“The Clicker Thing” Really Works!

A few weeks ago I met with a client for a private lesson with her reactive Border Collie, Fred. We’ve been doing lessons for a while now. At that lesson she confessed that for several weeks she had been thinking “this clicker thing” (AKA engage/disengage game) was not going to work at all. She told me that she trusted me and had been giving it a good try even though she wasn’t convinced. She said that once she really put in the time it “totally started to work.”

Last weekend (just over one month since that conversation), I graduated Fred and his mom from their private lessons. I always send out a survey to get feedback from my clients’ regarding their experience of training with me. She wrote a whole bunch of stuff about how much more fun it is to go for a walk with Fred now that he is calmer but here’s the part that made me proud and made me laugh: “Jennifer is spot on with her training. We questioned one or two things along the way thinking that they would not help or work. We followed her instructions to a “T” though, and were proved wrong every time. She knew what she was talking about, and if her instructions are followed exactly, the results are there. It was amazing!”

Now, here’s my confession: I was faking it.

I took Sarah’s seminar last March and started trying the “clicker thing” with a couple of clients as soon as I got home. I’ve been training dogs professionally for about 6 years and have done marker training before but I had never used a clicker to deal with reactivity. I gave this client a clicker and bait bag and told her that we were going to try out this new stuff I had learned. She knew I was experimenting with her and her dog and she was willing to give it a shot. There was no question in my mind that click-for-looking/click-for-looking-away works. I was just crossing my fingers that I could get it to work for Fred and his mom. I’ve been struggling for a long time with how to help clients with reactive dogs. Way too long. This is not the first reactive dog that I’ve graduated since taking Sarah’s seminar but the feedback on this one is immensely satisfying. Thank you Sarah!

– Jennifer Frese – Wenatchee, WA

When Medication May Be The Right Choice

Sarah Fulcher, CDBC

I recently began working with a very lovely little dog named Lily, a female mixed breed dog who weighs about 25 lbs. She is very affectionate, intelligent and cute, however, she had a very rough start in life. Before she came to her new owners she spent most of her crucial developmental periods in isolation. She received little to no socialization and was kept inside a room in a house with another dog who repeatedly aggressed towards her.

Surprisingly, Lily is a very friendly and trusting dog towards humans. She is mostly a pleasant dog to live with. However, I was called in to assist with Lily’s intense reactivity. She is not aggressive towards dogs or people, but she was extremely reactive on lead at the sight or sound of another dog. In fact, just walking out the front door was enough to send her into a barking frenzy, and she was constantly hyper vigilant and explosive while outdoors. Inside, she could be fairly calm but would erupt into seemingly randomly triggered spouts of intense barking and was difficult to redirect or settle.

After doing two sessions with Lily and her owner I recommended that they speak to the veterinarian about behavioural medications for Lily. This is something that I am extremely infrequent to recommend, simply because I think most dogs with behaviour problems do not need it, and most behaviour problems can be tackled through behaviour modification and training. However, there are several reasons why I thought this would be a good choice for Lily:

  1. Her reaction was extremely intense, difficult to interrupt, and she had a very poor recovery from stress.
  2. Her threshold was extremely high, simply being outside was incredibly stressful for her and sent her over the top into over stimulation and frenzy.
  3. Her triggers were multiple and often it was impossible to determine exactly what it was that was setting her off.
  4. The behaviour was severely impacting Lily’s quality of life as well as her owner’s.

Lack of early stimulation can effect brain development, which in turn can influence behaviour.

Sometimes, when dogs do not get enough stimulation in the early parts of their life and through critical development periods they can have problems tolerating stressors as well as a normally functioning dog. This can also occur if the mother is sick or stressed while the puppies are in utero. I thought that the complete isolation Lily lived the beginning of her life in could definitely have caused abnormal brain development, and she simply maybe was having a physiologically different response to stress. This type of thing is out of the realm of a behaviour consultant, so I suggested that Lily’s owners consult with the veterinarian and also told them about the option of doing a phone consult with a Veterinary Behaviourist via their vet since we do not have that specialist option locally. One of the prices we pay to live in the gorgeous mountains.

The last time I saw Lily was just over 7 weeks ago and her owners took her to the vet very shortly after our last appointment. Provided with the behaviour history as well as my assessment and notes, the vet and Lily’s owner decided to try putting Lily on Prozac. We wanted to wait in between sessions to give the medication some time to take effect in Lily’s system, but her owners continued to work on some of the foundation skills we had started on such as go to mat and conditioning her to a head collar.

I just saw Lily today and I was blown away by the positive difference in her. The previous times I would arrive at the home, Lily would erupt into constant, high volume barking. She was difficult for the owners to redirect and gain control of her. She would rush down the stairs, barking the entire time and run up to me barking. She would not settle until I got up the stairs. This session, I knocked on the door and heard her bark lightly 4 times, and then the owner sent her to her mat, came down and answered the door and Lily remained calm. Once released off her mat, Lily barked lightly two more times on her way over to me where she greeted me happily and politely. She settled immediately and enjoyed some affection with me once we were upstairs.

The previous times I visited Lily, multiple times per session she would also begin barking for no apparent reason (there was no visual or auditory stimuli we could detect) and took a while to settle. This session, there was not so much as a peep out of her. She was notably more relaxed and calm, but did not at all seemed sedated and was her normal lovely self.

Not Lily, but similarly cute.

Not Lily, but similarly cute.

Taking Lily outdoors was where I noticed and extreme difference. Previously Lily would explode the moment we crossed the threshold, even when she had been calm second before. She was barking almost constantly, hyper vigilant, couldn’t focus, and pulled constantly at the leash. She would suddenly begin to bark and violently lunge if she so much as heard a dog, and sometimes when we could not hear anything at all.

At this latest session, she walked outside happy, confidently and calmly. She didn’t bark once! Last time we tired to work her outdoors, we barely made it a quarter of the way down their driveway. Today she cheerfully trotted down the entire driveway without a hitch. When I brought my dog out there was an outburst at the initial site of him, but Lily was very quick to redirect and settled shortly. With a bit of work we were then able to walk her calmly up to my dog within a few moments, and she promptly greeted him very politely and appropriately. When I brought out my second dog she was very interested, but did not bark at all. She was able to nicely walk right past him, and then was able to meet him and even tried to play. With my third dog she again did not bark at all, and while interested, was able to ignore her easily.

I was incredibly pleased with the difference in Lily with the addition of behavioural medication to her treatment plan. To be honest the results were better than I could have imagined! Lily is able to be outside without being stressed constantly and is able to go on walks with her owner on a regular basis without it being an unpleasant experience for both of them. I’m happy to say Lily will be joining us in our outdoor group classes next week.

While I do feel that behavioural medications may sometimes not be the best choice, and are certainly not a replacement for training, this was a case where the dog really needed it and this decision will improve the quality of life for Lily and her human family. Sometimes we are dealing with dogs whose poor start in life has actually led them to have abnormal brain development, and in these cases it might be time to consider some extra help beyond behaviour modification and training.

Our outdoor group class which Lily will no be able to join.

Our outdoor group class which Lily will no be able to join.

Some signs that it might be appropriate to consider medication as part of a treatment plan can be: when the behaviour is is provoked by routine occurrences or the triggers are multiple and difficult to predict; if the dogs reaction to provoking stimuli is very intense and disproportionate; if the dog’s recovery to stress is poor meaning that their reaction may last a while or they take a long time to return to baseline.

If you think a dog you are working with (or your personal dog) may benefit from medication, it may be time to consider speaking with your vet or a veterinary behaviourist. Veterinary behaviourists are not geographically available to all of us, but some of them, like (Animal Behavior Clinic in Portland) can offer phone consultants to your client’s veterinarian.

Veterinary behaviourists may also have some insight into important medical tests to run before placing a dog on medication, as they did with our corgi Kalani. It was recommended we test for proper liver functioning in her due to her symptoms and it turned out she has some form of liver disease like a shunt. Lani has been placed on a prescription diet and her behaviour problems are improving. My general vet is not a specialist in the health links to behaviour problems and didn’t pick up the behavioural symptoms of liver disease.

Behavioural medications should not be viewed as a quick fix – they are best used in conjunction with a training and behaviour modification program with a qualified professional. Sometimes it may be necessary for the dog to remain on them their entire life, but other times it can be a short term solution to help behaviour training take hold. I look forward to working more with Lily and her family, and am excited for what the future holds for them. I am thrilled that the medication has already helped Lily as much as it has, and I see a bright prognosis for her with her owners being dedicated to continuing training with her.

It’s Not Shark Week…

It’s Not Shark Week…

Tips and Trick for Nippy Pups


By Sarah Fulcher

You’ve just brought home your new furry bundle of joy. Everything is going swell for the first week – you’re impressed at how sweet and calm your puppy is. Then, out of nowhere you have a shark on your hands! Where has my sweet, quiet pooch gone? Or perhaps you had a mouthy pup straight from the get go. Either way it’s important to understand that puppy nipping is totally normal. Even if your new addition started out sweet and quiet they grow up and get more energy and things can change!



13010867_10154139391781465_3812296866121374242_nPuppies explore the world with their mouths so it is natural for them to put their teeth on their surroundings – including you! Dogs also play by mouthing and biting and while it’s totally normal and natural, humans are much more sensitive than dogs, and puppies need to learn that biting and nipping the two-legged family members is off limits.

A nipping problem can start before you even bring your puppy home. A proper upbringing by the breeder or puppy raiser can make a huge difference in how well your puppy deals with stress and gets a jump start on bite inhibition. I recommend puppies stay with their litter until at least 7-8 weeks as they learn some critical things from mom and litter mates up to that age. Puppies that leave the litter before 7 weeks of age seem to pretty consistently have impulse control, mouthing, and handling issues. The younger the puppy is when it leaves the litter the more pronounced these problems can be.



One critical piece of misinformation that often gets overlooked and is often essential in reducing mouthiness is making sure your puppy gets enough rest. Just like young children, some puppies get wound up when they are tired and become excessively nippy when in this state. Young puppies should rest every few hours for about a half an hour. Crate training can be very helpful in promoting these rest periods, or you can also set up a puppy pen area for your pooch’s downtime. They may not sleep right away so you can put them away in the crate or pen with something healthy to chew on like a bully stick, stuffed Kong or a safe toy.

Many people also notice that their puppy goes crazy and is excessively mouthy at a certain time in the evening – this can also be chalked up to being over tired. If you can predict the general time your puppy will have their ‘mad moment’ be proactive and put them into their place if possible for some quiet time before they fly off the handle. Otherwise if you miss the opportunity to catch them before they go nuts it’s fine to take that as a sign that puppy needs a break and put them away for some quiet time.




A young puppy may respond to a “YIPE” interruption, but older or more determined puppies may need a different tactic.

If you have a young puppy, for example, under 12 weeks old, it is a good plan to begin soft mouth training. However if your puppy came to you with some more intense mouthing for whatever reason feel free to skip this step if you don’t feel you can comfortably accomplish it. With soft mouth training you want to allow the puppy to put his mouth on you, but provide feedback when he bites hard enough to hurt. This is very similar to how they learn how hard to bite other dogs. With a young pup, you can usually do a loud, high pitched “YIPE” and stop playing for a few seconds. It’s a good plan to then redirect your puppy to a toy or something safe to bite.

If you find that your puppy is biting hard most of the time or isn’t responding to the yipe it may be time to switch tactics. With some puppies (or once they are a little older) the yipe will only amp them up. You may need to switch tactics and use a loud “OUCH” as if you’ve been punched in the arm for any tooth contact to skin. Then pause interactions for several seconds and then redirect to a toy. If your puppy is biting hard or not responding to a yipe, they are probably beyond the stage for soft mouth training. If your puppy doesn’t respond to the ‘ouch’ by backing off or comes right back for more and won’t redirect to a toy it might be time for a brief, non-emotional time out.



The time out can be done in the crate if your puppy as a strong positive association with the crate. You should not be doing too many of these in any given day and should notice an improvement in the biting within a few days so it should not be enough to make the crate a negative place. If your puppy doesn’t have a positive association with their crate and you’re concerned about using it for a time out zone I suggest setting up a tether station away from the main areas of household activities and using that as a time out area.


The time out can be done in the crate, an x-pen, or on a tether station.

The purpose of the time out is to remove all attention for the nipping behaviour which is an extremely powerful and meaningful social consequence for dogs. Many puppies do learn that biting gets them attention (remember, any attention is good attention!) or that biting makes things they don’t want to happen stop, and a time out can be a very effective consequence in these instances especially. The time out does not need to be long – I typically suggest 30 seconds or until the pup stops protesting.

It’s important to pick a “time out cue” that you will give to the dog before you move to put them in the time out. This should be something used only in this instance that the entire family uses consistently. It helps the puppy to connect the undesirable behaviour with the consequence and also gives the puppy a chance to avoid the consequence entirely should they stop in response to hearing the time out cue.




Use your puppies meals as an opportunity to train desired behaviours.

I also recommend a few exercises to help puppies learn not to nip humans. One of my favourites is feeding the puppy’s meals by hand and allowing the puppy to learn that they must not nip or mug our hands to earn the food. Simple put a handful of kibble in your hand and place it in front of your puppy. Allow them to lick, nibble, or paw at your hand. If they bite hard enough to hurt yell “ouch” and remove the hand for 3-5 seconds. If at any time the puppy ignores your hand for a second or two say “yes” and allow them to eat the handful of kibble. Repeat until their meal is finished.

Another exercise I like to use for mouthy pups I call “Earth to Dog”- it helps with nipping, proofing sitting, and jumping up! To start, lure or cue the puppy to sit. Then take a treat or kibble in your hand and hold it high above the puppy’s head. Slowly lower the treat straight down towards puppy’s head. If puppy jumps out of the sit quickly pull the treat back up high out of reach! The goal is that they hold the sit and don’t snap at your hand long enough for you to almost get the treat to touch their nose – then you release them to have the treat. This helps to teach impulse control around food, not nipping at hands, and to take treats nicely.



imageAlthough it may seem like one of nature’s unnecessarily cruel jokes, there is a reason that puppies come equipped with those incredibly sharp teeth – so that they can learn how to gently use their mouths. However, they can really hurt! Having a mouthy puppy gets pretty frustrating in a short amount of time and nipping is one of the most common complaints I receive from puppy owners. But remember, puppy nipping and mouthiness is a totally normal behaviour. 

Add these exercises into your training toolkit and if you are consistent you should achieve some relief from those tiny shark teeth. Some puppy biting can be a really serious problem, so don’t hesitate to contact an experienced dog trainer in your area should you need extra help. Consider enrolling your new addition into a Puppy Kindergarten class as well – the continued interactions with other dogs will help to teach some bite control, especially if your puppy left the litter too young. Most of the time nipping is just totally normal behaviour so don’t panic and enjoy your new family member! Thankfully it’s generally pretty easy to teach a pup to have a soft mouth, with the right tools and consistency.


Training Drop It

Training Drop it

By Sarah Fulcher, CDBC

There are three ways I will commonly use to teach dogs to drop items. I don’t often use a clicker because my hands are full but will usually use a verbal “yes” marker at least. You can use a clicker or a verbal, I will just say refer to mark/marker/marking in this article and that means either one.

Dead Toy
The first is to try is the dead toy method. Play with the dog for a little bit and then when you want to initiate teaching the drop/out, just hold the toy firmly and into your body and stop tugging with the dog. This makes the game BORING. You can say “Drop” or “Out” or whatever you want your word to be here once but then just wait for the dog to let go – do not repeat the word as the dog is just making the association and we don’t want to accidentally teach them their cue is “drop drop drop drop”. Once the dog gets bored of trying to tug with no one playing the game with them, after a few seconds they will let go and you can mark and re-initiate play with the dog as the “treat” – no food needed here. If the dog doesn’t stop tugging on the toy after a few seconds, calmly reach down and gently grab their collar and hold on to them. This will prevent them from tugging, you can say “drop” again and then mark and and play again when they let go.

Dead toy drop it is not a good method to use with a dog you want to build drive in – for that I would recommend the two toy method to keep enthusiasm up.

In this session with puppy Brew, I am using a dead toy out.

Treat on the Nose
The second way I frequently teach drop is to use food. For this I usually will not use kibble but rather something with a stronger odour. When they dog has the toy well gripped, say “Drop” (or whatever) and put the stinky food directly on the dog’s nose. Usually they will let go of the toy at the scent of the treat. Mark, feed the treat, and re-initiate play. It’s important to say Drop BEFORE you move to put the treat to the dog’s nose, as we want the dog to anticipate the food when it hears Drop and let go of the toy. This should start to happen pretty quickly, at that point you can mark the drop, feed a treat, and start playing again for a few reps, but fairly quickly you should be able to ask the dog to Drop, and then reward the drop with playing with the toy again eliminating the treat.

Two Toy
The third option is to use two toys. It’s very similar to the treat method. When the dog has one toy, say “drop” and pull the other toy out from behind your back so the dog can see it. Usually they get excited for the new toy, drop the original one, and you can mark the drop and play with the new toy with them as a reward. With this one you can go back and forth. After a bit the dog should anticipate the new toy coming out and start dropping the toy on hearing the word Drop, and then you can also get rid of the second toy.

Chirag Patel’s Drop
I’ve also used Chirag Patel’s method in the past and found that it works very well.