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, like me and follow me!
Another useful YouTube channel is Shelter Playgroup Alliance, which has videos on dog-dog interactions, dog body language, and dog play among others.
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
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.
Plenty in Life is Free by Kathy Sdao
When I adopted my dog Kempie, I was given a handout by the shelter 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. 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 wrote about it speaks to you too. Most importantly, decide what your priorities and rules for your dog will be. If you don’t mind if your dog gets on your bed, or nudges you for a little affection, I don’t have any problem with it. It doesn’t mean your dog is trying to dominate you! A lot of dog training is about teaching our dogs to “fit” into our human world and meet our expectations. 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 probably won’t have an issue with it.
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 tiniest 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 training regularly (as I encourage you to do), set aside a portion of your dog’s meals for reinforcing all the behaviors you like.
- Always be prepared! Cut up a bunch of high value treats at once and store them in airtight containers in the fridge or freezer.
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 won’t eat when they’re anxious or highly aroused by something in the environment, often using higher value food can help, and/or we can actually teach our dogs how to eat food as reinforcement during training. Yes – eating IS a behavior that can be taught.
Your learner decides what is reinforcing or rewarding (not you)!
What if your employer decided to pay you with gold stars 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 gold stars, then I would be willing to do that hard 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?
Note what things seem to be most reinforcing to 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 difficult 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 doing 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, crate training may be a helpful skill to work on. 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 (assuming your dog is comfortable in public settings). 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. 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 can be enjoyable and relaxing. For my clients: Even if you don’t prioritize training your dog to go to the mat or bed in your assessment form, this is an extremely useful foundation behavior that you might consider training.
Food Based Enrichment
Kempie is demonstrating a number of different enrichment ideas using food. Your dog may enjoy sniffing for treats, ripping things up, licking containers out, and solving puzzles for treats or kibble. Try out some of the foraging games and food puzzles/toys like the ones illustrated below and see which ones your pup most enjoys. These games should not be frustrating – they should be fun! (We can talk about what frustration vs fun might look like since those are labels). There are plenty of games you can create that are DIY…you don’t need to go out and buy all this stuff in order to do food based enrichment for your pup.
TOPPL from WestPaw.The idea is similar to a classic Kong – stuff it with canned food, homemade food, yogurt, pumpkin, etc. You can also use chicken broth (or anything else you’d feed) and freeze it for a longer lasting frozen treat. I find these easier to stuff and clean than the Kong so I like them more. This is the larger size – there’s also a small.
Treat Ball. This is a ball with a hole so when your dog rolls it around, kibble or treats will fall out. It slows down your dog’s eating and gives them a puzzle to solve.
Kong Wobbler. This enormous looking Kong is different from the ones that you stuff. It’s harder plastic and is weighted at the bottom. You open it up to put dry food or treats inside, and your dog has to knock it over to get the treats to come out. The weighted bottom makes it pop back upright. Some dogs will prefer to play with this on a rug or carpet if the noise of the toy on the floor bothers them.
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 the folds of cloth. It’s a great release and can help slow down mealtimes. Make sure to get one that is big enough for you dog. Many of the mats on Amazon are on the small side for large dogs. This one is on Etsy from “Life’s a Treasure” (a small business in North Carolina) and it’s lasted years. We love it! Grass is nature’s snuffle mat and you can throw some kibble into a grassy patch for your dog to sniff out.
Puzzle toys. Once your dog figures out some of these puzzle toys, 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.
DIY Puzzle: Balls in a Muffin Tin with treats underneath. You can get creative with all sorts of foraging games and challenges for your pup at home. This is a simple, fun one.
Egg Carton Puzzle with treats inside. This is one of Kempie’s favorites. Some dogs love shredding cardboard or paper to get to the treats. This is fast and easy to clean up.
Get a treat pouch that’s big enough for your hand to easily fit into. This makes it much easier to deliver your reinforcement quickly and smoothly. There are several styles but the key is that you can fit your whole hand in quickly and easily. This “Terry Ryan” pouch has hinges that keep the pouch open while actively training and allow it to shut securely. I also love the Voila Treat Pouch. It’s made from food grade silicone, has an easy to use adjustable belt, and hinges like the one above.
Small treat bags = hard to use! I’m not against this particular treat pouch, just illustrating how hard it is to fit adult-sized hands into small pouches.
Please invest in a treat pouch that you can fit your whole hand into easily. Just this little change will help your training go so much better, I promise!
Clickers are training tools that help you communicate with your dog clearly. You can also use a “marker word” like yes or good, but clickers make the same sound each time and this consistency is helpful.
A wrist coil like the one pictured here will help you keep track of your clicker during training.
Place Treat Jars in Convenient Locations Around Your Home and catch your dog being “good”! For example, if your dog lays down while you are trying to relax, quickly grab a treat from your treat container and place it between your dog’s paws. If you have to go to the kitchen, find the treats and open the bag, your dog will probably get up and follow you to the kitchen and you will lose your opportunity to reinforce the down.
A biothane long line (10-20′) is a great tool for decompression walks/hikes, beach trips, hiking, and working on recall out in the world. 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. Oakland-based small business owner, Liz Williams, at High Tail Hikes makes high quality leashes, long lines and collars with endless customization options and colors.
A Foxtail Mask by Outfoxed will protect your dog’s nose, mouth, eyes and ears from foxtails, which can cause a lot of damage and an expensive vet visit. These are worth every penny! Dogs can breathe, see, sniff, pant, eat treats and drink from a water bowl with these on. Ask me if you need tips on how to train your dog to wear this mask comfortably.
Harness for walking and hiking. We can teach dogs how to walk nicely without using punishment or equipment like prong or shock collars. I recommend using a harness for walking and hiking. One of my favorites is the Balance Harness (below, purple). I also like Kurgo’s Journey Harness (left, red). Both have front and back clips and do not restrict the dog’s shoulder movement. However, there are lots of options depending on your dog’s size, shape and preferences in wearing equipment.
Webinars, Podcasts & More
Live from the Ranch with Ken Ramirez
This is a free monthly webinar/livestream from Karen Pryor Academy’s National Training Center. Each month features different guest training and behavior experts, live demos, and audience Q&A. Check out episode #38, where I was interviewed as part of the KPA Spotlight (go to 34:27 for my brief interview, but watch the whole thing to learn from Susan Friedman and Steve Martin about training across species).
Drinking from the Toilet Podcast with 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.” If this isn’t your thing, check out one of the other resources on this page.
Paws & Reward Podcast with Marissa Martino
Marissa describes her podcast as a place to “stop and reflect on behavior change, dog training, the human-canine bond, and the relationships with our loved ones.” There are some great episodes for pet parents, such as “Dealing with the Puppy Blues” (#22) and “The Importance of Enrichment” (#17).
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