Park Smarts: How to Create Fun & Safe Dog Park Visits

Park Smarts: How to Create Fun & Safe Dog Park Visits

Blog post by Amber Quann CPDT-KA KPA-CTP

It's no secret that within the dog training industry not many of us are dog park fans. These public areas designated for off-leash play are often filled with anxiety for those of us that observe dog body language for a living, because they typically come with a lot of missed stress signals and a lot of potential for dog-dog conflicts that we can't not see.  Additionally, in our line of work we often hear from clients (or potential clients) who are seeking help to deal with new behavior challenges that have emerged after their dog had a bad experience with another dog at a dog park.  I recognize that our sample is certainly skewed, in that we don’t often hear from the owners whose dogs have had great experiences at the dog park and thus no emerging problems, but in speaking from our experience with our clients, dog parks aren’t always all happy, wagging tails.

However, since dog parks are a beloved feature in many communities, I think it is worth spending some time setting everyone up for the most positive, fun visits possible!  Here are a few ideas for making your dog park routine the safest possible for you, your dog, and others.


  • Be Alert and Engaged: If you are buried in a book, cell phone, or daydream, you might not be aware of what your dog (or other dogs playing with your dog) are doing. By staying alert and ready, you can better redirect a dog-dog conflict or other dangerous incident (i.e. your dog is about to swallow a rock!) before it even occurs.  Read up on dog body language too, so you can be watching for signs that your dog is stressed, overwhelmed, overheated, etc.
  • Encourage Your Dog to Take Breaks:Nonstop play isn’t always good play – dogs that haven’t taken a break are more likely to react negatively towards their playmates who push them too far. And the risk of health event like overheating or paw pad tears increase as your dog gets worked up. If you see your dog engaging in nonstop play for too long, try redirecting him to a quieter area (or a recovery leash walk outside of the dog park) for a break before coming back to play some more.
  • Build Good Routines:Warmer weather and sunny skies often brings out the “fair-weather dog parkers” whose dogs are out of practice with the dog park routine. Often the best times to go are during a drizzle, flurry, or cold spell, because the dogs and owners you meet during this time are the “rain or shine” crowd who will hopefully be more practiced in positive dog park manners. Don’t be a fair-weather dog-parker.
  • Teach Good Manners: One of the biggest areas where we see dog stress and tension is right at the gate of the dog park as a new dog is entering.  Dogs already at play in the park tend to rush to the gate to greet the newcomer, which can be overwhelming and cause unnecessary stress for everyone involved.  Teach your dog a good recall away from the gate, and to wait until his friend has entered completely before running up to initiate play. This and other good manners and social skills can keep your dog and other dogs safe and as stress-free as possible during park play dates.
  • Explore Other Adventures Too:Dog parks can be stressful (despite the fun), and going every day can cause this stress to stack up. Mix it up with a hike, and only do dog park visits as a supplement (instead of the only piece) to your dog’s exercise routine.  This will also give you other fun adventures to mix in if/when your dog stops enjoying the dog park environment as much as he once did – as dogs age, they often don’t enjoy the large group play atmosphere as much as they did as younger dogs. Training for other activities and adventures as well as the dog park visits can give you the most options getting your dog quality exercise and social interactions.

Happy Dog Parking!!


How Much Time is Included in an Hour-Long Dog Training Consult?

How Much Time is Included in an Hour-Long Dog Training Consult?

Blog post by Amber Quann KPA-CTP, CPDT-KA

How much time is included in an hour-long dog training consult?  Seems like a silly question, right?  The answer is actually a lot less obvious than you might think!

When it comes to dog training assistance, it is important to know what you are paying for!  While all dog trainers services are slightly different, I would bet that the majority of us are spending much more time dedicated to your appointment than the actual hour that we are there.  I thought I'd take a moment to explain a bit about what is included the tuition for a typical one-on-one training consult. 

  • Your trainer's complete attention for the hour-long appointment. During this time, you and your dog are the center of our universe.
  • Travel time to and from your house or other session location. In our town, this is typically 15-30 minutes each way. While some of us multitaskers might be able to answer phone calls and mentally prepare for our next training session while driving, the truth is that this back and forth time isn't the most productive - and it adds up quickly!
  • Emails with write-ups and homework and answered questions between sessions.  Depending on the uniqueness of you & your dog's situation, your session follow-up email could take between 15-30 minutes of additional time when we're back at the desk. And if you ask us great questions (which we love!) in between sessions, it adds more time while we try to write great answers. ;)
  • Content created just for you (or dog's like yours). We spend a LOT of time writing curriculum and handouts and YouTube videos to help you and your dog practice better between our sessions. Sometimes we create special content for you based on what we worked on in your lesson, and other times we are able to use handouts that we have created for other clients. Regardless, this content creation takes a big chunk of time, and seems like a long swim upstream as we are always adding to our list of new content to create! 
  • Experience and too many continuing education seminars to count. Progressive reinforcement dog trainers are learning junkies - we can't get enough of the science and applied applications of dog training, so we keep going back to learn more.  In addition, most of our certifications require continuing education credits in order to remain credentialed.  All of this means that we spend a lot of our time (and $$$) on conferences, webinars, books, podcasts, and other trainers' blogs - and curate all of that knowledge into better training applications for you and your dog.

To summarize this: 

Photo credit for header & photo used in graphic:  Tails and Trails Photography

Photo credit for header & photo used in graphic: Tails and Trails Photography

There's one more element of time included in your session that isn't included in this graphic.  It's a lot more subtle and unpredictable, but still a big part of the time we devote to some of our clients:

  • The time spent agonizing over what we could/should/would be doing differently to better help our students succeed.  The time spent wishing we could take out our magical dog trainer wand and instantly remove the frustration, pain, anxiety, fear, irritation, confusion, sadness, arousal, etc. that both our two legged and four legged students are dealing with - voila. This time isn't an essential piece of every session, but in my experience, it is automatically included in more sessions than it isn't. 

This is a lot of time, but we wouldn't change a thing (ok, well maybe we're always looking to change a few things, but that's for increasing efficiency on our end and not yours ;)

Students & Friends - we love sharing our time with you.  Thanks for spending it with us. Thanks for valuing our time and spending your valuable resources on dog training consults with us or other trainers who put just as much of themselves into their work as we do.  

Watch Your Trainer Train

Watch Your Trainer Train

The proof of the pudding is in the eating, as they say.

Quality professional dog training is more than just experience ("I've been doing this for 30 years!") or certifications ("I have the XYZ credential from ZYX!") or accomplishments ("I've titled 15 dogs in 10 different dog sport venues!") or marketing ("We are the #1 training company in town. . . although we can't offer any explanation on how that was determined!").  

Those things are important.  And something to be proud of and promote if it's being honest. But experience and credentials and accomplishments and marketing aren't worth a thing if your dog trainer can't put their skills into effective practice in their own homes with their own dogs. 


How does your trainer interact with their own dogs?  When you look at them, do you see the relationship that you want to have with your dog?  Do you see a bond that inspires you to keep working with your dog?  Do you see clear communication, teamwork, and an effort to keep learning together flowing from both ends of the leash?

I’m not suggesting that your dog trainer’s own dogs will be perfect in every way, and that they will never make mistakes. After all, dogs are dogs and humans are humans – both extremely fallible species who will never be able to maintain perfection all of the time.

So when you look at your dog trainer in action with their own dogs, you shouldn’t expect to see perfection all of the time. But what you should see is a commitment to learning and building a solid bond together through science-based training. You should see reflection of the relationship that you want to have with your dog. You should see patience and understanding (and ideally some good mechanical skills and training techniques along the way).   

To this end, Charissa and I are endeavoring to start a vlog series specifically devoted to showing videos of our unedited training sessions with our own dogs.  We want you to be able to see how positive reinforcement and science-based training looks as a lifestyle and a consistent habit, even if it isn’t always perfection (which is often isn’t).  We want to share some of our training goofs of poor timings and bad planning and unrealistic expectations – and show how to recover and learn from these mistakes within the positive reinforcement framework.

We invite you to take a peek into our relationships with our own dogs, because ultimately that is our best qualification for calling ourselves “professional dog trainers”. 

Without further ado, here’s Episode 1: 

The Dog who Doesn't Chase the Bunny

The Dog who Doesn't Chase the Bunny


Blog post by Charissa Beaubien KPA-CTP CPDT-KA

Hi baby shark parents (a.k.a. puppies),


This week I have a story to tell you about the dog who doesn’t chase bunnies.

Many of you have seen pictures of my dog Dylon or maybe you’ve met him. He is a 70-pound mutt. He has been with me for 8 years and is likely about 11 years old. Throughout the years my sweet dog has enjoyed many homes including some with other dogs. We have lived in a vehicle together, apartments, and houses. My years with him have taught me more than any book or degree has.

He has always been my sixth sense. When I was unsure about a person I would look at his reaction to them for guidance. When a noise would spook me in the woods I would peer in his direction to assure me. If I was unsure about a new place his nose would guide me to danger. And his sight would point me in the direction we needed to go. We have enjoyed adventure after adventure together and he is truly, what my grandma would call, a Mountain Dog finding his joy amongst the trees and streams.

As a young dog Dylon would bounce after deer, clear birds from our yard, and ferociously hunt rodents. I never cared that he chased other animals, I guess because the smile that he had on his face was one of those big pitty grins, which was different then his anxiety worry pitty grin, trust me there’s a difference, running and frolicking was the only time that happy full smile would brighten his dark face. He was daring as he crisscrossed the Colorado peaks or pranced across the Ohio plains. I wish my videos showed just the joy that would well up inside him as he darted and howled after animals.

As our journey has grown and we no longer live in the Rockies, I began to teach him to ‘ask’ to chase after the squirrels. For more science on that check out this episode of Drinking From the Toilet. So within the last few years Dylon will check in with me for the ‘ok’ to chase after animals.


Recently our walks and hikes have become shorter. My boy is getting older and his body cannot handle the romping he used to live for. I have seen his legs lose muscle, his eyes squint more, I have heard his groans as he stretches each morning. He no longer hears my truck turn the corner to our neighborhood or my door slam, he isn’t waiting at the window for me or at the door to greet me, instead he sleeps soundly unaware to the sounds that used to excite him. My heart and eyes swell when I think about all this. My gut churns as I know I will one day not have my sixth sense to count on. I feel guilty as I know one day another small bark will fill my ears, and a floppy land shark will wreak havoc on my home. I have put this day off because Dylon wasn’t ready. He had more to teach me.

Today a new lesson, on our walk my sweet old man romps ahead of me on his harness and long line (we were in a natural area in town and leash laws were present) I watch him frolic and sniff the ground. He could go miles without picking his nose off the dirt. I watch as his nose brings him almost face to face with a fluffy gray bunny. He looks up at the bunny (leash loose) and looks at me (a trained behavior, more on this here) I release him to chase the bunny immediately. He looks back at the bunny who starts to hazardously take a step away; Dylon moves closer. I can see him weigh this moment in his mind. He takes another step and the bunny darts to safety. My young boy would have given chase, that pitty smile overcoming his face. Today, Dylon watched the bunny scamper away. His body loosened and he turned back to me as if to say “Ya know Mom, today my body needs sniffing not chasing.” And then he placed his nose to the ground and continued forward.

All this in about 2 seconds. My body also loosened and I began to cry. We sniffed and walked our loop around the natural area my body convulsing with tears. My boy is getting old and I need to accept that new things can give him joy even if I still want him to chase the bunnies. For all my puppy parents, I give you this. Smile when your puppies chase the bunny, feel the grin come across your face as your puppy perks at every new noise around them. Chuckle when they are at the end of their leashes exploring the world. Your puppy finds joy and excitement in all of these things at this stage in their life and nurturing this excitement only makes your bond stronger. Sooner than you think a time will come that different things will excite them and as parents we must adapt and nurture these new behaviors. In the end I want to strive to be more like the dogs I work and live with, finding joy in the small things!


Please Pick Up After Your Dog, Because . . . Science.

Please Pick Up After Your Dog, Because . . . Science.

When I first started to think about this topic, my original title was not as nice or family friendly.  And the reasons I had as my content for "Why You Should Pick Up Your Dog's $#!T" were pretty much:

1. Because it's GROSS
2. Because we all have to live in this world TOGETHER
3. Because it's RUDE not too 

And so on. 

Not very helpful if you are someone who doesn't recognize those as valid reasons. It might not be gross to you and you might be someone who systematically doesn't give a crap about what impact your actions have on the lives of others. (I couldn't come up with a nice way to say that last part, sorry - but really I'm not here to judge.)

But there are other reasons to appeal to besides just being considerate of others. Some big reasons that could cumulatively have a big impact on our own health, our communities, and our earth as a whole.  So even if the appeal of common human decency doesn't persuade you to bag it up, perhaps a little nudge from science might?

1. Feces spread disease, in the form of viruses like Parvo, parasites like whipworms, hookworms and roundworms, and bacteria like giardia and coccidia.  These can spread from dog to dog, and some of these nasty things are transmittable to humans.  If your dog steps or rolls in a pile of poo and then walks into your house . . . I'll let you draw your own conclusions. 

2. Dog poop pollutes water. When we leave our dog's waste on the ground, rainwater and snow melt runoff carries all this nastiness to the nearest watershed.  This causes bacterial pollution in the water, as well as higher phosphorous levels that can cause damage to water quality and plant life. I couldn't help but chuckle (and grimace) at the EPA's Clean Water Campaign's slogan: "If you think picking up dog poop is unpleasant, try swimming in it." Gross.

3. Not picking up after your dog makes will make it harder for you (and every other dog owner) to find a place to live or stay that will allow your dog. Perhaps this is a little out of the science category and more in the common sense category.  If dogs are a nuisance in a community because their humans don't clean up after them, landlords will stop renting to tenants with dogs.  Or charge a higher fee for pet rent to compensate for the extra maintenance and wear and tear on their property. No one wants that. I love being able to live in a condo complex with my dog, where there are no private yards and consequently everyone's dogs poop all over the communal walking areas. But if it goes on like this, eventually, those rental (and buying) opportunities for properties like my home will disappear for those of us who insist on living with dogs. Let's not let that happen.

Roo & Dylon are loaning their beautiful model faces to the cause - who's with them? ;)  


Small Gremlins with Shark Teeth . . . A.K.A. Puppies

Small Gremlins with Shark Teeth . . . A.K.A. Puppies

Blog post by Charissa Beaubien KPA-CTP, CPDT-KA

Puppy chewing & biting.  It is the number one behavior ALL of my puppy parents talk about. Some more than others but everyone has questions, frustrations, or anxiety when it comes to puppyhood chewing/biting. It is a VERY frustrating behavior and it HURTS. I often joke that puppies are just small gremlins with shark teeth and no one warns people about that fact. I deal with countless puppies and their owners every day - this week alone I have worked with 17 puppies and its only Wednesday. I know that it can be a huge task to raise a puppy through teething. In my last blog post I talked a lot about structure . . . so now let’s talk about how we can structure our puppies' lives so that we all can succeed (and keep our fingers!)!


First some background on puppy learning and growing. A puppy’s mouth is a painful place for most of their young lives. It is important to understand that many puppies chew or bite because their mouth and teeth hurt. Humans take 12 years or more to bring in baby teeth and loose them, and then, of course, pop up adult teeth. Puppies go through these stages in about 6 months or less - YIKES! That doesn’t sound very fun. Puppies loose 28 teeth (some more and some less depending on the breed and individual) deciduous or milk teeth.  From there the adult teeth come in to replace those lost teeth and more so - puppies bring in their molars before 6 months of age for a total of 42 pearly white weapons. That means they are usually in pain from 8 weeks – 6 months as this process happens.  And then, these adult teeth need to ‘set’ which can take up to 18 months. Can you imagine those needles popping through your gums at that rate! OUCH!


As our puppies are working through this painful developmental period, we can help them by providing them a structure that allows them to learn and develop into the adult dog we want to share our life with. 

My recommendations for creating a structure that supports living with these land sharks are as follows.

  • Ensure your puppy has plenty of sleep! Sleep is highly important in puppy hood more so than almost anything else. Not only does your puppy need naps they need naps that are somewhere that they can completely relax, do not put the responsibility on your puppy to watch the house when they should be napping. Place them in an enclosed, somewhat boring place like an x-pen or crate and then give them a puppy pacifier (chew, kong, etc) and allow them to nap. If it is 6pm and you are playing with puppy and he charges open mouthed, it is likely due to being tired. That puppy needs a potty break and a nap.


  • Feed a high quality diet out of LOTS of puzzle toys. Give your puppy a new meal time puzzle toy and allow them to discover how to get their dinner out of it by themselves. Do not help, do not show them how it works, allow them to discover and learn. Coupled with that I also want to structure this by starting off with an easy puzzle and building as your puppy discovers they can accomplish SO MUCH if they just push themselves. We've blogged on this here and here if you want more on great puzzles and ideas!  


  • Finally, your home should have boundaries. Allowing a young dog to roam free is like giving your 2-year-old the keys to your car. Restrict rooms you know your puppy cannot make good decisions in. Baby gates are key. The rooms your puppy does have access to should be littered with chews, bones, Kongs, etc. NOT STUFFED TOYS – we'll talk about that another time. Just soft to moderately hard things for your puppy to put his mouth on that is appropriate. Believe me, spending $100 on these items now is way cheaper then replacing your furniture or carpet.

If your puppy starts to branch out and nibble on the couch, simply do an equal trade and restrict the couch room for now. Do not make their nibbling on other things a big deal, simply switch out items and move on. If a puppy learns they can get a reaction out of us (good or bad) they are usually more likely to keep nibbling. Some days you may exchange 2 items some days 900 this is a part of raising a land shark.


A good breeder will often keep puppies with mom and litter mates until they are 9-10 weeks which allows puppies to learn what is okay biting and what isn’t, at a young age. This is great bite inhabitation. Studies show that a puppy that leaves their litter and mom at an earlier age tends to be mouthier and show less bite inhibition as an adult.  Keeping your puppy with its litter may not be an option by the time you are reading this, but it can help you understand your puppy a little bit better.

There is a lot of information out there about puppy hood and raising a land shark. One popular point of advice is screeching ‘ouch’ when your puppy bits. Many times this works, it certainly makes us feel better, but let’s be honest that this is meant to scare our puppy into releasing our skin. For many puppies this can be scary, for others it is just right, and for even more puppies this is a great game that makes the human interact with me more! What I want to be clear about is that the only way to help your puppy and get you through these months is to have a structure for them to exist in that allows for learning and growth. At no point should we get mad at them because we brought them into our lives. If you feel frustrated just think about how they are feeling. Do not grab your puppies mouth, shove your hand into their mouth, or yell at them. Puppies do not understand why you are causing them pain and that will only create fear and possibly more desperate biting.

Enjoy puppy hood and remember to give your puppy what they need to succeed. This time period will pass and if you give your new learner the structure and tools for success while their brain develops you will have a well-rounded adult dog.


To all my land shark babies and their wonderful owners. Happy holidays!

It gets better, we promise!

It gets better, we promise!

Structure: Positive Training is Not "Do Whatever You Want"

Structure: Positive Training is Not "Do Whatever You Want"

Post by Charissa Beaubien KPA-CTP, CPDT-KA

I need to be answering emails but I find myself sitting and thinking about all the troubles of the world instead. So trying to find a healthy displacement behavior vs. scouring Facebook I decided to get some thoughts out of my brain.

One thought that I have is about structure. Structure is something I have with my animals, it’s something I have with myself. I think we can all agree that structure leads to better wellbeing and lifestyles. Yet I have seen countless posts or discussions about how positive reinforcement trainers allow dogs to ‘do whatever they want’. Heck, it’s a discussion I have with my boyfriend about raising children. The balance between freedom and structure. I believe there is a balance. And trust me I do not allow my dog to do whatever he wants nor would I suggest that to anyone I work with.

The difference for me setting up my structure so that my learner (including myself) has choices that will likely lead to the ‘correct’ choice. When they choose correctly they are rewarded. Then and only then. If we choose incorrectly hopefully we learn from that but oh well, I didn’t get a reward, I need to try again.

When we first teach a behavior we stack the cards so that our learner has a very high probability of making the correct decision. From there we start to add in more options (or distractions) but only when our learner knows what is expected of them, when they know that the structure is in place and we have their back.

This structure can be applied in so many ways in dog training (and in ourselves). Stay tuned for next week’s blog, on how structure plays a big part in one of the most common puppy challenges.


Dear Discouraged Force-Free Dog Trainer . . .


Dear Discouraged Force-Free Dog Trainer . . .

Oh wait, that's me.

And you, I presume, if you have spent a precious shard of spare energy clicking through to this post.

(And by the "force-free" label in the title of this missive, I simply mean any of the various ridiculously-numerous labels we can split hairs over while still remaining committed to the common chord of using the least amount of force and the most amount of science in the dog training principles we employ with our clients and our own dogs.)

Back on track now, so:

Dear Us,

You know that one time (or is it 20 times now? I've lost count.) where you saw someone treating their dog (or their client's dog) in a way that made you really, really sad/angry/defeated/[insert other negative emotion here]?  

Or that email that you got last month from a client about how their neighbor recommended a bark collar and they think they're going to try it because they just can't put the time in to get the dog the exercise needed to reduce the behavior challenges like you recommended?  We all know those emails. The ones that have made our insides turn with all the anguished feelings.

Or what about that time when a client told you they are taking their sweet puppy to a dominance-based trainer because "positive training seems really great for most dogs, but my dog is a [insert any freaking breed (or species) needed as an excuse here] and they need a ‘special’ type of training"?


Even if these aren’t your exact scenarios, unless you live in a utopia where scientifically-sound dog training is already the mainstream in your neighborhood (in which case what’s your secret?), you have likely faced defeating moments just like these in the course of your career and just day-to-day life. 

I’m not here to talk about how we fix this. Yes, there is something broken here that allows forceful training to continue to hold a significant market share in our industry. Yes, it needs to be addressed. But first I think we need to fix something else.

We need to fix Us.

What’s wrong with us? What causes us to be undone by the merest of brushes with anything connected with the “underbelly” (as we often consider it) of our industry? Is it just that we care too much?

But when we respond to these triggers with reactivity (whether expressed outwardly in the moment, bottled up inside, or blurted out in an angry Facebook rant), that doesn’t seem like an expression of excessive care.  That seems like a supercharged conditioned emotional response that may be rooted with a little bit of rationality but that has been blown WAY out of proportion.  Just like our reactive dog students that we meet with day in and day out.

I am so guilty of this. (I can confess to shedding a few tears of realization as I have been working this out in my head and on paper.) I’m very quick to write a ranting post on Facebook about something I’ve seen that makes my stomach turn – the commiseration I get from my force-free friends and colleagues makes me feel justified in my righteous anger. On the other side of the coin, when I have had clients make what I consider to be bad decisions about their dogs, I tend to bottle up my anguish and defeat inside until I have a hard time remembering why I get out of bed in the morning to do what I used to love to do.

Don't get me wrong, there may be a proper place for ranting. There may also be a place for bottling up and pressing on.  But systemically, we cannot keep doing this to ourselves.

Focusing on these negative aspects of our lives and careers causes anxiety, fear, anger, frustration, burnout, depression – sounds a lot like the list of potential fallout connected to aversive training methods. This is NOT what force-free training is about. Spending our energy this way is not healthy or fair – to our clients, to our own dogs, to ourselves. 

So what do we do instead?

The modern dog training mantra for changing unwanted behavior in our dogs can be boiled down to “reinforce what you like, redirect what you don’t”.  We talk a lot about creating differential reinforcement of incompatible behaviors, or classical counter-conditioning (CCC) to build a different (and more preferable) emotional response. We do these processes with our clients’ dogs all the time.  So how can we apply them to ourselves too?

I’ve been thinking a lot about this today.  I don’t have all of the answers, but here are the ideas (the incompatible behaviors and the counter-conditioning tools) that I’ve come up with so far.  I’ll be writing these for myself in an accessible place, and trying to find one or two to implement next time I feel a reactive response coming on.

  • Find grace for otherschalk it up to ignorance rather than willful mistreatment
  • Celebrate the little winswhat client did you see this week that really gets it?
  • Help the dogs & humans that you canfor every bad egg, there are 2-3 dozen good eggs at least
  • Engage in positive discussion with traditional trainersnot sure how exactly to do this, but I really want to try harder in this area!
  • Make time for self-caretry CCC with yourself. Take your own dog for a hike or training session every time you have an experience that makes you feel defeated. I practiced this one today and it was marvelous.

I know this doesn’t fix all the problems for every dog in the world who still has to deal with the fallout from traditional training methods. But we have to set ourselves up for success too. If we trigger-stack and get reactive to the other inhabitants of the dog training industry, we can’t help anyone, least of all ourselves, in the enormous task of changing the dog world for the better.

I'm working on myself with this too. Feel free to redirect me in a more preferable direction when you see me exhibiting reactive tendencies. Because that's what we as modern dog trainers should be all about with ourselves as well as our dogs. We don't needed to be perfect all the time (letting a rant escape here and there is ok!), but if we can consistently take baby steps in the right direction, gradually building the behavior we want to see, we can build more positive relationships with ourselves and others. Only then can we achieve great things together.

Much love,

- Amber



What's the Magic Word?

What's the Magic Word?

I am often asked what specific verbal cue to pair with certain behaviors, or whether there is a special word that can convey automatic meaning to the dogs for those high-stakes skills like recall and loose leash walking. I believe some of this is rooted in the images still lingering from traditional dog training of past decades, as the “well-trained dog” is seen responding to loud delivery of common commands like “Come!” “Heel!” “Off!” etc..

My answer to these questions about what cue to use is always the same – whatever word you like best!  There is no magic word, merely sounds or collections of sounds that our dogs can perceive.  The real magic (or science, actually, but you can call it what you want J) is how quickly our dogs pair these meaningless sounds with specific behaviors and learn to respond to the cue – it becomes a green light to perform a behavior they already know well (and hopefully love to do!).

Even though there is no “magic word” that immediately conveys meaning and prompts “obedience” across the dog species, I do believe there is a special word that can have more than average usefulness to your individual dog. 

Characteristics of this “magic word”:

  • It is usually short and rolls easily off your tongue
  • It is pretty easy to remember, because you likely already use it often
  • It is easy to train, because your dog probably already has at least a basic understanding of what it means
  • It is applicable to all sorts of situations

Can you figure out what the magic word is? It's your dog’s name!

This is the single most powerful and meaningful collection of sounds you have for communicating with your dog. When trained intentionally and positively, it is the first step in interrupting and redirecting lots of undesirable behavior; it is also the first step in prompting lots of desirable behavior!

Because of its usefulness in all sorts of situations, and the ways we as humans tend to take this cue for granted, the Name Game is the very first skill we teach in all of our classes and private lessons.  And it’s just as important for dogs that have known their name for a while as it is for dogs that are just learning a name for the very first time.

So let’s do a little review!  Start with the Ping-Pong Game, which is a great foundation focus exercise.

Ok, did your dog ace that one?  Now you are ready for the Name Game!

Now that you’ve primed your dog’s name and turned it into a really fun game, your challenge is to use your name cue in more challenging situations.  Here are a few ways to think about applying this during your normal routine this week:

  • When your dog is pulling ahead on his walk, instead of tugging on the leash, first stop and cue his name.  If he looks back at you, reward with either a treat or the chance to continue on with the walk.
  • If your dog is about to get into something she shouldn’t (like the plate of food left on the coffee table), instead of yelling, first start by cuing her name in a happy excited voice.  If she turns away from the food, throw a party with some high value rewards of her own!
  • When you hear your dog barking in the backyard, instead of knocking on the window or shouting through the door, start by calling your dog’s name.  If he stops barking (even briefly), praise him verbally, or take a treat or toy out into the yard to play for a minute.

If these or any other situations you apply your name cue are too challenging for your dog, take it back down a step and work at a slightly lower difficulty and then work back up.

Remember, with great magic comes great responsibility.  Try to avoid using your dog’s name in anger, or over-using your dog’s name when he is in an overwhelming situation where he can’t respond the way you would like. But if you are able to put a lot of history into this one cue at easy, achievable levels, it can become like your magic word.  Pretty cool, huh? 

Happy training!

CSU Senior Design Project: Canine Exoskeleton for Rehabilitation

CSU Senior Design Project: Canine Exoskeleton for Rehabilitation

We are passionate about keeping dogs and their people active together. This senior design project by a team at CSU has great potential for doing just that for dogs that are fighting a debilitating neurological disease like DM. We are excited to see how this project develops and wanted to share that enthusiasm with you. Check it out! - Amber Q. 

Guest post by Hannah Mikelson, Mechanical Engineering Senior at Colorado State University

Hello fellow dog lovers!


My name is Hannah and I am a member of the Canine Exoskeleton for Rehabilitation project! Myself and five other biomedical, mechanical, electrical, and computer engineering students at Colorado State University are passionate about helping dogs and are building a rehabilitation device as part of our senior design capstone project. When completed, this device will help large dogs with neurological disabilities and hind limb paresis regain motor function and muscle tone!

Why is there a need for such a device?

While many dogs are afflicted by neurological diseases such as degenerative myelopathy, intervertebral disc disease, and acute peripheral nerve diseases, large dogs are especially difficult to handle in a rehabilitation setting. Rehabilitation Specialists at veterinary hospitals not only have to lift 100lb dogs, they also have to move the dogs’ limb in a semi-natural movement to help the canine relearn how to walk. This is a great burden to put on the dog caretaker. After speaking with specialists and veterinarians at the CSU Veterinary Teaching Hospital, and meeting recovering canines, our team was motivated to build a device that would alleviate many of these difficulties. Our exoskeleton will do this by supporting the dog’s weight, moving the hind limbs at specified speeds and ranges of motion determined by the caretaker, and allow for variable support and movement based on the dog’s stage of recovery!

How does it work?

This exoskeleton will incorporate many motors, sensors, pneumatics, and a lot of cool engineering stuff! Once fully developed, the device will be tested in a controlled rehabilitation setting on dogs with varying neurological damage and hind limb paresis.


By working with the CSU Veterinary Teaching Hospital and local canine prosthetics company, OrthoPets, we have gained great insight into how our device may be utilized, and have had incredible opportunities to meet the dogs that our device may help in the near future! I cannot think of a better way to finish my college career, than to help save lives of our canine companions.

If you or someone you know has had a dog that could benefit from this device, we would love to hear about your experience! Please reach out to us by email at

Want to learn more about or project? Please visit our website here.

We are fundraising!

Are you interested in supporting this life-improving project?  Please donate to our crowdfunding campaign here. (Hurry! Our campaign ends November 9th!)

Or by donating through CSU here. (In the comments section please write: “Donation to Canine Exoskeleton for Rehabilitation”).

The Canine Exoskeleton for Rehabilitation Senior Design Team

The Canine Exoskeleton for Rehabilitation Senior Design Team