Are we relying on food too much for our dog training?

Dennis Fehling and his friend for life Meika

Hello again everyone, this is a question I have been asking myself quite a bit lately as far as when it comes to training a dog.  Recently we have had several students at our dog training facility  who have come to us from other trainers.  Some have been out of convenience while others were looking for other positive dog training options in the area.  One client said that they were tired of “throwing food at their dog”  I asked her what she meant and she said “why does it always have to be about food? Can’t our dogs learn to work without bags and bags of food all the time”. Another client said that their dog does agility and will not work unless food is involved.  I thought to myself this is getting to be an issue with people and they are worried enough to say something.  To be totally honest I find that very refreshing and empowering coming from a client.  How many times have we seen the client blindly following the advise of a trainer by not asking questions because they assume that the trainer is all knowing and all seeing.

I have seen some trainers that scare the heck out of me, no wonder their clients are afraid of speaking their minds.  As trainers we need to take in to account that our clients are intelligent people who for the most part want what is best for their dogs, this is why I encourage my clients to ask questions and not just take what I say as the gospel when it comes to dog training.  After all we are all learning and continue to learn as new things in the dog training world surface.  Ok, on to my thoughts on the use of food.  First I love using food in dog training as most dogs will work for it eagerly depending on the training situation they are faced with.  It is a very positive thing to do for your dog and can help us out of a lot of training situations especially when working with reactive/aggressive or fearful dogs.  I do understand the frustration that clients face when they ask their dog to sit and their dog refuses unless they have that tasty treat with them. This is where I think we as trainers may be failing our dog’s and clients when it comes to rewards.

Albert Einstein.....

First of all I will say again that most people are intelligent enough to understand basic learning theory and reinforcement schedules if we explain it to them in a non condescending way that they can easily understand.  Second we need to teach them that there are other things in life that their dogs like and enjoy doing then eating.  Some dogs love play more than food or a chance to be with their favorite human or dog friend.  Then there are the “real life rewards” things that just happen like a favorite pee or sniffing spot or just running free without a leash.  There are so many things that are dogs find valuable, food just happens to be what we call a primary reinforcer or unconditioned reinforcer>something the dog naturally wants and does not have to be bribed to do.  After all if your dog does not eat then they will die simple as that.  I have heard so many times that my dog is not food motivated.  Now think about that statement.  If your dog was not motivated by food then how would he/she survive.  It is true in rare cases some dogs will just refuse to eat which leads me to think either a medical or emotional issue is at work.  Most dogs are motivated by food we just need to find out what kind motivates them the most.

When it comes to dog training does it always have to be about food?  I asked some of my fellow/female trainer friends for their opinions and here is what they had to say. All of these links are Facebook links so you will have to have a Facebook account if you want to connect with them.

Linda-Sunny Troup Don’t get me wrong, I love praise too and hearing I’ve done a nice job is, well………..nice. But I really get motivated when I get PAID@

Stormi King Parish

I think it’s important to give our clients multiple tools for training. Food is the obvious primary reinforcer, but it’s important to remember environmental rewards and opportunistic rewards can be just as powerful. Sometimes food isn’t the… most salient reward in a given moment, maybe the chance to sniff a bush or the opportunity to play a game is. The more we recognize potential reinforcers that exist all around us, the easier it is to truly know what the best reinforcers for our dogs are and helps us keep things fun and interesting. Take Jack for example – he’ll do anything for a piece of kibble, but the chance to play with a stuck trumps any food item you could possibly offer. And hey, sticks are free 🙂
Diane Garrod

Dennis, you asked “are we relying on food too much in dog training”. What Sunny and Stormi have to say, I emulate. The relying indicates something else though – and needing treats for everything means that variable and differential reinforc…ements are not being trained. Variable indicating intervals when a treat is given, say every 3 times as both treat and clicker are faded away. Differential meaning different types of rewards, functional, toys, games, touch, praise etc. – whatever the DOG likes – not what the owner likes to give. The only skill I always treat for is recall (coming when called), unless in a show situation. Behavior training should use treats to change the way the dog sees a trigger or stimuli until the wanted behavior becomes STRONG. Then variable reinforcement can begin and differential. For a strong sit for instance, you no longer need treat or clicker. So it depends. If someone is “relying” on treats then their knowledge base needs honining on when and how to use them, types to use, and when to fade them. Dogs need incentive and treats provide that for faster and retainable learning. In behavior work, treats calm the dog if used correctly, and change the meaning of triggers. Once the meaning is changed then variable and differential work can begin which will make the behavior stronger. For ttouch work, bodywork for instance you are working toward calm, and focus, relax even and so since it is slow, mindful work the treats may inhibit the learning here and activate instead of calm. As Linda said, there are exceptions to that rule also.
Casey Lomonaco I agree with the previous posters. I like to tell my clients, “we use food (treats) to train, we use life to maintain.” Food is only one nation in a whole world full of reinforcement opportunities
Inna Krasnovsky

I see food as currency in the dog’s world and I use food with some of the most difficult cases I have, it works very well (especially with aggression-cheese and hot-dogs are my biggest ammo!). That said not all dogs are created equal, while… most work for food (and I use very high value treats), I met some dogs who prefer other rewards (tug, running, etc.) and I also meet dogs who are too nervous to eat outside so I have to come up with a different way to reinforce them. Ultimately I always start with food (if the dog is willing to eat), once the dog is fluent in the behavior, I start to fade out the food rewards and eventually we can switch to praise or other forms of attention. On a different note, I am very big on “life rewards” as well, and there are endless and creative ways to reinforce dogs in daily situations, (everything from going for a walk, to coming out of the crate, to running, to playing with another dog, and so on).
Julianne Meyers High value treats (chicken, cheese, sometimes steak) have been x-tremely important in my personal training (agility, recall, tricks, dance etc.) You can taper the distribution to praise & petting…Treats should be small and healthy..
Kathy Shaker And just because a treat like cheese is easy to throw, shows up on a lot of surfaces and doesn’t make a mess, it may not be high enough value to your dog. My guys were willing to work for string cheese, but when I switched to chicken breast, Yoda became much more attentive and animated. He drags me to the arena now.

Our boy Flash.

I really loved these great response from some very awesome trainers and value their professional input.  I think we all can agree that everything depends on each unique situation and each individual dog when it comes to using food in training our dogs.  From my own personal experience with my dogs especially our Aussie Flash his motivation is really chasing things(go figure).  i have learned when flash in the chase mode there is no food in the world that will bring him our of that mode so I don’t even try while our

Meika our poster child for patience..

German Shepherd Meika even when highly distracted will still eat just about anything or at least carry a stick if life gets to distracting or hard to deal with. Keep this in mind when you are working with your dog and your dog is not responding to what you are asking them to do.  Take the environment into account and ask yourself ” is this too much for my dog to handle?” how can I make this easier for my dog and can i help my dog out by working at their level and not our’s.
When I say working at your dog’s level I mean is what you are asking of your dog beyond their ability which is why the food might not be working for you and your dog.  I believe the environment plays such an important role in how our dogs respond regardless of what type of food we are using.  Let’s say you are at the dog park and getting ready to go in to gate and you ask your dog to sit and no matter what you try your dog will not sit, no amount of tasty chicken or liver treats is going to get this dog at this time to even do the simplest of things like sit.
After all your dog has graduated from puppy class, adult dog class, intermediate manners and many other classes and this time your dog is just not paying attention to you.  So you might just be thinking is the food not working because it always does in class, my dog can do anything in class but why does he/she have this problem at the dog park or favorite hiking spot. I  can telly you that this is not a food thing but an environment thing.  There is just too much stuff going on for your dog to think.  After all his friends are here and when he/she is in the park he/she gets so much attention what is a dog to do?  I say make it easy on your dog by taking a step back and making it easier for your dog and don’t think that in this situation food is going to be the answer.  Your dog wants to go into the park plain and simple and no amount of chicken or whatever you have will work.  If you have to walk away from the gate entrance and try a sit or anything that your dog knows and if it happens have a party for your dog by letting them in the gate as their just reward and know that all of your valuable training has not been wasted and you have learned a very valuable skill in this situation.  it is not about the food but a life reward of getting to play and run free for a little while.
I hope this has given you much food for thought(no pun intended) as to what is reinforcing to your dog and what is not at any given time.  Think smartly about how you can use food and different rewards to your advantage.  Have fun figuring what really motivates your dog and how you can best use these motivators when you need them the most.  This is what i carry with me on our walks.  Treat pouch $16.00, tasty treats $free by using healthy leftovers, you dogs favorite toy $ depends on your dog, poop bags to keep the nasty stuff off the ground for the next person and their dog, knowing what your dog really likes and will work for $priceless…………….
Have fun and Happy training.


4 comments - What do you think?  Posted by admin - October 10, 2011 at 10:41 pm

Categories: Dog Training   Tags:

Tellington TTouch. Does it really work?

Dennis Fehling and His friend for life Meika

Hello again everyone.  This is the very same question I asked myself about four years ago when I was looking for another way of expanding my knowledge of dog training.  I had heard or Tellington TTouch almost 6 years ago when I had a client who just raved about it and told me how this magical thing that Linda Tellington Jones had discovered really worked on her horses.  This client had been to a couple of workshops that were in Central Oregon and was really impressed at how  calm her horses were.  I kind of dismissed it as soon as she said magical and didn’t really think about it much for the next couple of years until I was at a crossroads as far as my training and education was heading.  I have always been a positive reinforcement trainer and I had a choice of to different programs and directions.  One was the Karen Pryor Academy and the other was the Tellington TTouch two year practitioner training program.

I researched both programs very carefully and made my decision and went with the TTouch program and I have to say it was the best decision I could have made.  I attended my first 6 day training in Portland Oregon at the Oregon humane society.  At my first training I discovered that this was definitely going to be a very different training experience.  I was the only guy at this course which seemed to attract women from all different walks of life.  Some were professional trainers already and like me were looking to add something different to their “trainers tool box” Quote stolen from another great trainer Terry Ryan.  Some were professional women from other fields, lawyers, doctors, writers, Gardner’s, you name it and they were there.  This is when I first met Kathy Cascade the person whom inspired me to continue with the program.  Kathy is a Tellington TTouch instructor and a gifted teacher who in the first week convinced me that this is where I belonged.

So began my journey with the Tellington TTouch program.  The program consist of 6 week long training’s and does take quite a time commitment over a two year period.  As practitioners in training you are required to complete 15 case studies of animals that you have worked with as well as complete all of the training’s. During the course we also learned the business side of promoting yourself through demonstrations that we did in front of our class mates.  This was a blast because we did these little 15 minute presentations of why our program should be included in places like prisons, humane societies and other animal welfare groups.  I had the honor of working with some of the nicest people and developed life long friendships.

At the end of the week long training we would have a little get together at a restaurant and just sit around a talk about our animals and lives back home.  Then on the final day when the training would wrap up we had a little pow wow and it was not unusual for people just to start crying(me included) because of the dramatic changes we had seen and the positive changes we had made in the lives of the dogs and people we worked with.  After your third training you actually got to work with clients and their dogs and it was pretty amazing what an hour long session could do for both dog and human.  Sometimes it would just be recommending a no pull harness for a pulling dog or with more serious behavior issues we would work with the client to form a treatment plan.  I remember one lady and her dog who really touched me when she wrote me about our session and said what a difference TTouch had made in her and her dogs life.

This is a letter I had received from a woman I had told about TTouch and had told her I had been to four training’s.  My wife Pam and I were going to be at the coast and were only a few miles from where her and her dog Bobby and husband lived.  She asked me if I could meet with her and teach her some TTouch techniques.

Dennis Fehling takes an integrated approach to enriching canine/human friendships and behaviors. Dennis helped my 4-year old Aussie “Bobby” and myself to achieve an easy, fun, responsible and respectful relationship. During our work together Dennis drew from his years of knowledge and experience, carefully observing and considering, and then suggesting a combination of techniques that might work for us.


His “hands on” approach really worked as we learned TTouch (halter, gentle lead, and body work with focus on the ears) and other techniques including the use of verbal commands, body language and distraction as an attention grabber (touch to treat). The touch to treat trick when used in conjunction with smooth and simple avoidance techniques has almost completely eliminated the threats we were experiencing from aggressive dogs or pushy humans while playing on the Oregon beaches. We are now “as one” walking the beaches, calm, relaxed, aware, confident and happy.


Dennis is a an excellent teacher and mentor – a real professional! He has a way of making you enjoy yourself so you don’t worry about learning the “right way” or lose focus on the moment by feeling guilty about the wrong ways of the past. He presents a holistic approach and communicates his understanding of animals in a clear and non-demeaning manner. After our work with Dennis Bobby and I were highly inspired, encouraged and excited about learning more. We use TTouch and the other training methods daily. My husband Steve cannot believe the transformation that has occurred and our friends and family have commented on how wonderful Bobby is to be around. Bobby sets up and bats his eyes at all of the compliments he receives.


Kathy and Bobby Minta

Newport, Oregon

Kathy Minta and her friends

I had already been a professional dog trainer for years but I felt that the addition of TTouch really made the difference and added another component to my skills as a dog and human trainer. I saw Kathy a year later a a week long training and her and Bobby were doing just great and adopted another friend for Bobby to play with.  She was certain that Bobby could never have had a playmate.  Bobby is the one on the right with his new friend.


Tellington TTouch training in Vernon BC with Beau my wonder dog and friends

I completed the two year Tellington TTouch program in Nov 2010.  along the way met some of the best trainers and people in the world.  I learned a very valuable skill and another way of interacting with not only the dogs I work with but the people also.  It was an incredible journey and still is a large part of who I am as a trainer.  We combine TTouch into all of our training at our dog training facility  in Redmond Oregon.  So the answer to the original question “does TTouch work?” I have to say yes it does and it works very well.  What it has taught me the most is to be more patient in my interactions with dog’s, respect the choices they make and not judge them for those choices.  TTouch teaches respect for all living things.  If you have ever even thought about attending a training then think no more and just do it because you will not regret it.  I want to thank my teachers Kathy Cascade, Edie Jane Eaton, Debbie Potts, Lauren McCall, Lori Stevens, Robyn Hood and Linda Tellington Jones for bringing this incredible work to life for us.



Dennis Fehling


11 comments - What do you think?  Posted by admin - October 4, 2011 at 10:35 pm

Categories: Dog Training   Tags: , ,

Never assume anything until you have all the facts.



Dennis Fehling and His Friend Meika

Recently my wife Pam and I were asked to come to the first annual strut your mutt  event for the Oregon outback humane society.  I have to admit when I knew that we were going to Lakeview, I had some reservations as to how we would be accepted with our positive dog training techniques.  After all Lakeview is a very small community and has not had the advantage that a bigger city does when it comes to dog training.  As far as I knew they did not even have any dog trainers in Lakeview.  I was right.  We were asked by Martina Keil who almost single handedly makes this organization happen along with some of the best volunteers I have ever had the pleasure of working with.

Pam and I arrived from our home in Central Oregon to Lakeview at around 5:00 pm.  We met with Martina and her Husband as well as a few volunteers as they were setting up the areas where we would be doing our training demonstrations.  We were told that we were competing with a gun show in the same area as the event so I thought ” this is going to be awful”.  After all how in the heck are we as positive dog trainers going to compete with a gun show?  We finished helping Martina and the others and went to our hotel room (the Best Western), who so graciously donated a free night to the event for us.  After dinner Pam and I were talking about how this was just not going to be our kind of event and we were feeling a bit bummed out.  We had brought just about everything we had from our facility as far as training tools (toys, harnesses, treats) in the hope of maybe helping some dogs and people.  We also brought our dog Beau my stead fast partner in helping aggressive dogs see the world in a much better light.

We set our booth up around 8:00 am (we were the only vendor).  Darn I wish I would have thought to take some photos, maybe Martina will share some of hers with me so I can post.  Our booth was all set up and ready to go around 9:00.  We had seen a few folks with their dogs walking around checking out the venue as well as waiting for the strut your mutt walk to start.  I forgot to mention some very important people that were also at the event.  I have a Facebook friend whom I had never actually met and he decided to come from Klamath Falls to help.  His name is Jerry Ingram.  I have to say I am so glad to have finally met Jerry as he is a very dedicated dog trainer and was a huge help to Pam and I,  as well as being a roving trainer answering questions.

Snicker in her wonder walker harness

After the dog walk  more and more people started showing up with their dog’s.  A woman came up to our booth with her beautiful pit bull female puppy and asked if there was anything we could do to help her with her dogs pulling.  We just so happened to have all of our wonder walker no pull harnesses with us so I fitted her pup with the harness and not without some difficulty, I might add,  as this little girl was having no part of this strange new thing.  After about fifteen minutes we finally got the harness fitting good and I showed the woman how to use it (adjust when needed as her dog grows) I then asked her to walk her dog and what happened was really amazing.  This woman who had literally been dragged all over the park by her dog was now walking her with one hand on a loose leash.  I asked her how she liked it and she said that she was getting a little emotional because for the first time since she rescued this dog she was able to walk her and not feel pain in her arms.  I looked at Pam and said ” another success story in the making”.

Kona in her new wonder walker harness

After this word of mouth start spreading about the harnesses then we had at least one person every five minutes coming to our booth to see what the harnesses were all about.  Within two hours we were all sold out and were taking orders for more as soon as we got them in.  It was really amazing seeing the changes not only in the dogs but the humans at the other end of the leash.  We really did not do anything as far as training goes, it was more of an attitude shift.  We also sold many different dog toys and taught a clicker training demo and a first aid demo.  There was another trainer there named Jane Devlin  a friend of mine, mentor and one of the best agility instructors there is.  Jane did an agility demo as well as a Canine Good Citizen demo, where once again Beau helped out as a calm dog.

after all of the events were over we took down our booth and helped Martina and the other volunteers wrap it up.  I have to say that this was one of the best experiences Pam and I have had at a dog event.  We were so impressed with the level of commitment of this little group of very dedicated volunteers as well as the community of Lakeview Oregon for welcoming us with open arms and open minds.  We left with a feeling of sheer delight and were very excited that Martina has asked us back next year.  So in ending I would just like to say that when you least expect it great things can and do happen even in the smallest of towns especially when you have a group of people who really are passionate about that they do.  Thanks again to Martina, her husband, all the great volunteers, Jerry Ingram, Jane Devlin and all the folks of Lakeview that came out for this fun time.  I also want to thank all of the dogs who if it were not for them the world would be a much darker place.

Dennis Fehling





19 comments - What do you think?  Posted by admin - September 30, 2011 at 2:41 pm

Categories: Dog Training   Tags:

Wolf Dog’s the perfect pet Fact or fiction?

Dennis Fehling and his friend for life Meika

My fascination with wolves began at a very early age and to this day I still dream of a world where wolves are running free without the fear of being hunted either for their fur, sport or because of politics.  Sadly to say this day will more than likely never happen because of the massive amounts of misinformation about these wonderful animals.

OK, off my soap box and on to another topic that may upset those of you who have lived with Wolf dogs or Wolf Hybrids as some may say.  When I was about twenty years old I was without a dog which has never been too long, I can’t remember a time in my life when I did not have a dog.  I was looking in the paper for another best friend when I saw an add for a Wolf dog(red wolf mix) I thought wow here is my chance to have a taste of the wild right in my own living room.  I had just got out of the Army and was living at home so this was a decision that had to be ok with all of my family including my mom who to be totally honest was not a dog person and more than likely not a wolf dog person at all. Like I said before I cannot remember a time when we did not have dogs, I think my mom accepted them for our sake.  Back to the Wolf dog I saw in the paper.  his name was Smokey and he was in a rescue in rural Oregon.  He had lived previously in Chicago with a very abusive person who had broke his jaw on a few occasions because Smokey was just being who he was(WOLF-DOG).  he had not been socialized and was very fearful of all men not surprisingly so.

I called the rescue and asked if we could go look at Smokey, he said sure but he did warn me that Smokey was not just any dog he was different. I thought I was up for the challenge.  I was to find out very soon how not up to the challenge I was.  My dad took me to meet Smokey and we told the guy that we would like to adopt him.  Right off the bat I saw something different in this animal.  He was very shy, could not calm down no matter what we did but I had made a commitment to him and my family that I would take care of him and train him. Growing up we had all different kinds of dogs in including Malamutes, Huskies, German Shepherds so i thought this would be pretty easy.  This is where my education about wolf dogs started.  Smokey had never been trained to walk on a leash, he was very hand shy(no wonder) he was afraid of everything except oddly enough my Mom the non dog person.  Whenever Smokey felt afraid he would go to my mom and not me as I would have hoped but would find comfort in the one person who was really not that into dogs.  He sensed a kindred spirit in my mom. I had a full time job and had to leave Smokey with my mom while I was at work.  They got along but I know Smokey never was very comfortable in this new situation or any situation.  When he was not in the house my mom would tie him up in the back yard on a long rope(mistake, my fault for not knowing any better at the time) for hours at a time more than likely trying to come up with a plan for an escape which he finally did after about two weeks.  He had chewed through the rope and sorry to say we never saw Smokey again.  I can only hope that he found a much more suitable life than what we had tried to give him.

I was again without a dog and again went to the paper looking for a new buddy.  I was still fascinated with Wolf dogs and wanted to try again.  This time i found a guy that was selling half wolf half German shepherd puppies not the best mixture now that I am a bit more educated on these animals.  Half of the dog is wild and has a tendency to fear and be cautious of people while the other half is not afraid of people and is a natural guard dog.  Don’t buy into the fact that these Timber Shepherds make the perfect pet either just because they are mixed with German Shepherds because they do not but that is just my opinion. Back to my adventure with Lobo.  Lobo was the only Male left in the bunch and they guy did tell me that even at 9 weeks he was an escape artist.  I have to admit that Lobo was my all time best buddy and always will be the dog that stole my heart.  We had many adventures together in the mountains hiking and taking other trips but he was not without his issues.  He was very protective(GSD part of him) he was also very very smart to the point of being scary.  He got himself  in a lot of trouble in his life mostly because of me and the fact that I did not manage him very well and basically let him get away with murder.  I never had him neutered and until the day he died he was still intact and as ornery as ever. He was an escape artist no matter what i did short of keeping him in the house he would find a way to get out of an fenced yard and usually was found trying on his own to populate the rest of the free world with little wolf dog puppies.  Lobo taught me more about dogs than any school or seminar I will ever go to.  He really taught me what not to do.  Lobo died at the age of 13 after a very colored life.

Tuka Wolf dog malamute mix

Our My next wolf dog would be Tuka. My wife and I found Tuka at a hoarders place in Grants pass Oregon and we knew that he more than likely would not have lived very long in her care so we adopted him.  Tuka was Half Wolf and malamute.  We got home and along with all of the normal puppy stuff he got very sick very quickly.  Three days after he got home he was pretty much a dead puppy.  We woke up and he was not moving and was breathing very shallowly and was burning up with a fever.  We got him tot he vets right away and they diagnosed him with Parvo.  This was to to be the case as he was exposed to Coccidia and was being treated with the wrong medicine.  Two thousand dollars later we still had a very ill puppy so I did some research and found that the treatment was different and explained to the vet that he had been exposed to Coccidia and as soon as they put him on the right medicine he recover very quickly.  You might be asking what does this have to do with the negative side of having a wolf dog? Well it was the conditions he was living in at this persons place with over a hundred not very well taken care of wolf dogs and some pure wolves all in cages while she was promoting her taste of the wild to unsuspecting people.  He finally got much better and then around 6 months of age developed the worse case of hip dysplasia the vet had ever seen.  He told us to put him to sleep but we said no and found a surgeon to fix that issue $10,000 later we had a wolf dog with titanium hips.

Now on the the many behavior issues that Tuka had.  A half content wolf is considered pretty high content as far as a wolf dog goes and yes that bit of animal does rear it’s ugly head on occasion.  He was very shy around children even though we made sure he was around many of them when he was young.  The fact that you have this beautiful animal can be a recipe for disaster because you want to show him off to the world to say look at my wolf isn’t he beautiful.  You also want to socialize them as much as possible and they being the wolf they are don’t care much for new people and their constant need to touch them. So this got us into trouble on more than one occasion especially with children.  I do have to admit that Tuka was very tolerable of other dogs at least our other dogs and had many dog buddies until he died at 8 years of age from an ingested sock that not only cost us deep emotional dollars but $10,000 real dollars.  Tuka had many great qualities but he was what he was and sometimes we just wanted to scream and at times we did because of his destructive issues.  Here are a few things that you can expect from your wolf dogs if left unsupervised.  An entire house of brand new carpet pulled up and destroyed.  Any remote control that is left out will be destroyed, and shoes that are left out will be destroyed.  Forget about having a cat or other small animal as they will quickly turn into prey.  The amount of money you spend on containment systems will break you.  For the higher content wolf dogs at least 13ft with concrete under the fence so your wolf cannot dig out and explore the neighborhood.  I hope I am getting my point across.  We loved Tuka very much and miss him everyday but he was a huge challenge.

Our beautiful girl Phoenix

Oh my wife and I were not quite finished with the whole idea if having our own taste of the wild in our lives so we made an emotional decision after we lost Tuka to look for another wolf dog rescue and this is when we found Phoenix.  Phoenix was a at a rescue in Florida where people are still breeding pure wolves and dogs together and selling them as the perfect pets.  we were both so heartbroken over losing Tuka that we decided to adopt this beautiful in need of a forever home.  We had Phoenix shipped from Florida(huge mistake putting a wolf on a plane) we picked her up and she was covered in crap and urine because of the stress of an across country flight(never do that again to any dog).  We got her home and immediately gave her a bath and that is the last we seen of her for three days because she made her way under the bed and would not come out.  We left her alone while the rest of our 6 dogs were wondering what in the heck was going on.  I knew that this very afraid girl was not going to come out on her own so i pulled her out from under the bed and thus our journey with Phoenix began.  Phoenix was a very high content wold go malamute mix as you can probably tell from the photo.  Some people have looked at her and met her and will swear to this day they were in the presence of a pure wolf.  She was the total package as far as a wolf goes, shy, fearful,not in the best of health on the diet we were giving her and had non stop diarrhea for two months no matter how many trips to the vet and how much it cost.  She was stressed and knew that this was not where she was supposed to be after all these were not other wolves she was living with but strange people and dogs that smelled different than what she had come from.

Phoenix in the puddle.

As the months passed it was a living hell in our home, even as experienced trainers as we are we were at a loss as to what to do with her.  She was constantly on the move and always destroying something.  I began to take her to the shelter where i was the head dog trainer to hopefully socialize her more.  To my surprise she loved little puppies and cats and would hang out in the front office while was training.  This lasted for about three months when I left the shelter and and went back to my private clients.  Our day to day lives with Phoenix was at times remarkable because we were blessed with living with this beautiful animal then there were the other days when it was a living hell.  I was awaken at three in the morning to find her tearing a 60ft piece of siding from our house or the next day she had made sure that every garbage can on our property was opened and spread over five acres.  I spent a week making a wolf proof garbage enclosure.  I did take her with me to town to socialize her with other people and other dogs and she actually did very well, the car rides were always an adventure because of the vomiting and diarrhea from stress of riding in the car.  We also spent a small fortune on making our fence wolf proof, remember the magic number of 13ft or more.

There were good days and very bad days with Phoenix, the fights with our other dog started to get very bad. even though she was not a very big girl she was incredibly strong for her size.  One day she would be fine with our German shepherd Meika then the next she would try to kill her.  Oh she was less than a year old when this started.  So now Meika had to stay inside when we were gone so we would not come home to a dead wold or German Shepherd. We has started to wonder when the killing of small animals would start.  That did not take long. I had been gone to a two week dog training workshop in Washington when my poor wife Pam called me to tell me that Phoenix had killed a skunk brought it inside and ripped up all over the house, not fun for Pam.  It gets worse, much worse.  As she began to get older her tolerance for any nonsense would decrease especially for other dogs.  Like I said before i took her out every day if possible to make sure that she was kept social.  Now any strange dog and it did not matter if the dog was male or female they were all targets of her rage.  So now I had to stop taking her out into the public unless I made sure there were no other dogs around, not an easy task in Central Oregon the dog capitol of the world.


Phoenix was about a year and a half when one day she flipped out and tried her best to kill our German Shepherd Meika.  This was totally out of the blue as they had always got along but Phoenix was becoming this different animal and was going to make sure that Meika would be out of the picture.  She pinned Meika down by the throat and would have killed her if I had not been there.  I pulled them apart(got bit int eh process) and took Phoenix outside to try and calm her down.  Meika was not injured thank god.  I took Phoenix to the back of the property to calm her down and she got away from me and tried to jump through one of our living room windows to get Meika.  She was bleeding fro her nose and screaming .  We knew something was not right.  We took her to the vet and found she had a brain tumor so we had to put her to sleep.  We had lost another wolf dog and friend and wonder what we could have done differently or if we ever should have rescued her in the first place.  She was loved as much as any animal could be but we knew in our hearts that she did not belong here.

Dennis and Phoenix

My hope is that if you are considering getting your own little piece of the wild you really consider the long term and not just the romantic side of owning a wolf/wolf dog.  Both Pam and I hope that you learn from our experience and really think about what you are getting into because it is a life changer.  Was it all bad? No, we had some beautiful moments and time with all of these companions but accept the fact that they are not just dogs and never will be.  I also dream of a day when those that continue to breed these animals will wake up and realize the disservice they are bringing upon them by selling them to anyone that wants a bit of the wild in their living rooms.  Wolves belong in the wild where they are their most happy with their own kind.  We are not equipped to take care of them in our urban environments.  Even your everyday dog’s are in crisis because of the lack of mental stimulation as well as physical exercise why then would we want a wild animal that requires all of this and more.  I am sure that there are many out there that have had wolf dogs and have or they think they have had wolf dogs and have been able to live with them in peace.  the vast majority are Malamutes or Husky mixes that now have the false claim of having wolf in them and are treated differently just because someone told them they have a wolf/wolf dog.

In closing I would like to thank you for taking time to read this and it is my hope that if this has influenced your decision against supporting wolf/wolf dog breeders then my day has been made.  All it takes is one person to refuse to fall for the romantics of having a wolf dog in their lives and be happy with one of millions of just regular loving dogs that can and will give you a life time of love , loyalty and unconditional love that only a dog can give you.


Dennis Fehling,

friends for life dog training

3 comments - What do you think?  Posted by admin - September 20, 2011 at 10:14 pm

Categories: Dog Training   Tags:

Nothing for free! What’s the big deal?

Denis Fehling and his friend for life Meika

If you have never heard of the term nothing for free in the context of dog training then I will explain my thoughts on the subject.  Nothing for free describes a training principle where your dog has to earn everything he or she wants in life.  Now I know to some  may find this a hard concept to apply to dogs but I can tell you that I have seen some dogs in my career that could use some of this training philosophy.  These are the dogs that I see not listening to their people or for that fact anything that doesn’t have anything to do with them because these dogs have been taught from a very early age that certain behaviors get them what they want just like the kid who screams in the store for a favorite toy or the latest sugar filled cereal.  The poor parent not wanting to be embarrassed by their child’s rant will give in and now we have a child that pretty much gets anything they want because they are learning to manipulate their parents.

As far as dog training goes the nothing for free idea can be taken too far or sometimes not far enough.  Some people and trainers alike think that their dogs have to earn everything from play to food, attention, free time because they feel that if they do not have total control of their dogs then their dogs will run all over them or god forbid Dominate them.  I will not get into the whole domination thing here as I will loose my train of thought and that can get scary.  I have to admit long ago I had a wolf dog named Lobo who got away with murder especially when it came to food.  Thank god my wife Pam set me straight on that little issue.  Lobo had never been taught to wait for his food and it got to the point that he would try taking it out of my hands before I even let the bowl hit the ground which sometimes caused a huge mess.  I can say that my wife Pam taught Lobo to wait patiently for his food and did this until the day he died.  This is something we have done with all of our dogs that last 13 years and it really makes meal times much easier and calmer in a multi-dog household.

I am not of the belief that your dog needs to earn everything he or she gets because if that was the case then my dogs and my clients dogs would never be able to rest because they would be working all the time.  Like I said this can be taken too far or not far enough.  My idea of nothing for free is if my dog is jumping all over me why would I want to give them attention.  Jumping is a huge problem with dogs and one of the reasons many of them are given up and something I get hired to help with all the time.  What is so wrong with just asking for a polite sit before a pet or a game of tug?  This way our dogs learn that if they want attention or a game of tug that a sit or a stand must happen and the feet must be on the floor.  Not such a bad plan.  I have also heard from people that they have major issues with their dogs while eating, everything from fights to literally grabbing the bowl from their hands.  Here is a video of our seven dogs eating in peace.  This is how we have always done it and it works very well.Note> all of these dogs including the wolf dog Phoenix are all rescue dogs. This teaches dogs impulse control which can be very helpful and can even save their lives.

Have you ever had a dog that just ran over you to get out of a door?  I am sure you have as I know I have and this can not only be frustrating but dangerous as well for both humans and dogs.  I teach my dogs that if they want to go out the door that they need to give me a little space and not just think that they can just bowl me over to get outside.  Here is the test part for you.  Does your dog like to go outside?  If you answered yes then why not earn that privilege by just sitting politely and waiting making everyone’s life much easier and much safer too. One of the biggest dangers for dogs is jumping out of cars as soon as the door opens.  Imagine you are in a busy area like a dog park or vets office and you open the door and boom! your dog just leaps out and runs away in their excitement.  Most of our dogs unless they have been hit by a car and lived do not know that cars are dangerous because usually those cars take our dogs to fun places like parks, hiking, camping so why would they fear cars?  Now your dog is running to get to the park or just runs out into the street while you are freaking out and chasing them you could get hurt or killed in the process too.  Now I ask what is so wrong with just teaching your dog that if you want out of the car or truck to just sit or stand and wait until all is safe  taking the time to put the leash on and now you can go?  I think life would be so much easier for dogs and people if this was done.

Another huge issue with dogs is pulling which is what I talked about last time.  The way I see it is that if my dogs wants to get to something or go somewhere then doing so on a loose leash has to happen.  I don’t know about you but I hate being pulled and really do not enjoy the walk.  I know that some of you might think that asking nicely for our dogs to not pull or earn a few things might break their spirits.  In all my years as a trainer and a pet parent I have never seen this happen and more than likely never will. I am always amazed why this is such a hard concept to grasp because I know that I do not get paid unless I provide a service to my clients which is very rewarding to me because it allows me to keep doing what I love which is training people to live with their dogs in a non combative way.

Last year we were at the Oregon Pet expo in Redmond Oregon when I met a couple interested in doing some private training for their new puppy.  They asked me about my training style and I told them about nothing for free or at least how I trained it.  The woman said ” don’t you think that is kind of harsh?” I talked to her and her husband for about 15 minutes and they took my card and I thought wow did I just loose a potential client.  A month later when they got their new puppy they called me and asked when I could start the training.  I was very surprised they had called.  After our 6 weeks of private training I asked them to fill out our customer evaluation form.  they said one of the most useful concepts they learned was the ” nothing for free”  and how it really helped them with their new puppy.

In closing I would like to ask you when you hear the term “nothing for free” when it comes to dog training to please take it with a grain of salt and realize that there are as many styles of dog training as their are dog trainers.  Ask the trainer if you can sit in on a class so you can judge for yourself what they mean by nothing for free.  If they refuse then run for the hills and look elsewhere because you might literally be barking up the wrong tree.  As always ask for references from other clients and people in your area to make sure that they are positive based trainers who teach mutual respect between dogs and humans and do not rely on punishment based methods.

Until next time,

Dennis Fehling

friends for life dog training ” where we celebrate the power of positive training”


2 comments - What do you think?  Posted by admin - September 12, 2011 at 8:02 pm

Categories: Dog Training   Tags:

Loose leash walking

Dennis and his friends for life, Snickers, Meika, Flash, Beau and Pawsey

Loose leash walking By,

Dennis Fehling


loose leash walking is a skill that takes time and a lot of practice as dogs do not come hardwired to walk with us humans on a leash. To most dogs we move way to slowly for their liking.  The best time to start teaching your dog to walk nicely on their leash  is when they are puppies,  so they get used to all the equipment.  This is not saying that an older dog’s cannot be taught to walk nicely on their leash, quite the contrary as most of the dogs we see are older dogs and they do very well at learning leash manners with a little time and practice. I would like you to think about the next time you take your dog on a walk that you will never never fear a tight leash again because one of the main reasons dogs pull is that they are reinforced for pulling.  Here is an example of how your dog learns that pulling works for them.

You are out on your morning walk the sun is shining bright and the world is pretty good.  All of a sudden out of nowhere your dog sees something that he/she wants.  This could be another dog or a favorite place that has some great smells for your dog to sniff.  Your dog could see another person that they know and if your dog likes this person chances are they will pull you to get to that person which now makes the pulling worse because pulling has worked for your dog. So from now on I would like you to not follow your dog when they pull.  As soon as you feel the leash go tight just stop and wait till the leash goes loose again then move forward.  If your dog continues to pull then change direction and go the other way.  When your dog catches up to you reward with a tasty treat.  I always carry tasty treats with me on all of my walks so I can be prepared when my dog is walking next to me to reward them for not pulling.

I would also like you to think when you are practicing loose leash walking to not have a goal in mind as far as distance.  To really make this work for you and your dog you have to set aside time to just practice and not be rushed by having to get somewhere.  You might just start out trying to go 10 ft with the leash loose.  I love to use cones( like the bright orange highway ones) you can get them for about $8.00 at any hardware store or you can just use rocks if you want to save money.  You just need some way of  keeping track of how far you are going.  I line up my cones or rocks in a straight line about two feet apart. I have my dog start in a sit and then say let’s go.  At each cone or rock I will mark walking on a loose leash by using a clicker or a word like yes when my dog gets to each cone or rock.  This way they know that staying with me is very rewarding.  This also reminds me to slow down and take my time. As your dog gets better at the game you can start asking for greater distances walking on a loose leash.  I might have my dog walk 6 steps before I say yes and reward then 10 steps say yes and reward.  I also throw some easy stuff in too.  I might have my dog walk ten steps on a loose leash then the next time only have them walk 3 steps and reward.  This way they never know when the reward is coming and they really start to pay attention to you.  In time you and your dog will happily be walking together in harmony.  For those times when you just have to get from point A to Point B there is another great tool you can use.  I have used many different kinds of anti pull devices like Halti’s, Gentle Leaders both the face halters and the easy walk harness.  Recently I was at a seminar in Seattle Washington and a friend told me of a great company that makes a harness called a Wonder Walker body harness( which we are selling at our training facility now).  I love how this harness fits compared to others on the market.  The harness comes with very detailed but simple to follow fitting instructions as well as a wide variety of colors to choose from.

Snickers with her wonder walker body harness

What makes this harness different is the fit.  On others we have used some dogs just could never get a correct fit no matter how they were adjusted.  We have tried the wonder walker on many dogs with great success.  Keep in mind that whatever equipment you use( we do not use prong collars or choke chains) these are just tools and do not teach your dog to walk nicely on a leash.  Think of them as power steering for your dog, they work very well but are not a substitute for proper training.  They do provide those folks that just do not have the time to teach their dogs leash manners and with our busy lives they can really be a life saver. I would like to add that there is no one perfect way to teach loose leash walking and that it does take lots of time and practice.  So go out there with your dog and practice practice practice and you will see improvement faster than you think.

Friends for life dog training will be offering a 4 week class on Loose Leash walking in October.  Keep checking our website for class dates and times.

Thanks for reading our dog training blog.

Dennis Fehling and Pam Bigoni

26 comments - What do you think?  Posted by admin - September 2, 2011 at 1:29 am

Categories: Dog Training   Tags:

The benefits of positive dog training.


Dennis Fehling and his best friend Meika








Wow, where do I start as far as the many benefits had by positive dog training?  I see so many dogs that have been trained using traditional punishment based methods and it’s really amazing how quickly they can learn if given the chance.  With so much information out there as far as dog training it’s a wonder that there are still so many people who still continue to use very outdated methods to teach their dogs.  I truly believe that when you get comfortable with something over time it can be very hard to change old habits,  especially if the method has worked for you it can even make change that much harder.  As a positive dog trainer it is not only my job but my passion to teach positive methods that work based on science and not fiction and to try my best to show that positive methods not only work quicker but the behavior last much longer.  One story comes to mind of a recent client and his beautiful two year old German Shepherd.  My client wanted to check out one of our classes so I recommended our Friday night class so he could get the feel for how we train and what we had to offer him and his great dog.  I have to admit I had never seen a dog get leash corrected so many times in such a short amount of time.  I counted at least 50 leash corrections in ten minutes.

Finally I had seen enough and asked him if I could help and to my surprise he said “please do because I really hate doing this” within about 5 minutes i had this dog walking very nicely on a leash just doing some basic clicker training and focus work.  My client said I have seen enough and wanted to sign up for our basic manners adult dog class.  We talked about the leash correcting and he said that is what he had been told to do with his dog since he was a puppy by another trainer.  He could not believe how fast using a more positive approach worked with his dog and now I see him and his dog at least two times a week for our basic manners class and friday night class.  His dog is now wearing a harness to help manage the leash pulling and is one of our best students.

This is just one of many success stories out of thousands of that other positive trainers report everyday.  So weather it’s an older dog or new puppy     positive training works and is fun, the behaviors are learned quicker and last longer and the dogs look forward to the training.  So the next time you are thinking how should I train my dog?  You do not have to look any further than positive training, it’s fun, it works, your dog will love it and you can stop working so hard.


Dennis Fehling August 2011

7 comments - What do you think?  Posted by admin - August 21, 2011 at 12:36 am

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We love our clients and thier dogs

Hello valued clients and dogs. This is just a quick note from Dennis and Pam to tell you all how much we appreciate you, your business and continued support. Without you this business would not survive. Thank you again for choosing friends for life dog training where we “celebrate the power of positive training”

Dennis Fehling and Pam Bigoni

9 comments - What do you think?  Posted by admin - August 19, 2011 at 8:54 pm

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Introduction to Friends For Life Dog Training

Friends For Life Dog Training

Dennis Fehling has worked with many different dogs that need help with basic manners as well as more serious behavior issues like dog to dog aggression, dog to human aggression, dog separation anxiety, shy and fearful dogs, obsessive barking and many other problem behaviors  and is very successful at solving these issues that his clients face with their dogs. There are many ways to train a dog; we focus on the positive aspects of training by using only proven scientific methods that rely on a force free approach.  Dennis continues to educate himself through attending many seminars that focus on behavior and dog training.  As a proud graduate of the Animal Behavior College Dennis learned the essential tools to train dogs and their humans through positive reinforcement.  As a guild Certified Tellington TTouch practitioner and one of a very few men in this field of compassionate training Dennis is confident these tools along with the strong commitment to continuing education about all aspects of dog behavior enable him to get results through positive training with both dogs and humans.
Pamela Bigoni has had years of experience working with many types of dogs especially the bully breed and is very adept at training puppies. Pam volunteered for the Redmond Oregon humane society and was also on their board of directors. She was instrumental in the dog walking program at the shelter and in three years never missed a day rain or shine of walking dogs. She completed the Karen Pryor clicker training academy for dog trainers in 2010 and also attends many seminars to continue her education as a positive dog trainer. She will be attending the Instructor Training Course in accord New York in August with two of the best dog trainers and teachers in the world Pia Silvani and Trish King.  Pam is also heading up our nose work classes and is pursuing the title of Certified Nose work instructor. Pam along with Dennis completed the Pet Tech first aid and CPR instructor’s course and teaches monthly workshops on pet first aid for pet parents, dog trainers, dog groomers, pet sitters, dog walkers and anyone in the pet care industry. Dennis and Pam share their lives with five rescue dogs Beau, Flash, Meika, Pawsey and Snickers who are both deaf dogs.

5 comments - What do you think?  Posted by admin - August 18, 2011 at 12:27 am

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