The Conflict of Expectation

Opal in 2009

In my last post, I wrote about my hobby: Dog Sports.

In this post, I want to let you in on a bit of my human journey.

When I was in my 20’s I was very active in rescue and dog events. I could be found promoting rescues and the idea that pitbulls in shelters were not inherently evil, and could in fact, make a very nice pet. (I still work with pitbulls in rescue quite a bit, just in a different capacity)

I adopted Opal in 2009.

I’ve mentioned her quite a bit in blog posts. Since she had some pretty debilitating separation anxiety, she went everywhere with me. (this was a time before medication, you lucky, lucky people!) This means she spent her weekends at things like Woofstock or Bark in the Park. She was great at showing people that bully breed type dogs were actually nice pets and could live peacefully in normal society. One day in 2012, I was packing the car for a weekend event, and instead of getting in the car, Opal walked down to the neighbors house. We had a heart to heart conversation, and I told her I needed her today, but she didn’t have to go with me anymore, unless she wanted to. She chose home more and more often.

Pixie and I at Dock Dog Nationals in Iowa


A few months later, I brought Pixie home from the shelter. She was a lovely puppy, quiet in her kennel, good with other puppy playmates, still very young. I figured I would foster her for a few months and off she would go to a new home. Well, y’all know, she never left. When she had been with me about a year, I decided she was staying and she would be my sport dog.

About a year later, Pixie became incredibly reactive to other dogs and people while on a walk. In some places, she was great with the chaos, but one on one it was too much for her to handle. At the time, I didn’t realize the two were related, and being a brand new dog trainer, I couldn’t understand why some places were so difficult, and others she looked like she loved.

Pixie is not the dog I envisioned when I brought her home from the shelter six years ago. I’ve mourned the idea of  the dog I thought I was getting. My husband and I have had more conversations about euthanasia and dog management than any normal couple should ever have. (Bless him for taking on my crazy dog with open arms!)

Stages of Grief

It took me about 3 years to really go through the 7 stages of grief with her. When my baby dog started acting aggressively, I was in denial and kept asking her to do more sports trying to find something we could do safely together. Because everything can be fixed with more training, I tried everything, I am a dog trainer after all! I was angry that I had the dog that I couldn’t leave the house with. The dog I always had to be 100% on top of to make sure she was safe. I wanted to show the world that she was so wonderful, what did I do wrong?!

Pixie is retired now.

Pixie in 2014 ordering ice cream

I have finally accepted that she is a dog who stays at home with 100% management. Her fear of the world is too great for her to be safe and comfortable. She was supposed to be my first real dog sport teammate. She gave me the best she could, but the more we tried, the more I could tell she was only there because I asked her to be. Genetics are a crazy thing and sometimes you get the short end of the stick.

To those of you mourning the loss of the dog you envisioned, I see you.

Going through the stages of grief for an idea seems like a crazy thing, but it is real. Loss is real, and you have lost the idea of what your life with this dog should be. It does take some time to accept that things will be different. Different is not necessarily worse, but just different.

I have been there, and I will help you as much as I can to get you close to the goals you have set. The grief is real, and I helps to talk to someone. Send me an email if you need someone to empathize. I will hear you!

May the Reinforce be with you

Ice cream is always reinforcing!

I think that was a title from a class I took recently.

Reinforcement is a big word for a very easy concept. But one that is usually overlooked. Reinforcement in dog training simply means pay your dog.

Dog does something, reinforce it.

If your dog sits during a training session, you would absolutely give him a cookie. But what are you doing the other 167 hours of the week? Has your dog figured out the game? Do they only listen in class, or when you have the bucket of cookies and the clicker in hand?

Dogs do what works for them. Does it work for you? A kibble is a small price to pay for making sure your dog is being rewarded for the things you like.

Follow this example

This is a common one in my house. Dog steals sock. Dog takes off running with sock. Human chases dog all over the house and out the dog door in the rain, to get said sock back. In my house, we reinforced bringing sock to human to trade for a cookie. Now, “can I have that” means spit out sock to get cookie.  Maybe one day I will teach her to bring the sock to me. (life goals)

Let’s discuss

Many many reinforcement strategies in this situation. To Cargo, the sock is a fun toy. It’s stinky, and it flops around when she bites it.

I don’t want holes chewed in my socks, so early on we taught a “trade” for food. Food is a better reinforcement than the sock, so it worked. If I were to chase Cargo around the house to wrestle her for the sock, then sock would become an even better reinforcement because Malinois love to tug, and I would lose a sock everytime. (Not reinforcing for me!) For a reinforcement strategy to work it has to benefit all the parties involved. Because food is the better reinforcer in this situation, I have food in small containers stashed all over my house.

Dogs do what works for them

If I had chased Cargo all over the house to get the sock back, I would be reinforcing the “stealing sock” behavior.  Chasing and tug is also a reinforcer, but since I set up her options as drop the sock for food or have her collar held until she drops the sock. Food is the only reinforcing option. She’s going to choose the food. Now, she brings the sock to me to show me she’s found it, I reinforce her bringing it to me, and we do not have (many) eaten socks.

In the kitchen, I only give her food when she is laying on the rug in front of the sink. Now, thats where she lays when I am in the kitchen. She gets a Kong or Peanut butter bone when I ask her to kennel, so she happily runs to her kennel when I ask.

This is especially important for new adult dogs in the house, or brand new puppies who are learning how to live in our world for the first time. Putting some forethought into the behaviors you want to see in the future will help you to prevent the unwanted behaviors later on.

Have any questions on this concept? Chat with us on Facebook. The next post will discuss what happens when this strategy goes wrong!





Adding a dog: the Multi-dog household

Life with many dogs can be amazing if you are ready for it!

This is a popular time of the year to think about making the jump to a multi-dog household. Is it the right time for you and your family? There are a few things you should consider before you bring home another 4 legged friend.

Is your current dog “well-behaved?”

I put that term in quotes because my definition of “behaved” might be different than yours. Many people think another dog to “play with” the current one is the answer to their problems. This is not always the case. Your current dog should be considered “easy to live with” before you bring in another.

Your current dog should be:

  • House trained. No more accidents in the house, especially if it is a small dog. No one wants to keep an eye on two dogs at the same time! We would need more eyeballs! Your current pup being able to be crated quietly while you are home is also a plus!
  • Aware of the basic rules in the house. No puppies on the kitchen counters, stay out of the office, or cat box, no rushing out the front door or chewing on the couch pillows. All of these bad behaviors will absolutely be taught to your new pup by your current pup.  It’s much harder to teach two pups who are learning from each other faster than you realize what’s happening.
  • At least 18 months old. Littermate syndrome is a real thing y’all! I do not recommend getting two puppies at the same time to anyone! (Those of you who have just raised a puppy are probably thinking why on earth would anyone want to do that twice!) In a nutshell, Littermate Syndrome is when your puppies bond very closely with each other and do not bond with the people. Puppies speak “dog” very well, and if you are not putting in the time to teach them how to speak “people” just as well, you are in for a world of trouble.

    She is cute when shes sleeping. This little terrorist keeps me on my toes!

  • Dog friendly. It is not fair to bring in another dog into a house where your current dog is not so fond of other 4 legged things. Dogs do not need dog friends in order to live a happy healthy life. (Case in point: Pixie) If your dog has never had good experiences around other dogs, then bringing home another one is only going to create heartbreak. (If you are not sure, schedule an appointment with me, and we can evaluate your situation.)

Be realistic about your lifestyle.

Bringing home another dog to “wear out” your current one is a terrible idea. So many dogs are sitting in shelters right now because people were not honest with themselves about the type of dog they actually wanted in their life. If your current dog is wearing you down, find a good trainer in your area that can help give you some ideas to “drain the tank” a bit. My Instagram (@thefreckledpawdogtraining) is full of enrichment ideas, and things I give my dogs on a regular basis. Maybe it will give you some ideas too.

If your current dog meets all these requirements, and you think you are ready for a new dog, check out this post about where to find your next adult dog. Or this post on finding the right puppy!

Know someone getting a new puppy or adopting a dog this holiday season? Why not give the gift of knowledge with a gift certificate to help them get everyone on the right path from the beginning! Find the gift certificate on my website

Muzzle Training and the “bad dog” myth


Intern Jon and I had a close call this weekend. Thankfully, we know this dog had some scaredy issues with unfamiliar people and we have trained him to wear a muzzle while out in public. Jon got just a bit too close to me while I was telling my pupper friend what a great job he was doing, and pup reacted in a barking snapping way. Jon picked up his long line from the ground and turned away, effectively diffusing the situation. This pup is fine with me in his space occasionally, but new people, and fast movements raise lots of concern. We do what we have to, to keep everyone safe.


Now, this is a familiar situation for most people when they see a muzzle on a dog.

“Danger Will Robinson, Danger!” 

I don’t want you to assume that just because a dog is muzzled, they are a bad dog, and want to rip your arms off as soon as they see you. Sometimes dogs just make bad decisions about their environment and when dogs try to recover from those bad decisions, they use their teeth. Using teeth is not socially acceptable in our world, (can you imagine if we bit people we disagreed with?) so we have to help them make better decisions.

Sometimes we just need some help

I am currently working with a rescue dog who gets very very excited when he sees 4-legged friends. He lives with another dog, and a bunch of cats so he is not the barking, snapping type, he is the “sing the song of my people” type. When he is meeting other friends, he wears his muzzle and a long leash just to keep him and the other dogs safe. Once the initial excitement is over, the song of his people has finished and he is a pretty chill dude. Watching the beginning of the process you might think he’s a psycho mess!

I’ve also muzzle trained dogs who like to eat things on the road while they are out for a walk. Some dogs have serious gastrointestinal issues that if given the wrong food can require hospitalization. There are also those dogs who want to swallow things like rocks or sticks in much larger pieces than they should. Muzzles allow them to go out in the yard, and for walks while staying safe.

I’ll do a Facebook Live this Wednesday about training a dog to accept a muzzle. Make sure you like my facebook page so you don’t miss it!

What to look for when adopting an adult dog!

Spring is here and hopefully is sticking around at this point. This time of the year you guys call me for help with puppies you have brought home, or your newly rescued adult dog that has now become part of your family. If you are bringing home a puppy, check back through my puppy series that started in January. If that series has totally turned you off from getting a tiny puppy, then hopefully this will help you choose an adult dog that will be a wonderful addition.
What do you envision when you think about bringing a dog home?
Long walks on the beach? Snuggling on the couch? Do you work long hours or from home? Kids have lots of after school activities? Think about your regular day and how much time you can devote to giving your dog the attention that he needs. If you are popping home from work then whisking kids off to soccer practice, then a smaller dog that you can travel easily with might be a better fit than a mastiff who will take up half your minivan. An older dog might also be a better option since they will not need as much supervision and exercise as a younger pup.
Finding a dog
All of the animal control facilities and rescue groups in my area have facebook pages, websites, and adoption events to promote their adoptable dogs. (If your facebook feed looks anything like mine, it’s gone to the dogs) Each one has its own sad story or great picture and write up to make you rush down and adopt that dog tomorrow.

But wait! How do you find the dog that will be a great addition to your family?
Where to start!?

Animal Control Facilities

I challenge you to chat with an Animal Control Officer! They are amazing people with a thankless job. Tell them Thank you!

Animal Control Facilities are city run shelters that are usually funded through the police department. They are set up to take in every animal that comes through the doors regardless of how it gets there. Animal control officers respond to both stray animals, neglect cases, dangerous dog calls and wildlife rehab calls. (these folks are super heros, really!) Because of this, AC (animal control) may not have a great history (or any history) on the dogs that are sitting in the kennels. They rely on their wonderful kennel staff and volunteers to help label the temperament and suitability for each home as they work with the pup. Shelter environment is pretty stressful on these guys so you may not get an accurate read on the pups personality once out of the shelter. The pup that looks high energy and spring loaded inside the kennel might come home and decompress forever on the couch. If you are ready for a little uncertainty then AC is the place to start your search.

No Kill Shelters
These are privately funded facilities that can house an animal for its whole life. They are called “no-kill” because their euthanasia rate is below 10%, which for recording purposes is sick or old. They are also called “limited admission shelters” which means they can pick and choose which dogs are housed at the facility, and rarely allow owners to surrender their dogs there. These dogs are usually the dogs from animal control facilities who need a little longer to find that perfect home. They take the pressure off the AC shelters so they have the space for the strays and owner surrenders to have a little longer in the kennels there. These dogs usually have some history, from the previous housing facility or from the volunteers that worked with the dog. Usually a no-kill shelter will have dogs that did not work out in a first home and have been returned to the facility so you have some information from a previous family.

This is Lady Inga, she loves her foster home.

Foster Based Rescue
If you know exactly what you are looking for in a dog, and don’t want to take the gamble of figuring out a shelter dog, this is the way to go. Foster based rescues take in dogs from the shelter and place them into a home. Usually these homes have cats, other dogs, or children that they live with. They know exactly how these dogs act in these situations, and have no time limit to find these dogs a perfect home. These dogs are usually fully vetted, spayed/neutered, house broken and crate trained. Foster based rescues will have an application process to make sure you are ready for a dog, and make sure they are matching you with the right dog for your lifestyle. Adoption fees will often be higher than a shelter because the rescue is running on limited funds to help the dogs with medical expenses, food, and heartworm and flea preventative. Sometimes the dog you are interested in may not be the perfect fit, but the rescue group can recommend another dog that would be a better match. Trust the rescue coordinators to help you in your decision.
Some rescue groups do shady things since this is a very emotional decision and not regulated very closely (remember that list of things the AC officers already do? Only so many hours in a day y’all!) There are some practices that will send up some red flags for me when researching a rescue group.
Lots of dogs in one place. If one house has 20 dogs in it and they don’t live on some acreage then that is a concern for me. How well does this person know these dogs, and how much socialization and training are they getting to prepare them for moving to a forever home?

Lots of turn over with the dogs. If dogs are coming in and out of a rescue in less than a few weeks then that is also a red flag. Most rescues want their dogs in a foster home for a minimum of a few weeks to make sure they know the dogs personality and can accurately place the dog into an appropriate home.
Adopting out anything with a bite history. I don’t believe that any dog that has bitten a person and caused harm is safe to ever be adopted out. You don’t want that liability, I don’t want to have to tell you your dog is dangerous and the rescue group lied to you. If anywhere on the website or write ups you see that any dog has been “rehabilitated” or was a “red zone” dog, run as fast as you can! There are plenty of dogs who can safely and easily live with people without that kind of management and heartache.
No vet history. Every dog should come to you with thorough vet history including a checkup by the rescues vet, heartworm preventative and vaccines on schedule as well as records of any medical issues the dog may have displayed when leaving the shelter.
No home check or reference check. The rescue should be researching you as much as you are researching them. The love these dogs and want them to go into a home where they will be loved forever.

What if you have your heart set on a purebred dog?
Find a breeder with a program that you like. (see the puppy series for information on finding a breeder) Ask them if they have any older dogs who might be looking for a new home. Occasionally breeders will have puppies returned to them for assorted reasons that have nothing to do with the dog. They also may have kept a puppy with aspirations for showing or sport that the pup didn’t quite live up to. The breeder may agree that those dogs would do better in a family home since owner and dog do not have the same goals. Take advantage of these situations, and don’t be afraid to ask!

Rough start to life but now living happily with a family!

This is just an overview of where to start to find a pup to join your home. Adopting an adult dog can be extremely rewarding! Keep in mind that dogs personalities don’t fully solidify until 3 to 5 years old. Finding a 3 year old dog with all the personality traits that you are looking for can still give you 10 to 12 great years with your pup. This is also without dealing with all the crazy house training and chewing that comes along with getting a puppy.

Dogs sitting in shelters do not come with baggage, and are often surrendered because of unfortunate life circumstances. They are not broken and unwanted, they are just waiting for that next chance. If a puppy sounds overwhelming then please take a look at an adult dog. They have just as much love and fun as a puppy, but often with less effort on your part to get that great companion!