Creating a Safe Space, a Crating Alternative

How often have you recommended crate-training to your clients as a part of a comprehensive training plan? Crating is one of the safest ways to manage a dog’s space, and most dogs can be acclimated to tolerate, if not outright enjoy, being crated. But there are human clients that prefer not to crate and canine clients who are better served by other options than crating. How do you help these clients?

1.       Explore crate training. Some clients simply don’t like the idea, and a clear presentation of the advantages of crate training by a respected canine professional is enough to change their mind. It is the safest option available for most dogs, so you shouldn’t immediately exclude it.

2.       Determine the needs of your specific client, both human and canine. An elderly dog may need a bigger, well-padded space but may not have the same jumping/escaping concerns. A very energetic dog will need more secure containment, for example a dog-proofed room with a tall dog gate. Note that dogs with anxiety have special needs that exceed the scope of this blog post. Signs can range from the dog not settling, whining, and constantly soliciting attention, to destructive behavior.

3.       Make the space comfortable. This might mean providing something as simple as a comfortable dog bed and a bowl of water. White noise and covered windows can make a space more comfortable for environmentally sensitive (sound and sight reactive) dogs. Also, provide a cubby-like space that the dog can choose to lie in within this larger safe space to allow the feeling of a den.

4.       Attach value to the space by feeding all meals there. Leave Kongs and chews for the dog when he’s confined within the space. Allow free access to the space at all times when the dog is not being actively contained.

The moral of this story? Professional dog training is about being flexible, providing solutions, and accommodating the special needs of your human and canine clients.

Puppy Prevention Saves Dog Aggression

Choosing what services you offer is one of the first decisions you’ll make when you start a dog training business. Preventative puppy training is extremely important for a number of reasons:

1.       Puppy class is the earliest training opportunity you have with prospective clients. If they’re not pursuing puppy training with you, you may miss out altogether on the opportunity to provide services to them, as they will find another trainer.

2.       For a well-rounded product selection, puppy class is a must. If you want to be one-stop shopping for your clients, then including puppy class is necessary. You may determine that you’d like to specialize for a number of reasons, but that’s another blog post!

3.       If you’re marketing through veterinary clinics, the 2 highest volume referrals are for puppy training and for problem behaviors (pet manners and behavior work.) If you fail to offer puppy classes, you’re missing a good number of vet referrals.

4.       Providing timely puppy training that focuses on topics like proper socialization, preventative measures for resource guarding, and appropriate dog-dog interactions can help your clients avoid any number of problem behaviors later in their dogs’ lives.

5.       And, last but not least, puppy class is fun!

The first three points listed above are about good business, but the fourth is about good dog training. By reaching clients earlier, before serious behavioral problems develop, you have an opportunity to help those puppies grow into well-adjusted, sociable adult dogs. This improves the quality of the both the dog’s and the owner’s lives. 

Some dogs, even with the very best of starts, can develop aggression or anxiety. If you have provided a positive dog training experience for your clients, then they are much more likely to turn to you for help and advice in resolving those developing behavior problems. And even better, they may seek your help more quickly if they already have an established relationship with you.

Enrichment & Exercise: Helping Your Clients Find Reasonable Alternatives


Your clients need not train their dogs to Jerry the Daschund’s level of self-sufficiency, but this is a great example of an owner’s creativity in attempting to keep his pup mentally stimulated and exercised. You may find some clients are reluctant to provide sufficient exercise and mental stimulation for their dogs. Here are a few challenges and tips:

1.         No time for exercise. Many clients perceive their exercise options as a dog park visit, a long walk, a jog or run. That’s not necessarily true. While those can be great ways to exercise some dogs for some clients, they’re not a great fit for everyone. Recommend some alternatives that clients can do at home or that require less time. A short walk, if that’s all there is time for. Tug and fetch can be done in short bursts, right before work or after. Scenting games can be done anywhere, with little preparation, and are not time consuming.

2.         Don’t enjoy walks, what else is there? Increasing mental stimulation can be an exercise replacement for some dogs. So incorporating interactive toys, short training sessions, and games can be helpful. There are also a number of sports now available to dogs and their owners. Review some of the options with your clients and see if one or more sparks interest.

3.         Don’t see the need. This one can be a little trickier without some case specific facts. You’ll need to point out very specific ways in which greater exercise and mental stimulation will benefit your clients dog. Look at the reasons your client is asking for professional dog training help. Relate your clients specific challenges to improvements that enrichment, exercise or mental stimulation, might make.

Determine what your client’s challenges are, brainstorm some reasonable options that fit their interests and schedule, and give them a plan for getting started. Need help convincing your clients to incorporate more mental stimulation and exercise? Read our blog “Enrichment & Exercise: Why Your Clients Need to Make the Time.”

Enrichment & Exercise: Why Your Clients Need To Make The Time

Here are a few benefits to cover with your clients when encouraging them to increase exercise and mental stimulation. Enrichment is a vital component to a dog’s mental and physical health. As a certified professional dog trainer you can help your clients to understand why it’s so important to incorporate enrichment into their dogs’ daily lives.

  1. Reduce boredom. Boredom can lead to a number of problem behaviors ranging from excessive grooming/licking to nuisance barking to destructive chewing.
  2. Increased fitness and weight loss. Leaner, fitter dogs live longer and better quality lives. Mobility is increased as dogs age if they don’t carry excess weight. Heart health is improved.
  3. Sufficiently exercised dogs are calmer. Under-enriched dogs can display nervous energy that expresses itself in pacing, excessive vocalization including whining, and hyper-vigilance.
  4. Provides an outlet for natural instincts. Many games and sports incorporate natural hunting, herding, and foraging instincts.

One of the goals of your dog training business should be to help your clients get the most benefit from the best, if not least, effort. That means helping them find ways to fit enrichment into their and their dogs’ lives and finding activities that are both beneficial to the dog and enjoyable for the owner. You’re a matchmaker – matching your client dog needs with appropriate activities. See one owner’s creative solution that utilizes a toy, some moving water, and a dog’s love of fetch.

Changing Client Attitudes About Dominance

As a professional dog trainer, you will encounter clients who are very well educated regarding behavior, some clients who simply have a knack for reading and responding to canine body language, and clients who get misinformation from the internet, family & friends, or previous trainers. One of the more popularly discussed and commonly misunderstood concepts you’ll encounter among your clients is dominance. Be ready with a strategy to approach clients with misconceptions, as well as a few ways to explain concepts in simple and easily understood language. 

Focus on:

  1. What dominance is, rather than what it’s not. Although you certainly shouldn’t shy away from explaining misconceptions. Read “Dominance Or The Best Spot” for one approach to explaining the concept of dominance to your clients.
  2. Addressing the clients' underlying concerns and reasons for believing that dominance is an issue in their relationship with their dog. Aggression, a lack of basic pet manners like jumping when excited, and inconsistent or incomplete housetraining are all good targets for being labeled dominant behavior by clients.
  3. Providing your client with a number of tools that enable him or her to interact with their dog in positive and relationship enriching ways. Explain how certain actions can damage their relationship with their dog.

Resolving the client’s behavior and training concerns utilizing techniques that improve the client’s relationship with his dog will be one of the best tools for convincing clients to abandon their dominance misconceptions.

Talking Dogs, How Technology Can Make It Happen

Every professional dog trainer’s dream? Dogs talking to humans. In the article “Meet The Researcher Who Wants To Get Dogs Talking To Humans In Five Years,” new technology is discussed that will facilitate clearer communication between dogs and their people. Specifically, service and search dogs are both mentioned in the article as targeted audiences for the technology. Researchers are training dogs to utilize a specialized harness to indicate specific hazards, in the case of service dogs, or a specialized dummy attached to the collar to trigger a GPS location signal, in the case of search dogs.

But as a certified professional dog trainer, it’s important to remember that dogs speak to humans all the time. Dogs are social creatures, and every interaction is an attempt to convey something – I’m happy; I’m hungry; don’t take my bone; I have to pee. It requires training and practice to understand some of the more complex or subtle forms of communication, but they certainly are talking. For an in depth discussion of interpreting dog body language, register for Raising Canine’s “Canine Body Language.” Interpreting body language is an essential skill if you’re interested in becoming a professional dog trainer.

Can technology help us to improve our relationships with our dogs? Absolutely. In the instance described above, the service and search dogs are being trained to communicate in specific, human-friendly ways that a lay person can easily understand. The technology is an interface between the dog and the human that the human handler can easily interpret. So while technology can help, there is still a need for training and an understanding of body language for communication between humans who specialize in dog training and dogs to exist and improve.

Resource Guarding Face Off

For a great commentary on body language related to resource guarding, read Patricia McConnell’s blog entry “Who is Going to Win?” We can’t mention often enough that becoming a professional dog trainer means acquiring and maintaining a strong understanding of canine body language. Keep practicing, and hone those skills!

Fun Dog Training Games Keep Clients Training

One of the challenges many professional dog trainers’ clients face is a very busy schedule with limited time for training. Helping your clients to incorporate training into their daily lives and giving them fun dog training games makes the chances for compliance much greater. Linda Michaels’ blog entry “The Grazing Game” provides a number of quick and easy food games based on the concept of grazing, the scattering of kibble for a dog to hunt and then eat.  Michaels also lists a number of benefits to utilizing the grazing game.

Other time saving and motivating tips for your clients include:

  1. Use food toys when possible for feeding meals. For more information on how to get your clients started on food toys successfully, read our blog post “Stuffed Toys: What’s Inside Your Toy?” And for some tips on choosing the right toy, check out “Fun With Food.”
  2. Keep training sessions between 3 and 5 minutes. Commercial breaks work great!
  3. Keep training rewards scattered through the house, so that there are rewards handy when there’s a spare moment to train.
  4. Schedule time to train. With some clients, just actively allowing time in their schedule is enough to get them rolling with training.
  5. Pick activities that are enjoyable for the dog and the client. The more fun it is for both, the more sustainable the behavior will be. Tricks, walks, scent games – have your client try a few different activities until they find a good fit.

Help your clients to keep training fun, short, and accessible, and you’ll have better compliance, happier dogs, and happier clients.

Time saving and motivating tips for dog training clients using fun dog training games and a little planning.

Victoria Stillwell Book Review: Train Your Dog Positively

Linda Michaels reviews Victoria Stillwell’s new book “Train Your Dog Positively” (TYDP) and has the following to say:

“If you’re a positive reinforcement trainer looking for succinct supporting arguments to enhance your practice, it’s all here– challenging and dispelling the myth of dominance and pack theory.” For additional information and tactics for dispelling dominance misconceptions, see the Raising Canine telecourse by Jean Donaldson “Dominance: Anatomy of a Mind Virus.”

Michaels also points out some additional applications of the book. “TYDP contains practical applications in each major area of problem-solving, from frustrating, persistent nuisance issues such as housetraining to frightening multi-dog household aggression.”

Michaels is an expert in force-free, science based methods for addressing dog behavior problems in the San Diego area and a FAR licensed trainer. Find her full review at:  

Understanding and Applying the Humane Hierarchy

What is the humane hierarchy? The humane hierarchy as it applies to dog trainers is a position statement promulgated by the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers (CCPDT) that addresses minimum standards of care. The following are the 6 procedures and practices to be applied in descending order when making decisions regarding training protocols and behavior interventions.

  1. Health, Nutrition, and Physical Factors
  2. Antecedents
  3. Positive Reinforcements
  4. Differential Reinforcement of Alternate Behavior
  5. Negative Punishment, Negative Reinforcement, or Extinction
  6. Positive punishment

Visit the CCPDT’s site to read the position statement in full. For a better understanding of the 4 quadrants and other practices above, enroll in Become A Professional Dog Trainer’s professional dog trainer course.

Why is it important for professional dog trainers to understand and implement the humane hierarchy? First, applicants for certification agree to abide by the CCPDT’s position statement as a prerequisite to holding a CCPDT certification. Second, and more importantly, the humane hierarchy provides an ethical framework within which professional dog trainers, certified and uncertified, can make training decisions when creating and implementing training protocols.