The problem with hands

My inspiration for many years Meika.  Thanks for helping me to be a better teacher.

I recently started working with a new client and her dog.  The dog’s original owner passed away and was left with the sister.  This dog is the inspiration for this story.  I will not post names to protect the innocent( the dog’s) I was told that this dog was very shy of hands and had bitten several people even though this dog was toothless I am sure if he had teeth the bites would have been bad.  I met with my client and talked about her goals and about the dogs history with other dogs and people.  my client had been given all sorts of really bad advise as far as training for her new dog from squirting water in the dogs face to hitting the dog if he protested for grooming.  The person who had the dog before my client had groomed this dog in front of my client, she would pull out his ear hairs and eye brow hairs with tweezers and if the dog protested he was hit.  She cut his ear really bad and instead of treating the injury she pinched his ear until he screamed.  My client felt very uneasy about this approach which is why she sought out help of a more positive nature.

When I first met this dog I wanted him to feel safe so I immediately started playing a game with him called treat and retreat, a game I play with every new dog I meet regardless of what the issue is.  This very simple game helps to form some kind of a positive meeting and relationship between the dogs and myself before we start working.  I found this little guy to be very hand shy. Even though he has no teeth I treated him with the respect of a shark.  Hands are supposed to be a safe thing for dogs not a prediction of pain or punishment which is what this little guy had a lot of in his life when it came to handling.  it is very important that we teach new puppies that hands are predictable forms of reinforcement and not pain.  Still some in the pet care industry insist on doing some pretty rude things to very young puppies when it comes to normal mouthing.  One local vet told a puppy class client to grab the puppies lower jaw and squeeze really hard until the puppy let go and after the puppy screamed in protest.  Whatever happened to “do no harm”?  fortunately there are more great vets that do no harm then then the opposite and since the creation of the fear free vet visits and that certification it is getting better, just not fast enough for me and for a lot of puppies and dogs out there.

Since my first visit with my client her dog is doing much better with handling and his dog reactivity, I can touch his body and tell when he has had enough becasue he is learning he has other choice to ask for distance from the human hand which he did not know before.  I want to thank my client and her dog for being the inspiration for this story.  Remember hands can be a great tool for healing or a tool for injury.  Also remember that your dog is capable of hurting you everyday and chooses not too becasue of many different things which are beyond the scope of the story.  Please if you feel the need to ever hit your dog remember that fact that this animal could hurt you but could also save your life in an emergency.  Teach your dog or any animal that hands are safe and not to be feared, practice safe handling and give the same respect to your dog, cat horse or whatever you have and the rewards will be many.  Teach your dog that hands are not safe and you will get what you might not expect.

Thank you to Micha for being the inspiration for this story.



Be the first to comment - What do you think?  Posted by admin - May 8, 2018 at 8:31 pm

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Not my dog!!!

This is my girl Meika.

This is something I have been struggling with for quite some time.  If it were not for some recent clients and their struggles I may have chosen not to share our experience.  I cannot remember a time in my life where dogs have not been a huge part of my life.  I have been blessed with so many great dogs that I have shared my life with and worked with.  I have only been bitten once in my life by a stray dog because I believe I learned at a very young age to respect all animals and not push them to the point where they will bite.  I also have worked with enough dogs hopefully be able to read them pretty well. A couple of years ago we adopted a very large boy named Jax.  Jax had not been socialized to many people in his life so at first glance he was pretty afraid of new people.  His previous homes were not the best fit for Jax although he was loved sometimes that is just not enough.  We decided to adopt him to our family.  We had his brother Cole who had been with us for 4 years and we had the room and the time to help Jax.  Things were going pretty well, we had introduced Jax to several new people as well as other dogs and he did pretty good.  Initially he was very afraid of car rides and after about 6 months of working with him he was much more comfortable and seemed to enjoy the trips.  Jax was also involved in helping us work with other dogs as in many way’s he was a lot like his brother Cole who is very adept at reading other dogs and their needs.  We thought a Job for jax would be great.  During the time we had him he worked with about 4 dogs and was a great help.

Looking back at some things we just did not think were very important have hit me like a freight train since we lost him. Now for the rest of the story.  It was march of 2017.  I was getting  ready to go work with a client and had just got our of the shower and dressed.  I came into the kitchen and saw my wife Pam running towards our driveway.  Then I heard a scream both human and dog.  I ran out of the door to see Jax attacking our older Aussie Flash.  He had a very tight hold of Flashes back end and Pam was on top of Flash to make sure Jax could not get to his neck.  I yelled at Jax to no avail that is when it suddenly turned into a life threatening attack to Pam.  Jax had let go of Flash and had Pam by the leg and was picking her up off the ground like she weighed nothing. He was violently shaking Pam by the leg and was not going to let her go.  I grabbed Jax by the collar and tried to get him off of Pam.  After what seemed like an eternity he finally let go then started circling both Pam and Flash barking very loudly.  I was able to get a hold of him and take him the the house so I could see how bad Pam was hurt. When I got to Pam she was in shock and bleeding very badly from her leg wound.  I got the bleeding stopped and we were off to the hospital.  Pam had to drive herself which was no easy task.  I could not leave Jax alone with the rest of the dogs who were trying to figure out what had happened.  I loaded jax into my car and we were off to the hospital.

Pam was seen right away which was a huge relief.  The attending doctor said that in 30 years of practicing emergency medicine he had never seen a bite so bad. He told Pam that she would never have full feeling of her leg becasue of the trauma done to her.  I knew she was in good hands so I want to check on Jax n the car.  He was pacing and drooling and very stressed.  I knew what had to be done still it was not an easy choice.  I made an appointment to have Jax humanely put to sleep.  Because of the nature of the attack and the bite itself which was a level 6 on the Dunbar scale I knew that Jax would not be able to be around Pam or the other dogs again and re-homing him was not an option.  I did not tell Pam what I had done until it was done as she was very upset and did not Blame jax.  Pam and I are very experienced dog people and have never experienced an attack from our own dogs before.  Needless to say this surprised us so much I immediately thought what did we do wrong?  Jax was loved, he was healthy, he got plenty of exercise and enrichment so why did this happen?

I also knew if I had not been at home Jax would have killed Pam and probably some of our other dogs.  I have heard all of my life as well as in my professional career that ” it just happened out of the blue and there was no warnings signs” I always tell my clients that behavior just does not happen for no reason.  There is something in the background that is causing it.  After the attack I started trying to figure out what might have caused it to escalate so fast to the point where our own dog attacked so viciously.  Pam later told me that she had been walking the dogs like usual for their daily 2 miles and everything was going good like usual.  She said that Flash went over by a tree on our property and all of a sudden yelped.  She said at that point Jax came from about 300 feet and attacked Flash.  Was this an unprovoked attack or something that had been building for months.  Out of all the dogs we had Jax and Flash had the most I would say uneasy relationship.  On many occasions Flash would be quietly chewing on a bone or chew toy and Jax would go over to him and bark in his face.  Flash did his best to ignore Jax and I would step in and provide the exact same toy for Jax but that was not enough as he wanted the toy that Flash had and he was not going to stop until he got that one toy.  Flash was not about to give it up and I think this frustrated Jax a lot.  This happened several times and I thought a long as it is not escalating it was not that big of a deal. Looking back on this now it was that big of a deal to Jax.  His frustration with Flash finally hit a boiling point and he took his opportunity to attack him.

We had left both of these dog’s alone several times with no incidence, they had never physically fought.  I do believe that out of Jax’s frustration that is why the attack occurred and Pam was just in his way of getting to Flash and taking him out.  This was a redirected bite to Pam and I believe it was not personal.   The point of sharing this story is that I made some very bad errors in noticing Jax and Flash and their interactions and maybe this could have been prevented or not we will never know.  I know that dogs will be dogs but when they attack their humans that is when it gets very scary.  After all we love them, we feed them, we care for them, and provide shelter and safety but I feel that is not enough. I guess the point of this story is that it can happen to anyone at anytime so do not take your dogs behavior for granted as at any given time a tragedy can happen.  This was very painful for both Pam and I and have told very few people about what happened as not only was it a very personal thing but for awhile made me feel like a really bad trainer and care giver to my own dogs becasue I did not take the steps to make sure it did not happen.  I do believe that even if I would have taken a different path with Jax and Flash it still could have becasue after all they are dogs and if you have been around them long enough nothing really surprises you.  This really surprised us becasue it was so vicious and what we though unprovoked on someone that loved Jax and was always kind to him.  If this story causes you to look at your dogs in a different way and their interactions then i have done my job.  if I could talk to jax now I would say ” you were loved, cared for and are still missed a lot by us and your dog family.  RIP big man.

This is Jax

This is Jax.


Dennis Fehling

Be the first to comment - What do you think?  Posted by admin - December 16, 2017 at 1:08 pm

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Distractions Distraction Distractions

This is my girl Meika.



Hello Everyone, this is a topic I have been wanting to write about for sometime now as I feel it is an important one to think about.

Recently my wife Pam and I along with our dog Cole were at a brew pup in Bend Oregon.  I really love this place not only because they have really good beer, food  they also allow well behaved dogs.  It can get pretty crowded there but it is worth the wait.  Our dog Cole went under the table out of the sun and knowing that sooner or later I would more than likely drop a piece of my food by accident  and he would be able to share my meal with me.  As we were waiting for our drinks and food I noticed a young couple with a child at the table across from us.  The couple were texting on their phones, nothing out of the ordinary here you say until I noticed how really checked out they both were from their daughter who was repeatedly trying to get their attention to no avail.  Then their waitress went to their table and she got the same response.  She waited patiently for at least 20 seconds until they finally realized she was there, she had been put on ignore mode along with their daughter.  I thought how  distracted we have become as human beings by these little powerful devices that seem to hypnotize us in a moments notice, they cause some of us to cause accidents and in some really bad cases kill others becasue of the power these little objects have over us.  We rely on our cell phones for everything from ordering food, keeping in touch with friends and family, business calls,  games, the internet.  It’s no wonder our dogs are feeling left behind in the modern world.  I can remember a time when we were with our dogs we were really with them.  When we were training them we were actually engaged with them.  I remember a time when taking a walk with our dogs was an actual walk.  Today while I was running stairs, one of my favorite stress relievers I noticed a woman and her child walking on a path called the dry canyon trail in Redmond.  The woman pushing a stroller with a baby was texting on her phone while her toddler was at least 300 feet away from her.  How can she have been possibly more disconnected to her own child than that.  So many things might have happened to this your child I don’t even want to think about it.


What does this have to do with dog training you might ask?  Well it has everything to do with dog training and distractions.  We expect our dogs who do not have cell phones to do what we want, when we want it and do it perfectly while in distracting environments they have not been trained in yet but at the same time we do not hold ourselves to the same standards as far as really paying attention to our environment becasue of everything that is demanding our attention, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, linkedin all of these amazing tools at our disposal our slowly conditioning us to check out of the real world for the imaginary one where we can be anything and anyone we want, the more likes we get the more  glued we are to the screen.  My point to all this is that I challenge those of you that have kids and dogs to actually be with them with they are with you.  When it comes to dogs we only have them for a very short amount of time so in my opinion they deserve at least our undivided attention when we are with them especially when training.  How can we expect them to pay attention to us when one second we are teaching a skill then the next a text becomes more important or a world changing even happens on Facebook.  Believe me people it all can wait.  I am also challenging trainers to make it a rule that unless you have an extreme emergency turn off the cell phone and give your dog that hour, you have 23 more hours in the day that you can hit the like button.  I say when we are with our dogs, families, friends, hit the love button and give them your undivided attention as they could be gone tomorrow.


Thanks for taking the time to read.
Dennis Fehling

Be the first to comment - What do you think?  Posted by admin - May 8, 2017 at 9:19 pm

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Dark Alleys and the four F’s

This is my girl Meika.

You might ask what in the heck does a title like ” dark alleys and the four f’s have to do with dog training”

Years ago in another life I used to be a martial arts instructor in the Portland Oregon area and when we moved to Central Oregon I had a small school I taught out of my home as a way of keeping in the sport which I had loved for most of my life.  There was a question I would ask some of my students which went something like this. ” if given the choice to go down a dark alley or a lighted pathway which one would you choose?” Most of the students I asked that question responded with “of-course I would choose the lighted pathway”.  Occasionally there was always one that would say they would choose the dark alley.  I always found that to be a bit crazy because if given the choice why would you choose to put your life in danger if you clearly had another choice.  Most of us know why men and women join the military, to serve their country, to travel and to learn some pretty unique skills as well as belonging to a brotherhood and sisterhood of a higher calling.  OK what does all of this have to do with dog training?  I was inspired to write this by one of our long time students who’s dog recently was surprised by someone in a dark outfit carrying a shovel.  I might add this person was on his own property and as fate would have it the two met in this dogs dark alley.  I told my client that this time of the year people look differently than other times of the year, we wear big coats, hats, and our glasses get dark to protect our eye’s from the unrelenting snow we have had this year and because of that snow we carry stuff like shovels, we use loud equipment like snow blowers and for some dogs this is just too much.  I tried to convince my client that under the circumstance this was perfectly normal even though her dog and the man in the dark snow suit knew each other and have interacted as friends many times and that the man just looked different and her dog was surprised by the sudden change in the environment.  In other words this dog was startled and my client was not prepared for her response.

The more we talked about what happened I think she realized that her dog was surprised, the environment suddenly changed and the person that she knew looked totally different then he did in the summer.  I also told her that what her dog was showing was perfectly normal and that it happens to humans all the time.  Most of have been startled and downright scared in our lives unless we have lived our lives in a completely protected environment which I am not sure exist.  I told her that when confronted with an emergency we will do one of the four f’s we will Fight, we will Flee, we will Freeze or we will fool around which can look like pretty much anything out of the context of normal behavior, we might start laughing uncontrollably, we may cry uncontrollably, we may fidget or something that is not compatible with what startled us.  animals are no different they just show it in different ways, a startled animal may fight, they might run away, they might freeze so whatever scared them will not kill them or they might just start sniffing the ground, spin,, jump uncontrollably as a fool around behavior.

We are equipped with very complex nervous systems, one is called the Parasympathetic and the other is the sympathetic nervous system.  The parasympathetic nervous system is one of two divisions of the autonomic nervous system. Sometimes called the rest and digest system, the parasympathetic system conserves energy as it slows the heart rate, increases intestinal and gland activity, and relaxes sphincter muscles in the gastrointestinal tract. The sympathetic nervous system activates what is often termed the fight or flight response. When we make the decision to go down that dark alley even though we know that there might be a possible chance that something might go very wrong, it’s not until that something that goes very wrong happens does our sympathetic system takes over and in come the four f’s.  I myself am thankful for both of these nervous systems as they keep us safe, they help us relax, if we need to fight they allow that to happen and if we need to run away they allow that to happen as well.  Imagine if we were not equipped with these amazing parts of our brain.  Could you imagine a life where you were incapable of feeling fear, there are people like that that suffer with a genetic disorder called William’s syndrome.  Now that would be downright scary.  You could walk to the very edge of a 3500 foot cliff and feel nothing resembling fear, you might engage in pretty crazy behavior like jumping out of an airplane without a parachute or go swimming in a swamp full of man or woman eating alligators.  No thank you,I like my fear or at least the ability to recognize it for what it is as fear keeps us safe or at least paying attention.  It does seem though when a dog shows fear they are automatically labeled aggressive or defective like there must be something wrong with them when what they are afraid of is very real to them just like our fears are very real to us.  Yes fear can lead to aggression just like frustration can but I try and look at the circumstances surrounding that fear and not judge the animal or person for showing it as it is a perfectly normal response.  Lets face it we live in a very scary world, we are bombarded with death and destruction on TV and social media, it’s everywhere.  I may be way off but I do think as a race we have become desensitized to it because it is in our faces every day and is hard to escape.  We can watch a terrorist kill 50 people and yes we are shocked but then a week later it is almost forgotten by most until the next bad thing happens. Our dogs though are not as exposed to all of this as we are and are much more sensitive to changes in the environment and yes they get scared, I think we should ask ourselves the next time our dogs are surprised by a stranger or another dog coming around the corner and they react in a way that under different circumstances  were allowed to have some kind of a warning about the dog or stranger so they could not have such a harsh reaction.  Are we over reacting to a perfectly normal response from that dog.  I think in some cases we are.  In conclusion, if you choose to take your dog down that dark alley whatever their dark alley might be be prepared for one of the four f’s and hopefully choose the lighted pathway the next time.


Dennis Fehling CPDT KA.  CBATI.

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Be the first to comment - What do you think?  Posted by admin - January 8, 2017 at 4:18 am

Categories: Dog Training   Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Don’t assume anything!!!

Anyone who knows me is aware that I have a passion not only for dogs in general but helping dogs with aggression.  I recently  was hired by a couple with a very young German Shepherd puppy.  When talking to my client on the phone she was actually in tears because she thought there was no help available for this puppy.  Both her and her husband were told that the puppy needed to be euthanized. they also contacted three trainers and one recommended that in order to teach the puppy who the boss of the house is they needed to tie the puppy up outside of his kennel for 24hours without food or water and that would solve the problem, no wonder she was crying.  How could this recommendation do anything but harm to this 4 month old puppy?  The other day I went to my clients home for the first time and met the puppy and not only was he a very normal puppy he was also very excited to learn new skills, this puppy had a few strikes against him in the health department as well as his overall behavior towards his owners.  He had a very bad yeast  infection in his ears and allergies that caused him to itch non stop.  He also has food allergies and would have pretty bad bouts of diarrhea.  No wonder he was cranky 🙂  Luckily most of these issues are resolved as far as his overall health.  I found him to be a very good at seeking attention by jumping and mouthing when he wanted something, he is very excited by horses and cats as well.  One of the main issues they are having is the puppy will in their words ” attack them very aggressively” during the day.  What I actually observed was pretty much just arousal and normal puppy mouthing and jumping.  My clients told me that they have been raising German Shepherds for a very long time and have never gone through anything like what they are presently going through.

This puppy is from a very long line of working German Shepherds and this is something that my clients did not think about when buying the puppy.  Working lines are very different from other dogs that are bred for just plain family dogs.  In a nutshell my clients were very overwhelmed.  I also found out that this puppy rarely ever got walked and the only exercise was chasing the cat who more than likely did not appreciate this at all.  I think they thought that the puppy would just be happy in the yard running and playing and chasing the cat and they really did not need to do anything but feed and water the puppy like a plant.  Like my clients I have been raising German Shepherds most of my life and have never assumed anything about any of the dogs I have had.  I know that these dogs need jobs and training like all dogs do to be emotionally happy and physically healthy.  Our current German Shepherd Meika was a highly reactive dog to other dogs until I learned how to help her, now she has a  job and it is helping other dogs who are reactive.

I spent about two hours with my clients and their puppy just going over some training basics and impulse control exercises.  I also encouraged them to take walks with this puppy around their  property daily which is perfect for walking and enriching this dogs environment.  We walked around the property about three times pausing a few times to work on the basics.  My clients said to me and I quote ” We have never seen him have so much fun” What I observed was a puppy that really looked like he was doing something totally alien to him.  I asked my clients if they could make this a daily happening with him and they said yes, I said great.  After the walk we went back inside and the puppy calmly went into his kennel by choice and went to sleep.  They said ” he never sleeps during the day and only normally sleeps about 6 hours a day.  No wonder this puppy is excited and anxious.  For his age I told them it is normal for him to be sleeping up to 15 hours a day or at least napping and relaxing.  For the rest of the consultation this puppy was sound asleep and again they said they have never seen him do that.  In my honest opinion I think they did not know that actually walking this pup might help to calm him down.  The point of this story is that we can never assume what we think our clients know about training and behavior.  It is our responsibility as trainers and educators to carefully observe and be objective with our clients and their dogs.  Sometimes it can be such a simple thing as a walk and enriching a dogs environment that really can make all the difference in the lives of our dogs and our clients.


Dennis Fehling CPDT KA,


This is my girl Meika.

Dennis and Meika

Be the first to comment - What do you think?  Posted by admin - October 4, 2016 at 6:00 pm

Categories: Dog Training   Tags:

Which is the best dog?

This is my girl Meika.

This is my girl Meika.

I am always amazed at the questions I get asked when I tell poeple that we have a dog training business.  Story in point.  My wife Pam and I were hiking a local favorite trail of ours called the Dechutes River Trail in Bend Oregon.  The trial is a 3 mile loop that follows the beautiful Dechutes River with the half way point a bridge overlooking the river.  I try and do the trail at least once a week when I have a moment to get out and enjoy this area. We often run into lots of dogs mostly off leash.  The reason I mention that is that this is an on leash hike but that is for another story. 

As we were on the other half of the hike we were approaching a couple with a dog ( off leash ofcourse) the dog ran up to us waggin it’s tail looking for some attention.  The dog jumped up a few times and the owners triesd to explain it away as the dog is just not very well mannered.  I always tell people when I see a happy dog and they say something negative about their dog ” I spend alot of time working with dogs that are not very happy to see people or other dogs so it is really nice that your dog is a happy dog” I could say something like ” if you spent some time actually training your dog not to jump then you might like yor dog more” but I never say that and only offer a business card and say I would love to work with you and your dog.  On this one occasion with the trail dog the woman asked me because she thought I might be able to share some secret knowledge about dogs in her own words ” which is the best dog?” I thought to myself how in the heck can I answer that when I love all dogs.  I guess it seems that when you are a dog trainer you have some magical insight as to which is the best dog.  I just said to her ” they are all the best dogs”

I thought about this when I got home and have been thinking about this for over two months since since she asked me that question.  I have come up with a few thoughts.  Ok for one you should actually like dogs if you are going to get one, you should be able to spend time with the dog if you are going to get one, you should train the dog if you are going to get one, you should have a conversation with your entire family if you have one and are going to get a dog so there are no surprises, you should pick the right dog for your lifestyle.  Are you an athelete and want a running partner? if so a Basset hound might not be a good choice but a German Shepherd or a Siberian Husky might just fit the bill.  Are you an older person who is not very active? I would not suggest getting a Border Collie or any kind of a young herding breed.  Do you live in an apartment?  If so then a Maltese might be a good choice.  It is all about choice when it comes to getting just the right dog as their is no secret recipe for said dog as in my opinion they are all the best dogs, they just have not found their best person yet.  I am sure of one thing though if you ask the dog they will most surely tell you that you are the best person in the world.


Dennis Fehling

Be the first to comment - What do you think?  Posted by admin - November 6, 2015 at 6:12 pm

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Consistency in dog training and why it is so important.

Our dogs training me

Our dogs training me

We live in a very confusing world right now with all of the things that vie for our attention and time imaging how hard it must be for our dogs.  They to are constantly having to muddle though all of the information that the human world throws at them. So lets look at consistency in your training.  In our training business we teach a variety of classes, one of the requirements is that the students go through an orientation class which usually last about two hours.  I cover basic learning theory, clicker and verbal marker training and how to solve some basic problems so students leave with the necessary tools to start class.  I can almost count on most of the time only one person from the family will show up and it is usually the female part of the family.  It is the rare occasion that the entire family shows up for the orientation or even any of the classes although it is getting better.   In a perfect world the entire family would be there for each class so everyone is on the same page as far as training their dogs but we do not live in a perfect world so here is where it can get very confusing for the dog.  One person in the family usually the one attending the class will be the consistent one as far as the training.  This person may have a dog that jumps on guest or the family or even strangers on a walk.  Now in that same family there is always going to be that one person where jumping is ok so you can see how this might get confusing for their dog.  It is ok to jump on you but not on me, it is ok to jump on dad but not on mom or the kids.  Or it is never ok to jump on strangers but it is ok to jump on little Bobby’s school friends because Bobby says it’s ok.  By now their dog does not know if they are coming or going.  With jumping which can lead to serious consequences for the dog each member of the family must be on the same page or the jumping will actually get much worse over time because the dog is getting randomly reinforced for the jumping to see who is eventually going to give them attention.  So with this type of non consistency the dog is always the looser because someone is going to punish them.  We simply cannot keep changing the rules with our dogs and expect them to act like we want them to.  My wife and I had a great pet sitter( name withheld to protect the innocent) 🙂 she was with us for almost 8 years.  Our 7 dogs loved her and we trusted her completely.  we had told her that we had a serious jumping problem with one of our dogs also( name withheld to protect the innocent) and if she jumped on her to please do not pet her or give her any attention, we went over the rules as far as what to do when she jumped.  Our dogs jumping was starting to actually hurt people and she would hit them in the nose.  We were making great progress with no jumping on anyone for quite awhile and then our sitter showed up and 6 months of hard work went down the drain.  Not only was she petting her when she was jumping she was feeding her dog biscuits.  We fired her after that sorry to say as she was an excellent sitter and care giver for our dogs but we were very angry that all for this hard work had been for nothing even after many repeated phone calls and attempts to let the sitter know that this was becoming a very serious problem she never just could keep her hands off.

Ok lets look at another thing that is very common, leash pulling.  This can be a nightmare for some people and I have actually heard of dogs being surrendered for this.  It is not hard to teach a dog to not pull on the leash but how can we expect them to  be consistent when we are not consistent? One person in the family absolutely needs their dog to walk nicely on a leash then the other person lets their dog pull them all over the place not realizing how confusing this is for the dog.  One person might use a harness while the other will refuse.  But now the dog is so confused that it’s a wonder they can even go for a walk.  The other night in class we had a great little dog that has been in our puppy classes and is in our adolescent manners class for older dogs.  This little girl will start to shut down after about five minutes and not do anything.  We were working on some stay exercises and I noticed that she was just checking out so I put my client and her dog in a little pen area so they could work off leash.  Now we were getting somewhere.  I asked my client if she ever practiced any of the behaviors with the leash on and she said no we do not.  My client then took of her dogs harness and I asked her why she did that.  She said that she never walks her with it unless she is in class.  I told her that if you never practice any of the behaviors outside of class or even walk her in her harness outside of class how is her dog supposed to get proficient in the behaviors.  I give out specific homework for each class and it is pretty easy to do.  It never fails that most do not practice and then expect their dogs to be able to perform around other dogs and distractions in class.  This has to be very confusing for their dogs as when at home they do not have to do what is asked of them  then once a week in class they are expected to do what is asked of them.  I get confused just thinking about it.  This happens with the clicker as well, the students never use it at home then come to class and for an hour and a half the clicker is used so it’s no wonder that the dogs are not paying attention.

Another confusing thing for dogs is our verbal cues and hand cues.  One person say’s sit with a verbal and hand signal the way they are taught then another family member uses neither and just pushes the dogs butt to the ground so now we are getting unreliable sits because the rules are changing.  Our dogs are constantly paying attention to our body language so they are noticing everything we are doing.  For instance if you have a very small dog and when they are puppies you teach a sit while you are bending over to be able to reach the puppy this becomes part of the sit cue, now you have a dog that will only sit when you are bending over.  The owners get very frustrated because they know that their dog knows how to sit so they keep repeating what they want and the dog just gets more confused.  I hope you can see where this is going for your dogs sake.

Another huge one is one member of the family will feed the dog from the table while the other one punishes the dog for begging.  This is not fair for the dog as once again the rule change from person to person. When mom is home the dog gets fed from the table or when he/she begs.  Now dad comes home and the dogs goes to him for a morsel and  gets punished for begging at the table.  I could go on and on about all oft he things that keep changing for our dogs.  The reason I felt I had to write this is I see this so much and am really noticing how stressed our dogs are becoming in an ever changing world of changing rule for our dogs.  So if this accomplishes anything I have made my point.  It is already confusing enough for our dogs and other animals so please be consistent in your training and you will see more consistency in your dogs.

Dennis Fehling CPDT KA

Be the first to comment - What do you think?  Posted by admin - October 23, 2014 at 4:42 pm

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Are puppy classes making it harder?

Dennis and His old buddy Beau

Recently I got a call from a potential client.  I had met him about a month ago when he came into observe our puppy class.  He has a 12 week old Yellow Labrador Retriever female.  I told him that our puppy classes are on Monday nights which at the time he said it might work for him.  I did not hear from him for a couple of weeks then got a call asking when the classes were again.  I told him that they are on Monday nights.  He said at this time he could not make our class and did I have a recommendation for another trainer in the area.  I told him that there was another person doing puppy classes and is a positive trainer.  I have never observed their puppy classes but I figured that at least it was something.  I got a call from him a couple of days ago and asked me if we could do some private sessions.  I asked him if he had gone to the other puppy class and he said yes he had gone two three classes and it was not working for his puppy and in fact his puppy was much better before he started the class.  I asked him what was going on?  He said that his 15 week old puppy is now barking and lunging at any dog she sees. Keep in mind that this is a 15 week old puppy that did not do this before the puppy class.  So do we know what might have caused this?

I have observed many puppy classes some better than others and some just plain bad.  Some of the worst ones I have seen is where puppies are just put in a cage with other puppies and are allowed what looks like a UFC (ultimate fighting match) for puppies.  Of course the puppies are not getting hurt intentionally but are learning lessons for other puppies that can affect them for the rest of their lives.  They are learning rough play with no influence from their owners.  You also know that there are puppies that are so afraid that they just want to leave the group and get as far away from the other puppies as they can.  What other lessons are they learning? I think they are learning  a lot about frustration and that all dogs are supposed to play like this so when they are out for their walks they see other dogs and what might look like and aggressive display is nothing more than frustration which has been learned in puppy class.  Now we are regularly seeing clients that are very frustrated that their dogs can’t even be walked around other dogs.  Their puppies see other dogs and are not capable of doing anything that the owner wants.  If you are going to teach a puppy class or are taking your puppy to class you need to find the most experienced person to teach this class because what happens in puppy class can affect your puppy for the rest of their lives.  Look for a puppy class that is not overwhelming for the puppy or client, get references from other people in the area how their puppies as adult dogs are around other dogs and where did they take their class.  Don’t rely on the certifications of the trainer to be a criteria for that trainer to be able to teach a puppy class. While one trainer can teach a manners class for adults dogs and do very well but that same trainer can do a lot of damage to your puppy if their class is not structured appropriately. It is very important that you understand that puppies learn a lot from how they play with other puppies and can affect their play styles with all of the other dogs that they play with in the future which can lead to real aggression. Just because a puppy class has 20 puppies in it does not make a great puppy class.  How can anything be taught in a class with 20 puppies, how can the trainer effectively manage 20 puppies or even be effective in their training methods.  Another tip is to observe the puppy class that you would like to attend before you get your puppy.  If the instructor does not allow you to observe the class then go somewhere else.  The instructor should have nothing to hide and will welcome any observers if what they are doing is good for the community of puppies and their people.  Make sure that the puppy class is based on positive reinforcement which does not just mean throwing food at the puppies to teach behaviors.  Ask the puppy class students if they are happy with the results they are getting and most important pay attention the puppies themselves.  Are they comfortable, are they able to do what the owner ask of them and do the puppies pay attention to the owners.  How can we expect to have a puppy we can enjoy if they can’t even do a sit with another puppy in the room or other people.

My new client with his puppy is very frustrated with what he got as far as training for his puppy.  He has had several dogs in the past and had pretty much done all of the training himself and said that all of his dogs were great family companions and were all well behaved when out in public.  If as trainers we are preaching that it is very important to socialize our puppies so they can be confident and well behaved adult dogs then this persons experience with the only puppy class he has ever attended has been a nightmare for him then how is that going to make puppy classes attractive for any client when after the puppy class their puppy is worse than when he started this is not good.  We as trainers have a duty to these puppies and our clients to make sure that the experience of a puppy class is not only socialization opportunity but a learning opportunity as well.  It makes no sense just for the sake of filling our classes as full as they can be to just make a few extra bucks if we are doing damage in the process to these puppies.  So the next time you are out for a walk and see someone with a very well behaved adult dog you might just ask this person who did the training and at the same time compliment them for having such a well mannered dog and watch them light up with pride.

Side note…… I was working with a very beautiful dog today who is both reactive to both people and other dogs.  We were working in a very calm park setting with a very calm neutral dog.  We were pretty close to a walking and bike trail when a guy rode his bike right past us.  He looked at this beautiful girl and said what a nice dog.  Even though she is not mine I was very proud to be handling her and said to him with great pride as she just watched him very calmly “thank you” and yes she is a very nice dog then we just calmly walked away.  My client and I looked at each other and said yes she is a very nice dog………


Dennis Fehling

Be the first to comment - What do you think?  Posted by admin - September 10, 2014 at 11:30 pm

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I am not a bad dog


This is my girl Meika.

This is our girl Meika.

Today we went on a beautiful hike called Black Butte.  We decided to take two of our dogs Cole and Snickers.  At first I was a bit hesitant to take Snickers as she can be a challenge out in public.  So I thought if she is ever going to get better and more comfortable in public then I have to start sometime.  Pam and I have seven dogs and the majority of my work involves working with reactive dogs and unfortunately business is very good in Central Oregon which seems to have a very large population of reactive dogs.  I have to admit and sad to say that a few of our dogs are members of this population not through any fault of their own but more of lack of early socialization and being totally honest we have not been as proactive with our own dogs.  In our defense we do include our dogs in our training business as this seems to be a job that they enjoy.  Ok back to Snickers and Cole on the hike.  Today it seems that with the labor day weekend the trail was really crowded with people and lots of dogs and was probably not the best choice to take Snickers but we went anyway.  We and I say we because my wife Pam Bigoni and our friend and assistant trainer Andrea Martin went with us.

We brought all the things we needed for the dogs to have an enjoyable adventure including plenty of water and treats.  I have hiked this trail many times and know all of the places where we can safely pull off to the side if we met another dog.  We saw a variety of dogs and most were very well behaved and seemed to be enjoying the hike.  There were a few tight places where we had to get creative with our get off the trail skills like a few places with off leash dogs.  Luckily my wife Pam has a very creative imagination so when she would see and off leash dog she would tell the owners that there were forest rangers at the top and if they saw the dogs off leash they would give them a hefty fine.  Of course we did not see a ranger and who knows how big the fine was but it did convince everyone to put their dogs on leashes so thanks  to Pam for being creative.  We finally got to the top of the Butte to be greeted by a beautiful central Oregon view.  The cabin in the photo below is operated by the forest service and is their private residence during the summer months. At the top there were a lot of people and their dogs enjoying a beautiful day.  I can honestly say that all of the dogs were amazing.  I think I only heard one bark and yes it was snickers and it was not directed to another dog but at her frustration of not being able to catch a chipmunk.  Each time she saw another dog she got some very valuable treats which for snickers trumps everything especially when it comes to lamb Lung her favorite treat.  I was very proud of her and Mr. Cole who loves the company of any dog in the world and is a regular in our training sessions with those reactive dogs.

Black Butte cabin

We stayed on top of the Butte for about a half an hour for photos and just the scenery.  We worked pretty hard to get up there but it was getting just to crowded for our taste.  The way down was just as crowded with people and dogs but as seasoned hikers and professionals 🙂 we knew all of the spots that were safe and were able to navigate without any trouble. We were about a half a mile from the trail head and we saw a very large group of kids coming up so we decided to step aside and let them pass.  We heard this very young child crying pretty loud and I thought to myself is this what some of these dogs are feeling?  Well my thoughts were confirmed a few minutes later when a group of people with at least 6 dogs 4 very small dogs probably Chihuahua’s or mixes of Chihuahua’s and two larger ones were about 200 feet down the trail . They were barking up a storm and not just at other dogs but at people as well so double trouble for these guys.  There is barking and there is barking and these little guys were not happy about anything that represented people or dogs.  We took Cole and snickers down the side of the hill about ten feet and of course the treats we pretty much gone from the trip up. (note to self bring a larger bag of treats the next time).  All I had left was a jolly rancher hard candy so I thought what the hell Snickers likes anything and it will last longer then it will take for the little barkers to get by. it did work very well and she liked it.  I wish I would have had a lick stick and will be getting more of them for the next hike.  So here is why I am writing this.  As the last little dog was getting close I heard Bad dog bad dog you are a bad dog then saw her jerk the little guy pretty hard at the same time.  Ok if you know me at all I am not one to keep my mouth shut when it comes to people hurting dogs so I said ” well that’s gonna make it all better isn’t it?” I don’t know if she heard me but I had to put it out there because after all this was not a bad dog but a dog(there are no bad dogs) that was put into a situation that he/she should not have been put in to begin with.  I know it is not easy living with a reactive dog and yes we have made mistakes but to say that this was a bad dog for the situation that she put her dog in makes no sense.  I am sure she was pretty embarrassed like we all have been in similar situations with our own reactive dogs. I did think about what I said to her afterwards and did feel bad as I knowingly put my own dog in the same situation.  the only difference is that I work with reactive dogs pretty much 6/7 days a week and have a few other skills that I can rely on then she did but in her defense it could have gone bad for us and Snickers as well and lucky for us it did not and Snickers and Cole had a great time and are pretty much done for the day.

In closing I would like to say that most of us want what is best for our dogs and try our best to not put them in harms way or in situations that are uncomfortable for them.  I also believe it is up to us to set up their environment so they can have a better chance of getting it right or at least what is right in our minds as they really never get it wrong.  When a dog is called a bad dog it simply means that that dog was put into a situation that they had no control over and reacted in the only way they knew how.  In my opinion there are no bad dogs just bad environmental choices we make for them.  Thanks to Pam Bigoni and to Andrea Martin for their great dog handling skills and company on the hike

Andrea and Cole Blackbutte   Snickers and Pam Black Butte

Dennis Fehling CPDT KA CBATI….


Be the first to comment - What do you think?  Posted by admin - September 1, 2014 at 1:19 am

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What would you like me to do instead?

Tug with Snickers and Meika

What would you like me to do instead? Dennis Fehling CPDT (KA)


When it comes to behaviors that we do not want our dogs to do we as humans always want the behavior to just stop. What if we were to communicate to your dogs that instead of doing what they are doing this is what I would like you to do instead?  With this thought process we are actually doing a lot to teach our dogs that there are other choices they can make instead of the ones that we do not want them making for themselves.  Here is an example: Let’s say that your dog jumps on your guest when they come over, this can be very frustrating to not only you, but can actually teach your guest that coming over to your home is not the best experience in the world. We want our guest to have good experiences when they visit and we also want our dogs to be well behaved. If we set our dogs up to succeed then everyone will be happy and our dogs will learn to practice good behavior instead of bad behaviors.  Let’s face it, our dogs are not born jumping on our guest they learn to do this by repetition and attention.  When I say repetition I meant that each and every time we have guest over especially when our puppies are very young, who cannot resist petting a jumping puppy because they are so cute at that age. We do not think that we are actually teaching them bad habits until our little puppy is now a 125lb dog that is knocking down granny or small children. It is best to start teaching puppies when they are very young that there are more appropriate ways of getting attention than jumping.  Here are a few tips to show your puppy what you would like them to do instead of jumping or any other behavior that you do not want from them.

  1. Tell your guest to not pet a jumping puppy, be mindful that it is not your guest responsibility to train your puppy. If you have one of those friends or family member that will just not listen to what you want then set your puppy up for success by crating or keeping your puppy behind a baby gate or some other kind of barrier with a favorite chew toy. One of my favorite chew toys is the Kong toy. This amazing toy can be filled with all sorts of goodies that will keep your puppy happy.  There are several recipes on the internet for filling Kongs.


2.  Communicate with your puppy or older dog what you would like them to do instead of using words like no, off, down, stop it, bad dog.  If you really think about it your puppy or even adult dog really does not understand what any of these words mean and are probably just reading your body language and listening to your tone of voice. Give your puppy or adult dog another job to do instead of the one that they have chosen for themselves.  Let’s say that your puppy or older dog chose something that you do not want them to chew on.  Instead of just taking the forbidden chew toy away show your dog that if they settle on a mat or their bed they get an even better chew toy.  Forbidden objects should be kept away from these puppies or older dogs so they do not get to practice getting better at chewing objects that are forbidden.


3.  Here is a very common behavior that I hear about all the time, puppy nipping and biting.  Ok in a perfect world puppies would never bite but in their world your hands and feet are fair game and are a pretty fun way to get you to act crazy as well as giving them attention.  Ask yourself instead of your puppy biting you what you would like your puppy to learn instead?  Instead of yelling or trying to be a dog by doing the yelp thing, which we as humans will never be able to do as well as other dogs and it could make the biting much worse by making the puppy even more excited. This is a great time to do some training by teaching a trick or even basic manners like sit, stays or leave it. You can also trade your hands for a tug toy or if our puppy is really determined crate your puppy until he/she calms down. Remember that each puppy or adult dog is different but they all learn the same way.  I want you to remember that when showing your puppy the “what you would like them to do instead” you have to be sure that the replacement behavior is just as valuable as the one you want to stop or you will have to rethink your plan.


4.  Our dogs are constantly gathering information and are also learning what does and does not work for them.  Dog tend to do what works for them and contrary to popular belief they are not the people pleasers we think they are.  When was the last time your dog washed your car or took your place at work? They are very simple creatures that require very little except clear communication of what is expected of them.  We cannot expect them to understand the things that we do after all they are not human.  If you are using punishment to communicate to your puppy or adult dog ask yourself if you have been as clear as possible as to what you expect of them and have you done your best to set them up for success.  Punishment based training can have all sorts of negative fallout between you and your dog while a dog that has been positively trained looks forward to training and in the long run will be a much happier and healthier dog.  One last piece of advice.  Be as clear as possible with your dog and what you expect of them.  Set them up to succeed by arranging their environment for success and last but not least if they are doing something that you want to change ask yourself what that change would look like then train that change.


My goal for these tips is to try and get you to think a little differently when you are communicating with your dog.  The more creative you get in showing your dog what you want, instead of stopping behavior in the long run, you’re actually working much less and your dog will learn more.  Ask yourself if someone you have never met or even a family member or close friend just said stop it when you were doing nothing (at least in your opinion) how would you know what they wanted. If you saw that they were getting to close to the edge of a cliff and you said stop they would probably understand what you wanted them to do.  Humans process information much differently than animals do. We cannot expect our dogs to always understand what we are saying.  Teaching a dog what we would rather they do instead of what we do not want them to do is a very effective approach to training and also teaches us to be much more creative in our approach to communicating with our dogs.

1 comment - What do you think?  Posted by admin - December 7, 2013 at 5:32 pm

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