just opened my drawer.

Here are those drawers now (8 months later), still perfectly organized. And no, I did not clean up before taking this photo. I just opened my drawer.

Kondo approaches decluttering in a way that makes SENSE. She’s serious when she says you only have to do this process once. Here is a brief outline of the process and why it works:

  1. The first step is to gather each and every item you own from one category (example: shirts)

    You’ll be surprised at how much you have once it’s all in one place – reality check! You pick up each item and ask “Does this spark joy?” and then keep only the things you love. You also thank the items you’re not keeping, before sending them on their way (hopefully donated to goodwill). Instead of feeling guilty, you feel grateful. When you’ve gone through the process, the items you still have are ones you really care about. This motivating operation makes you much more inclined to take care of the clothes you have, because you love them. Taking care of your stuff is no longer a chore.

  2. The second step is to learn a new skill – folding is your alternate behavior.

    I used to hate folding and thought this would be the part of this method that didn’t work for me, but there is something magical about the way clothes are folded in the Konmari method. Each item is inspected, so you notice stains or rips that need mending, and can see at a glance if it’s time to “thank the item for it’s service” and let it go. Once folded, each item stands on it’s own, placed next to other items of the same kind. It’s reinforcing to see how all of my clothes sit beautifully next to each other in the drawer. I’m motivated to keep it up because it’s useful to see all my options at a glance. The clothes I’ve folded properly are never wrinkled when I put them on again.

  3. The last step is to designate a place for each item.

    It’s easy to put something away when you’ve designated a spot for it so you know where it goes without thinking. Instead of organizing based on how easy it is to get to an item when you need it, you organize based on how easy it is to put an item away. This smart motivating operation will make us much more likely to put our things where they belong! Maintaining organization is about modifying your environment so that you know where each item belongs and it’s easy to put things back in their place.

  4. The process teaches you to listen to your gut when answering the question “Does this Spark Joy?”

    Kondo insists the process starts with items that we are least emotional about (tops) and work up to items that have the most sentimental value (letters, photos). This is an excellent shaping plan. It takes effort and practice to connect with our true selves and decide what is of value to us. So many of us don’t know what we want or love and don’t give ourselves permission to honor our true desires. What we love is buried under social pressure, the taste of our family, friends, and peers, trends in advertisements, and other psychological muck. But that doesn’t matter. You don’t need to go to therapy to go through this process. Marie Kondo’s simple question: “Does this Spark Joy?” is one that each person can answer for themselves if they are willing to take a moment and listen. Looking at and being surrounded by the items you have chosen to keep is reinforcing, so it’s easy to continue the process. As you move along you get better at listening when your gut answers “yes!” or “nope” and the process of letting go of material objects that DO NOT “Spark Joy” switches from daunting to liberating. The physical objects that remain inspire happiness and gratitude. The Konmari Method of Tidying Up becomes more than a way to keep your house clutter free. It’s also a practical practice of saying yes to joy and letting go of everything that does not serve us. With practice and an incremental shaping plan, it becomes easy to face – and answer – the big questions. Does my marriage spark joy? My job? The city I’ve chosen to live in?

  5. A practice of Gratitude.

    A helpful recommendation therapists often make to their dissatisfied or depressed clients is to end the day by writing down 5 things they are thankful for. This is a great first step, but Konmari takes it further and helps us generalize the practice of gratitude so it becomes a regular part of our everyday lives. Going through the process of “Konmari-ing” your home helps awaken gratitude for the things you have. Replacing unwanted thoughts and behaviors (complacency, lack of appreciation, feelings of sadness, failure, or of not keeping up with the Jones’s, of not getting what we thought we wanted or deserved out of life, of keeping things or doing things out of obligation) with thoughts and actions of gratitude has shown time and time again to be a large factor in countering depression. Each time you touch an item, examine it, fold it, and put it away you are practicing gratitude. The process of “Konmari-ing” our homes leads us through small actionable steps we can take to reawaken our own small joys, which lead to discovering big joys and passions.  Through this process, Konmari is helping us shape ourselves, in tiny micro criteria, towards being happier and more fulfilled.

So, what does decluttering your home have to do with dog training? So many of my day training clients see their dogs performing new behaviors for the first time and look at me like I’ve performed magic, so it’s apt that the title of Marie Kondos’ book is “The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up”. But it isn’t magic – it’s science. The laws of learning apply to all living beings on earth, not only to our canine companions. Shaping molds our behavior whether a plan was carefully developed by a behavior analyst, dog trainer or merely by life. We learn through shaping in small steps of criteria, repeat what has been previously reinforced and cease to do that which has been punished. Want a cleaner home? Use this to your advantage. You don’t even have to write a training plan. Konmari has done that work for you.


Puzzle Toys

Starter Work To Eat Toys -For a new puppy or dog who has never had to “work” before!
Kong - your pups first work to eat toy!

Kong – your pups first work to eat toy!


Kong Wobbler

Busy Buddy Twist & Treat

Tricky Treat Ball

Squirrel Dude

Work To Eat Toys – They get the concept, now put them to work!

Bionic Stuffer, Bionic Bone

Bob A Lot – Like the Kong Wobbler, but with adjustable treat holes for adjustable difficulty

Nina Ottosson Treat Maze

Monster Ball, Monster Mouth, Monster Girl

IQ Ball

Nina Ottosson Magic

Nina Ottosson Twister

Nina Ottosson Dog Casino

Challenging Work To Eat Toys
Dog works the Nina Ottosson casino.

Dog works the Nina Ottosson casino.

Dino Egg

Kong Genius LeoKong Genius Mike – Increase difficulty by linking these together

Buster Activity Mat

Nina Ottoson MixMax