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. One of my favorite resources for training videos is Sarah Owings’ YouTube Channel. Sarah was my teacher for Karen Pryor Academy’s Dog Trainer Professional course and is a very experienced trainer and an amazing teacher! Although some of these videos are old, they are useful. 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 one of the following videos at some point during our training together. These address many critical foundation skills as well as some of the most common training challenges that clients contact trainers for such as jumping on people, puppy mouthing and loose leash walking. The length of the video is included in parentheses. As you can see, most are short videos under 8 minutes. There is significance in this. First, spending a few minutes now is well worth a lifetime of more harmony with your pup! Second, I encourage you to train in sessions that are shorter than these videos. That should be good news since we’re all so busy. Ironically, this is a hard lesson to learn, as many of us want to push ourselves and our pups to perfection. Contrary to what we may think is good training, doing a few strong repetitions will probably get to your goal faster than drawing out a training session that isn’t going well. If a session is going great, consider ending it with that awesome rep rather than pushing your dog until the behavior degrades.
- 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)
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!
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: it’s likely that I will show up with some of these food reinforcers to our sessions. 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 my suggestions for food reinforcers to try in your training sessions.
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 they can be high in salt so I tend to use them in limited amounts. On the plus, they are easy to cut up & you can easily freeze extras.
Steamed carrots. A lower calorie, fairly inexpensive option for dogs who like them. I find some dogs will eat carrots and other veggies raw, but I others prefer them steamed. They are softer once steamed and therefore better for training. You can also steam other veggies such as broccoli but it’s harder to use in training because it falls apart.
Safeway FreshPet Select. Safeway sells these in their refrigerated pet food section. They come in rolls or bite size morsels and have a version for small dogs too. This is technically dog food, but it works great as treats.
Howie’s rolls or Natural Balance rolls. These are sold at Pet stores like Pet Food Express or via Amazon in roll format. You need to cut them up and store them in the fridge once the package is opened.
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) chunks. The smaller you can get them, the more training you can do without making your dog fat!
- Soft treats that are easy for your dog to chew are great (but I’ve included crunchy treats on my list as well).
- Smaller 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 below.
- 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. count out 50 pieces of kibble per day to use as reinforcers) OR reduce the size of their meals to account for all the treats they are getting during training. This is one reason 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. You can listen to a book or watch TV while you’re preparing treats. Use them for training situations that are more difficult for your dog.
Using reinforcement effectively
When clients tell me that their dogs are not “food motivated” I always want to know what food treat they’re using for reinforcement. While it’s true that some dogs are not very food motivated, often we just need to use a higher value food.
A key principle of teaching through positive reinforcement is that your learner decides what is reinforcing or rewarding (not you). A related principle is that more difficult behaviors require higher value reinforcers. Let’s remember these principles when we’re trying to train!
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? Toys. What kind of toys or games? Attention. Belly rubs, a silly game?
Make a mental note or even write down a list of everything that’s motivating (or not) for your dog. This may be a point of discussion during our training.
When training, I try to 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 clicker training, and learns that training is fun, it is 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 way more enthusiastic about cheese. In difficult training scenarios, I use more valuable treats. Keep all of this in mind as you experiment with what motivates your dog during training.
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!
Tether or tie down (chew proof)
A tether or tie-down is a 2 to 3 foot long leash, rope, or plastic-coated cable (that has clips on one or both ends) and is normally attached to an immovable object (such as a piece of heavy furniture or an eyebolt that attached to the wall). Using a material that is chew proof is mandatory if your dog is a chewer. The tie-down is a temporary management tool used to teach good dog behaviors while also helping them relax. There are precautions to follow when using a tie down, so please don’t use these without learning the proper safety and training measures. This handout from the Silicon Valley Humane Society provides good information about using a tether.
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!
Flat collar, martingale collar, or harness. We can teach most dogs how to walk nicely without choking them or shocking them. For dogs that continue to pull, front clip harnesses are effective and safe. They apply some pressure to the shoulders that help restrain your dog without hurting the windpipe or neck or administering an electric shock.
6-foot flat leash. We need this handy, basic tool to teach your dog to loose-leash walk and give you attention. It’s really easier to manage your dog with a regular leash than those unwieldy 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