Building Trust

Dog Training Unleashed : Lesson Three: “Flicking the Mental Lightswitch to ON”

By Julie Westphal, CVT (Certified Veterinary Technician), member of The Pet Professional Guild for Force-Free trainers, CPNC (Certified Pet Nutrition Consultant), PCWC (Purina Certified Weight Coach), Dog Trainer & Behaviorist, Volunteer for Northcentral Maltese Rescue, Doberman Rescue Alliance of Wisconsin, and referred to by several area animals hospitals for behavioral cases

Every day, in every situation, we offer “language cues” to each other and to other species, whether we are conscious of them or not. Physical or verbal, we are constantly sending out signals. Dogs read our body language much more readily than they ever will our verbal language, because that is how they are hard-wired. They are genetically programmed to use their mouths when threatened or scared and have a completely different set of behavioral rules than we do. This is why most humans and dogs get into, let’s say, behavioral skirmishes. By starting to understand how dogs think, how they learn, and then teaching them the rules to our very human society, we can have a much better relationship with them and avoid a lot of these unnecessary arguments.

The first step is actually realizing the psychological aspect of thinking patterns. First, realize that this is a TEAM effort and you are no longer going to “command” dogs…you are going to cue them, like with actors on stage who forget their lines. This way, if they fail to respond, we don’t feel as if we have to punish them for disobedience. It’s no different than everyday life…we ALL make mistakes. I learn much more from someone I trust than from someone I fear.

Remember, there is NO 100% in behavior – in ANY species! Training and behavior modification is a skill set. We must be open to learning new things – and modifying our own behavior as needed – in order to help teach others. We do not need physicality in order to teach our dogs what we expect. But we do need some creativity and consistency in how we teach them. The mental gambit is what sets us apart as trainers. Everyone who owns a dog is a trainer. It is what tools in our behavioral toolbox that we use and how we use them that matters. I urge all of my students to put themselves in similar learning environments that they have put their dogs in. Would YOU be willing to learn new skills with how you teach?

Perception is everything. How we see things in our world MATTERS. We cannot change any living creature’s behavior…unless THEY want to change, including ourselves. There is always a motivation for change. Training and behavior modification IS about manipulation. WHAT you manipulate is your choice. I choose to manipulate food, toys, and freedoms versus pain, anxiety, and outright fear. When working with our furry companions, try and understand how they see the world. This will help you create a confident bond based on trust. Most owners want “obedience”. I want a well-mannered dog that I could take anywhere, compete with on occasion for titles, and one who would also listen if I ask something of him/her in an emergency or under heavy distractions, while collarless. Once we know our own goals, we can begin to help our dogs achieve them.

So, I have designed a basic 4-step program for all of my students. Before I cue anything with my dogs, I need to TEACH them what the “doggie definition” to the human cue is. Sure, some of the obedience cues had already been learned to a certain extent through previous methods, but I wanted a fresh start as I developed my own program. So, when I decided to change my training methods, I started from the beginning. Clean Slate. I’ll now take you through what I have now developed as my “Calendar Cues” program, which I know can help not only the everyday companion owner who simply wants a well-mannered dog, but the transitioning correctional competition trainer. The four steps remain the same for ANY behavioral cue you would want to teach. As we go along we can develop behavioral chains (multiple cues strung together as one exercise) and more advanced behaviors, but for now, let’s teach our dogs the basic foundational behaviors they need to succeed.

EXERCISE: So what do you WANT your dog to be able to do?

--Take 10 minutes right now and list what you want your dog to learn. Start with 5–10 cues that you feel are the most important ones. We can also add to our list later!

--Now, take that list and assign ONE cue to ONE definition. Be as specific as you can, defining what you REALLY want your dog to learn.


----Sit = Butt on ground and looking at me

------Down = Butt on ground, laying down, elbows touching ground, tail relaxed/touching ground and looking at me

------Walk Nice = on my left, loose leash, with a 1foot ahead, 1foot to the side, and 1foot behind radius to me.

------Keys = Go get my keys and bring them to me.

------Shoe = Go pickup that (specific) shoe and bring it to me.


---This is your ongoing Obedience Vocabulary list. As you think of new things to do, add the cue and ideal definition to your list. There is no limit to the amount of things your dog can learn. There is no age limitation. Learning occurs lifelong. Keep growing your dog’s vocabulary list!

------Guinness’s Vocabulary Cue List (to date of this publication) includes over 300 cues!

In dog training, Opportunity Is Always Knocking…and all you need to do is say Yes! Seriously. Successful repetitions build habits and lifelong habits are what we are after, so anytime your dog offers a “correct” behavior, or one that you want to see happen again…Say Yes! and reward them for the good decision with something they like.

Over the years, I have been able to help people build solid relationships with their dogs. Whether just for home manners or moving forward to competition level work, the same concepts apply. A house is only as strong as the foundation it is built upon and so, when you build a solid training foundation based on trust and clear communication, you will be able to achieve your highest training goals.

So where to start? If you want to know more about my 4-step program, please give me a call: 262–308–2523 or visit me online:

Next up will be: Lesson Four: Just Say Yes!

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Dog Training Unleashed : Lesson Two: “Terms and Conditions May Apply”

By Julie Westphal, CVT (Certified Veterinary Technician), member of The Pet Professional Guild for Force-Free trainers, CPNC (Certified Pet Nutrition Consultant), PCWC (Purina Certified Weight Coach), Dog Trainer & Behaviorist for Northcentral Maltese Rescue, Doberman Rescue Alliance of Wisconsin, and referred to by several area animals hospitals.

So, after Lesson One, now that I am asking you to look into a mirror, I am not asking you to criticize yourself. I am simply asking you to start asking questions about how YOU would want to be treated if you were in the same situations.

You’re going to make mistakes along the way. We all do. Forgive yourself. Don’t regret what may have happened in the past. Today is the first day to the rest of you and your dog’s lives. So, let’s get this journey started!

Dog trainers and behaviorists have a vernacular all of their own. Many terms are commonly misconstrued or incorrectly represented in everyday conversation by people not engulfed in this passion or even just using these terms for marketing purposes only. Truly understanding a language starts with some basic foundational knowledge. There are some terms I want to define first, so we can move forward more quickly. In the next lesson, we will choose some basic terms that we will be using for our dogs’ beginning stages of learning, but first, let’s start with the behavioral concepts of: positive and negative, reinforcement and punishment. These terms may not actually mean what you think they mean, when discussed in a behavioral sense — there are plenty of people marketing them incorrectly as well, so knowing the true definitions can help you weed out non-behaviorists quickly.

Positive - means to ADD something         (this does not always mean “good” things)

Negative - means to SUBTRACT something  (this does not always mean “bad” things happen)

Reinforcement - means the behavior will occur again (increased likelihood of occurring again)

Punishment - means to stop a behavior, but not necessarily add something forceful (decreased likelihood of the behavior occurring again)

So, with that said, here are some examples:

+R (aka Positive Reinforcement)
Examples: food, toys, praise, walks, freedom

Something is ADDED when the desired behavior is demonstrated to REINFORCE it.

+P (aka Positive Punishment)
Examples: yelling no!, “corrections” on collars (shock, pinch, choke), physical punishment

The above are ADDED to STOP an undesirable behavior.

-R (aka Negative Reinforcement)
Examples: electric shock training, choke chain pressure, ear pinch (forced retrieve)

The above actions get removed (SUBTRACTED) when the desired behavior is demonstrated (thus REINFORCING the desired behavior).

-P (aka Negative Punishment)
Examples: turning your back, walking away, withholding attention 

The above are implemented (attention is SUBTRACTED) in order to STOP an undesirable behavior.

So what does all of this gibberish mean to you? All I want is for you to understand some of the terms that are bound to be tossed at you when seeking out continuing education options for your dog. Always question the person’s methods; seek to understand their terminology so that your dog will not fall victim to fear, anxiety, and possible increased aggression by suppression of emotions.

Positive Reinforcement is represented as: +R        

This means you are ADDING something in order to INCREASE the likelihood of a behavior being repeated. This is the BEST method to use and force-free professionals use it often!

Negative Reinforcement is represented as: -R      

This means that you are SUBTRACTING (taking something away) in order to increase the likelihood of a behavior being repeated. This is NOT a good method to use! This typically increases anxiety in the animal.

Positive Punishment is represented as: +P              

This means that you are ADDING something to decrease the likelihood that the behavior will occur again / make that behavior STOP. This is also NOT a good method to use! This increases anxiety in most animals and may even increase aggressive tendencies due to suppression of their emotions/responses!

Negative Punishment is represented as: -P             

This means you are SUBTRACTING something (taking something away) in order to decrease the likelihood that the behavior will occur again / make that behavior STOP. This is actually another quadrant that force-free professionals use on occasion, so this can be a GOOD method when used correctly!

Not exactly what you think those terms would mean, eh? This should also reinforce the fact that trainers are NOT 100% (because, remember, 100% in behavior doesn’t exist) “positive reinforcement.” Educated professionals use two quadrants readily, sometimes using a third with a verbal punishment word (“No” could technically be considered positive punishment) and stay away from the fourth entirely (negative reinforcement). See? Confusing, right? That’s okay, let’s keep going.

Let’s look at some dog training examples for just a moment. Let’s start with “Monty.” Monty jumps up on people and since he is a 72lb dog, he has the ability to hurt them and has even knocked a few of them over. His owner wants to stop this behavior as quickly as possible. We’ll go into the exact steps later, but let’s look at the training quadrant options available first.

**Side note: The owner has him on a metal choke chain, because that is what another trainer told the owner to do and I am using a CONTROLLED environment right now, with training assistants to evaluate and then teach them.

*Let’s look at an example of +P (positive punishment) first. Remember, this means to ADD something to STOP a behavior. Monty is at the end of his leash, jumping, when someone is trying to pass on the sidewalk. The owner yells “No!” but Monty keeps jumping. The “No!” is an example of positive punishment. The owner added the word and aggressive tone to try and stop the behavior. But it didn’t work in this case. So, did Monty actually learn anything? Probably not, except maybe to make the owner’s request “background noise.”

  • Next, we’ll look at an example of –R (negative reinforcement). This means to take something away to reinforce a behavior. This quadrant is particularly disturbing as, when I started out, trainers did this a lot (and still do). Monty is trying to jump up. Now, the owner pulls him back and uses his choke chain to force him onto the ground, into a down position. The choke chain tightens, cutting off the air supply and remains tight until Monty stops struggling and stays lying down. Then the owner loosens the pressure on the collar and Monty stays in a down. In this case, the owner REMOVED the choking sensation when Monty “settled” in a down position. The next passerby starts walking and he immediately jumps up and the owner reports they have to repeat this method every time someone walks by. It “works” to a certain extent, but only because the owner is controlling the leash. What if Monty was off-leash? We once again have to question: Did Monty really learn to stay “off”? Nope.

Now, let’s look at the two quadrants I use in my training programs most commonly: +R and -P.

In +R (positive reinforcement), I start to ask Monty to Sit AWAY from people. He does well with this, and so I have the person start to walk over slowly. (Again, we’ll go over exact program steps later for “Off” / “Proper Greetings,” but I’ve shortened it for this example.) With each step, I am Yesing and paying Monty for sitting. (Sit. Yes! Pay. Sit. Yes! Pay.) The person is next to Monty and can now also say “Sit. Yes!” and Pay for his proper greeting.  We’ve used Positive Reinforcement in this example. We do this for the next 3 people coming our way and by person 5, he is sitting automatically.

Now, the SECOND PART of my recommended training techniques includes -P (negative punishment). Every time a person took a step forward and Monty broke his Sit, they stepped AWAY, averting their eyes, discontinuing ALL interactions, thus decreasing his likelihood of breaking the sit the next time, because it didn’t work / made them actually GO AWAY, which is not something he wants. We went back to paying for appropriate behavior AND taking away attention/access to that attention when he responded poorly. Monty learned to sit very quickly when people approached.

Why? Because Monty likes Attention! MOST dogs do the things they do because it gets them what they want: attention, food, toys, etc. Every time he jumped up, people looked at him, talked to him, pushed him away (making it a GAME!) and gave him exactly what he wanted: Attention. He had NEVER learned that he can get our attention very quickly by sitting politely. We had just never taught him that in our world, the human world, that being polite is the best way to go about gaining attention.

Dogs do what works. You can either do all the work for them by correcting them at every turn. or teach them how to control themselves and earn rewards. Do YOU (or did you?) work for your paycheck? If you had not been paid, would you still have worked there? Rewards don’t ALWAYS have to be food, but we’ll later discuss why, in the beginning, that they should be. They can be tug games, games of fetch, freedom to be loose in the house, walking, and even praise/petting - if your DOG finds that rewarding. We always have to find what works for the DOG, not what WE think works.

So, if you are told by someone that he “never” uses negative punishment to train, you can now see that this would not really make sense, because it can be a VERY effective and humane method! Next, you may want to ask what they use instead. Behavior is about guidelines. There is no 100% positive learning, 100% of the time. That doesn’t mean we have to choose anxiety or fear-producing methods, however, to get them to learn something different if they offer an incorrect or undesirable behavior.

The concepts behind science-based and force-free methods of training are actually quite simple. Reward the behaviors you like. Remove the rewards for the behaviors you do not like. Then, introduce variable pay schedules and you’ll have an awesome habit in very little time that only requires a little maintenance here and there, but that is very rewarding for BOTH of you.

It may seem minor, but if you are choosing a professional to help you, it is very important to choose one that truly understands behavior principles, learning theory, and humane techniques. Dog training is an unregulated profession at this point in time, so buyer, beware. Behavior can get very bad, very fast when in the wrong hands. Dogs can do some severe damage and the legalities that ensue — or the lives lost — are usually unnecessary. There are certification programs, but I truly believe that you should be able to practice what you preach with your own dog. There are certified professionals that cannot use their own dogs for demonstration or have never achieved certifications in distracting environments. I recommend finding instructors who can prove reliable, happy obedience with their own dogs (even if just starting a new dog and the skill set is limited). You should at least be able to see the DOGS’ attitude while working. Are they happy? Tail up? Prancing, relaxed, and wanting to work? Or are the ears back, eyes darting around, tail down, body slinking or overly stiff, and anxious? Fast obedience to cues can also be deceptive to the average person. Is the dog fast because he is focused on the work and the possibility of a reward, or because he is avoiding something painful? A wagging tail does NOT necessarily mean a happy dog (we’ll cover more on that later).

My own credentials may not include dog training or behavioral certification at this time, but I am always willing to provide a demonstration of my dogs’ behavior and testimonials. I do, however, continue my own personal education by not only attending veterinary CE (because I am a licensed veterinary technician in the state of WI), but also by attending general behavioral CE events with professionals like: Sophia Yin, Patricia McConnell, the Clicker Expo and Suzanne Clothier. I am a proud member of the Pet Professional Guild for force-free dog trainers and my own personal videos are on Facebook and YouTube. I have both rescue and veterinary professionals who refer to me because of my methods and successes. I’ve given Seminars locally, have instructed at a local kennel club, and also compete with and title my own personal dog. Although I have trained and titled adult dogs for others prior to and concurrent with owning Guinness, he is actually my first dog. Every success and mistake is mine alone. Guinness and I have learned these methods together, as his entrance into my life was when I was transitioning from correctional-based training to science-based methods and we both spent some time confused! Although I have been in the animal care field since 2001, 2006 started my career of using more trust-building and force free methods of training and modifying behavior.

So, where did I start? How did I go from training dogs with stern vocals and correctional jerks to a more fun and confidence-building manner that doesn’t require a leash or collar at all? A big part of transitioning was getting the mental aspect right. I hope to help you, the reader, see just how much fun you can have with your dog when you build a relationship based on trust and understanding. Then you can help others. My mission in life is this:

Changing the World, One Pet At A Time. Now, let me help you change your world.

Can’t wait for the next lesson? Give me a call and let’s get you started on the right paw! 262–308–2523.

Next up will be “Lesson Three: Flicking the Mental Light Switch to ON”

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Dog Training Unleashed – Lesson One: Looking Into The Mirror

By Julie Westphal, CVT (Certified Veterinary Technician), CPNC (Certified Pet Nutrition Consultant), PCWC (Purina Certified Weight Coach) Dog Trainer & Behaviorist, Volunteer, Northcentral Maltese Rescue & Doberman Rescue Alliance of Wisconsin

Whether training your dog – or simply living life - it is human nature to try and come up with excuses behind why things happen, or attach reasons to behaviors and actions. In truth, it is simply that the incompatible behaviors have not been taught yet. There are no guarantees in behavior; there is no 100% all the time, every time. Life is full of variables, so I cannot promise anything EXCEPT: When you create a solid, happy bond that is based on trust, and clearly communicate your cues (after they are truly trained habits), you will have a happily responding dog that will not require any type of equipment to “correct” or create fear because you will be clearly communicating and building trust.

My first goal with any training session is to evaluate the relationship between pet and human. How the dog responds to a cue? What does the owner do if the dog doesn’t respond? When I ask what behaviors their dogs are performing, behaviors that the owners are concerned about, most owners typically list what they feel are the naughty behaviors, but then usually very quickly list the reasons as to WHY those behaviors are occurring. Most humans like to problem solve, but this leads us down a slippery slope if we don’t actually understand the real problem.

I want to address the most common responses first — and even I am even guilty of some of these statements from time to time, but always, I make myself look into the mirror!

It Takes 1000s of Repetitions to Form A Habit

1) “He’s just a puppy…” (Or - was a puppy, and they thought he would outgrow it.)

Sadly, puppies do not often “outgrow” problematic behaviors. Destructive behaviors, especially if driven by any type of anxiety or inability to feel comfortable while alone, can lead to severe separation anxiety, like chewing through drywall later on in life (yes, I have been consulted for a case such as this). Just like human children without guidance, these naughty (or sometimes we even think “cute”) behaviors develop into more complex and even dangerous behaviors. Sometimes, like with nipping as a puppy, it develops into further lack of impulse control as an adult, which can sometimes even lead to a bite-caused lawsuit, or even the pet losing his or her life.

2) “She is a rescued dog…” (Sometimes, we are discussing behavior concerns, such as anxiety or fear, months or even years after being rescued, however.)

Being rescued doesn’t necessarily mean the pet has a disability. It actually means that YOU now have the opportunity to help this pet start with a fairly clean slate, develop into a healthier and happier dog, confident in her surroundings and learning how to trust again. Sometimes we know the rescued dog’s history, sometimes not. Either way, it doesn’t matter all that much RIGHT NOW, as we can start from today and move forward. We all have emotional baggage. Traumatic experiences DO matter. How we learn to overcome that baggage – those experiences – is what matters MOST. We can keep these seemingly more sensitive dogs safe from their fears, then slowly and systematically de-sensitize them and build their confidence and trust. Much like we do when humans are traumatized, but we’ll talk more about this later.

3) “He was abused (or neglected) so that is why he is aggressive…” (Again, sometimes we are discussing this months or years after adoption…when habits have worsened.)

Sometimes we know about abuse or neglect and sometimes we just assume this by something the dog does. Taking a step back and realizing how your dog is REACTING is the point. We must learn what NORMAL dog behaviors, and thus reactions, are before we assume that trauma has occurred. This doesn’t mean normal dog behaviors are always acceptable in our human world, but it definitely can help us factor in why the dog is responding the way he or she is. Where the behavior comes from doesn’t matter anymore, because YOU are now the key to success. If you are seeing behavior you don’t like, you MUST take steps to change it. HOW we do that will make the difference between whether that behavior continues or not. Living in terror all the time is NOT fun and most aggression actually stems from fear and lack of trust. We’ll talk more about this as we go on as well.

4) “She’s just stubborn! She KNOWS what I want!”

This one is hard to contradict because it really forces the person to focus on his or her OWN behavior and modify training techniques. Put simply: Dogs do what works.

—They jump up and then you look at them or squeak like a toy = FUN!

—People walk by on the street and dogs bark and the people walk away = SUCCESS!

—They pull on the leash and you follow (even one step) = A tight leash gets me to where I want to go!

Training is a skill set. It’s like learning another language or advancing skills for a job. We have to practice and put forth effort or we will never succeed.

So, we must look in the mirror when we think we have a “difficult dog” or see behaviors we don’t like. How are we reinforcing them? How can we show the dog those behaviors don’t work anymore? What can we teach them, so that they can know what to do instead?

It takes THOUSANDS of repetitions to form a habit. Just because your dog has sat on his/her haunches 10 times when you were sitting on the couch or by the kitchen counter doesn’t mean he actually “knows” sit when outside in the yard, in the car, at the pet store, vet, or at the dog park. We have to help our dogs generalize that: when good behaviors are offered, good rewards happen everywhere. Only when we see our dogs starting to sit when we say “Sit…” - in ANY environment, under ANY distraction - can we truly say they “know it.” Until then you have to help them learn it by setting up each environment for success, preventing reinforcement (or removing that reinforcement) of behaviors you don’t want, and then positively reinforcing (even celebrating!) ONLY the behaviors that you DO want.

So, if you’ve ever found yourself saying any of those things above (or anything similar), LET IT GO.

Nook in the mirror and ask yourself: What can I do to help my dog succeed?

Next, we will begin the process of building a training relationship based on trust and clear communication…and not fear.

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Last edited by Tyler Schuster.   Page last modified on January 29, 2016

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