Watch Me, Walk With Me: Loose Leash Dog Walking 101

InquisitiveCanine-Turbo-BEveryone knows you walk with your feet (or paws, depending on your species), but did you know that the secret to successful loose leash dog walking begins with a mutual connection that comes from the head and the heart?

With any DIY dog training, you have to start with an understanding of inquisitive canine behavior. Put your pup on a leash, and s/he’s not going to stop doing what s/he’s wired to do: sniff, explore and investigate. The pull to examine everything that catches your dog’s eye is powerful… literally.

This is why so often we see dogs walking their owners, and not the other way around.

As a certified dog trainer, I appreciate when inquisitive canines trust their humans enough to be able to look longingly into their eyes. I also love to see dogs and pet parents trotting along, side-by-side, enjoying a leisurely walk. These two activities are not mutually exclusive; in fact, building trust through a loving gaze is the first step to training your dog to walk on a leash.

Here are step-by-step instructions to get your pup prepped to be the perfect walking companion:

“Watch Me” ~ Establish Trust
AcademyDog-DalmatianThe first step is to get your dog to learn how to meet and hold your gaze. Eye contact is not “normal” doggy behavior so if your pup takes a while to warm up to this, don’t worry. The following instructions that start with the tiniest glances and increase from there is a process called “shaping.”

  • Have your treats and clicker ready. (To brush up on the magic of clickers and how to establish a Click-Treat [C/T] pattern, click here).
  • Your dog may be sitting, standing or lying down, with as few distractions around as possible.
  • Begin to C/T the moment your dog makes any eye contact with you at all.
  • If your dog doesn’t catch on right away, make kissy noises to prompt him or her or show a treat and then hold it up next to your eyes. As soon as your dog glances up, go ahead and C/T.
  • Shape their behavior by C/T — go from the baby steps of glancing near your face to looking into your eyes.
  • Gradually increase the time your dog looks at you before you C/T.
  • Remember: Once your dog makes eye contact with you, complete each step at least ten (10) times before making it more difficult, such as adding in distractions or asking for a longer time of eye contact.
  • It will be up to you if you want to use the cue word “Watch” or your dog’s name.
  • If your dog seems bored or distracted, lower the bar of what you want and raise the rate of C/T. You can also try using a different kind of treat.

Once you’ve built that trust and your dog is looking to you for more information, you’re ready to move from watching to walking!

“Let’s Go For a Walk!” ~ Loose Leash Walking (LLW)

Taking your dog for a walk should be fun and enjoyable for everyone. LLW means your dog is on leash and calmly proceeding near you, within the length of the leash without pulling, tugging or lunging.

As we all know, this can be challenging for many dogs, especially where there are lots of new places to go, people to meet and other dogs to sniff. It can be challenging for us if we have a dog that enjoys pulling (either to get somewhere or to prevent from leaving a specific location).

With time, patience and consistency, dogs can learn how to walk nicely on leash, making it more pleasant for both of you.

Prep Work

  • Begin by holding the leash with one hand at your belly button – like an ice cream cone – with your arms relaxed. This allows you to use your center of gravity as an anchor to help from being pulled over and to help prevent from pulling back on the leash accidentally.
  • Next, prompt your dog to come to your side. Use a food lure, a happy voice, a verbal and/or visual cue. Say yes, then give a treat.
  • Keep in mind that the leash is used as a safety line, not for controlling your dog. Try not to pull or tug at your dog. Also, it’s best not to wrap the leash around your hand or wrist (prevents injury if your dog does pull).
  • Be sure you’re using appropriate and safe walking equipment, including a front-clip harness.

Practice Walking with Minimal Distractions

  • You may want to do the first few runs indoors, where there are not as many distractions as outside.
  • Give a verbal walking cue, take two or three steps (using a food lure if necessary), stop, have your dog stop (or sit, which is optional), say yes and treat.
  • Continue to practice this step until your dog is offering on his or her own. Then begin to take additional steps, increasing the distance.
  • Add in the “Watch Me” phrase when you stop and also say it intermittently when walking. This teaches your dog to check in with you on a walk and helps remind him or her that you’re out together. This enhances the bond you share.
  • Once your dog understands the concept of LLW, increase the pace by walking briskly indoors with him or her on leash If s/he goes to the end of the leash, change direction and keep walking at a quick pace.
  • When s/he comes near you on the side you want her or him to walk, use a cheerful voice to praise. Whenever s/he gets into heel position or puts slack in the leash, say yes and treat. Also, reward for any eye contact.
  • If after a couple minutes you don’t find your dog spending more time at your side or with a slack leash, consider moving to a less distracting area.
  • You may also reward more frequently, delivering the treat in the position you want. The point in doing this is to help motivate your dog to stay interested, as opposed to wandering to the end of the leash, looking for something else to do.

Once you’re comfortable with LLW and eye contact, make it more challenging by adding in one distraction at a time.

Before you know it, you’ll be watching your dog walking outside on a loose leash – and best of all, you trained him or her yourself!

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Wanna join the conversation? Just head to the comment section below. Care to share pics and videos of your inquisitive canine? We invite you to post on our Facebook page.

Back to School for Dogs Too – Homeschooling session 2

Hey there inquisitive dog lover! Welcome to session 2 of our Back to School for Dogs Too homeschooling series. If you’re just joining us, check out session 1 for tips and lessons on getting started. If you’re continuing on, we say “Yay!” click-treat, and thank you for participating.

For this specific installment, we will be focusing on “Sit” and “Down.” As a certified trainer, I have come to lump these, along with eye-contact, as the main trifecta of dog behaviors. If your inquisitive canine can master these, then you will not only set yourselves up for success, but will also create a solid foundation for many other behaviors and situations. Here we go!


Rico the Wonder Dog
Rico practicing his “Sit”
  • Wait for your dog to sit. As soon as his or her rump hits the floor/ground, “click and treat” (C/T) or use your marker word, as explained and outlined in Session 1 of our Back-to-School program.
  • If your dog doesn’t sit automatically, hold a treat at the tip of his or her nose and move it up and over his or her head, back towards his or her rear end. Your dogs head should look up while shifting his or her weight back, ending up in a “sit.
  • Once your dog starts sitting reliably every time, you can add in the cue word “sit.” Practice doing this 5-10 times: saying the word “sit,” pause to see if he or she does, if not use the food lure then C/T.
  • Repeat this until you no longer need the food lure.


Kona practicing his “Down”
  • Begin with a treat in one hand, placing it on the tip of your dogs nose, slowly move it downward towards the ground, guiding him or her into a “down” position. As soon as your dog lies down C/T.
  • Repeat this “lure and reward” technique until your dog does the motion reliably, without pausing. When he or she does the motion reliably, you can begin to add the cue word “down,” before luring.
  • Say the word “down,” pause to see if your dog lies down, if he or she does then C/T, if not, then use the lure-reward technique to move him or her into the position, then C/T.

Repeat the following sequence for both Sit & Down:

  • Say it:        “Sit” or  “Down”
  • Show it:      Lure
  • Pay it:         Click-Treat

As your dog begins offering the behavior reliably, you can begin to fade out the food lure, using only your hand signal as a prompt. Still C/T after your dog lies down, and reward!

Tips & Troubleshooting:

  • Repeat this sequence until your dog is following reliably, then begin to fade out the food lure, using only your hand signal.
  • Practice “Sit” & “Down” in a variety of locations. Even 2-3 times a day for 2-3 minutes can be very helpful.If your dog jumps up to get the treat, lure him or her back into the down position before giving it to him. (You don’t need to “click” again.)
  • If your dog is having trouble lying down, try starting him or her from the sitting position. An alternative is to C/T for smaller, baby-steps towards the final down position – head focused downward, elbows bent, chest on ground, etc.
  • Remember to use the cue only once!
  • Wanna advance your skills? Use only the verbal or visual cue in different locations with different distractions. To “test” if your dog understands, ask a stranger to give the cue!

For a fun way to practice both “Sit” & “Down” at the same time, try”Puppy Push-Ups”! 

Remember to check back for upcoming Back to School posts (or subscribe to our blog), to keep up with behavior momentum and fluency!

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Wanna join the conversation? Just head to the comment section below. Care to share pics and videos of your inquisitive canine?  We invite you to post on our Facebook page.

Back to School for Dogs Too – Homeschooling session 1

Welcome! And thank you for checking out the Canine Back to School series. Over here at IC HQs we realize that transition periods between vacations and reality can sometimes impact our canine companions too, so we wanted to help ease everyone back into a schedule that includes some home-schooling, ensuring they develop the life-skills us humans appreciate. 

As a certified professional dog trainer and behavior consultant, one of my main goals is to teach you to teach your dog the skills to become a well-behaved family member and companion. We’ll start by setting down some fundamentals. Then, over the coming weeks, we will build upon these initial behaviors in subsequent posts so you can learn how to get your dog to work with you wherever you happen to be. 

We begin our homeschooling program with discovering what drives your inquisitive canine, followed by going over a couple of the basics every dog parent should have in their toolbox. We also share the art of timing, and how important it is to send a clear message of what you want. 



Successful positive reinforcement begins with discovering what motivates your dog. Food, toys, or “Real Life” rewards such as sniffing a favorite tree, all have one thing in common: They encourage learning and participation through things your dog enjoys.

What motivates your inquisitive canine? Take a minute to create a list – chicken bits, liver treats, a scratch behind the ear …  Remember, like us, each dog is an individual and that rewards are based on personal preferences. 

Anything that motivates your dog can be used to reinforce the behaviors you want. In addition to motivation, timing is critical, as dogs “live in the moment.” Behaviors need to be rewarded or punished immediately, otherwise your dog might not associate the behavior with what you were rewarding or punishing. This is where using the Clicker or “Magic Word” comes in handy. The sound tells your dog that what he or she was doing at that exact moment is what you wanted. 


The Clicker or the Magic Word

The purpose of this exercise is to teach your dog that the sound of the Clicker or the “Magic Word” means something wonderful is coming. You will then be able to use this sound to signal to your dog that what he or she did was what you wanted. Settle yourself comfortably with your dog near you. Have an ample amount of yummy treats in an easy to reach place. Kibble works great for this exercise. Now, try the following:

  1. Make a Click* or say the Magic Word; then give your dog a treat.
  2. Click-Treat (C/T) about 20 times in a row, feeding from your hand.
  3. Repeat the C/T another 15-20 times, but feed from different locations, for example toss treat on floor or away from where you are sitting.
  4. Repeat a few more times until you notice your dog orienting when hearing the sound of the Clicker or Magic Word.
  5. Next, repeat the same steps in different locations. You can also have other family members practice the same exercise.
  6. Dogs are individuals and work at different paces. Some pick it up immediately, some take a few sessions. Remember to take it easy and have fun with your dog.

 * If your dog shies away from the click or leaves the area, stop the session. Muffle the Clicker by wrapping it in a towel or similar soft, thick cloth until you can barely hear it and begin again. As your dog begins to respond to the muffled sound by looking for the treat, gradually unwrap the Clicker.

You will know you have completed this process when your dog alerts to the sound, then looks for the treat when he or she hears the click.

Clicker and Magic Word Rules

  1. The click comes first, the reward follows.
  2. Every click must be followed with a reward! Even if you didn’t mean to click.
  3. The clicker is not a remote–it is used to communicate with your dog that what she or he did at a specific moment is what you wanted, it is not used to get his or her attention. 

For additional information on Clicker Training, check out Karen Pryor’s website.


Eye Contact or Watch Me

The idea of the exercise is to teach your dog to make eye contact with you. Once your dog is rewarded for looking at you, he or she will offer this behavior more frequently.

First, prepare a large number of small treats (remember, motivation!). Hold them in your hand or a bait pouch or set them in a container near you. Get your Clicker ready. You can begin this exercise with your dog sitting or lying down or standing. You can sit or stand.  It is easier, though, to have your face and your dog’s face a little closer together.

  1. Say your cue word, such as watch, look, eyes, attention, or his or her name. If your dog looks at you, C/T immediately. If he or she doesn’t, prompt your dog by making kissy noises, when he or she does make eye contact, C/T.
  2. If you still need your dog to orient up to your face, you can lure with a treat. Put the food lure on the tip of your dogs nose, then move it up towards your face. His or her eyes should follow it. When your dog looks up, immediately C/T.
  3. Continue this exercise, asking only for a split second glance. Do not ask for or expect your dog to gaze longingly into your eyes. (That will come later.)
  4. Repeat this activity until your dog responds to the cue word without the lure. Then continue to practice over and over again, in different locations.

With that, we are at the end of the first lesson. Fun, wasn’t it? Betcha your inquisitive canine thinks so too! 

This concludes the first session of our Canine Back to School series. We encourage you to practice a little every day. Even working short 5 minute sessions into your daily life can help you reach your goals. Learning is ongoing, and this is just the start of a relationship between you and your dog that will last many years.  We are thrilled you’ve given us the opportunity to share in your adventure!

Remember to check back for upcoming Back to School posts (or subscribe to our blog), to keep up with behavior momentum and fluency!

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Wanna join the conversation? Just head to the comment section below. Care to share pics and videos of your inquisitive canine?  We invite you to post on our Facebook page.


Searching for a lost dog

animal-tracks-in-sandI can think of only a few things more traumatic than searching for a lost pet. The trauma is most likely a two-way street, as awful for the lost pet as it is for the frantic owner. A lost dog is not a lost cause, however, and the chances of being reunited are pretty good, as least according to the 2012 ASPCA study.

As a certified professional dog trainer and behavior consultant, I encourage you to take action immediately, should you find your inquisitive canine missing. Be sure to enlist the help of family and friends to ensure as much ground can be covered in the shortest amount of time as possible.  The Humane Society of the United States offers tips to finding pets, and here are some I would find useful.

Comb the neighborhood. With a picture of your dog, walk, bike, or drive through familiar routes and to favorite places. Is there a particular dumpster your dog loves to sniff on the morning walk? Check there. Call for your dog with an inviting tone. Sweet talk your dog by squeezing a favored squeak toy, shaking a tempting box of treats or another container that emits a sound your dog is familiar with. Ask your mail-person, neighbors, and delivery people if they have seen your dog? Give your contact information should they find your pet.

Notify the authorities. Contact every shelter within 60 miles of your home. (Or within the distance your inquisitive canine could likely travel on their own). File a report and visit the shelter, if possible. Many shelters post found animals online, but often shelters are understaffed so the postings may have to wait a few days. Contact your veterinarian’s office, notifying them of your pet’s disappearance, as they will be able to track his or her rabies tag number. If your dog is microchipped, contact the microchip company. They will issue a “lost or stolen” alert against that number. If you think your pet has been stolen, contact the police.

Social media can be a lifesaver. Facebook, Instagram and Twitter can help spread the word of a lost pet very fast. Post a photo and/or video of your dog while including appropriate hashtags. And, be sure to provide your contact information.

Search the Internet. There are national Web sites that work on local levels. Some are Pet Amber Alert, Center for Lost Pets, and Fido Finder. Also, your community’s is an excellent resource. Your veterinarian’s office and local animal control agency may have other Internet site suggestions.

Post bulletins. Create a notice with your dog’s photo, name, sex, age, weight, breed, color, and special markings. The Humane Society of the United States recommends omitting “one identifying characteristic and asking the person who finds your pet to describe it.” Hang the notices on community bulletin boards, vet offices, grocery stores, pet supply stores, coffee shops, and other gathering locations.

Place a lost and found ad. Use your local newspaper to advertise your lost pet, and remember to check the “found” section, too.

Don’t give up the search. Certainly you’ve heard tales of  dogs and cats returning home after months and years of absence. The Humane Society of the United States shares the story of Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D-N.M.) being reunited with her lost dog, Kiwi, who is microchipped, after more than a year.

Just as an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, you can be somewhat prepared should you have to face the awfulness of searching for your inquisitive canine one day. Here are some of the things you can do:

  • Have your pet microchipped. Remember to keep record of the microchip number, company name and contact information, and notify them should you have a change in contact information.
  • Make sure your dog always wears a collar with its name, your name, address, and telephone number. There should be an ID tag on the collar, too, with the same information.
  • Keep recent photos of your pet accessible.
  • Be acquainted with animal services, such as shelters and veterinarian offices, in your area.
  • Think about why dogs run away. It can be out of loneliness or lack of stimulation, i.e. boredom. Here’s a post on enrichment activities for your inquisitive canine. If a pet is not neutered, it may be searching for a special friend or a night on the town. Maybe they are in a new surrounding and are looking for their former home. Something may have frightened them, such as thunder or a car backfiring. Do what you can to not give your dog reasons to run away.

Lastly, I’m sorry to say, be aware of scams. There are people out there who prey on others during life’s most vulnerable moments. If someone insists you wire or give money before the return of a pet, ask a trusted relative or friend to help you determine if this is legitimate. 

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Wanna join the conversation? Any experience and/or tips for finding a missing inquisitive canine? Just head to the comment section below. Care to share pics and videos of your inquisitive canine?  We invite you to post on our Facebook page.

Creating a dog-friendly Fourth of July celebration

Paw-triotic pooches Cooper & MacKenzie enjoying play, while being kept safe by mom and dad!
Paw-triotic pooches Cooper & MacKenzie enjoying play, while being kept safe by mom and dad!

Happy July and here’s to wonderful Fourth of July! It’s a fun and festive time for our country and local communities. While humans are reveling in picnic games, barbecue menus, and colorful theatrics in the sky, the holiday can be a totally un-celebratory experience for our inquisitive canine family and friends.

As a certified professional dog trainer, I know how terrifying a thunderous fireworks display can be for pets or how a quick sniff of meat in hot coals can turn into a painful burn on a cold nose. With some preparation and environmental management, the Fourth of July can be a star spangled holiday for all family members.

Here are a couple of previous patriotic posts that readers have found helpful in making the day a special one for their inquisitive canines.

  • This Doggie Blog post offers a variety of gentle reminders and suggestions to create a stress free holiday for all involved.
  • I offer some management and training tips to help make the Fourth an enjoyable day on this Noozhawk post.
  • This post on Edhat, Pooch Patriotism Means Celebrate Smart, is written from the canine point of view.
  • For those of you who prefer an infographic, check this out on

Here’s to wishing all of us a safe and enjoyable holiday. Let freedom ring – bark, or howl!

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Wanna join the conversation? Just head to the comment section below. Care to share patriotic pics and videos of your inquisitive canine?  We invite you to post on our Facebook page.

Basic Dog Training – Step #1

Chances are good you are reading this because you have a new family member – an inquisitive canine. Congratulations and welcome to your new family member! 

As a certified professional dog trainer and  behavior consultant, I take a pawsitive approach to dog training as an easy, simple, and fun way to enhance the everyday relationship between dogs and their guardians.

Libby is an excellent eye gazer.
Libby is an excellent eye gazer.

Dog Training Step #1 is a super-simple activity. (Maybe you are already doing it.)

Gaze into Each Other’s Eyes 

Have fun teaching your dog to look you in the eyes. Reward your dog with high-value yummy treats, petting and praise whenever s/he looks into your eyes.

  • Start out with a quick glance and then increase the duration to a few seconds.
  • Prompt your dog to look into your eyes with a happy voice.
  • Practice this in different locations, including while out on a walk.
  • Reward, reward, reward – Every time you gaze into each other’s eyes.

That’s it! I told you it was super easy.

But don’t underestimate its importance. This is the foundation to a long and rewarding relationship with your dog.

Poncho playing the Out of the Box Dog Training game.
Poncho playing the Out of the Box Dog Training game.

Dog Training Step #1 is taken from the Out of the Box Dog Training Game I created. The Out of the Box Dog Training Game enables benefiting from the time you and your dog already spend together by motivating your dog to develop good manners, while limiting and preventing inappropriate habits. You also will discover fun activities that can strengthen your bond and new ways to multi-task in your daily routine so that you can spend more quality time with your dog. The game is perfect for one-on-one with your dog or with your family and friends. Perfect for any number of human and canine players, these training activities are fun for everyone involved. Anyone can play; no prerequisite required. Each activity can be customized for specific needs and adapted to different learner levels to continue advancing your dog’s skills.

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Wanna share pics and videos of your inquisitive canine? We invite you to post on our Facebook page.

Dog Training – The Basics Simplified

The best approach to dog training is to keep it simple and focus on the positive.

It’s common to lose sight of the bigger picture of how great inquisitive canines are when it comes to dog behavior and training. In general, people tend to focus on the irritating things their dog does, even though these are often the behaviors that drew them to their pooches in the first place.

As a professional dog trainer, I like to remind dog training students that for everyday life, keeping it simple and focusing on the positive can help guide training, as well as enhance the relationship with a dog. There’s a time and place for structured action plans, but for the overall, ongoing, every day stuff I suggest a few of the following:

  • Keep a more optimistic and positive outlook on your dog’s behavior. These are key elements in teaching and shaping their behavior.
  • Focus in on and reward the behaviors you like and want. This results in getting more of the desired behaviors and less of the unwanted ones. Similar to humans, dogs can never be thanked too much, for too tiny of a thing.
  • Visualize what you want from your dog. Then, you’ll know what to teach them. This will help you look at your dog with a more positive attitude, and not the negative.

All too often dogs are ignored when they are behaving in the exact manner a person wants. When I hear people complain that their dog jumps on people, barks, pulls on leash or goes potty in the wrong place, I first determine if this is all the time. More often than not, their answer is “No.” I then encourage them to adopt a new attitude, paying attention to and rewarding the moments when their dog sits to greet, is quiet, walks nicely on leash, and goes to the bathroom in the right place.

Keep it simple:  reward what you want, using anything your dog finds motivating. This results in them offering more of the good behaviors, and owners being happier and less frustrated. And finally, I’ve learned to embrace the “annoying” behaviors – those are usually the ones we miss the most when our loved ones are no longer with us. Appreciate your dog (or any human and non-human animal) for who and what they are. After all, it is those traits that make them a unique individual.

Want love connecting with inquisitive pets and their parents, and invite you to post snapshots and videos on our Inquisitive Canine Facebook page

The Door Dashing Dog – DNA or Training?

Dogs love dashing to the front door and beyond, but that doesn’t mean your pet can’t be trained not to.

Is your inquisitive canine a door dasher? A dog who enjoys the sport of running out the front door, with an emphasis on running?

As a certified professional dog trainer, I hear this from many clients, and I’d have to agree, that this is one canine sport that is common to the species overall. From Chihuahua to Great Dane, dogs love door dashing. Door dashing is yet another reason I created the Out of the Box Dog Training Game – so people can train their dog’s behaviors they want while making it fun!

What’s an inquisitive canine guardian to do? Based on our Inquisitive Canine Top-10 Dog Training Tips, the following few suggestions will help teach important, and sometimes life saving, door etiquette.

First, the mastery of overall basic dog obedience behaviors

  1. Sit, stand or down with a stay at the front door while it’s open (this is the final goal behavior, not what you start with).
  2. Come when called – to back up #1 = “Come over to me please.”
  3. Leave-it! Back-up to first two, which equals “Stop what you’re doing and get over here.”

Steps to reach these goals successfully

  • Teach  sit/down/stand (any will work) with a “stay.”  This goes along with a solid recall (coming when called) and a leave-it! If these behaviors are known already, then add one distraction at a time, not all at once.
    • Create simple baby-steps to ensure setting yourselves up for success!
  • Practice, practice, practice! Dog training is a physical and mental skill (of both human and dog) – as I always say, “Teach the behavior before you need the behavior!”
  • Manage: Use a leash for when you introduce opening the door – this way, just in case something incites a charge out the door, you’ve set yourselves up for safety and success. If you need to keep the door open and can’t take the time to train, manage the environment with baby gates, doors, and leashes.
  • Continue with positive reinforcement! Reward what you want. Frequently. Not running out the door is a behavior I always reward – food, belly rubs, a game of fetch.  This can be considered a “life saving” behavior, so show appreciation.
    • Always use a happy voice when training, especially when you’re asking your dog to “come when called.”
  • Refrain from punishment: Will a time-out for door dashing work? Hmm, I guess, but it still wouldn’t teach what you want. It also might develop better skills for running out.
  • Make sure the innate doggy needs to run and play are satisfied. Being a bit tired, helps calm the running off urge (not always the case though, so don’t rely on a round of exercise to solve the problem).

Techniques for teaching your dog what you want

  • Using the Lure-Reward technique is the easiest (for both human and dog) for getting the behaviors you want. 
  • Reward your dog for continuing to perform the behavior you want, before he jumps up! This will help build your “stay.”
  • Allow your dog to figure it out: Butt on ground (or in down-stay) makes rewards happen, running off = no more play time.

Finally, and maybe I should have put this first, I cannot emphasize the importance of managing your front door. Place a BIG NOTE on the door reming people to keep the door closed. Reward them for keeping the door closed and your pooch safe.

Remember, no matter how well trained your dog is, your dog is still a dog. Door dashing DNA is hard wired. Nothing is 100% certain, except your dog enjoys running.

Coming When Called and Making Sure Your Dog Does

Selective listening is often the reason for dogs not coming when called. A little bit of training, and we mean fun and enjoyable training, can fix that.
Selective listening is often the reason for dogs not coming when called. A little bit of training, and we mean fun and enjoyable training, can fix that.

My dog loves to play off-leash in our neighborhood park. I’m becoming more and more reluctant to let him go leash-less as he’ll ignore my calls and sometimes it takes forever for him to come. Who knows how long I’ll have to spend calling and waiting. I get annoyed. He doesn’t understand. We’re both frustrated.

The main thing is his safety. My happy off-leash dog wanders far and wide, out of my sight most times. I’m afraid he’ll run into the street and get hit by a car. Or someone might dognap him.

Please help.

Owner of a Wandering Woofer

Dear Wandering,

Sounds like your inquisitive canine has a bad case of “selective hearing.” My mom, a certified professional dog trainer, says this is very common among those in the human species, too. She really understands how frustrated you must get. Fortunately, we can help!

By following a few “coming when called” guidelines, performing some pre-event practice session, and supplying a side order of environmental management, you’re sure to make future outings a “walk in the park.”

Set a Course for Action and Adventure

Let’s look at it from your inquisitive canine’s point of view. When you call him, especially in stimulating outdoor environment filled with all sorts of smells and possible new friendships, you’re asking him to stop what he’s doing and leave the amusement park, i.e. fun time is finished. He’s looking at it like a punishment. You need to entice him to you by offering a much more attractive alternative to what he’s doing. Then, he’ll want to come to you no matter what.

The following guidelines provide dog training tips sure to encourage your dog to “take your call”:

  • How you present yourself: You call more dogs with honey than with vinegar. Make your body language and tone of voice joyful and enthusiastic. Be the life of the party. Send the message that he’s the most wonderful puppy in the whole world and that you’re his number one cheerleader! (Even if you want to scream and cry!) I see it all the time – the underlying anger and frustration displayed in the human’s body language, and when, and if, the dog finally comes, he gets in trouble. Stick with the cute little nicknames and happy voice so your dog loves coming to you.
  • Timing of the request: Are you only calling him when it’s time to leave? If so, he’s probably figured out it means playtime is over, so he has decided he’ll come when he’s good and ready. You’ve got a very clever inquisitive canine, by not coming when called, he avoids getting in trouble AND extends his playtime by running in the opposite direction. Practice calling him to you periodically while out and about, as opposed to waiting until you need to leave.
  • Don’t waste your breath: Call him once and only once. Calling him when you know that he’s not going to listen is a waste of breath and a recipe for frustration. Calling repeatedly teaches him that it’s okay to ignore you. If you need to leave, and you know you’ll be ignored when you call for him, then the best thing to do is to go get him. If this results in the ever-popular game of chase, then motivate him to do what you want by following the steps below.
  • Make it into a game: Playing chase is often fun for dogs, and for humans, too. Whether your dog likes to chaser or the “chase-ee,” it can work to your advantage. Similar activities included in our dog training game, these exercises help expend his energy while enhancing the bond you share. With a chase game, you can direct him toward the area you need to go, such as the park exit, or the car.
  • Be the better motivator: Don’t forget, you’re competing against a “Doggy Disneyland.” To make yourself more appealing than the “happiest place on earth” you’ll need to offer rewards that are more enticing than the smells, things to dig up, chew on, and/or eat that your dog is finding on his own. Food rewards, petting, praise, and playing games that he finds entertaining can all help motivate him to stop what he’s doing and return to you. Food is also a powerful motivator. Carry some extra special yummy morsels that he gets only when he’s at the park. And remember that novelty is key, so vary what you offer to help keep him interested.
  • Trial sessions: We can’t emphasize enough the importance of practicing this behavior over and over (and over) to the point where your dog responds without thinking. You want him to hear the cue and respond immediately. This conditioning won’t happen without lots of dress rehearsals. First, practice inside your home, then in your yard, and then when taking him for a leashed walk. While he’s on-leash, back-up while calling him to you, then reward him. When he’s responding to your requests, try a trip to the park, but first try taking him to a smaller enclosed area, if one is available. If not, practice with a long-line leash. However, if you choose that option, take care, as they can tangle, trip people up, and get snagged on shrubs and trees. It’s best to use long-line leashes in open spaces where there are no other people or dogs.
  • Lay of the land: Explore the area initially, to determine places your dog’s allowed to play in. You can even take him with you, while he’s on leash. This will help you discover places he really loves, and those that don’t appeal to him. You can then check the area for holes in fences or other hazards you want him to avoid. Being of the canine species, he most likely doesn’t understand that he shouldn’t run into the  street. It’ll be your responsibility to keep him safe by preventing him from getting to those areas. Set him up for success, not failure–or danger.

Paws and Reflect
Exploring and scavenging are normal behaviors for dogs; some more than others. Since it sounds as though yours is the adventuresome type, it’s of the utmost importance that he learns the special skills you want him to have in order to make the outings more fun for both of you. With time and patience you can both get what you want: him, a chance to answer the call of the wild, and you, the ability to stay on schedule.

Dear Inquisitive Canine is written by Joan Mayer and her trusty sidekick, Poncho. Joan is a certified professional dog trainer and human-canine relationship coach. Poncho is a 10-pound mutt who knows a lot about human and canine behavior. Their column is known for its simple, user-friendly approach to dog training and behavior, as well as its entertaining insight into implementing proven techniques that reward both owner and dog.

Joan is also the founder of the Inquisitive Canine and developer of the Out of the Box Dog Training Game, where her love-of-dog training approach highlights the importance of understanding canine behavior. 

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Jack Russell Superstar: The Amazing & True Tale of Jesse the Jack

What’s your Inquisitive Canine’s favorite thing to do? Sniff? Explore? Agility?  Maybe yours is more of the eat, pray, love type. My sidekick Poncho enjoys a lot of different activities, and he’s very good about any work-related task I request of him.

I’m bringing this up because of one of my favorite videos. Just Jesse the Jack stars Jesse, a Jack Russell Terrier, and Heather, his genius handler. Heather honed in on Jesse’s natural abilities and taught him amazing things by capitalizing on behaviors she liked and putting them to good use.

I know you’ll enjoy and appreciate Jesse. While watching the video, zero in on how Heather adapted his innate canine skills to our human environmental needs.

For example:

  • Retrieving – brings the television remote.
  • Targeting – uses nose and paws to close doors and cabinets.
  • Jumping – grabs things for Heather.
  • Digging – uses paws to massage Heather’s back and to clean the sliding glass door.
  • Tugging – helps Heather get dressed and tucks himself into bed.

Oftentimes, the always exuberant Jack Russell Terrier isn’t taught to direct his abilities in appropriate ways. The excellent digging skill results in a torn up lawn or tugging turns a couch into a shredded mess. Behaviors need to be put to use in ways that are fun for your dog and for you.

So, Inquisitive Pet Parent, what can your dog do? Any behaviors that can be redirected?  Leave a comment because we’re inquisitive, too!

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