I Have a Really Cool Job: K9 Bed Bug Detection

Meet Leanna. She is a 3-and-a-half year old black Labrador Retriever. She came as a “career change” dog from Leader Dogs for the Blind. She didn’t make it as a Leader Dog because she loves people so much – it’s really hard for her to focus when there are people around who might want to love on her and rub her belly. Her puppy raisers taught her wonderful manners, and she is your stereotypical Labrador.


What makes Leanna so special? She’s trained to sniff out bed bugs. And I am her handler.

I work for a multi-national company that has multiple operations, but we work in pest control. To date, Leanna and I have been working together for a little over a year. She lives with me and my personal dogs. For all intents and purposes, she is my dog, except for being a drain on my bank account; I always joke with my clients that I get all the benefits with none of the bills.

Yes. She and I spend our days looking for bed bugs. Let me tell you a bit about this really cool job.

First, What Are Bed Bugs?
bed-bug-on-handThis is important, because yes, bed bugs have a smell, or odor (scent detection dogs are trained to look for an odor – it’s training semantics). Bed Bugs resemble a flat apple seed when fully grown, but they are a small, pale yellow bug when they are first hatched. They go through 5 life stages before becoming a full grown apple seed-like bug, and they eventually turn a reddish brown from the iron in our blood.

Contrary to popular belief, bed bugs do not only come out during the night. They are a hiding bug, and want to hide most of the time. Most people get bit during the night because that’s when they are sleeping and are the most still. If you were to work midnights and sleep during the day, they would come out to eat during the day while you are sleeping.

No, bed bugs do not jump or fly. Like I said, they want to hide, so if you see bugs crawling around, it’s likely you have a bigger problem than just one or two bugs. (Honestly, I’m more worried about bringing fleas home with me than I am of bringing home bed bugs.)

This is where Leanna and I come in.
Sometimes we’re called in to check a building as a precaution. Leanna and I have some accounts that we do on a monthly basis to make sure that there are no bed bugs being brought in – hotels, libraries, foster group homes, hospitals, etc. Other times, we’re called in because someone saw a bug, and they just want to make sure that there are some or none, or no more after the building had been treated.


Leanna searching for bed bugs in a hotel room

So, how do Leanna and I do our job?
Resident nose work instructor Sarah has already posted a fantastic overview of nose work that is worth the read. While Leanna and I essentially do the same thing, we were trained in a slightly different way. Our trainer is a former military K9 handler and customs officer, having handled narcotic and explosive detection dogs. Leanna was trained in the same manner as these military/police K9s, just with a different odor: bed bugs.

We are always training. On days that we are not scheduled for jobs, I am placing training aids (live bugs in vials) around different places – including open grassy fields, lobbies of various buildings, warehouses – and we are always “skills building.” When we are working, I am still placing training aids so that Leanna can be rewarded, whether we find bugs or not. If she isn’t finding bugs, she doesn’t get rewarded, and she will eventually just stop looking because she isn’t getting paid. You probably wouldn’t do your job without a paycheck, would you?

A couple videos of us doing work in a library. The descriptions of the videos, as posted on Facebook, give a basic breakdown of what I am trying to do with each hidden training aid.

Even having worked together for a year, Leanna and I are still a young team. We are always working to better ourselves; I am always working to make finding those bugs harder for her, because it’s not always easy out in the real world. I work for a great company who supports us, and I am lucky to have a wonderful trainer I can turn to for help.

Feel free to post any questions you might have. I will do my best to answer them – I am sure between Sarah and myself, we can answer any question you might have!

Canine Conformation 101

About 4 years ago, I drove to Virginia to pick up Jax, the first dog that would teach me about the conformation show world. In those 4 years, he’s taught me a lot, but what has also taught me a lot about canine conformation is being able to stand ring side, talk to different owners, handlers, and breeders about all of the different breeds, and being able to talk to the judges who judge our dogs and interpret the breed standards.

Conformation isn’t just about pretty dogs trotting around the show ring. Correct conformation is important for sound structure and a healthy dog. Each breed is different, but I will describe a breed that can be pretty straight forward and many of the traits can be applied to many other breeds and mixed breeds: The German Shorthaired Pointer.

The dogs in the following photos have all been bred by the same breeder, and she has kindly given us permission to use them in this post. If you’re not already familiar, now might be a good time to brush up on your conformation vocabulary!


The lines drawn on the dog show the angles that a breeder or dog show handler looks for when looking for correct conformation. These lines should flow and create a picture of balance.

The line from the withers to the pasterns (down the front legs) should be straight, with all points – withers, elbow, pasterns – lining up on that line.

The triangle on the chest shows the angles of the shoulders. The top line from the point of the withers to the point of the chest shows the layback of the shoulders; the shoulders should not be too steep or too flat.

The next two lines show the length of loin – this is measured from the point of the last rib to the first point of the hip. The above dog is male, and so he should have a moderate length of loin, in proportion to the body. Bitches will have a longer loin, but still in proportion to the body.

The hind end assembly is important, and you’ll often hear people talking about a dog’s angles in this context, meaning their rear angles. There are two important points here: the curvature from under the tail to the hock, and from the hock straight down to paws meet the floor. A dog should not be over-angulated, meaning that curvature shouldn’t be overdone. On the flip-side, a dog shouldn’t be straight in the rear, either.

The GSP in the example photo above has good rear angulation. The following two photos are to compare-and-contrast, and are of American Bullies. The first shows a dog who is over-angulated in the rear, and the second photo shows a dog which does not have enough angulation, but is not quite straight, either.


American Bully/APBT, over-angulated. Photo courtesy of Jamie Lower


American Bully/APBT, under-angulated. Photo courtesy of Jamie Lower

The front assembly of the dog, in addition to the angles of the shoulders, the toes of the dog should be pointing forward, and they should not toe-in or toe-out.

Poppy has a beautiful straight front structure.

Poppy has a beautiful straight front structure.

Frank is a good example of "toeing-out"

Frank is a good example of “toeing-out”

The topline of a dog is also something to take into consideration, and this will also be important. In general, the topline should not be arched (or over-arched for those breeds that should have a slight arch to their topline). Likewise, the dog should not sway-backed. The topline should be straight and level*.

*It is necessary to keep in mind that all of these rules will not apply to each and every dog or breed. For example: while a Golden Retriever should have a fairly straight topline, an American Pit Bull Terrier should have a slight arch to their back. This is why we have a written standard for each breed, and why a good judge will always refer to these standards if they’re not sure.

Combining all of this will equal a dog that moves properly. “If you’re not built right, you won’t move right.”


The lines in this photo demonstrate the balance of movement. The top line shows the balance along the topline of the dog – the spine. Ideally, the nose should be balanced with the spine and along the tail, but in this photo, the handler may be lifting the head a bit with collar. In a video, we may see the nose actually does fall in balance, which is also why photos can be deceiving.

Phoenix, an American Staffordshire Terrier, gaiting with co-owner Valerie Piltz

Phoenix, an American Staffordshire Terrier, gaiting with co-owner Valerie Piltz

When gaiting, or “moving out,” the front and rear legs of the same side should meet – that is to say, the back foot should fall where the front foot is leaving from (as shown in the photo of Phoenix, above). Both pictures above are also beautiful examples of “reach” and “drive.” Reach is the description of the front legs, while drive is the driving force of the back legs. A dog should not over/under-reach, nor should a dog over/under-drive.

Lastly, all feet should be level on the ground, as shown in the first gaiting photo of the German Shorthaired Pointer. The line along the ground shows us that all feet are level; next, looking at the photo of Phoenix the Am Staff without lines, you can clearly transfer that visual to his feet as well.

Now, you should be able to take away this information and better watch a conformation class. Westminster will be held on February 16th & 17th, with Best in Show being held on the 17th starting at 7:30pm EST. It would be a great time to put your new-found knowledge to the test!

**It is important to note that these traits will not be the same for every breed – especially breeds like a Corgi or a Dachshund. These can be mostly be applied to “boxier” breeds, but all breeds should follow their written breed standards.

Go Forth and Encourage

Just for a minute, I want you to think about who inspires you. It can be one person, it can be multiple people, it can be a group of people. Who inspires you to get up every day? Who inspires you to do better, to be better?

More importantly, who are YOU encouraging – who are YOU inspiring?


The dog world is complicated, even if your dog is “just a pet.” What do you feed them when there are so many options on the shelves, so many colorful bags promising that each one is better than the last? Which vet do you go to when each person has the best one in the entire area? Which trainer? Which collar? It can be dizzying.

This is why controversial trainers like Caesar Millan are so popular with the general public: they relate to the owner first instead of berating them how horrible they are for using prong collars, or how stupid they are for feeding Science Diet. They are charming, they validate the owner, their problems, and their feelings. You can be the best dog trainer on the planet, but if you’re rude to the people you’ll lose the dogs.

Now, imagine how you felt as a new competitor, before you knew everything – the world of specialized dog training and competing is even more dizzying. It’s downright cut-throat. People are cruel to their competition, often treating new people who have questions as if they are worse than stupid, they are in they way. They are a waste of time. It’s a wonder that anyone gets involved at all, much less stays involved.

I am still wholly new to the competition world. I started approximately six years ago with a backyard bred pit bull, and he and I were going to conquer the world. It was tough figuring out the world of dog competition, and I thought I had what was a good group of people – until I became a real competitor. It wasn’t until I felt like I hit rock bottom (or rather, I felt like I was the rock on the bottom of someone’s shoe) and was ready to leave that I met people worth knowing.

In many of my social networking groups, I see discussions about clubs seeing less and less entries at shows, and I also see how some of these “newbies” are treated on the same discussion board. They are greeted with rude comments, they are mocked, and they are made to feel horrible for simply asking a question. Then I see how they are treated at shows – and it’s just about the same way.

Why are seasoned exhibitors treating new exhibitors like idiots? Why are we not stepping up to help them, to inspire them? Experienced exhibitors need to be ringside and be there to jump in and help a new exhibitor who is clearly struggling. We need to be there to be cheerleaders, to be a guide, to be encouragers. Even more so, experienced dog people need to be there to encourage the common “pet person,” even if they do not want to compete. We need to empower them to do better, instead of belittling them for getting a well-bred purebred instead of a rescue dog.

My group of people are not only my direct competitors, meaning that we are both in the ring chasing after that blue ribbon, but they are my greatest friends and my biggest cheerleaders. We give each other high fives for high obedience scores, and we cheer for each other when the other’s dog win best of breed. We celebrate the big wins, and we encourage the small victories.

These are the kind of dog people the dog world needs. We need to empower, we need to encourage, we need to befriend.

So, as you reflect on the people who encourage and inspire you, ask yourself, who is it that you encourage and inspire?


Why I Choose Purebred Dogs (Or: So You Want A Purebred Dog)

My first dog, Howie, was a rescue. He was, and probably always will be, my Heart Dog. I believe that anyone involved in purebred dogs should also be involved with rescue, somehow. Since I am unable to foster (at this time), I do my best to advocate, transport, and volunteer in my local area.

However, I am a purebred fancier. I have three dogs, all from breeders – one from Georgia, one from Minnesota, and one from Wyoming.

Howie taught me a lot. He was my first obedience dog, my first agility dog; he was the the dog that taught me how to fight BSL in my area. But, there was a lot I didn’t know about him: I didn’t know about his parents – there’s a lot you can learn from the parents of your dogs: health history, predict future health problems, temperament issues, drive vs. no drive.

And there was one thing I couldn’t do with Howie that I wanted to do: I wanted to be in the conformation ring. Wanting to be in that show ring only helped me to narrow down my search for a purebred dog. Even if you want a purebred dog as a pet, getting a dog from a breeder has many perks.

First things first, though: not all breeders are created equal. Just because someone has a boy dog and a girl dog and they make puppies doesn’t make them qualified as a breeder. These are the people we all despise, and this article isn’t about them. A good breeder will be health testing their dogs before breeding them, and making those tests results public – the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA), Canine Health Information Center (CHIC), and PennHIP all have online databases and you should be able to search for your Future Puppy’s parents on one or all of these sites.

"Fritz" (TFT) on OFA

Fritz’s (Taco’s sire) listing on the OFA website

Why is health testing important? Because different breeds have different genetic diseases and conditions that are easily passed on. Hip dysplasia being the most widely known, but eye, heart, and thyroid conditions are all genetic. Some breeds have certain conditions that you should be aware of, and breeders should be familiar with these conditions and whether their dogs are carriers or are affected by these conditions – for example: Toy Fox Terriers can be affected by von Willebrands Disease (as well as Bernese Mountain Dogs, Pembroke Welsh Corgis, Dobermans, and Poodles), and American Staffordshire Terriers – and possibly American Pit Bull Terriers closely related to the AmStaff – can be affected by Cerebellar Ataxia.

It is important to remember that even your rescues can be affected by many of these conditions, but the myth of “hybrid vigor” is a topic for another day.

A good breeder will make the health testing public (see: Taco’s sire, scroll down slightly for his CHIC# and the results from his health testing), and should be willing, and happy, to show you the certificates from each health testing body.

Temperament: It’s genetic, too. Meeting both parents can help you decide if your puppy is going to be a good fit with your family/lifestyle. It is also a good indicator of personality and tolerance. Two high-drive (high energy) dogs are generally going to produce high-drive puppies, which won’t be well-suited to a couch potato lifestyle.

Temperament is also a term that encompasses dog aggression and human aggression, and these traits can be passed on.

Baby Jax & Momma Kona

Baby Jax loving on his Momma Kona

In addition, an experienced breeder will be able to pair you with the best puppy to fit your lifestyle. If you tell them what you want, they’ll be the ones who can tell you to pick Puppy A over Puppy B because they have spent the last 8-10 weeks with the puppy. I ended up with Taco because he was calmer and cuddlier than his littermates, and that was what I wanted.

Try to put aside your want for the “cutest” or “most colorful” puppy from the litter, and get the one with the best temperament.

A good breeder will let you visit and will answer all of your questions. Many breeders I know will invite you to shows, they’ll invite you to their home/kennel to meet the puppy’s parents and their other dogs, and they’ll also want you to come meet the entire litter of puppies. If you cannot meet the puppies or the parents, a good breeder will send you photos – lots and lots of photos.

Beware of breeders who will not do any of this.

All three breeders that I got my dogs from were more than open about not only the parents of my dogs, but also the other dogs in their home. I was, and still am, able to to call, email, or text with any question or concern and I know I am going to get an honest answer, and someone who is going to support me with whatever problem I might have.

A good breed will prove their dogs. We talked about this in our post “So You’re Thinking About Breeding Your Dog!” While not all breeders will prove their dogs in the working venue, they should be proving their dogs somewhere. A conformation title from a reputable registration organization means a judge has put their hands on the dog and has judged the dog against others of its breed.

Beware of words like “Champion bloodlines!” with dogs who don’t have titles. Even beautiful show dogs can produce dogs that have no business being bred. A good breeder works to improve their breed, not just breed to make puppies. Doing this means that a breeder is putting much more money into their dogs than they are getting back from the sale of their puppies. In fact, said Good Breeder probably isn’t making a profit at all.

On the other end, not every dog needs a conformation title to be bred, either. Make sure you know what you’re looking for. Get a dog from a breeder experienced with what you want, from dogs experienced with what you want to do.

If something happens to me, I know where my dog will go. Assuming my family does not want to or can not care for my dogs if I happen to perish in a firey car accident, every single breeder I know will happily take my dog back. It is a huge red flag for me if a breeder does not make this statement, even without me asking. Usually it is a stipulation on the breeder’s side that if you can no longer care for the dog for whatever reason, then the dog goes back to them. Unexpected things in life happen, and while it is never planned, I need this extra assurance to know that my dogs always have a place to go.

If a breeder is unwilling to take back a puppy, it is usually a pretty good indicator that they are turning over a large amount of puppies/dogs. Which brings up another point:

A good breeder will focus on the quality of their puppies, not the quantity. As mentioned before, a good breeder focuses on bettering the breed. Beware of breeders who breed several litters a year. This is a pretty good indication that they are not focused on quality. This isn’t a blanket statement, but you should be cautious.

This isn’t a definitive list of what makes a good breeder a good breeder, but it’s a start. Depending on what you are looking for, you might be more picky about the breeder you are looking for. You may require that your breeder works and titles their dogs on their own, or you may not mind if they send their dogs off with a handler to earn their titles, and you may not care if feed their dogs a raw diet or not. Before choosing a breeder, make sure you make a list of qualities you want in both your new dog and your breeder, because your breeder should want to become your friend and ally, not just the broker of your puppy.

My Favorite Things: Four Black Paws

I have a problem. A big problem.

I am addicted to collars.

I was recently able to purge my collar collection, and I donated some to a local rescue, and I donated some to my dog club’s raffle in December. Of course, this means that I had to replenish my collection.

I have leather collars from Ella’s Lead (which has been mentioned on our blog several times, but our review of the collars is here), I have PetCo collars and collars from Target. If I like, I buy it and add it to my dogs’ collection. One of my favorites, though, and where I tend to dump a lot of my hard-earned money, are small businesses like Four Black Paws.

Four Black Paws is a Michigan-based small business run by Sarah, whose day job is as an elementary school teacher. She is a dog-mom to German Shorthaired Pointers, and just about one of the nicest people you could hope to meet. She truly is one of the small business types you want to support.

The first collar I got from her was your basic quick-release tag collar. I won it in a raffle and got it in anticipation of my new girly puppy, since all my dog collars were boy stuff. It was of good quality, and adorable, and the fabric was thick and durable – which is needed when you have pit bulls!


For the sake of this review, I ordered two martingale collars and 4BP’s signature items: a collar bow for girly dogs and a bow tie for boy dogs. Jax is a 4BP size large, and I got a large bowtie to go with his collar; Poppy is a 4PB size medium, and I got a medium flower to go with her collar. I placed the order the evening of Jan 23rd, and was thrilled to receive a shipped notice on Jan 29th. I received my package a few days later. It was that quick!

As with the first collar I purchased, these martingales are of great quality. The collars are thick and sturdy – and machine washable! – and the stitching is strong. 4BP uses quality hardware, and the whole collar is made to last. Which is a must for me and my rowdy pit bulls.

And the fabrics are just darn cute!

Handsome with his bow tie.

Jax’s collar is from the 4BP Celebrity Collection, in the color of “Grassy Meadow.” I upgraded to a martingale, because I prefer that style for my dogs, and added a large bow tie to make it fashionable. The bow itself is a easy take-off with velcro, and the collar is equally as handsome without the bow tie.


Very pretty with her bow!

Poppy’s was also a martingale, and in 4BP’s Sweet Summertime pattern – which is both girly and my longing t be done with this horrible Michigan winter we are having this year. I ordered a matching bow, which is super cute. Like the bow tie, it is also easily attached to the collar with velcro for simple dress-up-to-casual collar modes.

If you’re in the market for well-made, super cute collars, please go check out Four Black Paws. Owner Sarah has been kind enough to offer our readers a special 10% discount if you order by February 28th! Just use discount code TEAMUNRULY at check out!

Pumpkin Carving

Happy Halloween!!

We decided to have a little bit of fun here at Team Unruly, and we got our dogs into the Halloween spirit with some doggy pumpkin carving! The dogs had a great time, and really got into carving their pumpkins!

All of our dogs should have some pretty healthy stomachs for awhile!

Don’t Ever Let Anyone Tell You That You Can’t

Or, let them, then throw it in their face.

Back in April of this year, I agreed to work at a dog show. I also showed my dog because I believe I need all the ring practice I can get to help me be a better handler and a better dog person. I wasn’t expecting to win anything – after all, he was the only APBT at the show that day, and even though he had won a Group 1 in the Terrier Group for Show 1, he was given a Group 3 in Show 2*.

We went on to win Best in Multi-Breed Show for Show 1 that day. I was over the moon, dancing on clouds. It was my first BIMBS award – ever. After 2 years of showing.

Later, I was told that people were talking behind my back. “Not bad for a dog that shouldn’t be bred.” The person that said this particular comment has been someone I have contended with personally since I started conformation, but this person has also been a person I have tried to prove wrong. Their negative comments have been a source of inspiration for me to do better.

That isn’t to say that I don’t appreciate everyone who has been a source of support for me and my dog. Jax’s breeder has been a huge source of support for me – he cheers me on, rejoices in our accomplishments, and handles my freak-outs and break-downs. The woman who owns Jax’s sire has been my rock, my mentor, and a great friend; she is who I aspire to be, the kind of dog person I want to be. My friends and family, even though they don’t always know what I’m talking about or exactly what I do with my weekends, and often think I’m spending too much money, are there to cheer me on, too. Dog show friends come and go, but I’ve met some fabulous people who I can’t imagine living without. Without all of these people, the nay-sayers probably would have pushed me out of the sport.

Instead, I used them as my inspiration. I could have left because a fellow competitor didn’t like my dog. I could have left the show ring because my dog was dumped by a judge. I have my own issues that I have to battle with, and it makes dealing with nasty people that much more difficult and that much more tempting to just walk away.

It took me a long time to realize that a good person will not purposefully tear down another. A good person may not specifically go out of their way to help you, but they also won’t purposefully hurt someone else. It’s so easy to let someone get into your head, to take their words to heart, to leave the show ring because no one seems supportive. The trick is to find even just one person who will help you, one person who will support you, one person who will cheer you on. Surround yourself with the good people, because no one else is worth listening to.

So, I am here to tell you that you can do it. Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do whatever it is you have your mind set on doing.

We may never win a BIMBS award again. But that’s okay – we did it once, we proved them wrong. My little buddy and I have accomplished a lot together in the last two years – Multiple group placements with and without breed competition, 10 UKC titles, 1 AKC title (CGC), 2 C-WAGS titles, 9 Total Dog awards, a High In Trial award for Rally, a placement in UKC’s Rally All-Stars, an Award of Merit and a Total Dog award at our National breed show, and now this BIMBS. He’s my companion, my best friend, and he never lets me down.

I will strive for better, because it makes he and I better.

* Unlike AKC shows, UKC shows generally hold 2 shows per day, instead of 1.

Collar Blind

I am a member/participant in a few different Groups on Facebook and a few random message boards. Some of them focus on certain topics, others cover a variety of topics, and some are just general discussion boards. Some boards contain people just compete in Rally, others are mainly made up of conformation people…you get the idea.

Everyone has their own idea on how dogs should be trained, whatever they’re trained in. You have your Positive Trainer camp, you have your “Balanced Methods” trainer camp, you have the “I’ll just wing it” trainer camp, among others. And everyone thinks their way is the only way to do things. My whole philosophy on dog training is to “Take what works, throw away what doesn’t.” This has allowed me to grow and evolve as a trainer and handler, this allows me to adjust to each dog I work with.

Recently, a topic was introduced recently in one of the groups I participate in. The question was: “Do you train your conformation dogs in obedience?” It’s a common fear that if you train your dog in competition obedience, then that dog will sit in the conformation show ring – and this is a big no-no! (Actually, it’s not that big of a deal.) Then, as the discussion evolved, many people answered with, “Just train your dog to know the difference between collars – a show chain for conformation, a flat buckle for obedience. They will know the difference.”

This made my eye twitch a little. I am absolutely sure that dogs can become collar smart, I am absolutely sure that they will know what you’re going to ask of them when a certain collar is on their neck. They will learn that they can’t pull in a front-clip harness, but it’s “okay” to pull you down the street in a martingale collar. I have no doubts that dogs are that smart.

But, I also have faith (and the first-hand proof) that dogs are smart enough to know that sit means sit means sit no matter what collar he is wearing. I want my dog to know those commands and cues whether he’s wearing his show chain, a flat buckle, a martingale, or whether he’s naked. If I have a busy day on the show grounds, I want to be able to bounce between the show ring and the competition ring, no matter what collar he’s wearing – because conflicts are common when you’re doing multiple events.

Even so, I did have to work with my dog so that he knew the commands and cues no matter what he was wearing. We practiced obedience in his weigh pull harness. We practiced obedience in his show chain, and we practiced gaiting and stacking in his flat buckle. I want him to know what’s what, no matter what.

But I was curious what other competitors thought of the subject, so I posted the topic to our Facebook page. Here are some of the responses I got:

Rebecca (TU) with Cerb says: “Cerb wears a flat collar for everything. he has a couple of collars I choose from, but the collar he wears isn’t related to the type of work we do. It’s important to me to be consistent with Cerb, so “sit” has the same rules no matter if he’s in a flat collar, a show chain or nothing at all. His weight pull harness is different, I guess, because obviously that’s what he wears to pull, but even then he’s in a flat collar and I could take him through a rally course with no issues.”

Wendy says: “Absolutely! When I put on the pull harness, even for walks, she pulls whereas she won’t pull in a martingale.”

Jennifer says: “Yes. The dogs know that when the slip leads come out, we are doing agility. I don’t know if it puts them in a frame of mind, but the excitement they exhibit when those leads are presented is encouraging to me!”

There is no right or wrong answer to the topic – if the trainer/handler wants their dog to know the difference, and they are aiming for the dog to know the difference, then that is right for them. I aimed for a goal with my dog that worked for us, and that is what works for us.

We would love to hear your input on the topic, too!

What’s Your Dog’s Name?

I apologize that this post isn’t full of great information, but every blog has it’s “fluffy” posts, right? This is one of those.

Having been in the dog world and having owned a couple of dogs, I am always asked by friends and clients alike, “What should I name my dog?” or “How’d you come up with that name?” Usually, people are trying to think of a cute or clever name to go along with the cute puppy they just adopted – names like Max, Bella, or Baby are just so over-played.

Image (C) Vetstreet.com

Would you believe me if I told you that I did not name any of my dogs? I am horrible at coming up with names, and I refuse to name a dog Lucy, Molly, Cooper, or Charlie (no offence to those of you who do have dogs by those names, but I also named my daughter a traditional boys’ name to avoid her falling into a sea of Emmas, Amelias, and Emilys).

Howie was named by the friend I got him from, and I hated his name at first. My significant other and I toiled for days trying to think of the “perfect” name for him. Once we got him home, he was most definitely a Howie – he just embodied the name. And no other dog was named Howie, he was an original – in more ways than one. We don’t talk about his registered name because, well, it was my first attempt, and a pretty poor one at that. Later, after we started to compete in dog sports, it was copied, but I try not to have a grudge over it!

Jax’s name originally fit with his original registered (show) name – Cross’s Son of Anarchy (apparently, “Jax” is a character from this show. I don’t watch it to know). I did not like this name. Luckily, his breeder didn’t care one way or the other what his registered name was, and I changed his registered name to Cross’s Home Run Hitter – I’m a big baseball fan – and I justified his call name because Austin Jackson is an outfielder for the Detroit Tigers. Voila! No need for me to toil and think of a new name!

When asked for my opinion on names, my standard response is, “Live with the dog for awhile. They’ll tell you their name.” I suppose this is shorthand for, “I am not good a thinking of names, one will just eventually come to you if you wait long enough.” Though, I supposse I do believe there is some truth to them “telling” you their name – I never felt any overwhelming urge to change Howie or Jax’s name.

Of course, this doesn’t always work for me, either. I once had a cute little female pit bull that came to me with the name of “Sassy”. I hated this name, even though it fit her perfectly. I was determined this was not going to be her name and tried to think of something cute, clever, and girly. I loved the show name I had picked out for her – Cross’s Littlemisscan’tbewrong – but I was not about to name her “Spinner”, either. My significant other wanted to name her Kitty, so he could hear my yell out “Here, Kitty!” during training sessions. He has a cruel sense of humor. Three weeks later, she still had no name and it was quickly looking like she was going to be forever bound to the name of “Puppy”; but maybe this was fate, because she was not fated to stay with us much longer than that. She still taught me some very valuable lessons, but that’s a story for another time.

I love thinking of clever and original registered names. Just don’t ever ask me for a clever and original call name to go along with that registered name. That’s all on you!

But, this time around it’s different. I am getting a puppy. She was born on January 6th and should be coming home at the beginning of March. Her name is GSR’s Top40 Keep ‘Em Talkin’ and her call name will be “Rumor”. Her call name in itself is becoming a pretty popular name, but it “fits” with her registered name. I am not using “Gabby” because someone I know just got a puppy named Gabby, and I don’t like the way “Gossip” sounds when I say it aloud. Her name should be pretty self-explanatory.

Enough about my dogs. Tell me the story behind your dogs’ name!

High Value Rewards Make For the Best Training

I came across another blog post today that urged owners to use their dogs’ meals as rewards for training. The author writes,

Our pooches love to work for their meals, by doing something that will reward them with food, or make them search for their food. You have to feed your dog everyday anyways, so why not use this time that is required as a training reward?

Now, I’m not telling you that you shouldn’t use your dog’s meals as rewards. I know people who do and who use it successfully. The bigger piece of advice I took away from this post was the great tips regarding meals vs. free feeding. In fact, there are a lot of instances in which you should use your dog’s meal during training – such as when your dog has a health problem such as allergies and cannot have commercial treats, or if your dog is overweight and using his meals will eliminate extra calories.


However, the problem that many people run into during training is when you have to find a high-value reward. I always put it this way to my students: If you eat chicken every single day for your meals, are you going to also want chicken for your desserts? When I use treats they are delicious, they are stinky, and they are not always good for you, but there you go.

I use cheap stinky treats. I use expensive, healthy treats. I use hot dogs. I use cheese. I use things that are going to make my dogs bounce off the walls. I want them to work hard to earn the super deliciousness in my hand. Sometimes I have a mixture in my treat bag, other times (usually on my “lazy days”) I have just one, but it’s usually not the same thing every single day. Variety makes life more interesting, right?

I am blessed with a dog who will work for just about anything; I am also blessed with a dog who has very little food aversion or allergies. He loves his food, he loves working for his stinky treats – but what he REALLY loves working for is his ball. And he will do just about anything for a good game of tug. Jax is an enthusiastic dog.

With him, I use food to begin the introduction of a behavior. Food is great because I can reward quickly, praise often, and continue; rinse, lather, repeat – over and over. I can’t do this as well with a toy (the “quickly, often, let’s try that again!”) because we then have to play the game, release, and focus again. Once he’s got it, though, I will play the game all day long as long as he’s doing the behavior correctly.

That said, I prefer a toy-driven dog. I use tone-of-voice a lot in my training – I use less tone for so-so work/effort, and BIG HAPPY tones for great work/effort (with behaviors he already knows, not behaviors I am teaching). I can offer a variety of rewards with a toy – if the work was done so-so, I can offer him the toy and the praise in accordance with the level of his effort; if he performs excellently, he gets a bigger, happier tone and a bigger, happier game. More often than not, he works to earn that bigger, happier game.

But not all dogs are toy-driven, and toys do not work well in a class setting because it is highly distracting to other dogs, so what to do you do? I still encourage the use of stinky treats and tone. I use a quiet “Nooooo” as my “try again” cue; I also use a sharp “aht!” if needed, but it’s rare. Reward (food) is withheld until the behavior is executed – and the accuracy of the execution will also depend on the dog’s knowledge of the behavior, whether he just has the idea of what you want, or whether you have been working toward cleaning it up. But, rewards still have to be worth it. This is where the “yes!” and “good boy!” and “good!” come in play, and again, the use of your tone is going to be key. But tone is not the reward, tone/words are the marker that the dog did right and then he has to wait for the reward – much like a clicker. The food/toy is the reward. So, when you’re using food as the reward, you can offer one treat in the event of a so-so effort, and a JACKPOT! in the event of exemplary effort.

**When I’m first teaching a behavior, I use a lot of jackpots (toys or food). It is not until I feel comfortable that my dog knows the behavior that begin to back off on the level of my tone/rewards.

The trick is, finding your dog’s “high value” reward.