• Yes and No

    If you are saying “no” to your dog more than you are saying “yes” to him than more then likely you have both a management and communication problem, not a “dog problem”.

    Most dog guardians are reactive rather than proactive when it comes to their pup’s behavior.

    What does that mean? It means that they yell “NO” when their puppy pulls towards another dog or person on walks, say “QUIET” when their puppy barks at them for attention, screams “OFF” when their dog jumps up on them or a friendly stranger, or say “STOP” when dog is chewing their shoes.

    They are REACTING to their dog’s unwanted behavior rather than being PROACTIVE about teaching their dog what they want them to do. 

    The problem with being reactive, instead of being proactive, is that you are not telling your dog what you WANT them to do.

    So what would you rather your dog do instead of pull towards other dogs and people on walks? Why not teach them that focusing on you “pays” more then pulling towards others and then ask for that focus and reinforce it with high value food when distractions are present?

    • If your dog is jumping up on everyone that he greets then why not teach him that sitting will get him more pets then jumping up will and then ask for and reinforce (with food!) that sit? 
    • If your dog is barking for attention then why not recognize that your pup is bored and find ways of adding exercise and mental stimulation to his life by increasing leash walks and feeding his meals out of food dispensing toys?
    • Dog chewing your shoes? This is a good time to be proactive by managing your dog’s environment. Put your shoes in your closet with the door closed and be sure that you are providing him with plenty of appropriate chew toys that you want him to chew. 

    You wouldn’t give a toddler access to the cutlery in the kitchen and leave the outlets uncovered then yell “NO” when the child grabs a knife and proceeds to stick it in the electrical outlet, would you? NO! You would manage your toddler’s environment so that he does not have access to things he shouldn’t have until he is old enough to know why we don’t stick knives into electrical outlets.

    Your dog is no different! It takes time for dogs to learn how we want them to behave in our home and what is dangerous and what is safe for them. So help them learn what those acceptable behaviors are and keep them safe from “bad” dog decisions. 

    Teach your dog with yeses, set them up for success, don’t put them into situations where they have an opportunity to make a “wrong” choice and watch how they thrive.

    Be your dog’s advocate, teacher, and protector one “YES” at a time. 

    Sara Sokol is owner of Mr. Dog Training in Maine; A positive reinforcement dog training facility, offering both virtual and in person classes, that has been voted best training in Maine for 8 years in a row.

  • I am not stubborn

    How many times have you heard it, or thought it…

    ”my dog is so stubborn”


    -won’t come in when it’s time

    -won’t stop barking at other dogs

    -doesn’t want to get up to go pee before bed when he’s sleeping on the couch and comfortable

    -doesn’t want to stop playing ball 

    -doesn’t like to be groomed 

    Stubbornness is a human trait that we project onto our dogs to explain, what is usually a lack of communication, training, or understanding of how they learn, or their emotional state. 

    Instead of calling your dog stubborn ask yourself the following questions:

    -Have you and your dog ever practiced the behavior you are asking for? Keep in mind that added distractions all need to be practiced around. 

    -What’s your reinforcement history? Does calling him in often result in him chasing a deer or squirrel instead (reinforcement for not coming to you) or always end his fun? What’s the ratio of you practicing, and reinforcing successful recalls in the yard vs. environmental reinforcement for not coming to you or the recall ending fun? 

    -Are you communicating clearly? How many times are you saying your cue? Have you been using your marker and release words while training? Have you been reinforcing the behavior? If your dog doesn’t understand your method of communication should that be labeled “stubborn”?

    -What’s your dog’s emotional state? Are they stressed, anxious, uncomfortable, overstimulated? Can we expect “perfect” behavior from any dog, or human, under these circumstances?

    A dog who won’t come inside, to the fun ending, but chooses to stay in the yard to sniff, chase, roll, play, etc., is no less stubborn than the human who takes the job that pays them $250 an hour instead of the one that pays $75 an hour. 

    A dog who won’t stop barking at other dogs may  feel stressed/anxious or even overstimulated around other dogs and is no different than a person who is spread a little thin and gets a little snippy with someone who asks them a simple question. 

    -A dog who doesn’t want to get up to pee when they are comfy on the couch is no different than a person hitting the snooze button in the morning. 

    -A dog who doesn’t want to stop playing ball is no different than a human who stays up late to finish their Netflix binge even though they should get some sleep. It’s more fun to Netflix. 

    -A dog who doesn’t like to be groomed is no different that a human who hates going to the dentist. Oh wait, that’s me 😁

    So, here’s your challenge…change your perspective. 

    Instead of labelling your dog stubborn:

    -immerse yourself in learning theory so that you understand behavior, reinforcement, and how your dog learns. Take a training class to teach and solidify those behaviors. 

    -become a dog body language expert so you can understand your dogs emotional state. 

    -practice recalling and then letting your dog go back to what they were doing so that 99% if your recalls are for practice instead of just to end fun and be aware of environmental reinforcers that can hinder your progress.

    -work on changing your dog’s emotional response when seeing other dogs. 

    -have compassion that everyone deserves the right to not want to get up when they are comfy.

    -make sure that your dog is getting enough mental stimulation so that their needs are met and that game of fetch ending makes some fun enrichment happen.

    -learn about cooperative care techniques to make grooming a wonderful experience for your dog. 

    Once you shift your mindset from one of placing blame on the dog and labeling them as stubborn to one where you understand and empathize with your dog, and help them do better, the pieces will fall into place and the relationship that you have with your dog will become something even more amazing. 

    Sara Sokol is owner of Mr. Dog Training in Maine; A positive reinforcement dog training facility, offering both virtual and in person classes, that has been voted best training in Maine for 8 years in a row.

  • But He Goes to Daycare…

    “But he goes to the dog park/ daycare” is a phrase I often hear when people contact me about a reactive dog. 

    Here’s the thing, for your dog, being off leash and playing with a group of dogs is a completely different skill set and emotional requirement than walking past another dog on a leash. I repeat, these are two different skills!

    Taking your dog to the dog park or daycare so that your dog does well around other dogs on leash simply does not make sense; it’s like taking your child to a playground to teach them how to socially interact with humans in the world. 

    Usually dogs are reactive to other dogs on leash for one of two reasons; they are uncomfortable/insecure/fearful of the other dog, or they are over excited about the possibility of engaging with another dog and get overstimulated and/or frustrated that the leash is preventing them from having that physical interaction with that other dog. In either case, there is anxiety. 

    Now, let’s pretend the first example dog is going to daycare or the dog park and they are actually feeling anxious about other dogs but do “ok” off leash because they have the freedom to make choices that result in the freedom to move away from another dog. (Please note: this is not a dog that should be attending these places but that is for another post) 

    However, when on a leash and seeing another dog, this dog, still anxious about seeing other dogs, and is now leashed and has lost his ability to make a choice to move away, will often react. These social “mosh pits” can teach this dog that all dogs invade their space so they need to be reactive to make them go away. 

    Ok, so now let’s say the second example dog goes to the dog park or daycare. They LOVE all the the social interaction and are encouraged to play until they are exhausted. Now this type of dog sees another dog on leash and has full expectations that they can go have a slammn’ good time with them since whenever this dog sees dogs in a social situation the get to go engage and play. The leash in this situation can cause frustration to build. Add that to the over stimulation of seeing the other dog, and this dog becomes reactive to other dogs on leash. 

    It’s also important to note that often reactivity in both types of dogs doesn’t start until after they start attending daycare or dog parks.

    Also important to note, this is not an excuse to not have your dog on leash in public! 

    The moral of the story is that helping your dog feel comfortable around other dogs on leash requires that we put the time in to create the emotional response, and skills, that are needed for your dog to ignore other dogs on leash, not take them to daycare or the dog park for off leash shenanigans with other dogs.

  • Letting Go of Expectations

    Do you remember what you wanted to be when you grew up? What about your parents, did they have something they wanted you to be when you grew up, or a goal they wanted you to achieve, like graduating college? 

    I started ballet classes when I was 3 years old. By the time I was 10 I was working hard, dancing 5 days a week, with a clear vision of becoming a professional ballerina in my future. 

    I was lucky, my parents wholeheartedly supported my dream, even when I moved to a different state to attend a performing arts high school at 15 and dropped out of that high school right before my senior year to get my GED and start dancing professionally with a ballet company. Never once did they tell me that I was making a mistake or that my dreams weren’t going to take me anywhere or make me any money (although money isn’t the reason anyone becomes a professional ballerina). 

    Shall we pivot to dogs?

    Like many human parents, quite a few dog guardians have goals or things they want their dogs to achieve or become. These goals are often set long before these dog guardians even find a dog to call their own.

    I hear it all the time in my work as a dog trainer…
    “I want my dog to go to work with me”
    “I want to take my dog to outdoor restaurants”
    “I want my dog to go for group hikes with my friends and their dogs”
    “I want my dog to become a therapy dog”
    “I want to take my dog to the dog park”
    “I want to be able to walk my dog in crowded places or take them into stores”

    And the list goes on.

    But, how many dog guardians ask their dogs what they want? 

    Sit, take that question in. 

    There seems to be an unspoken list of expectations that most humans have when it comes to things their dogs “should” like such as:

    ~Petting and human touch
    ~Playing with other dogs
    ~Greeting new people
    ~Taking walks
    ~Going for car rides

    When dogs don’t like these things their guardians will often often rush to “help” or “fix” their dogs so that they can be “normal”.
    The truth is that, just like humans, there is a wide range of activities dogs may or may not enjoy, and just because they don’t enjoy one of the above activities, or something similar, doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with them. 

    I personally prefer an evening in rather than going to a crowded sporting event, bar, or concert. Does that make me introverted, possibly? Does that mean there is something wrong with me? Absolutely not, and I’m glad that my husband doesn’t try to force me to do those things because that’s “what people do”.

    This is not an excuse to not help your dog feel better about things that occur in their daily lives that you can’t avoid, like vet or groomer visits, noises that are specific to your home, or the noises or sight of your neighbors; yes, work with your dogs to feel better about those things! 

    But, the avoidable things like dog parks, daycares, walks in busy neighborhoods, group hikes, or cuddling or hugging at home can absolutely be avoided and replaced with different activities that your dog will enjoy more. 

    So maybe Instead of showing your affection through petting, if your dog head turns, lip licks, or becomes stiff during that touch, you play a fun game with your dog and then enjoy each others company sitting in the sane room together but not touching?

    Instead of a trip to the dog park or a day at daycare where your dog is getting into scuffles with other dogs, or isolating themselves while there, you take your best friend for a walk or play some Noseworks? 

    What if instead of long walks where your dog becomes worried and reactive towards cars, people, or other dogs, you do some backyard agility or parkour?

    Maybe instead of loading your dog up for a car ride while you run errands where he will pant and drool and bark at people and other dogs out the window, you do some extra mental stimulation or a walk with your dog before you leave and let them enjoy a quiet nap at home while you are gone? 

    And if greeting other people makes your dog uncomfortable what if you told those people that you were in training and not taking pets that day while tossing a handful of treats in the grass for your pup to sniff for? 

    Respect is one of the most important building blocks when developing any relationship. So the next time you find yourself creating expectations for your dog(s), take a moment to ask yourself what your dog wants. Really ask, think about it, and learn your dog’s body language so that you can answer that question without any influence from your own expectations, or that of others. 

    The relationship you build with your dog from this day forward will be stronger for it.

  • Five Easy Enrichment Activities to Help Keep Your Dog Happy

    Winter is here with colder, shorter and darker days, which usually means less time outside for you and your dog. When outdoor time becomes limited, we often decrease our dog’s structured exercise, and more importantly, mental stimulation and enrichment, activities. This usually leads to an increase in, what humans refer to as “unwanted behaviors” such as, barking, chewing, digging, jumping, nipping, mounting, and often general anxiety.

    Mental stimulation and enrichment don’t need to be complicated though! Check out the following five fun and easy activities to do with your dog to help them with their cabin fever this winter. Have fun!

    Please note: these activities should always be supervised, and dogs should never be left alone while enjoying them. 

    Push the can/ball

    You can use a ball of any kind or a coffee or oat type can. 

    -Place the ball/can on the ground.

    -Put a small, soft food treat on the ground where the ball/can meet the floor.

    -Encourage your dog to get the treat. 

    -When the dog takes the treat their nose should gently push the ball/can, causing it to roll. 

    -After five successful “pushes” you can start saying “push” when you encourage your dog to take the treat. 

    -Over time you will be able to phase out the food treat to get the dog to push and only use the word “push”.  Be sure to give them the treat after they push! 

    Save that Amazon box (or two or 10)! 

    -Collect an assortment of cardboard boxes and place a high value food item or one of your dog’s favorite toys inside each of the smaller boxes (frozen stuffed kongs, favorite chews, stuffed toys, balls, etc.)

    -Close up each small box (just fold it, no tape) and place them inside of the big box. 

    -Close up the big box (again, no tape) and then let your dog tear, shred, and open up all of the boxes to get to the hidden treasures! 

    Please note: if your dog is eating any cardboard instead of just shredding or tearing it then this is not the game for them. 

    Encouraging shredding or tearing in this way will actually reduce your dog’s likelihood of destroying things they shouldn’t because we are giving them a proper outlet for their energy. 

    Ping the kibble 

    This is a great, fun way to feed your dog their meals! 

    -Get your dog’s attention and place one of your dog’s kibbles on the floor.

    -Use your finger to flick or “ping” the kibble across the floor for your dog to go get and eat. 

    -When your dog looks at you “ping” another kibble in a different direction for them to go after and eat. 

    -Repeat until you run out of kibble! 

    Save that Amazon box! (part two!)

    -Leave the packaging paper that came with your shipment in the box after you have unpacked it, and/or add some crumpled newspaper, and toss a handful of kibble in the box for your dog to snuffle for.

    -Another option is to buy a package of “ball pit” balls or just fill the empty box with your dog’s favorite toys and then toss a handful of kibble in for your dog to sniff out. 

    Scatter feeding

    -Take a handful of your dog’s food and toss it in the grass, snow, or leaves (depending on the time of year) and let your dog use their nose to search for the food.

    -This is a great way to feed meals and can be used as a way to help dogs who get overstimulated easily on walks, by directing them to take a sniff break and search for food before they become overstimulated. 

    If you are looking for even more fun activities to do with your dogs to help keep their brains and bodies happy and healthy you can check out my Boredom Busters video available for purchase HERE.

  • Piranha Puppies

    Anyone raising a puppy knows all too well the army of tiny, sharp, soldiers that line the inside of a puppy’s mouth’s.

    Ouch! Puppy teeth hurt! 

    Ladies and gentlemen, I have bad news, puppies nip. Yes, behind those sweet, fuzzy, innocent faces lie rows of piranha teeth just waiting to make an appearance; especially when that puppy is tired, hungry, overstimulated, or just generally having a hard time. 
    I have good news and bad news. The good news is that there are things that we can do to help reduce our puppies nipping. The bad news is that only time, patience, and maturity will stop it completely.

    It helps to think of your puppy’s nipping as communication. Yes, puppies will put their mouth on you when you pet them and play with them but those intense, sometimes scary, nipping episodes (sometimes referred to as “The Witching Hour”) that is often accompanied by growling, lunging, jumping, etc. are just your puppy’s way of communicating that they are having a hard time.

     Yes, you heard me, your puppy is having a hard time, not giving you one. They just don’t have the skills to self soothe or communicate in any other way yet. 

    Here are some simple things you can put into practice that will help prevent your puppy from becoming overly nippy. 

    • Make sure puppy is getting enough sleep. Growing puppies need up to 20 hours of sleep a day. An overly tired pup will get very nippy. 
    • Make sure puppy is eating often. Puppies should get at least three meals a day, sometimes more for very small pups. A hungry puppy is a nippy puppy. (I can totally relate to this) 
    • Manage your puppy! Puppies should not have free roam of your house to chase your feet and nip them while you are doing housework or making dinner; an exercise pen or puppy “safe room” is the perfect place for your puppy to hang out, when you are not actively watching or working with them, while they grow and mature. Preventing them from practicing nipping using management is one of the greatest tools that puppy parents have. 
    • Provide a rotation of chews that your puppy likes. I recommend a four-day rotation so that the puppy is getting a different chew each day for four days before the cycle starts again. This will keep the chew items “fresh” and keep puppy’s interest peaked. 
    • Look for patterns. If your puppy is getting nippy at specific times of day get ahead of those moments by preemptively putting puppy in their crate, pen, or safe room with a sniffing, chewing, or licking activity before they become overly nippy. Studies show that these three behaviors help calm dogs of all ages. 
    • Give your puppy plenty of mental stimulation. Food Puzzle toys are a great tool for puppy parents to use. Some of my favorites are Kong and West Paw brands. Your local pet store will also have a great selection. My Boredom Busters downloadable video is also full of activities you can do with your puppy to keep their brain stimulated and happy. A properly mentally stimulated puppy will nip less. 
    • If puppy is getting overstimulated outside, and becoming excessively nippy, shorten your time outside to keep them from getting overwhelmed and toss some kibble in the grass at regular intervals while outside to encourage them to sniff, find, and eat. Remember, sniffing helps calm dogs! 


    • Don’t grab your puppy’s muzzle, hit them, yell no, or use a squirt bottle or shake can when they nip in an attempt to stop them. These activities will only teach your puppy that you cannot be trusted and that you make scary things happen when they are having a hard time. 
    • Don’t yell “Ouch” when puppy nips. This sound will usually excite/overstimulated your puppy and make the situation worse. 

    Putting these tools into play, along with a good sense of humor and a generous dosing of patience, will help you get through your puppy’s nipping months. Remember, this too shall pass, and in no time, you will look at your dog and wonder where that little nipping puppy went!

    Sara Sokol is owner of Mr. Dog Training in West Bath Maine; A positive reinforcement dog training facility, offering both virtual and in person classes, that has been voted best training in Maine for 7 years in a row.