If your dog is acting fearful or stressed, ALWAYS remove them from the situation causing their anxiety before asking them to perform a specific behavior such as SIT.

Dogs do what works. They operate on everything in their environment, including you. Your dog does things that are rewarding and which make him feel good. He avoids doing things that are unpleasant. For example, one of the easiest ways to get a dog to sit is to give him a treat whenever he sits. Your dog quickly learns that placing his butt on the floor results in something he really likes and he will probably start sitting every chance he gets.

In fact, one of the greatest tools we have for training and managing our dogs is the fact that we have the potential to control every single good thing that happens to them. Unfortunately, many people do not take advantage of this opportunity.

Take a moment and think about the all the things that your dog likes that you can control. You can have direct control over his access to:

  1. Treats
  2. Food
  3. Play with you
  4. Play with toys
  5. Play with other dogs
  6. Physical affection through touch
  7. Walks
  8. Car rides
  9. Going outside
  10. Getting on furniture

Now look at that list again and think about how often your dog gets access to these things on the list for free. If you are like most people, your dog probably gets many of the items listed for doing absolutely nothing, but instead for just being there or because he has indicated it is something he wants. This is not necessarily always a bad practice, but with some dogs it can create problems.

The following anecdote illustrates the dogs thought process in certain situations.

Let’s say that Sparky has gotten in the habit of jumping up on the couch and sitting next to us whenever we are on the couch. He hops up and since we enjoy his company we say “Hi Sparky” and start petting him. We are teaching Sparky that getting up on the couch is a rewarding experience. We are giving him attention by talking to him and petting him, and the nice soft couch is much more comfortable then the cold, hard floor.

Sparky may decide that he likes the couch so much, that he starts hopping up even when we are not there, and if he is not chewing it apart, we may walk past, say “Hi Sparky” and give him a quick pat, further reinforcing that we like him on the couch even if we are not on it with him. Now a couple of months later Uncle Arthur is visiting and he tries to push Sparky off the couch as he sits down. Sparky growls because he has learned that the couch is a comfortable place and because he has been rewarded for being on the couch many times in the past. It is where he thinks he is supposed to be, and now this person is making his being there unpleasant. This is a potential problem. And if Uncle Arthur responds by sitting someplace else, Sparky has just learned that by growling he can get people to leave him alone.

The best way to prevent the type of problem described above, as well as many others, is to teach your dog that nothing in life is free. Teach them that they can earn many great rewards, but they have to do something first. By doing this you will get a dog who will be more focused on you because you are this wonderful creature who makes all good things happen. The easiest way to do this is to require Sparky to “sit” or “down” before he gets access to anything he wants. Once you have taught your dog to “sit” on a verbal or visual cue, start asking them to sit or down to earn everything they want. Ask and wait for them to sit before you put their food bowl down, open a door, pet them, and allow them on the furniture. Nothing in life is free.

Now, if you have a dog like Sparky, already at the point of growling when he’s on the furniture, you need to do a bit more. You never want to do anything that might cause someone to be bitten nor do you want to punish the dog for growling. Dogs that are punished for growling learn to bite without first growling in warning, which is exceedingly more dangerous than growling.

If your dog is growling when you try to get them off the furniture, lure them off with a treat, wait for them to sit on the floor, then give them the food and praise them. You are now rewarding the dog for getting off the furniture and sitting. Start asking the dog to “get off” the furniture every time he is on the furniture, and always reward him for doing so. In fact, you can make a game of teaching him to get on and off the furniture. Pretty soon he will be jumping off the furniture when he sees you, and you now have a means where you can reliably get him off it anytime you want. Also manage the situation so the dog cannot get on the furniture unless you are present, he sits first, and then you invite him up.

Starting your dog on a “Say Please” or “Nothing In Life Is Free” program is the best way to get them to: 1) focus on you, 2) become more responsive to you, and 3) teach them good manners. The sooner you start, the quicker your dog will learn. For optimal results, you need to make sure that everyone that interacts with your dog consistently uses the nothing in life is free approach.

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Dog Training – Teaching the SIT Behavior


©2016, Donald J. Hanson, All Rights Reserved <Click for Copyright and Use Policy>

Dog Training – Teaching the SIT Behavior

OBJECTIVE: To teach your dog to get into a SIT position, wherever they are, when given a single visual or verbal cue and to remain in position until released or given another cue.

Sit, color copy-witht textRemember, you must remain quiet during these exercises so that your dog can concentrate on learning and not become distracted. All communication will be via hand signal and the clicker. Do not put your hands on the dog as this will detract from learning. Praise such as “Good Dog” is okay after you have clicked and treated.

For this exercise, you are going to start by using a treat to lure the dog into the proper position, then click and treat as soon as the dog does what we expect. You will want to quickly wean away from having the treat in your hand before you click.

  1. Place a treat in the palm of your hand and cover it with your thumb. Allow your dog to sniff the treat. Make certain the dog is targeting by moving your hand from side to side. If your dog is following the treat he is targeting.
  2. With the clicker in one hand and a treat in the other, lure your dog into a sit by slowly moving the treat up and over your dog’s nose and head. Hold the treat right up to your dog’s nose. The goal when luring your dog to sit is to get their head up. Once the head is up and back, the rear typically falls into a sit. Note: If your dog jumps up, you are holding the treat too high or too far away from the dog. If your dog backs up you can start by practicing this exercise in a corner.
  3. The precise instant your dog’s rear hits the floor, click, and then feed him the while he remains sitting.other than the one you used for a lure. Do not be alarmed if your dog gets up immediately after eating the treat. Remember, the click marks the end of the behavior and the beginning of the reward process. If your dog remains sitting, simply take a step back and your dog should get up. Repeat this step or no more than 3 to 5 repetitions.
  4. Next, mimic the same motion as in step 2 only without the food lure in hand, rewarding the dog with a click and treat for every sit. With your palm facing up, gradually start giving the signal further away from your dog, as this will become your hand signal for sit. While we will continue to reward the dog, it is important to phase out the use of the lure and wait for the dog to respond to the hand signal. Repeat this step for 3 to 5 repetitions.
  5. Now we will start to build some duration into the behavior by beginning to delay the click. For example, the next time your dog sits, silently count to two before clicking and treating. Yo-yo the amount of time you pause before clicking from immediate to up to 5 seconds. Yo-yoing, as we call it, means do not making the behavior more difficult by increasing the expected duration every repetition. For example a five behavior series might look like this; instant click, wait 2 seconds, wait 1 second, instant click, wait 2 seconds. Do this for several repetitions.
  6. Move to a new location and repeat steps 1 through 5 until your dog is readily offering to sit in response to your visual cue. Practice this behavior in at least 5 different locations.
  7. Change your orientation to your dog. If you have been standing, try sitting in a chair while repeating steps 1 through 6. If your dog has always been directly in front of you try having them sit by your side. You may need to return to the lure, but if this is the case be sure to only lure once or twice. Continue until your dog is readily offering to sit with you in varied positions.
  8. Change your distance to the dog. Either have someone else hold the dog’s leash or attach the end of the leash to something secure. Step 1 foot away from your dog and use your hand cue for sit. Continue until your dog is readily offering to sit on a single hand cue. Continue to practice this at varying distances to the dog.
  9. When your dog is responding well in a wide range of environments, you are ready to add the verbal cue. When you start adding the verbal cue, practice in a familiar environment with no distractions.
  • Say “sit” approximately 1 to 2 seconds before you give your dog the hand signal for “sit”. It is important to briefly separate the verbal cue “sit” from the hand signal “sit” because if the cues occur simultaneously the dog is more apt to respond to the visual cue and not learn the audible cue as well.
  • The instant the dog is sitting, click and treat.
  • Do NOT immediately repeat the verbal cue if your dog does not sit. Ignore the dog for about 15 seconds before trying again. If the dog does not perform the behavior after 2 or 3 attempts you are not ready to add the verbal cue to the hand signal. Wait until the visual cue is more reliable before attempting to add the verbal cue.
  • After repeating the above sequence several times, your dog should start to associate the word “sit” with this behavior. As you work on this do not click and treat when the dog sits without your first giving them a visual or verbal cue to sit.
  1. When your dog is responding to the verbal cue, it is time to proof the behavior.
  • Work on SIT in different locations (bank, post office, class, etc.)
  • Work on SIT with you in different orientations to your dog (in front of, behind, on left side, on right side, sitting, etc.)
  • Work on SIT at various distances to your dog.
  • Work on SIT for various durations.


Automatic Sit

OBJECTIVE: To teach your dog two additional signals that will cue them to automatically move into the sit position. One cue will be a person approaching, which is very useful in preventing jumping. The other cue will be you stopping when you are walking with your dog. This is great for curbside safety and is an essential behavior for the AKC Canine Good Citizen test and the Therapy Dog International therapy dog test.

Note: Before starting on the Automatic Sit, your dog should reliably sit when given a verbal or visual cue in a wide variety of situations.

Automatic Sit When a Person Approaches

  1. Have several people approach you, one person at a time. When the person is within handshaking distance, give your dog a cue to sit. Click and treat as soon as your dog sits.
  2. Repeat the above step with many different people, in different locations over several days. When you think your dog is ready, do not give the cue to sit, but wait for them to do it themselves. If the dog sits within two seconds of the person being in handshaking distance, click and treat.

Automatic Sit When Stopping

  1. Put your dog on a leash and start walking. As soon you stop give them a cue to sit. Click and treat as soon as your dog sits. After the dog has consumed the treat starting walking again and after a bit, stop and again ask them to sit, clicking and treating as soon as they sit. Continue in this manner, making sure to vary the time and distance you walk in between asking for the sit.
  2. After you have completed the above steps in many locations and situations just stop and wait for the dog to sit on their own. If the dog sits within two seconds of your stopping, click and treat.



©2016, Donald J. Hanson, All Rights Reserved <Click for Copyright and Use Policy>

Dog Training – Teaching the ATTENTION or LOOK Behavior

< Updated 19APR19 >

OBJECTIVE: To teach your dog to look at you and make eye contact when given a single visual or verbal cue.

We teach this behavior for three reasons; 1) to get our dogs to focus on us so that we can more easily teach them, 2) to get our dogs to focus on us and to remain focused when distracted, and 3) to show our dogs that eye contact with us is safe and results in being rewarded.

Remember, for most dogs, direct eye contact is seen as being confrontational and something to be avoided. If your dog appears to be reluctant to make eye contact, please be patient while introducing this behavior. We also teach this behavior because it helps to train you the value of focusing on your dog. Lastly, I have found that a dog that has mastered the Attention behavior is quicker to learn the Heel and Leave It behaviors.

The best way to establish a solid foundation for the ATTENTION behavior is with the hand-feeding program outlined below. The more distractible your dog is, the more you will benefit from taking the time to go through the hand-feeding process.

Our Cairn Terrier, Gus, had always been very distracted by vehicles, especially large trucks. I used the hand-feeding program to improve his attention. By the 14th day, we were able to sit on our front porch, which is on a very busy street, and Gus would remain focused on me rather than pay attention to all the vehicles whizzing by.  To his last day, attention remained one of his strongest behaviors.

Building Attention through Hand Feeding

If you have a dog which has a hard time remaining focused on you, try hand feeding him for a few weeks. Instead of placing your dog’s bowl on the floor, you are going to sit down on the floor with the bowl in your lap. At least twenty pieces of kibble will come from your hands instead of the bowl. Follow this protocol:


  1. Select a quiet place with as few distractions as possible (no other pets, children, noises, ),
  2. Take a handful of kibble and offer it to your dog, allowing him to eat out of your hand. Do this for his entire ration of kibble.

DAYS 2 & 3

  1. Go to your quiet place. Take a handful of kibble and hold it in a closed fist in front of your dog, waiting for him to make eye contact. When he does so, allow him to eat out of your hand. Do this for his entire ration of kibble.

DAYS 4 through 7

  1. Go to your quiet place. Take a handful of kibble and hold it in a closed fist in front of your dog, waiting for him to make and maintain eye contact for at least 3 seconds. When he does so, say “Take It” and then allow him to eat out of your hand. Slowly increase the duration of eye contact required, but no more than 5 to 8 seconds. Do this for his entire ration of kibble.

DAYS 8 through 10

  1. Go to a place with a low level of distractions and repeat steps 1 through 4.

DAYS 11 through 13

  1. Go to a place with a moderate level of distractions and repeat steps 1 through 4.

DAYS 14 through 16

  1. Go to a place with a high level of distractions (park, an area near a busy street, a schoolyard, ) and repeat steps 1 through 4.

Hopefully, by now, you have significantly increased your dog’s attention and willingness to focus on you, and you have learned the importance of giving your dog 100% of your attention while training.

Putting ATTENTION on Cue

The ATTENTION behavior becomes even more useful when you can get your dog to offer the behavior when you request it.

When you start working on attention, do NOT concern yourself with your dog’s position (sit, down, stand, etc.) or where your dog is in relation to your location. Start in a room with no distractions and concentrate all of your efforts on the specific behavior of getting the dog to look at your face and make eye contact. If your dog tends to wander off, stand on your dog’s leash to keep them in place.

We do not use a verbal cue for this behavior until the dog is reliably responding to the visual cue in a wide variety of scenarios.

  1. Touch a treat to the dog’s nose and slowly move the treat so that it is right between your eyes. Hold the treat there and immediately click the instant your dog makes eye contact and then immediately give them the treat you had in your hand. Do this for about three repetitions. Note: Please do NOT taunt the dog by moving the treat back and forth.
  2. Without having a treat in your hand, bring your index finger up between your eyes and hold it in place, the treats are in your treat bag.  Immediately click when your dog makes eye contact, and then reach into your treat bag and give your dog a treat. Do this for about 3 to 5 repetitions.
  3. Move your body slightly so that you are in a different position relative to your dog, repeat step 3, clicking and treating the instant your dog makes eye contact. Remember, we are no longer luring the behavior with a treat at this point. Instead, we are cueing the action with a visual cue of the index finger between your eyes. We are still however clicking and treating each success.
  4. Start to work towards longer times of making eye contact (2 seconds, 5 seconds, etc.). As you work towards longer duration’s, move back and forth between shorter and longer times. It is essential to vary the amount of time to keep the dog interested and to make sure the dog will succeed. Note: Do not attempt to hold contact for longer than 8-10 seconds as this is a may make some dogs uncomfortable and cause them to look away.
  5. Continue to work on the behavior in different environments. Situate yourself so that at times the dog has to turn their head around to you to make eye contact.
  6. When your dog makes eye contact with you in a wide variety of environments, it is time to begin to work on getting and maintaining attention in the presence of distractions. We want to set our dog up for success so we will start with a low-level distraction at a distance where the dog is only minimally distracted. For purposes of providing an example, let’s say that your dog is distracted by people. Every time your dog sees a person they start to wag their tail and want to greet that person.
    1. Find a person that your dog will be happy to see and that will follow your instructions without improvising. If they cannot follow your instructions, find another person. You do not need the assistance of someone who will untrain your dog or teach them the wrong behavior.
    2. Arrange to meet that person in an area where you have successfully practiced attention with your dog without the presence of distractions. This might be at your home or could be somewhere else where you have had success with your dog.
    3. Arrive in the area and be standing in a predetermined location with your dog practicing attention as your friend arrives. Have them work with you at a distance where you will be able to maintain your dog’s attention. For some dogs, this meet be as little as 10 feet away, for others it may need to be fifty feet away. If your dog gets all worked up and will not focus you, have worked at too close of a distance. Go home and try again in a couple of days. If the dog will give you attention and maintain focus, work for about 5 minutes and then have your friend leave. Afterwards, do something fun that your dog enjoys as an extra reward.
    4. The next time you work with your dog, do the same as noted above but have your friend stand one foot closer. As long as you continue to have success, have your friend stand a foot closer each time you practice this behavior, as long as your dog does not get so distracted you cannot get them to focus on you.
    5. When your dog will give you attention and hold it with another person five feet away, it’s time to practice this with another person. The number of people you practice with is entirely up to you; however, the more you work on this behavior, the more you will benefit.
    6. Another way to work on teaching attention while your dog is being distracted by people is to find a large parking lot with a store, office or school where distraction will be present. Start working with your dog when the least amount of distractions are likely to be present. For example, when the facility with the parking lot is closed. Work as far away from the facilities entry as you can, rewarding your dog for giving and maintaining attention. As long as you and your dog are being successful, gradually change the time you are practicing to one when more people are present.
    7. It seems to be human nature to be patient and to want to like “one giant leap for mankind.” Unfortunately, that often causes our training plan to blow-up in our face. You are much more likely to succeed in training attention if you take baby steps to ensure your success.
  7. When your dog reliably offers the attention behavior in several different environments, while in the presence of distractions, you can start to add a verbal cue to the behavior. As with all cues, we want something short, typically no more than one syllable, and a verbal cue that does not sound anything like any of your other cues. I prefer the word “Look.”
  8. To introduce the verbal cue, say the word “LOOK” right before offering the visual cue. When your dog makes eye contact with you click and treat. Practice presenting the verbal cue in a wide variety of environments, eventually slowly adding higher levels of distraction.

©2018, Donald J. Hanson, All Rights Reserved < Click for Copyright and Use Policy >


Dog Training – The Four Essentials For A Great Dog – Part 2

< A version of this article was published in the March 2016 issue of Down East Dog News>

Don and Muppy-Fall 2015-1Last month I told you that I believe that every dog has the potential to be a great dog if their person; 1) has adequate and up to date knowledge about dogs, 2) is committed to developing and nurturing a relationship with their dog, 3) understands the importance of managing the dog and its environment, and 4) is committed to training the dog. All of this needs to happen throughout the life of the dog, as just like us, the dog is a living, breathing entity that is constantly learning and changing.

I discussed the importance of obtaining key pieces of knowledge before you even start searching for a dog and explained that the relationship between you and your dog will be the foundation of all that you will do together. This month I will address the remaining two essentials to having a great dog; management and training.


Management is one of the simplest ways to resolve a behavior issue and in my experience is ironically, one of the hardest things to get many clients to consider. Far too often when someone has a behavioral issue with a dog they look for an elaborate training solution when all they need to do is to change the dog’s behavior by manipulating their environment. Management is simply taking the necessary steps to ensure your dog is not placed in a situation where they may not behave appropriately. In its simplest form, it translates to: If you do not want your puppy chewing on your new shoes, then do not leave the puppy and the shoes in the same room unsupervised.

I believe that management is essential to your dog’s training because every dog has, at least, two trainers; 1) their guardian and 2) the environment in which the dog spends its time. While you may spend an hour per day training your dog, your dog has the potential to learn from their environment 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

The environment in which your dog lives may consist of; other people, other animals, noises, odors, tastes, and visual and tactile stimuli that all have the potential to reward your dog. If you do not initially control your dog’s interaction with its environment, he may quickly learn behaviors that you do not want, such as tearing up magazines,  chewing on bedposts, or jumping up on people. While providing this management may seem incredibly time consuming, when done properly it will pay off as you will eventually be able to give your dog free access to your home.

Part of managing your dog also involves meeting their physical, emotional, and social needs. These needs are; 1) making sure your dog adequate access to water and appropriate food, 2) ensuring that your dog is free from physical and emotional discomfort and things that may cause them harm, 3) making sure that your dog has access to veterinary care and is free from pain, injury and disease, 4) ensuring that your dog is free from fear and distress and 5) making sure that your dog is free to express behaviors normal for their breed. The latter is especially important to consider before you get a dog, as not all normal behaviors are always appreciated by dog guardians.

Management is simple and profoundly effective. Just do it!


Training involves teaching your dog and controlling the learning process. The objective of training is to have a happy dog that fits in with your lifestyle. I believe that every dog will benefit if they are trained to:

  1. Allow you to take away items that may pose a danger to them.
  2. Allow you to brush and groom them.
  3. Come when called.
  4. Walk politely on a leash.
  5. Sit or down when asked.
  6. Leave things when asked.
  7. Allow you to be near them when eating.
  8. Cope with being left alone.
  9. Quietly welcome our guests and us without jumping,
  10. Tolerate teasing children.
  11. Only urinate and defecate in specific locations on our schedule.

These are all foreign concepts to a dog and may be dangerous to them if they behaved this way in the wild. A feral dog that waited to be offered food and allowed it to be taken from him would not survive long. We must remember that dogs have instinctual needs to protect their food and themselves.

It is our responsibility to make sure our dog is trained to understand our world. When we do so, our family and friends welcome our dog and our dog is accepted in public places, and thus is allowed to be with us more frequently.

Working with a Certified Professional Dog Trainer/Professional Canine Trainer-Accredited (CPDT or PCT-A) can be one of the easiest and most effective ways to learn how you can best train a dog. Whether you work with such an individual in a group class or private one-on-one training, these highly skilled individuals can show you how to get the behaviors that you want through rewarding the dog. Equally important, they can help you learn how to extinguish the behavior you do not want; things like jumping up on people and stealing socks.

When choosing a trainer look beyond how close they are to where you live, the day of the week that classes are offered, and the cost of the training. The most important characteristic to look for in a trainer is how they train. Insist on a trainer that is committed to force-free, fear-free, and pain-free methods. That means that they will not be talking about dominance and alpha-rollovers or using tools like electronic shock collars, choke collars or prong collars. While these tools and methods were routinely used in the past; organizations such as the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA), The Pet Professionals Guild (PPG) and the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior (AVSAB) are unified in their recommendations that these tools and methods should NEVER be used in the training or the behavioral management of dogs. They are not only unnecessary but are counter-productive as they inhibit the dogs ability to learn and often make a dog reactive and aggressive.

Dogs can be wonderful companions and the best way to make sure that happens with every dog is to; 1) acquire the knowledge to understand your dogs behaviors and the language unique to them as a species, 2) have fun with your dog every day as one part of nurturing your ongoing relationship,  3) manage your dog and their environment so as to meet their needs while preventing undesirable behavior and 4) invest timer and energy into training your dog not only for your benefit, but their benefit as well.

Recommended Resources

Articles on Don’s Blog (

 The Four Essentials for a Great Dog – Part 1 – Knowledge, Relationship, Management & Training

Dogs-Dog Training: A Holistic Approach to Dog Training (Parts 1 & 2)

Animal Welfare – Assessing Pets’ Welfare Using Brambell’s Five Freedoms

Dog Behavior – Introduction to Canine Communication


Podcasts on Don’s Blog

PODCAST – The Four Essentials to A Great Dog

PODCAST – Canine Behavior: Myths & Facts

PODCAST – Dog Training Questions for Don and Kate with special guest host Dr. Mark Hanks – part 1

PODCAST – Dog Training Questions for Don and Kate, part 2– 19JUL15

PODCAST – Dog Training Questions for Don and Kate, part 3– 26JUL15


Podcasts from The Woof Meow Show (


Don Hanson is the co-owner of the Green Acres Kennel Shop ( in Bangor. He is a Bach Foundation Registered Animal Practitioner (BFRAP), Certified Dog Behavior Consultant (CDBC), Associate Certified Cat Behavior Consultant (ACCBC) and a Certified Professional Dog Trainer (CPDT-KA). He produces and co- hosts a weekly radio show and podcast, The Woof Meow Show heard on The Pulse AM620 WZON and streamed at every Saturday at 9 AM. A list of upcoming shows and podcasts of past shows can be found at Don also writes about pets at his blog:

©2016, Donald J. Hanson, All Rights Reserved <Click for Copyright and Use Policy>

Podcast – The Four Essentials to A Great Dog

20FEB16-The Four Essentials to A Great Dog 400x400Don and Kate discuss the four essentials to a great dog. In their experience most great dogs are the result of time and effort by both the person and the dog, which is exactly what that they teach students in Green Acres Kennel Shop’s Basic Manners classes. The four essentials are; Knowledge, Relationship, Management and Training. Tune in and learn how you and your dog can become a great team and best friends for life.

You can hear The Woof Meow Show on The Pulse AM620, WZON, and WKIT HD3 at 12 Noon on Saturday. If you’re not near a radio, listen on your computer at or your smartphone or tablet with the free WZON 620 AM app. A podcast of the show is typically posted immediately after the show, and can be downloaded at and the Apple iTunes store.

Listen to the show –

Recommended Resources

Articles on Don’s Blog (


Dog Training – The Four Essentials for a Great Dog – Part 1 – Knowledge, Relationship, Management & Training


©2015, Donald J. Hanson, All Rights Reserved <Click for Copyright and Use Policy>

Dog Training – The Four Essentials for a Great Dog – Part 1 – Knowledge, Relationship, Management & Training

Don and Muppy-Fall 2015-1< A version of this article was published in the February 2016 issue of Down East Dog News>

Most dogs become great dogs only after we invest time and energy in helping them to become the near-perfect companions we want them to be. However, I believe that every dog has the potential to be a great dog if their person; 1) has adequate and up to date knowledge about dogs, 2) wants to develop and nurture a relationship with their dog, 3) understands the importance of managing the dog and its environment, and 4) is committed to training the dog. All of this needs to happen throughout the life of the dog, as just like us, the dog is a living, breathing entity that is constantly learning and changing. This month I will discuss knowledge and relationship.


When someone tells me that they are considering getting a dog, I suggest that even before looking for a dog that they need to do four things. 1) learn as much as possible about dog behavior and husbandry. 2) research the characteristics of the breeds or mixes that they are considering, paying particular attention to health and behavioral issues associated with the breed or breeds. 3) learn how dogs and people can best communicate with one another. 4) investigate what we need to do to meet our dogs, physical, mental and emotional needs. This is no small list, but one that I feel is essential if you want to have a great dog. I recommend that people do this before deciding on a dog because not all breeds or individual dogs will be the best choice for an individual and their lifestyle. The dog world has created a wide variety of breeds, many that were bred for very specific purposes. Some of what these breeds have been bred to do, may not fit within our perception of a great dog, so we want to choose wisely, because once we have the dog, it should be for a lifetime.

There are many sources where one can obtain knowledge about dogs, but not all are always reliable choices. If someone is trying to sell you, or give you a dog, it is essential to understand that their primary motivation is you leaving with a dog. They have a bias in any transaction, and even though their heart may be in the right place, they may not give you the best, unbiased information.

Books, videos, the internet, family, and friends can all be sources of information about dogs; however, the information they present may be incorrect or outdated, in which cases it may be detrimental. Information from the internet can be especially questionable (see Kennel and daycare operators and groomers typically have interactions with a wide variety of dogs as do veterinarians and can share their perceptions on certain breeds. The latter can be especially helpful in assessing health issues related to a specific breed.

A dog’s behavior is often a major determining factor in whether or not they become a great dog, I recommend that anyone getting a dog work with a Certified Professional Dog Trainer/Professional Canine Trainer-Accredited (CPDT or PCT-A) or Certified Dog Behavior Consultant or Professional Canine Behavior Consultant-Accredited (CDBC or PCBC-A), both before and after getting a dog. Individuals with these credentials have demonstrated their knowledge by successfully completing a comprehensive exam. Additionally, they are required to complete regular, continuing education in order to maintain their certification. Without question, these individuals are the most knowledgeable resource for current, up to date information about dog behavior and training. If you do choose to obtain your knowledge without the assistance of one of these excerpts, be wary of anyone telling you the following; 1) you must be dominant or alpha to train a dog, 2) dogs should work for praise not food, 3) dogs have an innate and almost “saint-like” desire to please us, and 4) dogs know right from wrong. These are four of the most harmful myths still being perpetuated about dogs.


The relationship or bond between you and your dog is the foundation for everything you will do together. It involves doing things together that you both enjoy and incorporating your dog into as much of your life as possible.

You can train your dog all you want, but first and foremost you must have a mutually positive relationship. You need to like and enjoy your dog, and your dog needs to like and enjoy you. Many problems perceived as training problems are in fact relationship problems.

The following are some important tips to help you with both training and your relationship with your dog.

  1. Spend quality time with your dog every day. Train, play, exercise, and enjoy quiet time with your dog.
  2. Acknowledge your dog many times throughout the day. Make eye contact, smile at them, and give them a gentle touch when he is not demanding attention.
  3. Always acknowledge and appreciate good behavior. Too often we only pay attention when the dog does something we do not want them to do.
  4. Know your dog’s likes and dislikes and be a responsible guardian and remove your dog from tense situations whenever possible.
  5. Understand and accept your dog’s breed characteristics. Learn how they can be used to make training easier and learn which characteristics may make training more frustrating.
  6. Remember that your dog has its own species-specific needs and make sure that you meet them
  7. When something goes awry, such as your favorite slippers being chewed or the dog racing out of an open door, examine the situation to see what you can do differently in the future to prevent the behavior from occurring again -either management or training or both – and then do it!
  8. Accept your dog for the unique canine spirit that they are. As much as we might want a dog that excels at dog sports, loves visiting a nursing home, or wants to snuggle with every person they meet, not every dog is going to become the particular dog that we had hoped would be our companion.

Next month I will focus on the two remaining essentials to having a great dog; management and training.

Recommended Resources

Articles on Don’s Blog (HTTP://WWW.WORDS-WOOFS-MEOWS.COM)

Dogs-Dog Training: A Holistic Approach to Dog Training (Parts 1 & 2)

Animal Welfare – Assessing Pets’ Welfare Using Brambell’s Five Freedoms

Dog Behavior – Introduction to Canine Communication


Podcasts on Don’s Blog

PODCAST – The Four Essentials to A Great Dog

PODCAST – Canine Behavior: Myths & Facts

PODCAST – Dog Training Questions for Don and Kate with special guest host Dr. Mark Hanks – part 1

PODCAST – Dog Training Questions for Don and Kate, part 2 – 19JUL15 –

PODCAST – Dog Training Questions for Don and Kate, part 3 – 26JUL15 –

Don Hanson is the co-owner of the Green Acres Kennel Shop ( in Bangor. He is a Bach Foundation Registered Animal Practitioner (BFRAP), Certified Dog Behavior Consultant (CDBC), Associate Certified Cat Behavior Consultant (ACCBC) and a Certified Professional Dog Trainer (CPDT-KA). He produces and co- hosts a weekly radio show and podcast, The Woof Meow Show heard on The Pulse AM620 WZON and streamed at every Saturday at 9 AM. A list of upcoming shows and podcasts of past shows can be found at Don also writes about pets at his blog:


©2016, Donald J. Hanson, All Rights Reserved <Click for Copyright and Use Policy>

Dog Training – A Rescue Dogs Perspective

< Updated 1 APR18 >

< A version of this article was published in the January 2016 issue of Downeast Dog News>


Hi, everyone! My name is Muppy. Don asked me to write this month’s column because he thought I could provide some valuable insights. Plus he said if I did this for him I would get some extra tummy rubs and yummy treats!

Muppy and Ernie on the way to Maine
Muppy and Ernie on the way to Maine

So what do I know about being a rescue dog? I am one, thanks to the kindness and compassion of several people in my birth state of Mississippi. I might not be here without them. I was living with a family, I had puppies, and then one day my people moved away and left, and my puppies and I were all alone. Fortunately, a nice lady named Catherine heard about me and rescued me by taking me to Rose, another nice lady. Rose fostered my puppies and me until we could be put up for adoption. I took good care of my pups until they were eight weeks old and then they were transported to New England to new homes. Soon after that, I was also sent to a rescue group in Maine, Helping Paws-Maine, where I was placed into a foster home until I was adopted. I got to ride to Maine with my friend Ernie who was also going up for adoption.

I did not know it, but Don and Paula were looking for a dog about the same time I was arriving in Maine. They found me on PetFinder, completed an application and made an appointment to meet me at my Maine foster home with another nice lady named Victoria.

When I first met Don and Paula in my foster home, they were sitting on a couch with Ernie. That boy is quite the social butterfly, unlike me at the time. When Don sat down next to me on the floor, I moved away because I was not so sure about him. However, once he started giving me some treats, I decided he was safe!

We all visited for a while, and then Paula and Don did some paperwork and then I got to go for a car ride to Bangor. It was May 1st, and I had a new home! When we arrived in Bangor, Don spent the rest of the day with me. We started off

Napping on Don's Lap
Napping on Don’s Lap

snuggling on the floor and then I took a nap in his lap while he was in his recliner. I got to explore the yard and that evening I again fell asleep in his lap.

The next morning started with Don taking me out to do my poops and then he sat down on the floor with my breakfast and started teaching me an attention behavior. All I had to do was look at him, and I’d get a piece of kibble. Yummy! I like this game! Over the next few days, I got to meet the staff at Don and Paula’s business, some of the dogs, my new veterinarian and the people at the bank.

Don told me that eventually I would get to go to school, but because I was a bit unsure of new things, especially people, he said he was going to let me settle in first. He hung a bag of treats on the door to his office along with a sign asking people coming in to grab a treat to give to me. Until then he worked with me on the attention behavior, recall and sit. He said I was a fast learner, and I loved how he rewarded me when I got it! He always makes training fun for both of us.

One of the things I started doing in my new home was to jump up on people I liked. I just get so excited when I see a person that I like, that I cannot help myself. I see them and POP! my front paws are on them, and I am smiling, hoping they will pet me and say “Hi.” Since I was shy, Don allowed me to do this as it was so rewarding to me. Since it was something I felt good about it helped me feel good about interacting with people. One day a strange man came to visit Don in his office, and I did not even think about being shy. I just ran up and jumped and said, “Hi! I am Muppy!” He patted and talked to me and was real nice. After that Don told me it looked like I was over my shyness and we would now start to work on sitting for greeting. I do pretty well, most of the time. There are some people that I like so much; I am talking about you Deb and Miriam, that I cannot always contain myself!

I started my first group training class at Green Acres on August 30th, 2013, four months after joining the Hanson family. Both Don and Paula went to class with me; Don says it is very important for all family members to be involved with training.

Muppy Running-Square
Muppy’s Famous Recall*

In that class I learned to do the following on cue; look, sit, lie down, walk nicely on a leash, come when called, leave it, and wait or stay. I have since taken Green Acres Level 2 and Level, 3 classes, as well; some more than once! I love training classes because it is so much fun! It is an opportunity for me to interact with my favorite people whether we are actually in class, or I am working individually with Don on the days in between class. Moreover, when I see Don out in the training field teaching classes filled with other people and dogs; I let him know I want to have fun too! That is why he keeps enrolling us in classes because it is so much fun for both of us.


Don and Muppy in class*
Don and Muppy in class*

So I guess this is where I am supposed to tell you what I have learned. Every dog should be trained; training helps establish a bond and makes us better companions. It also makes it possible for us to go more places with you and to spend more time with you. Isn’t that why you got us in the first place, to be your steadfast companion? Work with a professional dog trainer either privately or in group classes as they can help you learn about your dog and make the process of training fun for both of you. Make sure any trainer you work with is committed to methods that are force-free, pain-free, and fear-free. The Pet Professionals Guild ( can be a great resource for finding such a trainer. If you have a rescue dog like me, starting in a group class immediately might not be the best thing to do. A professional trainer can help you make that determination and can help you start working with your dog at home. Lastly, be patient with your dog and yourself and most importantly, ALWAYS make training fun!

*Photos by Debra Bell, Bell’s Furry Friends Photography

Recommended Resources

Articles on Don’s Blog ( )

How to choose a dog trainer

Before You Go To The Dog Park – coming soon!


Don Hanson is the co-owner of the Green Acres Kennel Shop ( in Bangor. He is a Bach Foundation Registered Animal Practitioner (BFRAP), Certified Dog Behavior Consultant (CDBC), Associate Certified Cat Behavior Consultant (ACCBC) and a Certified Professional Dog Trainer (CPDT-KA). He produces and co- hosts a weekly radio show and podcast, The Woof Meow Show heard on The Pulse AM620 WZON and streamed at every Saturday at 9 AM. A list of upcoming shows and podcasts of past shows can be found at Don also writes about pets at his blog:

©2018, Donald J. Hanson, All Rights Reserved <Click for Copyright and Use Policy>

Podcast/Book Review- Considerations for the City Dog by Melissa McCue-McGrath

Considerations for the City DogKate and I recently had dog trainer and author Melissa McCue-McGrath join us on two episodes of The Woof Meow Show to discuss her new book. Considerations for the City Dog. The book offers excellent advice on what to consider before getting a dog, which is the subject of our first show (Interview with Melissa McCue-McGrath author of Considerations for the City Dog – part 1 – click to listen).

In the second show (Interview with Melissa McCue-McGrath author of Considerations for the City Dog – part 2 – click to listen ) we get into the nitty gritty of the book which is useful to any dog owner, whether city dweller or hermit. Topics we discuss include; the environmental shock that can occur when a dog rescued from the rural south ends up in a major urban area like Boston. We also discuss how these dogs are transported and how that can negatively impact the dog’s future behavior. Many rescues do this right, but some do not, and intentionally flaunt the law. Like Kate and I, Melissa believes that meeting the dog first is absolutely necessary before adopting, yet many rescues do not require or even offer this opportunity. Melissa’s book contains many tips on what to look for in a breeder, rescue or shelter as well as suggestions on what to avoid.

We also discuss walking devices; leashes, collars and what works best. The importance of mental stimulation in a dog’s life and how to accomplish it. How to find a good trainer and behavior consultant and what to look for in that individual.

The concept of shared space is discussed; the need to respect and follow leash laws and to make sure that we do not allow our dogs to infringe on the space of other dogs who might not enjoy an interaction with another dog.

This book is a “Must Read” list of every breeder, rescue and animal shelter employee. This week we talk about factors to consider when getting a dog. You can learn more at and at Melissa’s blog

Reflections on 20 Years as a Pet Care Professional – Changes in Dog Training

< A version of this article was published in the October 2015 issue of Down East Dog News>

Don and Muppy - July 2015
Don and Muppy – July 2015

On October 11th, it will be twenty years since my wife Paula, and I closed on Green Acres Kennel Shop, becoming its third owner. Most of the time it seems like that was only yesterday. However, when I pause and take the time to look back, I can list many changes in our profession. Our products and services have changed as have the standards that we follow. Societal attitudes towards pets have changed, and of course, we have also changed ourselves. For my next few columns, I’ll be sharing my perspective on some of these changes.

As we planned our move to Maine and Green Acres, I was looking forward to becoming more involved in dog training. We had taken our dogs to several dog training classes in Wisconsin, and it was something I enjoyed a great deal. Gus, our Cairn Terrier, had several behavioral issues and dealing with those piqued my interest in this companion called the dog.

We arrived in Maine in the middle of October 1995. At that time, Green Acres training methods involved lots of verbal encouragement and praise, little or no food rewards, and the use of choke collars and corrections. It was the era of dominance and proving ourselves to be the superior beings and with this attitude, the book we most often recommended was by the Monks of New Skete. The premise of the time was that since we were superior, dogs existed to serve us and do our bidding out of respect (read fear). Science has spoken, and we now understand how erroneous much of the information upon which we based training was; our profession has come a long way in these past 20 years.

Early on we recognized the importance of further honing our training skills. I joined the Association of Pet Dog Trainers in 1996, and Kate and I attended an Ian Dunbar training seminar in the summer of 1996. The methods we learned were so very different, and we came away from that seminar excited about incorporating games into our classes and with an interest in trying to use food rewards.

In 1997, with the encouragement of Dr. Dave Cloutier at Veazie Veterinary Clinic, we expanded our classes’ offsite to the Veazie Community Center. This meant we could offer even more classes each week, as we had previously been working out of the retail area after hours. It was at this time that we took on our first assistant trainers; we were now offering more classes than Kate, and I could teach on our own.

At the same time we were teaching in Veazie, we began the remodeling of the loft above the store into a training room at Green Acres. Our training room is far from ideal; it is smaller than average. However, working with what we have has kept our class sizes smaller than average and our instructor to student ratio higher than average. Both factors have been of great benefit to our clients. Today we teach as many as 14 classes per week, both inside and outside, the latter dependent on weather.

Tikken Recall
Tikken Recall

In early 1997, I attended my first seminars on clicker training. These seminars got me experimenting with my new Golden Retriever puppy, Tikken. In June, Tikken and I traveled to upstate NY to attend a Volhard Top Dog Instructor Camp for a week. Their focus was on motivation; not with rewards, but with corrections via a choke collar. It was a frustrating week for me as I was being taught things that I had recently rejected. I learned what I could about student management and instructional techniques, and while I learned a great deal, at night I found myself working with Tikken using my clicker and food rewards.

Don and Gus in WI
Don and Gus in WI

Gus and I continued to train and that summer we were enrolled in one of our advanced classes that Kate, our Operations Manager, was teaching. During recall work, we were to put our dog on a stay at one end of the training field, walk to the other end of the field and call them to us. Gus remained in place, and when I called him he came, but at a snail’s pace. As I recall, we did that exercise twice with the same result. At the end of the class, Kate took me aside and asked “Do you and Gus do anything that’s just fun? He’s clearly not enjoying this, and I can see that you’re disappointed in him. Why don’t you take some time off and stop classes with Gus?” Yes, I had just been kicked out of class by my employee. I am so grateful that Kate had the wisdom and the courage to make that suggestion as it was the best thing that could have happened to the relationship between Gus and me. That was the last training class Gus ever attended. Instead, we played fetch, and I taught him how to do silly things like spin using the clicker and a target stick.

After the Volhard experience, I attended another clicker training seminar, and my mind was made up. I was a bit concerned about the reception that I would get from the public, as this was a major shift away from the predominant training methodology in the area. However, in August of 1997 I sent out a press release and received coverage from our friends at the Bangor Daily News. When an article is on the first page of a section, above the fold with a color photo of a dog, people read it. Before the day was over I was getting calls; “How do we sign-up for your clicker training classes?” Still testing the waters, I quickly developed a clicker based curriculum and opened enrollment in Green Acres’ first two clicker classes. At the end of those classes, I no longer wanted to train with aversives; however, from a business perspective I was uncertain that our market would support this kinder and gentler form of training. I knew two other trainers, Gail Fisher and Carolyn Clark, that had made the switch, and they inspired me to do the same. I am glad to say that many years later I had no need to worry. Our training program has grown by leaps and bounds precisely because of our focus on science, kindness, and getting results.

In November of 1998, I attended my first APDT Educational Conference and Trade Show, five solid days of learning and networking opportunities. One month later I was invited to join the APDT’s Education Committee by APDT’s founder Dr. Ian Dunbar. The committee developed and implemented the profession’s first certification exam. This was a significant step forward for the dog training industry. The practice of dog training is unlicensed, mostly unregulated and until the release of this examination there was no universally accepted standard of what a dog trainer needed to know.  In 2001, I was one of the first Certified Trainers. Since then a total of seven Green Acres’ trainers has been credentialed as Certified Professional Dog Trainers. Four have since moved on to different career paths, but that does not diminish their accomplishment. More and more people are taking steps to ensure that a trainer has a CPDT credential before enrolling their dog in a class. Just the idea that we now have a credentialing body for our industry, where none existed 15 years ago, shows significant growth in our field.

So in summary how has dog training changed in the past twenty years? It has become less about art and “secret” techniques and more about evidenced based science. Science has refuted the dominance construct that prescribed the need for having an adversarial relationship with your dog and replaced it with the concept of cooperation and positive reinforcement. The majority of trainers no longer use or recommend harsh punitive-based methods like alpha-rollovers, choke collars, and shock collars but instead use management, clicks, and treats. There are now several independent certification bodies that credential and ensure that those in the profession keep learning. The American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) has recognized the importance of behavior as part of animal wellness and has taken a very public stand against the use of any aversive tools in training. The Pet Professional Guild is building an organization of pet care professional and pet owners committed to “No, Pain, No Force and No Fear” pet care. Dog trainers, scientists, and veterinarians recognize that the dog, as well as other animals,  are pretty amazing and more like us than we ever could have imagined. We are moving away from an egocentric understanding of their behavior to one that is more animal-centric, In other words, we have finally realized that as humans, it is NOT all about us.

All of us in the dog training profession still have much to learn and to me that is what keeps me going. I cannot wait to immerse myself in the next amazing discovery about the delightful companion that we generically call the dog.

Lastly, remember that story about my Cairn Terrier Gus, his unenthusiastic recall, and Kate kicking me out of class?  I am happy to say that my current best friend Muppy has a most remarkable recall thanks to what Gus, Shed, Sandy, Dulcie, Crystal, and Tikken have taught me on this journey. Muppy thanks you all for being so patient and kind with me.


Other Posts You May Find Interesting

Trends in Training – The Evolution of a Pet Care Professional<Click Here>

Dogs-Dog Training: A Holistic Approach to Dog Training (Parts 1 & 2)<Click Here>

Selecting A Pet Care Provider – Yes! A Trend Towards Kinder and Gentler Professional Pet Care – Green Acres Kennel Shop’s “Pet Friendly” Philosophy – Part 1<Click Here>

Selecting A Pet Care Provider – Yes! A Trend Towards Kinder and Gentler Professional Pet Care – The PPG – Part 2<Click Here>

Selecting A Pet Care Provider – Yes! A Trend Towards Kinder and Gentler Professional Pet Care – A Veterinary Perspective – Part 3<Click Here>

PODCAST – Dog Training Questions for Don and Kate with special guest host Dr. Mark Hanks – part 1<Click Here>

PODCAST – Dog Training Questions for Don and Kate with special guest host Dr. Mark Hanks – part 2<Click Here>

PODCAST – Dog Training Questions for Don and Kate with special guest host Dr. Mark Hanks – part 3<Click Here>

Dog Behavior – Dominance: Reality or Myth<Click Here>

The Unintended Consequences of Shock Collars <Click Here>

How I Trained A Chicken<Click Here>

Don Hanson is the co-owner of the Green Acres Kennel Shop ( in Bangor. He is a Bach Foundation Registered Animal Practitioner (BFRAP), Certified Dog Behavior Consultant (CDBC), Associate Certified Cat Behavior Consultant (ACCBC) and a Certified Professional Dog Trainer (CPDT-KA). He produces and co- hosts a weekly radio show and podcast, The Woof Meow Show heard on The Pulse AM620 WZON and streamed at every Saturday at 9 AM. A list of upcoming shows and podcasts of past shows can be found at Don also writes about pets at his blog:

©2015, Donald J. Hanson, All Rights Reserved <Click for Copyright and Use Policy>


Pet Health and Wellness – Your Pet’s Behavioral Health Is As Important As Their Physical Well-Being

< A version of this article was published in the August 2015 issue of Down East Dog News>

AAHA Bhx GuidelinesSince April of this year I’ve been writing about a trend towards kinder and gentler pet care; our pet-friendly philosophy at Green Acres Kennel Shop, the force-free principles of the Pet Professional Guild, and the fear-free movement among the veterinary community. I am extremely pleased that last month the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) took this trend one step further with the publication of their Canine and Feline Behavior Management Guidelines. This ground-breaking document acknowledges that your pet’s behavioral health is every bit as important as their physical well-being. The guidelines are meant to provide veterinarians and their staff with “… concise, evidence-based information to ensure that the basic behavioral needs of feline and canine patients are understood and met in every practice [Emphasis added].” While these are just guidelines, the AAHA is at the forefront of veterinary medicine and I expect that most veterinarians will begin implementing these guidelines into their practice immediately.

The adoption of these guidelines is critically important because “More dogs and cats are affected by behavioral problems than any other condition, often resulting in euthanasia, relinquishment of the patient, or chronic suffering. [Emphasis added]” The reasons why behavioral problems have become the number one health concern for dogs and cats remains to be examined; however these guidelines offer some concrete steps that all of us who love, live with and work with dogs and cats can take to help make their lives better. This is a huge step as it now establishes that a behavioral wellness assessment should be part of every pet’s visit to their veterinarian.

While these guidelines are focused on veterinarians and their staff, everyone in the pet care services industry; boarding kennels, doggie daycares, dog walkers, groomers, dog trainers, and pet sitters as well as animal shelters, breeders, pet shops, rescue groups, animal control officers, humane agents, and animal welfare program directors should be aware of these guidelines and be implementing the policies, procedures and training necessary to ensure the behavioral health of the pets in their care.

Here the some of the key take-home messages from this document that every pet owner needs to know. Quotes from the guidelines are in italics and my comments are non-italicized. In some cases I have used bold type for added emphasis.

  • “Veterinarians must institute a culture of kindness in the practice and avoid using either forced restraint or punitive training or management methods.” Time and patience make for a better experience for all involved. I love that I can take my pets to see any of their veterinarians and my pets are unafraid. Not all people can say that and that needs to change.
  • “Veterinarians must be aware of the patient’s body language at all times, understanding that it conveys information about underlying physiological and mental states.” At Green Acres we teach clients to understand an animal’s body language and emotions in our training classes because it is an essential part of understanding, teaching, and living with our pets. The guidelines suggest that veterinary practices can and should use this same knowledge of body language and emotions to ensure your pets visit and exam is as stress free as possible. Both you as the person responsible for your pets care, as well as your veterinarian need to know and understand this so that together you make sure it happens. When choosing a veterinary practice I encourage you to look for one that invests in the training and continuing education necessary to teach all of their staff the fundamentals of animal body language and emotions.
  • “All veterinary visits should include a behavioral assessment.” While the veterinary team needs to ask about behavior, as an owner you need to be ready to talk to your veterinarian about behavioral issues. When I receive calls from clients about behavioral issues the first thing I ask is “Have you discussed this with your vet?” and too often the answer I get is “no.” Make sure that your pet’s behavior is discussed at each and every visit.
  • “Good behavioral evaluations are especially important in young animals. Studies show that 10 percent of puppies that were fearful during a physical exam at 8 wk of age were also fearful at 18 mo. Patients do not outgrow pathologic fear. [Emphasis added].” “Behavioral conditions are progressive. Early intervention is essential to preserve quality of life for both the patient and client and to provide the best chance of treatment success.” In my experience, patients often wait too long to address behavioral problems, hoping the pet will outgrow it. The sooner these problems are addressed the better the odds of resolving the problem and ending the distress felt by both the pet and the pet owner.
  • “… the presence or development of fear during sensitive periods is aggravated by forced social exposure. Overexposure can make fearful dogs worse, creating a behavioral emergency.” This is why socialization and habituation efforts need to be planned ahead of time and controlled while they are occurring. Talk to your veterinarian and certified, reward-based trainer about the best ways to do this. Preferably, you should start planning these effort’s before you bring the new pet home.
  • “There is no medical reason to delay puppy and kitten classes or social exposure until the vaccination series is completed as long as exposure to sick animals is prohibited, basic hygiene is practiced, and diets are high quality. The risks attendant with missing social exposure far exceed any disease risk. [Emphasis added]” This is why starting a puppy in an appropriately designed class is so important while the puppy is 8 to 16 weeks of age. It’s also why regular “fun” trips to the vet’s office, the groomer, the kennel and other places are recommended during this period. However, you need to plan these trips to make sure that they will be a good experience for your pet. Working with your trainer on this process can be very helpful.
  • Puppies should not be separated from their littermates and dam until at least 8 wk of age. Puppies separated at 30–40 days versus 56 days experienced a greater incidence of problems related to the early separation, such as excessive barking, fearfulness on walks, reactivity to noises, toy or food possessiveness, attention-seeking behavior, and destructive behavior as adults.” This is the law in Maine, but too often it’s not followed. If you’re getting a puppy from a shelter, breeder or rescue organization, do not take it home until it is 8 weeks of age. If they offer to let you have it sooner, report them to the Animal Welfare program and get your puppy elsewhere. If you want the best possible puppy, don’t start with one that is already at a behavioral disadvantage.
  • “Mistaken or misinformed beliefs may become apparent early. Clients may not understand that some undesirable behaviors are normal (e.g., young puppies cannot last 8–10 hr without urinating). Clients may not understand the difference between a behavior that is undesirable but possibly normal and responsive to training (e.g., grabbing someone during play) and abnormal behavior that requires professional care (e.g., becoming aggressive if not permitted to play after grabbing). [Emphasis added]” People have so many incorrect and damaging beliefs about dog behavior based on myths that have been recycled over and over again for the past 70+ years. This is why working with a veterinarian and trainer who participates in regular continuing education is essential.
  • Qualified trainers can be valuable partners on a veterinary behavior management team… Trainers should have obtained certification from a reliable organization that has, as its foundation, the sole use of positive methods. Certification for trainers should require annual continuing education, liability insurance, and testable knowledgeable in behavior and learning theory trainers. Unfortunately, credentials don’t guarantee the use of humane methods or honest marketing.” When looking for a trainer don’t choose one strictly on price or how close they are to where you live. Check out their credentials as recommended by the AAHA guidelines and make sure that they are certified by either the Pet Professional Accreditation Board (PPAB), the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers (CCPDT) or the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants (IAABC), and that they are continuing their education
  • It is essential that clients ask trainers about specific tools and techniques used. If the tools or techniques include prong collars, shock collars, or leash/collar jerks/yanks, or if the trainer explains behavior in terms of ‘dominance’’ or throws anything at a dog, advise clients to switch trainers. [Emphasis added].”  The techniques and tools used to train a pet and to change behavior do matter and some should never be used. Do not assume that just because a trainer is certified that they will not use these tools. You need to ask.
  • This Task Force opposes training methods that use aversive techniques. Aversive training has been associated with detrimental effects on the human–animal bond, problem solving ability, and the physical and behavioral health of the patient. It causes problem behaviors in normal animals and hastens progression of behavioral disorders in distressed animals. Aversive techniques are especially injurious to fearful and aggressive patients and often suppress signals of impending aggression, rendering any aggressive dog more dangerous. Aversive techniques include prong (pinch) or choke collars, cattle prods, alpha rolls, dominance downs, electronic shock collars, lunge whips, starving or withholding food, entrapment, and beating. None of those tools and methods should be used to either teach or alter behavior. Non aversive techniques rely on the identification and reward of desirable behaviors and on the appropriate use of head collars, harnesses, toys, remote treat devices, wraps, and other force-free methods of restraint. This Task Force strongly endorses techniques that focus on rewarding correct behaviors and removing rewards for unwanted behaviors. [Emphasis added]”

Kudos to the AAHA and this Task Force for saying what many in the training community, both individuals and organizations, have been afraid to say for fear of offending a colleague who still insists on using pain, fear and coercion. The guidelines make it very clear that certain techniques, some still used all too often (prong (pinch) collars, shock collars, alpha rolls), some promoted by TV personalities like Cesar Milan, have absolutely no place in the training or altering of behavior of pets.

The only association of professional trainers in the USA to currently have a similar position to the AAHA guidelines is the Pet Professional Guild with their Guiding Principles (  As a pet owner, that’s important for you to know when seeking a pet trainer.  Here at Green Acres we have not used, recommended or sold these techniques/tools since 1998. It’s time for the other large training and behavior organizations, as well as individual trainers and businesses to quit making excuses for using these harmful tools and techniques.

While there are many excellent recommendations in the guidelines that I agree with, I cannot completely agree with: “Under no circumstances should aggression or any condition involving a clinical diagnosis be referred to a trainer for primary treatment. Referral to a dog trainer is appropriate for normal but undesired behaviors (e.g., jumping on people), unruly behaviors (e.g., pulling on leash), and teaching basic manners.” While I agree that clients should ALWAYS see and discuss behavioral concerns with their veterinarian to rule out any medical causes, I believe suggesting that the client should not be referred to a qualified, certified dog trainer or dog behaviour consultant may be counter-productive. I’m not saying that all dog trainers that take behavioral cases are qualified to do so, but truth be told, many veterinarians are also not comfortable developing a behavior modification program and then teaching the client how to implement that program.

The guidelines suggest that aggression cases can be referred to a Board-certified veterinary behaviorist (diplomates of the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists); however, according to the ACVB website there are only 66 such individuals worldwide. While such a specialist may be helpful they may not be an option for many people simply due to geography or cost, thus forcing a client to euthanize or relinquish their pet. Instead, I suggest that primary care veterinarians take the time to get to know the trainers and dog behavior consultants in their community so they can determine if they feel comfortable referring to those individuals. A good place to start is with members of the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants ( and the Animal Behavior Society (

However, since these organizations do not have clear and definitive guidelines on the use of techniques the AAHA guidelines has defined as aversive, it is up to veterinarians and pet owners to make sure that the individual practitioner they select does comply with the AAHA guidelines.

There is much more in this ground-breaking document that has the potential to greatly improve the lives of the dogs and cat we love. However, it only has the potential to do that if veterinarians and other pet care professionals heed its advice and if pet owners take the time to familiarize themselves with what’s written in this document so that they can be an advocate for their pet. You can read the document in its entirety at:

Don Hanson is the co-owner of the Green Acres Kennel Shop ( in Bangor. He is a Bach Foundation Registered Animal Practitioner (BFRAP), Certified Dog Behavior Consultant (CDBC), Associate Certified Cat Behavior Consultant (ACCBC) and a Certified Professional Dog Trainer (CPDT-KA). He produces and co- hosts a weekly radio show and podcast, The Woof Meow Show heard on The Pulse AM620 WZON and streamed at every Saturday at 9 AM. A list of upcoming shows and podcasts of past shows can be found at Don also writes about pets at his blog:

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