Never Repeat a Command

If you're a professional dog trainer, you've repeated "never repeat a command" countless times. Surely it's one of life's greatest ironies. I've said it myself many a time, and I've written about how hard it is to follow that advice. How easily the second "Sit" comes after the first one, yes? I've gotten pretty good at saying things just once, although that doesn't mean I'm perfect. If I had five bucks for every time I've repeated "Lie Down" to my working Border collies I'd be a rich woman. But still, I'm better than most... and am the first to explain why it's so important not to repeat a command. (If you want your dog to respond to a signal, then repeating it simply teaches him to not respond to the first time you say it and wait for the second.) So answer me this: the man I call the Read More

“Dog Training” versus “Real Work”

So I'm working Will, my young Border Collie, last night, asking him to push the lambs into a corner so that I could catch and treat a sick one. (Lambs get diarrhea just like people and dogs do, I suspect it feels just as bad for them as it does for the rest of us. Poor little guy looked miserable.) Willie is doing really well at this kind of task, even though he can be the kind of dog who is "sticky" and won't push the sheep forward when it's needed sometimes. But he seems to love real work, when the sheep really have to get into the truck, or the lambs have to be pushed into a corner so that we can catch and treat one. How do I know? Well, I don't for sure, but his eyes seem brighter, he looks especially animated when we are done and most importantly, he is much braver when we have "real Read More


Monday, 5:16 pm.  Well, I had planned to write something wise and witty about dogs, people and play. I was inspired by the closing ceremonies of the Olympics (finally I can get some sleep, but I'm going to  miss them, darn!), and found myself thinking more about how important play is between people and dogs. But that was then (this morning) and this is now (this evening).  I've spent most of the day on machines and technology... dealing with issues related to the new website, creating an ad for the new play booklet to send out electronically, learning new software, etc. etc. I've been riding this computer almost all day, and am ready to rip every hair out of my head.  Why, oh why, can't we use operant and classical conditioning on machines? If only I could click and treat when the new Read More

Playing with Dogs & the Olympics

I'm a little behind today, because yet again I stayed up too late watching the Olympics.  Addicting, aren't they? And I'm not even that interested in sports... I was the girl who stood in right field in enforced elementary school softball games saying "Please don't hit the ball to me, please don't hit the ball to me." But I can't resist the drama of watching other people turning purposeless games into lifetime commitments and prime time excitement for the rest of us. How fitting that today our new booklet about playing with our dogs just arrived from the printer.  I co-wrote it with Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist Karen London, and there is nothing like writing about how to play (and how not to play) with your dog to get you thinking about WHY we play with our dogs, HOW we play and Read More

Visual Signals before Acoustic?

"Puppy nerd" asked a great question in his or her comment: Given how visual dogs are, should one start an exercise with visual signals to help the dog get it right, and then switch to acoustic ones, or avoid visual signals altogether if you want your dog to pay attention to your voice?  Well, this could keep us all busy for the next few months. I know this is a loaded issue, with people strongly advocating one or the other (mostly the latter in my experience.) There's no 'right' answer, at least not in my opinion.  But then, I'm not a big advocate for there being one way to train. There are many roads, as they say, to the top of the mountain. I think what's most important is to be aware of the advantages and disadvantages of starting with visual signals.  The first obvious advantage is Read More