trusting paws

by Naomi Heck, M.Ed., CBCC-KA, CPDT-KA

Mealtime Fun

How did your feed your dog today?  If your GSP is anything like my Chase, he practically inhales his food at mealtime as though he is starving, then a short time later is begging for more.  What a wasted opportunity, not to mention risky because GSPs are at risk for getting bloat (gastric dilation volvulus) which can be deadly. With a little creativity and not much effort, it is easy to provide your dog with a fun and healthy way to meet his natural urges to hunt and chew.

Before I got my puppy Minnie a few months ago, I have to confess I got lazy and often fed Chase from a bowl.  Now that he is becoming a senior, he lost interest in excavating food from his classic Kong toy, especially if it was frozen.  Why should he work so hard when it is always provided on a silver platter (bowl)?

But with the puppy came the need to prevent boredom and anxiety when I had to confine her and leave home during the day.  So I gathered all of Chase’s food dispensing toys that were gathering dust.  I would exercise Minnie (and Chase, of course) thoroughly before crating her with several food stuffed toys and a bully stick to chew on.  After a satisfying meal and chewing session, she would fall asleep.

The highlight of every morning is watching Chase and Minnie happily going from toy to toy with tails wagging, hunting for breakfast.   This keeps them busy while I shower and get dressed.  Chase loves this routine as much as Minnie.   He’s a lot faster at getting at the food, so I need to make sure he doesn’t eat Minnie’s portion, too.  To challenge Chase even more, I will sometimes hide the toys throughout the house.

The pet product industry has come a long way since the classic snow-man shaped Kong toy was introduced in 1976.  It became a huge hit with dog owners who were tired of chewed up shoes and furniture. The selection of interactive dog toys online and in pet stores today is mind boggling. The toys range from very easy to very difficult depending on your dog’s skill and determination.  Here is a photo of just some of my stash I’ve collected over the years:

Fun meals

Back Row (L to R):  Kong Wobbler (for dry kibble); Classic Kongs stuffed with layers of canned food + kibble + peanut butter + cheese (can be frozen); Tug-a-Jug (holds kibble and is loud on hard floors);  Kibble Nibble; Squirrel Dude; and Twist and Treat (purple ones are all by PetSafe).

Front Row (L to R):  Nina Ottosan Dog Tornado; beef shin bone stuffed with a mixture of kibble + canned food + grated parmesan cheese;  unknown brand from a clearance bin, filled with kibble + canned food + broken dog biscuits; 2 more unknown brands, wide mouth hard plastic bottle filled with kibble + biscuits +c heese cubes + apple chunks; and for dessert, a JW Pet Hol-ee Roller stuffed with a large Milk Bone and a Zuke’s beef filet.


trusting paws

by Naomi Heck, M.Ed., CBCC-KA, CPDT-KA

Chase Gets a Sister!

Sorry I missed posting last month, and I am late this month. I am once again a new mom. No, not to a human baby, but to a 14 week old puppy named Minnie that I adopted about 2 months ago. She appears to be a lab-Australian shepherd mix. I considered getting another GSP, but I wanted some variety. Maybe next time.
MinnieMinnie and I had a rough start together. The day after I brought her home she developed kennel cough, which is the canine equivalent to the common cold in humans. It is caused by a variety of viruses and is highly contagious. Rescued dogs that have experienced the stress of kenneling and long transports are especially susceptible. Puppies have underdeveloped immune systems Continue reading


trusting paws

by Naomi Heck, M.Ed., CBCC-KA, CPDT-KA


When it comes to training, many of us think about teaching our dogs to obey by rewarding good behavior.  But there is another, more primal form of learning called classical conditioning.  Classical conditioning occurs when something that previously had no meaning (a neutral stimulus) becomes associated with something that automatically produces a reflexive response.   The association is made when the 2 events occur close together in succession.  For example, the sound of a doorbell (originally meaningless to puppies) is always followed by a visitor at the door (excitement).  Eventually the sound of the doorbell alone triggers intense excitement in dogs.

Remember learning about Pavlov in school?  Ivan Pavlov was a Russian physiologist in the 1800’s who is best known for his experiments on salivary gland secretion in dogs.  The dogs in his laboratory involuntarily salivated when offered food, similar to how I salivate whenever I see a Double Chocolate brownie.  Pavlov discovered that when a sound (bell or buzzer depending on who you ask) was presented a few seconds before a dog was given food, and this sequence was repeated many times, the sound alone made the dog salivate.

Why bother talking about Pavlov and his drooling dogs?  Because we can thank him for discovering classical conditioning.  Understanding how classical conditioning works can help us prevent emotional problems in our dogs.  For example, a puppy that has many happy and safe experiences with children the first 12 months of his life is likely to be friendly rather than aggressive toward children when he becomes an adult.  Socialization involves classical conditioning and is best done before fear is established.

A behavior modification program based on classical conditioning can also be useful in changing a dog’s negative attitude into a positive one.  I recently did this with Chase.  Last year I bought a Magic Bullet™ blender to make fruit smoothies for breakfast.  Chase ran out of the room every time I turned it on.  Soon, just the sight of the blender was enough to make him fearful.  I had to do something to ease his fear.

When Chase was in the kitchen, I quickly turned the blender on and off for just a split second.  I then tossed a fistful of treats toward him before he could run out.  I did that every day, gradually increasing the number of seconds the blender roared as he became comfortable and was eagerly eating.  As long as the blender was on, it rained food.  The treats stopped as soon as the noise stopped.

The Magic Bullet™ spent the winter in the pantry.  I recently brought it out to make my first smoothie of the summer.  Chase was napping elsewhere in the house.  As soon as he heard the roar of the blender, he came running into the kitchen excitedly looking for flying food.

I was proactive when Chase was a puppy and did something similar with fireworks and thunderstorms.  Of course I protect him from loud noises by keeping him inside.  But this 4th of July, we sat on the back deck together.  With every boom we heard off in the distance, he got a piece of chicken.  He seemed disappointed when the fireworks ended.  Classical conditioning is powerful stuff!



trusting paws

by Naomi Heck, M.Ed., CBCC-KA, CPDT-KA

Dog talk.                    Corrections, Reprimands and Punishment
What is Punishment? The psychological definition of punishment is an unpleasant event that follows a behavior which results in decreasing that behavior in the future. If the behavior doesn’t decrease, it isn’t punishment by definition.
The terms “correction”, “discipline” and “reprimand” are just euphemisms for attempts at punishment. A stern “No”, spanking, jerking the leash, spraying a squirt bottle, and shaking a can of pennies are all common examples of what my clients have tried before calling me for help.  Why do we do it?  We humans have a knee-jerk reaction to respond negatively to our dogs’ miss mommymisbehavior. It helps to immediately relieve our own frustration, fear or anger. Have you ever scolded your dog while someone is watching because you are embarrassed and want to convey that you are at least trying to be responsible? I have!

In order for punishment to be effective, it must meet ALL 5 of the following:

1. Must be immediate – when the dog decides to do the unwanted behavior or while he is doing the unwanted behavior, not a second later.

2. Must be consistent – every single time the unwanted behavior occurs. Missing even one time can create a gambler if the behavior is highly self-reinforcing (as most unwanted behaviors are).

3. Teach an alternative behavior – and reward it generously. Teach this before punishing.

4. Use the correct intensity – the behavior should stop within 3 to 5 trials without causing side effects such as anxiety, fear, defensiveness or aggression. This is a risky guessing game.

5. Punishment must cease the exact moment your dog stops the behavior.  Timing is critical. Otherwise you will confuse your dog or make him neurotic.
It is extremely difficult to meet all 5 criteria perfectly, even for professionals. Not meeting all 5 criteria can cause unforeseen problems later on.

Positive reinforcement (rewards that matter to your dog) is more effective than reprimands at changing behavior.
Teach your dog what to do instead of what he is currently doing and treat it like trick training (fun). Reward (reinforce) often and generously. We humans tend to be stingy with rewards. Overcoming this tendency separates the professional from the novice. You don’t even have to be super-precise with positive reinforcement, unlike with punishment. It’s good to reward unpredictably like a slot machine as long as your dog gets rewarded often enough so he doesn’t give up. Just trying to getting rid of a bad behavior by suppression creates a behavioral vacuum that doesn’t address the dog’s need to do the unwanted behavior. He’ll just find another way if you don’t provide or train an appropriate alternative. Punishment alone seldom solves the problem and creates headaches later on.



trusting paws

by Naomi Heck, M.Ed., CBCC-KA, CPDT-KA

Dogs – Stupid, Stubborn, or Smart?

This month’s post isn’t about any specific training advice.   Rather, it is a musing on something that I hear from just about every dog owner that I talk to.  Many are quick to tell me that their dog is smart.  As though I might miss that important piece of information during my evaluation and make a wrong judgment.  In reality, I’ve never met a dog that isn’t smart in his own way (the Merriam-Webster definition of smart: very good at learning or thinking about things).

Dogs have evolved to quickly learn what works to get what is important to them.  It is a survival strategy.  When people describe their dogs as stupid or stubborn (and many of my clients do, even the ones that just told me their dog is smart because they are dealing with a frustrating behavior problem), what is really happening is the dog is not learning what the owner is trying to teach.

Different dogs have different motivators, just like people.  They don’t think the way we do.  They value some strange things (like the smell of another dog’s pee or the taste of poop).   They don’t have the same social rules we do (we don’t greet each other by sniffing butts and most of us don’t lick our genitals, at least in public).

The bigger the gap between what we want from our dog and what our dog wants for himself (or what is a natural behavior), the more difficult it can be to get the dog to willingly comply.  And the more a dog doesn’t “listen”, the more frustrated we get.  The frustration is magnified if the dog has learned to get what he wants using behaviors we don’t like.

Some behaviors that are unnatural for dogs are:  coming immediately when called away from chasing a rodent or playing with other dogs; refraining from stealing the roast that was left unattended on the kitchen counter and NOT jumping to greet people.  Not surprisingly, variations of these are the most common types of problems I am asked to help with.

After thinking about these common labels placed on dogs, I’ve realized that those same labels (smart, stubborn, and stupid) could be applied to ME by my dog in various situations!  Of course, my dog is too “sweet” to think that way (that’s another label I hear from every owner of a reactive/aggressive dog who calls me for help, but that is another story).

Take a look at this video of mistakes I made when Chase “ignored” me recently.  Sometimes all of my training knowledge goes out the window when I am frustrated!





Nail Trimming Doesn’t Have To Be A Battle

trusting paws
by Naomi Heck, M.Ed., CBCC-KA, CPDT-KA

Nail Trimming – It Doesn’t Have to Be a Battle

Most dog owners I meet dislike or even refuse to trim their dogs’ toenails, and I don’t blame them.  Unless the dog has been systematically desensitized to feet handling and nail trimming while young, it is likely the dog will be afraid, especially if the quick in the nail has been accidentally clipped (ouch).  Forcing the dog to be still will only make him more fearful and possibly even defensive.

It is possible to teach your dog to not be afraid of having his nails done.  The key is to start easy, proceed slowly, and pair it with food your dog goes crazy over.  I have been working on desensitizing Chase to a Dremel his entire life.  He hated the feel of clippers pinching his toenails (even to this day) and prefers having his nails sanded.  But he always looked a little worried when I did his nails, so I decided to teach him to actual relax during his manicure.  I rewarded lying on his side and gradually re-introduced the Dremel.  At first, he got into position but I could tell he wasn’t totally relaxed.  With practice though, he got calmer and calmer.  Affect the body and the mind will follow!  Here is my video of the process:

The secret is to resist pushing to the point that your dog gets worried.  This may mean starting out by just showing him the clippers and giving him a treat, over and over again.  Then proceed to touching his foot (or even his shoulder if he is super sensitive) and giving him a treat.  There are many videos on YouTube for nail trimming.  Watch several of them and see which suits you and your dog.

Make it a goal to trim 1 nail a day for several days.  Then gradually increase the number of nails you do per session.  Take off teeny tiny slivers.  You can always go back and do more, but if you cut the quick and cause pain because you took off too much, it will be a huge setback.  So what if it takes you a week or 2 to do all his nails.  You are nurturing your relationship and instilling trust, which is more important than getting it all done at once and causing panic.  Chase and I now enjoy our “together time” doing his nails.  He comes running to me when I get the Dremel out.  Our next challenge to overcome will be ear cleaning.  That will be a tough one!


trusting paws

by Naomi Heck, M.Ed., CBCC-KA, CPDT-KA


Last month I wrote about indoor activities that my dog and I enjoy doing together.  Several snowstorms have kept us housebound this month, so I had plenty of time to teach Chase to go to a mat in a variety of situations.  I call this trick “Go Away” and find it very useful for when I want him to do just that, especially in situations where he has been bothersome.  Of course I pay generously and tell him how good he is for doing it.  To Chase it’s just another fun game to play with Mom.  Here is my video to give you some ideas of how you can use going to a mat (or some other designated location) with your own dog.   



trusting paws

by Naomi Heck, M.Ed., CBCC-KA, CPDT-KA

Bad Weather Blues

It’s the second week in January.  We had a record subzero cold snap a few days ago Chase and Alfieand it snowed last night.  The slick sheet of ice on my driveway was hidden under a blanket of fluffy snow, giving me a scare when I went out to get the paper.  Tomorrow it’s supposed to be rainy in the 50’s with a flood watch.   And to top it off, I have been battling a nasty cold that has kept me housebound for over a week.                                                                                                                     It’s not surprising that Chase is bored.  He hasn’t had his usual walks and fun time outside.  I have been doing some indoor activities with him between bouts of coughing.  His favorite game is “Find It”.  I do two versions.  In the first version, he must sit and wait while I walk out of the room to go hide a treat.  When I return to him and say, “Find it”, he takes off searching.  Sometimes I’ll walk all over the house leaving my scent trail to make it more difficult, but he is still quick about finding the treat.  The second version is hiding a toy that I have shown to him beforehand.  When he brings the correct toy back to me, he gets a treat.  I love watching him search back and forth in wide sweeps with his nose before zeroing in on the object.

Another scent game we play involves scattering a bunch of cardboard boxes (shoe boxes are perfect for this) and hiding a treat in one of them.  Chase has to sit and stay while I set it all up.  It’s such a simple game but he never tires of it.  A “search and rescue” variation would be to set up the boxes in another room, then bring him in on a leash.  When he takes me to the box with the food, he has to sit to indicate he has found it.  I take out the treat and give it to him as a reward.  An advanced variation (which I haven’t tried yet) would be to teach Chase to search for a cotton ball lightly scented with lavender essential oil.  The reward for finding the scent does not have to be a treat.  It could be a fun game of fetch or tug.  For more information on scent games as a sport (aka K9Nosework), visit .  My friend and colleague Betsy Howell of Redfern Canines offers a nosework class at her facility in Harrisburg .

I like to think of new and useful tricks when I am stuck at home.  This time I decided to teach Go Away, for when Chase is being a pest.  Every time I bend over to tie my shoes, he is putting his nose prints on my glasses.  So I taught him to go lie on a mat in the mudroom doorway while I am putting on my shoes.  Whenever you try to get rid of a nuisance behavior, think about what you want the dog to be doing instead and make that more rewarding.

I had already taught Chase to lie on a mat in the kitchen while I’m cooking, so he knows there is something special about floor mats.  I started by standing a foot away from the mat.  Every time he went to it, I clicked and tossed a treat off to the side so he would have to move off the mat to eat it.  This set him up for the next repetition of going to the mat (a lazy way to exercise a dog without moving yourself).  I gradually stood farther away from the mat; working up to a distance of 5 feet (my mudroom is small).  I remained silent except for the clicker up to this point because there is no sense in saying a cue that he doesn’t understand.  When Chase was eagerly going to the mat over and over, I said “Go Away” as he was heading for the mat.  This paired the words with the actual action I wanted.

Next, I repeated the training sequence while in a squatting position.  He initially didn’t know what to do because it was a different picture to him.  It showed me that he was relying on visual context rather than my words. Another way I could have checked his understanding of the verbal cue was to say something totally different like “green chair” to see if he would run to the mat just because I said something.  Trainers call this part of training “getting the behavior under stimulus control” but I didn’t really care about that.

After a few days of practice, I started again near the mat with my butt up in the air as though I was tying my laces (NOT a pretty sight, but it had to be done because this position always triggered a wet nose in my face).  Chase caught on pretty quickly.  He now follows me into the mudroom and puts on the brakes when I get my shoes.   I say “Go Away” and he runs to the mat and plops down, staying there while I tie my laces.  When I am done I toss a treat to him and say “All Done” which means the game is over and he can do as he pleases.

Now he wants to play this game every time I walk into the mudroom.  That’s okay; there are worse things than having a dog who loves running to his mat.  I plan on using this trick for other situations where Chase can be a pest.  If you teach this trick, I’d love to hear how you have used it.


trusting paws

by Naomi Heck, M.Ed., CBCC-KA, CPDT-KA


Help!  My Dog Jumps (Part 2)

Thanksgiving is over.  How did your dog do when greeting your guests?  Last month, I talked about the reason dogs jump on people and why it is a hard habit to break.  With Christmas and New Year’s around the corner, there will be more opportunities to prevent your GSP from tackling your guests.

As I pointed out last month, recurring behaviors are those that are reinforced.  Often the reinforcement is unintentional.  Habits are also self-reinforcing (they feel good). Although we humans have brains that give us awareness and logic, many of us face our own behavior challenges such as overeating, watching too much TV, addictions, biting our nails, you name it.  Many of us know first-hand how hard it is to break a habit even when we understand why we should.  Dogs don’t understand the reasoning behind our social rules.  I’m sure our rules don’t make sense to them.  One of the reasons dogs are so special is that they can be taught to follow them anyway!

GERMAN SHORTHAIRED POINTER PHOTOIn order to successfully stop our dog from jumping, we must first prevent the dog from doing it in the first place.  Yes, I can hear your groans (mine included).  “Just don’t let him do it in the first place” sounds so trite.  Keep in mind that practice makes perfect, so preventing the practice of jumping does make sense.  It’s just not easy to do consistently.  I have had many dogs in my life, but my GSP is the only dog whose jumping has persisted well into adulthood.  Six years ago I was looking for a people-loving dog, and I got what I wanted in spades.

Preventative strategies require some pre-planning.  One option I use when I don’t want to deal with my dog’s craziness is confinement.  When I host a book club meeting, Chase is downstairs in the man-cave with my husband.  When my son’s friend comes over to play video games, I ask Chase to go into his crate.  When the UPS man rings the doorbell, I quickly put Chase on a tether attached to heavy furniture near the door.  A baby gate would work just as well.  I don’t feel bad about it.  It is better than scolding or being embarrassed.

On Thanksgiving Day, I put a body harness with a handle on Chase an hour before guests arrived.  His first attempt to jump was quickly interrupted by my daughter.  After the initial excitement was over, he was fine.

If I am walking Chase and I stop to talk to someone, I step on the leash.  I position the leash so it hangs straight down from the collar and step on it where it touches the ground.  That way, he can sit or stand comfortably but his paws can’t leave the ground.  Clients love it when I show them this simple solution.  If you keep a leash handy near the door you can do this with visitors, too.

The above techniques are examples of management, not training.  When training, teach your dog what to do instead of jumping (like sitting).  If you use management to limit his options while training, the dog will learn quicker than if he is allowed to jump whenever he wants.

What do you do if your dog tries to jump?  Remove the reinforcer.  If the dog is tethered, the person should quickly step back out of reach or turn and walk away.  If the dog happens to be loose (not a good idea but it happens), the person should quickly turn away as soon as the paws leave the floor.  This works best if the person acts quickly and turns away before the paws actually touch him.  Greeting is resumed only when the dog is sitting.  Every client for whom I demonstrate this is amazed at how quickly their dog learns to sit without being told.  It is not magic.  Greeting is the ultimate motivator for overly friendly dogs.

Training requires the cooperation and skill of the person being greeted.  This is not always possible.  If the person is unable to step away in a timely manner, you will need to move your dog away yourself.  THE CONSEQUENCE FOR JUMPING IS IMMEDIATE REMOVAL (of the dog or person).  IF HE SITS, HE IS ALLOWED TO GREET.  Rehearse, rehearse, and rehearse some more.  Don’t expect stellar performance if you don’t practice.  This is a difficult lesson for avid jumpers, which leads me to my next point – when real life interferes.

If your situation is anything like mine, it is very difficult to find enough opportunities to practice.  We seldom have visitors.  No one else in my family is interested in training.  I had to constantly remind my husband to turn away when Chase was younger and crazier.  Sometimes I am caught off guard and Chase sneaks a jump on an unsuspecting visitor before I can intervene.  He knows not to put his paws on people, so he will stand on his hind legs to get closer to their faces.  I don’t like that either.  I admit I was lazy and did not teach him to sit to greet.   The alternative behavior he chose for himself is to wiggle through the legs of the people he greets.  You’ve got to pick your battles.  Management works best for me with the jumping issue and I can live with that.


Help! My Dog Jumps (Part 1)


This gallery contains 2 photos.

Help! My Dog Jumps (Part 1)  With the holidays quickly approaching, many of you will be having more visitors to your home than usual.  That means you will be busy, and training will not be high on your priority list.  … Continue reading