Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Why Elite Runners Make Great Dog Trainers
Going the distance

I should have realized right away that something special was going on in a group dog-training session last spring. When I asked the participants to call their dogs to come and then run away, they all did, and with Whippet-like speed. Most people need lots of encouragement to run, and even then — looking sheepish — they tend to take a few half-hearted jogging steps at most. This was no ordinary group, but rather, some of the world’s best distance runners, athletes so good they are sponsored by the likes of Adidas, New Balance, Nike, Mizuno, Brooks and Reebok. They’re living and training in Flagstaff, Ariz., in pursuit of their Olympic dreams because this mountain town’s high altitude, abundant trails and sunny weather provide the perfect conditions for distance running.

Since that day, I’ve worked with other local elite runners, helping them teach their dogs to conquer fears of unfamiliar people, cars and leashes; stop chasing bikes; greet visitors politely at the door; walk nicely on leash; perform tricks like crawl, high-five, shake, spin and roll over; and continue running rather than be distracted by other dogs. The successes they have as trainers have everything to do with their success as athletes: they take what they already know about training to be world-class runners and apply it to training their dogs. The following principles apply equally to dog training and running.


Value consistent practice.
Runners understand that it’s the work they put in daily that leads to success. Similarly, dog trainers know that you have to practice skills with your dog every day.

It’s not how fast you run in training, it’s more a consistency, those back-to-back 100-mile weeks.
— Martin Fagan, Reebok-sponsored 2008 Olympic Marathoner and two-time Irish 5K Champion

Recognize that progress is incremental.

In dog training, there can be 100 steps from the starting point to the end point. Step one in recall work may be calling your dog to come when you’re standing in your distraction-free living room holding cooked chicken. Step 100 is calling your dog to come when he is chasing a rabbit with his best canine buddy. Small changes over time lead to success — a familiar concept for runners, who take years to build the fitness, technique and strategy required to race successfully at the international level.

Each workout seems to be building on the last.
— Andrew Middleton, All American and course record-holder at the Sedona and Tucson Half- Marathons, and
guardian of Poodle mix Scooter

Be goal oriented.

I often ask clients what they think success would look like. Do they want to be able to walk their reactive dog on leash through the neighborhood, or are they hoping to turn their little firecracker into a therapy dog? Do they want their dog to do a downstay when people enter the house, or is any behavior that involves keeping all four paws on the floor acceptable? Runners set goals, whether it’s running a personal-best time, following their race plan or winning an Olympic medal.

Setting an ultimate goal and stepping- stone goals help you to commit and make the ultimate goal tangible in your mind, which reflects in your daily actions, leading to success.
— Emily Harrison, Adidas-sponsored 2012 Olympic Marathon Trials qualifier

Welcome coaching and ideas for improvement.

Part of my job as a dog trainer and canine behaviorist is coaching — suggesting ways skills can be improved. I remind people to say a cue only once, help them with their timing, instruct them on modulating the pitch of their voice and guide them on giving clear visual signals. Coaches also give advice on modifications of everything from running form and breathing to when to make a move in a race. Athletes are accustomed to responding to their coaches, so they easily respond to my coaching, too.

Having a coach makes all the difference in the world, to offer outside advice with inside knowledge.
— Trina Painter, former U.S. 20K Champion and four-time Olympic Trials finalist

Know that little things matter.
When training a dog, the volume and pitch of your voice, where you’re looking, the direction your toes are pointing, when you stand still and when you move, whether you lean away from or toward the dog, and fractions of a second in reaction time all make the difference between progress and frustration. For elite runners, details matter, too, including those concerning workout duration and intensity, type of workout, nutrition, sleep, stretching and race strategy.

Attention to detail, making sure to do all the little things right, is at a premium.
— Ian Burrell, three-time All American and five-time top-five finisher in U.S. Road Championships, and guardian of mixed-breed Chili Dog

Understand that every situation is different.
Runners work hard to prepare for race day by simulating as many aspects of the competition as they can. However, at a race, the atmosphere, people, running surface, time of day, location and weather may all be different than they were during daily workouts. Knowing that differences and distractions affect performance allows elite runners to understand that dogs may also be thrown off by the presence of strange smells, a crowd of people, squirrels, loud noises, wind or anything else that is new and different. They also know that giving dogs experience with as many of these factors as possible is going to improve the dog’s performance when it really counts.

Training Lucy is a lot like training for a big race that doesn’t quite work out. Training her one-on-one always goes really smoothly, like running a workout I’ve done a dozen times. In practice, everything goes fine, but race day can be a different story.
— Vince Sherry, NCAA Championship qualifier and guardian of Lab/Border Collie cross Lucy and Border Collie/Chow cross Baxter

Accept setbacks as part of the process.

Progress is not always smooth. Setbacks teach us what we need to do to move forward. Accepting this as part of achieving goals is a trait these runners carry with them from their professional lives into their other pursuits, including dog training.

Setbacks are bound to happen, but if you approach it properly, I think you can come away much stronger and much smarter.
— Brett Gotcher, Adidas-sponsored 2009 U.S. 20K Champion and 2012 Olympic Marathon Trials qualifier, and guardian of mixed-breed Taz

Want success.

Elite runners love to win and hate to lose. In dog training, as in all endeavors, actively pursuing success makes its achievement more likely.

Times are nice, but I want that first place, that gold medal!
— Jordan Horn, Adidas-sponsored sub-four-minute miler and guardian of mixed-breed Wicket


It’s a joy to associate with people who are so talented and willing to sacrifice so much in pursuit of their Olympic dreams. Yet, what I love most about working with elite runners is what I love about working with all of my clients: they love their dogs. “Many of the athletes and all of the coaches have dogs that we love like children,” says Trina Painter, assistant coach of Team USA Arizona, which includes many of these athletes. “They protect us, love us when we’re happy and sad, greet us with licks whether we’re sweaty or clean. They run with us and play with us. They keep us laughing with their silly faces and tricks and speak to us with their expressive eyes and body language. They are, for many of the runners, their best friend and source of unconditional love each day, and a wonderful warm and furry positive distraction from running.”

Good Dog: Behavior & Training
How to Train a Dog with Car Crate Anxiety
Don't leave me!

Q Charley, a rescued three year- old Lab who’d spent his entire life in an outdoor kennel, was scared of everything when we first got him. He’s been with us for eight months and now, he panics when we leave him alone. We have two crates, one in our house and one in our car. He goes into the home crate and stays there for about an hour. I’ve been gradually closing the door and even leaving the house, and when I come back, he’s fine. However, when we leave him in his car crate, he just loses it, so distraught that he’s destroyed a crate bed and a quilt. Is this separation anxiety? We adore him and want to help him, but what can we do?

A Charley is obviously suffering from a form of separation distress, which is not uncommon for a dog who has spent so much of his life in relative isolation. Fear of abandonment and the desire to seek reattachment are what drive some dogs into a panic when left alone, and the resulting destructive behavior is a manifestation of this desperate feeling.

Extensive research has shown that dogs suffer from the same kinds of fears, phobias and anxieties as do humans, even experiencing the canine equivalent of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). It would not surprise me if Charley were suffering from a version of PTSD, which could be triggered by being left alone in novel places, even in a car that he knows. Dogs who become distressed when left alone typically do not do well in confined spaces such as crates, and in Charley’s case, it’s obvious that his anxiety is a result of his previous confinement.

You seem to have made good progress desensitizing Charley to the crate in your home, and a similar routine needs to be adopted for the crate in your car. Until he is completely comfortable being in the car without you, it’s better for him to stay at home, where he feels secure. If you try leaving him in the car too early in the process, he will revert to his former behavior, so it is vital that the following training steps be implemented slowly.

To begin with, show Charley that being in the car is a good thing. At various times during the day, walk him to where your car is parked and either feed him his favorite food in the car or play his favorite game around it. Open the doors and sit next to him while he is in his crate, with the crate door open so he can leave if he wants. Allowing him the freedom to make choices will help increase his confidence. Give him a durable rubber toy stuffed with food to chew when he’s in the crate. If, however, he decides to leave, gently take the toy from him and place it in the crate again, showing him that’s where he gets the nice stuff!

If Charley is comfortable in the crate while you drive, take him to a variety of places and repeat the exercise, which will help him learn that being in the car with you in different environments is a good thing. Only when you see that Charley is eager to be in the car crate with the door open should you start closing the door for short periods while you sit with him. Gradually increase the length of time the door is closed.
At this point, you can begin moving away from the car for a minute or two while he’s chewing on his toy, returning frequently to praise him for calm behavior. As long as he is showing no signs of anxiety, you can spend more time away from the car. Repeat this training in different environments until he’s completely comfortable.

It goes without saying that a dog should never be left in a car when the weather’s warm (or very cold). In direct sunlight, a car can heat up within minutes, even on relatively cool days. If you know that you will be running errands or going to dinner, leave Charley at home.
If he doesn’t respond to desensitization, you may have to get rid of the crate altogether and use a canine seatbelt harness instead, which will keep Charley safe while allowing him a little more freedom. This in itself may be the only change you need to make for him to feel more secure when he is left alone in the car.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
When The Dog Is Ready For Bed
Does he try to tell you so?

Our old dog would let us know when he wanted to go to bed. Around 10 pm, if we had not headed upstairs for bedtime, he had a routine he went through. We interpreted his actions as an attempt to communicate his desire that we all turn in for the night.

The first step was to walk over to either my husband or to me and yawn conspicuously. Next, he would walk to the bottom of the stairs, turn towards us, yawn again, and enjoy a big stretch. He typically yawned and stretched at the bottom of the stairs a few times. He next tried putting his front paws on the steps and turning his head towards us with the hint of a whine in his yawn.

We have always gone to bed on our schedule, not according to the dog’s whims, but we enjoyed his all-too-obvious attempts to get us to go to bed. He never chose to go to bed without us. Perhaps he wanted to remain in our company, or perhaps he was afraid of missing out on something fun if he left the party early.

Does your dog let you know that he is ready to go to bed?

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Small People Suffer Like Small Dogs
No wonder some feel like biting

“So many small dogs bite when people try to pet them or pick them up. Is it any wonder?” This was my reply to a friend who posted on her Facebook page that she is not a small dog and told the world, “Please don’t pet me.” My friend is 4 foot 11, and not surprisingly, has therefore dealt with this kind of offensive treatment before.

People react differently to little individuals of a species than to large ones. Part of this may be a tendency to equate smaller with younger, and part may be a general disrespect for small versus big.  

Many small dogs truly suffer as a result of these attitudes and behavior. Unwelcome and unsolicited petting is harder to discourage when directed at a smaller dog. There’s something about their diminutive size that makes many people, including kids, want to touch them and feel as though they can do so, whether the dog likes it or not. For dogs who love petting by friends and strangers alike, this is not a problem, but not all dogs appreciate this degree of familiarity.

And while large dogs are picked up only occasionally (if ever) to lift them into a car, onto a grooming or examination table, or in the event of an injury, small dogs may face this indignity multiple times daily.

I remember one client with a papillon who was growling and biting everyone in the house, but only when he was picked up. One of the first questions I asked them was how many times a day they picked him up, and the answer once they added up everyone’s contribution was around 40 times a day. They picked him up when he was playing, eating, sleeping, walking, stretching and every other time. While many dogs would never bite even when treated like this, I was full of sympathy for this dog. His biting behavior was unacceptable and had to stop, but much of the change had to come from the people. Following my suggestions, they massively reduced the number of times he was picked up, and they conditioned him to associate being picked up with receiving his favorite tasty treats. The dog no longer bites even when he is picked up, whether it’s by members of the family who rarely do it, or by visitors who automatically respond to this little dog’s charms by reaching for him.

Do you have a small dog who people pick up or pet despite your dog’s desire that this not happen? Are you a small person who SO knows what these dogs are going through?

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
You Get The Behavior You Reinforce
It’s not just true with dogs

“It’s time to line up.” Upon hearing this once, 30 kids who had been happily engaged in soccer matches were immediately racing at top speed across the field to line up with their teams. They formed straight lines quickly and cheerfully, just like they do every time their coaches tell them to.

Is this a particularly good group of children? Are they all the type that do what they’re told right away just because they want to please? Of course not! The group is just as mixed in behavioral tendencies as any normal group of kids. They are displaying desirable behavior because they have been reinforced for doing so.

Specifically, at British Soccer Camps, the coaches reinforce the campers by awarding points in their imaginary World Cup competition. The greatest number of points (10) is given to the first team to line up properly, which shows that this behavior is most highly valued. By comparison, the winning team in a match receives 3 points and the “man of the match” (the player who is singled out for excellent play, fine sportsmanship, consistent effort or any other commendable behavior the coach chooses to recognize) earns 2 points for his team. Team effort is more highly prized than individual effort.

In a similar way, when I train dogs, I use the most highly valued reinforcement for the most important behavior I am working on, which is often recalls. When a dog comes when called during training, the reinforcement may be a new toy, a stuffed Kong, going for a walk, multiple treats, or anything else that is highly desired. Because this behavior is so important, I reinforce it very strongly.

“You get the behavior you reinforce” is as fundamental a truth in dog training as it is in any situation that involves teaching and influencing behavior. At soccer camp, many of the parents comment that the coaches are so good with kids, and that’s certainly true. I see it from a very specific perspective though: These coaches are well-versed in using positive reinforcement to get the behavior they want. (Another way to think of this is that the coaches themselves are well trained by the organization and its experts.) Positive reinforcement works, and it makes camp fun for all. When the same techniques are used in dog training, the results are identical: It works, and it makes the experience fun for everyone, whether two-legged or four-legged.

News: Guest Posts
The Short Tail of the Rump Scratch
Why so many dogs love being rubbed on the rear

I’m half-asleep. I can hear the “tip-tap” sound of Daisy’s nails on the wood floor. I open my eyes just a millimeter, and see Daisy’s face right in front of mine. Her chin is resting on the edge of the bed, and her expectant face moves gently from side to side with the movement of her wagging tail. It’s time to wake up and eat and walk—the best time of the day!

I reach out to pet her cute head and, suddenly, there it is: The Rump. Or, more precisely, Daisy’s luxurious, wagging tail and poised hindquarters. Right in my face. She cranes her head around to look at me, as if to say, “Well?”

Like many dogs, Daisy loves a good, solid rubbing on her rear. She loves it as much as tummy rubs—sometimes maybe more. What is it about that area that drives dogs mad with pleasure?

According to Dr. Bonnie Beaver, professor of veterinary medicine at Texas A&M University, the answer is very simple.

“The reason most dogs like their rears scratched is because that is a very hard area for them to reach themselves,” Beaver says. “Think about the hardest place you have to reach in the middle of your back, and how nice it is if someone will scratch that for you.”

This explains the pleading eyes and subsequent looks of rapture.

Keep an eye out, though, for signs that your pup’s posterior-petting obsession isn’t just a good time. Beaver says to look for excessive scratching, a bad odor, or bald spots.

Rear-rubs aren’t universally loved, either. Some dogs are not especially pleased by a rump-scratch, and move away, growl or snap when a well-meaning human touches their hips too directly.

“A few dogs are just not into being touched in many places and don’t appreciate the help,” Beaver says.

However, if your dog is one of the rump-scratch lovers, remember that you’re doing them a big favor—even though sometimes you’d prefer to stick with a nice ear scratch or chin rub. They’d return that favor if they could.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Why Do Dogs Bite Mail Carriers?
There are so many reasons

A press release from the Postal Service titled “Postal Service Announces Top Dog Attack Cities” shares the statistic that 5,669 postal employees were attacked by dogs last year in 1,400 cities across the United States. Houston was the city in which the most such bites occurred with 62 and Columbus and San Diego tied for second with 45 each.

Of course, many more people nationwide are bitten, but it’s common knowledge that mail carriers regularly face the threat of dog bites. There are many reasons for this. Mail carriers walk onto dogs’ territories every day, returning no matter what the dogs do to warn them—bark, growl, lunge or stare. From a canine perspective, these people just keep invading the dogs’ space each day without responding to their warnings. So for dogs who are territorial, postal workers are unwelcome, and their behavior sometimes escalates from warnings to actual bites.

The majority of dogs who bite do so because they are afraid. Fearful dogs are often especially scared of people who are carrying things, which puts people who deliver the mail at risk. Furthermore, these mail carriers turn their backs and walk away, an action that can give frightened dogs just enough confidence to act on their fears by biting.

To both fearful and territorial dogs (as well as dogs with both issues), uniforms are often associated with unfamiliar people arriving on their property, so the uniform itself can be a trigger that elicits aggressive behavior.

How does your dog react to the person who delivers your mail?

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Walking Dogs in the Rain
Does your dog mind?

The dogs out for walks in the rain seemed to be paying no attention to the constant drizzle. Even the people seemed unconcerned by the wetness. Most were a little damp. A few had on rain jackets. Absolutely nobody had an umbrella.

I just returned from a visit with my parents in beautiful, flower-filled Portland, Ore., during which it rained almost every day. While I was there, I saw dogs being walked in light rain, medium rain, heavy rain and (occasionally) an absence of rain. There was no detectable difference in their behavior. Rain is so common in that part of the country that people generally ignore it and go about their business, whether it’s yard work, exercising, or taking care of their dogs. I actually found it sort of refreshing. (What I found refreshing was that everybody was going about their business, NOT the rain, which I’m not used to since leaving town to head to college.)

I love that people were outside with their dogs, not caring to try to stay dry, and apparently making little attempt to coordinate their outings with times of day when the rain let up. Living in Flagstaff, Ariz., which has 262 days a year with at least some sun, I have clearly gone soft.

Some dogs are like me—unused to the rain. I remember one client from training classes whose Bichon/Poodle mix was perfectly housetrained . . . except when it rained. She seemed to object to getting her paws wet, but if they could get her outside under the upstairs balcony, she would eliminate quickly and then dash back inside, looking offended. Though usually a lover of walks, she was not interested in them when it was raining.

Do you walk your dog in the rain? Does your dog object?

News: Guest Posts
Smart Dog Seeks Safety In Bathtub
No one expected Mia to survive fire that destroyed home
belgian malinois female smart dog fire rescue

There are smart dogs, and there are Einstein canines. Mia clearly belongs in the latter category. When a fire engulfed her family's home in Greenville, S.C., the one-year-old Belgian Malinois opened four doors to make her way to the basement. There, she stood in a cool bathtub that quickly filled with water as firefighters doused the blaze. Mia's owners, Chris and Codi Brumby, were enjoying dinner out with their two children when they learned of the house fire. After six hours of intense heat, smoke and flames, they assumed Mia had not survived. When she was carried out by firefighters, she was soaked and bewildered, but completely unharmed.

News: Guest Posts
Did the Scent of Feet Bring a Lost Dog Home?
Human scent trails as a recovery strategy

I recently finished writing a story for Bark’s summer issue about best practices for recovering lost dogs, based on the experiences and research of folks at the Missing Pet Partnership (MPP). Among their techniques for locating lost dogs are scent-detection dogs, i.e., using one dog to track down another. What I hadn’t heard of was relying on the lost dog’s nose to get himself home.

  Over the weekend, I read about the curious case of Annika Schlemm and her wirey Terrier, Charlie, who went missing during a walk not far from his home in West Sussex, England. He was on the lam for several days, and was frequently sighted in areas where Schlemm had recently been searching. So her mom suggested she go to the last place he’d been sighted and walk home, barefoot—leaving a scent path for Charlie to follow. It seems to have worked; the errant dog arrived home the following day. We won’t know for sure, Charlie isn’t talking, but it’s an interesting notion.   Relying on a dog’s keenest scent makes sense, except for one possible problem. During my lost dog research, I learned that panicked dogs can temporarily lose their sense of smell. “The olfactory portion of the brain will shut down when a dog is stressed,” MPP founder Kat Albrecht told me. “They’re not thinking of eating. They’re protecting themselves. They are full of adrenaline and need to be ready to bolt and run.” That may be why some dogs don’t always respond to food as bait or, unlike Charlie, have a hard time finding their way home.