Why I Use Positive Force Free Training Methods 

I use force free methods for a number of reasons. Listed below you’ll find several quotes from prominent organizations as well as studies that have been done to assess training methodology. In addition to these sources I have a few specific reasons why I personally don’t use aversive methods with dogs.

First, when you use aversive tools or methods you may create unintended associations that are even harder to deal with than the original behavior. I’ll give an example. An owner is out walking their adolescent German Shepherd and when he pulls, they give the dog a collar pop or shock. Unbeknownst to them when they gave the correction the dog was also looking at a child. The dog now associate kids with corrections and builds a negative association. Instead of a dog who just pulls they now have a dog who begins to show signs of reactivity and/or fear towards kids.

Second, some people use punishment to deal with things like barking, lunging, or growling. The problem with this is you are punishing the warning signs. This can lead to a dog who stops giving a warning and goes straight to biting. For obvious reasons this is extremely dangerous for the family, the general public, and me as the trainer.

Third, aversive tools and methods are simply unnecessary. There’s no indication that using aversive training methods results in better outcomes, faster learning, more predictable and consistent results, or improved response latency. Interestingly however, positive training methods are associated with all of those things.

Now for direct quotes and research findings:

  • In 2006 Guide Dogs for the Blind began crossing over from traditional training methods to clicker training (one type of positive reinforcement training). Before the transition only 45-50% of dogs successfully made it through the training program to be paired with a blind partner. After crossing over to clicker training their graduation rate sky rocketed to 60-85% of dogs.

  • In July of 2017 Dr. Theresa DePorter, DVM published a study where she analyzed the outcomes dogs had depending on the type of puppy class they took. She worked with a local dog trainer who was using aversive training methods in his puppy class. After one year 38% of the puppies had been rehomed, surrendered, or euthanized. After 2 years 60% of the puppies had been rehomed, surrendered or euthanized. Dr. DePorter then convinced the trainer to offer a positive-reinforcement class that she instructed him how to teach. After a year 94% of the puppies were still in their homes. This was not a small study, it included 520 puppies.

  • In 2020 the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior released a new position statement regarding humane dog training methods. I’ve listed a few key quotes from their statement below.
    • “In observational studies, dogs trained with aversive methods or tools showed stress-related behaviors during training, including tense body, lower body posture, lip licking, tail lowering, lifting front leg, panting, yawning, and yelping. Dogs trained with reward-based methods showed increased attentiveness to their owner.”
    • “Survey studies have shown an association between the use of aversive training methods and long-term behavior problems including aggressive behavior towards people and other dogs, and anxiety-related behaviors such as avoidance and excitability.”
    • “…dogs trained with reward-based methods have lower rates of behavior concerns compared with dogs trained with aversive methods.”
    • “Several studies show the effect of aversive training persists beyond the time of training. After dogs learned a cue taught using aversive training methods, they continued to show stress-related behaviors when the cue was presented, suggesting the cue itself had become aversive.”
    • “Reward-based training methods have been shown to be more effective than aversive methods. Multiple survey studies have shown higher obedience in dogs trained with reward-based methods.”
    • “Recall training is the most common reason dog owners use remote electronic shock collars. Even in the hands of experienced trainers, no difference in the effectiveness was found between remote electronic shock collars versus reward-based methods for teaching recall/stop chasing. In dogs with a history of off leash behavior problems, China et al (2020) found no difference in the proportion of disobeyed cues between dogs trained with electronic shock collars by manufacturer-nominated trainers compared with reward-based training. Dogs trained with reward-based methods in this study had a shorter delay before responding than the group trained with electronic shock collars.”
    • “Based on current scientific evidence, AVSAB recommends that only reward-based training methods are used for all dog training, including the treatment of behavior problems. Aversive training methods have a damaging effect on both animal welfare and the human-animal bond. There is no evidence that aversive methods are more effective than reward-based methods in any context. AVSAB therefore advises that aversive methods should not be used in animal training or for the treatment of behavior disorders.”

  • In 2008 UK researcher Dr. Emily Blackwell published a study that involved 192 dogs from 3 different countries. She classified training methods into three categories: positive reinforcement, positive punishment, and negative reinforcement. Owners who used only positive reinforcement training had dogs who were the least likely to display problem behaviors like attention-seeking, fear, and aggression. Owners who used punishment were more likely to have dogs who had trouble with both aggression and fearful behavior.

  • In 2004 Dr. Elly Hiby published a study based on interviews with 364 dog owners from Southampton and Cambridge. Training methods were grouped into three types: punishment-based, reward-based, and miscellaneous. Her research found that owners who used punishment, even if they also used rewards, were more likely to have dogs who exhibited problem behaviors. Owners who used only reward-based methods did not see any increase in problem behaviors but they did have significantly higher score for obedience.

  • In 2010 Dr. Christine Arhant published a study based on a questionnaire that was given to a random sample of registered dog-owners in Vienna. They received responses from 1,276 owners. The study looked at the behavior of small and large dogs and the effects that training methods had on them. Rather than categorize overall training styles the study instead looked at the frequency of positive reinforcement and punishment. Frequency of punishment was associated with more aggression and more excitability in both large dogs and small dogs but the relationship was stronger for small dogs. A higher frequency of rewards was linked to higher scores for obedience and lower scores for both aggression and anxiousness.

Resources & References

In Case of Emergency: Keeping Your Pets Safe

No one wants to think about a potential emergency but it’s so important to have a plan, not just for yourself but also for your pets. Here are some things you can do to make sure you are able to keep your family safe in the event of a disaster.


  • Think about what form of transportation you’ll take should a disaster occur. If you will be relying on public transportation find out if they allow animals on board.
  • If you plan to take a vehicle make sure that your animal, their crates and your human family members will all fit.
  • Be familiar with several routes out of town in all directions.
  • Have a back up plan in case your primary form of transportation isn’t available.

Pet Friendly Accommodations

Think about where you could stay if you had to leave your home. Keep in mind that many emergency shelters only allow service animals. The following are some good resources for boarding animals or finding pet friendly places to stay:


  • Make sure all your pets are microchipped in case you somehow get separated.
  • Keep the contact information for the microchip up to date, especially the phone number, so that you can be reached if your pet is found.
  • Periodically take your pets to get scanned so that you know if the microchip has moved around.
  • In addition to microchips make sure your pets have tags on their collars with up to date information.
  • Have pictures and a description of each of your pets in case you need to make flyers or show people what your pet looks like. Here is a flyer template you can fill out in advance.

Vet Records & Prescriptions

  • Make sure to have your pets vaccination records easily accessible, especially their rabies certificate.
  • Have copies of prescriptions, including for prescription foods.
  • Make sure to bring all pet medications with you.
  • It is also helpful to have boarding instructions ready to go in case you aren’t able to keep your pet with you. Here is a template you can fill out.


  • Teach your dog a really good recall. It’s one of the best things you can do to keep them safe, both in a disaster and during normal every day life.
  • Socialize your pet and work on building confidence. In a disaster pets may be exposed to a lot of loud sounds, unusual smells, new people and animals. The more comfortable they are with new things the less stressful the experience will be for them.
  • Mat training is an excellent skill for dogs to have especially if you find yourself waiting in lines or you need your dog to settle for an extended amount of time.
  • Leash manners will make a huge difference if you find yourself in a chaotic and stressful situation with your pet. The last thing you want in a crisis is a dog who’s pulling you all over the place. Leash manners are also important from a safety standpoint. You’re much less likely to get pulled over or have your dog get away from you if they know how to walk nicely on a leash.

Crates & Muzzles

  • The safest place for animals in a car is in a crate, especially if they are afraid and at risk for bolting from the car.
  • Emergency shelters may require that your dog be crated or muzzled. Your dog may be in close quarters with other people and animals so this is especially important for dogs who have struggled with aggression or reactivity in the past.
  • If your dog has to be boarded it will be significantly less stressful if they are already comfortable in a crate.
  • If your dog were to get injured they may need to be muzzled.

Storing Your Supplies

  • Try to keep all your supplies and documents in one place.
  • It’s helpful to keep everything in a rolling storage bin or a bag that can convert into a backpack. You may also want to keep documents in water and fire proof containers.
  • Make sure that whatever storage system you use will fit in your car along with all your animals and human family members.

First Aid Kit

In addition to a human first aid kit it’s helpful to keep a pet first aid kit on hand for emergencies. Here are a few kits you can purchase along with a list of what to put in one if you decide to make your own:

Cleaning Supplies

  • Bring paper and cloth towels to clean up accidents. Pets stomachs may get upset or in the chaos they may not have normal opportunities to go to the bathroom.
  • It’s also a good idea to also bring an enzymatic cleaner. Having a cleaner readily available will make it much easier to clean up should your pet get sick or have an accident.
  • Poop bags, litter, and disposable litter boxes are other items that should be in your pet disaster bag.


  • A flat buckle collar or martingale collar. Remember not to leave dogs in kennels with collars on unsupervised as it’s a choking risk.
  • A well fitted harness. For maximum safety I would recommend attaching to both a harness and a martingale collar so that if one fails or a dog gets out of one you have the other as a back up.
  • A 4′ or 6′ fixed leash. An emergency is not the time to use a Flexi leash. Make sure you have a sturdy fixed leash, ideally one that has a double attachment or a coupler so you can attach to both a collar and a harness. Make sure you have enough leashes for all your pets. If you have a cat consider conditioning them to a harness and leash.
  • A slip lead in case one of your collars or leashes fail.

Food & Water

  • It’s recommended that you have a two week supply of water and food for each pet.
  • Keep food in a water tight container to prevent mold.
  • If your pet eats prescription food make sure to bring a copy of the prescription with you.

Comforting Your Pet in a Crisis

  • Consider keeping some Adaptil spray or collars in with your emergency supplies. For cats you might consider packing Feliway.
  • Bring blankets or bedding that smells familiar, towels can also be a good option.
  • Make sure to have anxiety medication if that’s something your pets been prescribed.
  • If your pet has found a Thunder Shirt reassuring in the past it’s a good idea to bring it with you or keep an extra one in with your emergency supplies.
  • If possible try to bring some toys that will keep your pets entertained. It can be as simple as keeping a couple of Kongs and a jar of peanut butter in with your emergency supplies.

Grooming Supplies

Depending on your pets coat and grooming needs these supplies may or may not be necessary but it’s something to take into consideration especially if you own a breed like a poodle.

  • Grooming wipes are handy for cleaning muddy paws and giving a quick freshen up if you can’t do a full bath.
  • Brush and comb to prevent matting and tangling.
  • Deodorizing sprays are another handy way to freshen up your pet if a bath isn’t possible. Most deodorizing sprays are also conditioners. They will make brushing easier and help you prevent mats.

Resources & References

How to Find a Reputable Dog Trainer

Pet owners have a difficult task when trying to find a reputable dog trainer. In a totally unregulated industry, where anyone can decide to go out and say they’re a “dog trainer”, it’s important for owners to be vigilant when trying to find a pet professional. This article will help you know what to look for when you start looking into dog trainers.

A note about service dogs: It can be difficult to find dog professionals who works with owner trainers and their service dogs or service dogs in training. Finding a credentialed force free trainer, even if they don’t have service dog experience, is still a great place to start for basic obedience and structured socialization!

For a quick overview of a few things to look for in a trainer, watch this great video from Fear Free Happy Homes!

When you start looking for a qualified trainer in your area, the first thing I’d recommend doing is looking at their websites and social media platforms. Here’s what I’d specifically watch for:

  1. Do they have pictures where dogs are wearing aversive tools like e-collars, prong collars or choke chains?
  2. Do the dogs in their pictures look stressed?
  3. Can you easily find the services they provide and what they charge?
  4. What credentials and professional affiliations do they have listed for potential clients to see?
  5. Are they clear about what training methods they use?
  6. Do they respect local laws and ordinances like only going to pet friendly stores and keeping dogs leashed in on leash areas?

Once you’ve found a trainer whose website and credentials look ok the next step is calling or emailing them with any questions you may still have. Remember, you’re interviewing them! They should be happy and willing to answer your questions. Here are the questions I’d ask:

  1. What training methods do you use?
    • I would ask this question even if they mention positive training methods on their website or social media. Clarify what that means to them and specifically ask if they ever use or advocate for the use of aversive methods or tools.
  2. What are your credentials?
    • These should be available on their website but you may have follow up questions.
  3. What experience do you have?
    • Along with education, it’s important that a trainer also have hands on experience and that they can clearly tell you what types of dogs they’ve worked with in the past. They should also be able to tell you if there is a specific issue or area of training that they do not work with. Ideally, they have good relationships with other local trainers and can point you to someone else in your area who can help you with anything they don’t offer.
  4. Can you provide references?
    • Trainers should be able to provide references from past clients, they may also provide a vet reference or let you know if there’s a specific vet they work with.
  5. Do you require vet records?
    • Trainers should always require vaccination records for any dog they work with.
  6. What types of safety protocol do you have in place?
    • This would be things like muzzle training dogs that are bite risks, requiring a no dog present consult if the dog has been aggressive in the past, requiring all vaccinations, using a harness paired with a martingale collar if they are taking dogs out, using helpers who aren’t handling a dog and can intervene if something were to happen, etc…
  7. Do they believe in using anti-anxiety medication if necessary?
    • A dog trainer should understand that it’s important to look at animal behavior from a wholistic perspective. Behavior is affected by a dog’s environment, temperament, and genetics. Behavior can also be a result of underlying health conditions or medication side effects. It’s important to work with a trainer and a vet to make sure nothing is missed. If a dog is struggling with anxiety, it can be beneficial to pair medication with training.

Trainers should never blame owners for behavior problems. As stated above, behavior is a product of multiple factors. If you hear a trainer saying things like “it’s all in how you train them” or “there are no bad dogs just bad owners” it’s likely a sign that they do not have a full understanding of how complex dog behavior can be.

When talking with a trainer and looking through their social media, watch for scare tactics. Things like, “If you don’t use an e-collar your dog could run into traffic and get hit by a car” or “I’d rather make a dog uncomfortable but keep them from being put down”. These are false dichotomies that prey on some of the biggest fears dog owners have. The truth is that positive training methods are just as effective as aversive training methods and they are actually associated with fewer risks, including things like animals being surrendered for behavior.

Another thing to watch for when considering a trainer is the use of certain code phrases and words. All of the following can indicate a trainer uses aversive methods and/or believes in outdated training approaches based on dominance theory.

  • Leadership, alpha, dominance, submissive, or pack
  • Balanced, tools, or corrections
  • Boundaries, structure, or respect
  • Board and Train (not always a red flag but board and trains are much more commonly offered by balanced trainers)
  • Squirt bottles, alpha rolling, shaker cans, or bonking
  • “Consequences for behavior” or “holding your dog accountable”
  • “Be the boss of your dog” or “let your dog know who’s in charge”

For more information on dominance theory and the alpha myth click here!

Trainers should be supportive of people who adopt dogs as well as those who decide to purchase a dog through a reputable breeder. If they are overtly disparaging of either option, it may not be a good fit. Different homes and individuals need different things and just because adopting is the best option for one person doesn’t mean purchasing from a breeder isn’t the right choice for someone else.

A good place to search for trainers is through the directories of trusted professional organizations. The following entities provide membership, accreditation and certification to dog trainers and pet care professionals:

International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants (IAABC)

  • Training methods: The IAABC requires trainers use a LIMA approach and they do not permit the use of e-collars however, a trainer does not have to be force free to be credentialed through them.
  • Membership, accreditation & certification offered:
    • Supporting Member
    • Certified Dog Behavior Consultant (CDBC)
    • Certified Animal Behavior Consultant (CABC)
    • Certified Shelter Behavior- Dog (CSB-D)
    • Certified Shelter Behavior Specialist (CSBS)
    • Accredited Dog Trainer (IAABC-ADT)
  • Professional Directory

Pet Professional Guild (PPG)

  • Training methods: Members are not permitted to use force, fear, pain, e-collars, aversive methods or tools when training dogs. Trainers should be using only force free training methods.
  • Membership
  • Professional Directory

Karen Pryor Academy for Animal Training & Behavior

Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers (CCPDT)

  • Training methods: Trainers are not required to be force free and they are permitted to use e-collars. CCPDT’s official stance is that e-collars can be apart of LIMA and the humane hierarchy. There have also been some reporting issues when it comes to trainers who may not be using humane methods with dogs. If a trainer is CCPDT certified I would encourage a pet owner to also make sure they are force free.
  • Certifications offered:
    • Certified Professional Dog Trainer-Knowledge Assessed (CPDT-KA)
    • Certified Professional Dog Trainer-Knowledge and Skills Assessed (CPDT-KSA)
    • Certified Behavior Consultant Canine-Knowledge Assessed (CBCC-KA)
  • Professional Directory

Pat Miller Peaceable Paws

  • Training methods: Trainers should be using only force free training methods.
  • Courses Offered:
    • Canine Behavior & Training Academy
    • Advanced Training & Behavior Study
    • Canine Cognition Academy
    • Canine Cognition PLUS- Intern Academy
    • Canine Behavior Modification Academy
    • Canine Aggression Academy
  • Certifications:
    • Pat Miller Certified Trainer 1 (PMCT1)- completion of two academies
    • Pat Miller Certified Trainer 2 (PMCT2)- completion of four academies
    • Pat Miller Certified Trainer 3 (PMCT3)- completion of five academies
  • Professional Directory

Fear Free Animal Trainer

The Academy for Dog Trainers

Companion Animal Sciences Institute (CASI)

  • Training methods: Trainers should be using only force free training methods.
  • Certifications Offered:
    • Animal Behavior Science and Technology (Dip.ABST)
    • Canine Behavior Science and Technology (Dip. CBST)
    • Diploma of Professional Dog Training (Dip.PDT)
  • Professional Directory

CATCH Canine Trainers Academy

  • Training methods: Trainers should be using only force free training methods.
  • Certifications Offered:
    • Pro Dog Trainer- Core Skills
    • Dog Training & Behavior- Basic Pro
    • Master Class- Certified Dog Trainer (CDT)
  • Professional Directory

Victoria Stilwell Academy (VSA)

Malena DeMartini

Michael Shikashio

  • Training methods: I have not seen an official position statement from him regarding aversive training tools or methods but in his webinars and courses I’ve only heard him recommend positive training methods.
  • Master Course- Aggression in Dogs
  • No professional director available

The Association of Professional Dog Trainers (APDT)

  • Training methods: Members are not required to be force free. APDT advocates for a LIMA approach and the use of the humane hierarchy. They do not have a position statement regarding the use of e-collars or other aversive tools. If a trainer is a member of APDT I would encourage a pet owner to also make sure they are force free.
  • Membership
  • Professional Directory

Grisha Stewart

Pet Professional Accreditation Board (PPAB)

  • Training methods: Trainers should be using only force free training methods.
  • Accreditations Offered:
    • Level 1 Canine Training Technician (CTT-A)
    • Level 2 Professional Canine Trainer (PCT-A)
    • Level 3 Professional Canine Behavior Consultant (PCBC-A)
  • Professional Directory

Fear Free Happy Homes put together an excellent video on what to do if you notice behavior changes in your dog and who is most qualified to help you!

Resources & References

Featured image by John Tuesday on Unsplash

What Businesses Need to Know about Service Animals

Are you a business owner or manager that feels unsure about how to handle service dogs? If so this article and video should help answer your questions! The law that protects service animals in public spaces is the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

It’s important to know that as a business you can ask two questions of individuals who come in with a service dog:

  1. Is this a service animal required for a disability?
  2. What work or task is the animal trained to perform?

Businesses are not allowed to request any form of documentation. They cannot require that the dog perform a task in order to gain entry into the establishment. They also cannot ask about the nature of the person’s disability.

Businesses can ask for the dog to be removed if it urinates or defecates, if it’s not under the control of it’s handler, if the dog is growling or barking, if the dog is behaving aggressively or if it has a history of behaving aggressively.

Businesses can deny entry if a service dog would alter the nature of the business. What does it mean to alter the nature of a business? The ADA has a section that goes over frequently asked questions about service animals and it gives this example, “At a zoo, service animals can be restricted from areas where the animals on display are the natural prey or natural predators of dogs, where the presence of a dog would be disruptive, causing the displayed animals to behave aggressively or become agitated.  They cannot be restricted from other areas of the zoo.”

Employees of a business are not covered by the ADA. If an employee wants to bring a service dog to work then they must first apply for a reasonable accommodation. If you have questions about that process, the Job Accommodation Network (JAN) is an excellent resource!

The ADA only protects service dogs. It does not give public access rights to therapy dogs, emotional support animals or service dogs in training. However, some states have laws that grant public access rights to service dogs in training. For more information about the laws in Kansas click here.

Watch this video for a great overview on the rights of both businesses and service animal users!

Resources & References

Featured image by Mike Petrucci on Unsplash

Dominance Theory & the Alpha Myth

I want to preface this post by saying I know that what I’m going to say regarding dominance theory will likely upset some people and may be seen as blunt. I’m ok with that because the reality is that dominance theory has done more damage to dog training than any other theory I can think of off the top of my head.

In 1934 Rudolph Schenkel, a Swiss animal behaviorist, began a study of captive wolves living in the Basel (spelled Basle in the study) Zoological Garden in Basel Switzerland. Based on his observations he theorized that wolves in packs fight to gain dominance and the winner becomes the alpha wolf. The concept was then extrapolated and applied to both wild wolf packs and domestic dogs. You don’t need to be a scientist to see the problem with applying that theory to animals in the wild or to a completely different species.

The idea really took off when wildlife research biologist David Mech wrote about it. Here is what he has to say about it now:

“The concept of the alpha wolf is well ingrained in the popular wolf literature, at least partly because of my book “The Wolf: Ecology and Behavior of an Endangered Species,” written in 1968, published in 1970, republished in paperback in 1981, and currently still in print, despite my numerous pleas to the publisher to stop publishing it. Although most of the book’s info is still accurate, much is outdated. We have learned more about wolves in the last 40 years than in all of previous history.

One of the outdated pieces of information is the concept of the alpha wolf. ‘Alpha’ implies competing with others and becoming top dog by winning a contest or battle. However, most wolves who lead packs achieved their position simply by mating and producing pups, which then became their pack. In other words they are merely breeders, or parents, and that’s all we call them today, the ‘breeding male,’ ‘breeding female,’ or ‘male parent,’ ‘female parent,’ or the ‘adult male’ or ‘adult female.'” 

Here’s a clip where Mech talks about the misconceptions surrounding the term Alpha and how it’s typically only a term that would be appropriate to apply to wolves in captivity or in the rare case where there are multiple breeding females in a wild pack.

In recent years we’ve seen the idea of being an “alpha” with your dog or maintaining “dominance” pushed by popular trainers like Ceasar Milan. It’s also something you’ll probably see or hear referenced, in some form, in almost every movie or tv show that has a dog in it. Here’s a couple classic examples from the movie “Snow Dogs”

There are lots of key words, concepts, and phrases commonly used by trainers who prescribe to this style of training. I’ll list some below:

  • Alpha roll (when someone forcefully rolls a dog onto it’s back and forces them to stay there till they stop moving and give up)
  • Leadership
  • “Consequences for behavior”
  • Pack
  • “Be the boss of your dog”
  • “Let your dog know who’s in charge”
  • “Hold your dog accountable”
  • “Your dog needs to respect you”
  • Boundaries

Some concepts that aren’t bad on their own have also been co-opted. Particularly things like “structure” and “relationship based training”.

Providing your dog with a regular routine is a good thing and dogs who are anxious will certainly benefit from knowing what to expect. The problem with the term structure comes in when it’s used to force a dog to remain in a position while stressed. For example making a dog sit or stay on “place” while their trigger gets closer and closer. Choice is a critical part of helping dogs through reactivity and demanding that they maintain a certain physical position can exacerbate their level of distress. It can also make it harder to identify discomfort.

While “relationship based” seems like a good thing it can be used by people who believe that the human dog relationship is inherently rooted in being an “alpha”. It’s a shame because it’s a term I would have loved to use to describe my own training style but it can be a red flag that indicates a trainer uses outdated methods.

The reality is that dogs do what works for them. If a behavior is rewarded by humans, the environment, or if it’s inherently rewarding a dog is likely to continue performing it. If a behavior is not rewarding the dog is likely to stop performing it. We over complicate things when we assign ideas like respect to dogs. Their minds work on a strictly cause and effect equation system.

At this point many people have questions about behavior that they’ve seen in dogs that they believe proves that a dog is trying to be “dominant” or the “alpha”.

The first thing that people often talk about is a dog who takes other dogs toys, resource guards, pushes other dogs around, etc… They believe that dog is an “alpha” when in reality the dog is just being a bully. Again they are working on a cause and effect system, what they’re doing gets them what they want so they keep doing it. In these situations it’s the owners responsibility to intervene so that a pattern of behavior doesn’t develop.

Another example is a couple who owns a dog with behavior challenges. The dog does much better for the the husband but frequently “acts up” with the wife. The husband says it’s because the dog senses the wife isn’t a “pack leader” or “dominant” enough.

The reality is there can be lots of reasons a dog acts differently with different people. It could be the husband works with the dog more and there’s more of a reward history (play, treats, attention, walks, etc). It could be that the wife has had bad interactions with the dog and is now nervous when they’re around each other. ***This creates a feedback loop of anxiety between the owner and dog which makes their behavior worse.*** The dog might have been adopted and before coming into the home it had bad experiences with women. None of those things have anything to do with being the “alpha”.

***Note: An owners anxiety is not to blame for a dogs behavior challenges. The reality is that if they had a breed not prone to feeding off handler emotion that was temperamentally sound it likely wouldn’t be an issue. There are many factors to consider when looking at things like reactivity or aggression. A mix of individual temperament, genetics, early life experiences, family dynamics, other animals in the home, medical conditions, medications, and more typically combines to create the behaviors we see.***

When we use “dominance” based training methods it automatically puts us in conflict with the dog. This increases the risk of escalating aggression, it can result in learned helplessness or a dog who stops giving stress signals and then “bites out of nowhere”. It’s also unnecessarily stressful for both dogs and humans.

Instead of assigning lots of emotion and intent to a dogs behavior it’s far more productive to look at it from the standpoint of reinforcing vs not reinforcing. Analyzing that is how you can come up with a strategic plan to shape the behavior you want to see more of and eliminate or channel the behavior you want to see decrease.

Resources & References:

Featured image by Eva Blue on Unsplash

What I Consider When Doing an Aggression Assessment

This is a quick overview of what I take into consideration when meeting with a client who’s dog is struggling with aggression or reactivity.

Living Situation

An apartment is inherently riskier than a house with a securely fenced yard. In an apartment owners have to consider blind corners, elevators, narrow hallways and the need to walk your dog where there are variables outside your control. A home with a yard makes it so you have much more control over when your dog comes in contact with it’s triggers.

None of this is to say that living in an apartment with a reactive or aggressive dog is hopeless but it’s an added risk that the owner should take into consideration.

Children in the Home

This is particularly concerning if the dog resource guards or has shown aggression towards people he lives with. Management is made much more complicated if there are children in the equation. Even if the dog hasn’t shown aggression towards members of it’s family a child could still leave a door open or allow someone in before the dog is safely secured.

Number & Reliability of Triggers

If a dog has a few very specific triggers that are highly predictable management will be much more feasible. If a dog has lots of triggers that seem to change often or are inconsistent this raises the risk level because it makes management much more complicated.

Bite History

Discussing bite history is very important when I consider the risk a dog presents. The situation in which the bite occurred, the number of times a bite has occurred and the level of severity are all things to carefully consider.

When talking with a family about a bite history I reference Dr. Sophia Yin’s “Canine Bite Levels” infographic to determine how severe the bite was. I also make sure to ask if the dog has been deemed dangerous by a court.

Muzzle Training

One of the first things I discuss with clients is if their reactive or aggressive dog has been muzzle trained. I believe all dogs should be muzzle trained, even the dogs who’ve never had any problem with reactivity or aggression. Using a muzzle is often seen as a last resort, the problem with that is then the muzzle is typically first used in a stressful situation like an emergency trip to the vet. The last thing you want to do is increase your dogs level of anxiety by putting a muzzle on him without any prior conditioning.

Muzzle training allows owners to have another management tool in their toolbox which makes it safer to live with the dog.

Crate Training

Much like muzzle training crate training can be an important part of creating a management protocol. If a dog can be safely and calmly crated it makes it so you can secure the dog if you know people are going to be coming over. It can also be a helpful part of managing a multi-dog home where not all dogs get along or where some dogs resource guard.

If a dog isn’t crate trained and is stressed by the crate another option is using a room to secure them away from people or dogs. This can be an especially good option for potty trained adult dogs.

If the dog isn’t comfortable with either a room or crate that is a much harder situation to manage and it’s likely there may be some form of separation anxiety also going on.

Size of Dog and Strength of Owner

If I am working with a large powerful dog and an older frail owner it’s much higher risk than a small dog with an athletic and strong owner. These are sometimes the most difficult cases because if safety protocols fail the back up of physically stoping the dog is often not possible.

Other Considerations

Along with assessing the risk of aggression it’s important to look for causes and take a wholistic approach when working with a dog who has challenging behaviors.

One of the first things I do is I make sure that owners have ruled out medical issues. In particular I ask about things that can cause pain like arthritis, chronic ear infections or UTI’s. I also get a full list of any medications the dog is on to make sure none of them have behavioral side affects. During this time I’ll also ask if the dog has ever been on anti-anxiety medication or if that’s something they’ve ever discussed with their vet. Anxiety medication isn’t appropriate for all cases but it is something clients should consider discussing with their vet if the dogs overall anxiety is a concern.

We also talk about if the dogs mental and physical needs are being met. Frustrated dogs who don’t have an outlet are often more reactive than dogs who are getting the appropriate amount of exercise and mental stimulation. Providing a dog with enrichment won’t magically fix reactivity but it can help training be more successful and it can assist in lowering the dogs overall stress level.

Aggression Assessment Score Card

The document below is what I take with me to initial consults. Anytime a dog has a bite history I require a consult with no dog present. During that session we go over the questions on this assessment. This helps me create a safety plan with the owners so that we can insure the dog is set up for success and we minimize the risk of a bite occurring.

Featured image by Glenn Carstens-Peters on Unsplash

Kansas Service Dog Laws

In addition to federal laws there are state laws that protect service dogs and sometimes service dogs in training depending on where you live. I’ll be discussing Kansas laws, as that’s where I live, but there will be a link for all state laws at the bottom of this article.

Service Dogs in Training

K.S.A 39-1109: “Any professional trainer, from a recognized training center, of an assistance dog, while engaged in the training of such dog, shall have the right to be accompanied by such dog in or upon any of the places listed in K.S.A. 39- 1101, and amendments thereto, without being required to pay an extra charge for such dog. Such trainer shall be liable for any damage done to the premises of facilities by such dog.

Unfortunately, based on my interpretation of how this is written, Kansas does not grant service dogs in training public access rights if they are being owner trained. This definitely makes training more challenging and it makes for a harder transition from in training to full service dog.

When working with my own dog or a client’s dog I’ve found two things helpful when trying to work on public access training.

First, there are several places that are pet friendly but do a good job providing an environment that feels like a non-pet friendly store. Academy Sports, Orscheln Farm and Home, and Sutherlands are all good options. Make sure to double check if individual locations are pet friendly. For example, not all Joann Fabric stores are pet friendly, neither are all Home Depots.

Second, if a store isn’t pet friendly, sometimes I’ll talk with a store manager to see if it’s ok to bring a service dog in training into the store to practice public access work. I’ve had good luck doing this especially at stores that are sometimes pet friendly like Home Depot.

Harassment or Interference with a Service Dog

K.S.A 21-6416: “(a) Inflicting harm, disability or death to a police dog, arson dog, assistance dog, game warden dog or search and rescue dog is knowingly, and without lawful cause or justification poisoning, inflicting great bodily harm, permanent disability or death, upon a police dog, arson dog, assistance dog, game warden dog or search and rescue dog.

(b) Inflicting harm, disability or death to a police dog, arson dog, assistance dog, game warden dog or search and rescue dog is a nonperson felony. Upon conviction of this subsection, a person shall be sentenced to not less than 30 days or more than one year’s imprisonment and be fined not less than $500 nor more than $5,000. The person convicted shall not be eligible for release on probation, suspension or reduction of sentence or parole until the person has served the minimum mandatory sentence as provided herein. During the mandatory 30 days imprisonment, such offender shall have a psychological evaluation prepared for the court to assist the court in determining conditions of probation. Such conditions shall include, but not be limited to, the completion of an anger management program.”

To simplify this means that if someone harms your service dog, they have committed a nonperson felony. If convicted they shall be sentenced to no less than 30 days and no more than one year of imprisonment and be fined no less than $500 and no more than $5,000.

A legal battle is costly and draining. It’s best to avoid conflict whenever possible. I do not recommend confronting people or escalating situations because “the law is on your side”. It’s just not worth it. In the event of an attack make sure to contact authorities immediately. Try to get information from anyone who saw the incident happen and if you are inside an establishment try to find out if they might have security footage that the police can review.

Service Dog Fraud

K.S.A 39-1112: It is a class A nonperson misdemeanor for any person to

(a) Represent that such person has the right to be accompanied by an assistance dog in or upon any place listed in K.S.A. 39-1101, and amendments thereto, or that such person has a right to be accompanied by a professional therapy dog in or upon any place listed in K.S.A. 39-1110, and amendments thereto, unless such person has the right to be accompanied in or upon such place by such dog pursuant to this act; or

(b) represent that such person has a disability for the purpose of acquiring an assistance dog unless such person has such disability.

This means that misrepresenting your dog as a service dog, if in fact they are not one, is a nonperson misdemeanor. While I do not advocate trying to spot “fake” service dogs, it is important to understand that if you are not disabled, and your dog is not trained to mitigate that disability, they are not a service dog and misrepresenting them as one is a crime.

It’s also important to remember that ESAs and therapy dogs do not have public access rights. If you have questions about what the differences between ESAs, therapy dogs, and service dogs are check out this article for some clarification.

Resources & References

Featured image by Tingey Injury Law Firm on Unsplash

Service Dog Training Options

When considering getting a service dog one of the first things you need to decide is if you want to owner train or go with a program. Here’s an outline of the benefits and drawbacks of both options.

Owner Training

  • Benefits
    • You can tailor the tasks and work your dog is trained to do for your specific needs and disabilities.
    • It’s a wonderful bonding experience for you and the dog.
    • It can be very empowering and confidence building to train a dog.
    • You don’t have to wait 2-5 years to get a dog (although it will take on average at least 2 years to fully train a dog).
  • Drawbacks
    • It can be very difficult to find a service dog trainer willing to work with owner trainers. This is especially true if you want to use Force Free Positive Methods and/or you don’t want to do a board and train.
    • Training a dog can be stressful, exhausting, and time consuming. The reality is that most people do not have the patience or ability to commit to training a dog for two years. It’s really important to be honest with yourself about your abilities and current life situation before bringing a dog home. Also consider your disability and if you feel your health will continue to decline to a point where training a dog is no longer realistic.
    • There is the chance the dog will wash out. This can happen because of medical or behavioral issues. I recommend that people who owner train go into it being ok with the dog becoming a pet if it doesn’t work out for them to be a service dog. 
  • Recommendations
    • Make sure everyone living in your home is on board with you getting a service dog and training him/her. Talk about your training plans and what your expectations of the dog will be. It’s important that everyone is on the same page so that your training efforts don’t get sabotaged. 
    • Enroll in obedience classes. I strongly encourage people to do at least a couple of manners classes and if possible consider taking a CGC class. It’s important for your service dog in training to get used to listening to you around other dogs and a structured training class is a safe way to work on that. The added support will be really helpful, especially during the challenging puppy stage. It can feel pretty lonely trying to train a service dog on your own and classes will help you feel much less alone.
    • Keep meticulous records. This is important for three reasons. First, it will be really helpful and encouraging to look back and see how far you’ve come. Second, it’s good to have in case of legal problems in the future. Third, it can be helpful if you are going to apply for a reasonable accommodation at work as your logs and records can provide proof of training. I have a file on my computer where I keep all my records (proof of vaccinations, scanned certificates from completed obedience classes, and all my logs and records of training).
    • Do as much research as possible before you actually bring the dog home. Decide on what type of training methods you’re going to use, find a basic manners dog trainer, make sure you have a vet and a groomer (if applicable for your breed), decide if you want to get pet insurance, learn as much as you can about the breed you’ve chosen, research dog behavior and look into different service dog support groups. 

Program Dogs

  • Benefits
    • The dog comes to you trained. You will not have the stress, time commitment, or pressure of training your own dog. 
    • You won’t have to go through the puppy stage.
    • The odds of the dog washing out are much lower. There can always be unexpected things that come up medically or there’s the chance the dog could develop behavioral issues but it’s much less likely if you go with a reputable organization. 
    • If your disability makes it difficult to physically train a dog a program might be the best option for you.
  • Drawbacks
    • The dog will have whatever standard training the program uses so it won’t be personalized for your needs and disabilities. 
    • You miss out on the bond that’s created when you train a dog. 
    • Wait time is usually between 2-5 years.
    • It can be very expensive to get a dog through a program ($15,000-$30,000 is pretty common). 
    • You need to thoroughly research the program and make sure it’s not a scam.  
    • You will be paired with a dog and you likely won’t have any say in breed or gender. 
    • Some programs have rules about what other animals you can have in the home or who the dog is allowed to interact with in the home. 
    • Many service dog organizations have age requirements for potential handlers.
    • Some programs retain ownership of the dog. If in the future you were to no longer need the dog or if something were to happen to you the program could then legally take the dog back.  
    • Depending on what your disability is it may be much harder or easier to get a service dog from a program. If you are blind, a veteran, or diabetic there are many more programs and scholarships available than if you are someone who has a mental illness. 
    • If you need a multipurpose service dog to help with multiple conditions there are very few programs that will assist you and it can be better to train a dog yourself to help with your specific disabilities. 
  • Recommendations
    • This is a great option for lots of people but it’s important to remember that a service dog’s training never really ends. You’ll still need to work with the dog and keep their skills sharp.
    • It’s important to be very careful about the program you choose. Unfortunately, there are always going to be people who try to scam others out of money. 
    • Make sure that you don’t just have the finances to pay the organization for the dog, you also need to have savings for veterinary expenses, food, grooming, etc…


Deciding whether or not to owner train is a very individual decision. What works for one person may not work at all for another. For me personally I knew that owner training was 100% the route I wanted to go. I recommend honestly examining your life, your abilities, and your disabilities to determine what the right path is for you.

Featured image by John Salzarulo on Unsplash

Breeder vs. Rescue for Your Service Dog Candidate

If a person decides to owner train a service dog they can either go through a breeder or a rescue. There are benefits and drawbacks to both options. I’ll outline what those are below.


  • Benefits
    • The greatest indicator of a puppy’s temperament is what their parents’ temperament is like, specifically the dam. When you work with a breeder you can get to know both the dam and sire to make sure they will produce puppies who are compatible with service work. 
    • A good breeder knows their puppies and will be willing to do temperament assessments to help find the right puppy for you and your needs. 
    • Good breeders can put you in contact with other people who have their dogs. This can help give you an idea of what your adult puppy’s temperament and personality will be like.
    • A good breeder will provide lifetime support for all their dogs so if in a year or two years you have concerns or need help they will always be a resource for you. 
    • Ethical breeders all have clauses that state the dog will be returned to them if for any reason the new owner isn’t able to keep or care for it. While that’s a terrible situation to contemplate it is something that can happen, especially if your disability were to become more severe. Knowing the dog will always be cared for and loved no matter what happens is a good insurance policy.
    • A good breeder will health screen their dogs before ever considering breeding them. This means you are less likely to have unexpected health issues. This is especially important if you are needing a dog to eventually do mobility work. 
    • Good breeders only breed dogs with sound temperaments so you shouldn’t run into genetic behavioral issues.  
    • Many breeders provide health guarantees. 

  • Drawbacks
    • The expense up front is more than getting a rescue dog.
    • Some breeds have genetic health issues that you should take into consideration. 
    • You may need to travel to find the right breeder.
    • You will need to do extensive research and make sure you are working with an ethical breeder. 
    • Some breeders will not place their dogs in working homes. 
    • There may be waitlists, this is actually pretty common among good breeders. While it’s hard to be patient, a waitlist is actually a really good sign that you’re dealing with an ethical breeder.
    • The breeder may have an interview process that you have to go through. 
  • Recommendations
    • Do as much research on the breed as possible. Be familiar with any genetic health issues. Have a good understanding of the breed standards so you can make sure you’re working with an ethical breeder. Understand the mental and physical needs of the breed and honestly look at your lifestyle and ability level to make sure it’s a good fit. 
    • Contact a lot of breeders, ask lots of questions, and don’t be afraid to be extremely picky. If you aren’t sure what questions to ask or what to watch out for read my article on selecting a breeder.
    • Find a breeder who has successfully placed service dogs before. 


  • Benefits
    • The cost is usually less upfront.
    • Some people have strong ethical feelings about adopting rather than going through a breeder.
    • You can get an adult dog who may already have some training and you don’t have to go through the puppy stage. 
  • Drawbacks
    • Genetics are usually unknown and you most likely will not be able to meet the dam and sire.
    • For mobility work a dog needs to be at least 2 years old and they need to have their hips and elbows checked. Most shelters aren’t going to let you take a dog and have those tests done before adopting. Since you have to wait until maturity to do those tests the safest option is knowing that the dog’s parents had joint checks done before being bred.
    • A dog’s behavior in the shelter can be drastically different from their behavior in a home environment. It can take several months in a home before certain behaviors present and by that point you’ve already bonded with the dog.
    • Rescue dogs may have past trauma you are unaware of. In a service dog this can cause real problems if you are out with your dog and something happens that triggers memories of that trauma. 
    • Sadly, many rescue dogs have some type of behavioral issue or issues that will need to be dealt with. Behavior problems are one of the leading reasons dogs are surrendered.
    • Because the genetics of a rescue dog are unknown it’s hard to know what future health or behavior issues may come up. 
  • Recommendations
    • If possible try to work with a rescue and tell them what you’re looking for. Consider volunteering so you can get to know dogs as soon as they come in. 
    • You may want to consider breed specific rescues or talk with breeders to see if they have any adult dogs they think might be a good fit for you. 
    • Remember the 3 day, 3 week, 3 month rule. The first three days a dog is still very overwhelmed and unsure about it’s new environment. After three weeks a dog is typically starting to adjust. After 3 months a dog’s personality and behavior is likely apparent and they’ve often started to settle into their new routine and home. The most important thing to remember is that it takes time for a dog to decompress, just try to stay patient and consistent. 
    • If you decide to go with a rescue or shelter I would encourage you to get an adult dog whose temperament is fairly set. Even with temperament testing it’s hard to know what a puppies mature personality will be and in this case an adult dog is a safer bet.
    • When considering a rescue dog it can be helpful to find one that is in foster care. Dogs who are in a home environment are going to give a much more accurate presentation of what their behavior is truly like. They’re also getting individual attention and frequently living with other animals. If you decide to go with a dog in a shelter or rescue talk with the staff about if they do behavior assessments and find out how the dog did on theirs. 
    • Seriously consider what you would do if the dog washed from service work. I personally wouldn’t adopt a dog for service work without planning to keep them as a pet should they wash out. It’s incredibly hard on a dog to be adopted and returned. The obvious exception to all of this would be dangerous behavior issues that you feel you can’t safely manage. 


Going with a breeder definitely stacks the odds in your favor. If you are inexperienced with dogs or this is your first service dog I would strongly recommend going with a breeder. However, if you have worked in a rescue, have experience training dogs, or you foster dogs, a rescue may work for you. It’s important to remember that selecting a service dog is not an emotional decision, you need to look at it as a job interview. 

Resources & References

Featured image by Markus Winkler on Unsplash

The Fair Housing Act (FHA)

There are four major federal laws that impact disabled Americans and service dogs. Those four laws are the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), The Rehabilitation Act (Rehab Act), the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA), and the Fair Housing Act (FHA). Each law provides different protections and clarifications on the rights of businesses and disabled individuals. If you have a service dog, or you are considering getting one, it’s critical that you are familiar with these laws.

Congress enacted the FHA in 1968 with the main goal being to prevent discrimination in housing based on race. It also prohibited discrimination based on sex or religion. In 1988 an amendment to the FHA was passed and protection was extended to prohibit discrimination based on disability or familial status.

The FHA protects people not just once they are renting but throughout the whole process of obtaining housing. The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) explains that, “The act protects people from discrimination when they are renting or buying a home, getting a mortgage, seeking housing assistance, or engaging in other housing related activities.”

One of the most important things to understand is what types of housing are and are not covered by the FHA. While most housing is covered there are some exceptions. HUD outlines that the act “…exempts owner-occupied buildings with no more than four units, single-family houses sold or rented by the owner without the use of an agent, and housing operated by religious organizations and private clubs that limit occupancy to members.” If you have more questions about what types of dwellings may or may not be covered I recommend looking at Psychiatric Service Dog Partners (PSDP) extremely helpful flowchart.

Note: Dorms and on campus housing are not exempt. A couple of court cases have ruled that on campus housing meets the definition of a “dwelling” as outlined by the FHA.

In order to have a legitimate service dog or emotional support animal the handler must be disabled. This means they are automatically protected by the FHA. Both service dogs and ESAs are covered under the FHA. However, service dogs in training are not covered. In order for the dog to be covered while it’s in training the easiest option is to classify it as an ESA until their training is complete. It’s important to remember that in order to qualify for an ESA a person must be disabled.

If you are moving into non-pet friendly housing with a service dog you do not need supporting documentation. In 2020 HUD released a helpful guidance document that instructs landlords they should only ask the two ADA questions if it’s not readily apparent that the dog is trained to help with a disability. Examples of it being readily apparent would be things like a guide dog leading a blind person or a dog pulling a wheelchair.

Despite the fact that you don’t need supporting documentation you should still request a reasonable accommodation. I would recommend doing this by typing up a document explaining you have a service dog that is trained in work or tasks that mitigate your disability. Make sure that you clearly articulate what your dog does to assist you. I would sign and date it and then have your landlord sign and date it. You should each keep a copy for your records. This helps prevent miscommunications and it gives you a legal paper trail should that ever become necessary.

If you have a service dog in training that you are classifying as an ESA, or if you just have an ESA, you may still need supporting documentation. Most often this would be in the form of a doctor’s note. If you aren’t sure what the letter should include or look like I recommend checking out Psychiatric Service Dog Partners letter templates.

While a landlord is not allowed to charge any kind of pet fee or deposit for an assistance animal they can require that a tenant cover the cost of any damage done by an assistance animal to a dwelling or common area. Cleaning up behind your animal and generally making an effort to be respectful of those living around you can go a long way towards preventing issues with other tenants or your landlord. It’s important to remember that your actions may influence how future individuals with assistance animals are treated.

The FHA does not require that an accommodation be made for an assistance animal that poses a direct threat to the health and safety of others. This would include things like a dog that had been deemed dangerous by a court. This determination cannot be based on size or breed and court cases have found that even in areas that have breed restrictions the FHA supersedes those types of local ordinances. Landlords also do not have to allow nuisance behavior like excessive barking, aggression towards people or other animals in the building, etc…

Resources & References

Featured image by Patrick Perkins on Unsplash