Welcome to Tug Dogs

Welcome to Tug Dogs. We’re so glad that you’re here, wanting to learn more about how you and your dog can live better together. Our expert team of trainers has 70+ years of combined experience that ranges from working with service dogs, therapy dogs, training dogs for TV & film, teaching students to become dog trainers, providing canine behavior testimony for court proceedings, partnering with animal shelters and rescue groups to rehabilitate dogs in need, and working with thousands of dog families just like yours. We are dedicated and skilled trainers who rely on scientifically backed training protocols that yield long term results and enhance the quality of your dog’s life.

This welcome article is designed to give you a basic understand of what you should expect during training, the key elements we’ll be using to help your dog learn positive, behavior habits, and what your role will be. We want you to be our next success story and that all starts here with educating you about the best practices moving forward. You can have a dog who listens, cooperates, stops engaging in problem behaviors, and starts being more fun to live and adventure with. Read on to learn how…

What is Dog Training?

Dog training is actually the wrong name for what we do. We really should be called dog and doggy parent coaches! After all, it’s you who decide where your dog lives, who they live with, where they go, how they meet others, what rules they must follow, how they are rewarded, how much exercise they get, what toys they have, when and what they eat, what access to healthcare they have, and almost every other major life decision. Just trying to change a dog’s behavior, when so many of their experiences are dictated by you, just isn’t very effective. That’s why our training team has devoted so much time learning not just how to train your dog but also how to support you using effective client coaching skills. Moving forward, our goal will be to help both you and your dog practice positive, new habits that will ensure you reach your training goals together. 

Body vs. Mind

Ask anyone what dog training is and everyone is going to give you the same reply…it’s teaching dogs to follow commands like sit, down, stay, and come. Commands are a part of dog training but they are not the most important part. How your dog thinks, feels, and engages with the world around them dictates how they behave. That’s why Tug Dogs training doesn’t jump right to micromanaging your dog’s body with orders, but instead primarily focuses on the most important part of your dog’s body…their brain! When a nervous dog feels more confident, an aggressive dog knows to look to you for guidance, a rude dog understands good manners will get them what they want, and an over excited dog knows how to channel calm brain, then you don’t have to bark orders at them because your dog will be capable of making their own good decisions! And let’s face it, neither you or your dog enjoy you having to tell them what to do all the time. Once we have addressed your dog’s brain & behavior so that they are in the right mental state to succeed, we can then layer in obedience command training so that if your dog needs a little extra help, you’ll be able to give them instructions they can actually listen to.

Going too Fast

When I’m teaching students to become dog trainers, I ask them to predict where most dogs and their people will make mistakes. I can share with you that the #1 mistake every single client makes is simply going too fast. You are speaking foreign language to your dog and have a bigger, more effective brain to process information with. Expecting your dog to immediately understand what you want and agree to do it is just not realistic. The truth is that if you want training that works, you have to break training goals into steps so that your dog has the opportunity to properly learn. Here’s an example: when we teach a park it skill (go to your dog bed and stay there until I say you can get up) we spend a week working the dog through small but important steps such as:

  1. go to your bed and you get a treat!
  2. go to your bed, wait there a few seconds, collect a few treats, and I’ll tell you it’s time to get off
  3. go to your bed, wait there 30 secconds…treats, time to get off
  4. go to your bed, wait there, get treats, watch me take 1 step side to side, time to get off
  5. go to you bed, wait there, get treats, hear me make a funny sound, get treats, time to get off

You get the idea…these steps are quick and easy but they help the dog understand what we want and stay motivated to follow our guidance. If we just put a dog on the their bed, gave a treat, and walked away 0% of dogs would be successful (but a lot of dogs and their people would be frustrated!).

You don’t show up to your first piano class expecting to play Beethoven. You don’t pop on a French language podcast and believe you’ll be immediately fluent. And you certainly wouldn’t enroll your kindergartener in calculous because you want her to learn high level mathematics. When you start at the right level of learning you can build skills and habits that will last a life time. When you rush to the finish line, all you’ll do is make learning frustrating and unsuccessful. Fortunately, your Tug Dogs trainer knows exactly what steps your dog needs so all you have to do is trust in the process and not rush to the end.

Picking the Right Moments for Learning

Imagine a friend and I walking down the street when suddenly I see a 600 lb, aggressive Grizzly Bear 30 feet away. Would this be the right moment for my friend to teach me how to knit? Would my brain be receptive to learning new skills when there is a threat located nearby? The answer is obviously, no. Out of sheer, biological genius, mammal brains prioritize focusing on dangerous things around us so that we can stay alive. In fact, there an entire neurobiological process that prepares your dog’s body for fight/flight when something your dog sees as stressful/scary is present. The body shuts down long term projects like digesting food, supporting the immune system, learning new skills, and overseeing the preproduction system as the sole focus becomes dealing with a potential threat. You can understand why then, trying to teach your dog a new way to behave when their brain & body has already activated the threat sequence is next to impossible.

Even if your dog isn’t stressed but is instead excited, trying to learn in that mental state is also tough too. Imagine trying to teach a 3rd grade class of kids math if the class was taking place inside an arcade. You would be fighting an up hill battle to even get the kids’ attention let alone get them to focus on new skills. Even us grown ups would struggle if we were really excited…let’s say you just found out that you won the MEGAJACKPOT and your whole life is going to change. Is this the right moment in time for me to teach you how to file your taxes? Replace a car tire? Use a new computer program? Of course not.

It turns out that for both dogs who are struggling with fear/aggression/anxiety based behaviors and those who are just over excited, making sure that learning happens in the right spaces first, is really important. Once your dog understands what you want and gets some repetition in practicing, then you can start adding more challenges and working in the real environments where you want your dog to behave.

Pay Your Pup

 Would you show up to work and do a good job day after day if there was no paycheck? Then why would your dog? I guarantee you that a bag of treats is a LOT cheaper than paying for more training with us. In fact, if you really want to invest in your dog’s education doing something cheap and easy, find a tasty treat your dog likes, load up your treat pouch and wear it all the time you’re home with your dog for a couple of weeks. Start noticing things your dog does that you like such as laying down calmly, coming to you when you say their name, not jumping up on you, dropping their ball when asked, etc and reward them for doing those things! You will be amazed at how just paying your dog for what you want them to do helps them understand your expectations and motivates them to comply.

Behavior is Language

If dogs could speak English, I’d happily be out of a job. But dogs can’t do that. They can, however, “speak” if you know how to listen to them. Of course your dog’s out of control behavior can be frustrating, embarrassing, confusing, scary, stressful etc…But how your dog behaves is one of the best ways that we can understand how they are experiencing the world around them. For example, a dog who is barking and lunging at other dogs is almost always struggling with fearful beliefs that another dog may hurt them. A dog who is whining, pacing, shaking off, and unable to settle may be struggling with anxiety or hyper-arousal issues (similar to ADHD). Knowing how your dog is feeling is ciritcal to putting a treatment plan into place to help them cope, grow, and gain positive habits.

The truth is, if there is one goal our team has for you and your dog during your training program with us, it’s to get you fluent in what your dog has to say. Because when you understand your dog, it yields the best training results (and those results last!) and it also deeply enhances the quality of life that you and your dog share together.

We Cannot do it For You

 Nobody wishes more than I do that your dog’s training results depended solely on my skill and dedication as a trainer. If that was the case, every dog I work with would be trained to an Olympic level! But we all know that training a dog is not like fixing a car. A dog’s behavior is formed by a combination of their genetics, their early life experiences, the environment they live in (which includes you,) new experiences they have, and their health. Because our trainers have a tremendous amount of experience working with behaviorally challenged dogs from mild to severe, we know first hand that there is no magic wand we trainers wave that suddenly changes who your dog is and how they respond to world around them.

The good news is, we know what does work to make meaningful and long lasting changes. And that’s why all of our training programs emphasize educating you right alongside your dog (that’s why you’re reading this article!). Since you control the environment around your dog, how they get paid, who they are exposed to, what rules they have to follow etc…we want to make sure you know the little things you can do that yield big results for your dog. And we’ll be working along side you to support both you and your dog’s habit changes together.

Redefining Fine

I was skeptical as I looked at the young German Shepherd tightly curled under where her owner was sitting. Here we were in the calm and tranquil space of my grassy field as I sat still and quiet trying to prove to her that I was no threat. Yet her eyes methodically scanned the environment, her rib cage heaving from the heavy breath her body was demanding to prepare her muscles for quick action from the danger that could suddenly spring from it’s hiding place and attack us. I saw a dog deeply afraid at the same time I heard her humans exclaim “she did fine” as a response when I asked about how she was in her previous, group training elsewhere. It’s a phrase that I have come to expect, examine, and unmask as a dog trainer who specializes in helping dogs with behavior problems.

Along my journey in dogs I’ve come to realize that defining what fine actually means is a simple but powerful way to get to the heart of what dog training is (or what it is supposed to be, in my opinion). Through careful examination (including of myself as a dog mom,) I now understand that when we as humans describe something as “fine” in regards to our dogs, we are mostly relaying whether or not we were inconvenienced by our dog’s behavior.

I think we can do better…

Is fine really just the absence of enough fear, frustration or aggression that our dogs become uncontrollable and lash out or panic in ways that cause us to become stressed, annoyed, or embarrassed? Does the definition of fine only extend to how we as humans are experiencing things without taking into consideration the feelings of our dogs? Or can fine mean that our dogs feel safe, confident, and have the skills and relationship with us they need to effectively navigate the spaces we put them in? Fine can and should be so much more than just a term to describe how easy it was for us people to do something with our dogs.

Dogs are beings who are capable of big feelings, just like us humans. And just like us, each individual has different ways of expressing emotion and varying levels of comfort in showing what they are feeling. Even within our own species it can be difficult to decipher another’s emotional state. Don’t believe me? Walk around the supermarket and tell me just from looking, who has lost a loved one recently, who is stressed at work, who is dealing with crippling anxiety, and who is deeply depressed. A few may show their inner life externally but most don’t. The same goes for dogs. By the time we see exploding behavior problems, you can bet there were big feelings simmering just out of sight that our dogs couldn’t tell us about but that we would have labeled as “doing fine.” Dogs have a rich inner life that we can’t fully know. So the best we can do is to start re-examining what we mean by being fine and do our best to consider the whole team (dog and person) rather than just our own human point of view.

These days I often catch myself in the middle of telling someone my dog “did fine” and instead I pause, reflect and ask myself the tough questions:

How do I know she did fine? Were there any signs she felt otherwise? Was I careful to stop, check in with her and observe her communication? If I was able to ask her how she did, would she agree that she was “fine?” Am I making sure that I include her mental well being as part of my definition of fine?

These are the conversations I love sharing with my team of dedicated trainers and the incredible and loving dog owners we get the opportunity to work with. Helping people and their dogs actually achieve “being fine” is the most rewarding part of my job and is the goal of all dog training here at Tug Dogs.


Zoom-ing Into Training

I took a deep breath, opened up my laptop computer, and pulled up my Gmail inbox. I already knew what would be there…the same thing as the day before and the day before that. Even though I had prepared myself to see the list of cancellation emails and requests for refunds, it just didn’t get any easier. This was the start of the Covid pandemic and the looming cloud that began to envelop my (and so many other) small businesses. While there is no doubt that Covid took it’s toll in so many ways, there was one way that I might be able to flip adversity into opportunity for the dogs and people we work with.

Going Virtual…

Now that we had all been forced into a world of virtual meetings and social distancing, this seemed like the perfect time to assemble virtual training programs that would provide the convenience of connecting with a skilled trainer from home. But could we do it and do it well? There are 2 ethical standards that the team here at Tug Dogs strictly adheres to: 1) We want to offer the very best training services and 2) We always provide transparent communication. If we couldn’t meet both of those standards, we couldn’t offer virtual training.

So began many months of researching the world of virtual education. I snuck into virtual life coaching groups, sat in on a healthcare webinar focused on seeing virtual patients, networked with other trainers offering zoom training, read blogs from fitness trainers going virtual, and used my social distancing time to immerse myself in understanding this new world. 

What I learned during those months of research didn’t just assure me that virtual training could meet Tug Dogs ethical standards, it opened up new and exciting possibilities that we could offer BETTER training services in many types of cases. If you’re like me when I started this journey, you’re probably thinking…how could meeting virtually with a trainer possibly be better than meeting in person? Here’s how:

  1. More of us: You know what one of the biggest predictors of success is in most training cases? How much follow through there is in the training. Exploring this new world of zoom learning, I had a huge Eureka moment! I was no longer confined to the normal 60-90 minute, weekly meet up with a client because anything beyond that would be inconvenient for both of us. Instead, now I could break sessions into smaller parts and review and expand them throughout the week using virtual meetings. You’re a lot more successful when you meet with your fitness coach a few times a week because they help motivate you and hold you accountable. Now we can do that too. Meeting a few times instead of just once per week also means I get eyes on what you and your dog are up to so I can make adjustments, give you the next steps if you’re ready (rather than waiting a whole week) and be available to answer questions easily. Scheduling 3 in person sessions with us per week would be next to impossible, except virtually.
  2. Less of us: I used to joke that as a side business I would sell a cardboard cutout of myself for training clients because I was so often hearing, “when you’re here she listens and is great! When you leave she acts totally differently.” I call this the “teacher effect.” Many dogs figure out when to behave well and when they can get away with their normal doggy antics. This can make in person training a challenge as we don’t have the ability to coach you through your pup’s problem behaviors if they aren’t engaging in them while we’re present. Unless we’re training virtually that is.
  3. A stranger is here: At its core, dog training is about teaching dogs skills and behaviors while things are easy (non distracting) and then adding more difficulty as they are ready. We don’t try to teach kids math in the middle of an arcade because it would be impossible to keep their attention. For some dogs, having a new human in their presence can either be stressful or so exciting that it’s hard for them to focus. Sure we want them to be able to work on this skill but teaching them in a non challenging environment first is key. Another win for virtual…
  4. Staying on a roll: I once heard a quote that said, “adulting is sending emails/texts back and forth about how busy you are.” It’s true, most of us are pretty busy people. Rather than having to carve out 90 minutes for training plus drive time and homework time outside of the session, what if you could just schedule 20 minutes here or there and get the same (if not better) training results?? That’s what virtual has to offer. Neither of us will be adding to our training time by having to drive all over and that in turn gives you more time to apply to actually meeting your training goals. That’s a serious, virtual score.
  5. Getting ready: We work a lot with problem behavior cases where dogs are having issues with fear, aggression or anxiety. To even meet a dog who struggles with a serious behavior issue and keep ourselves safe and make the experience as positive as possible for the dog, having some basic skills in place is hugely helpful. Virtual training allows us to help your dog get conditioned to a muzzle (if needed) so we can handle them safely, get you used to the handling you’ll need to have to navigate your dog around us when we do meet in person, and start the process of teaching you how to refocus your dog when they begin to get stressed/reactive. These are tools that we can teach your dog virtually so that we have them ready to use in real life training. This allows us to move faster through the training once we’re working in person together. 
  6. We have lives: After 2020 our trainers, like most everybody else, are ready to travel. But we don’t want to lose momentum when we’re in the middle of training programs with our clients. Virtual gives us the best of both worlds as we can continue your dog’s training program while also getting our beach trip fix. In reality, virtual treatment programs have given us the ability to offer longer programs than we have been able to offer before. For example, treating serious separation anxiety is no quick undertaking! To be able to really tackle the behavior, we need to be able to coach you and your dog over a period of months to see success. For example in our Separation Anxiety Ultra Program, clients meet with our coaches DAILY for at least the first week and get ongoing support for 185 days! There’s zero possibility of us being able to offer that same level of frequency and support for in person training (unless you want us as a roommate lol). Virtual lets us offer more since we can still have lives. 
  7. Revisit your training: Ever wish you could remember something your trainer said about how to handle your dog? Want a reminder of your homework? Would you like your partner to see how to work with your dog even though they couldn’t attend a session? I am no tech wizard but a simple google search lets me know that you can easily download zoom sessions so that you can revisit them in the future. A customized, online class you can revisit anytime about your dog’s training? Yes please!
  8. Early start: Since the dawn of time vets and trainers have battled about whether to keep puppies isolated until vaccinated or start their training early. Ok maybe not the dawn of time but it’s a debate that’s been around quite a while. You shouldn’t have to risk your puppy’s mental or physical health by choosing between keeping their brain learning or body disease free. Virtual helps solve this problem. From the comfort of your own (parvo free) house and yard, you can get started right away in learning the most important puppy basics to help your new family member get into good dog habits. Virtual takes the compromise out of when to start puppy training.
  9. No time like the present: Finally you decide it’s time to take the plunge and get your dog trained. His pulling, barking, or other problem behaviors are driving you crazy and you need it to stop now! But much to your dismay, the trainers you have reached out to report back that there is a lengthy waiting list to get your dog trained. It’s frustrating, we know. Even more annoying for us is that we have a trainer skilled and ready to go in helping your dog meet your goals but unfortunately they just don’t happen to live near you. Virtual training means you’ll get faster access to qualified help whether it’s from our Bay Area, Sacramento, Truckee/Tahoe, or Portland area trainers. 
  10. Here, there, and everywhere: Of course the most obvious benefit of virtual is for those who don’t live in our service area, you can still get access to an experienced and knowledgeable trainer no matter where you are (so long as you have reliable internet access).). Tug Dogs selected trainers are highly skilled and educated dog professionals that have met rigorous standards. If you don’t have a trainer in your area or just need a canine professional that is focused on problem behaviors instead of just traditional obedience training, our virtual programs deliver a top quality trainer right to your living room. 

Sounds pretty good right? There’s a whole lot we can do virtually to help your dog overcome their problem behaviors, learn better manners, stop rehearsing bad habits, learn to listen even when distractions are around, and become easier companions to live and adventure with. We can even help you learn how to support your dog’s training education all from the comfort of home. But there are some cases that need help that goes beyond virtual training. For this reason we offer a hybrid learning approach where you start virtually to build up your dog’s skills and then meet in person to practice in real world training scenarios. Cases where your dog needs to work around strangers, our role model dogs, or venture out into the community are best left for in person training. Rest assured that once you start the training process with us, we’ll be advising you on the best options moving forward as no matter which format we use to train, our goals are always the same….getting you and your dog the best training possible. 

These days when I flip open my computer, rather than cancellations I’m seeing updates from happy dog owners who are thrilled with what they have been accomplishing with the help of our virtual training. If you need help with you dog (when in person or virtually,) get in touch today to schedule a free consultation so we can learn more. 

How do I Get my Dog to…

Have you ever wondered just what us professional trainers are doing that gets dogs to listen, cooperate, and have excellent doggy manners? This article is all about answering the most common canine questions we receive with simple yet powerful dog training solutions.

How do I Get my Dog to Stop Jumping up on People?

There’s a saying I love to share with people who are working on their dog’s polite greeting skills and this is, ”you get what you pet.” If you pay attention to your dog when they are super excited, then you are training them that being excitable is a great way to get what they want. And an excited dog is 1000 times more likely to jump, bark, and even nip when greeting. Rather than just focusing on what your dog’s body is doing (jumping up,) the best training helps your dog get into the right mental state so they are prepared to make good choices. If you want your dog to stop jumping up, ignore them until they are calm and reward them with CALM attention, praise, or treats when they make good choices.

How do I Get my Dog to Come When I Call?

It’s always important to consider your dog’s point of view. If come= giving up a wrapper they pulled out of the trash can, leaving the park, or having to do something they just don’t like, it’s going to be a real struggle to convince your dog to follow the command. But what if 90% of the time come means getting to go for a walk, eat a meal, play fetch, or do something else your dog loves? If your dog believes come = amazing stuff, they’ll consistently return to you when you ask. Try spending the next 2 weeks giving your dog their favorite rewards when they respond to the come command and you’ll be amazed at how quickly almost every dog will come racing over to you.

How do I Get my Dog to Stop Pulling on Leash?

Pulling on leash may sound like a simple problem to solve, but in reality, this skill often requires a good amount of practice for many dogs. It’s an exciting world out there and most dog’s natural pace is faster than our human preferred speed of walking. So what can you do to teach your dog not to drag you around on leash?

  1. Practice leash walking where it’s easy like inside the house and yard. It’s too distracting for many dogs to try and learn leash manners when they are out and about in the world. By giving your dog the opportunity to practice in a quiet and easy environment, they can develop positive leash habits.
  2. Reward when the leash is loose. Carry around some treats and use both praise and food as a reward for your dog staying close enough to keep the leash loose.
  3. Don’t let your dog pull you on the leash to reach things they really want like rushing through the door, greeting strangers, or hopping into the car. If pulling = getting amazing stuff, your dog will keep it up.

How do I Get my Dog to Stay?

Teaching a dog to stay is all about starting easy and building. The biggest mistake I see people make is simply going too fast. Start by teaching your dog to stay for 1 second, then 5 seconds, then 10 seconds, and so on. Make sure to reward your dog’s efforts with CALM praise and treats. Also, remember to keep your dog’s leash on so that you have the ability to keep your dog from running off and self-rewarding if they break their stay command. Lastly, for your dog to comply with a stay command, you must have a signal to your dog that the stay is now over (otherwise how are they supposed to know when the stay ends?). Pick a word and hand signal that will let your dog now, ok now you can get up from the stay position and use it each and every time.

How do I Get my Dog to Stop Barking?

Dogs bark for a lot of different reasons. The first step of getting a dog to stop excessive barking is to figure out why it’s happening. Is your dog barking to get your attention? Barking at squirrels in the backyard? Barking at sounds from the neighbors? Barking because they are anxious or scared? When you figure out why your dog is barking, you can start to address the root issues. In all cases of barking, you can work on increasing your dog’s access to mental and physical exercise, rewarding quiet moments, and teaching your dog a shhhh command. In many cases, barking is a symptom of a deeper issue that may warrant a call to a dog trainer for help.

How do I get my Dog to Listen to me?

The way you get your dog to listen to you is to “listen” to them! By listening to your dog, we mean watching their body language and behavior to figure out what they are thinking and feeling. How does your dog tell you that they are confused by what you are asking of them, bored by your commands, or unable to follow your instructions due to stress or shyness? If you don’t know how to listen to your dog, don’t expect them to listen to you. Once you have made it a priority to see the world from your dog’s point of view, you’ll be prepared to utilize training that is all about being clear and consistent, paying your dog for their efforts, and building to more difficult distractions as your dog is successful. One of the BEST things you can do is hand feed your dog one meal a day playing fun games, teaching tricks, and working on their commands. Just investing 15 minutes a day to hand feed your dog can be all the difference between a dog who enjoys cooperating with you versus a dog who won’t listen and struggles to behave.

Capturing Calm

As a dog trainer who works heavily in behavior modification of dogs who have fear, anxiety, and aggression issues, one of the most important things I would like my clients to know is how to implement calmness in their human/canine relationship. We live in a fast paced world where it’s easy to feel stressed and rushed in day to day life. And there’s no doubt those feelings can trickle down to our dogs as well.

The first step to thinking about the role of calmness in dog training is looking at your dog’s point of view. Imagine you had a simple chart with 2 columns, one titled “excited interactions” and one titled, “calm interactions” and you made a checkmark under each column when you chose to interact with your dog while they were in each of those states. How many checkmarks would be in the excited column versus the calm one?

For a vast majority of dog owners, the excited column would significantly outweigh the calm one. We naturally greet our dogs when they are so excited that we have arrived home, we place food in front of them when they dance around in delight for mealtime, we throw the toy and play when they excitedly nudge us, we leash them and take them outside after they tremble in anticipation, and we may even encourage the excitement with stimulating questions like, “WANNA GO FOR A WALK??!” or with wrestling and fast movements.

Conversely, how often do we see our dogs resting, relaxing, or just hanging out and approach them with our own calm energy to reward that state of mind? Once again the answer, for most dog owners is, not often. So what is the message that we are sending our dogs and more importantly, what behavior are we paying them for (and thus training them to repeat)? Many of the dogs we see in for training have been taught that excited behavior= access to all the good things in life (affection, leaving the house, food, playtime).

Why Calmness Matters

Hopefully, now the wheels are turning about how you and your family members interact with your dog and maybe encouraging excited behavior. But just how does a dog’s excitement contribute to problem behaviors? Well, first let’s define what we mean by excitement. It may seem obvious but we frequently, in fact constantly, see dog owners view excitability as directly equated with happiness (and conversely calmness as sadness). Frequent overexcitability is not a sign of stable happiness and if repeated over and over in the long term will create a dog who is more likely to have issues with leash reactivity, stimulation aggression, separation anxiety, lowered impulse control, and difficulty following commands. It’s hard to believe that just lack of calmness could have such a dramatic impact on behavior but overstimulation increases stress hormones like adrenaline (fight or flight response) which makes a dog much more susceptible to problem behaviors. The more often your dog is in this state, the more unraveled their training is likely to come and the more other dogs may react to them in a negative way.

That’s not to say there isn’t a place for excitable behavior for your dog. It’s all about balance! Just like kids need a balance between resting and playing, dogs need to strike a balance between channeling their calm energy and getting out their wiggles. When dogs have a healthy balance between excitement and calm, it makes life more enriching for you and for them.

Contributing Factors to Canine Calmness

  1. Some breeds/types of dogs are simply more active than others. If you have a “working” style of dog, chances are high that they are going to need a job to properly channel their energy and need for employment.
  2. Young dogs are understandably more prone to excitable behavior. Puppyhood is a great time to start teaching a young dog about what behaviors and mental states get them access to all the great things in life.
  3. Newly adopted dogs, especially those arriving from a shelter environment, may have an uptick in excitable energy. It’s especially important to help these dogs learn how to channel their calm as overexcitability can often be an indicator of anxiety. 
  4. In order to have a calm dog, their mental and physical exercise needs must be met. We can’t tell dogs to be relaxed when they have pent up energy that needs to come out. Ensuring they have interesting and tiring experiences will go a long way in helping them achieve a good calm/active balance. 

How to Implement Calmness with Your Dog

Here are the 2 key elements to utilizing calmness in your dog’s training:

When: “You get what you pet.” If you talk to your dog, pet your dog, give your dog food, let them out the door, leash them, or otherwise interact with them while they are in an excitable state, guess what…you just paid them for being overstimulated and they are now much more likely to repeat that behavior and even intensify it as time goes on. Many trainers get focused on dogs earning things through obedience commands like sit, down or stay but at Tug Dogs we would honestly rather a dog earn things through calmness which focuses on what a dog’s brain is doing instead of just what their body is doing. Dogs don’t repeat behaviors that aren’t successful for them so if you want to start promoting calmness, stop rewarding excitability. Yes it’s cute, yes it makes you feel special that your dog is so excited to see you or interact with you but if it’s causing a behavior problem, taking steps to address is now will ultimately help you and your dog live better together. It takes some dedication but once you get used to paying attention to when you interact with your dog, it will become a great new habit and you will wonder why you never realized this before!!

How: “Act the way you want your dog to act.” If you model excitability, your dog will respond in kind. Fast petting, high pitched rapid talking, and quick movements all tell your dog they should be in a stimulated state. If you demonstrate that too frequently or with a dog who is naturally excitable, it encourages your dog to be hyperactive. If you want to practice turning down your dog’s excitement level, speak in a lower tone of voice, and speak slowly…think soothing tones, not animated ones. In addition when you go to touch your dog, massage them moving your hands at a slow pace rather than rapidly petting. You will be amazed at how with just a little practice, you can coach your dog to be mellow and how that will help them to become a better doggy decision-maker.

Give Calmness a Try

Working with dogs who have serious behavior problems over the past 15 years has given me an incredible perspective, not only about what dogs need to live full and happy lives, but also about what we humans need (and are often missing) to do the same. Giving our dogs (and ourselves) permission and guidance to move slowly and find our zen is an incredibly rewarding experience that brings peacefulness to a household and helps problem behaviors melt away. Spend the next couple of weeks focusing on giving your dog relaxed experiences with you and pay attention to the positive impacts on their behavior (and maybe yours too!). 

Country Road, Take Me Home

I am incredibly blessed. After a busy holiday season at Tug Dogs, I scheduled a few weeks off to participate in 2 very different trips. The first was a girl’s trip to New Mexico where I got to spend time with an amazing group of friends as we ventured out onto Pueblos, visited local Santa Fe markets, and made our way through the very unique “museum” Meow Wolf. Next, I was off to Maui to meet up with family and spend some quality time soaking up the sunshine and spotting turtles along the beach.

Both of these trips were incredible and I felt very fortunate to have such wonderful people to adventure with. But nothing (and I mean nothing!) beats returning home. As I got back into my normal routine at home, I really began wondering…just what is it about home that makes it so special to me?

I started off by considering the heavy hitters of what makes home, well home: my dogs and my bed. And sure, those two elements (mostly my pups)  are BIG part of why returning home is always so amazing. But there is something else about home that I couldn’t quite put my finger on that makes it what it is. So I pondered and reflected until during an afternoon walk along the countryside in my neighborhood it suddenly struck me…part of what makes home life so enriching for me is, at home, I have the ultimate control over everything I do.

Traveling comes with compromise. I cannot control how vegetarian-friendly the local cuisine is, whether my plane door loses a screw (leaving me stranded in the airport for 6 hours,) if the tram ride we drove 90 minutes to get to will be unexpectedly closed, if the museum is at max capacity, or which random person I am squeezed in next to during a 5 hour flight. 

While traveling with friends and family, I must be willing to give up the control I enjoy at home over things like where I will sleep, what time I will go to bed/wake up, where we will eat our meals, what activities we will partake in, how we will drive, and a whole bunch of the other small day to day decisions that come with traveling away from home. And this perpetual state of having things decided for them is often how dogs live a large portion of their lives.

That is not to say that we shouldn’t be making decisions for our dogs, we absolutely should. Dogs need coaching and guidance to be able to live mentally and physically safe in our very human world and to learn about when and how it’s appropriate to engage in normal dog behaviors like barking and using their mouths. But I do believe that training should not be solely focused on giving commands that control how a dog moves their own body but instead should be about working on helping dogs arrive at appropriate decisions and giving them access to freeing experiences that come when you have built a positive training relationship.

My personal dogs have a wealth of experience in polite leash walking, following commands and focusing on me yet because of the depth of our work together, I rarely use those skills. Instead, I find our most enjoyable time spent walking off leash in the countryside where my dogs are free to roam, sniff, and munch grass because I trust in their ability to make good decisions and to follow coaching when it’s needed. 

Ultimately the compromises and experiences I receive when traveling are a good way for me to grow perspective and build character that doesn’t come from staying in the comfort of home. But being a dog trainer means that a big part of my point of view is always comparing things to how dogs experience the world. And where I practiced compromise during my adventures, I ultimately got to return to a home where I have the ultimate control over how I choose to live my life. 

The longer that I train dogs and the more my personal perspective grows about what it is we are trying to accomplish when working with a dog, the more I confirm that giving freedom is my ultimate goal. Freedom is undoubtedly one of the most enriching elements of life and to be able to help a dog learn how to let go of the thoughts, feelings, and assumptions that lead them to make poor behavior choices is one of the most rewarding parts of my job. I know that once a dog starts understanding how to make decisions that align with their humans’ needs, they are on the road to enjoying more freedom and a better dog life.

-Erin Kramer, Tug Dogs Owner

Why Your Dog is Out of Control

Reread the title of this article one more time. I choose it carefully because as a professional dog trainer with a lot of experience in working with dogs and owners I have found one consistent fact in dog ownership that is almost always true: Dogs are often out of control because they have no control.

If you have ever sought training for your dog, watched dog training videos, listened to dog trainers talk, or really spent any time around dog training, then you have likely heard over and over again the statement that owners need to control their dogs. And it’s true. To live safely with you, your dog needs to be in the habit of looking to you for guidance and following your lead.

But control is not the whole truth. Training shouldn’t alleviate you from listening to what your dog has to say and preparing them for how to better make their own choices. The topic of less control is almost never discussed because it flies in the face of most training methodologies and because it addresses a much bigger (and more challenging) problem to solve. That problem is, the way we relate to our dogs. In all of my training and writing, my goal is to help dog owners learn to see the world from their dog’s point of view and gain a better appreciation of why dogs behave in problematic ways. When you understand your dog, you can make the real changes it takes to modify your dog’s behavior in a way that positively impacts you both.

So lets really put your empathy skills to the test to examine the issue of control between you and your dog. Imagine a world where you spend your entire life having nearly all decisions made for you. You don’t control when or what you eat, where you go, what access to healthcare you receive, how much and what type of exercise you get, what doors you can go through, how often you are alone, who you meet, how you meet them, what you can touch, what you can climb on, how much you can talk, and how others can interact with your body.

Even further, consider an entire life where you can only leave your house/yard with a guide while wearing a short leash (if you’re lucky enough to have a guide who will take you out). You cannot decide to run, which direction you move in, how long you are out of the house, who you greet, when you stop, or (with some training) where you can look or sniff. Your guide will try to control how your body moves by giving you verbal instructions that you are supposed to follow each and every time. But most importantly, picture not having the freedom to react to things that happen to and around you in the way that you want.

It is a frightening thought to have such little power over the day to day actions of your life and to be so heavily dependent on someone else to make the right choices for you. (Especially someone who doesn’t speak your language!).

This is the life of most of our dogs and yet, I have heard many wonder as to why we are seeing dogs with increasing levels of problem behaviors like aggression and anxiety. Without being able to have some basic control over what happens to and around us, there is no doubt our emotional well being would quickly disintegrate. I have to believe that the same is true for our dogs.


So, Why Do We Need So Much Control Over Our Dogs Anyways?


  1. Owner Education: Because we consider our dogs family, the well-intentioned dog owners I work with often forget that there are distinct differences between how humans and dogs experience the world. And we do our dogs a disservice by not making it a point to educate ourselves about what our dogs need to live their best lives. When you make the effort to learn about who your dog is and what they are experiencing, it becomes a motivating force to make changes in how you live with them. If you are able to work with a skilled trainer, for example, you will learn the importance of not just teaching your dog to follow your commands, but instead, you will realize how critical teaching your dog cooperation and focus is. Creating a team relationship with your dog produces a companion who chooses themselves how to successfully navigate situations by your side instead of under your thumb. This is one of the most rewarding and amazing parts of training that I experience and it makes me sad to think so many dogs and owners are missing out on this truly special bond.
  2. Lifestyle Choices: Dogs may be one of our most obvious warning systems that the way we are living is ultimately unhealthy for us as their behavior can stem our own. Spending time with the amazing dogs and dog owners I work with has lead me to completely change my own life. I get 8 hours of sleep every night. I moved from city to country where there is fresh air, quiet, and a calm space to just be in. I refuse to rush anymore. I pay attention to nourishing my body by eating good food and getting regular exercise. I balance my work/life better. I notice when I am stressed and take active measures to address it. In short, I prioritize self-care and living a life that is not just about working and rushing to meet the next deadline. In case dogs haven’t given us humans enough, your dog’s behavior problem may actually be an incredible gift to you if it causes some self-reflection about how you are living.
  3. Unbalanced Relationships: It makes sense that we aren’t very aware of our dog’s emotional states because, the reality is, most of us are not even aware of our own. Working too many hours, not practicing self-care, getting lost in technology, and not fully connecting with other humans can quickly leave a void that dogs so wonderfully fill. After all, who is excited each and every time you step through the front door? Who always wants to snuggle and cuddle with you? Who is always there when you have had a bad day? Who is always ready to party with you without any hesitation? Your dog! But when we only look at our dogs only through our own emotional lens, we miss out on forging a relationship that is built on what both parties need to live their best lives. Yes, your dog wants to be your best friend and constant companion but they also need you to think about the other elements they need to live a fulfilling life too.
  4. Body vs Mind: One of the most troubling trends I see in modern dog training is the focus on what a dog’s body is doing. A dog growls and so we focus on stopping them from growling. A dog jumps on guests and so we focus on not allowing them to jump. A dog runs off so we focus on a command that makes them come back. If this is how you are approaching your dog’s training, you’re missing the big picture! The best dog training is not primarily focused on changing what your dog’s body does but instead, is most interested in changing what your dog’s mind does.  I absolutely love being a coach to a dog as they learn how to problem solve and work in tandem with me to change how they feel about different situations. If a dog I am working with is growling, I work hard to alleviate whatever fear or negative association it is that they have. If a dog is wildly jumping up on guests, we master the art of calm brain together. If a dog is working on getting off leash, we practice focus and cooperation drills that are all about making being around their human an awesome experience. When you focus on shaping a dog’s mind to want to work with you, when you change their expectations of what they believe to be true, and when you teach them to be free of fears and anxieties, you no longer have to dictate what their body does to arrive at good behavior.
  5. Cultural Stigma: The truth is, there is an alarming cultural stigma that extends far beyond how we look at our dog’s health, right into the human realm. If your dog suddenly started limping or wincing in pain, you would not hesitate to take them to the vet. After all, your dog’s physical health and well being is a top priority. Yet that same focus on mental and emotional well being just isn’t prioritized (not for our dogs, and not for us). But if you start looking at how your dog behaves with the mantra that, behavior is language, you will shift how you view treating your dog’s fearful, aggressive, anxious, or otherwise out of control behavior. Remember that dogs have no consistent way to communicate inner, emotional turmoil. They are relying on us to notice the signs that they are increasingly depressed, anxious, or fearful and then to take action. Treat your dog’s mind like you would their body and you will have a much happier and easier to live with companion.

Austrian Neurologist Victor Frankl once said, “Everything can be taken from man, but the last of the human freedoms is to choose one’s attitude in any given circumstance and to choose one’s own way.” We must carefully proceed as dog owners to thoughtfully balance the control that is needed to keep our dogs safe and to invest the time into teaching our dogs the skills which will ultimately allow them more freedom.

-Erin Kramer, Tug Dogs Owner

You Get What You Pay For

We’ve all heard the say, “you get what you pay for.” Nowhere is this truer than in your dog’s training. Dog’s are not born with the innate desire to please humans (or even to understand what it is we want from them).

So let’s talk about 2 payment error you may be making with your dog:

1) Not paying enough. Would you continue to perform well at your job if you were paid 10% less? How about 30% less? How about 90% less? Very few of us would continue to show up and give our best at work if we aren’t being properly rewarded. The same is true for your dog!

It requires such little effort for you to notice when your dog is doing something right and acknowledge it with a treat, praise, or pet that communicates your satisfaction to your pup.

The key is to find out what motivates YOUR dog the most and pay for the things you really like or that your dog finds challenging on a regular basis.

We don’t just get paid once at work and then continue to work for free! Keeping up with continual payment to your dog is the BEST way to ensure they are motivated to make good choices.

2) Not paying for the right things. What would happen if you paid your kids for dropping dirty clothes on the floor, your employees for watching youtube videos while at work, or your auto mechanic for closing up while you waited on your car?

You would never pay for any of those things because you inherently understand that if you reward that behavior, it will continue. Yet you may be paying your dog for many behaviors you don’t truly like (and not paying for the ones you do!).

Are you paying your dog for being calm and keeping all 4 feet on the floor when you get home or are you rewarding (with praise and attention) over exciting jumping?

Are you paying your dog for being pushy and demanding to get your attention rather than being calm and polite?

Are you paying your dog for running around like a crazy to go for a walk instead of sitting and waiting to get their leash put on before exiting the house?

So as you work on your dog’s training, be sure to ask yourself if your dog is getting properly paid! And if you run into trouble, reach out so that one of our skilled trainers can assist in helping you and your dog live your best lives together.

A Message From Your Dog

Today I went to my new home. Leaving the shelter was amazing! I was very nervous there. Everything was loud and different around me. What would my new home be like? I was hoping I would have quiet time to check it out. After all, I’m in a new place with people I don’t even know! But that’s not what happened. The very first thing that happened was a large, strange dog came running at me. I was shocked and I didn’t know if he was friendly or not. So I growled. Then strangers crowded all around me, touching me without asking first. I’m not sure if I’ll be safe here.

Newly adopted dogs need safe time to decompress and not to be rushed to greet others.

Today I went to the dog park. At first I was excited. There was green grass and a big place to run. But when we stepped through the gate, a lot of dogs ran up to me and swarmed all around me. I got worried and snapped. I just wanted them to give me some space! I got more comfortable once I wasn’t the center of attention. I even made some new dogs friends. But then another pushy dog started to pick on me. He barked in my face, nipped at my ankles, and stood over me. I didn’t like it. I told him to stop and he wouldn’t. It scared me! I was hoping you would help me get away from him. When you didn’t, I lunged at him because I didn’t know what else to do. I’m not so sure about meeting new dogs now.

Don’t gamble with your dog’s well being by putting them in social situations you can’t control, (dog parks included) and advocate for your dog’s safety.

Today an off leash dog rushed me. I heard you tell the other humans about it when we got home. You told them it scared you but that it ended up OK because the dog didn’t actually bite me. But I wasn’t OK! I was hoping you would understand that just because I wasn’t bit doesn’t mean it didn’t terrify me. This was the first time I realized that anytime we are out walking, a scary dog could run up and try to hurt me. Now I’m worried when we go out on walks that it might happen again so I scan for other dogs and bark at them as soon as I spot them.

Consider your dog’s mental well being just as much as his or her physical well being.

Today I met a child. She was loud and didn’t act like any other humans I knew. She stumbled when she walked and yelled loudly. When she touched me, it wasn’t soft. She grabbed me and I thought she was scary. I was hoping you would notice that I was really uncomfortable like when I wouldn’t look at her and started to freeze. Even when I moved away, she followed me. When she wouldn’t stop, I nipped her. Now I am scared of all kids.

Monitor ALL dog/child interactions while teaching children appropriate dog manners.

Today I went to training. I was barking and snapping at people and dogs. You didn’t know how to get me to stop so you hired a nice lady to help. I was so thankful when you listened as the teacher explained that I was just scared and needed your guidance to feel safer. As we practiced together, I learned that I didn’t need to panic when meeting new dogs and people because you would protect me and help me when I needed it.

Seek help from a qualified dog trainer who will assist both you and your dog in making better choices.

Today I went to the vet’s office. At first, I got really scared. When I peered around the corner, there were two other dogs who barked at me. I wasn’t sure I’d be safe.  I was so thankful when you brought me back to the car to wait my turn instead of making me wait inside. Then when we did go in, you gave me really yummy treats which made me feel better. Now I can’t wait to visit again and get more snacks!

Make vet visits more enjoyable by avoiding interactions with other dogs (who may be sick or injured) and bringing your best treats.

Today I got a calm massage. I was used to playing, jumping, and wrestling with you so I assumed you wanted me to be energetic all the time. But today you decided to gently pet me and speak in soothing tones instead. I was so thankful to have the chance to fully relax and enjoy a different way to hang with my human. Instead of being over the top excited whenever humans are around, now I know sometimes I can just be calm too.

Practice calmness with your dog as much as you practice excitability (if not more).

Today I growled. A strange man was approaching us and I got scared. You had me on the leash so I knew I couldn’t run away. And I don’t know how to say words that would tell you I was afraid. So I growled. I was so thankful you understood that I was feeling fearful and didn’t let the man come any closer. When you bent down next to me and reassured me with petting and praise that I was ok, I felt a lot better. Next time something scary happens, I’m going to look to you for guidance.

Your dog’s behavior (growls included) is their language. Listen to what they have to say and take action if they communicate they are uncomfortable.

Re-read each of the above scenarios putting yourself into your dog’s shoes:

  • Arriving in a new place with strangers only to be bombarded with unsolicited interactions
  • Stepping into a park only to be rushed by a large, unruly crowd
  • Walking down the street when suddenly a person runs towards you aggressively threatening you
  • Meeting a strange acting person who invades your space and won’t leave you alone
  • Going to a class where someone who speaks your language can finally help your family understand your needs
  • Not being forced to wait in a doctor’s office where you are scared and nearby patients seem aggressive or unstable and then getting cookies during the exam
  • Enjoying a relaxing massage from your favorite people instead of always engaging in high energy activities
  • Communicating your discomfort so that a friend or family member can help you feel safer

These are important life lessons your dog wants you to understand. As trainers who specialize in behavior modification for dog facing all kinds of issues from manners to aggression and fear to anxiety, getting you to recognize how your dog experiences the world around them is what our training is all about!

If you have a dog who is struggling with a problem behavior, get in touch! Our experienced trainers will help you learn how to speak dog and transform your pup into the happiest, healthiest, and most well behaved dog they can be.

 –Erin Kramer, Tug Dogs Owner

Could the Solution to Your Dog Problems Come Down to Just One Thing?

“Leadership is not a position or a title, it is an action and example.”

Dogs thrive with proper leadership. Especially those dogs who are struggling with fear, aggression or anxiety issues. This is why we invest time into teaching the dog owners we work with how to become better leaders to their dogs.

A dog who is used to checking in with their human for guidance is a dog who is much more capable of handling the stresses of life. They look up to you as a provider of information and safety, and instead of making their choice about how to act in a potentially stressful situation, can look to you for assistance.

But becoming your dog’s leader doesn’t start at the moment they have intense reactions to things around them. It starts at home. If your dog is not used to you providing leadership at home, they won’t just naturally default to you when you’re in busier or more problematic situations such as encountering a stranger or new dog.

Becoming your dog’s leader means getting them used to the fact that you have valuable information they should listen to and then motivating them to follow your cues. It can be as simple as consistently enforcing simple household rules, following the nothing in life is free protocol, working on your obedience command training, or practicing impulse control exercises.

Once you have developed leadership in your dog/human relationship, your dog will find navigating difficult situations so much easier because they will be able to rely on your guidance rather than making their own, panicked decisions.

This is the exact process we use so successfully here at at Tug Dogs. Even our most extreme cases of dogs struggling with aggression and anxiety respond wonderfully to this type of leadership training. We spend time demonstrating to the dogs that we work with that when they are with us, we keep them both mentally and physically safe. We also assemble custom treatment plans centered around motivating good choices and practicing listening to us humans.

Being a leader isn’t about being rough or mean. Quite the opposite actually! It’s about relieving a dog who is a chronic, poor decision maker from the job of making all their own decisions. It is a weight off their shoulders when done correctly. Dogs who react from fear or stress desperately want and need a leader who can help them to alleviate their discomfort.

If you want to see your dog behave better and be happier, start with leadership at home. If you’re struggling, give us a call so we can help get you and your dog living your best lives together.