Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Dachshund Positive Training!

I often encounter trainers who believe that a positive reinforcement trainer cannot get the kinds of results that they do...
Here is my miniature longhair Dachshund showing off some of his skills!

Friday, October 31, 2014

What do I want from my dog?

The last post I shared was about why I prefer positive reinforcement. I spent awhile thinking after posting about the dogs I have trained through various methods. One element that I realized is that my most recent dog, Andreu, who has had more consistently positive training in his life than any of my other dogs (partly because I started with him so young and partly because I previously utilized more aversive techniques), is the most charismatic, happy, goofy dog I have ever had.  This made me think about what it is that we all want in a dog. I have loved every dog I have ever owned, and all have been amazing examples of the human dog relationship. 
However, Andreu has made me laugh every day he has been with me...his goofy antics bring a smile to my face, and I can't help but wonder, if I had trained my previous dogs with the same methods, would they have been able to express their own personalities more? 
This may seem like a silly concept to some, but really, what is a dog there for? Why do people want to have dogs in their lives? Is it so that we can show that we have a trained companion that can do whatever we tell them to at any moment? Don't get me wrong, Andreu is very well behaved, and has received compliments in the Rally Obedience ring for his exceptional training. He also competes in agility and has been very successful, also receiving comments about how fast and willing to work he is. But Andreu is a character; he is goofy and happy all the time, sitting on the couch with his paws up like a person would, licking the face of the people he knows and likes, jumping straight up in the air when he is excited about something. He will rub up against you like a cat so that you will strach the spot just above his tail, he will randomly go into the bedroom and start rolling around on the bed barking at himself in a random game he likes to play. He loves other dogs and will play with them if they are willing, he gets excited in new places and wants to interact with any new dog around.  All of these antics could easily be distinguished "ill-behaved" but they make me laugh, none of them are breaking his rules of my training, and they all make him happy.
So, the question is, what do I want in a dog? I have some particular specifications being a dog trainer. With Andreu, I wanted a dog who likes other dogs, and can help me work with dogs to understand social manners. I also wanted a dog you loves agility and would perform for me when asked. Above all, I wanted a dog who I enjoy spending time with, and Andreu is absolutely all of those things. 
I see many trainers, and training videos/shows, out there that advocate having a well-behaved dog, and believe me, I love having a well-behaved dog too, but more so, I prefer having a dog who I enjoy spending time with, who makes me laugh, and makes each day more enjoyable.
A dog doesn't need to be trained as a soldier to enjoy life, actually the opposite, a dog can be well behaved and also exuberantly happy. 
The problem that I have seen recently in the dog ownership community is that people have a tendency to see a "trained" or "well-behaved" dog as one who does nothing other than follow orders, and others see misbehaved and wild dogs as comical. 
There is a happy medium. You can have a dog that is well-behaved and goofy/happy/exhuberant at the same time! However, this is gained through positive reinforcement training. 

One of the biggest issues that I face as a positive reinforcement trainer is that many of my clients have already implemented aversive techniques, based on tv shows, or recommendations by their friends, neighbors, or random strangers. If they are using some of those techniques, and some of mine, it can become confusing for the dog, and often leads to mediocre results at best, because the dog doesn't really understand what to do. 
I know, everyone thinks they are a dog trainer, because they have trained their own dog, or watched a show. Everyone is willing to doll out advice as if they know what they are talking about. I understand that this is a controversial point that will hit home for a lot of people, but here is the reality; just because your neighbor/friend/ect. has trained 1-6 dogs in their lifetime, does that mean that they are an expert? I can easily say that I have trained about 3,000 dogs (on a conservative estimate), and I have probably used the methods that have been recommended to you at one point or another. If I don't use them now, it's because I have found that although they may be effective in some cases, they are not in all, and more so I may have found that the fall out of these methods are not worthy of their use in the first place. 
This is why people hire a trainer, to gain their expertise. 
To be fair, I am a very lenient dog trainer; I try to not be pushy about how to do things, but please, don't mistake my consideration for lack of knowledge. There are thousands of people who will tell you that they have the answers for dog training, and you can try their thousand different methods, or you can hire an expert who can tell you the upsides and downsides to the different training methods. 
Ultimately, my point is, I would rather have a dog who I enjoy living with, and is well-behaved. I have made my mistakes, and I am the first person who would encourage people not to do the same thing. 

If you want a dog who is a soldier, shut down, and only listens to orders, then by all means, be as harsh as you like, as much as it pains me for the sake of the dog. But, if you want a dog who is well-behaved, and also happy, charismatic, funny, and enjoyable, then call a REAL trainer, who will help you find a way to create that kind of a relationship. Take their advice...don't mix your own experience with their recommendations, just try it out for awhile and see what you get.

Thank you for listening to the struggles of a dog trainer.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Why I Train With Positive Reinforcement

I started training at a very young age. Not that my family was involved in training, or even had dogs, but I was drawn to working with dogs from the time I was young. I wanted a dog more than anything, but my parents didn't want the responsibility of taking on a dog at the time. Both had grown up with them, but knew the difficulties entailed with keeping a dog in a condo with a child and many different responsibilities to uphold.
I ended up with cats, who I learned how to train, and I also ended up in the horse world, working towards goals in the hunter jumper ring. I eventually ended up working as a horse trainer's assistant, and an exercise rider.
When I finally convinced my parents to get a dog when I was 11 years old, I had already done intensive research on dog training, dog breeds, and dog health.  I had begun working with a rescue and adopted a year old dog who had issues with bolting out the door and running away, and I was told that he was "untrainable" and "not very smart".
Using the skills that I had at the time, I did a combination of aversive and positive reinforcement training, although I mostly focused on the aversive as that was the vast amount of knowledge I was able to find in the library. 
His training went well for the most part; I stopped him from bolting out the door, and taught him various behaviours that were very useful. However, there were a few things we had problems with...he would pull on the leash, no matter how manny corrections, and he always seemed slow to respond to the basic cues, like sit or down. It was also difficult to engage him in new behaviors, as he would prefer to just sit still if uncertain. Ultimately, I really wanted to do agility with him, but after awhile he refused to do the sport. It took me quite awhile to figure out why. He didn't think that training was any fun.
I fostered many dogs within this time, and had very good results with potty training and teaching basic household behaviors.
My second dog, a rescued border collie, was much more excited about agility, but health issues kept us out of the competitive ring. A bad experience in a dog park led to some serious aggressive issues with other dogs, and this is where I learned my most valuable lessons about dog training.
No matter the punishment I issued, my border collie would still attack any dog that came near, and my frustration grew. During this time I had also taught her many tricks and behaviors, and unless she was around other dogs, she was an amazingly well behaved and very impressive dog. However, her dog issues were such a problem that I didn't know what to do. She would stare at the other dog, completely ignore me, and attack if the dog came near. No amount of corrections I gave ever seemed to make a difference, and often sometimes made the situation worse. I had worked with some other dogs with similar issues, and been successful with corrections, but my own dog would not respond. 
Finally, I decided to try something different. I utilized my clicker, and when a dog was present I waited for her to change her intense stare from the dog to me, and I would click and treat. I soon saw a dramatic improvement in her behavior, and came to realize that her intention had never been to defy my authority, but instead it was about her trying to ward off potential threats for the both of us.
She had been trying to keep us safe, as she saw other dogs as a threat. No matter how much I had punished her, she was always clear that other dogs posed a threat and she was doing her best to ward them off at all costs, even if I scolded her (and probably more so because she knew that another dog present meant a scolding, so she wanted to tell them to "get away!!")
When I started rewarding her focusing on me around other dogs, her behavior began to change. She started to become much more calm and confident around other dogs, understanding that her job was to look to me to handle the situation, rather than trying to handle it herself.
I started to implement these methods with other dogs I worked with and saw much better results...not always immediate, but much more satisfiing and sustainable in the long run. 
She became my best demo dog, never showing any issues with other dogs, and in fact starting to LIKE some of the dogs she encountered. 

I decided at this point that I needed to implement a much more positive approach to dogs. Even though it sometimes took a bit longer, the overall results were phenomenally more successful, and led to happier (and I may venture to speculate), more heathy and long lived dogs. Happy and healthy dogs, much like people, will often live happier and longer lives, as they have less stress and fear to deal with. 

This realization encouraged me to train in a much more positive way, and the results I have seen in my dogs, as well as my students, has been dramatic. I now have dogs who are always happy to work, are never reluctant to perform behaviors, and enjoy every moment with their people.
That, to me, is success in dog training. 

I still get to have all of the obedience that I want out of my dogs, but I also experience so much more joy in working with them.

Overall, the results with my students have improved vastly.
Whereas I once had dogs who would sometimes respond well to aversives, and be well-behaved, I now have a much higher rate of success with training. I never have dogs who "lash out" aggressively in response to their training, instead, I have dogs who are exuberant and happy about working, and I only need to deal with curbing their enthusiasm, which is an issue I would rather deal with any day of the week. 

Ultimately, I choose to train with positive reinforcement methods because it not only works better, but it also creates a better training experience and relationship for the person and dog.

I have used aversive training before, and I have had a lot of success with it, but not nearly as much as I can have with positive training.

I am not naive to the methods of aversive training. I have utilized them successfully, and I know how they work. But I choose a different method, because I believe that it can work just as well in getting the behaviors that I want, and better in getting to have the dog that I want to live with. 

I hope everyone can embrace training their dog in a way that makes both the dog and the person happy. After all, what is the point in having a dog if it's not an enjoyable and wonderful experience?

Thank you for reading.

Monday, September 8, 2014


The work of a dog trainer is often very different than what most would consider a "regular job". There are ups and downs, of course, and sometimes it is hard to get myself into the "work" mode for the day. 
However, being a dog trainer is so is stressful (especially in the first meeting) because a dog trainer works hard to create a good impression, and because people are trusting us to not only help them, but also keep their dogs safe and happy; there is a lot of stress involved. 
To understand what a dog trainer goes through daily is difficult...we work in a profession that offers no REAL degree, so we can't rely on credentials like a lawer or doctor does, as those credentials don't really exist. We have all worked towards this profession in different means, and there are tons of other trainers out there who we are competing with, and often working with, so it is very clear that in our first session or class we are often being tested for our expertise and effectiveness. 
Many times I have people express that they believe it must be so wonderful to be able to work with dogs everyday. Believe me, it is, but it is also hard work. 
It's not very often that a trainer will break down the cost that goes into all of the time and effort we put into our work, but I would like to give everyone out there an idea. 
Working with an established company (as I do) means that I have a wonderful team of trainers to work with, and talk to for feedback and expertise that is not easy to come by on your own. This also means that I have someone to field calls, schedule sessions, and plan classes and curriculums all while I am out doing the training. My company in particular also has an office with staff who are ready to help when I don't have the time. Needless to say, all of this is expensive, not to mention that the trainers try to keep up on the most recent research and progressive ideas to give our clients the best experience we possibly can. 
We go to meetings, seminars, take classes of our own, and compete with our dogs in different dog sports in order to stay relevant and up to date with the most modern techniques in dog training. 
This is a very expensive venture, but gives us the best opportunity to provide the best service to our clients. 
We spend a great deal of our time driving to our clients houses, and then making sure that they have a successful session. 
As independent trainers, we also have the responsibility of dealing with the business aspect of training, and handle paperwork, taxes, scheduling, and marketing all on our own. 
Completing 2 or 3 sessions in one day is exhausting (and often we are doing more...I will regularly complete 4-8 sessions in one day, not including classes), because we are putting all of our effort and expertise into making sure that we give the best results possible, but is not as lucrative as most people think. For every session we work hard to do our best, and there is no down time in a session or a class; we are actively participating every moment that we work. When we are not actually in session, we are completing paperwork, working on our websites, returning phone calls or emails, and working to promote new classes and business and make new connections. 
Dog training is a wonderful profession if you love it, but it is not an easy one. As a dog trainer, you are ALWAYS working, and the work is stressful, although gratifying. 
Occasionally, we encounter a client who thinks our fee is "too expensive" or wants results immediately "like they see on tv" (which could open up a whole new conversation about the editing of reality tv, and how it is so geared toward "shock value" and marketing....but after all, do you really think that tv dog trainers go to multiple sessions within one day? Or that they charge the same amount as a trainer you would hire to come to your house? Or that they are not making their living on the tv show rather than the actual clients??). 
As dog trainers, we all work hard to give the best experience we can...however, there are not only many different types of dog trainers, but also many different levels and qualities of dog trainers. 
The point of this post is to help the everyday person understand that when you do your research and find that amazing trainer, please don't be shocked by the price they quote you...understand that we are all working hard to make a living, and us dog trainers are not living in mansions making money hand over fist, we are often struggling hard just to survive every day...and many of us are putting any excess money that we have right back into our education of dog training so that we can provide the best experience possible, because this is our's what we love to do...beyond our friends' and families' reccomendations that we find something else to provide us with the "all-mighty" dollar. 
Don't think for one minute that we are making a huge profit charging the $100-$250 (or more) a session...the amount of time put into those sessions doesn't even begin to cover all of the costs that we put out to make sure that our clients are getting the best experience possible.

**I will make a point to say here, that there are probably tons if trainers out there who charge less than this, and if they do, there is a possibility that 1) they are not doing this for a living and therefore have means to sustain them beyond their passion for dog training, and good for them! As they are doing something that they love! And possibly 2) that they are not spending the time, money, or effort, to further their eduction and/or experience to make them a worthwhile trainer.
I am not trying to put anyone down, but there is a huge difference in being a dog trainer as a "profession" and doing it as a hobby.  Just because your neighbor down the street says that they train dogs, it doesn't mean that they can create the same results as a professional does...even if they charge half of what we do.
Do your research and, please, understand that for most of us, this is not only our job; it's our passion, it's our life, it's what we do in order to try to make the world better, one dog at a time. 
Dog training is a career that is chosen for the love of dogs.
I appreciate every client that I have and have experienced immense appreciation in response. 
Thank you to all of my wonderful clients, and I hope only that with this information you understand all that I do to make every experience all that much better!!

Thank you!
Katie McGuire
My Best Friend Obedience

Friday, May 30, 2014

"Reactive Dogs"

I currently teach a "Growly" class for reactive dogs, and a conversation about it came up in a Pyrenean Shepherd forum I am a part of. Members of the forum asked me to express my opinion of what a "reactive" dog is.  
This is honestly not an easy question, even though it might seem that it is. First of all, I will give a little background...many breeds are intended to be somewhat "reactive". Surpising as this may be, prior to about 150 years ago, many dog breeds were intended to be alert dogs, or protection dogs primarily, or aside from their other duties.  The bahaviors that were prized in those dogs at the time would today be considered unsocial or even aggressive. Many breeds have been bred into "social" and "friendly" dogs because our society has changed. 
*I will take a moment here to note that I am primarily speaking of the perspective of the general population of the United States, and owners in this country.  

The Pyrenean Shepherd is a very old breed, and for the most part has stayed very true to it's original intent, without much changing within the last few hundred years. The temperament test for the breed still specifies that it is preferred for the dog to be cautious or wary of strangers, and it is entirely acceptable, if not welcomed, that the dog bark or show uncomfortability of a stranger approaching. 

During this conversation I mentioned that my Pyr Shep, Andreu, often works as my distraction dog in my "Growly" classes and does very well. I was asked what I determine to be a "reactive" dog versus a "normal" dog based on the groups understanding that Pyr Sheps are expected to be wary of strangers, and possibly bark at them (as are many other breeds).  The following is my response to this question: 
"I constantly try to explain to people that each breed has it's own instinctual tendencies (and in my world this is difficult to explain to people who have been "trained" to believe that ALL dogs must be friendly and tolerant. . . often based on certain TV trainers telling people that a "balanced" dog is one who accepts and tolerates anything. . .).  But, for those of us who are really involved in the dog world, we know that certain breeds are intended to be wary, or even protective, instinctually, and usually it is the breeds who are still closest to their original intent.  It was only within our recent history, and only in certain areas (countries), that people seem to have a hang up that ALL dogs should be friendly and loving to everyone they meet.
OK, rant done.  So, in answer to your question, I consider many different levels of "reactive" dogs, but for the class we generally have dogs who are difficult to take out into normal society because their barking, growling, lounging, etc. makes them a nuisance for their owner, or for society.  
Andreu is the only Pyr Shep that I have owned, so I can only use him to explain my opinion on the line between "natural" or "normal", and reactive with the breed.  First, I believe that even if a dog has natural tendencies, you can still train them to listen and overcome these tendencies when you want them to.  It is still Andreu's natural tendency to be cautious with new people, and if they look particularly intimidating, or very different from most of the people he knows, he will still bark at them.  He is much better with dogs than he is with people, but I think that this is because I spent much more time socializing him with other dogs when he was young than I did with people.  
The reason he works so well in my Growly Class is that I use him as a distraction for the DOGS.  He likes pretty much all dogs, and has also learned that when he is in public he should be focused on me and working.  Now, if I put him in a crate, or tied him to a post, he would likely bark at any suspicious person who walked by, but when we are working he is focused on me, and so not paying attention to the people around.  
Andreu has passed his CGC test, which includes being pet and examined by a stranger (but then again, so does conformation showing), but the entire time he was in "working mode", focused on me, and we had practiced each exercise regularly to get him used to them, and to teach him to understand that if I put him in that situation it is not a threat.
I suppose in general my answer would be, that I consider a "reactive" dog different from a naturally cautious dog because the reactive dogs I work with have been trained (which is a requirement for Growly Class) and are still having issues understanding how to be "under control" and follow their training in certain situations.  We work on creating positive associations with whatever it is the dog reacts to in order for them to feel more comfortable encountering those things."

I felt that this was an important element to post because there are many people out there who are sincerely confused about why their dogs are reactive to new dogs, people, or situations. It is important for any dog owner to understand that when you choose a certain breed, line, or even a rescue, you have to be aware that just because your dog barks at new things doesn't mean that they are "bad". Often, it just means that they are doing what they think they should do, and what is instinctual to them. Our job is to show them that we prefer that they react a different way, even if it seems unnatural to them.  They are never showing these behaviors because they don't "respect" us, they are showing them because want to protect us and themselves.
 Please, don't punish your dog for trying to do what in his mind is "right"...protecting his family. Instead, work on teaching him what you WANT him to do, and practice socializing him to the positives of humanity and the human world with treats, praise, and play. 

I offer my Growly Class to help people understand how to deal with their "reactive" dogs so that we can enjoy our experiences with them as much as possible. 

Thank you for reading.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

My Best Friend Obedience

It has been about a year and a half now since I was lucky enough to begin working with Karen Taylor and My Best Friend Obedience.  A lot has happened in that time, and I couldn't be more thankful to work with such wonderful people, and have so much growth. 
In this time I have been allowed the opportunity to create my own curriculums, learn and grow constantly, and to focus on client's needs more than ever before.  I truly feel that I am part of something great. 

Our partnership with other companies has been a wonderful element, providing the opportunity for indoor classes, at The Pampered Pet Hotel and Spa. . .

As well as Board & Train sessions for the dogs staying there. . .

As well as our partnerships with companies like Jump City Agility who we provide a specialized Focus on Agility class for. . .

And in home private sessions through MBFO exclusively that allow is to give the most in-depth one-on-one training available. . . 

Thank you to Karen Taylor and My Best Friend Obedience for allowing me to be a part of your wonderful work, and to grow as a trainer. 

To learn more, please go to

Grand Opening at the new location of The Pampered Pet!

My Best Friend Obedience will be continuing our relationship with The Pampered Pet Hotel & Spa at their new location in Northridge!

Andreu and I got a sneak peak at the new digs!

Can't wait for the Grand Opening and new My Best Friend Obedience classes! 

Andreu's First Rally Competition

Andreu and I at his first Rally Obedience competition!  

We competed in both Rally-O and Agility that weekend, and I was so proud with Andreu's performance!  His first two times in the Rally ring earned him scores of 94 and 96!  We really hadn't done much training for the Rally ring, so I was exceptionally happy with our results  :-)  Only one more leg to earn our RN title!

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Puppy Head-Start

Congrats to the newest Puppy Head-Start graduates! Don't miss out on our next round of Puppy classes starting Sunday March 2nd, at 3:30! This class is all about setting your puppy up for success! The class focuses on socialization; with people, other puppies, new sights, sounds, environments and textures! Socialization is the key to success with a young pup. We sanitize the floor before the pups come in and make sure that everyone is up to date with their vaccinations to be sure that we have the most safe environment possible for your new pup to learn in! It is never to early to start, and with gentle, positive reinforcement based techniques, you can create a relationship with your puppy that will last a lifetime! The Puppy Head-Start class also focuses on basic issues like potty training, teething, appropriate puppy manners, how to greet new people and dogs, and simple obedience cues. If you have a puppy, don't miss out on their early socialization period! I recommend that anyone with a new puppy should attend this class! For a little more background on why early socialization is so important, check this out:

Don't hesitate! Your puppy's socialization skills are crucial, and the earlier you start, the better! For safety reasons, we require that your puppy be at least 10 weeks old and have their first 2 sets of vaccinations. But, you can even start earlier with private sessions to get your pup started out right!

I created this curriculum because it is what I wish I would have had available as I was raising my own pup! Please don't miss out in this important time period in your pups life!
Check out for more info about how to get your puppy started out on the right paw!!