Category Archives: Chicago Dog Obedience Training

Dog obedience training advice and information in Chicago

Dog owners beware: Anyone can buy a dog training franchise

Lately, more than ever, I am getting inquiries from clients who have already done dog training with “so and so,” or other companies, and were unsatisfied for one reason or another. These people have spent a lot of money in some cases, but didn’t get the results they were looking for. You may imagine this is sometimes the customers fault– and it is… sometimes. But as a pro myself, I can get a pretty good idea what sort of professionally-trained foundation a dog has, or has not had. I hear complaints about other trainers all the time, and I usually take it with a grain of salt, preferring that they focus on what we’re doing now and going forward. Most of these trainers I have never heard of anyway, but clients are more frequently telling me about dog training companies with multiple locations, or in many cases, franchises. These are not the big-box stores like PetSmart and PetCo that are known for their sub-standard version of “training” and wasting peoples time once a week for 150 bucks, these are companies charging a lot of money and promising big results.

To further investigate this concept, I began with a quick Google search, typing in “dog training franchise.” A flurry of results came up. Some of the names: Bark Busters, Fetch Pet Care, Zoom Room, Off Leash K9 Training, Sit Means Sit, Dog Wizard Academy, and many more. It’s not the route I chose to go in my career seven and a half years ago when I started my own business (after years of apprenticing and working for other companies), but apparently this is a popular thing. I have no particular issue with a well-researched individual purchasing into a dog business franchise to run out of their home, but it’s worth a deeper look behind the marketing.

One of the benefits to a franchise is immediate marketing power, and these companies don’t hesitate to tell you that people are willing to pay good money for dog training, and know the brand names. Each brand has something to boast– amazing fast results, guaranteed programs, a special (ultimately meaningless) certification, “featured on tv,” and soforth. But marketing can be misleading. Let’s say the trainers at the headquarters of your franchise had part in a tv episode on “Animal Planet.” Regardless of the fact that they’re not even in the same state, are staffed with completely different trainers, and did the tv spot years before you even joined the company, you can now advertise on your own website: “As Seen on Animal Planet.” That’s positive marketing power. Unfortunately, it can also work in the opposite way. In the past 2 years alone, three Sit Means Sit trainers were charged with animal abuse. Because it’s a franchise, they are independently responsible, but this is caveat emptor to you dog owners: Regardless of the company’s name, know who is training your dog.

What I am also concerned about is the amount of training these freshly minted dog trainers receive.

To see if my concerns were valid, I viewed the websites of four different dog training franchises. They all advertise solving behavior issues, off-leash training, and more. One called “Bark Busters” did not provide any information on length of franchisee training, they ask you to contact them. I have zero respect for Bark Busters as a training company, and I have nothing more to say about them at this time, other than– if you use their services, best of luck to your dog. The other three franchised companies provided more info on their offerings. A company called “Dog Wizard Academy” had a very bright, informative website and offers 12 weeks of hands-on training for new franchisees. However, the topics covered are broad, naturally, and include “aggression,” which in my professional opinion takes much longer than 3 months to even touch upon, let alone become proficient in. In the other 2 cases, companies called “Off Leash K-9 Training” and “Sit Means Sit,” offer 3 weeks of initial hands-on training to the new franchisee. Yes, that’s right– apparently, 3 weeks is all it takes to learn how to be a dog trainer, work with complex behavior issues, and operate a business… Well, that and anywhere from $15,000-$96,400.

A lot of people nowadays want to start their own business and have a career change in life, and that’s great. But dog training is not just something you jump into by hanging a shingle. You will quickly be out-classed. The following is an example of what I found online (I added the bold):

Are you interested in starting  dog training franchise?  Have you always wanted to be a dog trainer? Turn your passion into a dog training business!

As an Off Leash K9 Training trainer, you will spend 21 days at our facility in Northern Virginia, observing and taking part in over 240+ hours of dog training! … At the end of your 21 day training, you will have all the tools, knowledge, and know-how to deal with basic obedience, advanced obedience, and behavioral modification. You will be able to make dogs look like the dogs in our 500+ before/after videos! You will also have a website and everything else you need to get you started in the dog training world!

Let me get this straight. You will have “all the knowledge” and “a website and everything else” in 3 weeks. In my opinion, that’s simply not possible, particularly not the “everything else.” There is no way to master these sort of skills in 240 hours… You’d be about 9,760 hours short of the “10,000 hour rule” of mastery. But even if you do gain an array of positive training and business skills, what about basic math skills? 21 days to become a dog trainer is advertised as “240+ hours of dog training.” I have never heard of such an intensive program that you go 21 days straight for ELEVEN+ hours each day. It doesn’t seem possible, and lends me a degree of skepticism (something I already have a healthy level of).

To be fair, some of these companies do offer continuing education, yearly seminars, and phone support– but what about the dogs these franchisees will be training fresh out of the gate? Do you want your dog to be a guinea pig for a brand new trainer with only a few months of experience under their belt? If you do, that’s fine, but I personally would not pay that kind of money for my dog to be a newer trainers learning experiment.

So how long does it really take to become a dog trainer? I understand everyone wants to jump in and make money, but the reality is, when I have an apprentice trainer who is learning how to train dogs, they are not even allowed to do a private obedience lesson with a customer with less than SIX MONTHS of training under their belt, and more in some cases. The average time to produce a dog trainer is ONE YEAR, for a basic-level trainer, who works with obedience but not more complex behavior issues or aggression. There is no “quick way to rake in the cash,” and you need more than a fancy website, you need more than a well-trained personal dog– you need to provide quality training from a foundation of knowledge and hands-on experience in a variety of venues.

If you want to become a successful dog trainer, buying into a corporate franchise is certainly one of your options, and it does work out well for some people. But it’s certainly not the only option. To be clear, I am not saying all the franchise-owning trainers are bad or sub-standard trainers– absolutely not– it fully depends on the individual person. If they are a driven self-learner, I’m sure they could find a way to compensate for any lack of experience, and work to become a well-versed, competent trainer. In some cases, a franchise trainer may be an already working and adept dog trainer who decided to make a smart business decision and team up with a company. But as a dog owner myself, I don’t want to simply know what “brand” is training my dog, I want to know who is training my dog. What have they accomplished, what’s the scope of their experience, and will they deliver up to the expectations of a big-name company? To know this, you will have to look past the smoke and mirrors of marketing, and learn how to choose a dog trainer.

Trainer’s top 5 favorite dog products, and 5 TERRIBLE products to avoid

As professional dog trainers, as well as dog owners ourselves, we get to try out many products. Some make life much easier and we want to share that with you. Others are garbage, buyer beware. Here’s our top picks!

Our favorite products…

  1. E-Collar Technologies Mini Educator mini
    E-collars are the cutting edge of technology in modern dog training. Remote collars allow you to communicate with your dog effectively and at a distance. The Mini Educator is an entry-level e-collar with an affordable price and no lack of features. It has 100 easily-adjustable levels, with blunt-stimulation technology, so you can find “just the right level” when training. It features a 1/2 mile range, vibrate (pager) feature, it’s waterproof, and features a built-in light on the collar. Made in the USA, and has a full 2-year warranty. Retail price: $199
  2. Bionic Toys bionic1
    We specifically like the “Bionic Urban Stick.” It’s a great fetch toy. The open ends can also be stuffed with treats. These toys are flexible rubber and won’t harm a dogs teeth. No toy is truly “indestructible,” but these fun orange toys hold up to even tough chewers. Belgian Malinois tested and approved.
  3. Ruff Tough Kennels
    Wire crates are the worst! They are flimsy, cheap and they can easily be bent, escaped from, or become rusty over time. Plastic airline-style crates are safer for car travel as well. If you ever get into a car accident or are rear-ended, these crates are much safer for your dog.
  4. Zoom Groom. If you have a short-haired zoomdog, you know how they shed little short hairs that stick in everything. A Zoom Groom is a rubber curry brush that feels good to the dog and loosens the dead hair. It’s also a must-have for bathing dogs and getting a good scrubbing. Available on
  5. Gun Dog Supply collars with brass nameplate. If you are like me, you cannot stand the sound of a bunch of jingling tags! These collars are great because they are super affordable (even for leather), and come in many varieties– with no extra charge for the custom 4-line nameplate! In the event your dog ever gets lost, tags can become worn out and illegible, or fall off. A nameplate will not fall off. Keep your dogs information updated wnameplateith current numbers and address. This USA company owned by Steve Snell has a huge assortment of great dog items at great prices.


Products to AVOID…

  1. Harnesses
    Unless you have a very delicate dog under 5lbs, or you have a Husky pulling a sled, there is no reason to use a harness to walk your dog. Harnesses encourage pulling, and give almost no control. Dogs have been wearing collars for hundreds of years for a reason– the higher on the neck the collar is, the better control you have when teaching the dog direction and placement. Front-clip harnesses are no better. They put pressure on the front shoulder area and can impede a dogs natural gait and movement. Veterinarian and sports medicine expert Dr. Christine Zink, DVM, PhD, DACVP, DACVSMR has this to say about harnesses: “I do not believe that there is a harness on the market that is nonrestrictive and that also helps the dog not to pull… In my opinion the real way to get a dog to stop pulling is to train it.”
  2. Bungee leashes. Cannot. Stand. Stretchy. Leashes. bungeeThey make it almost impossible to control the walk. If your dog is trained to walk politely on-lead, he will not need a stretchy cord to avoid dislocating your shoulder.
  3. Rawhides
    They are made from the layer just under the top hide, which is separated utilizing chemical processes. You do not know how the cow hides were preserved, or what variety of chemicals they have been treated with along the way. As a dog chews the processed hide, it becomes chewy and gummy, and can break off in large pieces and be swallowed. Rawhides are known by veterinarians to be an intestinal obstruction hazard. Even if they do not harm your dog, they provide no nutritional benefit. Try Himalayan dog chews, deer antlers, or digestible bully sticks. And always buy products made in the USA.
  4. Ball toys, especially ones that are too small destroyed-ball
    Every year, dogs die from choking due to a ball becoming lodged in their throat. When a rubber ball goes down a dogs throat, it is an emergency situation. Tennis balls can be not only a choking hazard, pieces of them can break apart, be consumed, and cause intestinal obstruction. Do not allow your dog to play with tennis balls unattended, and make sure all ball toys are solid and jumbo-sized so there’s no risk they could become lodged in your dogs throat.
  5. Name-Brand (but low-quality) dog food
    There are many big name brands, owned by a few large corporations, that have put tons of money into advertising their products to the point they have a household name. Pedigree, Eukanuba, Purina, Science Diet, and soforth. A big name does not mean a quality product. They are often full of cheap byproducts and cereals and starches. The #1 ingredient in Pedigree adult dog food is corn! Do your research and check out how your dog food rates.

Housebreaking a dirty dog who eliminates inside their crate

Potty training a crate pooper can be very frustrating! A dog is not “supposed to” be comfortable going to the bathroom where they sleep. It is one of the reasons why dogs can be so easily adapted to our homes. But what if you have a dog who seems used to peeing and pooping on himself and lying in it?

I have had clients with dogs of all ages and from various situations who are “dirty dogs,” meaning they will not hold it in the crate and seem ok lying in their mess. Sometimes we can identify why they have lost that natural instinct to stay clean. Some have been raised in puppy mills where they were forced to be in filth, so they got used to it. Some lived outdoors or in a kennel run. Others were puppies from breeders who did not properly train the puppies to be clean. They may have just kept them all in a box together until 8 weeks old. It is actually the breeder who starts housebreaking, by setting up an area where the puppies can go potty separate from their sleeping area, and by routinely taking them outside as they get older (5 weeks+), whenever feasible. When I had puppies, my set up was a large plastic container (half an airline crate) lined with newspapers and filled with cedar bedding. The puppies took to it very quickly, keeping their sleeping and eating areas clean. I also tried a fake grass patch, but the cedar and newspaper was much more attractive. By 7 weeks, they were going potty outside. Not all dogs have gotten this good start, and some we have no history on. All we know is we are doing our best trying to housebreak them, we are crate training, taking them outside on a schedule, so why are they still having accidents inside the cage?


Determine what the problem is:

  1. He isn’t going potty when outside.
  2. He is stressing and working himself up to defecating in the crate.
  3. The crate is too big, so he is using half as a bathroom and sleeping in the other half. Or possibly the crate contains bedding the dog is urinating on and it’s soaking it up.
  4. He doesn’t care about being dirty. Where as most dogs will hold it (within reason) until they are given opportunity outside, this dog will eliminate as soon as the slightest feeling strikes him.
  5. Medical issue. Parasites such as worms or Giardia. Appearance of worms or soft stool may or may not be present. UTI and bladder infections can cause a dog to urinate inside the house or more frequently than usual.
  6. Diet issue. Overfeeding the “good stuff.”
    Or feeding cheap.
    Fillers in cheap food can cause a mass quantity of waste. Food sensitivities can cause issues.

Determine your corresponding solutions:

  1. If he is not going potty outside in the proper place, it’s only obvious that he will end up going inside or in the crate. There can be different reasons why  a dog will not go outside. Some are not used to being on a leash, and may feel like they need to wander around more freely. Some have been scolded so much for pottying inside that they have associated pottying in front of their owner with being yelled at. Some are too distracted or nervous outside– they are just squirrely. Others are just not in the habit, and need to be taught. The first step is getting some occurrences of the dog pottying outside so you can set a new routine and reward and praise for it.  We teach dogs to eliminate on command, like service dogs. You will take the dog to the same area every time, give your verbal cue “go potty,” and walk around a small area until the dog goes. Praise sniffing and allow the leash to be slack and the dog to trail around in front of you. You may want to use a longer leash, such as a Flexi Lead. Yes, I know trainers hate Flexi Leads, but they are great for potty breaking a dog. The second you attach that long leash, he will know this is a cue and it’s potty time. After he goes, you may switch back to your regular 6′ leather obedience lead. For urination, you can begin by adding some water to the dogs food so they are taking in a bit more water than usual. They will soon have to pee, and you will be ready to get them outside and to the potty area. For pooping, if a dog will not poop right away, there is an old dog show trick: matching a dog. In the dog show ring, any dog who urinates or defecates will be an automatic disqualification, therefore, it is imperative that they be “emptied out” ahead of time. You take a match (or a q-tip is ok for a quite large dog) and put it about half-way into their rectum. This will pretty quickly stimulate them to go. A regular (unlit, obviously) paper match or two is fine. Lift the tail up and get them in there about half-way, then wait. Use your cue “go potty” or whatever your potty cue is. Now be ready to praise your dog!
    Tools you will need: regular paper matches, Flexi Lead extendable leash, treats for a reward
  2. Stress can cause any animal to eliminate where they would not normally do so. If your dog has other signs of anxiety, such as barking excessively in the crate, drooling, or trying to escape, you need to fix the anxiety issues. Every dog should be taught to calmly accept confinement when their owner puts them in a cage and leaves for a period of time. Your dog may be in a stressful environment, or he may have separation anxiety.
  3. When crate training a puppy or new dog, the point of a crate is that it’s the dogs personal area and is to be kept clean as a resting space. If the crate is huge, some dogs will designate half as a bathroom and half as their sleeping quarters. This is why many wire crates come with a divider panel, so you can adjust the crate as the puppy grows, keeping it just large enough for him to turn around and lie down comfortably. His back and head should not touch the top when standing up. Your dogs cage should not be like a condo! Get a smaller crate, or use a divider panel. You also do not need tons of bedding. Unless you have a senior dog or a very large breed who spends a lot of time crated, dogs do not need bedding in their crates. Bedding is for comfort, but it can also be a hazard for young dogs who can shred and eat it, causing intestinal obstructions and requiring lifesaving emergency surgery. It can also be a problem for a dog who is being crate trained if they urinate on the bedding and it is all soaked up so they do not mind doing it again. Try eliminating the fluffy bedding, at least for now.
  4. The dirty dog… This can be one of the more difficult fixes, and can depend on the dog. I have fixed several dirty dogs. Some of them just need a new habit. Almost all of them need a lot of time and observation, so you can take them out often. Most accidents will occur when they are left alone and crated. You may not realize the dog is under stress when you’re gone and is moving around or pacing or spinning in the crate, so it’s good to observe this. Also eliminate medical and diet (numbers 5 and 6). A dog who is calm and at rest will be much more likely to hold it. You may need to consult an experienced trainer and try a few things to find a solution:
    A new setup. If a dog has really never had to hold it before, the muscles will not be there for that. When I had brand new rescue dogs I was fostering, they were adult kennel dogs who lived in indoor-outdoor runs. Never in a house or crate. So they had never had to hold it before. They did have some accidents in the crate, but after 2 weeks they were perfect. Any time they have an accident, they need a bath and everything needs to be cleaned well. They obviously have to go out often, and especially soon after they eat or drink. But what if you have a job? Not everyone can be home to take a dog out every 2 hours! For some people, an outdoor dog run works. But not everyone has a yard, and not everyone with a yard can leave their dog outside alone. Some dogs will need an exercise pen, or x-pen, attached (use zip ties or clips) to a crate inside. This way they can sleep in the crate and get out into the x-pen if they have to use the toilet. Your “toilet” will depend on the dog. For a small dog, a litter box with newspapers is fine, for a large dog, half an airline crate or a small kiddie pool filled with mulch or woodchips (buy a few bags at the garden store) will be the best. This is all to encourage the dogs natural instinct to have a separate living and potty area.
    Umbilical cording. This is a method in which the dog will be will you all the time. You will have a leash on them and it will always be either in your hand, or tied to something close to you. I will tie a dogs leash to the chair I’m sitting on, or sit on the leash. Most dogs will follow me around and lie down quietly when I am busy. This way, the dog will not have any accidents inside. They will be under your watchful eye all the time, and be taken outside on a schedule. This is a great method but it does require you to be home a lot and have a dog with you often. If you need to do other chores around the house, you can tie (tether) the dog to something stable while you are in the same room doing something else. But they are never to be out of your sight or alone in the crate.
    Are there dogs who can never be reliably housebroken? Yes. I believe there are a very small number of dogs who will never have the instinct to be clean and learn to “hold it” and just cannot be reliably housebroken. I feel for the vast majority of dogs, it can be taught, it just takes patience and having the right approach. I can do customized troubleshooting for clients on this issue.
  5. Medical issues can cause dogs to have soft stool or diarrhea, and they are unable to hold it for very long. Your dog can have a parasite like giardia which causes them to lose control of their bowels. Giardia can flare up and then go dormant, so many people think it’s just intermittent upset stomach when in fact it’s a parasite. Get a fecal test for both worms and giardia. Your dog can have worms without any visible evidence in his stool. There are other medical causes that may be linked to excessive urination. Diabetes, cushings disease, kidney problems, etc. can all lead to excessive thirst and urination. Dogs with urinary tract infections or bladder infections do not have a way to tell us they are in pain. UTI’s are most often noticed when dogs begin peeing in the house or peeing more often than usual. A urinalysis should be completed to rule out any medical causes. Talk to your vet.
  6. One of the common issues I see with dogs who poop in their crate is that they are pooping way too often to begin with. I often ask people “How often does your dog go number two?” If they say “Three, four times a day…” I know something is off. I will ask what they are feeding, and it’s either 1) Too much of the good stuff, or 2) The cheap stuff with fillers. They may say they are feeding a super-premium high quality grain-free diet. Great. But how much? Overfeeding a dog will cause it to just crap everything out, and crap constantly. The body can only absorb so much at one time. Do NOT follow the recommendations on a bag of dog food! They are almost always inflated. I had a client feeding their 6-month old Lab 6 cups of high-calorie puppy food a day! That is insane. No wonder he is crapping 24/7, that is way more food than any dog, short of a working sled dog or Great Dane, should need. You want to feed the least amount that your dog will still maintain a good healthy muscle mass and weight on. It’s also appropriate to feed for the activity-level. If I sit in my office all day I am not going to need as much of a dinner as if I spent the day working strenuously outdoors.
    I commonly hear “that food (insert brand) was just too rich for my dog, it gave him soft stool.” Well no, you probably just fed too much of it. There is no such thing as “too rich,” dogs are meat eating predators. Their diet should be almost all animal ingredients– not plant, and high in protein and fat. When you switch to a high quality concentrated dry kibble, you do not need to feed as much as one that contains things like rice and other cereal grains.
    If you are feeding the cheap stuff with fillers, you are paying for what is essentially a big bag of cereal grains and corn. What little protein and meat that’s in the cheap food is not highly digestible (it’s the nasty bits that are unfit for Spam), so expect a lot of waste, and frequently. Foods like Purina Puppy Chow, Beneful, Alpo, Pedigree, etc. are low quality and produce a lot of waste. The best diets are grain-free and do not contain by-products. You may have to try a few foods before finding some your dog does well on. This is totally normal. I highly recommend adding probiotics to your dogs food, and switching proteins and varieties about once a month. Mix the foods together for a few days, but always switch so your dogs system can handle a variety of proteins.
    I have seen many dogs improve with their housebreaking issues when put on a raw food diet. Dogs on raw diets will have drastically less waste, and will typically defecate only once a day, maybe twice. There are many resources out there on raw diet, including pre-made foods you can buy in stores and order online, and books about how to buy your own raw diet from a meat supplier.
    Tools you will need: A high-quality grain-free kibble or raw diet. Probiotics. A measured scoop for monitoring food.

Does my dog need “obedience” or “behavior modification”?

In my business I work with a large number of clients who contact our trainers because of specific behavioral problems. They often don’t see the link between obedience training and a well-behaved dog. Training is not just about concrete commands (I mean, who cares if your dog can do a fancy heel and tricks if he’s attacking other dogs). But there is much more value in obedience than a dog who “looks” behaved. Obedience and dog training in general is training of the dogs mind, giving them skills, and teaching them to make appropriate choices. We often say obedience training gives your dog a “job.” That “job” is following your direction. Imagine the confidence and security your dog will feel when he knows what’s expected of him!

I often use analogies with children, not because I equate a dog with a child, but because it’s easy for people to understand and relate to. Imagine raising a child…
Some of the traits you would hope to see in school-aged children:

  • Follows direction
  • Respects the authority of adults
  • Gets along well with others
  • Stays on task
  • Behaves appropriately for the situation, i.e. is quiet when required (in class), and plays when is appropriate (in recess)
  • Drive and desire for learning
  • Confident yet respectful of others

All of the above traits are also qualities we would like to see in a dog. These qualities begin in the home, but they are further instilled in a school environment, where children are taught order, self-discipline, and respect for adults. Just like a child, a dogs desire to learn should be encouraged. Our training encourages dogs to put in more effort, and we reward them for the efforts they give us. A task well done is praised, which builds work ethic in the dog. It builds the desire to do right.

School is not just about the actual academics. In school, we learned algebra, reading, history, etc. but we also learned important social lessons: how to behave, how to sit quietly and listen, how to follow direction. We were not given a choice to attend our classes, we were required to attend. In the evening at home, it was not “Would you rather do your homework, or would you rather go play outside?” It was required that we do our homework, and then we could go play outside. Playing outside was the positive reinforcement for completing a task that we would otherwise probably not choose to do. If we did not comply, pressure was put upon us. Mom would put her hands on her hips, stand squarely at us and command “Sit down and do it, now.” And if we still did not comply, privileges were taken away. We knew mom wouldn’t cave, because she never did. So we did not bother with protesting– it got us no results. We did our homework the first time, every time, and got to play outside or watch tv the rest of the evening.

“We knew mom wouldn’t cave, because she never did. So we did not bother with protesting– it got us no results.”

Your dog is the same way. To a child’s young mind, and a dogs ever-young mind, instant gratification is very attractive. The world is full of interesting and fun things. We all want our dogs focus at times when we need it, so you need to be interesting and fun, but also worthy of respect and able to function as a leader. Obedience training is not just about the tangible actions, no more than school is just about learning facts and figures. Virtually nobody calls a trainer to say “You know, the problem with my dog is he just doesn’t do a good sit-stay.” They call because something is bothering them, or bothering their dog. An insecure, troubled dog often lacks leadership and really we must remember, they are dogs. They have to be taught what’s ok and what’s not ok, and in a manner that is clear to them. That’s where a trainer, someone who “speaks dog,” gets a phone call.

Virtually nobody calls a trainer to say “You know, the problem with my dog is he just doesn’t do a good sit-stay.”

Of clients we work with, there are three main categories:
-My dog just needs to learn “the basics”
-My dog has some annoying habits
-My dog has some concerning behavior issues

“The Basics” Dog
When people refer to “the basics,” I will usually assume they mean obedience training. To me, a dog with basic training can walk on a loose leash (no pulling), heel, come when called (around distractions), sit, down, stay, and has manners such as not jumping, barking, or taking things that aren’t theirs. The training instills a key component: self-control. That is all covered in a basic train, and I can almost guarantee you that with proper obedience training, the dog will be a model citizen. The “basics dog” has few ingrained bad habits, and no serious behavioral problems– and because he will get a good foundation, he has a much lower chance of developing any.
One of the common mistakes I see pet owners make is thinking that just any ol’ trainer will do, since it’s just basic stuff. So they go to PetCo or another big box retail store that isn’t a professional training facility, and they waste their time and money while feeling like they did training. In reality, they are lucky if their dogs learned a couple tricks for a treat, but they certainly won’t have any solid or useful obedience skills. Because we are experienced in higher levels of training, I believe we do a better job on the basics, too. If you wanted to learn tennis, you don’t need to hire Venus Williams, but you do need someone who knows 1) how to teach, 2) how to produce good results. Unfortunately, some trainers are more like a dude down the street who took a couple tennis classes and now thinks he’s good enough to advertise as an instructor.

“In reality, they are lucky if their dogs learned a couple tricks for a treat, but they certainly won’t have any solid or useful obedience skills.”

“Annoying Habits” Dog
This dog will probably be lacking in the basics, which is why he has bad habits. The owner may have already done some obedience training, lessons, or classes, but they did not work, either because the methods were not effective, the trainer was not experienced, or they were non-compliant students and did not follow-up with the training themselves. (When your trainer says you need to practice these new habits and routines every day… you need to practice every day. And because I assume you interact with your dog on some level every day, there is no excuse.) Some of the habits will be more ingrained. The “bad habits” dog may think his name is “No, No, Stop-That!”  The relationship between dog and human may have become strained, and people will often express to me “It’s just not fun anymore.” We may see things like barking, stealing food, mass destruction, chewing furniture, nipping, clawing, bolting away when off-leash, or persistent housebreaking trouble. Once the dog learns more positive and productive behaviors, he will not need to be naughty to get attention. Again, I can almost guarantee you that with proper obedience training, most, if not all of these issues will dissipate. For any remaining issues that are more persistent, we have specific creative solutions. The most fulfilling thing about problem-solving behavior is seeing the dog finally gain clarity. “Oh, this is how you want me to behave.” Once the dog is trained, everyone is happier and more content.

“The ‘Bad Habits’ dog may think his name is ‘No, No, Stop-That!”

“Concerning Issues” Dog
This may be a dog who has social issues, aggression, fear or anxiety, or has bitten a person or another dog. They may have already worked with other trainers or hired a veterinary behaviorist. We work with a good number of dogs with severe issues, and we are known for successful rehabilitation. Often the owners of dogs with behavior problems will specify to me “I am not worried about the obedience stuff, I really want to focus on the behavior problem.” I understand exactly what they mean, but that is a huge flaw in thinking. The goal of training is that they can handle their dog, control their dog, and that the dog makes better choices. Choices like “I have a bone I value greatly, but I am now comfortable with you coming near me and I trust the outcome,” or “I see that little yappy dog lunging at me on the sidewalk, and I kinda want to tell him off, but I am going to ignore him and move on because that produces better results for me.” But the problem is– if the dog does not listen to his owners over the small things (like an obedience command, spoken a single time), why should the dog listen to them over the big things (like not biting that random dude on the street)? You have to start somewhere. It is necessary that your dog obey you– the first time, every time. It is not your dogs job to be judge, jury and executioner of perceived “bad guys” on the street. It is not your dogs job to escape confinement that you put him in. He might think it’s his job to tear through the door to come find you when you’ve left, but we have to communicate to him that this behavior is not necessary.

“If the dog does not listen to his owners over the small things, why should the dog listen to them over the big things?”

In order to modify behavior, you need a clear line of communication. There is no magic wand. Despite what you may see on tv, your dogs issues cannot be magically fixed in a day, they cannot be fixed by being in a pack of dogs, or by pills from the vet. It takes changing the way you think, changing the way you interact, and changing the way you handle your dog. And yes, it takes obedience training.

Is a tired dog really a “good dog”?

You may have heard the saying, “A tired dog is a good dog!”
There’s a common perception among pet owners that exercise is the solution to any and all behavior issues. Like you can take the most unruly dog, and just wear them out and they will be tolerable. Famous dog trainers like Cesar Milan have toted the benefits of exercise for behavior issues. While exercise is essential and highly beneficial to health and well-being, there is more to good behavior than just exercise. Just like children learn which set of behaviors is appropriate for various environments, dogs must learn, too. There are places and times when it’s appropriate to let loose, to run, jump, sniff, pee, and play. But there are also times and places when you must be on your best behavior, and display self-discipline, control, and calmness.

A tired dog is a tired dog. Nothing more, nothing less.

Exercise as a solution to behavior problems
Mary Customer: “My dog is so crazy and ill-behaved!”
Joe Trainer: “He just needs more exercise.”
Mary Customer: “Maybe I should take him on an extra walk, and join an agility class, yes, that’s what I’ll do!”

While the idea of agility and an extra walk are nice, they are not practical solutions. First, I would like to define exactly what the dogs imbalance is, why it is being described as “crazy, ill-behaved,” and what role the owner is playing in it. Agility training is a sport, not a behavioral solution. It is typically a once a week class, for one hour. Realistically, one hour a week will not alter your dogs behavior. It’s the routine things, what we do every day, that has the most effect. Also, in order to do sports like agility, you must have a basic foundation of obedience on the dog, so they take direction when off-leash. It’s best to begin with solid obedience before progressing into hobby sports.

As we increase exercise, we build endurance. A well-conditioned athlete can perform with the minimum effort. So the issue becomes that the 5-mile jog routine you began is no longer producing the same fatigue in your dog. You are only conditioning him to the activity.

When exercise is not enough
It’s not unheard of for a very tired dog to still be able to muster up the energy to freak out when his owners leave him alone in the house. The level of anxiety and mental confusion in that dog was not going to be overcome with a marathon run. Every dog needs boundaries and to learn them, they need feedback on what is ok, and what is not ok. It is not ok for a dog to put human belongings in his mouth, and therefore every time a dog tries that, they need to be consistently corrected and redirected. People tend to like dogs that are appropriate for the situation. In the house, calmness is usually appreciated. There are many cues for excitement, but how can we turn those into cues for calm? Let’s say your dog goes nuts when you pick up their leash. They jump, they run around in circles, and they bark at you. The leash has become a conditioned cue for the excitement of going for a walk. We want to re-condition it for a cue for obedient and calm behavior. Dogs learn by association and repetition. Using that information, we are going to re-structure the entire way our walks are done.

A holistic view of your dog
As trainers, we must view each dog as an individual, with particular needs. One of the needs every dog has is to know what is expected of him. Let’s go back to the case of separation anxiety. How can expectations affect a dog with separation anxiety? If leadership is clear, and a relationship is balanced, the simple act of putting a dog inside a crate and leaving has changed. It becomes “My human put me here, so here I shall remain.” In the case of dogs who are young and destructive, exercise will help taper that, but only because they don’t have the energy to tear the house up. The problem is, life can change, and one week you may be just too busy to give your dog a 5-mile jog every day. The great thing about dogs is they are adaptable. If you are busy one day, ill, or have to work late and don’t have the time to provide the normal level of exercise and stimulation, your dog (ideally) will adjust to that. But they have to be taught what is and is not acceptable behavior.

Behavior Tips:

  • Vary your activities
    • Go for a walk in a new place
    • Try new exercises
    • Utilize the dogs senses, including smell, such as scent detection
  • Include mental exercise
  • Teach a solid foundation of obedience and work it often
  • Teach your dog to follow you
    • Appropriate behavior for the context and situation
  • Only reward behaviors that you want to see continue

Performance at White Sox “Dog Days”


Twice a year, Dog Day allows fans and their pets to enjoy a White Sox game together at U.S. Cellular Field. Attendees purchase special tickets and are seated in a dog-friendly section. Dynamic Dogs was personally invited by White Sox management to attend as an exhibitor. Aliya and Jennifer were given a table to set up in the dog section of the ballpark. It was a pleasure to meet so many nice people and their dogs!

Jennifer did several obedience and trick demos with her Dalmatian, Rockwell, as crowds gathered around. They were filmed twice– once by MLB, and once for a flawless routine on the big screen at the park, during an inning! People were coming up afterwards and asking to take photos with Rockwell. The Sox also put video footage on Instagram and their website. It was a lot of fun, and we appreciated the opportunity to be invited to this event!

“Dalmatian Dominates Dog Day at the Cell” was the headline on the White Sox website:


Training in Hong Kong

This February, Jennifer Hack of Dynamic Dogs was honored to be invited to teach a seminar at a kennel and training facility in Hong Kong.

The seminar was advertised, and spots soon filled, with 12 dogs and many spectators. “Training the Dynamic Dogs Way.” The topics covered were canine behavior, obedience, and problem solving. From pets with aggression and fear issues, to competitive obedience dogs. This marks Jennifer’s second international seminar.

“I had an amazing time visiting, exploring, and most of all– learning more about the dog culture in Hong Kong. I was able to attend the Pet Expo, dog show, tour the ASPCA, do training sessions with other professional trainers, and more. I was able to work with several great dog trainers and meet many dog lovers! I am grateful to all who showed me hospitality.”

-Jennifer Hack







Why your dog is reactive on walks


We deal with this training issue a lot, especially working in the busy neighborhoods of Chicago, where around 6pm, dogs are pouring out of hi-rises, condos, and houses.  “Reactive” can be a somewhat over-used term, and it can range from a dog that is social and friendly but just over-excited, to a dog that intends to bite.  Dictionary definition “reactive” a : readily responsive to a stimulus
b : occurring as a result of stress or emotional upset.

A dogs acting out on a leash can stem from several causes, and may be related to other issues:

  1. Lack of ability to self-regulate and cope with the level of frustration or stimulation… many people feel it’s like their dog is in tunnel vision.
  2. A lack of solid obedience training.  If your dog is barking and lunging, he is not obedient— and therefore needs obedience training.
  3. Often dogs with on-leash aggressive displays are described as low confidence and insecure, often taking the defensive when feeling threatened.
  4. Inappropriate inter-dog social skills.  Not all dogs have equal inter-species communication skills.  Some are more like Tarzan!
  5. Avoidant– if they aren’t reacting, they’re avoiding.
  6. MANY have lack of respect of the handler, and therefore the handler pulling them back and saying “NOOO, stop that!” is ineffective, or just makes it worse by adding high emotion to the situation.
  7. The handlers behavior as another dog is approaching– dog associates “Why is my human so tense and nervous, maybe it’s because of the other dog?”Are you choking up on the leash and changing your pace when you think a dog is nearby?  Or maybe you are giving verbal cues, you are relaxed the whole walk, but when you see another dog down the sidewalk you are whispering “Now stay with me, you better be nice, heel, heel…” and your dog is getting psyched up.  You do not want a negative association with other dogs coming.  You want a neutral or positive response to other dogs, and we reward appropriate behavior.  Your dog looks at another dog, calmly and looks away?  Great, yes them and pay them.
  8. Then there are less common, dogs who present with animal-aggression with the intent to severely fight or kill other animals, not just posture for rank.  These dogs can be a real danger, and require intensive training and behavior modification, as well as common-sense management throughout their lives.  Things like secure fencing, leash, supervision, etc.  A dog who may seriously injure another animal requires a responsible handler, and safety precautions in place.  They may or may not be aggressive towards people.  The handler of such a dog needs to be aware of any propensity for re-directed aggression, which can happen with some dogs.  This refers to when their frustration/aggression level goes high and they re-direct their anger onto the nearest thing.  Dogs who have a tendency towards this can be dangerous to people as well.
  9. Other types of aggression: For example, an in-tact male who typically goes after other males is not “reactive,” he is same-sex aggressive and may ready to fight with teeth for rank.
  10. Some dogs just *do not like* other dogs, or are very selective.   They CAN be taught to behave (through solid obedience and behavior modification) and they can be trained to tolerate, but will never enjoy interacting with certain dogs in close proximity for the sake of interacting itself.  This should be respected as part of the dogs personality, and interaction shouldn’t be forced upon the dog, or they may be negative experiences.  It’s important to address training with a professional so your dog is safe and will respond to you.  Sometimes dogs may begin to be more “grumpy” or non-social with others, due to pain or not feeling well, so make sure your pet has no health issues or body or joint pain.   A trainer who has been training for over 40 years said this to a client who wanted her dog to “be nicer” to the dogs she’d gotten into fights with: “Some dogs will never get along.  Don’t you know people who don’t get along???”  I know some people who you couldn’t just invite to the same dinner party without risking a possible altercation!  Not all dogs are as nice or patient as others.  As a trainer, we have a very good feel for which doggie personalities and energy types will mesh well together, and which will clash.  Sometimes you just have to be selective.
  11. Territorial response. Most of the dogs who are reactive on walks do not look at another animal coming towards them on the street as a “friend,” or as a neutral occurrence, but as something outside their pack that stimulates a territorial response, especially when tethered to their owner, frustration is increased on leash as well.  The look of some dogs on walks is like one of a predator hunting.
  12. They may or may not actually bite another dog… some just put on a big nasty show- that doesn’t mean they won’t get bit themselves though, if they do that display to the wrong dog.
  13. BUT MY DOG PLAYS WITH OTHER DOGS SO WELL! With some excitable types, it does not matter if they have daycare or play-groups 3x a week and are great with dogs there, it’s different when they’re moving & covering ground attached to their owner as a unit, they may begin displays that look aggressive, or are territorial.  Or maybe it’s not aggression-related at all- just barking out of frustration.  That is remedied by obedience training, teaching focus on you.  We train for our dogs to be neutral to other dogs– not overly-interested to the point of losing all focus!
  14. It’s the way you are walking your dog! You are not walking with purpose and with control– by that I mean responsiveness without physically restraining the dog on a tight leash.  A dog that has a respect for how far away he will walk before considering your proximity.  I will only walk a dog that has natural desire to stay with me, and move as a unit, no dragging me or bolting away!  I think a big part of the problem is that people walk their dogs around from the time they get them untrained, and let bad habits develop.  Except for puppies, I WILL NOT walk a dog (yard only, or field on longline) around the city until they are leash trained and not going to cause a ruckus, I dont want to rehearse bad habits.  If any bad habits surface, they are immediately corrected, and not allowed to continue.  Some dogs just like to be bullies… the dog should know aggressive behavior is something that displeases me and it will have swift consequences.

I hope this was informative to you and gave you ideas to think about.  Please visit our Facebook page at and feel free to ask us any questions you might have, or share your experiences in how you were able to train your reactive dog.


Dynamic Dogs Chicago Trainers

Our expert opinion on pit bulls

At Dynamic Dogs, we help a lot of pitties! Pit bulls are a versatile breed with a bad rap.  “Pit bull” is a broad term for a type of dog, such as a “terrier,” “hound,” or “bird dog.” They are an American breed with a long history, and versatile purpose. Pit bulls vary a lot, or at least what is called a pit bull. In fact, many people cannot correctly identify the breed type, and may lump other similar breeds (Mastiff, Boxer, Dogo, etc) in the “pit bull” category.

So what’s with the bad rap? Pits are banned in some areas, but they are popular in Chicago. Any breed can gain a bad reputation if they become overbred and are too-often popular among irresponsible people.  A good pit is a loving and highly trainable companion.  Here we will go over your key points to owning a Pit, then dispel myths regarding pit bulls and training your pit bull.


  • Understand your dog as an individual
    • Classify: Dogs are all dogs, then they are breeds, then they are individuals
  • Train for real-life obedience around many distractions
  • Teach impulse control
  • Take ultimate responsibility for your dogs behavior
  • Set your dog up for success by working with a professional trainer
  • Complete the AKC’s Canine Good Citizen program or equivalent

MYTH:  ALL pit bulls are all dog-aggressive due to a dogfighting background and breeding

FACT:  Not every dog will hold up to generalizations of the breed. This depends on their breeding (genetics), how they are raised and socialized early in life, and how they are handled as an adult.  Not every pit bull has animal aggression, in fact many live in homes with other dogs and cats or attend daycare plays.  There is a large population of pit type dogs, and the majority are not bred for dog fighting, in fact, very few are. Most are bred for other reasons: companion pets, for money, for their looks, etc. But not all for actual dogfighters. Because of some of the genetics and history in certain bloodlines, animal aggression and high prey drive can be an issue in the breed. The right training can go a long way, but it comes down to this- Not all dogs are going to get along with every other dog. Do you get along with every human you meet? Even in your own family, are there relatives you just can’t stand? If this is the case, you must accept this and learn to manage it properly. Not every pit bull will be totally accepting of other animals. Even if your dog is non-social, you should still have full control over your dog through obedience, and he should be a safe dog in public and around other dogs under your supervision.  You cannot control what other people do with their dogs, but you can make sure your dog is safe and under your control.

What is “prey drive”?
You will hear this term a lot in relation to dog training. Prey drive is the instinctive motivation to find, pursue, and capture prey. All dogs are carnivores who retain these instincts. Imagine playing with a dog with a toy squirrel… they get excited when it moves, when it squeaks, and they chase after it when you throw it. They might shake it around or want you to throw it again. That is prey drive. Now imagine a dog who halfheartedly chases a ball when you throw it, not very interested. That dog is lower in prey drive than the one who sees the ball and gets very excited. When dogs are “in prey drive” they can still listen and be obedient, but it takes practice. 

MYTH:  Pit bulls require very firm or harsh training because they are a dominant breed

FACT:  Although being physically strong and powerful and even willful is a breed type trait, most Pit Bulls are in tune with their handler and respond to fair and consistent training.  Some dogs require more firmness from by their owner, just as some children require stricter parenting.  If you have a strong and high drive breed you do need to step up and be firm when required, but it doesn’t mean you have to be harsh.  When people get frustrated or think their dog is stubborn, they are no longer teaching the dog, the are only punishing it.  Dominance is a situational relationship issue between a dog and owner, and is not a breed trait of pit bulls.

MYTH:  Pit Bulls are difficult to train

FACT:  They are, on average, no more or less difficult to train than other breeds.  They are generally willing to please if they are given proper direction and clear rules to abide by.

MYTH:  Pit Bulls snap on their owners, attack out of nowhere, or have unpredictable aggression

FACT:  Pure myth.  A dog attacking their owner can be caused by many many things, such as neurological issues, pain, or poor training.  It is not a breed trait of the American Pit Bull Terrier.  According to Karen Delise, founder of the National Canine Research Council, and author of the book “Pit Bull Placebo,”
“The classification of an attack as unprovoked is usually based on the declarations of a negligent owner who does not care to understand canine behavior, an owner who is unable to read (understand) canine behavior, a busy owner who is too preoccupied with the tasks of daily living to see the signs and signals dogs usually display, or persons who deliberately misrepresent the facts to limit their culpability.” Take this to mean that no dogs attacks “out of nowhere,” there is always something precipitating it.

Trainer’s advice on getting a puppy for Christmas

My primary concerns with Holiday or Christmas puppies are 1) The puppy is well thought out, recognized as a 15-year commitment, and not a “present” 2) The puppy is from a reputable source 3) The puppy is raised and trained properly.

To put it bluntly, a puppy is a terrible *surprise gift* to give someone. “Merry X-mas, here is something that requires constant care, poops every 4 hours, and whines all night!”  If I was getting a dog, I would want to pick it out myself, because the bond you will feel with the dog you choose has to be there.  It also has to be the right type of dog to fit your lifestyle.  For example, giving Grandma a hyper Border Collie puppy would probably be a bad choice.  Getting a dog is something the whole family needs to be involved in.

Puppies also make poor gifts for children. Kids will beg and plead parents to get a puppy.  They will promise anything in the world to get what they want.  They swear they will wake up at 6am to take it out, they will feed it, walk it, and clean up.  “Pulleeeeeese get us a puppy!!!”  The reality is, you (the parent) will be the one standing outside in the freezing January cold at 6am with the puppy, while the children refuse to get out of bed.  You will be the one paying for vet care, training the dog, and buying supplies and food.  Recognize that as an adult, you are legally the owner and will probably end up the primary caretaker once the novelty of a new puppy wears off (and it always does).

Puppies are overrated. Take it from someone who’s had many puppies, the cuteness wears off… fast.  Plus, they are only a puppy for about 8 months after you get them.  Consider adopting an adult dog; it may fit your family better.  You can also evaluate their personality more clearly.  Adult dogs are already past the puppy stage!

Do NOT buy from a pet store or backyard breeder! The worst mistake people make is to buy a puppy on impulse, or go with whatever’s easiest.  Walking into a pet store, plunking down your credit card, and walking out with your little bundle of joy does sound easy, but it is a BAD choice.  Please research where pet store puppies come from.  They come from puppy mills.  They may be cute but they can be riddled with lifelong health problems, lack socialization, and the mothers of the dogs are used as breeding machines for profit.

A backyard breeder is someone who breeds just for profit, or for the heck of it, and does not do necessary health testing, does not show or title their dogs, and does not do it for the betterment of the breed.  They don’t care about producing healthy and stable dogs and will not take them back if there is ever a problem.  You will not get a quality puppy out of a newspaper classified ad or a puppy finding website.  To find a reputable breeder, start at the official breed club, e.g. the Yorkshire Terrier Club of America, and ask the advice of an experienced dog trainer.  Another option is to rescue a puppy or dog.  There are so many dogs that need a home, and what better thing than to give a homeless dog a new family for the Holidays.  You can find any breed by searching a website like Another benefit is these puppies and dogs come already vetted, with shots and spay/neuter.  Any adoption fee you will pay goes straight to help other dogs, as rescues are non-for-profit.

Please do not hesitate to ask our advice before making a decision that is a long commitment.  We are here for you through your puppy’s growth.  We can advise you on proper nutrition, housebreaking, and beginning basic puppy clicker training.  A puppy has to learn a few key things:  Socialization, housebreaking, walking on a leash, and basic manners.  Socialization is extremely important and should begin ideally at the breeder’s home, and continue right after you get your puppy.  Do not wait until your dog has become a “problem” before obedience training.  A puppy class is not enough.  Formal training should begin around 4-8 months of age.

Jennifer Hack, Professional dog trainer, for Dynamic Dogs Inc, Chicago IL

Training a rescue dog

One thing we must be very aware of is how we label our dogs.  Labeling a dog is often unproductive.  “Aggressive,” “abused,” “stubborn,” all these put our dogs in a category but give us nothing productive to work with.  “Rescue dog” is one such label that automatically comes with emotions.  We feel sorry for the dog, we feel guilty of it’s past life, and so we may treat it differently and not be seeing the dog for what they are in the present state.  These emotions can interfere with training, such as when an owner attempts to comfort their dog, but is inadvertently reinforcing unwanted behaviors.  A client had a newly adopted dog named “Chuck” who was found as a stray.  He was severely underweight, weak, and suffering from a broken rear leg.  His loving owners catered to him and nursed him back to good health.  It was only then, when he got his spunk back, they discovered he was quite a handful!  Initially any misbehavior was alibied by his “bad past.”  He continued to be coddled and spoiled to the point where training became a necessity, and emotions had to be set aside.  He certainly wasn’t dwelling on his past, so why should we?  Every dog needs some discipline, they need a leader, and they will love you all the more for it.

The biggest concern with adopted dogs is that we just don’t know what type of past experiences they’ve had.  When you rescue a dog, you love them despite flaws, and you know it may take to patience and work to rehabilitate them.  But as dog parents, we question why does our dog act this way?  Well it may make you feel better to know that even pedigreed purebreds who have been with the same family since puppyhood can have all the same behavior problems and issues!  It’s not just a “rescue dog” phenomenon, it’s “dog problems.”

Was my dog abused?  Many owners of rescue dogs wonder this.  Maybe they were, and maybe they weren’t.  A shy or skittish temperament is not necessarily caused by abuse, but is often due to a lack of early socialization or a genetic predisposition.  When it comes down to it, dogs live in the here and now, and so should we.  If your dog has fear issues, phobias, or anxieties, these can all be addressed through training and counter-conditioning exercises.  It takes patience and love.   Finally, remember that every dog needs a strong leader to feel safe.  Dogs sense our emotions, and oftentimes we are the ones who are the most anxious, frustrated, or stubborn– not the dogs.  Before you automatically label your dog, take a good look at yourself and the part you may be playing in the equation.