Advocates for the Use of Force-Free Training and Pet Equipment

The Inquisitive Canine and TransPaw Gear are proudly participating in Project Trade, an advocacy program that promotes the use of force-free pet equipment. Recently, Inquisitive Canine founder Joan Hunter Mayer and fellow Pet Professional Guild member Pam Shultz chatted about this partnership and what it means for dogs and the people who love them.

PS: Project Trade is the Pet Professional Guild’s international advocacy program that asks pet guardians to “swap gear to make a kinder world for pets.” Why are you participating in this initiative?

JHM: One reason I became a trainer was because I wanted to bring humane, force-free methods to dogs and the people of my community. I founded The Inquisitive Canine to help raise awareness and be part of a cultural shift. Can aversive methods work to decrease certain behaviors? Well, yes, they might, sometimes. But, at what expense? There are too many side effects. Not only that, but they don’t teach the dog what you want! How can we say shocking dogs teaches them the right behavior?

Dogs are very good at communicating with us, but they also need a voice – people who will stand up for them, speak on their behalf, and help bring about change to help them thrive.

PS: That’s very inspiring! How can dog guardians participate in Project Trade?

JHM: Any pet parents who want to swap out their (unneeded, unnecessary, unwanted, outdated) training gear that is designed to change behavior or care for pets through pain or fear is invited to participate. At this time, we are accepting choke collars, prong collars, shock collars (aka: e-collars — not to be confused with Elizabethan collars), and bark collars.

PS: What is your trade-in incentive for these items?

project-trade-pet-professional-guild-flyerJHM: Well, say people had chosen those types of collars because they were having issues with walking their dogs. If we ask them to trade in the old equipment, we need to offer a better alternative that is incompatible with training with force, fear or pain. Since guardians will need walking equipment, we’ve partnered with our sister company TransPaw Gear! Those trading in their old items will receive:

  • A 15% discount on the Happy Harness 2.0 (*15% coupon max per person per order, no matter how many items are traded in)
  • Plus 5% off a “Leash Walking and More” training package, which is three training sessions, including:
    • The initial consult
    • Two additional sessions (to be used within one month of signing up)
    • A training plan and handouts
    • Email support between sessions

Ultimately, we want to set up dog parents for success and not leave them floundering! So, let us help you teach your dogs to learn the skills needed for everyone to feel comfortable, safe and successful!

PS: Amazing! So participants can get rid of their old shock, prong or choke collars and get discounts on humane gear and force-free training sessions. That’s a lot! Are there any other  benefits to people, their families and of course, their inquisitive canines?

JHM: Yes! Teaching dogs through humane, force-free methods is the ideal way to work with animals, as it enhances the human-canine bond. Training without force, fear or pain  promotes a stronger bond, based on love and trust. Modern, scientifically based, training techniques and tools teach dogs skills they can use throughout their lives. This approach even broadens the number of opportunities for where dogs can go and who they can spend time with. Research has shown (see Resources) that animals who are trained using humane, force-free methods are happier, have lower levels of stress, are more social, learn more willingly and easily and enjoy doing more things in and out of the home. These methods allow pets to thrive in their environments and learn independence because they have more self-confidence and trust their people and their surroundings. This resilience can make life easier for everyone involved, including members of the community.

PS: So then, regarding public safety and dog bite prevention, are there benefits to swapping out aversive gear?

JHM: As stated in the PPG position statement on the use of pet correction devices, using aversive techniques can cause a variety of unwanted side effects including redirected aggression as displayed by biting. This can occur when the owner least expects it, as dogs will likely, at some point, reach their threshold of tolerance.

PS: Good to know. Project Trade sounds like a great opportunity for pet parents looking for a responsible, safe and fun way to train their dogs. How did you hear about this idea?

JHM: Being a member of the Pet Professional Guild, I became aware of this program through their announcements. As soon as I saw it, I knew I wanted to be a part of their cause for change. As a profession, when it comes to training with aversive gear, we know better so we should do better.


The Importance of Teaching Dogs to be Independent – Part II

In the first part of this series, The Importance of Teaching Dogs to be Independent – Part One, we discussed broad concepts about teaching puppies and dogs skills that build confidence and promote independence. (In a nutshell, force-free training, enrichment, giving choices, and encouraging dogs to be dogs are key elements.) However, even with the basic groundwork in place, there are situations that can present more of a challenge for certain dogs and the people who love them.

Situation #1 – Adjusting to a new schedule:

Foremost on many people’s minds right now is how to train a dog to stay home alone if you are heading back to the office after working from home for several months. That’s such an important question that there’s an entire previous post devoted to it. To review:

  • Practice. Consider implementing actual dress rehearsals of what ‘back to work’ will physically look like – right down to the “costume changes.” (Work-clothes vs heading-out-on-adventures clothes.) 
  • Every dog is different. So each should be treated as an individual. Dogs with a learning history of, “Oh, yes, I remember when the humans wore those different outfits and left me alone. That’s cool. I guess we’re going back to that routine again” might do better than dogs who have never been left alone in your home (“quarantine puppies,” etc.). But you never know — and we shouldn’t make assumptions without concrete data.
  • Go slow. Err on the side of caution and ease back into routines, no matter the dogs’ learning histories. Assume they might even freak out a little at being left alone again or for longer days. So, go slow; ease them back in gradually. Again, invest some time each day for practice. Leave your pups alone for short periods at first, lengthening the amount of time slowly, so they have a better chance to adapt more easily to the new schedule.
  • Be on the lookout for early signs of stress, so you can try to intervene before the situation escalates. Brushing up on reading your dog’s body language and getting fluent in dog-lish will really help out here.

Situation #2 – My dog hates being outside alone:

First, try to examine the situation from your dog’s point of view. Remember that not all attention seeking behavior is inappropriate. Sometimes our pets truly need us to pay attention! If we haven’t taught and learned specific cues, they only have a few ways of communicating their needs in a manner we notice and respond to (barking, pawing, whining …). The most important thing here is to make sure they’re not scared, hurt, sick, hungry, or thirsty. Are they left outside all day long? All night long? Do environmental factors play a role? Is it too hot or cold?  Too wet or dry? In these cases, it’s the situation and environment that require modification, not your inquisitive canine’s behavior.

Next step. Do some detective work. It will be easier to plan for helping your dog enjoy the great outdoors if you can determine why some dogs don’t like being outside alone in the first place.

  • Fear factor. Is it scary for them? Are they fearful? Is it just in your own yard or anywhere outside your home, as in agoraphobia? If your dog is scared for some reason, you’ll want to find out why. Strange noises? Did something happen that caused them to be afraid? If so, it’ll be best to work with a certified professional force-free trainer for help.
  • Doggy Psych 101. Is it the outdoors or is it that you’re not with them? Do they have FOMO (you are home, indoors, and they crave your company and companionship)? Or are they genuinely scared to be alone? If your dog is suffering from separation anxiety, then once again, your path to helping will involve seeking professional guidance. Otherwise, you can work on making time away from you (almost) as fun and stimulating as time with you. (Read on for tips.)
  • Are they bored? If your dog is bored in the yard, you can take measures to create a positive association with the space so they learn to love it. Make it like their own private amusement park — scavenger hunts, puzzle toys, a digging pit (as long as it’s in a safe area), shallow water features they can splash in without drowning themselves (it’s okay/advisable to check on them from time to time). In this context, so much fun happens in the yard . . . and they’re playing on their own!
  • Is it punishment- or banishment? Train it before you need it. Avoid a Cinderella scenario. Have you banished your dog to the dungeon (yard) because you have company and your pup doesn’t know how to greet guests politely? Rather than punish, or even ignore, unwanted behavior, you always have the (more productive, ethical, and humane) option of teaching a replacement behavior. For instance, why not use positive reinforcement training to teach your dog to greet people nicely? Do a bunch of dress rehearsals in preparation for the big event.

Situation #3: My dog doesn’t like being left alone at night:

Once again, first determine why, by asking many of the questions presented above. Go through the variables and look at things from an inquisitive canine’s point of view. Alone, as in a separate room of the house? Outdoors vs. indoors? Humans home but the dog is left outside to sleep? Is pup bored, frightened or lonely? Here too, are we dealing with a FOMO-type circumstance or is it separation anxiety-related?

  • Rinse and repeat. After you’ve assessed the situation and made the appropriate management adjustments, you can then move on to developing a training plan. As above, first, make sure their physical and mental needs have been met. For dogs who are bored, provide an enriching (but not overstimulating for nighttime) environment for them. Next, desensitize them slowly to being left alone in small increments, so they get used to it. If they do better with a light on and maybe soothing noise in the background, do what you can to create a tranquil, relaxing space for rest.
  • “Me time.” If your dog is frightened when you’re out of sight, you’ll want to work with a professional trainer to develop a more specific plan to help with resolving fear issues. Desensitization is a process to help teach the dog to enjoy being all alone sometimes, rather than fear it. Remember, dogs are social animals; they prefer company. However, with guidance, you can condition them to appreciate a little “me time” occasionally. This time might involve happily being on their own with interactive food toys and games, taking a nap or pondering life (awake but lying down, looking out into the world) or exploring in their own backyards (provided it is safe for them to be on their own in the yard). As being alone for brief periods during the day becomes less of a source of anxiety (and actually enjoyable), being alone at night should get a little easier too.

Ultimately, while it’s great when dogs “check in” with us, it’s also nice to see them being independent, showing us that they know how to make these life choices. You’ll know they are good with being alone when you’re heading out the door and you ask them if they’d like to go with you and they stay put — as if they’re saying, “Nah, I’m good right here. Bye!” It’s almost as if they want us to know, “We’re good right now. Go on and do your own thing.” What a gift! And please don’t feel unneeded. After work -or when the guests leave -or first thing in the morning, you’ll be unleashing adventure and harnessing fun – together! (If that’s what your independent, inquisitive canine chooses, of course.)

How to Find the Right Dog Walker

how to find the right dog walker
Guest Post
Emily Conklin – Gladwire

How You Can Find the Right Dog Walker

If you’re like thousands of other puppy parents, you’re finding it difficult to fit regular walks into your busy schedule. You don’t have to feel guilty about short changing your pooch when there’s probably a dog walker right in your neighborhood who can take up the slack. While getting the kid next door to walk your dog might seem like a good idea in a pinch, enlisting the services of a professional dog walker may be a safer, more sensible approach.

If you don’t know where to look, finding a reliable surrogate who will take good care of your dog can be a challenge. Find the right dog walker with a few simple tips.

Look Locally

Even if you live in a small or mid-sized town, chances are there are a few professional dog walkers or professional dog walking services in your area. You could start by looking on Craigslist, in the local classifieds, or on the internet for the right dog walker. However, dog-centric businesses might yield better results.

Many veterinarian’s offices have bulletin boards located in their waiting room advertising services for pet owners; they may even have a dog walker among their patients. Another place to try is a pet supply store. If there’s a dog park in your area, you might ask other pet owners who they use. Once you get a few names, it’s time to take the next step.

Go Social

Even if you choose a private dog walker rather than a service, chances are that anyone trying to build a business has a presence online. However, anyone can put up a social media page and call themselves a dog walker, so a little investigation is in order. Check popular sites like Facebook and Instagram to get a feel for their business. Look for photos of their walks and the other dogs they walk, including how big of a group they wrangle; if they’re regularly dealing with 10 dogs, will they be able to give yours the attention he needs? Is there feedback and interaction from clients on their pages and photos, or does the page seem relatively static and neglected?

Since we also know that many people put on a good show for social media, look for any links to a business website. If they have one, is it laid out like a reputable business, with information about licensing and insurance? Do they list services or specifics about how they conduct business? It’s also a good idea to Google the dog walker or their company for mentions on consumer sites like Yelp! This is a fairly objective way to learn if they’ve had any complaints about their services or rave reviews, and find out how long they’ve been in business.

How to find the Right Dog Walker

Meet First

Much like when you’re looking for a daycare provider for your child or a contractor to work on your home, you should meet with several dog walkers before you settle on one. There’s some opinion out there that dogs know instinctively if someone is trustworthy or not. Arrange a meeting at their home or business, if they have an office. Observe how they approach your pet, and how your dog responds to them. What does their body language tell you? Do they seem calm and confident? Friendly? If you or your dog aren’t comfortable with them, you should probably pass.

You should come prepared with a list of questions so you can determine their routine, where they generally walk, and how they might respond to emergency situations. Some practical questions to start with might be:

  • How long do you walk the dogs, how many walks per day, and how far do you walk?
  • Do you walk in areas with heavy traffic or a lot of distractions?
  • How do you deal with dogs who aren’t well-socialized? Do you walk some dogs separately, or do you take them all together?
  • Do you walk the dogs with dog harnesses or just by the collar?
  • Are you the primary dog walker, or will there be other people walking my dog?
  • Do you have backup arrangements in the case of an emergency?
  • Are they willing to allow you to accompany them on a test walk to see how they handle your dog?

In addition to general questions about the walks themselves, it doesn’t hurt to delve a little deeper into their background and experience as it relates to the job. Points to cover include:

  • Length of time as a dog walker?
  • Any formal dog training classes or certifications?
  • Are they licensed and insured? Can they provide proof of both?
  • Do they have training in canine first aid?
  • Do they have a veterinarian or arrangement for emergency care in the case of an accident or medical condition?

Getting to Know You, Too

An attentive, conscientious dog walker will also have questions for you, or at least express an interest in your pet. Although it’s not a definite reason to pass, someone who doesn’t might be indifferent or neglectful. Honesty on your part is just as important as expecting full disclosure from them. You should be prepared to give them specifics about your dog’s personality, quirks, and any medical or behavior issues. Other important disclosures include how they get along with other animals or children and how they react to loud noises or traffic.

Business Matters

Once you’ve found someone who both you and your pet feel comfortable with, it’s time to get down to business. Get a firm price for services and payment arrangements. Some providers charge a flat rate that’s payable even if your dog misses a week or a few days, others charge by the hour or by the day, and still others charge by the month. Work out a payment schedule that works for both of you. You should also ask about about cancellation policies and other potential expenses or charges that might crop up. Get everything in writing, if possible.

When your schedule and Fido’s collide, it’s time to look for solutions. Luckily, there are many dog-lovers who provide services to help pet parent’s like you give your furry baby the fresh air and exercise they need when you aren’t able. We all want the best for our dogs. Finding the right dog walker is well worth the effort.




No Dog Left Behind: Making the Case for Canine Education

Why Society Should Value Canine Education

Education is important — so much so that it’s written into our law… for humans.

In the United States, there are compulsory education laws, which mandate that children attend school (public, private or home) by a certain age, and state they are not allowed to drop out (should they decide to) until a specific age. These laws were developed to help literacy rates, protect against child labor, and to better the population as a whole. Unfortunately, there’s no such law to promote canine education.

Why You Should Value canine educationIf we, as a society, promote the importance of education for people, then I propose that it’s high time we advocate for a similar system for inquisitive canines. Dogs (and other non-human animals) are becoming more a part of our everyday culture. I submit that we will only benefit if we establish similar requirements for our canine companions in order for them to not only adapt, but also to contribute in positive ways and gain wider acceptance.

Why Canine Education Matters

According to this recent Harris Poll, 95% of Americans consider their pet as part of the family – I know I certainly do! So if this is the case, then why not go above and beyond the birthday present, special homemade treats and spa sessions by giving our dogs a canine education that not only enhances their home life but also allows them to become an upstanding member of society?

One reason I became a certified dog trainer was because I wanted to be able to bring my own dog to as many places as possible. My rationale was that if all dogs were well-mannered, then they would be welcomed by more people and into more places, and eventually would help change our “no dogs allowed” culture to “courteous canines welcomed.”

How great would that be? (Bark once if you agree, twice if you enthusiastically concur!)

I know there are some naysayers out there gasping as they read this, and I realize that some places might not be appropriate for dogs (i.e. commercial kitchens, operating rooms for humans, etc.), similar to certain places not being appropriate for young children. However, I believe with the right kind of training, many places that are currently considered off-limits for dogs could be perfectly fine, and even preferable with their presence.

But was does “well-mannered” look like? And what education would be necessary to achieve it?

In my opinion, the same guidelines used for therapy dogs would be a great starting point. Unlike service dogs, therapy dogs must hold an actual certification. This is not to say that service dogs don’t perform specific tasks – most do. However, owners aren’t required to show proof. Therapy dogs, on the other hand, go through detailed training with their handler and then have to complete a certain number of supervised visits where they are observed and given feedback. (Yes, this is a test!) Once these steps have been completed, they provide references and more to complete their application. And, therapy dog handlers are required to carry their membership card whenever he or she is “on the job.”

Organizations That Support Canine Education

There are several organizations devoted to supporting canine education and humans in the therapy dog certification process including, Love on a Leash, Therapy Dog International, and the American Kennel Club’s Canine Good Citizen. Each of these programs requires dogs to be proficient in specific skills in order to perform duties to help make people feel happy, relaxed, and safe. These include:

  • Being able to sit, stay, lie down, and come when called around a variety of distractions, and without the use of treats to reinforce them
  • Allowing strangers to pet and handle them, including tugging on ears and tails
  • Being approached by strangers, including those behaving erratically
  • Being tolerant and accepting of loud and/or unfamiliar noises
  • Show no signs of being fearful or aggressive

Wow! Imagine a world where dogs were better behaved than us humans! It seems to me that if these skills are good enough for therapy work, they would be more than sufficient for general public interaction.

And just as children respond best to education with the support of their parents or other loving adults, dogs also thrive when we humans work on canine education with them– and in the process, we become better trained ourselves.

So here’s my question to you inquisitive pet lover: What do you think about mandated canine education – and if we get people and their pups to participate, should society as a whole, welcome dogs into places they weren’t previously allowed? I say, no dog left behind!

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 or follow us on Twitter – Tweet to us and we’ll Tweet ya back!

Say NO To Weapons of Mutt Destruction – Choose The Best Dog Walking Gear

Here’s How to Avoid Dangerous Dog Walking Gear and Spot the Best Pet Gear for Your Pet

There is significant controversy over the use of aversive dog walking gear such as choke, prong,
electric, and Citronella collars. Although research confirms that there are many negative side effects created by using this kind of punishment-based gear, the use of inhumane training equipment is unfortunately pretty common. Even large pet stores that claim to be animal advocates continue to sell aversive walking and training equipment.

As an inquisitive dog mom, animal advocate, and certified dog trainer, I often wonder how and why dog walking gear that causes, as the ASPCA puts it, “physical discomfort and undue anxiety,” is considered acceptable. Haven’t we figured out that animals (which include us humans!) learn better in an environment that is friendly, trusting, and filled with love — not one that is ruled by anger, frustration, and pain?

Some may ask, “What’s the big deal? Haven’t those kinds of collars worked for decades now? Does it really matter how you get your dog to walk easily by your side, without pulling?”

Side Effects of the Wrong Dog Walking Gear

Well, similar to outdated, ineffective medical treatments, there are high-risk side effects of using aversive dog walking gear, which are absolutely not worth it. According to well-respected industry groups including The Humane Society of the United States, the American Veterinary Society for Animal Behavior, and popular high-profile dog trainers like author and on-air personality Victoria Stilwell and Karen Pryor, world renowned animal trainer and author of Don’t Shoot the Dog, the use of aversives for training purposes must be avoided at all costs.

The implications of using such dog walking gear are enormous: from physical damage and unwanted behavioral problems including aggression to shutting down, learned helplessness and destruction of the human-animal bond, the negative consequences are both likely and also very serious. There is no reason to continue to use aversive gear for dog walking and training, especially now that we know better — because we have better information and better tools to use.

Now, I’m not saying that getting to the desired goal of getting your dog to behave nicely and appropriately while on leash is easy for everyone. It’s clear to see where challenges arise.

First off, dogs weren’t born knowing how to walk while leashed up. Secondly, humans weren’t born knowing how to operate a leash. Thirdly, add up point one and point two, and you often end up with a scene from a Three Stooges episode — but not as funny. With all the frustration coming from both ends of the leash, even I can understand why some of these aversive tools came about and why people continue to turn to them for help.

But wait! Just because I say I get it on some levels, doesn’t mean I think using punishment-based gear is a remotely good idea.

Refining walking on leash is a relatively simple and easily trainable activity that doesn’t require an iron fist. When you get a cold, do you treat it with rest, fluids, and over the counter medicine that takes a little time and patience to work – or do you turn to bloodletting to cut to the chase and get it over as quickly (and brutally) as possible?

We first need to remember that any walking equipment should be considered management tools, not training tools. Empower yourself and your dog to walk together nicely using the bond you share, communication, and a clear message — as opposed to the equipment.

InquisitiveCanine_NellieTeaching your dog to walk on leash is a simple, straightforward process. Our Leash Walking 101 post outlines some helpful tips to get you started.

As for useful dog and human-friendly equipment, I’m a proponent of the harness-leash system. For dogs that tend to pull unnecessarily on a regular walk (so I’m not talking about more complex activities like sports, Search and Rescue or Nose Work), harnesses where the leash attaches to the front is my first choice, as they tend to help reduce pulling. For dogs that don’t pull, or for specific sports and activities, a harness where the leash attaches to the back is ideal. Our TransPaw Gear™ dog harness, which will be introduced in the coming months, has both – and I have designed it such that regardless of your canine’s situation, you will always have your harness bases covered.

In terms of leashes, I prefer regular four to six-foot leads — cotton, leather, nylon or whatever you prefer. Your dog and you should be walking together, so longer leashes should be necessary. Where leashes that are more than six feet long come in handy are for specific training exercises. Even retractable leashes can do the trick, but I’d only recommend them for very specific purposes and places, such as an open field with nothing the leash would get tangled on — including people, other animals, trees, bushes, etc.

As for collars, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: collars are like wallets — they’re meant to carry I.D. and complement your outfit. That’s about it.

I’m not here to chastise and point fingers. I will admit firsthand that when I adopted Poncho, I was taught to use a variety of training approaches, including collar-corrections. I never felt comfortable doing this — ever. And this was a primary reason I ended up becoming a trainer. To learn better and ultimately, do better. Instead of ignoring this dilemma, I trusted my gut instinct, questioned it, investigated, and turned to using better options that were actually easier to implement AND more effective. Talk about a win-win — for everyone, especially our beloved BFF Poncho. (That’s Best Fur Friend), but also for all of the inquisitive canines that I’ve had the pleasure of working with since then.

A recent L.A. Times article reported that the cancer rate has dropped by 25% compared to that of a quarter of a century ago, due to better diagnostics and treatment. This is a prime example of humans recognizing the treatment was as bad as the problem itself (maybe worse!), doing the research, checking old assumptions, and ultimately rejecting the status quo in order to make better choices and pursue more humane and effective treatments.

So my question to you, inquisitive animal lover, why do we continue to use and promote equipment we know can cause harm — these weapons of mutt destruction — when there are much better options out there for achieving the same goal?

A good friend mentioned there’s an update with one of the Golden Rules. It goes beyond treating others as you would want to be treated yourself. Instead, it now says we should treat others the way they want to be treated. I’m pretty sure it’s safe to say that dogs would prefer to be treated with a kind, loving hand over any other kind of handling.

In other words, you don’t have to be “ruff” to get the best out of your dog – humane and kind trumps ruthless and aversive any doggone day. Choose the best dog walking gear for your dog, and you’ll get the best results.

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 or follow us on Twitter – Tweet to us and we’ll Tweet ya back!

What to Look for When Choosing the Best Dog Trainer for Your Pet

Finding the Best Dog Trainer for Your Four-Legged Friend

Not all trainers are created equal. Finding the best dog trainer for your dog may take a little more research, but your canine is worth the effort.

Recently I was on a run with a friend, and we were talking about how many dogs we saw along the way, as well as the people who were leading them. It was easy to spot the professionals, as they often had several dogs on leash.Inquisitivecanine_PrivateClient

Still, by observing how the animals were being handled, it was apparent even to my non-dog-trainer friend that not all “professionals” are created equal. Knowing that I’m a certified trainer, she innocently asked, “Is it me, or does everyone think they can be a dog trainer?”

In my experience, my friend’s observation was spot on. Many folks out there think that just because they’ve had dogs, grew up with dogs, love dogs, know dogs and/or watch TV shows about dog training, they know all there is to know about training canines.

That would be the same thing as me saying, “I love to bake, and I live for watching the shows on the Food Network. Once I even won a blue ribbon in a brownie baking competition. So I’m clearly a professional baker.” While you might encourage me to donate treats to your bake sale, there’s no way you’d hire me to make your wedding cake.

InquisitiveCanine_LouisVinnyWhen you work in a specialized field, in order to elevate your status from amateur to professional, training and education is a must.

To help you make an informed decision about who should train and otherwise care for your inquisitive canine, here are a few tips about how to find the best dog trainer for your canine:

  • Ask about training techniques and approach.

Humane, force-free methods for training are the best and only techniques a trainer should use. These go beyond “positive reinforcement,” as there are some trainers out there who use both positive reinforcement (i.e. treats, petting, praise) and “positive punishment” (i.e. collar corrections, alpha-rolls, aversive training collars). This is a contradiction in terms AND in approach, and also sure signs that your pet will at the very least get mixed messages, and possibly be subject to inhumane treatment. Ask specific questions as to which training methods the prospective trainer uses, and under which circumstances.

  • Inquire about education and certifications.

Whether you’re looking for private training for behavior specifics, puppy or basic manners classes, sports-related courses such as agility, Nose Work, and Canine Freestyle, or specialty Therapy Dog courses, professional training is a must. What schools or programs has the prospective trainer attended? Do they belong to groups or organizations that are respected across the industry? Keep in mind that not all dog training organizations are created equal – there are some that anyone can join, whether they are a trainer or not. Others, such as the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers, literally certifies people in areas of both training and behavior. They require exams and letters of recommendation, along with continuing education credits for maintaining certifications.

If someone says they became a trainer because they love dogs and are good with them and/or got their DIY training from YouTube videos, you really should think twice before hiring that person for professional services. Also, be aware of the self-titled “dog behaviorist.” A true animal behaviorist holds a graduate degree in that field. This is an important distinction to make – and if your pet requires sincere behavioral modification, be sure that the person you are hiring to work with him or her has the education and experience necessary to truly help your pet.

  • Check that your trainer has both transparency and integrity.

Trust and honesty are important in any relationship, amiright? Trainers worth their salt will admit if a specific case is outside their scope of practice, or they are unfamiliar with the situation presented. For instance, when clients ask me about issues that might have an underlying medical origin, I always refer them to their vet. I often get questions about foods a particular dog should eat. Again, this is a question for that animal’s vet. While I can offer up tips for enrichment activities and how a dog should have his or her meal delivered (i.e. food toys, scavenger hunts, training), I refrain from advising what a dog should eat, since dietary concerns, age of the pet, and so on really influences what is best to feed a particular canine.

  • Similar to choosing any professional that you’ll work closely with, personality, graciousness, and communication are key.

While you want to choose someone your dog likes and trust, you have to share the same sentiments as your pet. It’s not the dogs that call for training needs (although sometimes we wish they would speak up!), it is the people. Just like you wouldn’t choose a nanny to watch your child without seeing how well she or he meshes with your family, you should definitely be conscious of how you get along with the prospective dog trainer, as well as how clearly he or she communicates with you, not just your dog. The goal is to have someone in place that you enjoy and can rely upon but who also makes sure you have all the information necessary to reinforce the work she or he has done with your dog.

My tips for finding the best dog trainer for your dog are just a starting point; here are a few additional resources for you to consider when hiring a dog trainer:


What do you, or would you, look for when looking for the best dog trainer for your dog?

Just head to the comment section below to join the conversation. And remember, we invite you to share pics and videos of your inquisitive canine on our Facebook page. Or, follow us on Twitter – Tweet to us and we’ll Tweet ya back!

Harness the Love, for Dogs Everywhere

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The wonderful Academy for Dog Trainers, and my Alma Mater, is at it again! This time it’s #HarnessTheLove, a week long social media campaign to highlight and promote the use of no-pull harnesses. Hope you’ll join in the fun, take away some useful tidbits, and share the knowledge.

Of course the Inquisitive Canine is participating! As a certified professional dog trainer and behavior consultant, I’m all about force-free training, pawsitive reinforcement, and the use of aversive-free equipment – specifically harnesses that allow for both front-clip and back-clip leash attachment. This special campaign is all about highlighting the use of these types of harnesses, while focusing on educating people what to do, rather than shaming or finger-pointing for choosing other types of equipment.

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Why do I love harnesses? First, they take pressure off your dog’s neck and distribute it across a larger body area, unlike traditional collars, making it more comfortable for your dog. And a comfortable dog is in position to learn better and often more readily. Harnesses also give you a vantage point in communicating with your inquisitive canine, as it is easier to feel movement, any tension, and energy through the leash.

Let’s take a look at loose leash walking, meaning your dog is walking in a relaxed state on a leash while being allowed to explore and sniff within the length of the leash with no pulling, tugging, or lunging. Sound too good to be true? Well, a harness helps makes this possible. Think about the traditional collar and leash from a dog’s perspective. Many dogs experience sharp pains in their neck, feelings of being choked, not being able to breathe, and what can be perceived as feelings of stress and frustration. There’s no reason for that with such a wide variety of harnesses available.


As a matter of fact, I’m so on-board with harness use that I’ve even started my own dog product company called TransPaw Gear™, LLC and am in the process of launching the official TransPaw Gear™ dog harness! A dog-friendly, user-friendly, multi-purpose harness that puts the FUN in FUNctional! Want more info? Check out our TransPaw Gear™ dog harness webpage – And, if you’re so inclined, “Like” us on Facebook!

But, this post, and the #HarnessTheLove campaign isn’t about self-promotion, it is about educating the community on the importance of using force-free methods and equipment with their inquisitive canines! I’ve always said that dog collars are like wallets: they should be used to carry identification and complement an outfit – or fur. So, what products should you use?

There seems to be a wide variety to choose from. And, I  know the importance of shopping around and making an informed decision. With the many options, it’s best to look for features that work best for you. your inquisitive canine, budget, and resources available. In addition to our very own TransPaw Gear™ dog harness, a few others that I’ve had some hands-on, and paws-on, experience with include:

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    The Freedom No-Pull Dog Harness which has front and back clips to discourage pulling. It also has a velvet lining on the strap to prevent chafing behind the legs. Recommended by trainers and inquisitive canines alike.

  • The Tru-Fit Smart Harness has five adjustment points for a great fit plus a chest D-ring. Dogs are assured comfort and protection with its front chest pieces. A great everyday walking harness
  • Softtouch Concepts, Inc. Front-Connection™ harnesses offer a number of sizes, colors, and prices, without the use of restrictive designs. One of Poncho’s favorite.
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My personal and professional opinion is dogs would most likely rather run around naked than wear any type of collar or harness. But, to adapt to our human world, they’ll put up with our requests for sporting an article of clothing – or two. The least we can do is help make them comfortable.

So, tell me, how do you and your inquisitive canine #HarnessTheLove? Please share your #HarnessTheLove story. It’s easy on Facebook, Instagram, your own blog, and with friends at the dog park!

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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.

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.

#Train4Rewards Blog Party … Reward, Reward, Reward

Woofs and wags to Companion Animal Psychology and its #Train4Rewards Blog Party. You think I’d miss this party? Read on!

As a is certified professional dog trainer and behavior consultant, I’m all about reward, reward, reward. Plus, it’s an extra-special party for me as it’s Poncho’s birthday. So here’s what I’m bringing to the paw-ty: A case study on reward training from Poncho’s column A Pooch’s Perspective.” 

A woman asked Poncho why her inquisitive canine, a 13-year-old lab, would sometimes discreetly pee in her parents house, though the girl dog never had an “accident” at home. Poncho breaks down his answer into four points.Dickens

Know Your Animal – Dogs eliminate when they feel the need, unless they have been taught otherwise. A couple of triggers dogs commonly react to are: texture and scent. For texture, think dirt, grass, tile, cement, and carpet. Oh, about wet grass … do you like a wet toilet seat? For scent, a dog’s world is one big perfume counter. Observing another dog going potty, updating status by “marking” territory, and previous learning are a few triggers that give dogs the urge. Additionally, dogs understand “safe and dangerous” as opposed to “right and wrong.” Maybe the lab had a previous accident and got into trouble, so the lesson she learned was to “go” when no one was around. Please note: 13 years is on the senior side of a canine’s life, so a visit to the vet may be in order to rule out any medical issues.

Communicate Clearly – Humans need to determine what they want from their dogs. Go potty in a specific spot? Or just not indoors? Take the time to teach the wanted behavior and manage environments to help your inquisitive canine to make better choices.

Reward, Reward, Reward – It’s all about the reward. In the lab’s case, upon arrival at the parents’ house, the human should put the lab on a leash, take her to where she should go potty and wait. And wait and wait. If necessary, wait some more until potty victory. Then, celebrate! Give her a big whoo-hoo! Some chin chucks and scratching followed by an edible treat … and the big reward: being allowed inside. Once inside, be sure to keep an eye on her so she can be brought outside immediately should you observe signs she is likely to go.

Should her motivation be marking her territory, then follow basic house-training: keep an eagle eye on her and reward, reward, reward for eliminating outside, along with ignoring areas she likes to claim as her own. Take her to places she’s allowed to mark to provide an outlet to fulfill her doggy needs and wishes, while having fun and bonding together.

Set the Stage for Success – Extra time is needed when bringing the lab to her “grandparents,” who need to be in on the game plan. (They may need a little training themselves.) If the grandparents are distracted easily, they may want to keep their grand-dog on a leash or in a roomy, comfy crate. If allowed to wander at will, something may trigger the lab’s urge to go. Setting her up for success, not failure is key.


Paws and reflect – It’s best to use house-training basics: teach, reward-reward-reward, and manage the situation. Inquisitive canines don’t know the right thing to do by instinct no more than humans do. For example, if someone were to visit your house, you would show them where the bathroom is. If you didn’t they may choose a bathroom on their own and it may not be the one you’d like guests to use. You’d have no one to blame but yourself if they went in the wrong place.

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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.

Poncho Speaks from the Great Beyond, Part 3: When to Know It’s Time to Let Go

In July 2015, the Inquisitive Canine team supported CEO Poncho the dog’s entrepreneurial decision to start his own ventures in the great beyond. A philanthropic pooch through and through, he left behind a letter to his dear readers and fellow inquisitive canines, along with a three-part series in his Last Woof & Testament that generously included the following valuable advice for dog parents and their inquisitive canines.

Greetings, inquisitive canines and dog parents!


What follows is the most personal and difficult post I’ve ever had to write in my blogging career, let alone in this Great Beyond series. That’s because it’s about learning to let go of earthly life, which I know firsthand isn’t easy to do.

If you’re struggling with an end-of-life decision about your companion animal, it’s likely you’ve gone back and forth about whether it’s the right time to help your best fur friend transition. Just know that it’s normal to be unsure. It’s normal to waver. It’s even normal to throw your hands up in the air out of frustration and start sobbing. So just how do you know when it’s time to let your beloved companion animal go?

How You Know It’s Time

People kept saying to my parents, “You’ll just know,” and they didn’t understand the concept at first — since it’s such an individual decision — but they eventually found it to be true.

A good starting point is to think of any and all behaviors your dog engages in that many humans would describe as “annoying.” Things like:

  • pulling on leash
  • counter-surfing
  • excessive barking
  • jumping up
  • nipping at people’s feet
  • chasing after trucks
  • barking at delivery people

These common canine behaviors are helpful in determining overall quality of life, because you can use them as your baseline at first, and then later as your litmus test when they develop symptoms. If your dog used to do any of these habits, and then the habits suddenly stopped – and that stoppage isn’t part of a training plan –  that could be an indicator of illness. It’s like parents of human children getting suspicious when the house is suddenly quiet: “What are they up to?” Something must be wrong.

Next, think about your dog’s daily routine and the things he or she loves to do. Does your dog want to play anymore? Does your dog enjoy the same activities he or she always has? Or does it seem as though your dog prefers to spend time in hiding or wanting to be alone? I’m sure that more than anything, you’d like your dog to want to do all the things they’ve always enjoyed doing. For example, my parents wanted so badly for me to enjoy romps at the beach again, wanted me to snuggle or play kissy face like always, and wanted me to keep on weight.

Like many of my fellow canines, my decline was mostly age related. I started to experience the chronic physical ailments that often come with the territory. Sight loss, hearing loss, kidney issues and tummy troubles were the major culprits, but my mom said I never lost my personality or my appetite. (What can I say? I’ve always been a foodie!)

Seeing symptoms like the ones I’ve described above are always difficult for pet parents. No one wants to see animals suffer, especially their loved ones. Oftentimes though, it’s more painful for the parents than for the animal. Try your best to determine your animal’s quality of life. But how do you do that when your dog can’t verbally express to you everything he or she is feeling? Body language is a great and useful tool.

In addition, here’s what helped my parents: The Ohio State University Veterinary Medical Center’s quality-of-life scale for determining end-of-life decisions. Searching for help in trying to determine what “You’ll just know” really means, my mom found this document online and she and my dad took the test a month before helping me transition.

The questionnaire takes you through 25 descriptions of common symptoms (ex. “… is sleeping more than usual”) that you can chart to varying degrees. Notice that all the points to consider on the chart use the phrase “it may be time to discuss euthanasia.” The key word here is may, because every animal is different, and it’s an extremely individual decision that no one else can make for you.

“Taking the test was a wakeup call, because you don’t see it on your own,” my mom said. “You spend so much time trying to help your animal, constantly focusing on a he’s-going-to-get better mentality.”

Helpful Tip: Come to a Consensus

One of the most effective ways to make such an important decision is to ensure that everyone in the family is in agreement. Otherwise, you risk someone experiencing feelings of resentment that almost always bubble up to the surface after the fact.

A month before I passed, my specialist said to my parents, “I think he’s checked out. There’s always more things we can do, but if pursuing those options creates more stress for him, I will support your decision to help him transition.”

When my parents said they’d rather leave the decision up to me, the specialist cautioned them that canines are not wired to make the decision, because it’s instinctual for us to do all we can to survive and not let on that we’re declining (just like it’s in our DNA to not let predators know we’re ill). She went on to say that few canines pass quietly in their sleep, and that if it gets to the point where a dog decides to die on his own, it’s a certain indicator he is suffering.

After taking all this in, my parents wanted to wait for my regular vet to return from vacation. In the meantime, they saw a grief counselor, who advised that they should allow me to pass with dignity. Even though I was ready to go, my parents weren’t quite ready. It was as though I needed to teach them to be strong. I was trying to hang on for them.

Slowly, I stopped being so generous with kisses and stopped trying to cuddle. Not because I didn’t want to, but because it took energy to do so, and I could feel myself pulling away. I wasn’t in pain; something inside was simply telling me to withdraw. I had fulfilled my destiny on Earth and it was time for me to move on.

If you ask my parents, they’ll say that my eyes looked past them, that I’d face them but wouldn’t make eye contact. I stopped smiling and stopped wanting to interact. Even though they lovingly tended to my every need, including administering multiple medications twice a day, I appeared as though I wanted to be on my own.

When my vet returned from vacation, everyone agreed it was time. My mom made me a tasty roasted pork chop and I went to sleep. I couldn’t have asked for a better transition into the great beyond.

Important Resources: Pet Loss Recovery Counseling

As I mentioned in Part 1 of this series, my parents sought solace in an animal grief-counseling group lead by Kathleen Ayl, Psy.D. A pet grief counselor can help answer questions regarding how to know when the time is right and also teach you about helping your pets die with dignity. These group sessions helped with both anticipatory grief and connected my parents with other wonderfully supportive parents. Look for pet loss recovery specialists and pet grief-counseling groups near you for both pre- and post-loss support.

Hopefully this 3-part series has helped those of you facing pet loss or those in pet loss recovery. I’m looking forward to sharing more wisdom in the topics to come. Meanwhile, I’ll be watching over all you inquisitive canines and your families as I bound around the fields of grass in the great beyond. Watch out for falling tennis balls!

Woofs and tail wags, Version 2