It’s Not You, It’s Me

It's Not You, It's training obstacles - a learning experience. Via

It's Not You, It's training obstacles - a learning experience. Via

Let’s admit, we’ve all been at that point with a dog where we are frustrated and confused. With Lola, I have felt this way many times. She was our first dog (not counting childhood dogs) and besides being ridiculously easy to potty train, she has challenged us with everything else. Rio has been the ‘easy’ dog and generally listens and picks up on things very quick.

Not that Lola is a bad dog. No, not at all. She doesn’t chew, doesn’t destroy things (besides stuffies and her toys) and is really one of the most loving dogs. Our issues: she doesn’t have a reliable recall. At all. She has a little bit of a ‘barking at unnecessary things’ issue. And as Antonio puts it, she can be a little bit of a burra at times.

To say Lola has kept me on my toes as her handler would not be an understatement. She’s tricky, because if you put her in an obedience class she has one of the most reliable recalls of all the dogs. And it makes sense: run to mom when called (versus strange people that I don’t know) and get rewarded with awesome treats – no problemo! Now put flyball practice into the situation and it becomes a game. Or insert a squirrel or rabbit into the scenario and you won’t get that reliable “come” until the object is out of sight.

“We’ve tried everything and nothing is working.”

Have you ever caught yourself saying that?

It’s easy, really easy to become frustrated, lose hope and push the issue aside using the excuse that it’s the dog’s fault. But what if it isn’t the dog? Maybe we just need to try harder, try differently, try understanding…Training and learning is an ongoing process as a dog owner, as a human being. And I notice that when I start to slack in my duties as a dog owner, it reflects in Lola and Rio.

She wasn’t purposely being stubborn as I just assumed she was – I was misguiding her. I was her biggest obstacle in training.

So maybe it’s not that your dog is stubborn, unwilling and just doing it out of spite. I believe that once we begin to realize this and make the change, that we’ll start noticing a difference. I don’t blame Lola’s recall issues on her – we as her owners have not practiced as we should nor have we set her up to succeed.

Lola was capable, Lola is capable. She just needs the right tools presented to her in a clear manner that she understands. Dogs generally want to please you and earn your acceptance and they will work hard to do so. But we have to make sure we are enabling them to succeed. And if we are continually rewarding them (in their minds) with the things we don’t want, why should we expect change?

Other dog training articles:

How We Stopped Leash Pulling

Can a Dog be TOO Food Motivated?

*Below are a couple of the dog trainers that I give credit to for inspiring me and whom I continue to look up to during my journey as a dog owner:

Sophia Yin (an amazing woman who will always be an inspiration)

Lori Nanan (Your Pit Bull and You)

Loose Leash Walking: Putting an End to Leash Pulling

Loose Leash Walking: Putting an End to Leash Pulling

About a month ago, I walked Lola for the first time in almost two years on a regular collar. Without being pulled. I wasn’t sure if I would ever be able to say that.

As many of you are aware, a while back we switched to a trainer who uses all positive reinforcement and clicker training. And our experiences couldn’t be better.

In the few short weeks that we had been working with Linda Legare CPDT-KA-KPCTP, we made more progress than we did in several months at the first training facility we took Lola to when she was a pup.

Instead of punishing unwanted behaviors (i.e. pulling), we built positive associations with desired behaviors. We learned to be patient and consistent. We began to teach our dogs what we wanted them to do and rewarding them when doing so.

When we are outside, there are a squirrels, cars, birds, people…distractions. We had to increase the treat value whenever we were outside. For us, this meant using beef liver or chicken (hot dogs and lunchmeat are also great options). If I were to bring kibble or something ‘boring’, Lola would’ve never been willing to work for those – so that was part of figuring out what makes Lola tick.

We first worked on reinforcing Lola being next to our side and making eye contact. Whenever she would do so we would click and treat. We began building this focus inside our house and then brought her out in the yard and so forth.

When the walks began, we started out in the boring part of the neighborhood. We walked the opposite way from her favorite ‘run-crazy, play-disc-and-ball’ park. After all, we wanted to set her up to succeed.

We also only worked on strict heeling for about 5 minutes of the walk. We didn’t want to burn her out and as long as she wasn’t pulling on the leash, let’s face it, we were happy.

Loose Leash Walking: Putting an End to Leash Pulling

Possibly the most important thing we changed: we stopped allowing her to pull us. This was likely the hardest part, as easy as it truly is.

Lola walks on my left side – so to set up our walk position, I held the leash and clicker in my right hand (sometimes even put my wrist through the leash handle) and treats in my left (closest to her).

She then chose whether to keep the leash loose or walk out to the end of her leash with full tension on. I left the leash alone. I did not pull her back, I did not yank on it. Instead, I did my hardest to keep her attention. Patience is key here. This meant a short time between each command (combined with a lot of coaxing noises coming from my mouth, ha). Walk a couple steps, stop and sit, walk a few more steps, stop and sit. This kept her on her toes and thinking, about me, about what to do. Whenever she made eye contact > click, treat. Whenever she was in the correct heel position > click, treat. Whenever she sat next to my side > click, treat. In the beginning, it was a lot of click, treat, click, treat, click, treat. Note to self, bring a lot of tiny treats.

When she broke her concentration (which happened a lot) and ran to the end of her leash (also happened a lot), I stopped dead in my tracks and didn’t budge. The moment she broke the tension in the leash and turned back towards me > click, treat. This took longer than desired in some cases. And sometimes, she didn’t turn back to look at me on her own. In those instances, I looked next to my side where she should have been and said outloud, “Where is Lola? Come, Lola” and directed her to the correct position. Once she was there, we started all over again. Sometimes (quite often) we didn’t make it very far on our walks, but in reality – we did. We were taking baby steps that would soon prove their worth.

Once we started getting better and building focus, we began the walk on her harness (the Freedom Harness) and about one-third of the way into the walk, I would switch and clip the leash onto her regular, flat collar. The first few times it didn’t go so well. She immediately pulled to the end of her leash and my reaction was the same – stop. She looked back and turned towards me – yes!! Click, treat. I then began coaxing her along and maintaining eye contact for several strides and kept clicking and treating every time. Before I knew it, we had just walked at least 50 feet with her not pulling! I was beyond thrilled. Maybe, just maybe, we would be able to walk on the leash like a team one day!

Stop jerking the leash. Since switching trainers and methods, we had to nix this bad habit ourselves. Instead of ‘popping’ the leash if she didn’t do as we requested, we instead reward her for the good. The progress we made in just two months was mind blowing.

And as I mentioned before, another one of the most helpful tips was to use a shorter chain of commands. Walk a few steps and sit. Walk a few more steps – sit. Walk one step – sit. Keep your dog on their toes and thinking. This really worked great if Lola was having a hard time focusing on me. We weren’t making it anywhere in record time, but that wasn’t exactly our intentions.

This video below was from a recent walk we took together. I’m sooo proud of her.

Does your dog pull? Have you been able to make progress? I truly encourage you to find a trainer in your area and begin using clicker-training. Truly putting the time and effort in and setting a goal for you and your dog will make a world of difference. I used to get so frustrated with Lola and myself and would never make it more than a few days of trying a new method, but trust me, you can do it – we did!  Persistence, patience, and repetition.

Try not to get frustrated and only work on your walking for about 10 minutes at a time – and remember, even a few seconds of your dog focusing on you is improvement! If you notice yourself getting irritated, just stop and come back to it later. Good luck!


7 Tips for Crate Training

Can a Dog be TOO Food Motivated?

6 Remedies for Dog Allergies

Can a Dog be TOO Food Motivated?

Can a dog be too motivated to the point where they don't respond as well?! @lolathepitty

We packed up our stuff and I walked Lola outside to the car, both of our feet crunching down the ice and snow in the parking lot. She hopped in the back and I got in the front seat. I turned on the engine and just sat there for a minute, thinking, pondering. I was disappointed. I was somewhat disappointed in myself and in Lola. Were my expectations of her too high? How come she did not listen as well as I thought she would? What went wrong? How could it have been different? I thought I had done a great job of exposing her to different situations and settings. Is it my fault for even bringing her to this event, was I being selfish?

Which brought me to the question I was asking myself, “Can a dog be too food motivated”?

Earlier that month, I had brought Lola to an audition. A dog modeling audition to be exact (more on how we got into that will be brought up in another post). I thought to myself, “How cool is this, it seems unreal”?! I was excited and I  thought it was worth a shot, the experience can’t hurt and what the heck…it’s not like she’ll be picked anways.

The audition went great. Lola sat there like the little model she was for the (short) moment and wasn’t bothered one bit by the bright flash, equipment and people surrounding her. I only had to correct her once when she broke her stay, but overall she rocked it. I was so proud of her. All the ‘sit-stays’ and ‘down-stays’ we have been practicing were paying off.

Three weeks later I received the phone call – Lola was chosen.

They wanted LOLA for the photo shoot! My heart raced with joy and excitement.

I raced to pick up Lola, she jumped in the back of the car and drove up to the photo studio. The setup was very familiar to the one from the audition a few short weeks ago, only this time it was for real.

We arrived at the large, warehouse-type studio and waited for a short period of time before it was our turn. Lola was doing fine and was sitting calmly next to me. Since the shoot was for dog costumes, we tried a costume on her to make sure it was the right size. Everything was going fine. I had my training treats and she was staying focused. I expected her actions to follow our previous experience at the audition.

Once it was our turn, I was told to stand off to the side and the photographer was the one handling her (may have also contributed). They then brought out HAM and CHEESE! I’m sure Lola was thinking, “Wow! This is awesome.”. And then everything went down hill. She started losing focus, trying to sniff out that bowl of ham and became very anxious to receive the reward. She held her ‘sit-stay’ for about a minute and then began to lose focus yet again, becoming a little too interested in that strong aroma coming out of that bowl! At one point, she even ran off the set and over to a duffle bag. Well, this was a duffle bag chock-FULL of treats. This was not normal and I couldn’t help but continue to go back to my question.

So what exactly do I mean, “Can a dog be too food motivated?” Can a dog value food too much so that it begins to negatively effect your results when training. Can they begin to lose focus if they are too interested in the reward and not performing what you are asking of them?

Can a dog be too motivated to the point where they don't respond as well?! @lolathepitty

My immediate response was yes. I believe that had the situation been handled different, the results would have followed. I kept going through what could have been done differently. I would have taken away the ham, cheese, and other meat that was left open in a bowl. I would’ve used lower value treats in either a plastic bag or treat bag like we typically do. However, I am not an expert so I consulted with Lori Nanan, one of the trainers behind Your Pit Bull and You and owner of La Dolce Doggie.

Here is what Lori had to say, along with tips if you have experienced a similar issue:

“If a dog appears to be overly-interested in getting to the food without having done the work to do so, it’s possible there are a few things going on. One is that the dog has learned that the preparation of food, the putting on of the bait pouch and the moving to a specific location predicts training is about to begin and so becomes very excited. To address this issue, you can teach the dog that all of those things predict nothing and vary your food prep time, wear your bait pouch all the time and vary the locations and times that you train.

Another is that the smell of the food is very salient and therefore overshadows everything else, so the dog is unable to focus on anything other than that smell. In that case, placing food in a baggie inside a bait pouch can be helpful, or use a food that is a little less stinky. Making sure that you don’t reach for the food until the dog has completed the behavior is important and this is where a clicker or marker word can be helpful, because they buy you time to get the primary reinforcer to the dog. You always want to be sure to mark (or click) and then reach for the food (or have a stash in your other hand behind your back.) The dog is generally in more of a rush to get to the reinforcer than we are, so by marking the behavior, we are letting the dog know that it’s coming.

If food is consistently an issue, one could “close the economy” to some extent, which means that the dog earns part of his daily rations via training. By doing this, the food becomes more valuable to the dog and this generally increases motivation. You can also audition other classes of reinforcers, such as toys, play and simple praise.” – Lori Nanan, CTC, CPDT-KA

I immediately associated what had happened with the smell overshadowing everything else going on. Lola was unable to focus on anything and quite frankly began to lose her mind over that smell.

Have you ever ran into this issue with a dog?

Typically, I use this food reward continuum from Your Pit Bull and You below but I believe in this specific case, the treats used were actually too high of value.

Source: Your Pit Bull and You
Source: Your Pit Bull and You

The Yellow Ribbon – Good Idea or Not?!

The Yellow Ribbon (used to indicate a dog needing space) - Good Idea or Not?!

Many of you may already be familiar with the Yellow Dog movement as it has made it’s way around social media. But in case you aren’t, here’s a little more information:

The Yellow (Dog) Ribbon Project (used to indicate a dog needing space by tying a yellow ribbon on their leash) - Good Idea or Not?! Can you see the downsides?

The Yellow Dog Project is a movement created for dogs that need space. By tying a yellow ribbon or something similar to the dog’s leash you are indicating that this dog needs space, for whatever reason (or perhaps the human walking the dog… either way).

However, there has been much debate with this whole ‘yellow ribbon please ignore us’ movement. What do you think? Can you see the downsides? Are people taking it too far? Are we assuming the worst if a dog is wearing this ribbon on their leash?

Please visit me on Victoria Stilwell’s Positively Expert Blog where I’m discussing my opinion of the Yellow Ribbon Dog Project!

The Yellow Ribbon (used to indicate a dog needing space) - Good Idea or Not?!

You can print posters here & here.

The  Gulahund™ Yellowdog Program was originally founded in Sweden by Eva Oliversson and in June of 2012 The Yellow Dog Project was started by Tara Palardy, a dog trainer from Alberta, Canada. The Yellow Dog Project was inspired by the Gulahund™ Yellowdog Program.


My Dog Bit My Child – Dog Safety with Children

10 Signs You Should Not Adopt a Pit Bull

7 Tips for Crate Training Your Dog or Puppy

7 Tips for Crating your dog or puppy!

7 Tips for Crating your dog or puppy!
1. Make their crate a comfortable place and create positive memories in it!

If a dog only goes into their crate when they are in trouble or for long periods of time, of course they are going to dread going into it. Also, associate their crate with comfort and safety, after all this is their own little room. We keep our dogs blankets in there and also give them a toy that is safe to play with and a treat when they are first learning to go in. If you are having issues, you can even feed your dog his or her meals in it.

*At night, we cover Rio’s crate with a large blanket – this has completely stopped his whining in the early a.m. (likely caused by the sunrise).

2. Reward your dog or puppy for going into his crate.

You can do this with a treat or what we do is prepare a peanut butter-filled Kong for your dog whenever they are going in for a long period of time (3-5 hours). Just something to entertain them. Now, our dogs run to their crates when they see the peanut butter come out!

3. Play music while your dog is crated.

We actually have a dog DVD – filled with animal noises, outdoors, etc. This was free from a rescue that we volunteer at but you can also purchase them online or at book stores for a reasonable price. Otherwise, there is Dog TV now, but I believe it is $5 a month through your cable subscriber. But simply having the TV or music playing is comforting to your dog.

4. Don’t isolate your dog’s crate.

Keep the dog crate in an area where you spend a lot of time! I wouldn’t want to sleep in a dark dungeon that is only entered when it is for punishment or sleeping either. Both of our dog’s crates are in the living room.

5. Whining does not mean your dog gets out.

If you let your dog out of the crate every time he starts to whine, he will learn very quickly that when he whines, he gets rewarded. We were very lucky with both Lola and Rio as neither of them were major whiners, but if they would initially whine when put into their crate at night, they were ignored. We did not yell at them to “shut up”, we simply ignored them. Now if you think they truly have to go to bathroom, take them outside and immediately bring them back in. On that note, we always take our dogs out immediately prior to going to bed, or “nigh-night” as they know. 😉

6. Make sure your crate is big enough.

I can’t stand a crate that is borderline too small for a dog. I like our dogs to have enough room to stand up, turn around and be able to take a few steps around inside.

7. Leave the crate door open all the time.

This allows your dog to go in and out as they please. We find ours napping in there from time to time!


*If the dog is only in their crate for very long periods of time, try putting them in the crate and then returning after a very short period of time (10-15 minutes) then let them out and praise them for their good behavior.

-I am not a professional dog trainer, but these are just several tips that we follow and have worked fabulous for us. –

Do you crate your dog?! We have loved it and it made potty training a breeze. Lola only ever peed in her crate a couple times and Rio has NEVER. I guess I can’t blame him, I wouldn’t like to sleep in that either.

Check out our homemade dog treat recipes!

Dog Recipes