Celebrating National Dog Day with Rugby James!

This simple photo was taken one night in 2016 when Rugby and I were just snuggled together on the Big Bed.  He was relaxed and calm, and I asked him for a “High Five.”  This is what he gave me, and I happened to have my phone handy to snap a picture.  I simply love this photo.  I really do.  It’s one of my very favorites.

Not only does it show off Rugby’s beautiful fawn-speckled legs, and his wild paw fur that seems to have a mind of its own, but it says so much more to me.  Volumes, in fact.  Sometimes I get a tear in my eye when I see it, because it’s one of those photos that always finds me staring at it for a good long bit.

I see a big human hand, and a small, trusting paw in that big hand.  I see the size differential, and I think of how scary I must seem to my little twenty two pound dog!  It helps me remember to be less scary and more approachable, because my little dog is really very small and very overwhelmed by the human world.  All of our dogs give us the best that they have to offer, and we all need to remember that!  No matter how large or small that paw is in our hand, we always need to remember that we also hold our dog’s hearts in those hands of ours!

I think of the little puppy left to raise himself, and the five long years of work that he and I did to learn how to trust each other.  I think of how he was shuffled from home to home and from shelter to rescue, and just how terrified he had to feel coming home with me to yet another new home, another new yard, more new rules, another new name, and more new Uprights….and just how brave my little guy really is.  Dogs are so resilient, and this photo represents that resilient little dog that I’m lucky enough to call mine.

This photo is a celebration of all of those things.  It celebrates the innate trust that dogs have, no matter how they get treated by humans.  It represents teamwork which develops when a human decides to share their life with a dog. It celebrates the hours and hours of training that he and I have put in together to create a bond that goes so deeply we are intertwined not only by hand and paw, but heart to heart.

It celebrates humans and dogs….be those dogs purebred or All American Dogs of unknown parentage.

So here’s to the dogs that have captured our hearts lock, stock and barrel!!

Much love, from Rugby James and I!


Training Tip Tuesday: Rewards Based Training…Laying a Good Foundation

Mama Sally:

Rewards Based Training

Rugby will tell you that I prefer to train using rewards that I know a dog likes or wants.  I tend to call it “Rewards Based Training.”  Some of you might know it as “Positive Reinforcement Training.”

The term “Positive Reinforcement” is so overused and common, that I find most of my clients really don’t have a clue what it means!  If you miss the complete understanding of “Positive Reinforcement” you will miss the entire point of why this method of training is so good and so very effective!

I like to call my training style “Rewards Based Training” because I think that this term is actually more descriptive in defining what I do. Simply said, I train with a reward that I know a dog wants or likes!  Boom.  Easy peasy, right?

Your reward doesn’t have to be food! Some dogs that I train go crazy to play with a specific toy, so I use a toy to train with them! Choose the reward that YOUR dog likes and wants!

In theory, yes, it’s easy.  Dogs learn by simple means, and they learn fairly easily, so that’s one reason they have adapted to life with humans so well.  You may think that your dog is snoozing and not paying attention, but don’t kid yourself!  Your dog is a master of observation!  He’s watching the patterns of your life with him, and using his problem solving skills get what he wants and needs.  And he’s a master in getting those things in the easiest way possible.  That’s smart!

We can use all of those observation and problem solving skills to our advantage in training, because when we can create a way for our dogs to learn a specific pattern of behavior with consistency, our dogs will fall right into the behavior that we want from them! Consistency plays a huge part in successful rewards based training, because a dog has to understand and know that he’s going to get a predictable positive result that he likes and wants, when he produces consistent behavior.  This is really critical to success with rewards based training.

I often use a clicker when I train Rugby, but he also knows a verbal marker which has the same meaning for him.

Commands or Tricks are Simply Small Encapsulated Games

Think of commands or tricks as small, simple games that have specific rules for play.  “Sit”, for example has a rule that your dog must place his rump on the ground in order to get a treat.  Pretty simple, right?  In order for a dog to quickly and consistently produce that behavior, he has to first understand what the “Sit” game is.  He has to learn the word where he can focus on his handler, and receive a consistent reward long enough that the game makes sense to him, and then he will be able to quickly and easily produce the behavior of placing his rump on the floor when he hears a specific cue to “Sit”, and sees a corresponding hand signal as well.  No surprise there, right?  It makes sense to you so far, doesn’t it?

Teaching dogs to simply sit all by themselves (no command or hand signal) is often where I start my training with dogs. It helps them learn to earn something from me!

This next part is where I often see a disconnect in humans understanding how dogs learn.  Dogs simply can’t generalize their behavior quickly or easily, and that’s very difficult for humans to understand!  Owners often place unfair and unreasonable expectations on their dogs, feeling frustrated when their dog is “stubborn,” “willful” or “disobedient.” Most of the time, when I see the “stubborn” behavior in a lesson, I can easily see why there’s a disconnect between the dog and owner.  Often, it’s simply because the dog has not yet figured out exactly what the rules are for the specific game, or, sometimes, the owner has made things too hard, or too fast for their dog to figure out.

In order for a dog to really, fully understand the “Sit” game, his handler must carefully add distractions one by one until his dog can generalize his behavior in relation to that specific word cue.  This means that for success, the handler and dog must  practice the “Sit” game many times in various contexts.  For example, training needs to happen in various rooms of your house, when people are walking in and out of those rooms, outside in the back yard, on walks in the neighborhood, at the park, etc. When dogs have worked through the generalization process, and fully understand the desired behavior, then they can quickly and easily produce it. The generalization process just simply takes time, and humans aren’t terribly patient creatures.  We want what we want….the way that we want….and when we want it!  That can be very frustrating and unfair to our dogs!

Dogs Aren’t Robots!!  They Learn at the Rate That They Learn!

None of the dogs that I train are robots.  They can think, feel, experience and choose.  They aren’t something that we program and then they spit out consistent data in a weekend. Yes, we can “program” the behavior that we want to see, over time and with consistency.  But unlike a computer, dogs can think and choose what they want to do!  If we want positive results, we have to respect our dogs for who they are:  living, breathing, thinking, feeling, creatures!

Dogs learn at the rate that they learn.  So do you and I!  Some complex concepts are easier for me to grasp than others.  In that regard, it’s no different for Rugby James as well!  Some dogs can quickly problem solve and figure out a new behavior lickity split.  Others take more repetition.  Neither one is bad, wrong or stupid.  They just are what they are!

For good training success, think of being a partner or teammate with your dog, rather than looking at your dog as a “minion” or something that you can boss around.  Ain’t no dog got time for that!  You’ll feel far less frustrated with the process if your dog is your partner and you’re building a team with him.  Trust me on this one!!

I just love the look on Rugby’s face here. He is SO happy and focused on learning. This photo screams that we’re a team, and that’s what my training is all about!

Rugby James has plenty of opinions on this subject!  Let’s hear what he has to say!

Rugby James

I’m a lil dogger what has had lotsa different homes and mamas, so I know about these fings.  I has lived at the shelter before, on deaf row even, what means that I was gonna get putted to sleep when I was just a lil pupper and not even all growed up!!  I gotted fished out of the shelter by a rescue group, but then I hadda go to sum new foster homes before I gotted my forever home wif the Mama I gots now.

When you’re a lil dogger what has been in lotsa different homes, you understand fings in the Upright world purty good.  Uprights like you and then they doesn’t like you.  Sumtimes they does fings a certain way for a while, and then they changes fings and does it a completely different way….just when you’re trying to figure out what the first way is!!

Sumtimes, if there’s a bunch of Uprights what lives in the house, sum of them does fings a certain way, and then sum of the udders does it a different way too….only it’s really hard to know what way they all want you to do stuff.  It’s like a game you can’t win what gots lotsa different rules to it, and the rules changes every single time you play the game!

Doggers isn’t dumb critters.  Nopawdy wantsa play a game when they can’t win.  So sumtimes, doggers just stops playing the games, what can make Uprights mad.  It can get you dumped at a shelter or gived back or gived away! Uprights expect doggers to be mind readers and just “know” how you’re supposed to act.  I always tried so hard to figure it out, only when I maked mistakes, I gotted yelled at a big much, what hurted my feelings.  When my feelings gotted hurted, it was really hard for me to trust the Uprights again when they was nice to me after they was all done being mad.

The Mama always tells me what a smart lil pupper I am.  I fink I’m purty smart too!  I try really, really hard to get fings right, and to do the fings what I knows that the Mama likes and wants from me.  I know lotsa words and what specific fing I’m supposed to do when I hears those specific words.  And the Daddy uses the very same rules, so nuffing changes between them what makes it a lot easier for me to know what to do!

It taked me a long time to trust the Mama on account of the udder Mamas and Daddies teached me how flaky Uprights can be. When the rules always changes, and when a lil dogger doesn’t understand and can’t figure out what to do, the world can really be a scary place.

But, I want you to listen to the Mama in this lil movie where I was working a puzzle.  Isn’t she a good coach?  Doesn’t she encourage good?  I lubs the happy, escited sound she gots in her voice, and even when I mess up, she doesn’t fuss at me.  She just helps direct me to the right fing to do.

The best fing, is that when I work for the Uprights at my house, they gives me a good paycheck for that work.  I doesn’t get snacks for basic fings what I has learned really good, but the Mama is always teaching me new fings, so I always getsa chance to earn snacks wif new stuff I’m learning or for puzzle play.

Next time, we’ll tell you how we faded snacks sos you can learn to do it the right way!


Saturday Snicker: A Polka Dottie Piggie Goes for an Unexpected Swim!

As everyone knows, really funny dog events often just happen spontaneously!   Some of my favorite dog memories center around spontaneous silly events that I could never have planned.  These kinds of things just seem to “happen,” and this week, I was fortunate enough to have a front row seat to an epic event!

Earlier this week, while I was doing some laundry, Rugby had been herding me with one of his little polka dottie piggies!  Yes, I know that’s a surprise to you, but it’s true.  He was in rare form, and he was being persistent and insistent in trying to sucker me into play with him!  My laundry room is definitely not big enough for me, a bag of laundry, Rugby, and a grunting polka dottie piggie!

I knew I was going to have to come up with something to get him off of my leg and out of his herding mentality, so I grabbed his piggie and tossed it back over my shoulder.  I didn’t know where it went, and frankly didn’t care.  I just knew that it was going to land in the kitchen, and that was good enough.  It was out of the room, and far away from my legs!

I heard Rugby bark his signature “help me” bark, which is always two sharp little barks.  “Bark Bark!”  He will pause, and wait to see if anyone will come to his aid.  After maybe fifteen seconds, he will repeat his little “Bark Bark!” And he waits.  He’s so patient, and so persistent in reminding me that he needs an extra paw!  And unless I hop to it and help him, he’s not going to walk away from whatever he wants or needs!!  And maybe more notable is that fact that he’s also not going to stop his little “Bark Bark” which can grate on my nerves after a few minutes!

So of course when I heard Rugby’s little “Bark Bark,” I had to go and rescue my little dog!  When I reached the kitchen, and I saw what he was barking at, I laughed so hard at what I saw!!  When I had tossed his little piggie over my shoulder, I had somehow managed to toss it right into his nearly full water bowl!  He was visibly  a bit anxious and unsure about how to rescue his little piggie from the water, and equally upset that there was a polka dottie piggie swimming in his water bowl preventing him from getting a drink!  I managed to make a cute video of the moment, and that’s our Saturday Snicker for you today!

Have a good giggle courtesy of Rugby James!


Saturday Snicker: Another Daddy Nappy Noodle

Rugby is the original snuggle pup.  He absolutely is!  For years, all of my previous dogs have been dogs who enjoyed being affectionate with me, but Rugby takes it to a whole new level!  He’s a Velcro dog, and he just can’t get close enough when he wants a snuggle or a nap….or more often than not…..a “snuggle nap.”  He’s great at multi-tasking naps with snuggles, and those are his very favorite types of naps!  He enjoys a good pretzel nap if a snuggle nap is not readily available, but if he can find a snuggle buddy, he’s all in!

Over the recent holiday, Michael was home for the afternoon, and he loves sneaking in an afternoon nap when he can.  He’s always enjoyed naps on the floor, where the surface is hard, and his back can get a good flat surface.

You can just imagine the delight that Rugby feels when he sees his Daddy settle on the floor for a nice afternoon nap! He comes running….all four paws excitedly headed toward the object of his good fortune.

I was able to capture this recent nappy noodle in its various stages, and so I present that photo montage to you….for your giggling pleasure on an otherwise boring Saturday!!  Enjoy a Saturday snicker from Rugby James!

This was the moment that Michael had laid down and Rugby climbed into his favorite spot!!


He was looking a bit pensive, because he knew that I was lurking with my camera phone!


He tolerated the first close up photo….


But quickly let me know how he really felt about this photo shoot! Rugby often pouts when he realizes that I’m taking photos, and those ears tell me how he really feels about it!


As he settled into his nap, he got into one of his favorite napping positions, a tight curl with his snoot poked down into his fluffy tail.  He always enjoys using his Daddy’s legs or bum as his pillow for propping up his head!


Before long, he morphed into a sprawled nap, working into his “sunny side up” position!


When Rugby gets into a deeper sleep, he often opens his mouth, and since he’s lacking most of his front teeth, I’m always treated to a little bit of a tongue out photo, which I absolutely love!!

These are the sweet moments that I always cherish so much with Rugby.  He’s really such a dear little dog, and it’s such a blessing to me to share this side of him with the world!