This page has some forum posts that I’ve made along with links to some of my articles.  Note: I do NOT train for money.  Dog training, handling, and judging are a hobby to me.  I also combine many theories with my training methods.  To understand some of my background and professional science training, go to my personal page.

Roman Reign Training and Behavior Articles –

Correct Harnessing and Hitching – because we want to keep your dog safe.

Some of our Mantras – stuff we live by.

So you think you want a dog?  – because getting a dog is a big deal. 

Working Dog Handout – drafting and weight pull – PDF

The Consequences of Not Socializing your Dog – bad things can happen

Socialization – we like having friends

Crash Course Weight Pull – learn the basics, fast!

Recommended Readings:

  • Culture Clash by Jean Donaldson
  • Don’t Shoot the Dog by Karen Pryor – I use this book in my Intro to Psychology Class
  • Cesar’s Way by Cesar Milan
  • Calming Signals by Turid Rugaas
  • The Other End of the Leash by Patricia McConnell
  • Water Work, Water Play by Judi Adler – water rescue
  • Competitive Training for the Small Dog by Barbara Cecil and Gerianne Darnell – competitive obedience
  • SuperPuppy: How to Raise the Best Dog You’ll Ever Have! by Peter J. Vollmer
  • New Link – Great Resource for those training – DragonFly

On jumping and mouthing:

Quick and easy thing to do: get a gentle leader now. Petsmart carries them, and they open at 9 am tomorrow. If he’s doing this to the point of knocking over adults and using his mouth on humans, leave the gentle leader on at all times in the house and keep him on a leash. The gentle leader will be easier for you to control his head. When he starts the jumping, grab the gentle leader downwards, and get him into the down position quickly. He should already know the down command by now and do it when given the command. Remember, you are not asking him to down, you are telling him to down. Do this each and every time. He will get the picture of when he misbehaves, he’s put into the down position.

The gentle leader works quickly because it pushes down on the dog’s muzzle, which is the physical way of saying “quit it” or “knock it off.” You can also do it without the gentle leader, but that’s too hard to explain over the internet. When I have some free time, I’ll make a video and post it on youtube.

Here’s a link to how the gentle leader works: Gentle Leader

Keep the gentle leader on and instruct your daughter and husband on how to put him in a down position. The gentle leader is designed so that even people of smaller stature can easily control a dog’s head. It’s all about leverage.

If he is not on the gentle leader, he needs to be crated. No ifs and or buts. If Jake is like most dogs, he will dislike the gentle leader. He will buck like a bronco. He will try to pull it off. He’ll eventually get used to it. I would keep this on him until you get him into another obedience class. Don’t be fooled by his temporary good behavior and take it off.

Anyways, that’s my quick fix advice at the moment. Get into another obedience class ASAP. Look to your local obedience or kennel club. Look for members who compete in competitive obedience especially with large, slow to mature dogs. They will probably have more experience with this than pet trainers.

Also, keep in mind that Jake is now a tween, and going to be a full-blown teenager in a few short months. You want to address this problem now as it might get much worse when he’s a teenager.

On another note, with all that extra motivation and energy he has now, it would be a great time to get him into competitive obedience. My trainer would take that kind of motivation and turn it into focus and drive for retrieves.

Good luck!

Post on Barking at Strangers:

The concept of negative reinforcements in the sense that most people use them are actually positive punishers. Negative means that you’re taking something away. You can take away food, privileges, or the shock of a collar. Those are all negative – they are going away. Reinforcement increases the behavior. Positive reinforcements are what most people call rewards. Negative reinforcements are things that stop or go away once the desired behavior occurs. An common one that humans are trained to do (at least should be trained to do), is putting on a seat belt. Your car will make an annoying sound until you put the seat belt on. Once you have it on, the sound goes away. The annoying sound going away was negative. The behavior you want to increase is putting on your seat belt.

Positive always means you’re adding something to the situation. You can add treats or you can add a spray of a water bottle. Punishers decrease the behaviors. A positive punisher would be adding something that decreases behaviors – like the spray of a water bottle. A positive reinforcement adds something that increases behavior – like food or praise.

It may seem like all these words are just a matter of semantics, but sometimes when the concepts aren’t very clear, it can lead to confusing training for the dogs.

I have to strongly disagree with your teacher. I would teach her that growling at people for no reason is unacceptable. I would personally give your dog an alternative behavior to perform before the growling even starts. Once you allow your dogs to growl at people for no particular reason, they will think it is okay. If they were allowed to growl before without consequence, they’ll do it again.

I don’t think that dogs carry pent up frustration from day to day and act out in passive behavior. That’s what humans do! They don’t need therapists to talk out their frustration and stress. Dogs growl because something is bothering them. Find out what that something is. Fix it. It may be that she doesn’t like a hat that someone is wearing in your class. Maybe someone in your class wears a perfume that she doesn’t like. If dogs spoke English, we could ask. Unfortunately they don’t, so it is our jobs as owners to figure it out the hard way.

I would put my dog in a down and give positive reinforcement (rewards) for not growling. Then you can start associating the “growling stimulus” with rewards, and eventually get your dog to like whatever it used to dislike. If your dog is not able to do that, you may have to back track, and keep your dog far away from whatever it is and slowly desensitize your dog to the object/person. This is a very slow process. Don’t rush or push the dog.

If it is strangers she doesn’t like, she probably needs some confidence boosting and needs to learn HOW to greet strangers. You can start by rewarding (positive reinforcement) her every time a strangers comes by, but you MUST do it BEFORE she is distracted and begins to growl. If you do it after, she’ll learn that being distracted and growling will earn her rewards. You can keep doing this until strangers can get closer and closer to her before she starts to be distracted and growls. You may have to start by rewarding her when the stranger is 100 ft away or more. Essentially, what you are doing is rewarding her every time a stranger comes by. You want her to think that strangers are a good thing. Every time a stranger (provided that they aren’t running at you screaming) comes by, I get rewarded!

We do this same thing with distractions and proofing in our obedience class. The final product in our obedience class is when there are distractions (because there are never any at obedience trials ) , the dogs look to their handlers for their reward. Quite the opposite of what most people usually do. Most classes I’ve been to, trainers teach people to correct the dog after they are distracted. What that tells the dog is, “Everytime a distraction comes by, I get a correction. Distractions are a bad thing.” Thusly, dogs misbehave when distractions come around.

In your case, I would prevent the growling and reward the desired behavior. You are going to kill two birds with one store. 1. You’re prevented the undesirable behavior. 2. You’ve taught the dog how to behavior when there are strangers. What your trainer is suggesting is that you correct the undesirable behavior. What’s going to happen if you aren’t there to correct her? Associate strangers with good things, but don’t allow the growling. Change the situation before she has a chance to growl.

You can also have your dog in a down position when strangers are approaching and reward in the down position. Some dogs are calmer and less excitable in a down than in a stand. You can also teach her that it is the proper way to greet strangers, from a down. With my own dog, I do this when there are children and babies. As soon as we see children coming, he assumes the position. Children are a less intimidated by him when he’s in a down. And over time, he has learned that people tend to pet him more when he has his belly up. When we’re in public and people start to walk away, he immediately rolls over – with no intervention from me. Everyone says “Aw….. ” and comes back to rub his belly. People laugh at us in obedience class because it is both of my dogs who are always belly up during lecture time. Note: I didn’t teach them the belly up. I only taught Mouse the down. Belly up is his own doing.

For alarm barking, I give the “enough” command. Or I will check out the situation. Mouse doesn’t alarm bark that often, so when he does. Something’s up.

Good Luck! Happy Training!

Oh, I forgot to mention something earlier. Sometimes correcting a growl, will keep the dog from growling, but won’t keep the dog from disliking whatever it is growling at. Thus, you might get a dog that is a “silent biter.” Silent biters don’t have pent up anger that needs to be released. They just don’t warn you when they will bite! I’m always an advocate of fixing the root of the problem, not a symptom of the problem.

On Discipline through the Teenage stage:

Use a leash. There’s no need to yell. Yelling will only make YOU appear out of control and anxious.

I don’t think he necessarily “knows” what was wrong that he did. What is probably happening is that he sees that you are anxious and upset and that is why he laying his head down.

Go back, do some more obedience. Maybe you can try to work on your relationship with your dog rather than just obedience. They are two separate things. You can try doing some working activities. And remember, this phase shall soon pass. Good luck!

I’ve been thinking about exercises to build a stronger relationship with your dog. One method that my trainer does routinely is to put the dog in a crate while she trains other dogs (or does other things) – completely ignoring the dog in the crate. The dog in the crate will get excited, curious, and feel left out. After 3 days of not getting to play and training time, you better bet that dog is motivated to want to be with the trainer even if there is no other reward. Remember that dogs are social creatures. Being with others is rewarding in and of itself.

Mouse goes through this weekly as Basil’s class is from 7:40-8:40. Mouse’s class is from 8:40-9:40. By the time he comes out of the crate, he is super motivated to do anything I ask of him.

Other things that you can do is play/run away from your dog. Grab a toy or a handful of treats and play/pretend to eat the treats. Totally ignore your dog. If he starts jumping on you, pawing at you, run away. He should follow. If he doesn’t, you aren’t acting silly enough. This teaches the dog to stay with you. Your dog should be excited to see you and following you around, not the other way around. If the dog starts to lose interest, get excited and run off. Typical response from the dog will be, “Hey, what was so fun? Where’s Mom going? I want to see. I want to play!”

In our class, we’re also taught many variations of this, including dropping surprise toys and treats over the dog’s head when they aren’t paying attention. The dog suddenly goes “Oh, treat! Where did that one come from? I better start watching Mom more often.”

And don’t be afraid to look silly, because humans are normally pretty boring. We sit at tables, we tend not to move and run, we eat quietly, we don’t dig in the yard, and even we say we’re excited, we don’t really show it. We don’t run around and jump. It’s no surprise that dogs lose interest in us so easily. Your neighbors might think it’s odd that you’re fascinated with stuffed animals or that maybe you really are eating dog treats. If you have to start teaching a recall by “eating” pet deli and running around the yard, then do it. It’ll be worth it.

And it can be very hard to control your emotions when you are angry. If that’s the case, just get your dog put him somewhere safe, and go cool off. I know when I’m upset at my dogs, it’s best for me to just not interact with them until I’m in a better mood. You can’t fake emotions with dogs. They’re too smart for that. 

On Weaning off of Treats:

It could also be a few things. The you might still be using the food as a lure, instead of a reward. Thus, she might not really understand the concept yet. Just because a dog performs a behavior doesn’t mean that a dog actually understands the concept. In our new obedience class, we sometimes spend months (yes, months and months) teaching and proofing small exercises.

You might also try integrating distractions into your training. But you must keep her focus even with the distractions. I’ve been taught to either do something to keep my dog’s focus before it has the opportunity to be distracted OR to reward my dog as we approach distractions. Both requires precise timing.

Also, try moving Thea away from being food motivated to being handler motivated. She shouldn’t pay attention to you ONLY because you have food. She should pay attention to you because you are her handler. You’re more exciting than distractions, and of course you hold all the food.  You can start this by doing lots of focusing exercises. Then you can move to replacing food with play and praise.

I’m not a huge proponent of the clicker. I use it occasionally, but it is simply classically conditioning food with the sound of the clicker so that the dogs associate positive things with the sound. You can use a marker word just the same. The advantages of the clicker is that it is consistent, distinct, small and easy to carry. However, timing with a clicker has to just as precise with any other method to be used correctly.
Ah…. 18 months, you’re still in that teenage stage. Sometimes that can last until they are 4 years old or longer.

Even if she does do it 95% of the time, that still doesn’t necessarily mean she knows it. She still hasn’t been proofed and weaned off the treats.

You’re still using the food as a lure. One thing you can try asking your self is, “If I didn’t have food/leash/etc…, would my dog still be performing this way?” Don’t be quick to wean off the treats yet, your dog might not be ready for it yet. Keep using it if you need it. Training is one of those things that you can’t rush. Dogs will learn at their own speeds.

I personally think there are many stages to actually training a dog. Shaping the behavior with extrinsic motivation, teaching the concept, proofing the behavior to distractions, making the behavior intrinsic, and proofing the behavior in different contexts are just a few of the “mini-stages” of training.

About walking slowly, sometimes I tell Mouse “patience is a virtue…..”  Do more focusing work with her. Instead of praising her for walking with you, try praising her for being focused on you.

Hope this helps. I remember the teenage stage. I don’t have fond memories of it.

Yes, Mouse was a teenager until he was 4. Being especially bouncy and playful might have something to do with it. Other handlers in my class are always wondering how old my puppy is. I tell them “6, my puppy is 6.” Which, BTW, today is the Dixie X Blaze litter’s 6th Birthday. I’m taking Mouse out for dinner and beers tonight.

As far as the forgetting, I’ve had many trainers insist that forgetting was a part of training. This is also one of those stages I talked about before. The dogs will wake up one day, and it will seem as if they have no idea what you are talking about. No fear, it is just a phase.

Luring is fine. There’s nothing wrong with luring or using food, you just don’t want to use it as a crutch. You might try doing faster focus exercises at first, then build up focus time, then wean off the treats. You want to make the focus command quick and almost like a knee-jerk reaction so that the dog doesn’t have time to think. The dog’s head should automatically swing up and stare at you. You want to condition the dog so well on this command that it’s second nature. We’ve been doing it for about 4 years now, practicing with and without food. It’s one of those exercises you never quit doing. Yes, continue to use food until she’s ready to move onto the next step.

I feel like I’m always going back to basics, especially taking off a year long hiatus competing with the dogs due to my ankle. I started over with Mouse from ground zero, reteaching many exercises he already knows. Last week, we started the sit signal (going from a sphinx drop to a sit position without standing up). Teaching a dog to sit is about as basic as you can get!  Many dogs that have been competing in obedience or agility routinely go back to my trainer’s beginning competition classes for a refresher.

On Retrieving:

I only have one Swissy, but I think the retrieving (like water) is hit or miss with Swissies. My Swissy does water rescue which is based entirely on retrieves. The dogs retrieve objects, they retrieve people, they retrieve boats. My Swissy didn’t just start doing it right away. We had to train him to enjoy it, rather than to “just do it.” It’s a longer process to train drive and motivation in a dog, but it is well worth it.

I started by playing with the retrieve objects. I’d hold them, talk to them, play with them, and cuddle them. Yes, I know. In dog training, the humans look pretty silly much of the time. Then you add reward every time he gave you the object. That’s the short of it anyways.

There are other techniques as well. We had to take a year long hiatus from everything after my ankle surgery last year, and we started our first real obedience classes with a trainer who teaches retrieves first. Most exercises in competitive obediences are based on retrieve or recall. The retrieves all have a recall built in – when the dog comes back. The foundation of our training is sending the dog out and coming back. Not only does it teach the dog a process, but much of it is also muscle memory work. It’s a lengthy process, but again, well worth it.

Here’s a video of Mouse retrieving some bumpers. He LOVES bumpers with a passion. I have to hide them from him. This was taken after 3 hours of water rescue excellent training last year or the year before. That static in the video is actually the wind. It was REALLY windy.

Mouse retrieving bumpers

For the Newfoundland Club Water Rescue Excellent title, 30 days prior to the test, the dogs have to take an endurance pretest of non-stop swimming for 5 minutes straight. We passed this portion by taking him out into deep water and throwing multiple bumpers until time was called.

During the actual test that year, he was bent on retrieving EVERYTHING in the water. The safety stewards, the distance markers, a floating dog…..  He served as comic relief for everyone else at the test.

On General Dog Stuff:

IMHO, Dog obedience shouldn’t be a physical power struggle. At this age, she should be learning how to behave, not being forced to behave. You don’t want her to learn that you are a demanding, strict, and all around boring person. You want her to learn that you are the leader who is confident in himself and doesn’t need to resort to physical force to get things done. Humans, as compared to dogs, are fairly boring and uninteresting. All we do is stand around, talk, look at each other, talk some more. We rarely run, we rarely dig, and we’re always telling dogs what to do. We don’t even like to have our personal areas sniffed. The few times that we are interesting (usually unintentionally) is when we’re eating, and what we are eating is super yummy.

It’s my philosophy that if your dog is paying attention to something else, it’s because there is something else in the environment that is more interesting than we are. That may be other dogs running around. It may be food that another person has. It may be toys. Those things distract our dogs, but we as trainers need to make ourselves even more interesting than those distractions. When dogs are distracted, it isn’t the dog’s fault. It’s our fault for being dull and unexciting. Of course, with maturity comes focus in dogs. It takes hours over years of training to teach a dog to focus.

If you watch some of the advanced competitive obedience teams, you’ll see that the dogs are very focused on their handlers. It is because those handlers took time, effort, and the energy to make themselves fun during training. In the ring, that translates into “handler = fun”, and dogs focus on fun things.

I’m very green in competitive obedience, but I think the other advanced trainers in obedience and agility on this forum will probably agree that physical force probably won’t lead to better focus and a compliant dog.

Also, if this is her very first class, it is probably too much to expect from her at this age and level of obedience. Like Tommy said, I think she needs a puppy class. Not a class structured for adult dogs, but full of puppies.

I’ll get off the laptop now. I just spent the day trying to get some new draft teams to quit yanking on the leashes so some of that is bleeding over.

On Counter Surfing:

I would begin by crating her or blocking her access to the kitchen when there is food on the counter. She’s already learned that it’s okay to counter surf, as long as you don’t get caught. When you do catch her, the punishment is probably pretty mild in comparison to actually eating whatever it is she’s after.

Like Kim said, prevention is the best policy. But since she’s already learned that she can do it, and she can get away it is (just like people only don’t speed when their radar detectors go off), it will be more difficult.

Also, with correcting her, she might not necessarily know that it is wrong, more of she’s thinking “AUGH, I got caught.” Again, it is more difficult to establish the rule of “no counter surfing” when she’s done is before and got away with it.

I would make it a habit that she’s not allowed in the kitchen period. I started with a baby gate blocking off the kitchen. Now, all I have to say is “Are you supposed to be in here?” I use the same line when my dogs are in rooms they aren’t supposed to be playing in. While Mouse and Basil didn’t have a counter problem, I don’t let him in the kitchen because I got tired of finding dog hair on clean dishes in my dishwasher. We have a hair problem. I shed just as bad as well. I find my own hair in the freezer from time to time.

Also, the shock collar can be positive punishment or negative reinforcement depending on how you use it. The term positive in learning refers to an addition. An added shock from the shock collar or an added treat during training are both considered positive. Negative is when you take away something from the learning process. Turning off the shock is negative. Taking away privileges is also negative.

On Teaching a Swim:

Swimming with Swissies is hit or miss. Some LOVE water, some hate it. Some are weird about it. If I’m showering, Mouse is more than happy to jump in and drink everything. If he’s getting a bath, he has that “Clean water?!?! No WAY!”

I never really introduced Mouse to swimming formally. I did it all wrong too I’m sure. When he was 8 weeks old, I put him in a pool. I can’t say that he was really enthusiastic about it. I did that a few times a week for a while. He just started liking it. Luckily, both his sire and dam loved water so it was in the genes.

Terri is correct about really swimming. Dogs that are really swimming, are well, truly swimming, like a seal. Dogs that panic or start to doggie paddle are not swimming. You can tell because the paws are going up and down and the rear is falling. At this point, you’ll need to pick up your dog’s rear before he starts to fear the water all together.

Here’s a Mouse properly swimming as a 10 week old puppy. You can see that his front paws are reaching out (not up) to stroke and the rear is held high at the top of the water and pushes (though you can’t see his rear legs in the pic).

I agree with everyone’s suggestions. Oftentimes, we’ll just play in the water and whichever dog won’t come out to play in the water gets left behind. Swissies don’t like to be left behind.

You can help facilitate the learning curve by holding the dog’s rear up as you get into deeper water. This will teach the dog “oh, so rear goes up to swim.” They just don’t know how to swim at first. We also routinely put a flotation belt on the dog’s loin and hip to help keep the dog’s rear up during long training sessions.

One thing to do is to NOT make a big deal about it. If they are a little hesitant, don’t sit there making a huge ordeal about it or else the dogs will tend to think “swimming is a huge ordeal.” Just be confident and low-key. He’ll come around.

On Puppy Behavior:

Is there anyone close by who is very experienced with large dominant breeds? Even a large breed rescue group might be able to help because they tend to get dogs with behavioral issues. To be a teenager and still mouthing and pulling on clothes is a HUGE No-No.

With a spray bottle, what did you have in it? I haven’t met a dog yet that could stand the vinegar/water. Even dogs who could drink bitter apple hate the vinegar.

I’d carry a small bottle around with me and spray directly into the mouth when he starts mouthing. And it must be immediate. You cannot get up, find the spray bottle, then try to spray the dog. I’ve seen people go that route and it turns into a fun game. Dog gnaws on human, human gets up, and plays chase with a spray bottle. That’s not a correction. That’s teaching the dog that gnawing means a fun game of chase (which maybe why he’s play bowing). The correction either isn’t timed correctly or not getting the message through to him that his behavior is not appropriate. Regular white cooking/cleaning vinegar from the grocery store will do.

Have you tried the gentle leader in addition to the prong?

Yep, 50/50. I use the same bottle for the dogs that I use for cleaning the kitchen and mirrors. Some people also use the solution as a “waterless/shampooless” coat cleaner.

Also, I wouldn’t even give a verbal command or even look at the dog before you give the correction. You want him to associate anytime his teeth come in contact with human skin or clothes, he gets a nasty taste in his mouth.

Since he is a teenager and especially dominant, he maybe really resistant to the gentle leader. It is the same prinicple as the off switch my trainer taught us.

When the dog is rowdy, barking, misbehaving, or what not, simply push or hold down the muzzle until the dog calms. Done correctly it works just like an off switch. Also works well if you need to dog to focus for a bit.

The gentle leader gives you the ability to put that pressure on the muzzle rather easily. I use it all the time when I’m grooming uncooperative dogs. In fact, many of them are the type that have to be sedated in order to be groomed. The owners are amazed that their dogs can be awake and groomed. A miracle!

Here’s a link to how to gentle leader works.

Gentle Leader

If you want to get the same results without it, I would hold the dog’s collar high up on the neck, and place your hand firmly on the base of the muzzle. Over the top of the muzzle. If you just want to keep his attention on you, you can use both hands to rub his cheeks/muzzle and talk to him. Dogs LOVE it.

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