Jul 162015


I found myself watching a novice obedience class a few nights ago, and I wanted to cry. Don’t get me wrong, nothing awful was happening, no physical abuse, no harsh corrections, but so little joy… Watching most people plod along with their dogs connected to them by a leash but nothing else is like some macabre satire of what dog training ought to be.

If you watch 20 people train their dogs, you will immediately observe that there are two distinct groups who are essentially doing two completely different things: those who are going through the motions but their dogs are disconnected, flat, out of control. And those whose dogs are beautifully, magically, joyfully playing the game. Within each group you will see a variety of techniques and skill levels, the difference between them is something more fundamental…

Here is the secret that separates the two groups:

You cannot effectively teach your dog anything until you get him engaged and connected. Attentive, happy, excited, eager to learn, enthused. You need to make learning enjoyable. You must figure out what makes your dog excited and build an expectation that playing/training together is super fun. One of your very first responsibilities as an owner and trainer is to figure out how to induce joy for your pet, what combination of treats and toys and tone and luring and whacking and squealing and petting really lights them up; and if you cannot figure out a path to joy, you need to build one. You need a great attitude yourself. You need to make sessions short and fast. You need to tug and fetch and race and wrestle and play. You need to be willing to get on the floor, to run, to praise and cheer like a loon. You need to play with your dog many times each day at home and everywhere so that you have built this into your relationship. You need to teach your dog that looking at you is great, on its own, and that it is the key that will unlock the best and most rewarding game of all. Only when you have built this reward base and tapped into attention and attitude can you really start worrying much about specific behaviors, and you will find they are so much easier to train when you and your dog have this core connection.

If you are dragging your dog around, pushing and pulling him into various positions, giving him commands that he ignores, you are not merely wasting your time, you are actually hurting your relationship. You are making your dog like you less. You are convincing your dog that you are a boring bully. You are inculcating resistance, lethargy, disinterest. Better to NOT train your dog than to keep slogging through these miserable sessions. Stop training immediately, and from now on any time you feel yourself starting to do this, stop! Go do something else. Come back when you are ready to be present, joyous, enthused, connected.

If you can get five beautiful seconds of your dog looking at you, ears perked and eyes bright, listening, eagerly trying to play the game with you, then you are genuinely training your dog. Tomorrow it will be ten seconds, then twenty… Now you have a partner, you can start dancing, start working on super-fast sits followed by a game. A step or two of perfect heeling, an eager down. Happy, happy chase recalls. Now you are working for several perfect minutes, increasing distance, duration, distraction, but never for a moment sacrificing attitude and relationship… Do this for a few months, and you will be amazed! You will have a dog that loves training with you, that has a fabulous attitude, and that can do all those behaviors you originally wanted.

 July 16, 2015  Posted by at 7:14 pm Tagged with: , , , , ,
Jul 132015


I encountered an interesting question on FB—if you were creating a quiz to test the knowledge of potential puppy homes, what are some of the questions you would include?

There were many excellent answers offered: questions about breed history, training, nutrition, exercise, management, behavior…

But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that I would not quiz about knowledge. One does not need to start with a great deal of knowledge to be a great owner, and all the knowledge that is required can be easily acquired. Some of the most “knowledgeable” people are among the last to whom I would give a puppy. And it is often those who have a little knowledge who are least open to learning and growing.

If you are seeking to acquire an animal from me, I want to know if you are committed, dedicated, devoted. I want to know if you will reshape your life to accommodate an animal. I want to know if you will stay up all night to comfort a frightened puppy. I want to know if 15 years from now you will sleep on the floor every night to be with your old friend. I want to know what you will do if ten years from now you are offered a great job in a location where you cannot take your dog. I want to know if you will give your time and your heart to this animal. I want to know if you are genuinely open to listening, to learning, from others, from books, from your animal; and that you will remain open and critical to new ideas and opinions and will always strive to improve and grow. I want to know if you will laugh and cry and cuddle. I want to know if you will make a fool of yourself to make him happy; if you will see his innocence even when he is destroying your favorite possession, and his beauty even when he is vomiting on your carpet. I want to know that you will try to see the world from his perspective. I want to know that you are willing and able to make the hard decisions to do what is best for your animal, even when it is not easy or is not what feels best for you. I want to know what kind of leader you are, whether you relate through intimidation, coercion, supplication, or shared trust. I want to know how you will handle the hard days, the failures, the heartbreaks. I want to know that you have genuinely thought about these issues, not to give me the best answers, but to be certain in your own heart that you are ready and open to completely sharing your life with an animal, and to wherever that path may take you.

For me, these core attributes and aptitudes are what matter—if they are in place, knowledge will easily and surely come, if not all the knowledge in the world will not help….

 July 13, 2015  Posted by at 10:42 pm Tagged with: , , , , , , ,
Jul 072015

RallyJustice317I was conversing with a friend recently who does not train her dogs beyond the minimum required. She does not want to diminish their individuality, to be their master, to break their spirits, to turn them into automatons. She does not even really want them to be obedient—she wants them to do what they want, not her bidding.

As we talked, it became clear to me that her idea of training is something very different from mine. She perceives it as diminishing—removing unwanted parts of a dog, while I perceive it as enriching—nurturing and developing additional facets of a dog.

Dog training is a broad catch-all term encompassing a huge range of techniques used to modify the intensity and frequency with which a dog offers certain behaviors. The goals, objectives, and methods are nearly infinite. Of course, in the strictest sense of the word dogs are always learning, so you are always training them whether you mean to or not, you only get to decide what they are learning. But for the purposes of this post, I am talking about structured intentional training, and I want to share why I train my dogs:

Let me start with a few ancillary benefits that I believe accrue from dog training but are not the core reasons I train:

  • Fun: virtually every animal I train values training sessions above almost all other activities. Better than food, better than walking, better than swimming—when I pick up the tools and take an August09005animal to go train they are giddy, ecstatic. They bounce and glow and vibrate. It is pure joy.
  • Proscription: teaching a dog what not to do makes them more pleasant to live with. Do not pee on the floor, pull on the leash, bark, take food off the counter, chew on the electric cords, etc.
  • Increased range of opportunities: the world is full of fun places that welcome well-behaved dogs. Friends’ homes, restaurants, busses, concerts; if you have taught your dog to have good manners you can take them on many adventures.
  • Skills: Sit, down, stay, wait, fetch, leave-it, all very useful for a dog to know.
  • Safety: a dog that comes when called, that does not take things off the counter, that holds a stay, and that can relax in a crate; is safer than a dog that cannot.
  • Trust and leadership: your dog learns to look to you when unsure, to rely on your guidance, to come to you for assistance.
  • Vocabulary: language and communication make it much easier to live with an animal. flintwithlamba7
  • Activities: training opens up doors to fun shared activities: agility, dock diving, tracking, carting, obedience, if you train, you and your dog can have so much fun doing so many things. You can do these things recreationally or competitively.
  • Tricks: many dogs really enjoy showing off, gathering a crowd, making people smile and laugh.
  • Fun: okay, I have fun too! I love the challenges, trying to figure out how to induce some new behavior, watching them think, reinforcing in just the right way at just the right moment. I usually end training sessions tired and glowing and happy and fulfilled.

While many of those are valuable, in truth I train my dogs—lots—for two fundamental reasons:


  1. To maximize their development through education. For the same reasons I would send my child to school: I want to help them actualize their potential. The act of learning, regardless of what one is learning, increases neural development and plasticity. It increases the ability to solve problems, to be thoughtful, to mindfully assess challenges and solve them. Learning begets learning. Learning literally changes and grows their brains. Each day children wonder why they need to learn algebra, what real-world application is there for solving a quadratic equation. And while there are real world applications, the ultimate answer is that what we really want from their education is something different: we want them to become free, thoughtful, kind, effective, confident, happy, engaged, etc.
    By choosing what we work on, and how, I can develop drives, increase confidence, improve problem solving skills, alter energy levels, change reactions to various stimuli, decrease contentiousness. I can help them become the best possible version of themselves, the most content, confident, happy, relaxed, enthusiastic, intelligent, well-rounded individuals they can be.
  2. To build connection, relationship, intimacy. I want the best partnership possible. I am not sure I can explain this to someone who has not experienced it, but somewhere after a few hundred hours of shared training time, a partnership develops that simply does not come without those hours. Trust, communication, anticipation—the dance becomes delicate, fluid, nuanced. Your dog knows when to look to you for leadership, knows your subtlest cues, knows how to succeed. You trust your dog, and know how to help him. You can read his every raised eyebrow or IMG_2492tightened muscle. You are a team.

Many people have lovely dogs with little training. And many people have rich and fulfilling relationships with their dogs without ever having taught them a single formal behavior. I simply know that in my experience, good training can make great dogs even better and wonderful relationships even deeper.

 July 7, 2015  Posted by at 5:48 pm Tagged with: , , , ,
Jun 302015


I have not yet seen Max, and have no opinion about the movie, although it sounds pretty good, but perhaps a little schlocky. However, as someone who has had many Malinois over 25 years, and who works full time training animals in the film industry–I have some considered views about the issue of breeds in movies in general, and about many of the opinions expressed by those who believe Malinois are imperiled by the theatrical release:

Max, and other projects featuring Malinois, are excellent opportunities to increase awareness of a wonderful breed and the challenges that come with owning them. IMG_2100-2-Edit

  1. Popularity is as much a great thing for a breed as it is a bad thing.  It means more potential homes, more potential adopters, more opportunity to educate people. Obscure breeds struggle to maintain genetic diversity, to find enough homes, to survive.  Popularity of course also increases the number of bad breeders, and good, and increases the buffer that prevents any one bad breeder from harming the breed.  Popularity is both good and bad…
  2. Many people enjoy bolstering their own egos by going on and on about how challenging Malinois are, how only the very best and most elite trainers are capable of owning them. Stop it! Successfully owning Malinois does not make you super-human, and in fact, if you are having as many struggles as many of the authors suggest, you are probably not doing a very good job. Malinois are like high-powered sports cars—they are probably not the best daily driver for most owners, and getting the most out of them takes lots of skill, but with a modicum of thoughtfulness and willingness to adapt, most people can learn to handle them. And for people who are interested in learning and improving and doing lots with their dogs, there are few breeds more able to take them on an incredible journey through a diverse range of activities. IMG_0293-2
  3. What will hurt the breed is all the people making memes and writing about how difficult and dangerous they are—every insurance company and legislator will be eager to ban these monsters and will use your propaganda to do so. Not to mention that the general public will see us coming and be afraid, and will not want us near them or their families.
  4. If you are going to talk about the “101 Dalmatians” effect, do some research and do not simply repeat the same half-truths you heard from someone else who did no research. Over the years movies have been made starring several dog breeds, and the impact on breed numbers has been very small, or in most cases zero. Hooch did not ruin Dogues. Lassie did not ruin Collies. Dalmatian registration numbers did not climb significantly after any of the Dalmatian movies. Yes, a few people who were likely going to get dogs anyway got Dalmatians—which despite high energy and a few health and temperament issues are actually not a bad choice for many homes—and so there were a few more Dals in rescue the following few years, but fewer of some IMG_4295other breeds. There is very little actual data to support the notion that Hollywood has much of an impact on breed numbers, or that increased breed numbers are inherently a bad thing. (In fairness, Dalmations did experience a rapid rise and fall in popularity which created some real challenges, but this occurred roughly 25 years after the animated movie was released, and before the live action movie was released, which release had virtually no effect on Dalmatian numbers. )
  5. Popularity does not destroy breeds. (Labs, Goldens, Poodles have been the most popular breeds for a long time and are doing reasonably well, especially compared to the calamities people seem to believe are inevitable if a breed becomes even a little popular.  Sure there are some issues in these breeds, but the issues are largely independent from popularity.)  What hurts the breed is popularity with the “wrong” demographic. (Pits, Corsos, Presas)  “Malinois are so intense and vicious” propaganda is making the breed less popular with potentially excellent pet homes but more popular with precisely the people who will harm the breed.  Every time you assert that only a few select people can handle Malinois, you are enticing precisely those ego-driven individuals who are certain they are the exception.
  6. Breeders are the stewards of the breed. There have always been, and likely always will be, lots of people who are attracted to Malinois but are not prepared to deal with their intensity or justduck2activity level; it is up to breeders to breed good dogs and screen potential homes so that the best and most correct homes end up with Malinois.

Getting any dog is a huge step and a huge responsibility. Any potential new owner needs to educate themselves about dog ownership in general, about the breeds they are considering, and about the individual. Yes, Malinois are an intense breed with attributes that make them more challenging than many other breeds, and most people should be steered to another breed. justiceleapbite2All pets require time and effort and a willingness to reshape your life, Malinois require more than most.

Of course, anyone looking at a breed should meet lots of individuals within that breed, should attend dog shows and performance events, should try babysitting, and should learn about all the peculiarities and tendencies within that breed. Almost any animal will be awful if matched with the wrong home.

Hollywood is not going to take care of our breed—they are going to keep telling interesting stories about individual animals with some good and some bad. It is up to us—the dog community—to use the opportunities provided by movies like Max to increase awareness of the breed in a good way. It is up to us to shepherd and protect this amazing, versatile, and challenging breed. It is up to us, as it always has been, to keep educating, and to keep improving the breed and placing them in the right homes…



 June 30, 2015  Posted by at 8:17 pm Tagged with: , , , ,
Apr 042014


Whether you acquire your dog from rescue or a breeder or some other path, you need to be unwaveringly committed to keeping that dog for the duration of its life. If you cannot be absolutely certain that you will be able to care for this dog for the next 17 years, you have no business getting a dog.

Every one of us has heard this countless times, and probably said something similar ourselves.  The problem is that while the intent—trying to get people to understand that a pet is a serious long-term commitment and not something to attempt lightly—is excellent, the specifics are often quite wrong and significantly harmful:Older-2

  1. Pretty much no honest person can genuinely make this commitment.  Who knows what bizarre twists and turns life may take.  You may end up dead, ill, homeless, whatever.  By requiring animal owners to make this eternal vow, we eliminate nearly all homes except those that are dishonest enough to pretend that they can promise the future.
  2. Millions of nice pets end up languishing in yards, kennels, and crates for years because the owners are ashamed to be derided and despised if they admit they cannot live up to this ideal.
  3. Many animals end up dumped somewhere to suffer simply because the person could not face the shame of rehoming their dog or walking into a shelter.

The real message ought to be that when you acquire an animal, you assume absolute responsibility for the welfare of that animal, whatever that means.  In most cases that will mean keeping the animal for a lifetime, but in some cases doing what is best for the animal will mean not keeping it but instead making certain that it goes somewhere else where it will be handled responsibly and with care. In some cases it may even mean stepping up and making the hard decision to euthanize a particular animal. A person’s life may change and they can no longer provide a good home for a pet, a Olderparticular pet may not fit into a particular home, a pet may be too much for an individual to handle, a pet may simply be nasty.  People should not enter into pet ownership lightly, but they also should not feel like there is no escape or they will never try.

Before I get a huge number of hostile comments, let me be absolutely clear that I am not in any way diminishing the magnitude of the responsibility of getting a pet.  I am not countenancing the casual acquisition and disposal of pets.  There are few undertaking I consider more sacred and serious than the decision to become responsible for the welfare of an animal.  And I think we absolutely should be doing everything we can as a community to encourage and increase retention, including making very certain that people understand what they are getting into.  But I do not think terrifying and shaming people is the best way to accomplish this goal.


 April 4, 2014  Posted by at 9:26 pm Tagged with: , ,
Mar 282014


The story of Noah is one of the earliest and most poignant tales of the vital interconnectedness between man and animals: a story about how every animal on the planet survived solely because man brought them in and protected them from God and Nature…

IIMG_0432n retelling this story, Paramount decided to use virtually no live animals in the film, relying upon computer generated imagery to portray the animals.

I have no problem with CGI—in many cases it can do things live animals cannot; although I might hesitate to watch a movie in which all the animals were CGI, as I find such portrayals have less heart and are less interesting. And I would likely avoid any film released in partnership with HSUS. But neither of these is the issue I want to discuss herein:

Paramount and HSUS have suggested that by not utilizing live animals, they did those animals a service—they prevented them from being forced to work on this project. This assertion I vehemently dispute.  They did these animals a grave disservice—not only did they deprive them of the joy they would have experienced during production, but they prevented them from earning considerable money that would have made their lives, and the lives of other animals, better.

gamblelakebakerI have been privileged to spend hundreds of days on sets with thousands of animals of nearly every species imaginable.  I have collaborated with many of the trainers and companies in North America. And almost without exception I have observed happy, healthy animals having a great time. From the animals’ perspective, they get to spend several weeks going somewhere interesting and comfortable, and playing a great game in which they get lots of treats and praise. They shove each other in the morning trying to get into the vehicle to go to set, and they wag and smile the whole time they are there. No question, there have been some much-publicized exceptions in which accidents or horrid people have caused harm to animals, and I have no doubt there are some unscrupulous animal trainers still in the industry that should not be used, but there are few industries with as much oversight and better track records than modern animal training. If any one of you doubts that the animals love this undertaking, try an experiment—cut up a few hot dogs, grab a few toys, and take your dog into the back yard and spend ten minutes playing with him and teaching him a new trick.  Then tell me whether the animal seemed miserable and exploited, or ecstatic and delighted. Almost every animal loves the game of learning and performing tricks, and those who prefer other activities are not “forced” as they simply would not be successful in film-work.

Some will point out that as an animal trainer I have a fiscal incentive and a perspective that make it unlikely for me to be objective. In truth, I made a much better income in my prior career than I do as an animal trainer–I do this because I love animals.  I love spending my days with them, bringing them joy, sharing them with the world in film.  I do this because I experience every day that animals can have lives with humans that are very bit as rich and full as any they could have in the wild. The idyllic wild is a myth–it never really existed and it certainly does not today.  If most species are going to survive this century, they are going to do so within man’s ark, with our devotion and affection.

Animal trainers spend nearly all the money they earn on their animals. It might be nice if we lived in a world in which work was IMG_4279not required, and we could all just lounge around, but we do not.  Each of us works to survive, the lucky among us having a great deal of fun doing so.  Every wild animal “works” very hard almost every minute of their generally short lives to find food and stay alive.  Movie animals generally perform a few hours per year, have a great time and never even know they are “working.” In exchange they get pampered lives that are far longer and more comfortable than almost any other life on the planet.  They are kept safe and healthy.  They have optimal nutrition and clean water. They are given enrichment, companionship, games, medicine.  They are kept free from parasites. They are loved and cherished and their every desire fulfilled. There are very few humans or animals on the planet that have it as good as movie animals.

ShayslideThis life of safety, comfort, and joy is financed by the film industry.  When productions elect to not use live animals, it is just like their electing not to hire any other department—it means loss of opportunity and income for those animals.

Paramount and Darren Aronofsky have every right to not use animals in their movie. But let’s be honest—choosing not to have animals in your production does not benefit animals, it harms them.



 March 28, 2014  Posted by at 5:17 pm Tagged with: , , , , ,
Mar 112014


Joe lives on a completely isolated island where he has the only dogs—a nice, happy, healthy, beautiful, unrelated adult male and female.  Joe asks everyone on the island, and 4 of them would really like a puppy and are committed and capable of providing a great home and life.  Should Joe breed?

  1. NO!  Joe should NOT breed because he might produce more than 4 puppies.  It is better to let the species go extinct than risk having a surplus.
  2. YES! Joe should breed so that there are future dogs, 4 of whom have great homes.  If there are more than 4 puppies, he should place the healthiest, nicest, best structured puppies in the 4 homes, house any extras humanely (in a shelter or with Joe) until a home becomes available or they die of old age.
  3. YES! Joe should breed so that there are future dogs, 4 of whom have great homes.  If there are more than 4 puppies, he should place the 4 healthiest, nicest, best structured puppies in the 4 homes, and try to place the others, but if after all reasonable efforts have been expended there remain any surplus puppies, their lives should be ended as quickly and painlessly as possible.

Which of these do you believe is the right choice and why?

(Of course, this is not intended to be read literally—it is ridiculously inaccurate and oversimplified. And I am sure many people will point out the many complications that prevent this question from being applied to reality… It is intended as a thought experiment—a small isolated question to think about that might help to clarify an underlying core notion. In my opinion, anyone who is going to contribute to discourse on the topics of breeding and rescue and reducing shelter populations ought to have thoroughly considered this question.)

 March 11, 2014  Posted by at 5:50 pm Tagged with: , , ,
Feb 152014


A registry to track persons convicted of animal abuse would cause great harm to innocent people and animals while doing virtually nothing to protect animals. This will likely seem counter-intuitive to many animal lovers, and I hope you will be willing to set aside your assumptions and openly consider the issues.

Consider a few grave chapters from our past: the Inquisition, Hester Prynne, the Salem Witch Trials, anti-Semitism, McCarthyism, Matthew Shepard, bullying.

Well-intentioned men and women possess a powerful urge to find, to label, and to stop people who do bad things, a primary reason we have laws and means to enforce them.  The historical record, however, unarguably reveals that whenever a community goes beyond law enforcement to create tribunals, registries, or civilian trials, little or no good follows.  Instead, innocent people are often profoundly injured, lives shattered.  Perhaps if most people were calmly rational, well-educated, and fully informed, abuser registries might accomplish their intended purpose – to reduce harm to animals.  But in reality, far too many of us are swift to judge and eager to condemn before we know facts and context or have considered consequences.

We live in perilous times for our cherished animals.  Most readers of this blog likely appreciate by now that animals and their people are under fierce and relentless assault by a veritable lynch mob.  And because each zealot believes unshakably that he and his fellow crusaders are morally justified in howling for “rights” because they “love” animals, together they are fearsomely dangerous.  Facts and truth are rendered meaningless in the face of such moral certitude.  And one certain way to set that mob ablaze is the merest hint or suggestion that someone neglects or abuses animals.  Along with the alleged guilty, the howling mob with equally ferocious mindlessness giddily torches the innocent.

And therein lies the problem: abuser registries give virtually unbridled power to a group that already wields and regularly abuses all the power; and they can destroy any innocent person any time they choose.

We are not talking about abusers at the moment; we are talking about any one of us with beloved creatures in our care.

Tomorrow at 5:30 a.m.; a knock on your door; men in uniform demand to see your animals: there was an anonymous call claiming that you are abusing animals.  The uniforms look around; they tell you they are seizing your pets.  You have a choice:

  • You can fight the charges.  You will be arrested and charged with felony abuse/neglect. The authorities are going through your house taking pictures for evidence, and of course they can stage whatever they want. They will take possession of your animals—the ‘evidence’ – until your court date.  They can starve them, injure them, terrify them, and do whatever they choose in the interim to make your animals appear abused. They will call their colleagues in the media and spread the story of how you abuse animals everywhere in 24 hours. They will make sure their thousands of members and supporters all get on the Net to condemn you and inflame the animal-loving public. They will call up their friends at the District Attorney’s office, the court, and everyone else involved in the process to make sure that everyone knows that you are an animal abuser. After a year or two of fighting and having your name dragged through the mud, if by some miracle you win, and prove that there was never any reason for them to even inspect your dogs, much less seize them, you will nonetheless owe the authorities the costs of every day they held your animals – an amount they incontestably determine.
  • Sign over your dogs to them “willingly” and they we will leave right now and your life will continue.

This scenario sounds like the ranting of a paranoid conspiracy loon in a tinfoil hat!  But we have all seen it happen now, over and over.  Why? A neighbor complains; a do-gooder genuinely believes animals are being abused; an Animal Rights zealot believes anyone owning more than one animal is an abuser by definition; a local shelter wants to take the animals and sell them for a profit; a bill is pending and advocates want a good case for the media; animal control wants to discredit an adversary, they want to shut down a breeder – or they simply believe that no one should own a pet.  Sometimes such actions are a conscious abuse of power, other times misunderstanding or societal inertia.  There are many reasons, but the unavoidable truth is that, as insane as it sounds, this is happening today, and with alarming frequency, and once the bell is rung there is little stopping the destruction that follows.  Because animal control and animal rights groups essentially hold all of the power and all the public bona fides, it is difficult to “prove” that this is happening: how can we prove that someone was not abusing or neglecting their animals, especially since a huge majority of people faced with this sort of unwinnable scenario go with option two, and do sign over their dogs “willingly”?

You might imagine that due process of law will ensure that the only people affected by registries are the truly guilty.  There are two problems with this: first, the way abuse laws are written in most states, virtually every dog owner is technically guilty every day, and there is little consensus—a dog in a crate, a dog not in a crate, a dog fed too little, a dog fed too much, a dog vaccinated too much, a dog vaccinated too little—however you care for your pets, I promise you there is someone out there who considers it abuse and can make a strong legal case. Second, the primary danger of a registry is how it is used as a threat long before guilt or innocence is established. Registries are the ultimate tool to intimidate, terrorize, and threaten anyone who does not acquiesce.  “Don’t do what we want, and not only will you be ruined personally and financially, but your name will be on a list, a list forever, a list that will keep you from getting work, that will make you a pariah in neighborhoods, that will make you persona non grata just about everywhere.”  First we threw away any expectation of privacy for animal owners, then any presumption of innocence; then we gave the accusers the right to retain the evidence (our animals) until trial, and to charge us for doing so.  And now they can put your name on a list and ruin your life.

Ask yourself: would an abuser registry have helped Logan, the dog who had acid thrown in his face by a stranger, and whose name is now synonymous with registries?  It would have done nothing.

There are few if any cases of animal abuse that would be prevented by an abuser registry: anyone who wants to acquire an animal to abuse will be able to do so.  Sadly, in this world there are evil people who rape and murder, who beat and molest children, who abuse animals.  And we all want to stop such people.  But would a registry make any significant difference?  Would it make felony animal abuse any more criminal?  Would there be any practical way for us to finance, implement, and enforce such a tool?  (The evidence confirms that public sex offender registries in almost every case make things worse, not better.)

The reality is that such a tool is virtually useless in protecting animals, but hugely effective in allowing an already unconscionably powerful group of bullies to terrify and coerce innocent citizens whenever they choose.

 February 15, 2014  Posted by at 10:27 pm Tagged with: , , , , ,
Jan 302014


Some dog trainers, particularly those with less or a more narrow range of experience, believe that issuing commands in a staccato, clear, authoritative voice is optimal. I am always a little amused when I am near these trainers and I myself can hardly avoid sitting when they demand it!  There certainly are times when clarity and authority are the most important criteria, but in many instances there are other options worth considering.

It is important to recognize that a dog becomes habituated to respond to a certain level of command intensity, and will often not respond to less intensity.  So if you normally give commands at a 70% volume and intensity level, your dog will likely learn to ignore commands given at a lower level.  There are several “drawbacks” to this:

  • If you need to increase your intensity for whatever reason, you will not have much room.  You are already near the maximum.
  • By giving commands at a loud volume, you eliminate the need for your dog to listen.  They do not particularly need to keep an eye or an ear on you because they know that you will make sure they hear you.  This put the onus on you, instead of on them.  Think of it like talking to another person—if you are quiet, they will generally lean forward and listen more intently.
  • Most of us want our dogs to become lighter—more responsive to less and less forcefulness.  But a dog will only become as light as your first command.  But you need to give them the opportunity to succeed at the lower volume and intensity or they will never learn it.
  • Variation is important—whatever tone you tend to use, if it has little variation, it becomes, well, monotonous, and therefore less effective.
  • Tone of voice has a cascading impact upon tone in general.  Personally, I like the tone created by giving primarily quiet and enthusiastic cues.  It becomes almost a game in which my dog learns to stay attuned to me at all times, even while playing or doing other things, because he is hoping I will make a subtle sound or movement that will invite him to play the great game. It becomes almost like mind-reading as he learns to watch and listen and see tiny predictive markers and almost always he beats me to the punch and is sitting in front of me offering some behavior before I have even finished formulating my intention.  That to me is far more wondrous than if I bellowed out a command like some Germanic drill sergeant.

In addition to volume and forcefulness, I would suggest people give a little thought to how they pronounce each word they commonly use to communicate with their dogs.  It is amazing how much information can be conveyed by a tiny lilt, by drawing a word out, by truncating a word.

Drawing out their name into the next command, so their name lingers and hangs in the air with them listening carefully for the word that is coming next: “Seeeeequuueeeelllllll…..sit.”

Saying “down” quickly, almost daring them to try to complete the task before I can get the word finished.

“Heel” with an upbeat sing-song quality that sets a mood and rhythm for the behavior.

“Ready” with an inviting tone.

One very useful technique is to videotape yourself training and playing with your dog, and then watch it and evaluate the tone your voice and body-language are setting… Does it sound, look, and feel inviting? How is the dog reacting to commands, not just in terms of performing them, but ears, eyes, tail, does each command make the dog more happy and attentive, or less? There is no single “right” tone, but observe yours and its effect, and make sure it is the best choice for your animals and your goals.

 January 30, 2014  Posted by at 11:11 pm
Jan 252014

There are no words to express how much we are going to miss Brit.  How incredibly blessed we are to have spent the past 12 years with him.  How much richer he made our lives, how much he taught us, and how many adventures he took us on.

A few minutes of video cannot hope to convey who Brit was, but here are some memorable moments from his life:


 January 25, 2014  Posted by at 6:21 am Tagged with: , , , , ,