I’m My Dogs Caregiver, Not Their Alpha

By Tori Ganino

In a world full of punishment-based training and television quick fixes for dog behavior problems, clients often tell me that they are concerned that their dog is trying to be the “alpha” in the home, or that their dog must obey because the owner is the “boss.” I do not blame owners for having these beliefs. After all, like myself, they were raised on the “Dominance Theory,” and it continues to be inaccurately portrayed as the correct approach by the media.

Where did the Dominance Theory come from?

It is important to understand how society was introduced to the concept of dominance in the first place. During the 1930s and 1940s, animal behaviorist Rudolph Schenkel observed the interactions between captive zoo wolves and concluded that the wolves were fighting to gain dominance over each other (Schenkel 42). This incorrect and unsubstantiated idea was then applied to wild wolves and domesticated dogs. Here’s the problem with Schenkel’s study, the wolves that he initially observed were taken from family units in the wild and then forced together in captivity. Removed from their naturally occurring social setting in the wild and placed in a man-made one, the wolves did what many captive animals do, fight.

What science later taught us.

Thanks to David Mech and his research with wild wolves in Canada from 1986 – 1999, he concluded that wolf packs are family units with a breeding male, breeding female, and offspring (Mech 1202). This is very different from the initial observations by Schenkel with captive wolves from separate families forced together in an artificial environment. In 2000, Mech published an article detailing his research and findings called Alpha Status, Dominance, and Division of Labor in Wolf Packs.” Here he states: “Attempting to apply information about the behavior of assemblages of unrelated captive wolves to the familial structure of natural packs has resulted in considerable confusion. Such an approach is analogous to trying to draw inferences about human family dynamics by studying humans in refugee camps. The concept of the alpha wolf as a “top dog” ruling a group of similar-aged compatriots (Schenkel 1947; Rabb et al. 1967; Fox 1971a; Zimen 1975, 1982; Lockwood 1979; van Hooff et al. 1987) is particularly misleading” (Mech 1197).
Unfortunately, the media went rampant with “>Schenkel’s original hasty conclusions about the dynamic of the wolf pack and applied it to domesticated dogs. As science changes with additional research, so must we. That is not always the case, and many punishment-based trainers refuse to stay up to date with and embrace a non-dominance-based mentality. This is something that I always promise to my clients, and my pets, to do.

Two Scenarios, which one do you prefer?

Circling back to my original statement, “I am my dog’s caregiver, not their alpha,” is something that my clients are surprised to hear. When I work with my dogs, or anyone else’s, I focus on making our relationship based on cooperative care and trust. I want them to listen to and work with me because they want to, instead of fearing the consequences if they do not. Here are two different scenarios to better illustrate my point.
In scenario number one, you go to work regularly and receive a paycheck. You might even receive a holiday bonus as a thank for a job well done throughout the year. The paycheck and recognition that you receive motivate you to continue doing your job while enjoying it in the process. Think about it, would you even go to work if there was not something in it for you? This is where I focus on when training dogs on positive reinforcement.
In scenario number two, you are in prison and are instructed to mop the floors. Knowing that the consequences of not doing so could include losing privileges such as rec time and commissary, you are more likely to comply. However, compliance to avoid punishment is not necessarily synonymous with happiness. This is where punishment trainers, based on the outdated and disproven dominance theory, focus.

Humans already control everything.

If you think about it, you tell your dog what, when, and where he eats, when he can go outside, how long he stays outside, where he sleeps, where he walks, who he is allowed to interact with, and so much more. Why do we really need to further micromanage their lives by immediately insisting that we will take their food bowl away whenever we want just to show them how much control we have. They already know.

You are not being submissive by “letting your dog win” when he growls.

For a dog that will growl when I approach an item that he values, I back away while saying to myself, “thank you for the warning.” He is not trying to dominate me; he is simply expressing that this item is special to him. However, depending on the severity of the situation and those involved, it is something that cannot continue to occur in our homes. This is where the positive reinforcement-based behavior plan comes into play.
We work together (he doesn’t work for me) to systematically change his feelings about the scenario, and we go at his pace. At the end of the training, the dog is excited for me to approach, and I do not have any safety concerns about being there, whereas, in the past, I would expect to be bitten. He understands that having a valued item taken away can be a great thing to happen and that the majority of the time, I’m not even going to take it…I will add to it.

The cooperative and trusting relationship between myself and my adopted dog, Jeter.

“Aggressive Behavior in Dogs,” James O’Heare states that “By using social dominance as a basis for how we interpret our companion animals’ behavior or how we interact with our companion animals, we conceptually frame the relationship in terms of relationship between adversaries” (O’Heare 143). That is the opposite of what I want my relationship to be like.
Jeter had some behavior challenges to overcome when he was adopted. Not only would he snap at my hands when I grabbed his feet for nail trims, but he would growl if I tried to move him over in my bed, cry when he was left alone, chase the cat, and bark non-stop at strangers. He even growled at my husband the first time they met. We overcame all of these challenges as a team.
As his caregiver, it is my responsibility to see that he feels comfortable and safe with all the activities that we do. After all, it is my ethical responsibility to “do no harm,” and that includes emotional harm. You might not think that forcing a dog to have his nails trimmed is emotionally harming him, but I disagree. His body language and behavior tell me so. Moving him over in the bed? I wanted Jeter to like when I came to bed rather than distrust the situation. I wanted to build our trust through training, not break it down.
As we took baby steps through his training program, Jeter was rewarded with special treats. While many are concerned that they will reward their dog’s bad behavior by giving them treats, it instead rewards his compliance (and assists in changing his emotions) with the process. For example, I would bring my hand near his front paw without touching it (while making sure that Jeter did not show signs of discomfort), praise, take my hand away and give him a treat
As we continued to work together through his various behavior concerns, his trust steadily grew. So much that I never had to train him to move over when I wanted to get into bed. He chose to do it on his own. What was in it for him by doing so? He received love and attention from me.

Final thoughts.

I would like to end with one more quote by James O’Heare, “…the concept of dominance poses a very significant risk of damaging the social relationship between guardians and their dogs, particularly where the relationship is already strained by a problematic behavior-the usual context in which clients contact us. It is counterproductive and could constitute a breach of our ethic to do no harm.” (O’Heare 144). Stop doing what self-proclaimed experts on TV with made-up terms for behavior tell you to do. Listen to what science says, and just as importantly, listen to what your dog is telling you. He will thank you for it.


“Expression Studies on Wolves – Rudolph Schenkel, 1947 : Rudolph Schenkel : Free Download, Borrow, and Streaming.” Internet Archive, 1 Jan. 1970, archive.org/details/SchenkelCaptiveWolfStudy.compressed/page/n15/mode/2up.
O’Heare, James. Aggressive Behavior in Dogs. 2nd ed., BehaveTech Publishing, 2014.
Mech, L David. “Alpha Status, Dominance, and Division of Labor in Wolf Packs.” Canadian Journal of Zoology, vol. 77, no. 8, Jan. 1999, pp. 1196–1203., doi:10.1139/z99-099.


Tori Ganino CDBC, CPDT-KA is a Certified Dog Behavior Consultant through the IAABC, Certified Professional Dog Trainer-Knowledge Assessed through the CCPDT, and a member of International Canine Behaviourists (ICB) and the International Companion Animal Network (ICAN). She owns Calling All Dogs located in Batavia, NY where she teaches group classes and private lessons for obedience and behavior modification.

You can find out more about Tori from her website www.CallingAllDogsNY.com

Dogs dont grow out of bad behaviours

Dogs don’t grow out of bad behaviors…they grow INTO them.04JAN

By Tori Ganino, BS, CDBC, CPDT-KA

A dog is never too old to learn; however, it is much easier to teach him before bad habits have the chance to develop. With that being said, you will still find that your dog regresses in training if you are not consistent with your expectations. An excellent example of this is Brody, my 13-year-old Golden Retriever.

I met Brody when he was 5 years old and living with my now-husband, Rich, since a puppy. Brody had Rich well-trained. He just needed to bark a few times during meals, and he would receive food from the table. To get the food even faster, he would put his head on Rich’s lap. “How can you ignore a cute puppy face?” Rich would say to me, “but it is not as cute now that he is so big.” I hear this regularly from clients.

Being a dog trainer, it didn’t take long before I told Rich that I need to train his dog. He agreed that Brody was not “cute” when he stole food off my fork moments prior. If this sounds at all similar to your dog, don’t be discouraged! Brody quickly learned a different way to act while we ate, one that we all enjoyed. Brody was trained to stay on his bed and relax instead.

After five years of training the people to get what he wanted, we had to undo his extremely persistent attention-seeking behaviors and replace them with an incompatible, or alternate behavior. This change was hard for Brody, and I wanted to set him up for success. In the beginning stages, I rewarded Brody every few seconds, meaning that I did not even sit down to eat. I grabbed a bite of food, walked to Brody to give him a treat, then back to my food. If I sat down even for a second, Brody would find the activity too difficult and run to the table. The end result of multiple sessions was a bark-free, fork chomping-free, and stress-free meal; until 6 years later.

Fast forward to Brody as an 11-year-old dog who just underwent emergency surgery for cancer. The prognosis was grim and Brody was given only three to six months to live. Devastated and not caring about the rules that we had previously established, we let Brody do pretty much what he wanted: eating from the table, sticking his head in the potato chip bag while we sat on the couch, and even grabbing a slice or two of ham out of the refrigerator. We didn’t care, we wanted Brody to have fun with the little time that he had left.

The important point of this story is for owners to understand that Brody would have never “grown out of” the original attention-seeking behaviors. Don’t forget, he was five years old when I met him. He definitely was not a puppy or even an adolescent dog anymore. Instead, he grew INTO them. Consistency with training is what got him to the point of relaxing on his bed while we ate. The lack of consistency is what brought him to eat out of the refrigerator.

As you can imagine, it took about one month before I declared that we were going back to having Brody on his mat while we ate. It took some work but he used his foundation skills to get back on track. He will still have moments where he tries to see if the barking might still work. It worked in the past so he is more likely to see if it will work for him again. In these moments, it’s crucial to stick to your training – don’t cave in! Staying consistent with your dog is what maintains great results.

Tori Ganino CDBC, CPDT-KA is a Certified Dog Behavior Consultant through the IAABC, Certified Professional Dog Trainer-Knowledge Assessed through the CCPDT, and a member of International Canine Behaviourists (ICB) and the International Companion Animal Network (ICAN). She owns Calling All Dogs located in Batavia, NY where she teaches group classes and private lessons for obedience and behavior modification.

You can find out more about Tori from her website www.CallingAllDogsNY.com

Six Steps to Muzzle Training

Teaching your dog to love the muzzle.

Please refer to the blog “Changing the Stigma of Muzzles” if you have any concerns about why muzzle training is beneficial. Here are a few important reminders before you begin training:

  • Make sure that you are in an area with few distractions.
  • The crucial part of training is never brining the muzzle towards your dog. Your dog should always move towards the muzzle and put his
    nose into it on his own. Pushing the muzzle towards your dog can cause negative associates and set back the training process.
  • Sessions should be short and end with your dog wanting to continue working. Thirty seconds to one-minute sessions are great.
  • Each session should be practiced until your dog is successful. Do not move on to the next stage too soon.
  • Remove the muzzle from your dog’s nose before he takes it out.
Step #1: Food Bowl

Start out by taking the muzzle and using it as your dog’s food bowl. To prevent the food from falling out, put foil around the outside of the muzzle, and then prop it up in a box. The box that comes with the Baskerville Ultra muzzle is perfect for this. When you feed your dog, take out the muzzle first and THEN bring it to the food container. Put the food in it and give it to your dog. Once he has finished eating, pick it up and put it away. The order of events is extremely important. Always take out the muzzle before you grab food or treats. This is the same for the following activities. Your dog will see the muzzle and then see the rewards. Continue to this step for one week before moving to step two.

Step #2: Floor

Place the muzzle on the floor. When your dog looks at it, sprinkle treats around it. Pick up the muzzle and put it behind your back along with the treats. Repeat. Your dog should be using his nose to move the muzzle around to get the treats. He does not have to put his nose into it. Practice this for a few days.

Step #3: Slight Movement Towards

Hold out the muzzle and wait for your dog to bring his nose slightly towards it. Once you see even the smallest movement, praise and bring out the treat from behind your back. Put it on the other side of the muzzle, so he puts his nose in the rest of the way to eat the treat. Take the muzzle away before he takes his nose out of it. You can extend the time that your dog remains in the muzzle by giving treats rapidly in a row.

Step #4: Nose In

Hold the muzzle and wait for your dog to put his nose completely in it. Praise and bring out the treat from behind your back. You can work up to giving a few treats in a row and then waiting for a second or two between treats. This is so he can learn that rewards will come but he doesn’t have to eat the entire time. Once he is doing well, extend out the time even more. Don’t forget to set your dog up to be successful. If he backs out of the muzzle, it means that you are making the activity too difficult.

I often find that it is easier for owners to hold the treat between their knees. This is to prevent them from accidentally pushing the muzzle towards their dog. This technique is also helpful when learning how to get the food through the muzzle. If you place one hand under the muzzle, it can act as a slide for the treat. Drop the treat into the hand and push your hand up to the muzzle. Your dog will then be able to grab the treat.

Step #5: Latching

Have your dog put the muzzle on and then secure it behind his head. Reward rapidly. Seeing that we have made the activity more difficult by latching the muzzle, we want to increase how often he gets the treats. After a few repetitions, you can go back to rewarding a bit less. Don’t ask your dog to move around just yet.

Step #6: Easy Activities

When your dog is comfortable intermittently receiving treats while wearing the muzzle, you can start to add in movement and easy activities. For example: have your dog take a step or two and then reward, ask for a sit, down, paw, high five, etc. Jeter enjoys body conditioning work, so he is practicing balancing while wearing his muzzle.

Final Notes

Have your dog practice wearing the muzzle even when it is not needed. This is to prevent him from learning to associate the muzzle with a scary activity. Don’t forget, the muzzle is to be used as a safety precaution in addition to a behavior training plan. It should never be used as a tool so that you can put your dog in situations where he would normally bite in attempts to him used to being in that scenario and dealing with it. This can be detrimental to your dog.

Please let me know if you have any questions. Happy training!

Tori Ganino CDBC, CPDT-KA is a Certified Dog Behavior Consultant through the IAABC, Certified Professional Dog Trainer-Knowledge Assessed through the CCPDT, and a member of International Canine Behaviourists (ICB) and the International Companion Animal Network (ICAN). She owns Calling All Dogs located in Batavia, NY where she teaches group classes and private lessons for obedience and behavior modification.

You can find out more about Tori from her website www.CallingAllDogsNY.com

Can Doggy Day Care or ‘Pack Walks’ Do more harm than good?

By Angela Pitman © Dec 2018


There has been a massive increase in the business of Dog Day Care and ‘Pack Walks’ over the last few years, but is this the right thing for your dog?

We would need to look at several things before coming to a decision – certainly, your dog may bound into a Day Care establishment or into the car or van of the Dog Walker, much like a child bounds into a theme park, while I appreciate that dogs are not children, the logic in the behaviour can be very similar in some respects.

How many people take their dogs to Day Care while they are out at work and when their dog has returned home again, are they so exhausted that they sleep all evening – peaceful and quiet, marvellous you may think, but then ask yourself – ‘who does my dog prefer to spend time with? Me or Day Care/Dog Walker? Also, are they emotionally drained rather than mentally relaxed?

When you go out at the weekend with your dog, do they want to run up to every dog they see? After all, this is what happens through the week, will they come straight back to you when you call them or have they started to ignore you? Does the other dog or owner appreciate this unwanted attention? They are not being rude, but possibly their dog is elderly/blind/deaf/not good with other dogs for some reason, seeing a dog bounding up to their dog, albeit with friendly intent, can startle or scare both dog and owner or even undo work that has been started for rehabilitation, what if the other dog is an Assistance Dog, highly trained to do a specific task for their owner, the Assistance dog will have been trained to ignore distractions but that can be impossible in the event of a boisterous dog.

Your dog’s attention on you could have been undone by attending the wrong Day Care/`Pack Walks’ on a regular basis.

An occasional visit is fine, but a 3-4 times weekly occurrence can cause your dog to find you less interesting, both at home and while you are out with them, I, personally, would be most disappointed if my dog ignored me and went to everyone else and their dog in exactly the same way parents do if their child runs up to their childminder and gives them a hug leaving Mum and Dad standing alone!

We are often ‘guilt tripped’ into believing that our dogs must have these regular meet ups – ‘we should not leave them alone for X amount of hours, but what if you go shopping/need a sudden hospital visit/called into work unexpectedly/ do you panic and rush the dog into a daycare or do you ensure he/she has had a walk, eaten, have access to water and leave them to settle while you are out and then return to find that they have simply slept? Not so many years ago, dogs were exercised in the morning, then we went out to do our shopping/do chores or go to work, the dog just relaxed at home and was then walked again once we got back in with longer walks on days off, there were very few behaviour issues and the dogs were happy, relaxed and greeted dogs politely.

With regards to sleep, dogs actually need more sleep than we believe, the average length of time a dog sleeps ranges from 12-20 hours depending on their age; puppies and older dogs may need as much as 20hrs to either support growth or because of reduced energy levels, size and breed of a dog can influence a sleep pattern, a large breed will sleep more than a smaller breed, often up to 18hrs! , it would be more of a concern if a dog doesn’t sleep as much as they used to as it could indicate a health issue or stress, so a full day of almost on stop activity can become a problem for your dog.

The time spent awake is spent foraging for food, looking for a mate, (okay, we don’t want to encourage more puppies) and reading their ‘pee mails’ by sniffing about to find out who has been visiting during the night, some of this can be mimicked on a walk with us while we take our dogs out, for foraging, try hiding a favourite scent article or soft toy for them to find and then play with them for a few minutes before hiding it again, you can try dropping it behind you as you walk and then send you dog back to find it again.

It is also worth considering, does your dog actually enjoy it or are they simply putting up with it? I am regularly sent photos from across the country of groups of anything between 10 to 24 dogs, some dogs with muzzles on or yellow bandanas with ‘Give me Space’ or ‘Nervous’ printed on it, Dog Daycare is not the solution for a reactive or nervous dog, is the dog ‘sorted’ or is the behaviour being pushed even deeper?

One shy dog does not become confident, they simply shut down, a reactive dog doesn’t suddenly accept all dogs, they just can’t take on a large group of dogs, take them back out of that environment and, out on their usual walk, there is a strong chance that they will still react to individual dogs, you then go back home feeling frustrated or a failure.

Are you being told that your dog will be kept occupied throughout the day? Are they going to be in small groups? Is there somewhere for dogs to go for some quiet time that is safe?

There are some, but very few, excellent Dog Day Care establishments, that have a good staff to dog ratio, at least 1 staff member to 4 dogs! Activities for the dogs that are structured in small groups

How do the staff cope with emergencies, (fights/injuries/sudden health issues)? What if a dog walker is walking 4-6 dogs and allowing them to run around on a large park, field or beach and one dog suddenly becomes ill, do they help the unwell dog or try to gather the rest of the dogs together and secure them first?

What, if any, canine specific qualifications does the owner and/or staff of the day care or dog walking business have? Very often, a degree in Animal Behaviour only has one module throughout a three year degree course that covers the domestic canine and contrary to some daycare/walkers websites, there is no BA degree for animal work, the comment “I’ve had dogs all of my life” or being a “very nice person” is not a qualification.

Do they recognise the difference between inappropriate vs appropriate play? What ratio of play to rest do the dogs have? What age mix are the dogs? Are there any dogs wearing muzzles? Unless the dog with the muzzle is wearing it because it eats everything around it, it may be wearing it because it has issues with other dogs and it is on as a safety feature for other dogs but how does that dog feel, it is wearing a muzzle and is forced to mingle with dogs it may not be comfortable with, but it has no option but to put up with it.

Has your dog been injured by “someone else’s dog” on the field? Sadly, this is a common issue but we only have that person’s word for it.

How many photos are put up daily on their social media page? While taking care of other people’s dogs, I would want their attention to be 100% on the dogs and not the camera shots, even if there are two people walking 8-10 dogs, there is still a risk of something being missed.

Pack Walks’ look great on television, groups of 6-12 (sometimes even more) dogs all being walked together, seemingly in harmony, but by observing body language and avoidance behaviours tell a very different story, a canine social group in the wild, or as street dogs, are naturally formed, they are not forced together after a brief meeting where they may have been overwhelmed by the other dogs, put into a van with 4-10 other dogs and driven off where they may or may not be let off their lead to run about.

While some dogs may cope well in this sort of situation, equally, many do not, and the signals seen by some of the dogs in these photos will not change a dog’s behaviour for the better and make them accept other dogs, nor will it mean that your dog will no longer pull on the lead.

Almost every behaviourist across the country, has seen a massive increase in loss of recall, jumping up at strangers, pestering other dogs, lead frustration and lead reactivity.

How well ventilated are the vans? Do they have air conditioning or is cool air reliant on open windows while driving, if your dog is the first of six to be collected, how long is it in the van or car until it reaches the destination? Possibly 10 minutes between each dog, 6 dogs collected, that is 1 hour! If there is no air conditioning, that is quite a time for your dog to be in a vehicle with just the windows open slightly!

Walk with a friend with their dog, this is still socialising but in a much more natural and polite manner.

Checking out ‘pee mails’ when out with you, don’t make the walk a route march, allow sniffing of gate posts, lamp posts, shrubbery, this is important for a dog as they gain so much information by doing this, it is also more mentally tiring as they also have to process all the information they have gleaned, if their brain is tired, you will have a calmer and much happier dog who looks forward to going out with you.

You chose to bring your lovely companion into your home, enjoy your time with them.

The Great Muzzle Debate

John the Lurcher happily wearing his muzzle. Photo by Paula Slyusarenko

The world of dog training and behaviour has come so far in recent years, yet some valuable pieces of equipment still have such a negative image, I am referring to the basket muzzle. In my opinion every dog should be trained to be comfortable wearing a muzzle because you never know when one might be needed.

Years ago, before I was qualified and I knew nothing, I had a German Shepherd called Jake. He was very clever and very cheeky, I took him training every week and he knew how to do loads of things so why would he need to be muzzle trained, oh my goodness what a mistake that was. Jake started to get ear infections which meant frequent visits to the vets, can you see where this story is going! So during one visit the vet asked for Jake to be muzzled, no problem I thought as he was so obedient – I could not have been more wrong if I tried. I didn’t take in to consideration the strange environment, strange man and pain. Jake decided that he really didn’t want to wear a muzzle and wrestling on the floor with the vet was actually quite a good game, to say it was stressful for me is an understatement I never wanted put myself or Jake through that again so the muzzle training began.

Here is a link to a video by Chirag Patel on how to muzzle train a dog https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1FABgZTFvHo

So lets have a look at some muzzle myths shall we.

Muzzle Myth 1.

Only dogs with a bite history wear muzzles.

Dogs wear muzzles for numerous reasons. They may have a bite history, so the dog wearing a muzzle means they have a responsible owner. The dog may be scared of other dogs or children or just wary of people and has a tendency to react. In this case if the dog is wearing a muzzle it keeps everybody safe and the person walking the dog is less stressed and this relays to the dog. The dog may have a history of chasing other animals or birds and wearing a muzzle means they can go off lead and everything is safe, this does not mean that you don’t have to work on a solid recall though. The dog may have a habit of eating things off of the floor, a muzzle will stop them doing this while teaching a dog to leave food is worked on. Lets not forget the exempted dogs who by law have to wear a muzzle and be on a lead and these dogs may not have any behavioural issues at all.

Muzzle Myth 2.

My dog is friendly so why would I need a muzzle.

Although your dog may be friendly most of the time if they are in pain things can change. I know if I am in pain I get really grumpy, just ask my husband, but I can communicate where the pain is which a dog cant, so they may protect themselves the only way they know how so a muzzled dog can get treatment and everyone is safe.

Muzzle Myth 3.

A dog cant breathe properly or drink with a muzzle on.

This is true with certain styles of muzzles, but I would never recommend these muzzles. A basket muzzle such as a Baskerville muzzle or a Baskerville Ultra are great. The dog can drink, breathe and still take treats while wearing them.

So hopefully that is a few muzzle myths busted.

So lets join together and get rid of the stigma that muzzles have, don’t be worried what other people think if your dog is muzzled these people don’t share your home (hopefully) but your dog does so lets encourage people to train their dogs to be comfortable wearing a muzzle even if they never need it.

By Sue Lefevre G.Dip ABM, MICB, CAB ICAN

Dog Training: Its not opinion, its science

By Tori Ganino, BS, CDBC, CPDT-KA

As a Certified Dog Behavior Consultant, I talk with many people about different methods used to train their dogs.  Being a trainer that works on scientifically supported methods of building confidence, creating replacement behaviors, and decreasing anxiety and aggression with reward-based training, I am firmly against any use of force and intimidation. I often hear the following comment from people: “everyone has their opinion about how to train dogs.”

I want to address this comment.  An opinion is something that is supported by weak, or often, no evidence at all.  A scientific fact is one that has a vast amount of supporting evidence.  This evidence has been proven in numerous peer-reviewed, controlled, studies and experiments.

Psychology 101 teaches students about B.F. Skinner’s work with Operant Conditioning and the four quadrants.  Don’t get overwhelmed; I am going explain and discuss just two of the four quadrants introduced in the college course here, so you will have a better understanding about the opinions vs. facts that this blog post is focusing on, and then apply the principles to two different case studies in the next blog post.  If you would like to learn more about all four quadrants and how they are used in dog training, comment on this blog and I will be happy to write another post about it.

Operant conditioning refers to Positive Reinforcement, Negative Reinforcement, Positive Punishment, and Negative Punishment.  We are focusing on Positive Reinforcement and Positive Punishment. Before going any further, it is crucial to understand what each word in these terms means:

  • “Positive” means that something is added. Keep in mind that “positive” doesn’t necessarily mean something is good.
  • “Reinforcement” refers to the behavior being more likely to occur again in the future.
  • “Punishment” refers to the behavior being less likely to occur again in the future.

Let’s start with positive reinforcement, the area where my training and behavior modification work focuses.  Positive reinforcement is where something is added, or given to the dog, to make the behavior more likely to happen again — for example, providing a dog with a treat for coming when called.

Positive punishment refers to adding something to the dog so that he will no longer practice the unwanted behavior in the future. Shock collars prong collars, and choke chains are examples of this.  The dog wants to avoid the conditions that created the pain, so he is less likely to perform the behavior that leads to it.

So how does opinion come into play with this blog?  It does when people argue about positive reinforcement (providing a cookie to reward a job well done so the dog will do it again) being better or worse than positive punishment (applying a shock to a dog so that it will stop a behavior and be less likely to do it again) and what is better for the dog.  When concerning a dog’s emotional well-being, science says that positive reinforcement is that way to go.  The dog is rewarded for its efforts and never afraid of being hurt physically or emotionally.

However, many that support shock, prong, and choke collar training (positive punishment) say that there are no harmful effects on the dog. They will say that the shock only tickles the dog, the prong is just annoying, and the choke does not cut off enough air to cause pain.

But how can that be?  By definition, these punishments must be harsh enough so that the dog will not repeat the behavior that caused these tools’ use to happen again. If they were merely annoying, then the dog would easily ignore them and repeat the unwanted behavior.  For positive punishment to work, the punishment must be strong enough for the dog to want to avoid.  Pain is something that every living creature wants to avoid.

So, when someone tells me that it is an opinion when I say that these collars and the correction methods used with them are harmful to the dog, I tell them that it is a scientific fact.  Not only is there physical pain, but there is also emotional pain associated with its use.  On the other hand, positive reinforcement training helps dogs to learn what you want, and it helps them to do so while enjoying the process.

The most prominent science-based dog training and behavior modification professional organizations also support the use of positive reinforcement over positive punishment.  The International Association for Animal Behavior Consultants, Certification Council for Professional Dog Training, International Canine Behaviourists, and the International Companion Animal Network are just a few.

Tori Ganino CDBC, CPDT-KA is a Certified Dog Behavior Consultant through the IAABC, Certified Professional Dog Trainer-Knowledge Assessed through the CCPDT, and a member of International Canine Behaviourists (ICB) and the International Companion Animal Network (ICAN). She owns Calling All Dogs located in Batavia, NY where she teaches group classes and private lessons for obedience and behavior modification.

You can find out more about Tori from her website www.CallingAllDogsNY.com

What is a Balanced Trainer

Written by Lyn Fleet, MICB MICAN

Feb 2019


lyn fleet image

There is an increasing and worrying trend for people to promote themselves as a ‘balanced dog trainer’. A fairly innocuous phrase you might think, particularly when seeing the word balanced. Something that is balanced means of equal measure, not loaded one way or another, doesn’t it?

A balanced trainer will tell you that they use rewards and punishment to train a dog. If you ask them to elaborate they say that just as you have to let a child know when it’s done wrong and punish them appropriately, a dog also has to be punished so it realises it’s done something wrong. All sounds logical so far doesn’t it?

Punishment means different things to different people. You may think that confiscating your child’s iPhone for a week is sufficient punishment or telling your dog off when it has eaten your Jimmy Choo or Christian Louboutin shoes. However, a balanced trainer will most often use severe physical pain as the punishment, by means of a choke chain, prong collar or an electric shock collar, euphemistically called an educator collar.

lyn fleet image lyn fleet image

You may have seen these methods used on a TV show or perhaps at a local dog club. You are assured that this doesn’t hurt a dog because they don’t feel pain like we do. Really! If it didn’t cause pain and distress it wouldn’t have the desired effect.

They will emphatically tell you that this method is the only way to cure serious problem behaviours, particularly when dealing with cases of aggression. No really it isn’t!!!!

To the casual observer they will often see instant and seemingly miraculous results. If you knew that teachers at your child’s school used physical abuse to stop unwanted behaviours you would be mortified. Yes it works but it’s not ethical. I could stop you in your tracks for talking too much, by repeatedly slamming the door on your fingers and when you stop talking I will praise you. Can you see the comparisons I’m making?

Sadly, these days, people want instant gratification and are not prepared to invest time to achieve their goals. You only have to see the numerous television shows these days that promise, if you win you will achieve meteoric stardom and live the life of a millionaire for ever. This may happen for a very few people but the majority soon realise that show business is a cut throat world, far away from the realities of life and the likelihood of a fairy tale ending. True artists in any field will tell you that it has taken years to hone their craft and that’s how they have maintained their career, fame and credibility; for the rest they are cast aside like yesterday’s rubbish and never thought of again.

Balanced trainers seemingly ‘cure’ problems in an instant and all without the owner having to lift a finger. They ridicule other trainers that use positive reinforcement and accuse us of merely stuffing sausages into a dog’s mouth. Yes, I will openly say that I use force free methods and positive reinforcement; and yes this is sometimes a food reward, maybe a game with a toy or verbal praise. If the dog doesn’t do what I want, the worst thing I will do is to withhold the treat, toy or praise; never would I resort to violent methods because I don’t have to or want to.

To solve problems in an ethical and moral way you need to be knowledgeable, understanding and empathetic; whereas behaving like a bully or pressing a button on a remote control requires no talent at all!

I will always advocate using force-free and positive reinforcement when training; it’s kinder to the dog and makes training more enjoyable for the owner. If your dog is behaving aggressively out of fear, the addition of physical pain does not address the root cause. A ‘quick fix’ may stop the barking and lunging but at what emotional cost to you and your dog? Your dog wants to trust you, not fear you.

If you decide, for whatever reason, you can’t or won’t invest the time teaching your much loved family member and resort instead to the ‘balanced’ approach, well that’s between you and your conscience. Guilt is a terrible thing to live with.

There is a legal term Caveat Emptor meaning buyer beware! It is often assumed that this applies only to tangible goods that you buy, such as a car, or TV. However, services that you buy are also included. Dog trainers or car mechanics for example, are not obliged to explain the methods they use. It’s up to you to do your research and ensure the service you are going to pay for is exactly what you want. So check, check and check again because there is no point complaining after the event if you didn’t do your homework.

You chose to get a dog and all the responsibility that comes with it; your dog didn’t choose to get a human.



Rescue Dogs From Abroad

By Lyn Fleet

lyn fleet image There is increasingly a growing trend for people to adopt/rescue dogs from various countries abroad; Romania, Greece, Spain, France and others. Personally I’m not in favour of this because there are thousands of dogs in this country, languishing in rescue centres, desperately needing a forever home. That said, many people do seek dogs from abroad and that’s a decision you’ve probably made already. Often, owners allow their heart rule their head and don’t truly appreciate what they are committing themselves to. They think they are rescuing a dog from a ‘fate worse than death’. Whilst this may sometimes be the case, the dog could have led a perfectly happy life, albeit different to what we think is normal and/or acceptable. Imagine for a moment you are that dog. You are plucked from all that you know and shipped off to a foreign land. You have no idea where you are, the climate, the culture, the food and you don’t know the language. How would you feel if you found yourself in such a situation? Likely as not you would be bewildered, homesick, have difficulty coping and this will cause you great stress. You don’t know at that stage that the people you find yourself with just want to shower you with love and affection, you will want for nothing.

  • Your dog may never have been on a lead.
  • May have lived in the countryside and never encountered traffic.
  • They may have been one of life’s ‘drifters’ travelling wherever life took them.
  • They may have been used to sleeping under the stars and never in a house.
  • Being fed meant that they had to hunt and kill their own food.
  • Used to have lots a ‘canine mates’ to chat and play with in the street.
  • Sometimes they have been physically or mentally abused so gaining trust maybe a long, long process.

You will probably never know for certain but the above few reasons need to be considered. Can you see now why they are possibly going to find settling into our way of life very difficult? We expect them to feel ‘grateful’ and to hang on our every word and do everything that we ask of them.

  • Dogs in this situation need us to be extremely patient and give them all the time necessary to acclimatise to our way of life.
  • Don’t rush them off to ‘obedience classes’ where they are very likely to feel overwhelmed.
  • Gently begin to teach them at home; remember that English is unlikely to be their first language.

Dogs from abroad can be very rewarding and fulfilling and a fabulous addition to your family. However, love alone is NOT enough! Your dog’s specific needs have to be considered and catered for.

© Lyn Fleet 2018


The Importance of Cooperative Care in Dog Training

By Tori Ganino, BS, CDBC, CPDT-KA

Nail trims

Cooperative care has become a frequently used term in the positive reinforcement world of animal training. This is where an animal has a choice in his care and is an active participant. It is even used with animals in zoos. Do a quick internet search and you will find videos of tigers, alligators, and hyenas participating in physical examinations and blood draws. If these animals can be comfortable with the process then so can your dog.

When I say “choice”, I do not mean that the dog can pick between fighting against having a nail trim or just submitting to it. I mean that the dog can choose when he is ready to begin and give calm signals letting you know that he needs a break. The whole process does not cause any stress to the dog.

Dogs are always communicating with us. The goals with cooperative care are to to teach the dog that the overall process is a good thing and that there is no need to growl or bite when being handled for activities necessary for his health, such as vet examinations, teeth brushing, ear cleaning, and nail trims. If they aren’t telling us that they are uncomfortable by these signals, what else can they do? My personal preference for my dogs is telling me that they need a break simply by lifting up their heads.

Two of my dogs have their own individual goals to assist them with better care. This blog will be focusing on Jeter and nail trims. By breaking down the task into many small stages, and only proceeding to the next stage when he was comfortable, we built up to a great cooperative nail care regiment.

Jeter not only disliked seeing the nail clippers, but he was extremely upset when you tried to touch his feet. His nails were extremely overgrown when we adopted him as an adult.

Our original strategy to get them trimmed took two people. One was feeding him the entire time while the other attempted to cut the nails. We were not always successful, and often times the session ended with him growling. This was not the kind of care that we wanted for him.

With the help of a fellow trainer, Deb Jones, his training plan was broken down into many stages: seeing the nail clippers, nail clippers touching his paws, nail clippers touching his nails, my hand touching his paws, my hand holding his paws, my hand squeezing his paws, isolating each nail, touching the nails with my fingers, squeezing the nails, touching the nails with the clippers, putting clippers around the nails, then clipping. He started out in the down position on the edge of the bed for these steps.

I was not just teaching him that these activities were okay to do, I was helping him develop a positive conditioned emotional response (+CER) to each, and therefore the entire process. In other words, he was happy. This was obvious by the anticipatory tail wags while we trained. A +CER is created by being performing a step, like the ones described above, at your dog’s comfort level and then immediately following it with a reward.

For example, placing the clippers around the nails predicted that a special treat would be delivered.

By the time we worked up to clipping nails, he was relaxing on his side which he was taught to do separate from all of the handling.  If Jeter lifted his head off of the bed during the session, I knew that he was letting me know that he was not comfortable and wanted me to stop. If his head went back down, he was letting me know that he was ready to continue.

It sounds like a lot of work and it was. Over the course of six weeks, with a few daily sessions lasting about two minutes each, Jeter was able to progress tremendously with his routine.  But why go through all of this just to trim his nails? The previous technique not only caused him a great deal of stress, but it stressed me out to the point where I dreaded doing his nails. I also was not able to get them shortened to where it was a good length for the health of his paws and joints. What was worse is that any time I forced him to deal with an upsetting situation he was losing trust in me. This was greatly upsetting for the both of us and not the type of relationship that I wished to have with him.

Anytime we force our dogs to do something that they are not comfortable with, we run the risk of progressively making the activity more traumatic each time, to the point where the dog bites. By taking the time to break down the steps of the care routine, and training your dog to be happy with each one, you can have the same success as Jeter.

Tori Ganino CDBC, CPDT-KA is a Certified Dog Behavior Consultant through the IAABC, Certified Professional Dog Trainer-Knowledge Assessed through the CCPDT, and a member of International Canine Behaviourists (ICB) and the International Companion Animal Network (ICAN). She owns Calling All Dogs located in Batavia, NY where she teaches group classes and private lessons for obedience and behavior modification.

You can find out more about Tori from her website www.CallingAllDogsNY.com


Choosing a Doggy Daycare Part 1

By  Tori Ganino, CDBC, CPDT-KA, ABCDT

January 29, 2019

Doggy daycares have been popping up all over the country at a surprising rate.  With the many different daycares that are in your area, how do you choose which is the best one?  Would it surprise you to learn that there are no regulations in New York State for the doggy daycare industry?  Yes, you read that right.  Anyone can open up a doggy daycare and claim to be experts in dog play and body language.  What you might find equally surprising is what tools and techniques are allowed when controlling the dogs (more on this in Part 2).  Below are questions that you should ask before bringing your dog to play.

1)    What is the intake process?

Every dog should be pre-screened before walking into the facility.  Questionnaires and phone consults are common ways to do this.  An in-depth discussion should take place regarding the dog’s play style, aggressive incidents, and general social history.  Any dog with a bite history, regardless of the severity, should be turned away.

Once the pre-screening has deemed the dog a good candidate for daycare, an in-facility evaluation should take place.  The evaluation is where your dog would be brought in and slowly introduced to the group while making sure that he does not get overwhelmed or become fearful.  If this occurs, the facility should have guidelines to follow to ensure everyone’s physical and emotional safety.  Make sure to ask about these procedures.

2)    What are the emergency procedures?

Procedures should be in place for natural disasters, fights, robberies, and medical emergencies.  What will happen if the building is on fire?  What will happen if a dog needs medical care?  Do the staff members know how to break up a dog fight properly?  All of this should be in writing and readily accessible to the staff.

3)    What is the staff’s education?

Staff members need to know more than just how to break up a dog fight.  They must also be extremely knowledgeable about how to prevent one in the first place.  Fight prevention requires staff to have an in-depth understanding of body language, communication signals, play styles, signs of escalating play that needs to be interrupted, fear, stress, and anxiety.  All of which must be the most up to date, science-based, information. How has the staff been educated on these topics, and how many hours of hands-on experience are required before given the job of managing a playgroup? Are there continuing education requirements?

Facilities may say that they have someone certified in dog CPR and First Aid.  Is that person in with the playgroups, or are they merely working the reception area leaving less qualified staff to attend to the dogs?  Is there a CPR/First Aid certified staff member on property at all times?

4)    What is the dog to staff to ratio?

As previously mentioned, New York State does not regulate the doggy daycare industry.  Lack of regulation means that one handler can be responsible for supervising anywhere from 1-100 or more dogs. The industry does have a guideline that should be followed: an experienced handler should only be responsible for 10-15 dogs; meaning that at least two people should supervise 30 dogs.

5)    How many dogs are in a given area?

Any number of dogs can play in any size space.  The industry also has a guideline for this: each dog should have 50-100 sq. Ft. of space, depending on his size, with larger dogs needing more room than smaller dogs. This guideline means that 30 dogs should be provided with 1,500 sq. Ft. to 3,000 sq. ft. of play area.  The area should be on the larger end of the estimate if there are many large dogs in the group.

6)    Are the dogs always supervised?

It is important that the dogs are never left unsupervised when together.  A staff member should always be present, attentive, and proactive.  Dogs that need short breaks can be placed in crates or pens.  There should be a procedure for how long they are left in them, the amount of time before being visually checked on, and what to do if a dog consistently cannot appropriately handle being in the playgroup.

Running a daycare is a time and skill intensive endeavor. More information to know and questions to ask will be coming up in “Choosing a Doggy Daycare, Part 2”.

Tori Ganino CDBC, CPDT-KA is a Certified Dog Behavior Consultant through the IAABC, Certified Professional Dog Trainer-Knowledge Assessed through the CCPDT, and a member of International Canine Behaviourists (ICB) and the International Companion Animal Network (ICAN). She owns Calling All Dogs located in Batavia, NY where she teaches group classes and private lessons for obedience and behavior modification.

You can find out more about Tori from her website www.CallingAllDogsNY.com

Choosing a Doggy Daycare Part 2

By Tori Ganino, BS, CDBC, CPDT-KA

February 5, 2019


In addition to the six questions outlined in “Choosing a Doggy Daycare, Part 1”, there are four more that we would like you to consider.

1) How does the staff control the dogs?

Staff should be trained to handle all situations that arise when dogs play together. As I mentioned, active supervision, as well as being well versed in proactive prevention of problems when behaviors start to escalate, is essential. The question you should ask is what methods are being used to control the group? Would you believe that there are daycares in New York State, as well as other states, that use whips? Yes, you read the right. The use of whips are often described as the extension of the staff’s arms. In reality, the staff uses them to intimidate dogs into control or fearful submission. The same goes for shaker cans, spray bottles, bark collars, and shock collars, all of which are all typical “tools” that daycares might use.

2) What activities do the dogs participate in throughout the day?

Owners want their dogs to play with other dogs, but it is also important that other activities take place. Small training sessions are beneficial for the dogs to learn to listen to the staff and to come when they are called. Breaks should be incorporated into the schedule to ensure that the dogs learn to relax in the presence of other dogs, but also so they do not become over aroused or tired, which can lead to altercations.

3) Can you access pictures and videos of the dogs playing every day?

When I brought my young dog, Cooper, to daycare, I called to check in during my lunch break and asked how his day was when I picked him up. The staff always told me that he was doing well. The facility posted pictures of all the dogs at the end of the week. Out of 100, I might see one of Cooper. I continued to bring him there for eight months because the staff ensured me that he was having fun. When I started working in a daycare, I took him with me. It turned out that Cooper was terrified and would shake in the corner. It was evident that not only was he not having fun, but he was terrified. Make sure to insist that you have some evidence that your dog is playing and enjoying his time there.

4) Do the dogs wear collars?

While the staff needs to be able to move dogs around, it is vital that the dogs wear either breakaway collars or no collars at all. In my daycare, breakaway collars are utilized. This is so there is no chance of a dog’s jaw becoming stuck in a collar. Not only can the jaw be damaged, but the dog who is wearing the collar can be strangled.

While the list is not exhaustive, between parts one and two of “Choosing a Doggy Daycare,” ten critical questions have been outlined for you to assist in your search for the right daycare. If you have any doubt about one that you have interviewed being the right fit for your dog, make sure to move on. If any additional questions arise, make sure to ask them. Working with multiple dogs in a play setting can be fun, but it also has its challenges. The staff must be trained to handle the day to day occurrences, and the facility needs to be organized to ensure everyone’s safety.

Tori Ganino CDBC, CPDT-KA is a Certified Dog Behavior Consultant through the IAABC, Certified Professional Dog Trainer-Knowledge Assessed through the CCPDT, and a member of International Canine Behaviourists (ICB) and the International Companion Animal Network (ICAN). She owns Calling All Dogs located in Batavia, NY where she teaches group classes and private lessons for obedience and behavior modification.

You can find out more about Tori from her website www.CallingAllDogsNY.com

Giving your dog a choice

Giving your dog a choice

It is often underestimated how important it is to give our dogs choices. How many of you ask your dogs to follow you an a walk rather than you following them? Unless there is a very good reason I will always let my dogs lead the walk. I go where they want to go, after all its their walk.

Here is a brilliant video from ICB member Angela Pitman on this very subject.

Angela and Dotty