Motivation - what drives your dog?

Tilley in her prime

Tilley in her prime

Motivate - to provide with a motive or a cause or reason to act; incite; impel.

Incite - to stir, encourage, or urge on; stimulate or prompt to action:

So what incites or encourages your dog to keep their attention on you? Do the things that you ask and/or comply? Something that they consider to be of value. That is what you must find.

That said, what is a valuable reward for one dog will not be a reward for another. I would not stand in a long line to buy an iphone (I’m a Galaxy gal). But, if you told me I’d get to try a cool rock climbing wall if I stood in that iphone line for you, I’d be in. It is very much the same for our dogs.

Often it’s not even the idea of wanting to work for us but the emotional ability to function or not. Let’s take my girl Tilley who is now gone from us over 7 years (unbelievable), and her ability to work around a lot of people. Tilley came to us a very shy girl; she was not into crowds (neither am I) or people getting too close (me either). So when I asked her to be my demonstration dog at training classes, she had a tough time with it. I was almost about to give up when I considered her ball.

To say that Tilley was an avid ball retriever is an understatement. She was a mad, obsessive retriever who would do anything just to catch her ball. Later on her frisbee also became an object which she held in pivotal regard. I wore many a bruise when we were in our prime frisbee days as a result of picking up a frisbee or not paying attention. She was a force to be reckoned with when it came to retrieving.

So when I pulled out a tennis ball at obedience class and called to her, she charged to me in a heartbeat. Much different than the painstaking emotional turmoil she went through before the ball arrived. She no longer cared who was around or what they were doing. As long as there was the chance that she might be catching that ball, she was a different dog. In fact she was so different with and without her objects of retrieving that many people could not believe that the meek and soft Tilley was in actually the same highly driven, intense retriever that they witnessed. Fascinating.

So when I’m with a new client we go over drive, motivation and desire. What works for my guys might work for your dog but chances are it’s not going to. We start with low level food when working with no distractions. But if food doesn’t work we find something that does. It is essential to find what motivates your dog; it can be anything like a toy, ball, food, idea of tugging, catching…etc.

Little Mr. Riggs who turned 11 months old yesterday is a scatter brain when we go on walks. He is one of those dogs that very literally does not miss a thing and he quickly gets over stimulated causing all sorts of problems. Yesterday I pulled out a ball and tucked it into the sleeve of my t-shirt. With Riggs in his harness we head out on our walk. Structure is the key to our walks as he is learning about loose leash walking big time. I took out the tennis ball and bounced it several times to see if I was coordinated enough to do what I wanted to do with it. Riggs stopped in his tracks with dilated pupils staring at the ball, YES.

We had our entire walk with only a couple of catches and it worked so well that the ball came with us again today. He is doing much better on his walks and the ball has definitely done what no food could do. In the beginning of our training when Riggs was little, food worked but not anymore. Sometimes he is so stimulated by “things” around us that he won’t take any food from me at all. But the ball? Oh yes.

So it’s all about what makes your dog tick. Just like us, they are all different. It is our job to discover what motivates them. Do you know what incites your dog?

Training and treating

Full attention

Congratulations, you have a new dog. You’ve done your research and decided that you are going with positive training. First, good for you; your dog will thank you for it. There is much to know about positive reinforcement training; the first and most important part is timing. Timing of the delivery of the reward, be what it may. Timing will be saved for another blog; today I’m discussing the actual treats or rewards. What do you use when?

The difference between the results of using a low value versus a high value treat can be amazing. Low value treats are used around the house when you want to say “yes, that is what I like.” High value rewards are used for difficult times, big distractions or major attention requirements.

Just the other day I took Riggs to a favorite walk destination where Elsa and I have frequented over the years. It is a marina/harbor on the coast. Dana Point Harbor is beautiful and a must see for anyone visiting from out of town. The walkways through the yachts, pelicans, squirrels and turquoise water is a hot spot for folks walking with or without a dog; and is a great place to get in some quality life experience.

Recently on some of my “live” sessions on FB I have explained how walking Riggs is very much like walking a kite. Well, that’s the best way that I can describe it so I knew that I’d need to up the value of my treats if I’d want some attention in such a high stimulus area. Armed with a full pouch of ground turkey and beef we head to the harbor. Yep, messy, messy.

The difference was incredible. As soon as the first piece of beef/turkey was delivered I had Riggs’s undivided attention. The contrast between low value and high value was remarkable. In fact I had to lower the value at times during our walk so that he could experience everything around him. When I needed undivided attention, I got it.

But positive reinforcement is not all about food; it is about incorporating whatever motivates a dog. I use a great number of reinforcers - tug toys, balls, catching , a squeaker, whistle etc. You need to know what motivates your dog.

If it is food then you need to dish out the rewards appropriately. That means that they need to have the right amount of value for the moment. Too little and they are useless; too high and the dog cannot even think straight. It is a juggling act.

Value - relative worth, merit, or importance: the worth of something in terms of the amount of other things for which it can be exchanged or in terms of some medium of exchange.

It’s not what we consider to be valuable; it is entirely up to our dogs on what is valuable. This is why it is essential to know your dog. Or to have a trainer who can very quickly discover what motivates your dog.

Motivation - something that motivates, inducement; incentive:

If you aren’t sure what you are doing, hire a trainer. Buy a great book or schedule and online consultation for extra help or some questions that you might have concerning the whole “reward system” of positive reinforcement training.

Now, go train your dog.

National puppy day

Do you want a dog

You want a puppy?  Do you really?  You think you want a dog but do you?

Many people go through the process of adding a puppy to their family only to discover shortly after that they don't want a dog.  

If everyone who was thinking about adding a dog to their family could see into the future and get a glimpse of what was to come, they might not get a dog.  Of course I adore dogs but not everyone does; not everyone wants to deal with dog issues.  Issues that are very species specific and normal for any dog but not just any human.  Sadly many people don't realize this until after they get a dog.  

Puppies and dogs are work, bottom line.  Dogs deserve companionship which often elude those who add a dog to their family.  Dogs should be considered a member of the family.  They are not a creature that you purchase to complete the image of a family.  Dogs deserve a life of togetherness; they should never be left in a yard to live their life alone.  Although the backyard is where many dogs find themselves after the family realizes that they didn't really want a dog.

Dogs are amazing; and what they give us should be given back to them.  The canine/human connection is a wonderful thing.  An intense bond forms from quality time together.  But is often lost from those who find a dog to be do much work.  

Isle of Dogs

Check out this new movie.  Isle of Dogs - I can't wait to see it and would love to hear if you see it.

Yes dogs are work, especially puppies.  But if you truly want to live with a dog; living side by side as true companions, the work doesn't feel like work.  When you love someone, acts of care and giving feel good; they do not feel like work.  

As I write this morning, Elsa is draped across my legs, dreaming.  She loves her mornings in bed and I love that I can work in bed with my laptop.  We are connected and this very special time in bed confirms that.  Elsa feels safe here and enjoys the comfort of connection restricted to family members.  

When a dog joins a family, they should be blanketed in the cloak of family.  They deserve nothing less.  Living alongside the family is where dogs belong.  Piled on the couch, resting on their own bed by the fire, enjoying hikes, mornings in bed, evenings on the porch and much more.  Loving a dog is good for you; it is a humbling experience.  To truly know a dog will change you forever. 

Once you've been connected to a dog, there is no going back.  

When we allow ourselves to connect with another species; to genuinely share our lives with a canine, we grow and flourish to a much better self.  Dogs deserve our very best because they don't know how to give us any less. 

Do you want a dog?  Just know, there will be work; and your life will never be the same.  Loving a dog will come back to you tenfold.  Do some research, find out if you really want a dog.  If you really want to live with a dog; you are in for an amazing connection.

If you've got a new dog and want to know what you need to know, check out my book.  




Dog on a leash. Pay attention!

Fanny pack gone wild.  :)  I had to bring several balls with me to this beach in Connecticut.  Other dogs stole the balls all the time so I had extra bags to put the wet balls in.  

Fanny pack gone wild.  :)  I had to bring several balls with me to this beach in Connecticut.  Other dogs stole the balls all the time so I had extra bags to put the wet balls in.  

I see ducking dogs everywhere.  Team after team stroll past Elsa and I; at the beach, the park, malls and street, ducking.  What do I mean ducking?  

Ducking - to avoid or evade a blow, unpleasant task, etc.; dodge.

Humans strolling along, walking their dog with their arms swinging back and forth.  Along with their arm swing is also the leash swing, perhaps a poop bag swing if you are one of those folks who attach a poop bag holder to the leash.  While the leash swings the dog ducks to avoid the constant and annoying leash and/or poop bag holder hitting them in the face or head.  

When I am working with a client on walking, loose leash walking or heeling, I'm all eyes.  I was trained as a youngster in obedience by a very strict obedience teacher.  She was unfortunately a harsh conventional method trainer but that was many, many years ago when there was nothing else.  She watched our every movement looking for things that would interfere with the robot like obedience we were training our dogs to do.  

The obedience teacher hated when the human students swung their arms about willy nilly.  She'd scream at you until you stopped.  If you held your body crooked, you'd hear about it.  Anything that was unlike a statue was not allowed.  So, although I hated the training method; movement was something that was drilled into my head.  To this day, the arm that holds Elsa's leash is motionless, typically held by my waist.  For those students who did not catch on to the "no flailing" rule; they were told to keep their hand in a belt of waist of pants.  

I see people walking along, not paying any attention to who is on the other end of the leash.  The leash can be whipping them in the face, their collar half pulled over their head, the humans hand even hitting the dog in the face as it swings.  So many dogs walk very far away from their human simply due to an avoidance behavior.  The guardian has no idea that their dog is not enjoying the walk because of the swinging.  

When you walk your dog, pay attention.  Yes there are times when something can happen for a moment and you might miss it.  But typically if you look down at your dog on a regular basis you'll notice this kind of stuff.  Does your dog strain at their leash?  Either sideways or backwards?  Well maybe they are trying to avoid the swing.  

The whole poop bag holder is a big thing now.  I don't understand attaching one to a leash, honestly.  I wear the very chic fanny belt; although it is not on my fanny.  ;)  I carry everything I need on a walk in it, poop bags included.   

So pay attention.  Ask someone to watch you walk.  Be aware of what your body is doing.  Along with the annoying face swapping, there could be other things going on that you have never noticed.  

Dogs and common sense - Using grey matter


"I just got him yesterday," the man said.  My daughter was at the park with her children when she met this man with his "new" dog.  The dog was off leash and as any savvy Mom, my daughter was being extremely cautious.  She hovered around her two year old as the dog ran around the playground.  

First, no dog should be running around off leash in the playground area; that is unless there are no children anywhere  in the area.

Second, even leashed dogs need to be strictly supervised around children, especially children that are not your own.  

As my daughter conversed with the man she learned that the dog had just been rescued the day before.  Not only was this dog running loose in the playground, but the man didn't even know this dog.  They were in fact complete strangers; the dog didn't know the man and the man didn't know the dog.

This could be an extremely dangerous situation for everyone involved.  The man did not know how the dog would behave with children.  The man had no idea what would happen should the dog run off.  Well as it turned out, the dog did run off with the guy in hot pursuit (but of course it did.)  Honestly.  Listening intently to my daughters story, I was fuming and shaking my head.

Can you imagine rescuing a dog and then letting it off leash the next day?  I can't even ask "what was he thinking" because clearly he was not thinking.  I LOVE dogs and I ADORE children; but when the two come together, great care must be taken to protect both involved.  Not all dogs love children, especially unknown children.  I often see dogs at parks where there are lots of children and they are typically on leash and very close to their guardian; which is where they should be.  Dogs should not be wandering around a children's park off leash.  

Just a couple of days ago I was at a park with my daughter and two grandsons.  They were having a great deal of fun and as we were leaving a man with an off-leash bulldog headed our way.  I immediately got in-between them and my two year old grandson.  But I was happy to see the man leash his dog as they got closer.  You just never know how a dog will behave around children; there is no way for everyone to know every dog.  Many people don't fully know how their own dog deals with unknown children.  It is always best to veer on the side of safety.

The off leash dog at the park, who was just rescued the day before has me still shaking my head big time.  Come on...

Runaway Dogs

"Is she a bolter?" the sitter that I was interviewing asked.  I probably turned my head much like Elsa does at the question, what?  "Will she take off out an open door?" she asked, rephrasing her question.  "Oh no, no" I replied.  "But you'd want to be careful anyway," I said.  The whole idea of dogs that run away is so strange to me.  I've never had one that would, just take off.  Jessie was probably the closest thing to a runaway but it was just her terrier trigger that got the best of her sometimes.  

My dogs have always seemed to have a magnetic pull to our home.  Let out of the car and the door is where they head.  I remember a very long time ago someone left a gate open at the side of the house.  Luke was a youngster at the time so he went out and around to the front door.  My neighbor saw him standing at the front door and rang the bell for him.  I opened it up and there he was, wagging to come in.  What a guy.

There are things that will draw a dog away, a distraction, something interesting to go see; but taking off and running away is entirely different.  Why do dogs run away?  There are many reasons that a dog will runaway.  Being scared is a big one; they are often not even in a normal state of mind when this happens, they are just running.  A lack of exercise.  It feels good to run free and let out all your ya ya's.  A positive reinforcement can fuel your dog to run.  If they get out, have a great run around, maybe meet someone else or find some food along the way, have the desire to run.  

A lack of bonding can also cause a runaway.  Is everything out there better than you?  Does your dog think that the grass is greener elsewhere?  Maybe it is, you need to look at your relationship if you have a runaway.  You should be the most important thing in your dog's life.  This takes time, commitment, trust building and fun.  Even if you have a couple or more dogs; you should still be the most important thing to all of them individually.  

How do you become the most important thing in your dog's life?  Bonding.  Time spent together, training, feeding, grooming and trust building.  All of these things make you important.  In the beginning it is food, treat rewards that are worth hanging around you for.  Then with time comes the connection that grows.  You need to be present in your dog's life to become that special someone.  The one that your dog turns to for everything.  

Runaway dogs are no fun.  If you have one you need to figure out why they are running and fix it. 

Finally it is here!!!!

For many years I have been working on a new puppy training book.  Over the years it has evolved a great deal; things I wanted to include in a 'first' how to book changed.  What I wanted to give new puppy owners is a book of answers to the most common questions I received while working with my clients and their puppies.  For many new puppy guardians, taking the step into the dog world is confusing.  My book clears much of the confusion up and gives a precise way to deal with many of the issues that your puppy will throw at you. 

Having worked with so many new puppy guardians and understanding their need for quick answers; the book is written to deliver this.  Each chapter starts with a quickie version; for those times when you need an answer and need it fast.  Then each quickie version is followed up with a longer, full explanation.  There is far more to getting a puppy than just paying for them and bringing them home.  Educating and guiding them through the first weeks and months is so important in how they deal with the rest of their life; your life together. 

I love to write and I love to help others to better understand how to coexist with their dog in a more harmonious way.  After all this world of ours is geared around humans; it is up to us to teach our dogs how to live in it so that they can thrive and enjoy.  I am very excited to have completed this first step dog book; now onto the next.  Enjoy!

Training dogs and life lessons

                                    You cannot force a connection; it takes time, patience and trust.

Training dogs means something different to everyone.  Some people consider it a horrible way of bossing your dog around; they prefer a more free spirited "do what you want" lifestyle.  Others take it to the other end of the spectrum and compete in the sport of obedience.  When a dog does something that we do not approve of; many say that they are a bad dog.  No so, they are not being bad, but in fact they are being a dog.  It is our job as our dog's guardian to instill life lessons; an education on how best to live in our human world.  There are certain behaviors that I think make living in our world easier; such as sit, down, stay, come etc. etc.  They don't need a lot but they should have at least the basics.  But as far as flourishing in our world; they need much more than an understanding of  the basic behaviors.   

Life, they need to experience life and everything in it.  When a puppy joins a new family; they are as many say, a blank slate.  That slate is blank as far as living in our human world.  They may already have much knowledge; but depending on where they came from it may only be about being a dog.  Funny how we get a dog and expect them to act like a perfect human.  Think about that.  They live with their littermates and mother.  Perhaps they hang out with other dogs in the house or around and then plop; they are set into a human world.  They have much to learn and it is our job to teach it all to them.

What to bite and not to bite, what to ignore, how to deal with annoyance, where to go to the bathroom.  The list goes on and on as far as our world and being appropriate in it.  Slapping a leash on and heading out into the world with no regard to how and what your dog is feeling about it all is very human of us.  We need to connect with our dogs as one.  When you achieve that connection with a dog; everything else falls in place.  Training and life lessons are still required but it becomes easy with that connection. 

This means that you must learn all about your dog.  What makes them tick, motivates, scares and puzzles them.  I was driving down the street the other day and saw a large scary Halloween figure on someone's front yard.  I immediately thought "Elsa would not like that," because I know her.  An ominous figure standing frozen and staring?  No, she would not like that at all.  There is a learning curve involved when you get a new puppy or adult dog for that matter.  The more you watch and pay attention; the faster you will know your dog.  So many people walk their dogs and never actually give their dog a second thought. 

Every single dog is different, just like us.  We look at the world from many different points of view.  Dogs are the same way so knowing how to approach your dog's education requires that you know your dog.  Training becomes so easy when you get up close and personal.    


Train, trained, training.  Do you, is yours, going to, are you?  Train?

Train:  to develop or form the habits, thoughts, or behavior by discipline and instruction.  To make proficient by instruction and practice, as in some art, profession, or work.
So do you?  Do you train your dog?  Training is a funny thing, or perhaps I should say funny word.  Many people think of it as a very official practice; while others think that it is mean and bossy to do.  There are many meanings of the word 'train.'  But when talking about dogs and training; for me it means to offer an education.  Sure our dogs can be trained for a very specific purpose.  Agility, flyball, scent work, search and rescue, guide dog etc etc etc.  But, what about the average 'Joe dog?'  You know the one that is sitting at your feet, beside you on the couch or on your bed?  What about them? 
I for one love training.  I love dog behavior so when I can connect a human and canine together in a cohesive manner, it makes me  very happy.  I am continually fascinated how just a little goes a long way.  That is with regards to humans and dogs.  Teaching a human is often be much more difficult than a dog.  Dogs learn through association, humans learn when and if they want to.  Many humans shut down when you discuss the art of training; they don't want to hear it.  Not dogs, dogs love to learn and the only thing you need to do to teach them is to find out what makes them tick, what motivates them. 
Every dog is different so training should never be thought of as a science.  There are certain basics to teaching a dog and when you've been doing it for a long time, you hopefully will know them.  That is of course if you are paying attention and open to the learning curve.  If you are a know it all type, then I am sorry to say that your learning curve will be very short and dead ended quite quickly. 
Training does not mean that your dog must act as a robot; it does not mean that you are being mean to them by telling them what to do.  Everyday basic training is a way to offer our dogs an easy way to live in our human world.  Without human guidance, our dogs know how to be dogs.  Not all dog behaviors are desirable in our world; that is where we step in and guide.  Training encompasses a whole spectrum of activities; from the tiniest of lessons to full on life saving maneuvers. 
Never underestimate the power of training; even the smallest act of guidance can have a huge ripple effect.  Training should never be considered a single act as it is an ongoing process.  Some dogs learn quickly while others need much longer to absorb a lesson.  All dogs are intelligent, it is sad to see a canine mind wasted; never given the chance to thrive in life.  When I ask someone if their dog is trained; they often do not understand the question.  I then say "the basics," do they sit, down, stay on command?  These are the things that dogs should know as a very bottom line basic maneuver training.  Can you move your dog without touching them?  Does your dog understand directions in movement?  It can be very frustrating to a dog to be hauled around by the collar because their owner never took the time to teach them a few movements. 
Training is not a bad word; perhaps we should just call it what it is, educating.   


An adorable puppy waiting to learn. 

What is training?

Training - intended for use during an introductory, learning, or transitional period.

So training is in the beginning; at the start of your relationship with your dog.  But many never even get started; they think that their dog will somehow learn from them without them ever actually taking the time to train.  Do you belt out commands to your dog that you have never officially trained them on?  I see it all the time; people shouting "sit, stay, heel" at their dog while their dog has no idea what these words mean.  No, dogs do not come equipped with the knowledge of these words.  Training takes time and if you want your dog to clearly understand what these words you throw around mean, you have to work hard to teach them. 

Training is repetition, reward and error markers.  As a positive reinforcement trainer, there is no forcing a behavior.  Each behavior is learned through the use of baby steps; rewarding each tiny progression until it's finality. At that point you can train the full behavior; adding  minor distractions next until you can then train it in public.  That is a lot of work.  Each and every behavior must go through the same rigors to be solid and useful.  Of course all dogs are not the same; some may fly through the stages while others linger or get stuck. 

Training for me is about far more than just individual behaviors.  It is about manners in life; the whole package of life, the day to day.  Many dogs that I meet know their sits, down and stay; but can they perform them in life?  Have they been asked to do anything other times of the day and not just training time?  Many people tell me "they are great when we are training."  Well, yes but that sucks.  I hate unruliness, I am not a fan of "out of control" dogs.  So we have rules, lots of them and everyone needs to abide by them, human and dog. 

Of course my dogs are not always perfect; there is no perfect dog like there are no perfect people.  They have times of unruly, crazies but if I say "enough" it means "enough."  Lack of training only causes confusion, stress, frustration and unhappiness for both the dog and the human involved.   Training is essential, our dogs come to us knowing how to be a dog.  Some dog behaviors are unwanted in our human world; that is where the training comes into our day to day.  Once we train the behaviors we then need to enforce, the workout stage. 

Training is in the beginning, continuing to enforce is after the fact.  That is the Sheriff's job and you my friend are the new Sheriff in town.  :)

Not today

I got out my car sun shade, clicker, treats and sat in the yard.  Elsa followed, and as I sat, she sat looking at me.  She looked at the shade and began; immediately touching the shade she got her click.  We were doing something with the sun shade.  Before I placed the shade on the ground I had considered what I wanted from Elsa.  You have to know what you want before you begin; otherwise what are you going to click for?  With the shade accordion style on the ground, we worked on getting her on it and laying down.  Next would be to stand it up so that she would have to knock it down and then get on it. 

Being that Elsa already knows about going to a spot and downing on it; she was fast to get on the shade and lay down.  So we were then moving onto standing it up for her to knock down when we were rudely interrupted.  A lizard.  Elsa stood transfixed on a spot behind me; I knew what it was as soon as she got rigid.  Within a fraction of a second she was gone.  She'd entered the hunt zone; which is not conducive to working on a new behavior.  I gave her a moment and called her back.  Once back, she was only partially with me.  Her attention kept going to the wall behind me and the lizard that might possibly come back to sun itself there.  In a flash she was gone again.  Hmmmmmmmmmmm.  I know when I've been nudged out, and this was one of those times.  Outdone by a lizard, whatever.  The sun would be out for another couple of hours so I folded up my shade, grabbed the treats, clicker and head in; leaving Elsa out with her lizard hunting. 

You cannot teach a new behavior with huge distractions, you just cannot.  Had we been working on a behavior that Elsa already knew then it would have been different.  I could have enforced that she stay with me and work.  When you are teaching a new behavior, you need undivided attention.  I most definitely did not have that when the lizard showed up on the scene.  Elsa has drive and her drive got the best of her.  Being that we were just doing "fun" training; learning a new behavior just to learn something new, I gave it up.  Better to end on a positive that sit and try to compete with the lizard. 

If it's not happening, quit.  Don't force a new behavior training moment.  If you cannot get your dog's undivided attention; wait until later when you can.  I could have upped the quality of my treats but the lizard still would have had part of Elsa's attention.  So I chose to end the session and begin again another day.  Maybe then I'll come up with something even better to do with the shade. 

Just dogs.

                                    Penny, Elsa, Luke and I having a snugglefest. 

Just dogs with Sherri, "oh what do you do with dogs?"  Is a question I hear often.  I have shortened the answer due to the practice of offering up what I do.  I do dogs. 

I am:

- first and foremost a dog trainer.

- a dog photographer.

- a dog writer. 


To elaborate a small bit.  I started my life in the conformation show ring at the age of 13 years young.  From there I went on to train with conventional training methods (choke collars).  In the mid 90s I discovered positive reinforcement training and never looked back. I have taught years of group obedience classes; then moved on to private in-home training where I was able to do more personalized behavior modification.  I am now offering email behavior consultations.  I love that I can help so many people with one on one assistance on their everyday to serious canine issues.  Giving people the tools to help make living with their dog a smooth one is about as good as it gets for me.  Being able to reach those in remote areas and help anywhere in the world is remarkable.  Help is just a click away. 

Canine behavior is by far my biggest passion; it is where my love of photographing dogs stemmed from. 


 Specializing in action photography and the canine/human connection.  It started years ago when a camera was left in front of me.  It didn't take long to discover that I loved capturing the very essence of a dog.  I very quickly worked into many of the big dog magazines; having been in many, had feature photo spreads and covers.  But it is the private shoot that really charges me; capturing a dog for the person who loves it.  That or capturing the love between the two; the canine/human connection. 

Stopping  a moment in time; one that you might never see otherwise is as they say, priceless.


I needed more, I have a lot to say and writing seemed the way to do it.  I have been writing this blog for years, almost 7 years now.  Pretty crazy when I look back at the beginning.  So this blog gives me an outlet to share dogs with you all.  When I hear about new canine related things; I like to share them with you.  When my dogs and I experience new, weird, crazy and interesting things; I like to share them with you. 

After blogging for years I put my love of writing and photography together into my children's books.  The Luke and Elsa series.  If you have not seen or heard of them; check them out on my website books page.  I am currently working on book #3 in the series which will feature other dogs as well as Luke and Elsa. 

There is also my novel PBJ and me (which is on my book page of my website as well).  A book that came from a trip, an adventure that changed everything.  I had planned to do a cross country photography book with the trip but it quickly became much more than just pictures.  I am currently working on the sequel to this book which will hopefully be out soon. 

I also have a training/behavior book for the new puppy owner that is very near completion.  Stay tuned for the news on that one. 

But wait, there's more.

Canine behavior, photography and writing are my main work; the stuff that fills most of my days.  But there is more, I am working on some new treats which will hopefully be available soon.  There is also the canine related gear that I am working on.  Testing canine related products for lots of big dog companies.  Nutrition, grooming, grooming products, dog related human gear and the list goes on and on and on.

So what do I do?  Dogs, Just dogs with of course me, Sherri.  :) 


They await guidance via feedback. 

Feedback.  It's all about feedback.

Feedback - a reaction or response to a particular process or activity. 

Living with dogs is all about feedback.  From the moment your dog joins your family and throughout your life together; feedback should be a part of it all..  "I don't like telling him what to do," is a common phrase heard when discussing training a dog.  Some people link obedience or training with cruel control.   The whole process of learning to live in our human world requires feedback, constant feedback.  Our dogs cannot learn how to act appropriately all on their own, they need assistance.   If you have offered appropriate feedback as your dog learns the ins and outs of living in our world; the need for feedback typically lessens over the years. 

Rules, regulations and living side by side in a human world all require feedback.  When a dog offers an unwanted behavior; it is our job to give feedback.  Yes, I like that; no, I don't like that.  Tweaking behaviors or altering them in a large way is our job.  Without feedback we leave our dog standing alone to try to figure it all out by themselves.  That is not a good thing for a dog; our dogs need guidance every step of the way. 

Feedback is not mean, cruel or bad.  Feedback is good; our dog's need help to maneuver through it all.  Do you offer your dog enough feedback?  Are you helping them to figure out this whole human world of ours?  When you offer your dog feedback on a regular basis; they will tend to look to you for more.   Feedback can come as vocal sounds or physically stepping in.  Once a dog understands a particular vocal sound that means "not acceptable" it can be very easy to share the knowledge.   It is simply a required reaction to an action which supplies important information. 

I have had to step in and give feedback myself when owners have not stepped up.  If it concerns my dogs and someone else's dog I will most definitely offer what is needed.  Like parents who offer no feedback to their misbehaved children; unruly dogs receiving no feedback are just as obnoxious.  Feedback, give it to your dog. 

When to start the training?

      I took this photo years ago.  An irresistibly adorable Havanese puppy in need of an education. 

"When should I start?" the woman asks me with an adorable bundle in her arms.  We started up a conversation while standing in line at the store.  She'd had her puppy for 4 weeks and he was a cutie for sure; what puppy isn't right?  She had gotten her puppy at the age of 12 weeks so that meant that he was now 16 weeks and she was just thinking about looking into training.  "Now, right away," was my response to her question.  Right now. 

Looking back at the beginning of my life with dogs; I cannot believe the change from then and now.  Back then there was no positive reinforcement training, no clickers, no treat training.  It was all done with extensive use of the yank and choke'm method of training.  Thankfully there is less of that now but with the fame of a television dog trainer; force training has reared it's ugly head once again.  It is sad when I see people following his guidance and even sadder to see evolution in dog training taking a step backwards.

Many people are just now venturing into the waters of life with dogs.  It is a good time to be coming in; at least there are choices where there were none before.  Of course maybe twenty years from now choke collar training will be a thing of the past and no one will consider throwing a chain around a dog's neck to educate them.   We can only hope.

Okay, back to when, when do you start all of this education?  Immediately, as soon as you get that little bundle in your hands, start.   I have taught 6 week old puppies to sit and down within a matter of minutes.  Those little brains are working on overtime at a very young age.  The longer you wait the harder it is to get started.  Learning to learn is the first step and when it is done very young; you set the ground work for a great learning future for your dog.  Teaching an adult dog who has never been taught anything can be a challenge.  Asking a dog to oblige you and perform some sort of task that is trained but completely out of the ordinary can raise flags.  This means a dog that has been taught but is never asked to do anything. 

During a photo shoot I will often ask if a dog can sit or stay.  As you all know I do not like posed images but sometimes I just need a dog to hover in a particular spot.  I don't want them to smile at the camera but just hold still for a moment.  I know the answer immediately by the owners hesitant response if that is doable or not.  Often I will forgo any sort of manipulation due to the dog's lack of education.  Asking a dog to do something that they are not familiar with or don't normally do can cause stress.  Stress does not make for good images.  The dog may have been taught how to sit or lay down but it is never, ever used so when we pull it out of nowhere, they grow suspicious. 

Educate your dog as soon as they join the family.  Now, right now.  The old school train of thought was to wait until 6 months.  I cannot even believe that 6 months use to be the age.  The reason behind that 6 months starting age was the puppy's ability to withstand neck yanks.  Just imagine.  I can't even, honestly.  It makes me shudder to think about it.  Puppies can learn pretty much as soon as they can walk; and when you are not using any physical force to teach, why not start then?

I often ask 7 week old puppies to do a sit for me during temperament testing. I like to see what sort of focus they have and their level of food motivation.  It always makes me smile when they plop that tiny rear on the ground within a split second.  Little smarties they are.   If you have a new puppy, get started.  Do not wait for bad behaviors to start.  It is much easier to teach good manners rather than try to undo bad ones and then teach the good. 

When you are looking for a dog trainer, go positive.  Any mention of a choke or prong collar, make a quick exit.  They may have lots of experience but negative experience in my mind means that they are stuck in the dark ages; no evolution going on there.   

Tales of a tail - #2

Not one of the girls but an adorable young English Bulldog boy who is in my Dogs In The OC book.  

I met Prada (name change) many years ago.  She was just a pup when we met and she was one of the most expressive little things that I had ever met.  Prada was also one of the many English Bulldogs that I've worked with.  Not long after I met her I worked with loads of other English Bulldogs and fell head over heels in love with the breed.  They are most definitely characters.

Probably the biggest misconception about the breed is that they are stupid.  Even many owners think that their English Bulldog is stupid.  Nothing could be further from the truth; Bulldogs are crazy smart.  Smart enough in fact to convince you that they are stupid.  No, they are smart cookies; but willing to jump at your every command?  Not so much.  Prada learned absolutely everything that we taught her but whether or not she did what she was told was something entirely different.

Each week when we met for a training class; I knew that I was in for laughs.  When asked to do a behavior that she really wasn't in the mood for she would simply whip her head around and not look at me.  Believe me when I say; that it took a great deal of work to outsmart her.  But once I had her figured out; she was amazing to teach.  I truly hate when people assume that certain breeds are stupid just because they haven't figured out how to teach them yet.

Bulldog's have got huge personalities and are one of my favorite breeds to shoot as well as train.  With their expressive face and gestures they can keep you laughing on a regular basis.  A couple of years after I met Prada; she was joined by another house sibling, Chablis (name change to protect identity).  She too was an English Bulldog; different, yet very much a character as well.  I always looked forward to our weekly training session and got a kick out of the two girls and their interactions with each other and with me.  The two would compete for my attention and just loved their training session.

I always hated to leave; hanging out with them was a blast.  Being their private trainer was most definitely a privilege.  Although I worked with them so many years ago; they still hold a special place in my "great dog's I've known."  Those two girls were just a few of the amazing English Bulldogs that I had the opportunity to work with but two that left the some of the biggest impressions.

What are you teaching?

It's going to be another scorcher today.  Thankfully I spent much of yesterday in San Diego where it was at least 8-10 degrees cooler.  Still hot but not scorching hot.  When it is as hot as it's going to be today we spend much of our time indoors.  We will head out nice and early before the searing heat hits for a bit of exercise but then we'll be in the AC.  Because today will be another "inside" day I've decided to teach Elsa to go through my legs.  She already knows how to go through; but it is sort of willy nilly style.  She runs through getting all excited but now I want to fine tune the act. 

The other day as I was putting both Luke and Elsa's harnesses on when I thought about the lesson.  Hmmmmmm, I'd like Elsa to come through my legs from the back and slip into her harness.  She already does the very cute and adorable 'latch on' exercise before we leave; which is much like a seeing eye dog does for their owner.  I go to the place where the open button for the garage door is;  she pushes under my hand until I grab her harness.  Then the button is pushed and we can leave, but not until then.  I love it, she is so cute pushing under my hand trying to get me to grab a hold of her harness. 

So now I'm going to teach her to go through my legs and into her harness.  Luke and Elsa both where the Easy Walk Harness by Premier.  This harness is perfect for the exercise because the action required to get it on is exactly what is needed.  She will have to come from behind me; go through my legs, putting her head into the harness.  From that point she will be asked to continue moving forward while I do it up under her chest. 

Elsa gets very silly and overly excited when we are learning new behaviors.  She wants to cut to the chase and get the treat.  Being treat motivated is wonderful for learning new stuff.  Dealing with her over zealous behavior takes calm and cool behavior on my part.  I need to create a black and white scenario, no gray tones for this girl.  If she is on the wrong path I will mark that with a vocal error marker and stop.  Then we start again.  (More detailed instructions on working with over enthusiasm on my website soon).

So while the sun is at it's fullest and the heat is on; we'll be working hard on learning a new behavior.  It doesn't matter what you teach your dog; any new behavior or exercise is a good one.  Many dogs who have never been given the chance to learn have a difficult time with the concept.  Once a dog understands the premise behind learning; they are typically on board for more.  What are you teaching today? 

Just Luke

"Just Luke" I said and her ears dropped.  Yay, she completely understands now.  I was going through my normal morning routine which Elsa has known for eons.  She figures out routine way too fast for her own good.  But this morning was one of the "different" mornings.  I really wanted to take Luke out on his own.  He is slowing down and taking his time; making it more difficult to walk both Elsa and Luke together.  It is good for both of them and me as well.  I get to enjoy everything about each one as an individual; not that I don't enjoy them as a pair.  They are after all a pretty adorable pair.  Any hoo, it was one of those "just Luke," days.

Every second of the day Elsa watches me like a hawk; morning time is walk time, especially in the summer.  She watches my every move; constantly anticipating the sock move.  She knows whats coming and doesn't leave my side.  When I reach the top of the stairs, her eyes are glued on mine.  As I take the first step down the steps she is already at the bottom spinning.  So I tell her then; before she gets too excited "just Luke."  Every molecule of her being sinks.  Her ears go down and she gets her "did I hear you correctly?" face on.  I tell her again so that she is perfectly clear, "just Luke."  The degree of her understanding is amazing.  Her whole reaction is complete realization.

Luke also understands and his ears perk up.  I've been using the "just" term for years and years.  It always precedes someone's name.  I use to use it much more often when there were three and then four dogs in the house.  Now that there are only two I don't use it quite as often.  But even using it very infrequently; Elsa has got it like everything else she gets.  She clearly knew what I said this morning and when I went to the garage door she was not chomping at the bit.  She knew she wasn't going and stood to the side; allowing Luke to go out the door without any hindrance.

Not only does she understand what "just Luke," means; she is much better with the whole idea of "just Luke."  She use to come quite unglued being left at home.  Of course she'd rather not be left but she is fine with it which is so very important.  We had a few life issues in her first year with us that sort of put the, being left at home alone on the back burner.  With the loss of Jessie and then Tilley just three weeks later Luke suffered from some separation issues in Connecticut and then again when we returned to California.  When we arrived back home in Southern California and to our old house; I am sure that Luke thought they'd be here.  When they were nowhere in sight he had a few issues to deal with once again.  Sad but part of life and we got through it.

So not only is Elsa good with being left alone; Luke can also be left alone now.  It is so very important.  If you have multiple dogs and are not doing alone time, you need to start.

Another hump day

                   This photo was taken with my laptop camera.  Not great but it will do in a pinch.  They've come a long way with computer and phone cameras. 

Well I've officially been without my main computer for a week.  I pick it up today, so I'm hoping that they fixed the blue screen issue.  I feel very lost without it; even though just hours before the crash I got a new laptop.  My main PC is the hub of my life; it is where I write, upload photos and stay connected throughout the day.  I love my office as well, both Elsa and Luke love it too so it will be nice to put my computer back in its home and get back to work.  I really like this new laptop but it is not my computer.  For one thing it has Windows 8 on it which I'm trying to get a handle on.  It is pretty easy but getting use to it is something else.  But I'm getting there. 

This new laptop has no disc drive so that means no putting old software into it.  Hmmmmmmmm???  When I was looking at all the new ones without disc drives I sat staring and pondering; this was going to be some work to dig up codes for online software.  Either dig up the old or go with the flow and buy new.  For Photoshop I'm going to have to go with new; upgrading to the newest version.  That's fine, I was meaning to do it anyway.  This laptop is light weight, so it can be dragged along with me everywhere which will enable me to write on the fly.  Nice.

So I have a new phone, new laptop and hopefully repaired office computer.  I'll be all set as far as my technology needs go.  Now to make them work for me.  I'm nearing the end of my training book and will hopefully have it out before Christmas.  My second book about my trip from CA to CT and back again is also nearing completion.  That one is a tough write so it is taking much longer. 

My main website is getting a much needed facelift.  New and exciting additions are coming but it will be a while until everything is up and running smoothly.  I am working on a webinar as well.  The first one is well under way and ideas for future webinars are in the works.  So stay tuned for that. 

I have incorporated my consultation packages on my website now and am excited to hear from and help those of you out who need it. 

Lots of changes coming and only one direction to go, straight ahead.