My Favorite Resources and Training Videos: Since there is so much information out there, some of it very harmful and unscientific, I’ve put together a resource page to help you sort through it all and find some gems.
There are videos, articles, books, podcasts, treats and training tools here. I will update this page periodically but it isn’t comprehensive as there are many great resources out there that I haven’t even had a chance to explore myself. The point is to save you time by identifying a small set of reliable and useful resources that are in line with force free and fear free training.
If you’re a client, I may refer you to this page and ask you to watch a specific video or read material between our sessions. I’ve added “for my clients” notes throughout this page.
Watching training videos can be a great way to see how to apply the concepts that you may have read about in books or articles.
If you’re looking for YouTube videos on dog training without the use of physical or psychological intimidation, my top recommendation is KikoPup. These are professional dog training videos created by world renowned trainer Emily Larlham. She has videos to train practically any behavior that you can think of!
My YouTube channel has a variety of training, enrichment, and cooperative care videos that I’ve posted, mostly working with my own dog, Kempie. I’m working on expanding it, but check it out!
Another of my favorite’s for training videos is Sarah Owings’ YouTube Channel. Sarah was my teacher for Karen Pryor Academy’s Dog Trainer Professional course! I pasted a few videos you might be interested in below:
- Puppy Foundation Skills: Part I (7:11) – https://youtu.be/rXGDCzcaVr0
- Puppy Foundation Skills Part II: Bread Crumb Trail Meet n Greet (4:53) – https://youtu.be/kuQ8fJQik2I
- Puppy Foundation Skills Part III: A ProActive Approach to Puppy Nipping (8:10) – https://youtu.be/_gAmM70hpWM
- Why Teach A Puppy Go-To-Mat (7:14) – https://youtu.be/cTFKWdEr95g
- Group Games for Multi Dog Households (4:03) – https://youtu.be/cQqHXERQwnY
- Name game with treat tosses (3 dogs)
If you want to access more recent training from Sarah, search for her on Tromplo, at Clicker Expo, and in podcast interviews with other leading trainers such as Hannah Branigan.
For my clients: It’s likely that I will refer you to YouTube videos at some point during our training together. I might also suggest that you video yourself and review your training or send me a clip. This is a great way to improve your own training and therefore, your pup’s learning.
Doggie Language: A Dog Lover’s Guide to Understanding Your Best Friend by Lili Chin
This is a book every single human who lives with a dog should own! It’s useful for families with children, adults, and even those of us who work with dogs everyday. Our dogs are trying to communicate with us all the time through their body language. Often, their communication falls flat when we fail to read and understand their body language. Lili Chin has beautiful, fun illustrations with excellent, brief explanations of what your dog may be feeling and trying to communicate. Get this book now!!!
Puppy Start Right: Foundation Training for the Companion Dog by Kenneth and Debbie Martin
This book has all the basics of providing foundation training to your new puppy, but the training principles are also great for adolescent or adult dogs. It has clear illustrations, step-by-step instructions, and a whole section on the stages of puppy development and socializing puppies during their developmental stages. It also lists the basic principles of clicker training.
For my clients: I highly recommend Puppy Start Right if you have brought a puppy into your life or just want a practical training manual to refer to anytime. If you’re working with me, you’ll probably recognize similarities to the training approaches you read about in this book. Of course, working one-on-one allows us to tailor our approach, and for you and your dog to receive hands-on practice and coaching. In other words, I’m not suggesting that the book is a good replacement for private training with me!
Canine Enrichment for the Real World by Allie Bender & Emily Strong
Allie Bender and Emily Strong of Pet Harmony Training define enrichment as “meeting your dog’s needs.” They go into depth around various forms of enrichment for your dog, including physical exercise, safety and security, foraging, mental stimulation, calming enrichment, providing the right environment, and more. This book has so many great ideas that I share with my clients. It’s recommended by trainers and behavior experts with decades of experience such as Susan Friedman and Ken Ramirez. Check this book out – you won’t regret it!
The Eye of the Trainer: Animal Training, Transformation, and Trust by Ken Ramirez
This book is a collection of insights about behavior and learning, training tools and techniques, creative solutions, and fascinating stories from Ken Ramirez. So much to learn from him! In his introduction, Ken says “For me, good training has become inextricably linked with the effective application of positive reinforcement. It embodies the ideals of trust, choice, and welfare that make great animal care possible. This collection of my writing is designed to help others see animal training through this lens, through the eye of a trainer.” I loved this book but pet parents may find some of the other books on this list more directly relevant to your dog’s training and care.
Don’t Shoot the Dog by Karen Pryor
This is a classic in the world of behavior change from Karen Pryor, who is a groundbreaking behavioral scientist and dynamic animal trainer. The book covers both animal and human behavior, and shares scientific approaches to teaching new behaviors without yelling, threats, punishment, guilt trips or getting rid of the problem altogether (aka “shooting the dog.)
For my clients: I highly recommend Don’t Shoot the Dog if you’re interested in better understanding the scientific evidence behind positive reinforcement and learning more about behavioral analysis including classical and operant conditioning. This book is ground breaking, practical and fun to read, but it’s a little less of a step-by-step guide to training specific behaviors than some other books that are out there. If that’s what you’re looking for, see above (Puppy Start Right). However, I know I will read Don’t Shoot the Dog more than once and will continue to reference it in my work. I might even ask you to read a chapter or two if it’s relevant to our work together.
Plenty in Life is Free by Kathy Sdao
When I adopted my dog Kempie, I was given a handout describing the “Nothing in Life is Free” training protocol. Boiled down to the bare minimum, the approach says that you should train your dog by making her work for all good things in life. (If you want to read more about NILIF, here’s a good basic handout from the San Francisco SPCA. After all, the approach has many pros and is not totally out of line with many of the approaches that I use). While I began my life with Kempie trying to follow these principles, there were things about it that just didn’t “feel right” to me. Did I really need or want to make her do something for me every time just to show her affection? I realized that the answer was a resounding no! I love it when my girl comes and nudges me to say hello or to request a little back scratch.
Plenty in Life is Free spoke to me because Kathy Sdao, a renowned dog trainer, addresses many of the questions I had about NILIF that I was not experienced enough to articulate or answer myself. Her training philosophy emphasizes “developing partnerships in which humans and dogs exchange reinforcements and continually cede the upper hand to one another.” Sdao’s approach (along with many other respected trainers) helps push us to be more generous and creative in our approaches in order to get the behavior we want, without the “stifling rules that constrain our ability to share affection and attention with our dogs.” Those of us who buy into a Sdao like approach can still train well-behaved dogs and even highly skilled service animals, but the philosophy allows for a more natural relationship to form between you and your dog.
For my clients: Plenty in Life is Free may not be the right approach for everyone, but I encourage you to read the book if what I’ve written speaks to you too. Most importantly, deciding what your training priorities are is very important. If you don’t mind if your dog gets on your bed or on the couch, or nudges you for a little affection, I don’t have any problem with it just because I’m a dog trainer. A lot of dog training is about teaching our dogs to “fit” into our human world and meet our expectations as humans. I don’t keep a list of “good” and “bad” behaviors. If what your dog is doing doesn’t bother you or hurt other people or animals (and isn’t likely to turn into a larger problem in the future), I won’t be the one to tell you that you should try to change that behavior!
For my clients: I will always show up with food reinforcers to our sessions. I expect you to be prepared with high value treats for our training sessions as well. If your dog is allergic to anything, please let me know. Also, if your dog has allergies, using treats that are made of just one (or limited) ingredient(s) can help you figure out what those allergies are. Here are a few suggestions for food reinforcers to try in your training sessions. Not pictured but used frequently: fresh chicken, steak, etc.
Cheese. If you are a cheese lover like me, you can understand why your pup loves it so much too. If you buy a huge block of cheese in bulk, you can eat some yourself and have it on hand to cut up for training sessions too!
Hot dogs. Dogs often love these but high in salt so I use them in limited amounts. On the plus, they are easy to cut up & you can easily freeze extras.
Steamed Veggies. A lower calorie, fairly inexpensive option for dogs who like them. Some dogs love carrots and other veggies raw, but others prefer them steamed. They are softer once steamed and therefore better for training. You can steam other veggies such as broccoli but it’s harder to use in training because it falls apart. Steamed carrots are easy to cut into small soft bits.
FreshPet Select. These are in the refrigerated pet food section. I’ve seen them in Safeway, Berkeley Bowl & Target. This is dog food, but it works great as high value training treats. I suggest the small dog size morsels for any size dog, but you can cut the large dog size into smaller bits.
Happy Howie’s and K9 Magic. These types of treat rolls are sold at pet stores & online. You need to cut them up and store them in the fridge once the package is opened. I like these two brands because the “cut clean” and you can make very small pieces. Some of the other rolls are kind of sticky and crumbly and don’t work as well for training treats.
Zuke’s training treats – these come in different flavors and there’s a mini size.
Freeze dried treats. These come in many brands and made from a variety of meat sources (a few options are pictured here). They are typically one ingredient. I look for meat sourced and produced in the U.S., Canada or New Zealand and one-ingredient.
Mini freeze dried treats. These are the smallest precut freeze dried treats I can find. Great for training small dogs. The brand is “Crumps.”
Tips for Food Treats:
- Cut the food into very small (pea-sized or smaller) chunks. The smaller you can get them, the better!
- Soft treats that are easy for your dog to chew are great for training, but I’ve included crunchy treats on my list as well.
- Small dogs need the smallest treats you can buy or make, so they don’t get too many calories from training! This can also be an issue for larger dogs, so see tip #4.
- When you are training regularly (as I encourage you to do), you can set aside some of your dog’s meals to train (e.g. put aside some of their mealtime kibble) OR reduce the size of their meals to account for the food they are getting during training. This is one reason I prefer high quality food reinforcers.
- Always be prepared! Cut up a bunch of high value treats at once and store them in an airtight container in the fridge.
Using reinforcement effectively
When clients tell me that their dogs are not “food motivated” I want to know what food they’re using for reinforcement. While it’s true that some dogs are less motivated by food in training when they are very distracted, often we need to use a higher value food and/or teach our dogs how to eat food as reinforcement during training.
Your learner decides what is reinforcing or rewarding (not you)!
What if your employer decided to pay you in pencils instead of money? Would you be motivated? I can imagine my boss saying “I just don’t understand why Anna is so unmotivated at work. She doesn’t even show up anymore.” I would explain that if they paid me with money instead of pencils, then I would be willing to come to work!
Since your dog can’t tell you in words what his preferences are, you have to be observant. Food. Which food? Games. What kind of toys or games? Attention. Belly rubs? Back scratches?
Write down a list of everything that’s motivating (or not) for your dog. This may be a point of discussion during our training!
More difficult behaviors require higher value reinforcers.
When training, I mostly use high quality treats without a bunch of fillers or additives, though I’m not militant about this. Most of the treats on the list above are fairly healthy, at least in limited quantities. I also find that the longer a dog has been training using force-free, positive reinforcement methods – and learns that training is fun – it is sometimes possible to “step down” the value of the treat and still engage the dog in the training process. My dog will “work” for her kibble although she is more enthusiastic about cheese or fresh meat. In highly distracting environments or when the behavior I’m training is more difficult, I use higher value reinforcement. Keep all of this in mind as you experiment with what reinforces your dog during training. You will know whether what you are using is actually reinforcing if the behavior in question gets stronger or is maintained.
Broadly speaking, management tools all help you to prevent unwanted behavior when you’re not actively monitoring or interacting with your dog.
Exercise Pen (XPen)
XPens are useful for keeping your dog confined to a “puppy proofed” area or forming barriers during training (between dogs and dogs or between people and dogs). They are a useful management tool in many situations including potty training. See Puppy Start Right p.66-67 for more on confinement training, as well as chapter 6 on house training. Xpens provide a little more space than a crate and can be used the same way you would use a baby gate. They can be purchased in different heights. A downside is that they can be pretty heavy to carry around. An upside is that they are easy to fold up, store, and portable.
Baby gates are great management tools in multi-dog (or multi-pet) households and in households with young children and dogs. Make sure small dogs can’t slip through the spaces in the gates. A downside is that you have to install them in your doorways and not everyone wants to do that! Here are some pictures of one of my client’s homes with their two dogs (big and small) and doorways with baby gates. I was so happy to see those baby gates in place when I came to their house for the assessment!
Your dog’s crate should be a safe and desirable place for him to go to relax, sleep, or get away from people. They can be made of a variety of material (often metal, plastic or cloth) and come in different sizes. Crates are a valuable tool in potty training and transporting your dog. Crates are required in some travel situations (for instance, flying). Crates should never be used as punishment and you must ensure your dog gets proper exercise, mental stimulation and potty breaks when you are using the crate. Crates should be large enough for your dog to get up, stretch, turn around and lie down in. If you have a puppy that’s going to get big, you should get a crate that will be big enough for him once he’s full grown. In this situation, you can use a barrier to make it smaller when he’s still a puppy. Alternatively, you can plan to trade out your crate for a bigger one when your dog outgrows the first crate.
For my clients: Even if you don’t prioritize crate training in your assessment form, it’s likely that I’ll suggest that we work on crate training if your dog is not yet crate trained or if you’re having “behavioral problems” that crate training may help resolve. Read up on crate training in Puppy Start Right on p.66-67 (they call it “confinement training” which is a more general term). Don’t worry, if it’s really not a priority for you or is totally unrelated to the problems you’re having, I won’t push it!
Portable mat or bed
A portable mat, bed or towel is easy to bring with you in public to give your dog a spot to relax. For example, if you’re bringing your dog with you to a friend’s house or you’re heading out to a dog-friendly bar or restaurant, your dog will know what you want her to do and can avoid getting in trouble for innocently doing the wrong thing. Moreover, if your dog has a strong history of positive reinforcement for relaxing on her mat, getting to lie on the mat during your outing should be an enjoyable experience. For my clients: Even if you don’t prioritize training your dog to go to the mat or bed in your assessment form, it’s likely that I’ll suggest that we work on this as it’s an extremely useful “foundation behavior.” Don’t worry, if it’s really not a priority for you or is totally unrelated to the problems you’re having, I won’t push it!
The toys I’ve listed here provide enrichment and often slow down the eating process to keep your pup busy for longer. Everyone should use some of these tools and toys.
A puppy that has proper enrichment, exercise, nutrition, sniffing experiences and attention (in other words – a full cup) is one that is less likely to do all the things that humans complain about — e.g. chew up your shoes, jump on your 80 year old neighbor, dig up the garden, and bark incessantly for attention.
Kongs are a classic “food toy” that have multiple uses. Your dog can fetch, feed a meal, and chew on. I feed most of my dog’s meals in a Kong.
Slow feeders. This is a bowl with ridges and valleys that helps dogs that eat super-fast slow down and work a little for their food!
Snuffle Mats. This snuffle mat has become one of my dog’s favorite things. Sniffing is a natural and necessary behaviors for dogs, and a snuffle mat allows your dog to sniff to find kibble or other treats hidden in a mat. It’s a great release and can help slow down mealtimes. Make sure to get one that is big enough for your dog. Many of the mats on Amazon are not really big enough for large dogs. I ordered mine from “Life’s a Treasure” (a small business in North Carolina) on Etsy.
Puzzle toys. Once your dog figures out some of these puzzle toys (e.g. see the one pictured), they can find all the treats pretty quickly. BUT, they are fun and can be good mental stimulation. There are many versions of puzzle toys, some harder some easier. If the puzzle toy is too hard, some dogs just give up. If a toy is too easy, your dog won’t be occupied for too long. Try to find the right “level of difficulty” for your dog and adjust as they get better at solving the puzzles.
Hide a Squirrel. This toy is made by Outward Hound and is just cute! Stuff the squeaky squirrels in a soft tree trunk and let you dog pull them out one by one. There are also versions with bees, birds, and hedgehogs, if you or your dog is partial to one of those animals instead of squirrels.
Tug toys. These are great to engage in play with your dog. Many dogs find a game of tug a very rewarding reinforcer for training, especially if they are not especially food motivated.
Squeaky balls. The squeak that these balls make can be especially captivating for some dogs. I used to bring these on hikes as an emergency back-up way to get my dog’s attention while we were out on the trail before her recall was stellar. In retrospect, I probably should not have let her off leash at that point, but I did, and this was a helpful and convenient tool to have in my back pocket.
Tips for Toys:
- Toy play can be super reinforcing for some dogs. It takes more time (and I would say, skill) to use toys as a reinforcer so that’s why trainers often prefer using food treats.
- It’s often wise to buy more than one of your dog’s favorite toys, especially if you’re still trying to train your dog to willingly give you their favorite toy during play. (E.g. people often use the cues “give” “out” or “drop it”). When you trade out the same toy in playing with your dog, you can show him that responding to your cue doesn’t mean stopping the fun. They will be more likely to give up their toy to you happily because you’re going to produce the same fun toy in return.
- If your dog is spoiled (IMHO not a bad thing!) and has lots of toys, put some of them away and periodically exchange them out with the “active toys.” This keeps the toys novel and more interesting to your pup.
Treat bag. It’s helpful to buy one that’s big enough for your hand to easily fit into. This makes it much easier to deliver your reinforcement quickly and smoothly.
Clicker. Clickers are training tools that help you communicate to your dog clearly. You can use a “marker word” like yes, good, or yup, but clickers are more effective.
Wrist coil. This just helps you keep track of your clicker during training, especially when outside the house. It’s a very convenient little thing. I’m so used to it, my wrist feels naked when I’m out without it, though I don’t need it all the time!
Biothane long lead or leash. This is a must-have for working on recall and managing your dog out on hikes or in the park, while you’re training recall. Biothane is durable, lightweight, easy to clean and handle. It doesn’t pick up pine needles and sticks so it can drag on the ground. Purchase one from Oakland based small business owner and dog walker, Liz Williams, at High Tail Hikes.
Flat collar, martingale collar, or harness. We can teach dogs how to walk nicely without choking them or shocking them. Front clip harnesses apply some pressure to the shoulders that help restrain a pulling dog, but no “tool” will teach your dog how to walk nicely – that’s up to us with training!
6′, 8′ or 10′ flat leash. We need this handy, basic tool to teach your dog to loose-leash walk. I do not recommend using retractable leashes.
Podcasts & Articles
Drinking from the Toilet by Hannah Branigan
Hannah Branigan is a well-respected obedience trainer, author and self-proclaimed training nerd. She describes her Podcast as “A Dog Training Podcast for Serious Behavior Nerds.” I have not listened to all, or even most of her 90+ episodes, but I’m sure I’ll eventually do so. This is included as a “bonus resource” for clients who suspect they may become training nerds themselves. Check out an episode or two and find out for yourselves. Warning: the content may go over your head if you’re totally new to training philosophies and lingo…if you find it’s not right for you, check out one of the other resources on this page.
I would suggest checking out the website Whole Dog Journal, which publishes articles on a range of topics related to training and dog care. While they do test, review and evaluate products, they are 100% supported by subscriptions so they do not advertise or recommend products because they are receiving a kickback! https://www.whole-dog-journal.com
For dog lovers in the San Francisco Bay Area, Bay Woof is also a fun, free monthly paper to check out. It is available online, as well as in print in vet clinics, pet stores, and other dog friendly locations. http://baywoof.com