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Dog training is about communicating with a dog. It is letting a dog know what you would like it to do, and then getting compliance from that dog. There are three skills that I use when I train a dog or help a person modify their dog’s behavior. The three skills are awareness, patience, and practice. Anybody can be aware, anybody can be patient, and anybody can practice.

Part 2: Patience

“Do you have the patience to wait 
Till your mud settles and the water is clear?
Can you remain unmoving 
Until the right action arises by itself?

The Master doesn’t seek fulfillment.
Not seeking, not expecting,
She is present, and can welcome all things.

Lao Tzu 
Tao Te Ching, Chapter 15

Patience, as I define it here, is the ability to not mind when things (temporarily) do not go as intended and the confidence to know that things will ultimately go as intended. When training and living with animals, patience is very important.  Being patient is a practice and a skill. To be patient is to be stubborn. Since I started actively practicing patience in my dog training, I noticed that I am more patient in other areas of life. Nothing rattles me any more. 

I think about patience a lot, because it is my natural tendency to be impatient. I will briefly outline some of the strategies that I use to remain cool, implacable (implacability is also key part of getting things done) and patient while working with any and all dogs. 

Self-awareness is the first step in remaining patient. My last entry covers awareness. So I will skip over that and you can check it out here.


When patience is lost, the first emotion to arise is frustration. Frustration tends to lead to anger, and anger often leads to action, and angry action can cause guilt. There is no use for frustration, anger, or guilt in dog training. Anger, frustration, and guilt are detrimental to interspecies communication, will harm any relationship and must be eliminated from the training process. 

So, in order to avoid frustration and anger, I separate myself (or my ego) from the result and I put it into the process, the actions that I am doing in order to communicate with the dog. In other words, I train myself not to care if the dog sits, but to care a lot about what I do to get the dog to sit. I focus in detail on my actions so that I can replicate it precisely at anytime. I also notice the results of what I am doing. So that I know what I can expect if I do that exact thing again. This is difficult to do as a professional dog trainer, whose reputation and success depends on the dog’s obedience and ability to do as asked. When I am training a dog I cannot afford to think of reputation or success, because those are results as well. Instead I focus on process. Knowing that if the process is correct, the sit will happen, the success will come, and the reputation will grow. 

Another thing that I do to remain patient when practicing with dogs is to set a time limit. This is important. A time limit allows me to make the sometimes-emotional activity of training a dog into a job. I am punching a clock. A lot of times training a dog is about repeating the same action over and over again. By setting a time limit, I can know when the exercise will be over before I begin. It also gives me a quick and soothing way to take a break if I start to get frustrated. I breathe and check my time.

The final thing that I do to remain patient is, acknowledge the beginning of frustration decide I will not go that route for the remaining minutes in the training session. This can only be done by practicing self-awareness. I am always looking for signs of frustration in my mood and emotions.  

Ultimately, my patience in dog training comes from awareness, mental preparation, and trust in the process. The rewards of patience in dog training are good communication with the dog, a better relationship with the dog, happiness and success, and a good reputation as a dog trainer.

Thank you and keep practicing. Your canine communication skills are very important in improving your relationship with your dog. Enjoy Your Dog!!!

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Awareness & Communicating With A Dog

slide-reliable-dog-trainingDog training is about communicating with a dog. It is letting a dog know what you would like it to do, and then getting compliance from that dog. There are three skills that I use when I train a dog or help a person modify their dog’s behavior. The three skills are awareness, patience, and practice. Anybody can be aware, anybody can be patient, and anybody can practice.

Part 1: Awareness

Awareness simply means attentiveness. Awareness is the act of paying attention. We influence the world around us through our own behavior. The awareness that we need to develop first is self-awareness. To be aware of myself, I question myself about my own self-awareness. Before I work with any dog client or human client I ask myself, “How do I feel physically and emotionally, and what is my energy level like right now?” I am not always looking to feel great, that would be unreasonable. I just want to know does anything hurt? Or is everything healthy? Am I happy? Distracted? Anxious? Nervous? Relaxed? Calm?  I also need to be aware of my desire and what I would like to communicate, and what I would like to see done, as well as my goals. Then I will be aware of my actions, and how I feel physically, my mood, and how my energy levels at this time will affect my actions. I am also aware that my actions are bringing me closer to my desired result. The point is to acknowledge and accept the facts of the present moment, not to change, or even judge.

We also need to be aware of our dog. I ask myself, how does my dog feel? Do I see any signs of physical or emotional comfort or discomfort? What is my dog’s energy level right now? Is my dog tuned in and paying attention, or is she distracted? Does she look nervous, anxious, over stimulated, or calm and attentive? How does her physical state, mood, and energy affect her current behavior? How am I affecting my dog, her mood and her behavior? I ask myself, how is her current behavior different from the behavior that I would like to see? Again, the main point is not to judge but to simply to be aware.

We also need to be aware of the environment that we are currently in. The environment as I am defining it here is everything that is not me or my dog. What are the facts of the current environment? Is it hot, cold, wet, or dry? Are there a lot of distractions? Is it quiet? What is the feeling that I sense from the environment? What is the energy level of the environment? How does this environment affect me physically? How does it affect my mood, feelings, and energy level? How does this environment affect my dog? Are there things in the environment that my dog is aware of but that I am not? How influential is this present environment on my dogs behavior? Is this the right environment for training my dog?

These are the types of question that I ask myself whenever I am with my dog. I try not to be distracted away from these types of questions. Distraction is everywhere. I developed a program that I go through when I am with my dog to help me stay focused on my dog.

  1. I have time limits for activities. That way if someone calls or texts, or if my mind wanders to a worry or a thought, I can always tell myself that this time is for me and my dog.
  2. Before interacting with my dog, I check in with myself. I ask the self-awareness questions that are listed above. If I find myself too excited, I take a few breaths and calm down.
  3. I check in with my dog. I assess her body language, and energy level. If I am doing a lower energy activity like walking I look for her to be calm before proceeding.

Developing this awareness can be difficult. There is a lot to be aware of, and no matter how hard I try, there are times when I am with my dog and I am not giving her the attention that the situation requires. All I can do is trust that she will forgive me, and try to be more aware the next time. With patience and practice I am sure that there is room for improvement. I have done it and I have seen others do it. So I you can do it. Thank you and Enjoy Your Dog!!!

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Dogs lean towards that which is comfortable, And away from that which is not comfortable.

Dogs lean towards that which is comfortable,
And away from that which is not comfortable.

This is a powerful idea when applied to dog training. It simply means that dogs look for comfort, enjoyment, and happiness, and that they will do things that cause them comfort, enjoyment, and happiness.

Before we talk about using comfort and discomfort in training a dog there are some questions to address.

First, what give us as humans, dog owners, and dog lovers the right to make our dog uncomfortable?

To answer this we need to turn to our knowledge about dogs. Dogs learn through association. Association is everything, or dogs have associations with everything. That is a big deal. Associations need some consistency to be formed. If you walk your dog every day at the same time, you dog will associate that time of day with a walk. If you get excited and give your dog a lot of attention when your dogs jumps on people, our dogs will associate a boost of excited energy and attention when she jumps on people. If every time your dog sits when asked, you get excited and give her attention she will associate excitement and attention with sitting and, more generally, with doing what is asked of her.

We live in a world that is dangerous for dogs. We live in a human world and dogs live with us. To keep a dog safe in this human world we have to use the dog’s natural ability to form associations and to do things that are comfortable, while avoiding things that are uncomfortable. In many cases the human owner of the dog may see a danger, or a reason for the dog to not do, or stop doing something, the owner need to be able to communicate quickly because the dog may not understand.

Second, is it necessary for a trainer to associate some intentional and controlled discomfort with misbehavior, lack of attention and non-compliance?

For me the answer is yes. Dogs are not born understanding the concept of “No”. I don’t think people understand that idea at birth either. The difference is people learn human language, dogs do not. Dogs learn through association, so with training we can associate the word no with discomfort, and the word yes with comfort. A dog can learn that it is more comfortable and better for them to do as they are told by controlled and proper use of intentional comfort and intentional discomfort. In time we will not need to create discomfort with the word “no”, just saying “no” will bring discomfort to the activity that the dog is doing and the dog will naturally stop that activity.

So for example the dog is chasing a squirrel, and leaving the park, the owner of the dog can say a word and that dog no longer feels comfortable chasing the squirrel and does not leave the park. That dog may not notice the busy street outside the park. The owner does and is able to keep the dog from entering into danger through associations that dog made with that word.

Third, how much discomfort is enough discomfort to communicate to a dog that good behavior, paying attention, and  complying are good things to do?

A good dog trainer is always trying to do as little as possible, using the least amount of effort required to get the dog’s attention and inform her of her mistake. No More Than That! There are four ways to use controlled discomfort, and controlled comfort to influence a dog’s behavior, to create associations and to create habits. They are Negative Punishment, Positive Punishment, Negative Reinforcement, and Positive Reinforcement.

I personally do not like or use the term punishment; punishment has so many connotations. I think of punishment in dog training as correction. If there are two pens on a table and you asked me to pass the pen and I passed one but you wanted the other one, you would correct me with, “No, not that pen, the other pen.” It would not be your intent to punish me. I do not intend to punish the dog, I intend to bring her attention to the behavior and communicate that it was not what I was intending or what I wanted her to do.

Simple negative punishment is enough for some dogs. Negative punishment is the removal of a desired item (item might be a person, a toy or a treat) after an undesired behavior.  When a dog trainer gives a dog a timeout that is negative punishment, because you remove contact from the dog. Isolation causes emotional discomfort, and anything that causes discomfort the dog will avoid.

Some dogs do better with Positive Punishment (correction), which involves creating and presenting an uncomfortable outcome after an undesired behavior. When a blind person uses a training collar to correct their dog for walking too close to a building that is Positive Punishment. The pull of the training collar is a bit uncomfortable to the dog and if every time the dog walks too close to the building she is corrected, she will stop walking too close to buildings.

In some situations Negative Reinforcement works well in making associations and creating habits. Negative Reinforcement is strengthening a behavior by stopping or removing a negative outcome. An example of this would be turning up the heat to get a person to leave a room. The heat in the room is annoying or uncomfortable and a person will leave. The reward for leaving is cooling down and feeling comfortable. With good use of our training tools we can create that effect with dogs.

Finally there is Positive Reinforcement. Positive Reinforcement is a very powerful tool in shaping behaviors, forming associations and creating habits. It works by rewarding a dog after a wanted behavior. Positive reinforcement is great for letting the dog know that you agree with the behavior that she is displaying. This works really well for some dog because dogs lean toward that which is comfortable and Positive Reinforcement is all about comfort.

All of the techniques have flaws, but when used together they do not fail, and there flaws are countered. Positive and Negative together make reality. We can’t have one without the other. It is because some things are negative that other things become positive. Our job is to balance and align the positive and the negative in our dogs lives.

You want your dog to choose not to jump on people, because you think that jumping on people is a bad thing to do. Your dog does not think it is a bad thing to do. She enjoys it. If we correct that behavior if will become uncomfortable for the dog to jump on people and the dog will soon associate jumping on people as being an uncomfortable thing to do. Your dog will stop jumping on people and you will reinforce that positive behavior with a pat on the head. It is an honest, straight forward, easy concept and your dog will understand you better because it works in concert with all the other things that we know about dogs. Thank you, Keep Practicing, and Enjoy Your Dog!!!

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Properly Communicating With Your Dog

Body language is the primary way that canines communicate. We can learn their body language to help us understand them, and we can use our body language to help them understand us. To use body language effectively we need to be very intentional with the things we do. We have habitual body language. We have to be aware of those habits and change them to communicate more clearly with dogs. This video is to start a conversation about changing those habits. Check out the video. If you have any questions about your body language with your dog please ask in the comments. If you have a body language problem you want to fix maybe I can help you with practical practices to solve them. Thank you, Keep practicing, and Enjoy Your Dog!!!

For more information about Argos Dog Training or to inquire about our training offerings, please feel free to contact us over the phone at 617-778-8987 or fill out our online contact form.

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7 Things We Know About Dogs Pt. 6 – Dogs Form Habits

Dogs form habits much like humans do. A habit is something your dog does without thinking about it. It can be a behavior that your dog has always done, or it can be a behavior that your dog has been doing longer than 30 days.

“We’ve been told (and I’ve repeated in my books ) that it takes about 21 to 28 days to learn a new habit. That doesn’t sound like too long a time, but the research also found that people tend to drop out a new behavior after about 2 weeks if they don’t go out of their way to keep going. But a new study from psychologist Phillippa Lally of University College London found it took an average of 9.5 weeks to get students to incorporate a new habit into their daily lives. Two and a half months — oh my, that’s a serious chunk of time. Good for us to remember when we are working with our dogs. There’s little question in my mind that one of the most common mistakes we make with our dogs is to get a good behavior started, and then stop reinforcing it too soon.

Of course, we have to be careful to about making assumptions from human research to canine behavior. Indeed, we have to be careful about generalizing the results of one study on college students (96 of them, asking them to form a new healthy habit like drinking a glass of water before eating lunch) to the rest of human behavior at all.”**

Most of my clients come for training to deal with habitual behaviors that their dog displays. Common ones are house training issues, jumping up, pulling on the leash, barking excitedly at dogs on leash, playing keep away in the backyard, even staying in an adrenalized state can be habitual.

Habits form by-way-of consistency, and association. Dogs learn habits through association. Association cannot be achieved without consistency. We all know the story of Pavlov’s dog.

Pavlov rang a bell and gave a dog food. The dog started to drool.

Pavlov did this for a while then rang a bell and the dog started to drool. Without food being present.

When we look at this story we start to see the beginning of habit formation. Pavlov rings a bell and gives the dog food. Every time he rings the bell he gives the dog food and the dog drools. The food triggers the drooling behavior.  He does this consistently for a period of time. Then he rings the bell with no food present and the dog starts to drool. This is called Classical Conditioning. Now if Pavlov continued to ring the bell and getting the dog to drool for over a month that behavior would be habitual. Meaning that even without food present that dog would continue to drool upon hearing the bell indefinitely.

How to break a dog’s habit:

Step 1: Know exactly what you would like to see change.

Step 2: Know when the habitual behavior is most likely to happen.

Step 3: Notice what your dog does before (the sign) committing the habitual behavior.

Step 4: Do not allow the behavior to happen, stop it when your dog gives the sign.

Step 5: Continues to stop the behavior from happening for a month or more.

When a month or more has passed and your dog has not done that behavior under those conditions a new habit is formed.

It takes time and effort to overcome habitual behaviors. Once there is a new habitual behavior it takes little effort to maintain it.

One of my biggest goals and challenges as a trainer of dogs and a teacher of canine communication for people is recognizing and changing habitual behavior in both species.

Our dog’s habit is to show shy behaviors; often our habit becomes coddling and petting the dog while she is showing shy behavior. We may not even notice that we are petting the dog for or while that behavior is happening.  When we stop petting the dog while showing shy behaviors and start asking the dog to do things for us when she is showing shy behaviors and petting her for those great things that she does, that is when we start to change her habit of being shy, and we start to teach her that as long as she is paying attention to us there is nothing to fear. We start to send the message there is nothing to fear, we are in charge. In other word our dog’s habits will change after our habits change.

Shyness is not always an habitual behavior, but sometimes it is. I am using shyness as one example. There are many other examples.

** Patricia B. McConnell, PhD, CAAB














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