Life Goals

In July, many of you and the Team Unruly members chose one or a few things that our dog(s) needed to work on as our “Summer Homework”.  I chose to train Perri to heel for the Obedience ring.  That’s a simple sentence, but there was nothing simple about the work to come.  Because sometimes, oftentimes, training goals aren’t cut-and-dry simple.

Low Confidence.  Overwhelmed.  Shut Down.  Anxiety.  Hard To Motivate.  Those are phrases that have crept into my every day language when it comes to Perri.  These are things that I did not realize that I was dealing with at first.  Things that I did not particularly want to deal with.  Initially, Perri’s discomfort was very subtle to my untrained eye.  She does not shut down into an anxious and shuddering mess like my corgi, Ein, does.  Ein makes his case obvious.  Ein doesn’t leave me room for guessing.

Perri leaves me a lot of room for guessing.  You could say that she is hard to get to know.  In fact, rather than “teach Perri to heel”, our summer homework branched out into many paths of things that we needed to learn and work on as a team.  Things like helping Perri work through being startled by loud noises.   Helping Perri learn to work even though there is a 200-pound newfoundland ringside, or a german shepherd in her agility class and she is unnecessarily worried that they will hurt her.  Helping Perri learn tricks so that our relationship can grow in a pressure-free environment.  Helping Perri to not be Afraid.  Stopping when we are successful in training, even if it is only after two minutes of work.  Even if I want to continue.  I had to learn what motivates Perri, and what does not motivate Perri.  I had to learn that this changes from day to day and accept that this is how Perri is, no matter how confusing it is to me.  (For example, one day Perri will turn herself inside out for her tug toy, the next day she could not care less about it and would rather have a piece of cereal.  It changes every day, the guessing game is a struggle sometimes!)  This summer while I tried to work on what I thought was one goal, I instead worked on many, and am still continuing towards those goals.  My summer goal really opened the door up for our Life Goals.

The best thing I took away from my summer homework was “Listen to your Dog.”  And you always should.  No one knows your dog like you do.  If I could make a goal for any dog and human partnership it would be that: for the human to always pay attention to their dog and adjust their goals or environment accordingly.  It is what I had to do.  I have to listen to Perri and work at her pace, even though it makes me sad that her pace is dictated by various anxieties.  The dog underneath that anxiety is brilliant.  I remember when I was in grade school, my teacher asked a question of the class.  I remained silent.  I knew the answer but did not want to volunteer it by raising my hand – because I was very shy and I might be Wrong.  The teacher called on me anyway.  Instead of offering the correct answer, I said,  “I don’t know.”  I think that is what it is like for Perri.  She knows what to do, but sometimes she is just too nervous to do that thing and would rather do nothing than chance being wrong.  My goal is to never make her feel that way again.  My goal is to listen to her.  My goal is to come back to where Perri can be certain that she will be Right, and work up from there.

So, we took a detour from our summer homework and learned some more important lessons on the way and that’s all right.  That’s better!  Goals can be wonderful things, but they can also put pressure on the relationship – for better or for worse.  Since we as the handler are the half of the partnership with the goals, it is our job to pick the right path towards that goal and to keep it fun and respectful for the individualized needs of our dog.  If it takes a day, or if it takes a year, then so be it.  What matters is the friendship that develops along the way.

How about you?  Have you ever had to alter your plan to reach a goal with your dog?  Do you have any goals for you and your dog for 2014?  Tell us in the comments!


It’s the Team Unruly Holiday Gift Guide!

If you’ve got dogs yourself, we’re just gonna guess that you know some other people with dogs.  We’re also going to guess that some of those dog people may have made it onto your holiday shopping list.  And sure, nobody’s going to turn down a new Kong and a bag of treats, but what if you want to branch out past that? Below the cut, the members of TU have compiled some of the things we love for our own dogs: there are some great, time-tested standbys, as well as a few more unusual things for the dog/dog person who has everything.  Many of these things can be picked up at your local slightly-fancy pet store, but we’ve also included links for buying stuff online. We hope our list sparks some ideas!

[*sponsorship note: no promotional consideration was made for these items, blah blah blah. If they're up here, it's 100% just because we like them, not because we got them for free!]

Continue reading

K9DIY: Fabric Dog Collars

My name is Lindsey, and I’m addicted to dog collars. And by addicted I mean.. I have a trunk full of them. My dogs have wardrobes- collars for Christmas, Halloween, Independence Day, Valentine’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day, Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter. Snowmen collars, palm tree collars, striped, spotted and argyle collars. Some of my collars are hand me down collars from my previous dogs, and a few are even nearing 20 years old.

My trunk of collars

My trunk of collars. To be fair, I also have harnesses (tracking, walking, and guide dog varieties), a few backpacks, some puppy coats, and two search and rescue jackets underneath all those collars. So it’s not *all* collars in that pile.

A sampling of a few collars

A sampling of a few collars

I even have a bookmark folder chock-full of bookmarks of dog collar websites such as and among others. My favorites are the nylon with ribbon collars, but I also have leather collars, fabric collars, polypropylene collars, grip-rite collars, ASAT (all season, all terrain) collars, and even plastic collars.  I am addicted. It wasn’t long before I decided to start making my own, both nylon ribbon and fabric varieties. If you’d like to learn to make a fabric one, grab some fabric and your sewing machine, and follow along!


  • Sewing Machine (while you can probably do this by hand- I’m not that patient, and my hand stitching is not that strong. I recommend a sewing machine!)
  • Fabric, if buying new fabric, I recommend buying about 1/2 a yard- even then you’ll have plenty leftover. Long scraps work well, too.
  • Thread (and an empty bobbin you can load with with your thread)
  • Collar hardware- a triglide slide, a side release buckle, and a D ring.

First- you need fabric. You don’t need much, even scraps will work, depending on the size of your collar and/or dog. I usually go and buy 1/2 yards of types I like, and have plenty of fabric to make lots of collars off that 1/2 yard. You want to go for fabrics that have a narrow pattern. As the collar will be at most 1-2 inches wide, if you have a large, elaborate design on the fabric, you won’t see it well once it’s made into a collar. I like to judge the pattern by how it looks on the skinny edge of the bolt at the fabric store. While you’re there, you’ll need to pick up some thread, and some medium to heavy weight iron-on interfacing. I’ve made them with sheer weight as well, which works, but the stiffer the interfacing, the stiffer the collar, and the better it stands up to abuse.



You’ll also need some collar hardware. If you have an old smelly collar lying around, you can wash and reuse the hardware if it’s still in good shape. If not, you can order from a variety of places on the internet- my favorite is Country Brook Designs: They also sell nylon webbing for ribbon collars, but that’s for another tutorial.


Materials (note, my buckle here is not from country brook- it’s a recycled buckle that came off a collar from a dog I once pulled from the pound for a rescue group. It was too decrepit to save, so I salvaged the hardware).

Your thread color is up to your personal preference. Some people may like a matching thread color, some may like a contrasting color. It’s entirely up to you- for this tutorial, I’ve chosen a red that matches the candy canes on the fabric I’ll be using.

Make sure to wash and dry your fabric first, so that any sizing is removed from the fabric, and so that it shrinks if it has a tendency to do that.

I have pre-measured patterns that I made out of the paper that comes with interfacing that I usually refer to for collar sizes. You can use my sizes here, or you can measure a current collar your dog has. You want to add a couple inches to the length to account for folding and sewing the edges, and you want to multiply the width by 4.

Or you can use my pre-measured sizes here:

Large (1″ wide collar) : 4″ x 34″
Medium (3/4″ width collar): 3″ x 25″
Small: (5/8″ width collar): 2.5″ x 19″

I’ve never had occasion to make anything smaller. Being primarily a Dalmatian/Labrador & Golden Retriever/German Shepherd owner I have one or two tiny collars that most of my puppies grow out of inside of 2-3 weeks (or they’re large enough to fit a ‘small’ size as soon as they come to me), so I’ve never made a tiny-size collar, but if you have a collar you can measure- go for it!

Once you’ve cut your fabric out according to the size you’re making, you’ll want to cut an identical one out of the interfacing.

My cut fabric

My cut fabric

My interfacing

My interfacing

Because the interfacing will be ironed onto the inside, you can cut two or three different pieces, as long as the total length and width of your fabric is covered with interfacing. I cut two 4″ x 17″ pieces instead of a single 34″ piece.

Once you’ve got your pieces cut, follow the directions on your interfacing for the correct iron temperature, and iron the interfacing to the backside of your fabric.

Ironed on interfacing.

Ironing on interfacing- the first piece.

It should look like this when you're done- interfacing all along the backside of your fabric

It should look like this when you’re done- interfacing all along the backside of your fabric

From there, we want to set the iron to the correct temperature for the type of fabric you’re using. My fabric is cotton, so I set my iron to the cotton setting. Once your iron is heated, fold your fabric in half “hotdog style” a.k.a. along the long side of the fabric, just once, and iron a crease. (and you thought after elementary school, you’d never use the phrase hotdog style to refer to cutting and folding again!)

It should look like this:

Ironed in half

Ironed in half


After this, you want to fold in and iron over your edges, like this:


Once you have a nice crease, open your fabric, and fold the edges of the fabric into the center one at a time, and iron, like so:



That center ironed crease should help guide you as to where to fold the leading edges of your fabric to in order to make sure your collar is even.


If you’re very dexterous, you can probably do both sides at one time, but I’m not, so I do one side, then the other. However you do it, you want to end up with both sides ironed down.

From there, fold it like a taco, with the edges tucked inside, and iron the whole collar:


One long collar

One long collar

After the ironing and folding you should gather your other materials. You collar should look something like this, at this stage:


Load your bobbin full of thread, and set up your sewing machine.

Loading my bobbin

Loading my bobbin

While you can use any variety of stitches for a collar, I prefer a straight stretch stitch- it’s much stronger than a regular straight stitch.

My sewing machine's settings.

My sewing machine’s settings.

Load your collar under the foot, position your needle, and prepare to sew all the way around the edges of your collar.

Ready to sew!

Ready to sew!

Sew down the side, sewing closed the opening. When you get to the end, position the needle down into the fabric to hold its place, then lift the foot up, and turn the collar 90 degrees.

End of the fabric

End of the fabric

Needle down, foot up

Needle down, foot up

Turn fabric 90 degrees

Turn fabric 90 degrees

Sew like this all the way around the collar. Back stitch the final narrow side, and trim your loose threads off.

Sewn all around

Sewn all around

The first piece of hardware we’ll sew is the triglide. Thread one side of the fabric around the middle.


Pull it through about an inch or two:


Again, you can use any type of stitch you like. I prefer to use a small zig zag stitch for this part, and keep the stitches tightly together, almost like applique. Stitch down the width of your collar, sewing the loose end back to the collar itself.

Like this

Like this

I like to add a second line for good measure.

IMG_7348Next, string the male part of your side release buckle through your collar, then fold the fabric back through the triglide



Next, slide the D ring onto the collar. *Make sure to put the D-ring on next, BEFORE the female part of your side release buckle.*

D-ring first!

D-ring first!

Next, the female half of the side release buckle

Next, the female half of the side release buckle

Pull the end of the fabric through the buckle, then sew the free end back to the collar. Again, I use my zig-zag stitch.

Sew the free end down to the collar

Sew the free end down to the collar

Slide the D-ring down against the end you just sewed, and then sew another line next to the buckle end. Sew as close to the buckle as you can get.

Second line- nearest the buckle.

Second line- nearest the buckle.

It should look like this

It should look like this


Next, we’ll sew one side of the D-ring, again with another line of zig-zag stitches. Move your needle over a tad bit, and make another line of stitches.

Now it should look like this

Now it should look like this

As soon as that is done- you want to push the D-ring up against your line of stitches, and sew the other side of it. You want to make sure to sew as close to your D-ring as possible, so it’s in a nice, tight, pocket. This will keep it from sliding around when you clip a leash to it. I often have to manually hold the foot of my sewing machine up a bit to get the needle close enough to the metal ring to sew.

One side of my foot is up on the metal ring- I often have to hold it partially up to get in close enough.

One side of my foot is up on the metal ring- I often have to hold it partially up to get in close enough.

Ta da!

Ta da!

Now clip your ends together, and you have a collar!



Dierdre models the new collar.

Dierdre models the new collar. A bit too big for her!

Fits much better on Hawkins. He's ready for Christmas!

Fits much better on Hawkins. He’s ready for Christmas!


Trick Training: Backwards Stairs


I hemmed and hawed for a bit about what I wanted to use for my inaugural LET US TRAIN SOME TRICKS, WHAT HEY!! post, because I was trying to figure out what (a) looked cool; (b) wasn’t actually that difficult to train; and (c) would probably not be something everybody had already seen a million times before. While I typically start off teaching in-person classes with Spin or Wave, I figure most readers of this blog already got those down a while ago.

Backwards stairs, however, are (as far as I know, which is to say probably not really) a bit of nonsense of my own invention. And this trick actually doesn’t require much in the way of foundations, and it’s pretty easy to teach and looks funny, so I figured it’d make a decent subject for a how-to post.

This is what the finished Backwards Stairs trick looks like:



– a reasonably fit and healthy dog

– a straight staircase, long enough to accommodate the dog’s entire body plus one or two steps, with non-slippery footing

– some treats your dog likes

– a clicker if you use one


– Your dog is clicker- or marker-savvy (for this trick it doesn’t particularly matter which you use)

– Your dog has a nose-to-hand target (not strictly necessary but helpful).


Begin with your dog at the foot of the stairs. Using a hand target (or a treat lure if your dog doesn’t have a reliable hand target), guide your dog up a few steps and back around so that the dog is facing you and is oriented backwards on the stairs, with his butt pointing at the top. Click and reward when the dog is in the correct position.

Do that a bunch of times until your dog is comfortable facing downstairs and is pretty straight on the steps.

I prefer to start from the bottom of the steps rather than the top because the act of turning on the stairs requires more hind-end awareness from the dog than just being lured a few steps straight down from the top (so I think it’s better practice for the coordination that will be required for the rest of the exercise), but it doesn’t actually matter that much. You can start from the top of the stairs and just lure the dog straight down if that’s easier.


If your dog offers a backward movement of his rear feet at any time while you’re practicing Step 1, click and reward that. You actually can free shape the entire sequence if your dog is comfortable moving his back feet, but a lot of dogs aren’t, especially if you haven’t done much work with backwards movements previously.

In that case, it can be helpful to use spatial pressure to prompt your dog backwards. I don’t physically push my dogs backward — in general I don’t like physically prodding my dogs into doing stuff and also I don’t think it’s particularly safe for either me or the dogs to try doing that on stairs, because I am hugely clumsy — but just the act of crowding into their space tends to cause them to back up in response. As soon as I get anything resembling a back foot moving onto an upward step, that gets a click and reward.

Once the dog figures out what’s earning the click and treat (which usually doesn’t take more than a few repetitions), they start backing up on their own.

In this video clip, I’m cueing Crookytail with a small amount of spatial pressure (slight lean forward + bent knee at 0:05 before he takes his first step back at 0:06), but mostly he’s moving on his own.

Once he starts going up, I follow behind him so that I can position my rewards correctly. At this point, Crooky is not advanced enough to go all the way to the top of the steps on his own; if I don’t follow him and reward him in position, he’ll come back down to me. I don’t want that, so I’m encouraging him by following him up the stairs and rewarding him while he’s still oriented backwards. But, importantly, I wait for him to take each step backwards on his own before I move up behind him to close the distance. I want Crookytail to be the one making the decision to go back, because eventually he is going to have to do that independently.


Raise your criteria: more steps between each click, more distance from you. Gradually build up until you’re getting the entire staircase.

This clip also shows what it looks like when you start from the top of the stairs as opposed to the bottom. It really isn’t that big a difference, I just think you get a slightly better foundation if you build that extra little bit of hind-end awareness in at the beginning.

Side note: I was having an issue with Pongu tending to crab out sideways instead of straight back (I think because I didn’t spend enough time reinforcing the correct orientation before asking him to move up — so, as usual for me, faulty foundations caused a problem later on), so I put Crookytail on the steps in a Sit-Stay to block off part of the stairs and encourage Pongu to move straighter.

You could probably use a stack of textbooks or something to achieve the same result, but I figured a dog was a better barrier because Crooky could adjust his balance as needed and not get knocked down the stairs accidentally. He’s a good prop, Crookytail.

And that’s it! Three steps and you’re done.

Growing Up Guide Dog Puppy: The Early Days- Housebreaking, Crate Training, and Not Too Much Freedom

The early days of a guide dog puppy’s life in a new raiser home is usually the roughest (on the raiser) and the most glee-filled (for the puppy). A snapshot in any given moment can find puppy, racing through the house with a stray sock in her mouth, while the raiser is probably halfway through slipping in a puddle of pee. This was me and my first puppy (oh yeah, that was Hawkins… I mean… he was an angel.. *looks around to see if anyone heard*)

By Dierdre- puppy #5- I’ve pretty much got puppy days down pat. Or so I thought. Apparently I’ve been out of practice, since my youngest dog, Tiki, just turned 7. After first coming home, I let Dierdre potty in the front yard. I was fairly confident she would go, she’d just made a 3/5 hour car ride home while sleeping the entire time. As soon as she started to squat, I instantly told her “Go busy, busy!!” the Southeastern Guide Dog command to go to the bathroom. I said it once more as she finished, then pulled out my high pitched squeaky puppy voice and make such a big deal about her going potty. She wiggled all over and got belly rubs, got excited because I was excited, and that was that. Over the next few days I’d set a timer every hour on the hour, and take her out, sometimes on the concrete driveway, sometimes on the grass, and tell her to busy, busy! I’d give her a piece of kibble for going and it didn’t take long for her to associate “Busy, Busy” with going tinkle.

But Dierdre started to take a backwards slide in the potty training department. She’d have an accident 10 minutes after coming inside. Then, when I raced her back outside, she’d go again, only to have another accident in the house, 5 minutes after THAT. Luckily I have ceramic tile floors, but I was doing a load of laundry a day, washing all the towels and steam mop pads I was essentially chasing her around with. Finally I asked my puppy club leader for permission to take her to the vet. She readily agreed and the vet found a UTI and crystals in her urine. A round of antibiotics and a bag of prescription food later… and she’s down to peeing every 30 minutes. It’s hard to convince an unwilling dog to drink more water, so I’ve started to ‘float’ her kibble in water to force her to drink water with her meals, hoping to keep her hydrated.

Hand in hand with ease of housebreaking is, of course, crate training. A lot of people have trouble with this because they just can’t stand to hear their dog cry. Or, at some point, they just can’t take it anymore (usually somewhere around 2 or 3am on a work night for me!). I always make sure to have some fun crate-only toys available. Some of the chicken flavored gummy puppy nylabones or a kong stuffed with frozen kibble that’s been previously soaked in water. I also feed every meal in a crate for at least the first few weeks. If puppy won’t go in, I toss in a few kibbles to encourage them to enter, then as soon as they get in, I plop the whole bowl right down, leaving the door open so they can come out as they please when they are done. Since one of my dogs is a resource guarder when it comes to food, he always eats in his crate, with the door latched. He’s so used to his crate now after nearly 9 years of living with it, that when he thinks its dinner time (which is usually an hour before it’s actually dinnertime) he’ll go and lie in there and wait for food to appear. If I don’t serve him in a timely manner, he will go find me, do his best Lassie “Timmy’s in the well! Quick! Follow me!” impression and try and lead me to his crate so that I can see that he’s ready for dinner. I want my dogs to love the crate like this and associate it with everything positive in the world.

At night with a puppy I shut the door, cover it with a blanket, and turn on a white noise/rain/seashore waves noise app (or I had a cassette tape before my fancy smartphone). A puppy crate is always next to my side of the bed for the first month or two- so that I can hear at night if they wake up and become restless and need to go potty, and so they can hear my breathing and not feel so alone and scared after their first few nights without their littermates. The other 3 dogs usually sleep spread around the bedroom on the soft carpet, but sometimes I will put everyone in crates side by side with the puppy somewhere in the middle, so even though they’re in separate crates, the puppy still feels surrounded by other dogs.

Crates should be fun places to go for relaxation. I think Dierdre's getting the hang of it!

Crates should be fun places to go for relaxation. I think Dierdre’s getting the hang of it!

During the day, once I notice a playing puppy is getting tired and looking for a good place to curl up and take a nap, I take them over to their crate, toss a few kibbles in, pull the blanket down over the crate, and let them nap in their crate (or wail themselves to sleep, which sadly, I’ve had to do with some puppies). Some puppies take to it easily- my male German shepherd, Raiden, slept through the night in his crate the first night home and never made a peep in there. Other dogs… like my female shepherd, Tiki… scream bloody murder for hours. And hours. For the first year of their life. Luckily the townhouse next to me at the time was vacant, because I’m pretty sure I’d have been evicted… but persistence pays off. Tiki will now stay quietly in her crate for as long as I need her to, and I can often find her taking a nap in there of her own free will.

I never, never, never let a puppy out of its crate while he’s crying. Doing so just reinforces the connection that crying = getting out of the crate. I usually try to learn how long my puppy naps for, then let them out 10-15 minutes or so before they’re due to wake up, with lots of happy praise and a few pieces of kibble. If I hear a couple tiny whimpers at night or after a significant time in the crate, I assume the puppy needs to potty and I jump up to let them out before it can turn into any sort of wailing uproar which I have to ignore yet at the same time, can’t, because puppy probably has to pee.

These two training priorities are generally the only things I work on the first week or two with a new puppy. To prevent a puppy from getting into mischief, I utilize tie downs and ex-pens around the house. If I’m in the kitchen, puppies are on a tie down attached to the dining room table. If I’m watching TV, the tie down is attached to the couch leg. Reading in bed? Tie down at the foot of the bed. Working in my office? I have a tie down next to my desk. I have an ex-pen I often set up in the dining or living room, full of some puppy toys that a young puppy can play with while I’m not able to watch them 100%. Slowly, as they become more reliable with housebreaking, I let them off the tie down for short spurts- 5 minutes here, 10 minutes there, maybe while I’m dusting the house, or folding laundry- something that doesn’t take my total attention and lets me keep an eye on a puppy with new found freedom.

Chillin' in the ex-pen in the living room

Chillin’ in the ex-pen in the living room. Not sure she knows what the dog bed is actually for…

Because I have 3 other dogs who don’t particularly like puppies jumping on their heads, one of them being a senior who gets knocked down easily- keeping a puppy on a tie down or in an ex-pen lets the other dogs have their peace and not be hounded constantly by a puppy who hasn’t’ learned proper manners yet. As her manners slowly improve, I’ll let Dierdre slowly have more freedom.

Look! No tie-down!

Look Mom! No tie-down!

When I have time to get down on the floor and play some tug or chase the nylabone, I will often take the time to set up a thunderstorm or firework noisemaker app on my phone, turn it down low, and let the noise play while we’re having fun. I want thunderstorm and firework noises to be paired with good, fun things, and using my phone lets me turn the noise down to barely audible and play it while the puppy is distracted with other things.

If only I could just chew through this plastic coated steel cable...

If only I could just chew through this plastic coated steel cable…


As soon as the potty training and housebreaking is going well, we can move on to bigger and better things… house manners and outings in a puppy coat! Stay tuned…