Frequently Asked Questions

What are the advantages of in-home training?

Convenient in-home training saves you time and hassle.  Most unwanted behaviors can only be resolved in the environment where they occur.  Also, dogs don't generalize well, which means that if you teach your dog to sit in one location, he may not understand what you mean when you ask him to sit in a different location.  Owners are often disappointed when their dog sits, comes, and walks nicely on leash at a training facility, but struggles with the same behaviors when at home or in public. I work with dogs in their own homes to minimize distractions and ensure they are comfortable during the acquisition phase of learning.  Once your dog can perform the desired behaviors at home, you'll hit the road to ensure they respond reliably to cues while in your backyard, neighborhood, and public locations. 

What if I don't have time for training?

Training your dog requires a commitment of time and energy.  That's why I provide everything you need to know in a format that is easy to understand and implement.  My Latchkey Canines packages are designed specifically for owners who want a well-trained dog but can't make time for coaching sessions in their busy schedules.  In a format known as day training, I do the heavy lifting while you're at work, and pass your dog's skills on to you in a transfer session.

What is the cost involved in training my dog?

Plucky Paws training sessions are bundled in packages of six or nine sessions.  All packages include an initial assessment session.  Six-session packages total $490.00, and nine-session packages total $700.00. For puppy and Foundation Skills packages, I usually recommend six sessions.  For behavior modification involving symptoms such as shyness, reactivity, resource guarding, destruction, or housetraining, I offer packages of nine sessions to ensure that we have enough time to cover all the bases and improve your dog's behavior.  You can pay up front via check or credit card, or you can take advantage of a payment plan in which four equal payments are deducted from your credit card over four months.

Do you offer single hour-long training sessions?

Trainers sell sessions in packages because we simply can't accomplish enough in one hour for the training to stick.  Teaching any new behavior requires time, practice, and a series of repeated hands-on coaching sessions.  I do offer the initial assessment as a stand alone session for new clients who are interested in training but aren't yet sure about purchasing a package.

Why are your training methods effective?

My philosophy and methods are based in behavior science, not the mythology of dominance.  I use modern, progressive, compassionate techniques.  Animals associate actions, events, places, people, and objects with pleasant or unpleasant consequences.  Dogs trained with compassionate relationship-based methods expect good things during a training session.  As a result, they behave with purpose and have the courage to try new behaviors.  They remember behaviors better because they were aware and engaged during the learning process. 

What is a clicker, and why do you use treats?

A clicker is a plastic and metal device that makes a clicking sound, which trainers use to mark the instant the dog performs a desired behavior.  Humans are very verbal, but our dogs are not!  The clicker is a far more effective behavior marker than spoken words like "good dog," because it cuts through all the noise that dogs are used to hearing from us.  After we mark the behavior with a click, we pair the sound with a treat, which is called a primary reinforcer.  In a behavior science principle called classical conditioning, the dog associates the clicker with food, and pretty soon the clicker itself becomes reinforcing!  Secondary reinforcers, also called functional or life rewards, include play, petting, praise, a walk, a car ride, or permission to go through a doorway.  Once the dog has reliably acquired a behavior, the clicker and treats are faded out so that most behaviors are maintained principally with functional rewards.

What's the difference between a command and a cue?

Traditional force-based trainers issue an intimidating or threatening command, which means "do this or else," before the dog even understands the meaning of the word.  Until the dog knows how to physically perform the behavior you want, attaching a word to it is meaningless!  I work on a behavior until it is readily understood and fluently demonstrated by the dog.  When the dog is ready to learn the name of the behavior, I attach a hand signal or verbal cue, which serves as an invitation to the dog to perform the desired behavior.

What if the dog doesn't do what you asked?

As a relationship-based trainer, I refrain from attaching moral meaning to a dog's lack of response, such as the dog is "stubborn" or "disobedient."  Often, although the dog does not find a task particularly difficult, it may be frustrated by the learning conditions or distracted by something in the environment.  In these situations, I check for signs that the reward is sufficiently motivating for the dog, that the dog feels safe in the learning environment, that the dog truly knows the meaning of the cue, and that my training is clear and consistent.  When necessary, I revise the training plan or return to the last place the dog was successful, and build again from there.

How do you get rid of unwanted behavior?

Essentially, I reward the behaviors I like and ignore the behaviors I don't.  In cases where a behavior cannot be ignored because it is dangerous or self-reinforcing, I use management strategies to prevent the dog from rehearsing the behavior, and use operant conditioning to teach the dog to perform a more constructive alternative behavior.  I also use training strategies called counterconditioning and desensitization to change the dog's emotional response to something that worries or frightens them, which is often the root cause of many behavior challenges.  My Behavior Solutions package is customized to address each dog's specific challenges.

Why don't you use punishment?

Training is the teaching of learned behavior.  Punishment doesn't produce learning, so it doesn't qualify as training.  Although punishment may decrease the frequency of an unwanted behavior in the short term, it also damages the dog-owner relationship and produces a variety of harmful side effects that are difficult to predict and control.  Punishment almost always occurs long after the offending event.  Therefore, in the mind of the animal the punishment is random and meaningless.  The "sad-eyed look" on your dog's face when you reprimand him does not indicate that he is "guilty" and knows he "did wrong."  The dog does not know what he did wrong or why he is being punished, only that he is afraid of you and will now perform the unwanted behavior in your absence!  There is a huge difference in the temperament and ultimate success of an animal who works to earn rewards versus an animal who works to avoid fear, pain, or intimidation.