Client spotlight: Holly the golden retriever

Holly works on down-stay

Holly works on down-stay

Congratulations to our April client spotlight, Holly the golden retriever!

Holly is a sweet puppy whose parents want the very best for her, so they called up Delightful Doggies to ensure their training with her goes well and positively. She has been a stellar Day Training student, mastering skills quickly and enthusiastically.

Holly’s list of known cues includes touch, sit, down, stay, release, watch me, give it, take it, leave it and come. She’s also working on that leash thing, which is weird! ;) Holly looks forward to training and is eager to please. In between training drills, she enjoys belly rubs and butt scratches, and she keeps her big brother, Saguaro, busy too! He has been enjoying her training sessions as well, since he always gets some good treats for doing sits and being patient as well. They are very sweet and smart kids!

Thank you, Holly, and your parents for allowing us to speed up your basic cues and manners training through our Day Training program! It’s been so much fun working with you and we look forward to seeing you grow, learn and thrive in your happy home!

Happy Training,
Owner, Delightful Doggies


Your guide to a well-rounded, healthy and happy dog!

We all know how important it is for us to maintain a healthy, well-balanced lifestyle. The same is true for our dogs! Here is a quick-and-dirty guide to what I believe are important key components of a well-balanced lifestyle for your dog to ensure his health and happiness.

Head Delightful Doggy, Jasper, enjoys hikes and romps in the snow as part of his exercise regimen

Head Delightful Doggy, Jasper, enjoys hikes and romps in the snow as part of his exercise regimen

  • Great Nutrition. Mom was right when she said, “Garbage in, garbage out!” Commercial dog food diets are laden with corn, fillers, meat by-products and all kinds of artificial colors and preservatives that can affect your dog’s health and behavior in a negative way. It’s always important to ensure you read the labels of dog foods and treats, and choose those that list an actual meat as its first ingredient. Each dog is different when it comes to dietary needs; I highly recommend the Whole Dog Journal’s information on how to read labels; here is the link for how to choose a dry food. Raw diets are becoming more popular and I feed my own dogs a mixture of some dry and wet, with a re-hydrated raw. I also stick to buying stuff at independent pet stores that are committed to selling top-quality products, and whose staff are more knowledgeable about their products, as opposed to big chains or grocery stores.
  • Regular Vet Care Checkups and Grooming. Annual exams are vital, as are appropriate vaccinations, dental care and responsible spay/neuter. It’s important to never diagnose or treat health conditions on your own, particularly if they persist for more than 24 hours. Proper grooming is also vital to good health; brushing teeth, clipping nails and having a clean, well-brushed coat will help your dog feel his best. Always have 24-hour emergency numbers ready for anything that may happen. Animal Help Now is a great app here in Colorado to help you find the nearest emergency help for your pup if you are away from home or aren’t sure where you can go.
  • Proper Early and Lifelong Socialization. It’s important for all dogs to be exposed to everything they can encounter in the real world from when they are very young so they can become used to it and not fear it. We should never FORCE dogs into these situations; they should always go at their own pace and have it be a positive experience so they do not have a negative or fearful experience. Check out this awesome Doggie poster about proper socialization.
  • Adequate Exercise. All dogs need exercise and not just physical exercise, but mental exercise! Remember the needs of the individual dog; more active breeds will need more exercise than couch potatoes, and some will find certain activities more fun than others. Your border collie may love to run agility courses, and herding breeds definitely have more to “burn off” than an English bulldog in comparison. Boredom is a big problem for these dogs if they don’t have appropriate outlets for being both physically and mentally stimulated. Remember to address your dog’s need for engagement with regard to both mental and physical exercise. Play is a fun way to also give your pet exercise, and exercise is also important to prevent obesity. The ASCPA has a great guide to exercising your dog here.
  • The Ability to Relax. Exercise is definitely important, but we often forget how important it is for our dogs to learn how to relax! Sometimes it can be difficult for dogs to find an “off” switch. Teaching him patience, boundaries and impulse control is very important. Sometimes dogs who are anxious, easily aroused, fearful or reactive can have a particularly hard time learning how to just be chill. I especially love Nan Arthur’s book, Chill Out Fido, and her instructions for teaching how to Relax or Settle on a Mat. Stress is not good for any living being so it’s very important to help your dog learn how to relax and make the right decisions when it comes to life’s stressors; teaching him how to sit and focus on you can be a very valuable skill in this regard as well.
  • Basic Manners Training. It’s important for our dogs know how to sit for pets, not bolt from doors or gateways, and to not jump up on grandmother and knock her over! Basic manners training can also help satisfy mental exercise needs, and provide a foundation for communicating with your dog. My Delightful Doggy Finishing School covers all these basics, and I also really enjoy Karen Pryor’s Clicker Training Starter Kits and Pat Miller’s book, The Power of Positive Dog Training, for how to do basic training with your pup.
  • A Loving Home Environment. A warm bed. Plenty of fresh water. Shelter from the cold and heat. Sadly, some dogs in today’s world are forced to fend for themselves on the streets and others may be living on chains or in pens outside. Dogs are an important part of our family and provide us with so much unconditional love. It’s important for us to have the same for them, and to remember they require patience, commitment and respect.

I hope these tips and resources can be of help to you in providing the best for your pup. I would love to help you with any additional training or care needs you have for your dog! You can submit an inquiry today to get started.

Thank you!
Owner, Delightful Doggies

March 2014 clients

Spring is here! It’s a pleasure to assist you with all your training and pet sitting needs. We’ve graduated four more Finishing School students and enrolled two new students, went on a few off-leash adventures, did overnight and drop-in pet sitting visits, and provided customized training for several others. It’s been an amazing group of dogs, with a few felines sprinkled in for good measure!

Click on the below photo icons to see the March client slideshow. You can also see all our client slideshow photos on our Flickr site, and don’t forget to join us for more photo fun, and other great content, on our Facebook page!

Guinness and Koda Mowgli Basia Checkers Flora Iko Holly Patrick Magik and Trixie Harley Tanzanite Rosie Xenia aka Z Manny Nellie Nick and Mac Nala Wallace Rigsby Maggie Mae and Keesha Lola Turtle Oliver

Not pictured but still very appreciated: Sylar the dachshund/terrier mix and Duke the rat terrier; Leroy the shepherd mix and Nina the boxer mix; Moses the domestic shorthair; Aly the Australian kelpie; and Watson the dachshund mix.

Thank you!
Owner, Delightful Doggies

The Denver Post article

I wanted to thank John Wenzel of The Denver Post for taking the time to interview me about training methods, in light of the upcoming appearance by Cesar Millan in Denver for his piece profiling Millan.

I don’t want to rehash the same things I went over in a previous post about this topic, but I do wish to address a few things for the record.

First, I am not a “licensed” dog trainer; I am a certified professional dog trainer and veterinary assistant, through Animal Behavior College. I am also certified at the primary level in TAGteach and am working on my CPDT-KA certification. I regularly attend CE and networking events, and read many different reliable sources of information about the latest techniques in dog training and behavior. The term “licensed” is not entirely accurate; dog training is an unregulated profession, and I’ve written on this some before, as I think it’s very important for consumers to know about this, and use this information when choosing a trainer.

(NOTE: The online version of the article has now been updated to refer to me as certified, rather than licensed. Thanks, John!)

Charlie was successfully rehabilitated without using force or intimidation. He now has a relaxed, happy feeling toward strangers in his home, and is a great example of the power of positive dog training!

Charlie was successfully rehabilitated without using force or intimidation. He now has a relaxed, happy feeling toward strangers in his home, and is a great example of the power of positive dog training!

Second, when Millan was asked to reply to his critics, he said what his critics don’t understand is that he prepares people, and that energy is the way we communicate, not by the use of a leash or a touch. I find this response interesting, as it doesn’t really address what critics are saying. It seems more a deflection. Dog trainers spend a LOT of time working with people, especially when there are problem behaviors. It’s essential that people are coached effectively, this is true. And I agree, that it’s not about equipment, but about the training and how we interact with our dogs. But what is this “energy” of which Millan speaks?

I do believe that it is important to be relaxed and have a Zen-like ease around dogs. They can pick up on our insecurities, our worries, our own excitement and anxiety, and it can cause problems. Being relaxed and confident in interactions can make a big difference, especially if you’re using equipment like a leash. However, I would say that Millan’s approach to “energy” is not the same as what I or other force-free professionals would use. I never stare a dog down, or use a jab to the neck, or add more stress to situations that are volatile. This challenges the dog and can provoke a reaction I wouldn’t want to have happen–like a bite. To this day (knock on wood), I have not suffered a bite from a client because I went too far and caused that reaction. Behaviors strengthen as they are practiced so I do everything in my power to work at a level where the dog can succeed, and be reinforced for, the behaviors I want instead.

There is a video on YouTube that illustrates a bit about this. In the “Showdown with Holly,” a dog with a resource guarding problem, Millan does not back off when Holly gives clear warning signals. Instead, he provokes her and approaches her in an intimidating way, to throw her past a level of stress that I would never allow. Thinking she’s relaxed, he tries to stroke her with the same hand with which he jabbed her earlier, only to get a serious bite. As I stated in the Post article, dogs learn by association. Now that hand is a hand that hurts, and she’s going to fight back! In contrast, you can see another YouTube video from a positive reinforcement trainer that shows a better way to treat resource guarding, without force and intimidation, and without suffering a bite! Behavioral science may not hold much regard in Millan’s methods and his TV persona, and it may take a little more patience and time, but it will be more long-lasting and not produce any negative side effects, like fear or aggression, when compared to more heavy-handed techniques.

In the end, every TV viewer, book/show ticket or other product sold, is like a click of a clicker for Millan, so he is, in this way, proof that positive reinforcement works! This is the last I’ll ever write about him, as I don’t want to give more “clicks” than have already been given! But I did think this opportunity of talking with The Denver Post and using Millan’s appearance as a way to educate people on force-free, intimidation-free training was an important one. I appreciate Mr. Wenzel and his colleagues for taking the time to include what modern behavioral science has to say about his training techniques, as I know this could have very well been a one-sided profile piece.

Please do not hesitate to contact me for your training questions!
Owner, Delightful Doggies


Client spotlight: Guinness & Koda

Guinness (L) & his sister, Koda (R), await their morning cookies

Guinness (L) & his sister, Koda (R), await their morning cookies

Congratulations to our March client spotlight, Aussie siblings Guinness & Koda!

This dynamic duo have been pet sitting clients for about a year, and it’s always a pleasure to visit them to enjoy their fun-loving, affectionate presence.

Koda loves to chase balls, and her brother! It’s pretty fun to watch them, and they can really throw down when it comes to wrestling. They’re both fond of cuddling on the couch and getting lots of rubs. Guinness is a great kisser, and Koda loves watching TV!

These two have such unique personalities! What else would you expect from a pair of spunky Australian shepherds? ;)

Thank you, Guinness & Koda, for your fun companionship, and thank your parents for choosing Delightful Doggies for their pet sitting needs! It is a pleasure to serve you.

Have a wonderful week ahead, all!
Owner, Delightful Doggies

Now TAGteach certified

It is always my promise to you to learn as much as I can to be the best dog trainer and coach possible!primary_badge

Last weekend I achieved primary certification in TAGteach, a method based in behavioral analysis that helps me coach human clients using efficient positive reinforcement-based methods. By using a tag marker, I can provide effective feedback to help you achieve skills in working with your dog(s).

The seminar was led by Theresa McKeon, one of the TAGteach founders and a national-level gymnastics coach for more than 30 years. Theresa’s enthusiasm and feedback were invaluable. I’d had some struggles lately with the human element and being able to work through those alongside her and other participants to learn TAGteach methods really gave me a new perspective that has helped me gain more confidence and tools in achieving my professional goals.

Ana Melara, host (L), and Theresa McKeon (R) present my certificate

Ana Melara of Training with Grace, host (L), and Theresa McKeon (R) present my certificate

Using positive reinforcement methods with dogs is something in which I have become very well-versed, particularly in clicker training methods, which I use most often because of its effectiveness. I’ve never really thought of it as much when it comes to humans, but applying these same principles is just as magical! TAGteach was able to help me learn the nuances of how to break down instructions and establish a TAG or focus point for my human students, so they can achieve success. I tend to use a lot of words and talk a lot with human clients, but I’m now understanding the importance of silence with them as well as the dogs! I feel a lot more equipped and effective as a coach.

Want to learn more about my coaching techniques and how I can help you and your dog(s) achieve harmony in your home? Contact me to ask any questions and tell me more about you and your needs, and we can work together to meet your goals positively!

Thank you,
Owner, Delightful Doggies

February 2014 clients

February was a great month and I really appreciate all the clients I have, so much. Without you, I’d never be able to fulfill my dreams of helping dogs and their people. Thank you for always recommending my services to others, and for choosing Delightful Doggies for your training and pet sitting needs!

Click on the below photo icons to remember all the great times we had during February, in a slideshow format! You can also see all our client slideshow photos on our Flickr site, and don’t forget to join us for more photo fun, and other great content, on our Facebook page.

Not pictured but still very appreciated: Riley the golden retriever; Moses the domestic shorthair cat; Leroy the shepherd mix and Nina the boxer mix; Wrigley the chow/golden mix; Sampson and Georgia the Labrador retriever mixes; Rudy the Labrador retriever; Tanzanite the shih-tzu mix, Xenia the rottweiler and Rosie the Coton de Tulear; Daisy the golden retriever mix; and Manny the chiweenie.

Thank you!
Owner, Delightful Doggies

Dog trainer guarantees: are they certain?

In a previous blog post, I addressed how to choose a quality dog trainer. I thought it would be worthwhile to discuss one of the aspects noted in this blog: Beware of “guarantees”!Guarantee

There are trainers and training companies that guarantee results for your dog’s bad behavior in just one session. “Solve any problem in one hour!” is a bold statement to make. How can they perform such miracle work? Unfortunately a lot of times these professionals use heavy-handed corrections or intimidating body language to suppress the “bad” behaviors. While this may be very effective right away, it can lead to fall-out, particularly when the owners are left alone after just one session. These techniques can lead to increased fear, and even aggression. It is a setup for failure, ultimately.

Behavior results are not something ANYONE can guarantee. Dogs, like people or any other living creature on this planet, have their own desires, needs and drives. No matter what training classes, techniques or methods are done and used, a dog will never have 100% compliance for the rest of his life to be perfectly behaved in all situations. There can be a high rate of compliance, but every dog has an off day–maybe he isn’t feeling well to be able to comply, or the distraction at the moment is just too strong, and more reinforcement at easier steps, in order to build more reliability at harder levels again.

Training doesn’t end with one session, or one class. You wouldn’t send your children to preschool and then never continue her education; the same is true for dogs. It’s a life-long process of maintaining and strengthening the training, and there is always something new to learn! When you retain a quality dog trainer who can help coach you to use positive reinforcement methods that can lay a strong foundation of building trust, and continue on the path of practice with your dog (even just a few minutes a day!), that is where effectiveness lies, and where some of these “guarantees’ fall short.

In the spirit of continuing this discussion and informing you about what Delightful Doggies CAN offer to you, please read my new “My Guarantee” page. I invite you to contact me more about how I can help you and your dog achieve a great lifetime together through methods that are based on trust and respect through fun, effective training sessions!

Thank you,
Owner, Delightful Doggies

Addressing mounting behaviors

I’ll admit it. My dog likes to mount other dogs.


Caught in the act: Jasper gets too aroused at daycare

It’s been an interesting problem; one that began before I became a trainer and worked in doggy daycares. Jasper would often accompany me and mounting inevitably happens in any daycare situation. The probability of over-arousal is high in these environments, and no doubt he got a good amount of practice. While I didn’t just let it happen, it happened often, and I am still working on addressing it, though it’s gotten better over time and with practice in other skills with him, like having a reliable come-when-called, and with me understanding his body language better so I can cut off the behavior before it happens.

What causes this behavior? In my dog’s case, it’s over-arousal. He simply gets too excited and engages in an inappropriate behavior. How do I address it? I have learned to read his signs that show he is getting too excited; often, he does some dominant gesturing like placing his head over the dog’s shoulders, and he also will lick their ears. Even before these signs, I can just tell by the way he postures himself: how he looks at the other dog, how his tail starts to wag more excitedly, and how he fidgets. When I see any of these, I call him back to me, have him sit and keep focus. I will give him treats if he complies with this to reinforce it, and sometimes I will redirect his attention to me and a ball, and play fetch in a different area of a park.

If he goes too far or still is too excited, I will give him a time-out by placing him on leash and taking him to a quiet area/out of the play area. I will wait until he is calm enough to obey some simple cues, like sit and watch me, and then will allow him back when I feel an appropriate time has passed and he is sufficiently calm. The behavior has been improving, though he can regress if I take him to an environment that is overly charged, so I do stay away from smaller dog parks or overcrowded dog areas.

If your dog has problems with mounting, consider first why is he doing this behavior? For some dogs, it can be due to over-excitement, inappropriate dominance, or even signal anxiety. We highly advise working with a professional to ensure you’re addressing what’s at the root of these behaviors. It’s important to understand your dog’s signals so you can intervene BEFORE he engages in the behavior. Redirect him to appropriate behaviors and be patient and calm. It’s important to not be upset or use a tone that is frustrated or exasperated, as this will only cause the energy level to be even more arousing and not help with calming the dog. A calm person = a calm dog!

If your dog is already engaged in the behavior, put him on a leash and take him away. If he’s getting ready to mount but hasn’t yet, use your whole body to block his attempts and move him away. Having a solid come-when-called is very important as well; remember to give the dog breaks during play to calm down and not get overly aroused. It’s always best to cut off the behavior before it begins, so taking breaks is very important.

For mounting behaviors directed at humans, manage interactions by having crate-training in place. Whenever company comes over or you need a quiet break and don’t want to actively train for mounting, crating the dog will prevent the behavior. Anytime your dog approaches and tries to mount, REMOVE ALL ATTENTION. Don’t look at him or talk to him; walk away with your back to him and go into another room for a few minutes. Teach the dog to sit politely for interactions with humans and make it highly rewarding.

Again, it’s important to work with a professional if the mounting isn’t easily curbed by these tips, as it can signal a more serious problem or even just a need for more specific coaching to solve it.

Please contact me if I can be of assistance to you!
Owner, Delightful Doggies

Dog training methods and the dominance controversy

Earlier this year I sent out the below press release to select media outlets. Last week I was given the opportunity to speak with a reporter at The Denver Post about this release, and my own training methods and philosophy.

The Do's and Don'ts of Dog Training: courtesy and

The Do’s and Don’ts of Dog Training: courtesy and

It’s a tough issue: a part of me never wants to bring up The Dog Whisperer or Cesar Millan. I really feel it’s the best approach to concentrate on what I do and why I do it, which is what I stressed to the reporter and have made an attempt to do within the release. I also consider my job one that is all about animal welfare and standing up for the dogs; I became a dog trainer because I wanted better for the dogs. I’ve seen dogs turned over to shelters and rescues…and worse…and so often it’s a sad story of misunderstanding between species, about people who have unrealistic expectations of their dogs without learning how to effectively teach them. And so, I felt compelled to seize the opportunity of Cesar Millan’s appearance in Denver as one to catch hopefully more attention, to discuss training techniques and our relationship with our dogs.

I am posting this on my blog because I think it is important to educate. Good training doesn’t happen overnight; it is a lifelong relationship with your dog built on trust. There are many trainers with different ways of thinking, and there are many training tools and fix-its out there for the public to indulge and buy, and try out…there are many paths but I feel it’s important to take the one of least force, of least intimidation. I want my dog to be a dog who isn’t afraid of me or others, who can make the right choice and be given the opportunity to do so, rather than shut down into a “submissive state.” Dominance methods have long been disproved by behavioral science and can be very harmful! Our dogs deserve better, and so do we, to live in real harmony.

Thank you for reading, and I welcome your feedback!
Owner, Delightul Doggies

Controversial dog guru Cesar Millan in Denver raises questions about training methods for Colorado dog owners

January 11, 2014

Cesar Millan, most widely known as The Dog Whisperer from his popular National Geographic TV show series, is a highly regarded as well as maligned figure in pop culture. With his appearance on March 28 at Denver’s historic Paramount Theatre, it’s time to look at this controversy and how it affects dog owners in Colorado.

Millan’s training philosophy has been centered around pack leadership and using what he terms, “calm, assertive energy.” Using finger jabs, alpha rolls, intimidating body language and stances, Millan may yield some quick results as dogs are overstressed and shut down, but is that what pet owners want? Are aversive, confrontational methods the best to help our dogs who need it most?

While Millan’s techniques and showmanship may make for good television entertainment, his methods are more than likely to backfire, particularly when average owners try them. Despite disclaimers that viewers “should not try this at home,” no doubt there are dog owners at their wit’s end who may be tempted to do what is shown through their television screens.

“Cesar Millan’s methods are based on flooding and punishment. The results, though immediate, will be only transitory. His methods are misguided, outmoded, in some cases dangerous, and often inhumane. You would not want to be a dog under his sphere of influence. The sad thing is that the public does not recognize the error of his ways. My college thinks it is a travesty. We’ve written to National Geographic Channel and told them they have put dog training back 20 years,” Dr. Nicholas Dodman, the head professor of revered Tufts University’s Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine says.

Dr. Dodman is not the only animal behavior professional who has come out against aversive training techniques, and the popularity of Millan in our culture. The original dog whisperer, Paul Owens, the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants (IAABC), the American Humane Association (AHA) and the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior (AVSAB) have all released statements condemning Millan’s methods and National Geographic’s airing of his shows. The modern scientific community has, more and more in recent times, shown that old-school dog training methods of dominance are not the best for our dogs, and that positive reinforcement training techniques work across the board for all species of animal.

Denver dog owners need to see this as an opportunity to learn about differences in training methods. With Americans spending more than $53 billion annually on their pets (American Pet Products Association), our pets are very much a center of our universe. But what is the difference in methods between Millan and Dodman, and how can knowing about that help them? We all know that it is important to choose a vet who understands the science behind treating their dog’s physical illness, but it’s just the same with choosing a trainer or behaviorist–science does yield a lot of insight into what training methods work, and are more humane.

“It is my hope that, even if someone like Millan is very well-known in our society, that it can be a springboard for consumers to use this as a way to learn more about training methods and become more savvy at choosing the best trainer to meet their needs,” says Denver-area dog trainer, Laura McGaughey. “While I do not use nor do I agree with Millan’s methods, I do believe it is a platform for us to educate people, and open the door to harmony and respect between them and their four-legged companions,” she says.

For more information about training methods, the Cesar Millan controversy and choosing a dog trainer, contact: Laura McGaughey, owner, Delightful Doggies: 303-550-5652 or