Fluency in Training: Your dog doesn’t know “sit”

Fluency in Training our dogs

Those of you who have worked with me have heard me talk about my 4 points for Behavioral Wellness. (Sarah Stremming talks about this quite a bit for those who would like to know more. Or ask me!) I find the biggest disconnect is people’s understanding of what their dog actually knows. They tell me that their dog “knows” how to sit and wait at the door to go for a walk, or when the food bowl is in your hand. Dogs are super smart, and they “get by” with very little actual information from us. If you start scooping food and your dog runs to the mat and sits, do they know a “go to mat” and “sit” or do they just know they won’t get fed until they sit on the mat? Can you ask them to sit in the living room, while watching TV and with no cookie in your hand? Do they pop into that sit or look at you blankly then sit?


Fluency is defined as: the ability to express oneself easily and articulately. When we were in school we had to learn a foreign language. Did you consider yourself fluent after one year of that language? I certainly did not. Are you expecting your dog to be fluent after just a few repetitions? In dog training, we talk about fluency as the dogs ability to accurately comprehend what we are asking them. Is your dog trying stuff or do they really know what we are saying?

Quick Story!

I have been working on Cargo’s fluency in her “down” position since she was a tiny pup. She will quickly and confidently offer it on her own and when I ask for it. Recently, I had my fence put up and needed to leash walk her while they were out working. One of the workers needed to ask me a few questions so I asked her to down while I spoke with them. She confidently dropped right down, and stayed there as long as she needed to. (I payed her, of course, for staying there) I have never asked her to “down” while I was speaking with someone, but the history is there for plenty of other circumstances. For now, I would call her fluent in the “down” cue.

I was listening to a training podcast recently, (yes, all my free time is spent training, or learning about training or reading about training… maybe I need a new hobby) and the guest was speaking to the interviewer about the joy that your dog receives when they “know” a cue. When they confidently can offer that behavior in any location without any prompts from you, many of your behavior problems will melt away!

How this helps you

When I am working with anxious or fearful dogs, having some line of communication to let your dog know that you are in control and they are going to be safe, creates a whole different outlook for your dog. We bring them into our lives to live with our rules and constraints that really do not make any sense to a dog. Training is time consuming and sometimes difficult, but you owe it to your dog to make sure they truly understand what we are asking them. This is why I spend so much time at the beginning of training making sure your dog knows the rules for living with us and what we expect, before adding in the things that are making life so difficult for you.

She knows “sit”

I recently created a Facebook group for present and past clients to learn from my dogs and take a peek into the things I find important to communicate with them. This is a safe space to ask questions, learn from my dogs, and other clients who may be having similar struggles to yours. If you would like to join this group just shoot me a message and I will happily add you.

Puppy’s first day: The most important thing!

House training a dog can be frustrating and monotonous. In and out, where is the puppy, what time did he last go out? All questions that you will be asking yourself until your puppy is about 5 months old. With an older rescue dog, this process can go much quicker if your new dog has some foundation in housebreaking. Consistency is key in this process, so make sure your entire family is on board. An accident is not the puppies fault, it’s your fault for not seeing the signs or adjusting your expectations of your puppy.

1. Manage your expectations
As a first step, do an assessment of how well your dog can control his bladder and bowels when he’s not in the crate. With an older dog, plan to take them out every two hours for the first few days, with puppies younger than 8 months, every hour that they are not napping. Keep in mind that your puppy can “hold it” for his age in months plus one. (example: 12 week old puppy can hold it for 4 hours in his crate.)

2. Keep up with what your pup is doing.

x-pens are great for giving your puppy a play area while you get some work done

Keeping eyeballs on your puppy at all times is key for successful house train

ing. If your puppy can wander off and have an accident then they will keep wandering off to that same space. If you have to get things done and cannot keep your eyeballs on your pup, then crate him for a short time, or tether him to you.

3. Throw a party for your puppy
How excited will you be when you realize your pup is house trained? Really excited! Make sure that level of excitement is shown to your pup when they “go” outside. Throw your puppy a party that will make the neighbors wonder what you are doing. (Acting like a fool means you will be a great dog trainer, but that’s a blog post for another day) Have your cookie ready for your puppy before you go outside. Many people want to come back inside and give their puppy a cookie but by that time your puppy has completely forgotten what they are doing, and why they are getting the cookie.

4. When accidents happen
Clean the crate and any bedding so it is free of any scent from urine or feces. Use Natures Miracle or another cleaner with an enzyme that will break down the proteins in the urine. Dogs noses are way better than ours so an odor eliminator will not do the trick.
Whatever you do, don’t punish your dog for accidents. This will cause the puppy to want to hide from you when they have to go. If your puppy party is good, then your puppy will want you to come outside with them when they need to go. Which is exactly what you want them to do!

Puppy Bells
Bells on the door are a great training tool if your “potty door” is not in a common area. If you find that your pup is going to the door and sitting, and you can’t see him, then a bell might be your answer. When you get your bells, ring them yourself before opening the door to let puppy out. After a few days of this, encourage puppy to touch the bell to get you to open the door. Soon your puppy will learn that bell means the door opens (basic classical conditioning!). If you find that puppy begins to ring the bells to go outside to play, make sure you are ignoring the play behavior outside until they have taken care of business. If puppy only wants to play, then they go back inside for a quick time out in the crate, and straight back outside once let out.

Time management: the overwhelm is real!

Y’all I am overwhelmed. Life is getting in the way of doing the things I want to do and something has got to give. For those who don’t know, the hubs and I just got back from our honeymoon in the UK and we just bought a house. Because I can’t do just one thing at a time, we found the house 2 weeks before we left, and closed on it the day after we got home.

England was so pretty! This is outside of Buckingham Palace.

(I also brought Cargo home 4 weeks before our wedding day. I like things complicated. He knew what he was getting into.) The new house does not have a fence yet so I have been walking my dogs 4 or 5 times a day in the rain and bugs which takes up about 2 hours of my day, then unpacking, and getting everyone settled has been stressful to say the least.

Because just getting through the day is enough for me right now, my dog training has taken a back seat. Poor Cargo has done a few days of conditioning, but most of her training has been searching for her dinner, and walking around the new park in our neighborhood. (I can tell you she is not happy about it and this fence cannot get here fast enough.) The other two can handle a few days of not training so they are not happy but coping better than the puppy.

I keep telling myself this will not last forever. I just need a few more days to get back on track and then things will get better. And that’s okay. Sometimes we just don’t have time to train our dogs. I still love them, and they are getting the minimum that they need right now. Things will change when I have time to get myself organized and we will get back on track. I know life happens for you guys too and I understand that dog training sometimes has to take a back seat to life. When it happens forgive yourself for not giving everything 100% and try to do better when you can.

For now, I am making sure I plan my sessions and take advantage of the little bit of time I do have for them. I have made a list of the bare minimum life skills that I need to do with each of them, and if I have

Ball makes everything okay!

3 seconds, I go to that list. I will literally grab a handful of kibble and reward downs on the mat in the kitchen for that handful, or ring the doorbell and reward quiet (our last house didn’t have a doorbell). 10 kibbles is better than nothing,and having 2 life skills that I need to work on right now will get me through until I can plan their agility, dock diving, Therapy Dog, and barn hunt training.

So a quick apology to you guys! I am sorry I have been a bit quiet lately, I will get back on track soon!

The one thing you should never let your dog do!

Tall fences make great neighbors.

remember this guy?

I find this saying to be very true, unless there is a barking dog on the other side of the tall fence.

Fences are a necessity for keeping your dog safe. It keeps them out of the street, away from people and dogs walking in the neighborhood, and gives you some peace of mind knowing you can open the back door and they go out to a safe space to play or potty.

Most of us have neighbors that also have dogs and enjoy the same luxury of having a fenced in area to let their dogs have some freedom.

Does your dog get his “exercise” running this tall fence with the neighbor’s dog? Does he whine at the door to go out and bark and run up and down the fence over and over again? Do you think, “Great Fido is getting his exercise for the day!”

What if I told you this creates most of the behavior problems I see?


Running the fence line is not a healthy activity for any dog to be participating in. Why? Lets take a look at it from the dogs perspective! At first your dog goes to the fence to say hello to the neighbor’s dog, then they get excited and start bouncing up and down the fence trying to interact in normal doggy fashion. This would look like some butt sniffing, some play bows, and a rousing game of tag where each dog could chase and be chased alternatively. Now the fence is in the way. Dogs communicate primarily by body language and visual cues, so if they don’t have a clear way to communicate things get very frustrating very quickly.

Take a quick trip back in time with me to the very first cordless phones. (yes, I am old enough to remember corded phones!) They were big and clunky and if the antenna was not all the way out you couldn’t really understand the person on the other end. Imagine if that was every interaction you had with people. Only getting part of the conversation and really struggling with understanding what you could hear. So frustrating!

Science time!

(skip this if you are not super nerdy like me!) When you are frustrated, your brain releases chemicals that respond to that stress (cortisol). Cortisol puts your body in a fight or flight scenario and it takes a long time to get rid of that chemical. If your dog is frustrated about the dog next door every time he goes outside, he is building up a store of cortisol which is keeping him on edge and amped up. Symptoms of increased cortisol levels can be seen as the inability to settle down, excessive barking, lack of sleep, and my most common scenario, redirected aggression to a housemate or person in the way of the barking and running the fence.

What does this mean for you?

First, don’t let your dog fence fight with the neighbor’s dog. If you do have an issue with your dog fence fighting, then add some management to your routine. Come up with a signal system for your neighbor, letting them know when your dog is out and have them do the same to keep your dog from practicing behaviors that you don’t like. Leash walk your dog outside and reward them for paying attention to you instead of the fence. Work on a really solid recall so you can call your dog away from the fence if the other dog starts barking.
This is not one of those behaviors that will magically disappear overnight. It takes some commitment and training to get your dog to a better mental state in these situations. If you find yourself struggling with what to do next, contact a local professional to help get you on the right track. Of course, if you are in the Hampton Roads area, I am happy to help! Visit my website www.thefreckledpaw.com to schedule a consultation appointment.

Door Manners! A “how to” guide!

I love when my clients answer the door and ignore me! Seriously! It makes my heart sing when I have a client rewarding their dog for staying on their mat at the door, releasing them then saying hello to me!

Society says that not speaking to your guests when you open the door is rude, but so is a dog who jumps all over you.

Pick your battles people!

I promise you I will not be mad if you slam the door in my face because your puppy made a mistake! I’m pretty sure your guest will not be mad either if you tell them what is going on. (communication is key!)

Do you have a dog who jumps all over people at the door? You want a dog who keeps all 4 feet on the floor when saying hello? That seems like a pretty big endeavor, but with a little management and planning it’s not so hard!


Let’s break it down!

First, what skills can we use to communicate to our dog what we would like them to do? Down and stay are a good place to start. Mat skills make this really easy. Make sure you have taught your dog a release cue to communicate that they can get up.
Break these skills into pieces your dog can be successful with.
Can your dog stay while you walk towards the door with no one there? No?
Can they stay while you drop cookies on the floor, or roll a ball away from them? Yes? Add the door with no one there.
Can they stay while you ring the doorbell? No? Record the sound of your doorbell on your cell phone and practice staying while no one is at the door.
Once all those pieces are mastered, start opening the door while your dog is in a “stay.” Again, no one is at the door at this point. Make sure this step is really solid by running to the door, talking to the invisible person on the other side of the door, go out the door and come back inside, do a dance at the front door, you get the idea. If your dog can keep his stay through all that, then we can start adding people to the door.

My dogs happily laying in a sunbeam. It would be great for this to be the way everyone answers the door!

In the meantime, put your dog in his kennel or outside when you have people come in the door. Practice makes perfect and you don’t want them practicing behaviors you are trying to get rid of. (don’t make things harder on yourself!)

Tell the people coming by that you are working with your dog and you might have to get them to stand on the porch just a little longer than normal. (I think spring is finally sticking around so you are not leaving them in the cold)
If they are just dropping of a package (or children) then put your pup away so you can deal with the quick drop and move on with your day. Don’t frustrate your dog by making them practice until they “get it right.” Obviously the first time you add a person to the door they are not going to be successful. If pup is keeping it together and making good choices, then reward that by letting them say hello to your guest. If they can’t keep it together after 3 tries then they go in their kennel and do not get to say hello. (Yes! Only 3 tries!!)
Keep working at this! It works! If you need some guidance, let me know I am happy to troubleshoot with you!