Pawsibilities NY

Obedience, Training & Tricks

“Drop It,” Doesn’t Mean, “I’ll Take It!”

Teaching your dog to drop items from her mouth is a useful and necessary skill, especially for city dogs.  There are so many hazardous things on the street, it is easy for your dog to pick up something that is bad for her. You may have tried to teach your dog a cue that means she should drop items, but you might find that your dog is reluctant to respond when the item is very high value.  If this is the case it is possible that your dog thinks “drop it” means you are going to take something away from her.  It is important when training this cue to allow your dog to have a toy or treat that is safe for her to keep, because in the beginning you absolutely do not want to take the item away!  “Drop it” does not mean you are going to take the item away.  If your dog has resource guarding issues please visit one of my resource guarding blogs, but do not continue with this training method if you have seen resource guarding in your dog.

You want to think of your “drop it” practice as deposits in the bank; overtime you can trade your dog, or give your 10888702_778469304156_8121108130448426177_ndog a reward for letting something go from her mouth, this is a deposit in her bank.  This way if you find yourself without anything to trade and your dog grabs a chicken bone on the street, you have enough deposits to make this withdrawal! You should not believe that simply because you gave your dog an item this means you should just be able to take it away at any time; this is not true for any of your human relationships, and you probably like your dog better than a lot of humans!

“Drop it” as a cue for your dog should only mean she has to release what is in her mouth.  To properly train this cue, without poisoning it, you must practice with a toy or item your dog can safely continue to chew on.  To begin get several tasty treats and allow your dog to begin to chew on a treat or toy.

  1. Walk passed your dog and drop a treat near her toy as you pass, you don’t have to say anything. Repeat several times, until your dog looks up at you eagerly as you approach, or even follows you.
  2. Approach your dog and reach for the toy, but instead of taking it, leave a treat behind.  Repeat this several times until your dog is excited for you to approach.
  3. Say “drop it” to your dog, just once, then approach, trade her for a treat, and walk away, leaving her with the toy!  This is key; DO NOT TAKE THE TOY AWAY!
  4. Repeat step 3 until your dog will respond to the “drop it” cue before you present the treat, but still reward her at the end!  Remember these rewards are your bank deposits, so keep on saving up!
  5. Each day, or each new practice session, start from step 1, even if it takes you less time to progress.

Chirag Patel created a wonderful youtube video about teaching drop it, in this video you can see that when he begins to teach “drop it” he doesn’t even use an item, but instead gets the dog used to hearing the verbal cue “drop it” and opening his mouth, and being reinforced and rewarded by finding tasty treats on the ground.  This is a great visual aid in teaching this cue to your dog.

Chirag Patel’s “Drop It” Video

It is a good idea to practice twice a day for no more than 5 minutes each session; always ending on a good note but not pushing too far!  Even if you don’t complete all 5 steps in 5 minutes, quit where you are and try again later.  It is important not to push it.  If at any point you feel your dog is resource guarding the item, please stop this method and seek professional help.

The Five Rules of a Reliable Recall

The Five Rules of a Reliable RecallThere are five rules to teaching, and maintaining a reliable recall:

1. Choose the right word. “Come” may be the most popular word for this behavior, but it may not be the best choice. If your dog goes to day care, or spends time with dog walkers and other people who will say “come” to your dog too much, this can sometimes desensitize your dog to this word. If your dog hears this word all the time, but he is not required to come, then he won’t when you need him to. Another popular word is “here” because it is used far less, and for that I like this choice. A young dog trainer taught me a great option in one of our lessons, which was to use “treat” as your recall word because it has a positive association to your dog. You can teach your dog any word as long as you are consistent.

2. Never follow your recall with something your dog views as unpleasant. This is crucial to the success of your recall! I find it is even helpful to make a list of your dog’s least favorite things, this way you have a clear list of times to NOT use your recall word. Some examples include: leaving the dog park, going to the vet, being put into the crate, getting nails clipped and taking medications. Do not call your dog to come to you, and then cut his nails, or clean his ears; we want this to be a cue that your dog hears and thinks all the best things happen after this, not all his least favorite things. If you do call your dog to “come” and he comes over to you happily and then you leave the dog park, all his fun ends, it will only take a few times before he no longer comes over happily, so be careful not to un-train all your hard work!

3. Give your dog his favorite reward for coming when called. Since this cue is so important you want to reward your dog with his absolute favorite thing! For a lot of dogs you will want to try boiled chicken, bacon or cheese to earn a strong recall, but some dogs prefer a tennis ball, tug toy or even play with a real-fur dog toy, you can buy these from Know what your dog truly loves most, not what you want him to, and use it for this cue! Don’t stop rewarding your recall ever! You can eventually make rewards random, but don’t ever completely stop because it is just too important!

4. Don’t scold your dog when you do catch him! This might sound crazy, but just imagine you are in the park and it is time to go, you call your dog to come and instead he turns this opportunity into a huge game of tag! All of a sudden there are people in the park chasing your dog, trying to help you catch him, when eventually you do catch your dog, you might feel tempted to scold him and say “Bad Dog! Don’t you ever do that to me again, BAD DOG!” But unfortunately you have now followed your recall with something your dog definitely does not like; being scolded. Instead, don’t worry about all the people watching, and praise your dog like crazy, even shower him with treats and his favorite kinds of scratching or petting. This way the next time he considers engaging in a game of tag he will remember how much more rewarding it was to just come on over to you because you were fun and happy and had lots of good food to share!

5. Don’t skip the warm up! It is important to be sure your dog knows his recall word in each and every different kind of environment. Any time you are in a new place, start from the beginning and warm up your recall, this will make it much easier to get your dog to listen when you really need him to.

So now that you know the rules, learn how to train the perfect recall in my post Teaching Your Dog a Reliable Recall.

What Is Clicker Training?

What Is Clicker Training?You may have heard of clicker training, and you may not be quite certain what it is. Is it right for me? Is it right for my dog? Do I always need the clicker? Where did Clicker Training come from? As a force free dog trainer I find clicker training extremely useful, but perhaps not in the way some of you are accustomed, or perhaps in a way you haven’t heard of; I like to use it for capturing.

In clicker training, the click is a marker for the moment the animal has shown us a desired behavior. To teach the dog this we start by warming up the clicker, simply by clicking and feeding a treat after we click. At first you can click anytime, as long as your dog isn’t doing something naughty. We teach the dog to understand that that sound predicts good things coming. It is the same idea as Pavlov’s Dogs who learned the sound of the bell meant their food was coming, and thus the bell made the dogs’ mouths to water in anticipation of what follows. This is exactly what we want our dog to learn about the click.

After warming up the clicker with the reward immediately following, we want to vary the amount of time between the marker (click) and the reward, this way we can still use the marker when our dog is far away, because he has learned that sometimes the rewards take a bit longer following the marker. Once we have finished warming up the clicker, we can start to use it for training. Trainers use the clicker for everything from basic obedience, to shaping. Shaping is when we decide a desired behavior, let’s say a spin, and then we will start with very low criteria for the dog to earn clicks, so we may click and treat when the dog simply turns her head. Then once the dog is offering us a head turn, we may only click if the dog turns her head at least a quarter of the way around, and so on until the full spin is the only behavior that earns the click.

I personally love to use clickers for capturing. Capturing is when we don’t ask our dog for a specific behavior, but simply wait for her to offer us the behavior on her own, and then I capture this with a click and treat! For example, if your dog barks at the doorbell, I love the clicker to help teach quiet. Dogs mimic our behaviors, so when they are barking, any talking from us is likely to make the barking worse. Especially the yelling match that sometimes happens: BARK, “QUIET,” BARK, “QUIET,” which came first? I find it much better to ring the doorbell, let your dog bark, and wait for the quiet, as soon as your dog offers you some quiet, click and treat! Remember the example of the spin, criteria should change, so when you first start this your dog should earn a click for even a moment of quiet, but as you train you can change the criteria to two seconds of quiet, then four, and so on.

Another good example is using the clicker to train your dog not jump using capturing. Allow your dog to jump, and as soon as she stops, click and treat. After a while, if you notice that she looks like she wants to jump, but holds herself back, click and treat for this and even jackpot her with 3 small treats in a row for making such good choices!  I love to use clickers for capturing because dogs think they are training us to click by offering us nice behaviors. Even if you don’t think you will need a clicker I think it is best to warm up the clicker to your dog so that if you need it, she already knows what it means, and the best news is, it is never too early, or too late to start clicker training! If you are interested in clicker training, please go to our ‘Contact Us‘ Page and fill in your information, include a note about the clicker blog, and your favorite colors, and I will happily send you a Pawsibilities Clicker to get started!

Teaching Your Dog a Reliable Recall

Teaching Your Dog a Reliable RecallWhat does recall mean when it pertains to dog training? Don’t worry, you don’t have to send your dog back to the factory! Recall is the fancy word dog trainers use to explain the behavior of coming when called.

Teaching your dog to come when called is very important, in fact it could be the most important cue you teach your dog. This cue could save your dog’s life, end a possible dog fight and especially bring you peace of mind when you are in an appropriate place to have your dog off leash.

How do you teach your dog to come when you call him? Remember CPR Cue, Praise, Reward; as this is always the best way to teach your dog a new cue. Choose the cue you want to use for your recall. If you aren’t sure check out our Five Rules to a Reliable Recall. I like to start indoors, with little distraction and I usually keep the dog on a 6 foot leach. Put the loop of the leash onto your wrist, or belt, and have some very tasty treats in your pocket or treat pouch close by, but not in your hands. Once you are set up this way you are ready for the warm up.

For the warm up start by getting your dog interested in you. Do this by doing some of his favorite things, be careful not to do things you love to do to your dog, these are fine for affection time, but not for our recall. You can test this out by petting and scratching your dog in different places and just see if he tends to move away from you or closer, for the areas he moves closer, these are his favorites! Once your dog is very interested in you, back up a few steps, about the length of the leash, say your recall word, only once, and if your dog is happily following along praise, and then reward with a tasty treat. If your dog doesn’t come along with you, try to stay low and make some movement such as tapping the ground. The warm up should almost seem silly because it should be that easy for your dog to get right! Do several of these short easy recalls so your dog can warm up his recall. Use your warm up anytime you are in a new environment, to ensure a
reliable recall.

Once you are getting it, you can add some distance. At this point you may want to use a fixed length long leash, 15-30 feet. These leashes are great for teaching a dog his recall, but use caution as they can be thin, you may want to consider wearing gloves when using one, or even buying a horse lunge line to use because these tend to be thicker, but are the right length. Don’t use your “stay” cue to try and increase distance, because if we ask our dog to stay and walk away and call him to come we are weakening our stay cue. Instead drop some treats on the floor, or practice with two people so one can help distract. Call your dog to come to you by saying your recall word only once and then encouraging your pup to come with fun noises, or tapping on the floor. A dog’s vision is attracted to motion so this will help, but try to make sure the movement is nice and low, don’t just clap your hands at full height because it will likely be out of the dog’s vision range.

Don’t ever chase your dog; let him learn to chase you. As you increase the distance for your recall, if your dog is dawdling to come over to you, run away a few feet, but be excited and make it a game so your dog speeds up to chase you and finishes his recall.

The final key to a great recall is to be sure you praise as soon as your dog even starts to get this right. Your praise should be very powerful to your dog at this point, especially if you have been training using CPR, because your praise is always followed by rewards. Try to think of practicing recalls like a game of hot and cold. If your dog isn’t facing you and sniffing the ground away from you: COLD, if your dog even looks your way, WARMER, so give him a little praise, as soon as he looks your way tell him “Good Boy” and see if he continues to come your way, if he does it means he is getting warmer and warmer so up your praise along with what he is doing. If at any point he veers off path, then stop praising, but as soon as he starts to get it right again praise again, and as soon as he gets to you, HOT! Shower him with rewards.

Finally don’t forget that part of your recall will usually include clipping on a leash or putting on a collar, so practice grabbing the leash and collar and clipping them on and off along with your training. This way your dog won’t come to you, but then run away when you try to put the leash on. It is always best to end with the treat, so clip on the leash and then give your dog a treat. This is the idea of the good follows the bad, if the leash is the bad because it is ending the fun, follow it with some tasty chicken and it won’t be so bad! Practice your recall every single day, and try practicing in different places adding distance and distractions. You only need to practice for five minutes, we all have a spare five minutes, and it could save your dog’s life so it will be the best five minutes you have ever spent!

How to Use CPR to Train Your Dog


Start in a quiet place where you dog has no distractions and when his motivation is high, like after a walk but before feeding times.

Try to make your timing consistent:

Say the cue,

if it takes 5 seconds for your dog to perform the behavior,

praise as soon as he does,

but wait 5 seconds to reward.

Now your dog wants to respond to your cues faster because he wants to earn the reward faster.

CPR works best with lure-reward based training.

This means you will have a food treat in your fingertips that creates a magical, invisible string that will allow you to “pull” your dog anywhere you want him to go.

We would never want to actually physically push or pull our dog to do something because they aren’t really learning anything when we do this.  Putting your hands on an animal is a privilege, not a right! Even when it is your dog.

With lure-reward training it is vital to get the food out of your fingertips as soon as your dog can respond without it.  This means you can still use your hand to help signal what you are looking for, but don’t get your dog used to you always having food in your hands because then your cues won’t work when the food isn’t there.


When training a brand new behavior, we want to leave off the C, or cue, at first, until we are sure we can get our dog to perform the task we are looking for.  We want to add the cue when we are certain we can get the behavior.  The cue can be any word you choose to define a behavior.  It can be a word that describes the actual behavior, or a word that means something to you.  For example, if we are training the behavior of our dog lowering his rump to the ground, we very often choose the word “sit” to be our cue, because this defines the act we are seeing.  If you are training your dog to come when called you may choose a word like “here” because this won’t be repeated in your dog’s daily life when he is not expected to come over.  Whereas “here” can remain a high value cue because your dog will only hear this cue when he is expected to come over.


Your praise is so important, so don’t skip the praise!  If your dog does what you are asking, you have to let her know she got it right!  If it took her a long time to respond to your cue, you can alway delay your reward, or even keep your praise low level.  It is good to control your praise so that it suits your training.  You can have two different kinds of praise: red light praise and green light praise.  Red light praise is when you praise your dog calmly and in a soft tone.  Red light praise is great to use during a stay cue so you don’t get your dog so excited that she breaks her stay because of your praise.  Green light praise is very happy excitable praise, usually in a high pitch, friendly voice.  Green light praise is great for your recall, or coming when called, because this praise usually gets your dog excited and if you have been doing your C P R correctly, she even should be expecting a reward after such green light praise.  This will keep her coming to you the entire way, even if she encounters some distractions like squirrels or other dogs.  If she hears your excitable praise and she knows what comes next, she will make sure she gets all the way back to you-and in a hurry!  You can also praise more calmly if you waited a longer time for the behavior.  If you ask your dog to sit and it takes her 10 seconds to sit, you still should praise as soon as her rump hits the floor but you can praise calmly as you might want your dog to respond faster than that.  You always want to mark the moment your dog does what you are asking with praise, regardless of how long it takes her to respond.  Your praise is the “click” in clicker training, so if you are using a clicker for C P R, you will click as you P or Praise.


The reward always comes at the end, that way it is the easiest thing to fade out of the equation, especially if it is food.  It is a good idea to figure out things your dog sees as real life rewards.  There are definitely things your dog looks forward to, and there is no reason not to use these things as part of your training.  Any higher ground is a reward; being on the couch, in bed or even in your arms are all examples of higher ground.  I will never say your dog can’t sleep in your bed, but I will say it is a privilege that he should lose if he misbehaves.  The best news is, you never need to stay mad at your dog!  Once he has moved on, so should you!  So if your dog is in bed, and he barks at you, then have him get out of bed.  If he sits quietly once he is out of bed, then you can allow him the reward of getting back into bed.  When practicing in training sessions you can count how long it takes for your dog to respond to the cue, and then you can reward your dog the same amount of time after your praise.  So if it takes your dog 10 seconds to sit, it can take you 10 seconds to deliver him the reward.  It is a good idea to make a list of real life things your dog sees as a rewards.  Below are a few examples, but feel free to add a few that are specifically for your dog:

  1. Going for a walk
  2. Belly Rubs
  3. Lowering the food bowl
  4. _______________
  5. _______________

3 Quick Fixes That Don’t Work

There are a lot of different tools out there that claim they will help you to train your dog, quickly and effectively.  Most products that boast such results are, unfortunately not only misleading, but also can be quite damaging to your dog.

The first example are sprays designed to stop your dog from chewing.  These sprays either are supposed to taste unpleasant, or smell so bad that your dog doesn’t want to go near them.  These sometimes can be effective in stopping your dog from chewing a specific item, shortly after it has been sprayed with the anti-chew spray.  The problem is, they wear off quickly, and don’t actually change your dog’s behavior of chewing inappropriate items.

When used as a management tool, along side positive reinforcement training, this can be somewhat effective, but I will warn that it can easily get onto your hands and clothes and can be quite bitter.  I will occasionally try using these sprays in circumstances with very hazardous things that cannot easily be moved, or removed, such as wires.  Treating wires with bitter spray can help stop your dog from chewing, but you better buy a lot of spray and get ready to spend a lot of time applying it, if you don’t pair it with training.

You can train your dog to have better chewing habits in many ways.  Redirecting your dog to appropriate chew toys, and feeding him from a food stuffed toy are two quick examples of ways you can actually train your dog to not chew inappropriate house hold items, and save yourself the trouble and money of using these sprays.  Another option is tin foil.  Wraping things like wires and chair legs with tin foil will make it unpleasant for your dog to bite into.  Just like with the sprays, the tin foil is not a quick fix, and should be paired with training.

The second example are all the different anti bark devices, including citronella and shock collars, and table top bark deterrents.  The collars are designed to sit directly on your dog’s vocal cords and the vibration of your dog barking sets off the spray of citronella, or the shock from a shock collar.  The table top devices are set to use high pitch sound emissions as punishment when the dog barks, they are set off by loud noises, so your dog might get punished for a siren roaring by, or the people in the apartment next door hanging pictures, and he won’t understand why.

The collars don’t ever teach your dog what you are looking for: quiet.  The dog just gets sprayed in the face, over and over, or shocked several times, every time he barks, and no other feedback is given.  Dog’s behavior will naturally mean they repeat successes and with these collars there is no success for the dog to repeat.  Think of what a confusing and unclear message the collar is sending, while not teaching your dog anything at all.  The shock stopping, or not getting sprayed by the citronella is not a reward for your dog, it is rather the lack of punishment.  The lack of punishment is not reinforcement; for a behavior to be reinforced, there must be something the dog can view as a reward.

Also it is important to take note that citronella is poison.  Any and all citronella collars will come with directions to wash your hands if your come into contact with the citronella, and to be very careful not to touch your eyes or face, and then we go ahead and put it around our dog’s neck and spray them right in the face with this poison!  Citronella is also very dangerous if there is a baby or children in the family; it can of course be highly toxic to them as well.

You would absolutely never want to use one of these on a dog who is barking out of anxiety.  If your dog only barks when he is alone then you MUST count these collars and devices out.  You simply cannot punish the fear out of your dog, and if you try you will make it worse, that will be a quick breakdown you can count on, instead of the quick fix you were hoping for.

Dogs are very clever animals they also learn very quickly when they are wearing the collar and when they are not.  They also learn to rub their neck against things to move the box and then they are off and barking again!  Finally dogs do desensitize to things, we count on this for some training, you can count on them desensitizing to these collars if you aren’t doing any training or positive reinforcement.

I like to use a clicker to stop dog’s from barking.  Check out my blog about clicker training if you are not familiar (see: What Is Clicker Training?).  Then I just let the dog bark all he wants, and as soon as he is quiet, I click and feed a treat.  After a few repetitions, be sure to vary the length of time your dog must demonstrate the quiet before he earns the click and treat.

Third and lastly I don’t like the use of prong collars or choke chains to stop dogs from pulling and/or teach obedience.  Some people believe it is the proper way to teach your dog to walk; slap on that prong or choke and anytime they get ahead or pull, jerk them back into heel position.  The problem is there is no teaching involved; this is entirely punishment.  Again it gives your dog no idea of the correct behavior and how best to repeat this.  So you will see time and time again your dog continues to trot out in front and needs to be jerked back.

Also using leash jerks to train a dog it’s cues or commands; saying “sit” to your dog and then jerking the leash if he doesn’t sit immediately does not encourage him to work faster for you, but instead it usually causes a period of shut down, where the dog is afraid to proceed with any behavior out of fear of being jerked.  This doesn’t encourage your dog to think or make proper decisions on his own, and is extremely difficult to fade, meaning that most people who use these tactics cannot get their dogs to respond when the prong or choke is not on.

It is much better to teach your dog the behavior you are looking for.  Teach your dog to walk by your side by holding a treat in front of his nose and keeping him right where you want him with the treat.  Every few steps reinforce him for being in the heel position by feeding him the treat.  You can also teach your obedience this way.  Your dog will respond to your obedience cues on and off leash because the leash isn’t involved in the training (or punishment really.)

Anytime you consider using punishment or harsh methods with your dog, remember that there is always the chance for very negative fall out.  Not only have prong collars been proven to cause brain damage, vision loss and skin conditions, they can also create negative associations for your dog with things he will encounter everyday such as other dogs and children.  It won’t take too many jerks on that prong or choke in the presence of other dogs or children before your dog thinks they could be the cause of his pain, and you will see your dog become more reactive and even seemingly aggressive towards these triggers.  Now the quick fix tool has left you with a complex problem to face, and you can count on a long road to fix the fall out from the “quick fix.”

It is an old saying, but a true saying; if it seems too good to be true, it probably is.  Your dog is not a bike, or a car, you can’t just send him to the mechanic for a few days and he will come back fixed.  Dogs are complex animals, they are extremely intelligent and sensitive.  If taking the time to train your dog what you want, rather than just punishing him for making mistakes, is too overwhelming for you, then perhaps the commitment of a dog is not right for you either.  If you want to encourage a relationship of learning, patience and understanding, then the possibilities are endless for you and your dog!