A Very Special Day to Remember

Super Denby Dog. An unlikely hero in a red racer cart! Photo Credit: Denise Baker and Denby Dog

This date marks a special anniversary for us every year.  It’s the date that one of our heroes left Earth for the Rainbow Bridge.  That hero was named Denby Dog, and he’s the reason that you’re reading this blog.  I know that some of our readers are thinking, “What?  Who is Denby Dog?  He’s not the reason I’m reading this blog! I’ve never heard of him!”

When I first got acquainted with the online dog community, Corgi Nation in particular, I came across a Blog called “The Daily Corgi.”  I was new to the blog world, but hey, there were photos and stories of really cute Corgis, so I was all in!  And one day, I read about an amazing little dog named Denby Dog!  He couldn’t eat or drink or blink on his own, and he lived in this little red racer wheelchair cart.  Every. Single. Day!!  I had to know more!

Denise always found unique ways to decorate Denby’s Red Racer. He often wore custom license tags. Photo Credit: Denise Baker and Denby Dog.

He had a FaceBook page, so I started to follow him and his adventures.  Every day, I was infused with hope, with love, with a warm fuzzy, and sometimes even a laugh, as his owner, Denise Baker shared his life with her readers.  Every day for me, Denby Dog was a must read.

For various local parades, Denise and one of her talented neighbors, created unique costumes to bring smiles and warm hearts. Photo Credit: Denise Baker and Denby Dog

Even though Rugby James wasn’t a dog with the physical challenges that Denby faced every day, I related to life with a special needs dog.  The needs were just different.  Rugby is a special needs dog as well, but his needs are all emotional ones.  Rugby is a dog who is emotionally fractured, and like Humpty Dumpty, I can’t put the pieces back together.

I love the depth of Rugby’s eyes. He calls them his “sincere eyes” and they just look right into my heart…and I melt!

Oh I’ve tried.  Believe me, I’ve tried.  Over and over and over until I’m blue in the face, I’ve tried.  But like Denise discovered with Denby Dog, Rugby just can’t be fixed.  His emotions are too broken.  The pieces that are needed to fix him are missing, or don’t fit, and I can’t find the puzzle pieces that do fit and work.

For a long time, I just didn’t know what to do with Rugby.  I had never owned a dog like him.  He was such a cute little guy!  He was so smart! His heart was all in on anything and everything that we did together!  And he really did try so very hard!  But, at the end of the day, he was still a very broken little dog.

Rugby loves learning new tricks and playing games and puzzles. He’s so very smart and brain games are always a big hit at my house!

The colleagues that I knew and trusted were at a loss for help.  They were also devoid of hope.  They scratched their heads about how to fix Rugby. Their solutions all included giving up and getting a new dog.  Believe me, on bad days, there was already a little voice inside of me whispering….”He’s a no hoper.  Move on.”

But I just couldn’t bring myself to give up on him.  I couldn’t.  I couldn’t look at my physically healthy puppy….who was all of eight or nine months old when I got him…and tell him that I was giving up like his four previous owners had done.  I just couldn’t.  I couldn’t fail him.  He was so young.  He was so smart.  He deserved a life with a human who believed in him and who wouldn’t give up on him.  No matter what.  I knew that I’d never live with myself for giving up on him.  I had to try.

This is what all of us need: HOPE!! Denby Dog provided a daily dose! Photo Credit: Denise Baker and Denby Dog

I decided that I was going to be that owner who was all in, but hope was something that was elusive and hard to find.  Enter Denby Dog.  So many times when I hit the wall in working through yet another behavioral issue with Rugby, I found hope flying out the window.  I felt all alone, because no one seemed to understand why I loved my  nutty little dog.  There was no one to encourage me or who would whisper, “Don’t give up.  You got this!”

And there was Denise and Denby Dog.

Another one of Denby’s wonderful costumes….dressed as a real life hero! Little did he know how he rescued this dog trainer and Rugby from a crash and burn! Photo Credit: Denise Baker and Denby Dog

Time and again, I saw Denise hit one awful DM (degenerative myelopathy) milestone after another, as Denby continued to lose one function after another.  But instead of sadly marking those moments, Denise always found a way to approach them with courage and with hope and love!  She never focused on what Denby had lost, but she chose to focus on what Denby could still do in life.  And she was focused on giving Denby the best quality of life that she could, for as long as she could.

When Denby lost the ability to pee and poop, Denise fitted him with “Hot Pants” and found a way to make them fun! Photo Credit: Denise Baker and Denby Dog

Denise and Denby Dog were an amazing team.  The trust that they had for one another was incredible.  The fun that they had together always produced a warm fuzzy and a smile for my heart.  When I was lacking in hope on a given day, it never seemed to fail that Denby Dog provided that boost that I needed to be able to take a deep breath and try again.

Young Denby before he lost his eye and before the Red Racer Cart. Denise dealt with lots of drool, because of Denby’s inability to swallow. Photo Credit: Denise Baker and Denby Dog

That’s the reason I started Rugby’s Facebook page and ultimately this blog.  I’m a professional dog trainer.  That’s what I do.  Six days a week, I’m out in the trenches, training wonderful, but naughty dogs day in and day out.

A proud Willie Bear who learned how to get on the kitchen counters all by himself! Photo Credit: Lynn Goodman

I see all kinds of dogs with all kinds of behavior.  Believe me, I know that there are LOTS of nutty dogs just like Rugby James out there, and there are just as many wonderful owners who don’t want to give up on those dogs.  They feel just as lost as I once did, and they’ve often lost hope that anything can change or that anyone will understand their deep and crazy love for a broken dog.

The tube sticking out of Denby’s neck enabled him to eat and drink several times every day. Photo Credit: Denise Baker and Denby Dog.

Because of Rugby James, I get it.  I understand.  I can be that shoulder to cry on.  I can be the professional help that knows how to train through difficult behavior systematically, baby step by baby step.  There just are some dogs who can’t be fixed for whatever reason.  But most of the time, even for the really broken dogs, I can make things better for the dog and owner, just like I have with Rugby James.  I can teach clients how to “Corgi On….Corgi Strong” when things are hard.  I can and do dispense copious amounts of encouragement and HOPE!

“Corgi On Corgi Strong” became Denby’s battle cry because of the courage that he used to face every challenge that came his way in life! Photo Credit: Denise Baker and Denby Dog

Denby Dog and Denise will always and forever be my heroes.  Without even knowing me at the time, they provided the much needed hope, love, encouragement, and the smiles my heart needed to continue on every day with Rugby James.

The world today needs heroes.  It does.  Life is hard.  It’s not fair.  It leaves plenty of broken lives and shattered hearts in its wake.  Being a dog lover in general, and a Corgi lover in particular, it’s no surprise that this hero came to Rugby and I wearing dog fur.  We just needed to know where to look to find him.

This little dog in a red racer cart may always and forever be Denise Baker’s Denby Dog, but believe me….to Rugby James and me, Denise and Denby will always and forever be our heroes.

None of us really know what curves life will throw us. Life is not a straight path at all. But with courage and a good hero, we can find our way. Photo Credit: Denise Baker and Denby Dog.





Tuesday Training Tip: When Your Dog Doesn’t Listen

Rugby James:

Doggers ignore their owners for all kindsa reasons, and sum of them might surprise our readers:

  • They is distracted wif sumping else more interesting, like a skirrel in the yard, or the neighbors are out, etc.
  • They doesn’t wanna give up doing what they wantsa do for what the Uprights wants them to do
  • There’s not enuff paycheck to convince the dogger to do what the Upright wants
  • They’re off leash sos they doesn’t hasta do what the Upright wants.
  • They is past their threshold for reactivity, sos they can’t listen because they is all stressed out, over-excited, etc.

When I was a new dogger to the Mama, I had already learned that I didn’t hasta do what she wanted, so we hadda start slow and undo sum stuff what I had already learned.

When doggers is playing wif fings, they is focused on what they is doing, and NOT on their Uprights!

One common fing in all of those items on my list, is that doggers gots stuff to do, just like Uprights does!  We fink our stuff is important, just like Uprights does!  And, we is just lil doggers wif small brains what doesn’t understand the big picture of safety, and Uprights gotsa leave on time for work, and stuff like that.

If you remember one fing today, just remember that your lil dogger is trying the best that he can!  He’s really trying, and he needsa has you understand that and help him to have success!  The Mama will tell you how to make that happen!

Would this face lie to you? Remember that your lil dogger is really trying. He. Is. Really. Really. Trying!!

Mama Sally:

This issue is probably one of the most frustrating experiences for a dog owner:  a dog who just won’t listen!  However, most of the time, I think owners really have put their dogs in a situation where they will likely fail.  Look at the reasons that Rugby gave for why dogs don’t want to listen to their owners.

Typically, when your dog won’t pay attention to you, it’s most often when the dog is off leash, so they are a free agent, and your dog knows it!!  When your dog is off leash, you have zero control over what he’s doing, and you can’t “make” him do anything he doesn’t already want to do.  Do yourself a huge favor, and put a leash on your dog before you ask him to comply with anything!

The common denominator in all of Rugby’s examples is that the dog is distracted!  Expecting a dog to ignore distractions and focus on their owners is a long process.  Dogs don’t generalize things easily or quickly, so it’s very difficult for them to understand commands and focus in the midst of distractions.

Systematic introduction to distractions is the key to success.  When the dog understands how to focus on their owners, with no distractions, and then they are taught to focus through small distractions and increase to bigger distractions, they will be able to generalize that focus over time.  Two commands that are helpful here are “Leave it” and “Watch me.”

When I teach “Leave it,” part of the signal that the dog gives is that he must break focus with what he wants, in order to look at me from either a sit or down….whatever position the dog chooses.  It’s really a very important part of the process to help a dog learn to break that focus and look at his owner/handler!  As long as your dog is looking at the source of his focus, he is going to do what he wants to do, and he’s not paying attention to you.

One thing that works right along with teaching distracted work, is watching your dog’s threshold with the distraction.  The further the distraction, the more likely your dog will be able to focus on you.  As your dog learns how to focus on his you,  the threshold can be reduced gradually over time.

Expecting your dog to focus off leash out in the yard with distractions is your last step in the process. Be sure you are systematically getting there!

Remember that all distractions are not created equally.  You really need to know your dog and what trips his triggers.  I like to start focus work with things that don’t trigger a dog at all.  That way, he can practice and learn the correct behavior that you want from him before you start distracted work.  It really makes things go faster by the time you add in distractions.

The other thing that comes along with distracted work, is the paycheck that you offer your dog for his work.   When he is working with no or low distractions, he likely won’t require a high value treat.  However, when I want Rugby to focus on me when the neighbors are out in their back yard, I know I have to pull out a super high value treat because of the proximity to our yard, and the movement and sounds the neighbors are making.  A low value treat just won’t do it.

To summarize:

  • Be sure your dog is on leash when you start focus work.
  • Start your work with training “Leave it” and “Watch me.”
  • Your initial training should be with no distractions at all.
  • Systematically add distractions little by little as your dog learns and becomes consistent with his responses.
  • Consider your dog’s threshold to the distraction, and be sure the distraction is far enough away as your dog is learning.
  • Make sure your paycheck matches up with the work you expect from your dog.

And remember Rugby’s sage advice:  Your dog really IS trying to get things right!  He’s trying so hard to figure out what you want him to do!  Help him in the process by following my suggestions, and you’ll be off and running with a dog who can’t wait to listen and focus on you!

I’m really excited to have joined a wonderful Positive Pet Training Blog Hop!  What that means, is that you’ll see some additional blog icons at the bottom of this post.  This month our Blog Hop Theme is all about what to do when your dog won’t listen.  You can click on the additional blog icons if you’d like to know more about this subject from a different blogger.



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!