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Loss of a Beloved Pet

This past week has been a rough one for the Underdog’s Family. We lost our own very beloved furry friend Prim this week due to complications from a sudden seizure. It’s been a rough week for us all and we miss her very dearly.

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A fuzzy Prim just after she was groomed.

Prim came to us via a family friend about two years ago. She was an older gal estimated somewhere around 10-12 years of age. She was a special needs dog who, due to a severe eye infection when she was rescued, had to have both of her eyes removed. She was also mostly deaf. But her nose worked well and so did her tail and she loved to go on great sniffing fests searching for kibble or exploring out in the backyard. You can read about her story here in our two part blog on special needs dogs: and

While we only had her for two years, and knew her time with us was likely to be shorter than had we adopted a younger dog, the hurt after her passing was just as strong as if we had cared for her throughout her entire life. You know when you adopt an older dog that they will not get to be with you as long as if you had adopted a new puppy or spry youngster. But old dogs are so appreciative of the basic kindnesses in life. Prim had a very rough life before she got to us. And we were able to provide for her the last three years of her life with good food, good treats and mountains of love. And that’s the best part about rescuing.

I don’t often re-share stories from the internet, but the one below really touched my heart strings given the recent loss of dear Prim. I do strongly feel that we can learn a lot from our faithful friends. So hug your fur friends for us and be thankful that they are apart of your lives. <3 <3 <3


Here’s the surprising answer of a 6 year old child.

Being a veterinarian, I had been called to examine a ten-year-old Irish Wolfhound named Belker. The dog’s owners, Ron, his wife Lisa, and their little boy Shane, were all very attached to Belker, and they were hoping for a miracle.

I examined Belker and found he was dying of cancer. I told the family we couldn’t do anything for Belker, and offered to perform the euthanasia procedure for the old dog in their home.

As we made arrangements, Ron and Lisa told me they thought it would be good for six-year-old Shane to observe the procedure. They felt as though Shane might learn something from the experience.

The next day, I felt the familiar catch in my throat as Belker‘s family surrounded him. Shane seemed so calm, petting the old dog for the last time, that I wondered if he understood what was going on. Within a few minutes, Belker slipped peacefully away.

The little boy seemed to accept Belker’s transition without any difficulty or confusion. We sat together for a while after Belker’s Death, wondering aloud about the sad fact that dogs’ lives are shorter than human lives. Shane, who had been listening quietly, piped up, “I know why.”

Startled, we all turned to him. What came out of his mouth next stunned me. I’d never heard a more comforting explanation. It has changed the way I try and live.

He said, “People are born so that they can learn how to live a good life — like loving everybody all the time and being nice, right?” The six-year-old continued, “Well, dogs already know how to do that, so they don’t have to stay for as long as we do.”

Live simply.
Love generously.
Care deeply.
Speak kindly.

Remember, if a dog was the teacher you would learn things like:

• When your loved ones come home, always run to greet them.
• Never pass up the opportunity to go for a joyride.
• Allow the experience of fresh air and the wind in your face to be pure Ecstasy.
• Take naps.
• Stretch before rising.
• Run, romp, and play daily.
• Thrive on attention and let people touch you.
• Avoid biting when a simple growl will do.
• On warm days, stop to lie on your back on the grass.
• On hot days, drink lots of water and lie under a shady tree.
• When you’re happy, dance around and wag your entire body.
• Delight in the simple joy of a long walk.
• Be faithful.
• Never pretend to be something you’re not.
• If what you want lies buried, dig until you find it.
• When someone is having a bad day, be silent, sit close by, and nuzzle them gently.

That’s the secret of happiness that we can learn from a good dog.

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Service Dogs & ESAs & Therapy Dogs – Oh My

Welcome to our first official dog related blog post of 2019! I forgot to mention in our last column that we’re switching it up a bit this year with these educational blogs. As we’re expanding our mission out and ramping up our educational and training efforts, we’re going to be reducing our community blog posts to the first Friday of every month. I know that’s disappointing for those of you who enjoy these, but this will allow us more time to do deep-dives into specific topics or interests as well as allowing us to add in other forms of media on our page like training videos and photos from our sessions. But without any further ado, enjoy our first deep-dive blog into the world of service, emotional support, and therapy dogs!

There’s been a lot of buzz in the news lately about service dogs. There have have even been recent lawsuits (see this washington post article) in which people in need of service dog are scammed and given untrained dogs instead. To the expensive (and life threatening) tune of over $25,000 a dog. I think there are a lot of misconceptions about what a service dog is, and where someone with a service dog can go. There’s now even a semi-new term called an Emotional Support Animal which further complicates and obscures the line between a service dog and a pet. Then there’s the whole other category of the happy go lucky therapy dogs that run up to you for some extra loving. Let’s dive into a few of these points of confusion and see what we can figure out.

The first thing is what is a service dog? The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) defines a service animal as an animal that has been individually trained to do work or perform tasks for an individual with a disability. The task or tasks that are performed by this animal must be directly related to the person’s disability. So for example someone with diabetes could use a diabetic alert dog to help them know when their blood sugar is dangerously high or low and alert them to this issue.

There is an important distinction between a service dog and other terms describing dogs that provide support. These other terms might include an emotional support dog, a therapy dog, a canine good citizen dog, a companion dog or simply a pet. These types of animals differ from a service animal, because they aren’t training to perform a specific task or service for an individual. Instead these dogs, lovingly and happily, perform their doggy duties providing comfort and companionship to the humans they love.

This distinction greatly impacts where you can bring your dog. By law, a service dog can go wherever their human needs to go. In fact the only thing their human needs to do is provide answers to two questions if they are asked:

  1. Is this a service dog?
  2. What work or service task has this dog been trained to perform?

That’s it. Service dogs do not need to wear a vest. They do not need to carry an ID card. They do not need any patches or labels. They do not need to be registered or have paperwork. They only need to be trained to provide a service or assist in a task in partnership with their human who has a disability.

Their humans are also protected. The human handlers do not have tell anyone which disability they have. They do not have to carry paperwork describing or detailing that disability. They do not have to prove that their dog is a service dog with an id card or paperwork. These people (and their dogs) are afforded the same rights of access as any other person, even though they do so in partnership with their service dog.

Service dogs can come in all shapes, sizes and breeds. There are no restrictions to what a service dog should look like. Sometimes smaller dogs work better for certain disabilities or might be easier for children to handle. Other times people benefit from having a larger breed of dog who is more capable of performing other duties like providing stability when their person is walking. Additionally while service dogs can be exempt from breed specific legislation (aka banning a certain breed from living in a certain area), they still must follow all local laws regarding vaccinations and dog registration.

Service dogs must also be under control of their handler at all time. And this is oftentimes one of the easiest ways to spot a fake service dog. Service dogs, due to the level of training they receive (oftentimes years), will not act like many of our (beloved) pets do. They don’t bark excessively, or chase squirrels, or run off to play with friends and ignore us entirely! Instead they stay nearby their human performing whatever needs they require.

It is for this very reason you should never pet, or distract or engage with a service dog while they are out in public. Distracting a service dog can literally mean life or death to the handler. A seizure alert dog being distracted and petted by an enthusiastic dog lover, might miss the early signs of a seizure coming on causing their handler to be unprepared and be injured by the resulting fall. We all love dogs. But please let service dogs do their jobs. They love their humans. They love their jobs. And they need their full attention focused on doing both of those things.

Next we come to the sad fact that because of the many “privileges” that are granted to service dogs – namely the access to any place their human goes, people oftentimes take it upon themselves to claim that their dog is a service dog when it is clear that he or she is not. While I can understand the desire to be able to take your dog wherever you go, especially if you have a mild mannered or well trained dog, our dogs are not service animals. Therefore we cannot treat them as such.

There’s also many “certifying agencies” that claim by paying a fee from a few dollars to over a hundred you can register your dog a service dog. Just google “register service dog” and you’ll find tons of them. These “certifying agencies” (which are not approved nor required by the ADA) simply collect these fees in exchange for providing you a worthless registration id card, certificate and a dog vest with a patch that says “service dog”. As we mentioned above, these three items are again not required nor needed for a real service dog and muddy the waters as to what dogs are actually providing life saving support to their humans and which are only companions causing issues.

In researching this article, I was actually impressed by the amount of issues having non-service dogs interacting with service dogs could cause. Let’s look at a few examples of these to understand the impact. A service dog is trained to ignore other people and dogs, but as we know from training our own dogs, teaching your dog in the comfort of your living room vs teaching your dog in the middle of an active dog park are two different things. Don’t get me wrong, having a service dog traverse through a busy shopping mall is beyond impressive, but having that dog deal with all that stimulus, watch over their human AND ignore the crazy barking banshee of a dog across from them is a whole new level of challenge. Distracted service dogs endangered their humans and prohibit the dog from doing their job.

Some trainers of service dogs too brought up that service dogs are frequently selected based on their calm demeanor and easy nature. These dogs are smart, capable and cool under stressful situations. But that does have a down side, they’re typically a wimp when it comes to a fight. There have been numerous service dogs who have been attacked by other “service” dogs that were later proven to not actually be service dogs but simply regular household pets. This is especially impactful to the service dog handler who in the best case scenario has lost some freedom and independence while their friend heals, and worst case is now at risk of death or injury because they have no other means to handle their disability.

The two other categories that oftentimes get used interchangeably with a service dog are emotional support animals and therapy dogs. I will briefly cover a definition of both of these terms so we can all know how to use these terms correctly.

An emotional support animal (ESA) is an animal designed to provide comfort and not a service. In order to qualify for an ESA you must have a letter from a psychologist, therapist, psychiatrist or other duly-licensed and/or certified mental health professional that certifies you as emotionally disabled. As we stated above, ESA animals are not heavily trained to provide a specific service or task but are simply designed to provide comfort to their humans who have some psychiatric or emotional need. ESA laws are defined at the state level not the federal level like the ADA, so be sure to look your local state laws up. In Iowa ESA animals are not provided the same unrestricted access that service animals are. They cannot go everywhere their human goes. They can however bypass some housing restrictions such as a “no-pets” policy.

Finally the last core category of dogs are therapy dogs. These dogs are trained to provide comfort to other people and are frequently brought into community areas like retirement homes, schools, hospitals, etc to provide comfort to the individuals living or staying there. These dogs are typically trained to deal with a lot of the unique circumstances they will encounter in their volunteer duties (like wheelchairs, or walkers or oxygen masks) but will then go home and be off duty and just another fun loving pet. Some hospitals or other agencies in which these dogs will visit might require specific training or certifications to visit, but in general there is no overarching certification to become a therapy dog. Therapy dogs are also not permitted to accompany their humans wherever they may go and are also not exempt from housing restrictions like a “no-pets” policy.

Whew, so it’s a lot more complicated than you might expect. I do hope you’ve learned something new about the wonder ways dogs support our lives. I know I sure have.

Now the question remains: What do you think the best approach to handling the increase of fake service dogs is? Leave a comment below with your thoughts and suggestions!

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A New Year of Changes!

Happy New Year!

As many of you are already aware, my fiance and I moved from Luther to just outside of Jefferson this past week to our new acerage. While we still have loads of boxes to unpack (seriously how does Esther have a whole box of toys!) we are still very excited about the possibilities this new place brings us. This move will not affect the areas that Underdog’s Triumph serves and we are excited to share with you our progress through 2018 and our hopes/dreams for 2019!

We learned a lot last year as our first full year of being a non-profit. In 2018 alone, we did over 50 hours of private training with folks in the community helping them with all sorts of issues from fear/reactivity/aggression to basic household manners and puppy classes. We saw great changes being made by all our clients as we helped teach them more effective ways to communicate and train their pets.

Last year we also hosted our first dog bite prevention kids program in partnership with the Boone Area Humane Society. Here we spent an hour with kids of all ages teaching them about dog body language and skills they can use to interact safely with dogs of all shapes and sizes. This program had over 15 kids attend and they all eager shouted out answers and engaged in discussions during our “Would you pet this dog?” section. At the end the feedback from the parents who attended and the shelter staff said they really enjoyed the program (and even admitted to learning a few new things as well!) I know we sure learned a great deal as this was our first public program and our first program teaching kids! 🙂

We sadly lost two awesome board members who had to move away to the much more mild-weather state of Oregon. But we also gained two new board members! A couple, Megan and Oliver Jensen, joined Underdog’s Triumph. Megan has had a lot of experience working with educational programs and has a fearful/reactive dog herself whom she’s been doing a lot of work with. She brings a lot of dog training knowledge to our board and this year wants to start working towards taking on new clients as well! She’ll be shadowing on some our cases to see how she likes it! Oliver who is a co-worker of mine from Workiva (my “real” job) and he is bringing some more technical experience to the board and will be helping manage a great deal of our website and online presence to allow the rest of us to focus on our new mission.

As for our mission, we’ve been doing a lot of soul searching as to how Underdog’s Triumph can best help out the community. There is already a large shelter presence in the area provided by the ARL in Des Moines/Ankeny, the Ames Animal Shelter, and Boone Area Humane Society, so we have put aside our goal of opening a new facility for the time being. Instead we’ve been focusing on the educational part of our mission.

This year we’re going to be focusing on addressing the bountiful amount of outdated and/or incorrect information floating around how to interact with and teach dogs. Outdated methods like choke chains, prongs, and shock collars are making a come-back and people, who don’t know any better or are misinformed, are being told they’re the only option for “tough” dogs. We’ve been working to provide our clients with updated information on dog training methods and teaching them a kinder way to approach and interact with their pets. Using the force-free methods (positive training) we teach, our clients are able to have a better, and stronger relationship with their dog, and get the long lasting changes they want to see without any of the harmful effects that come from force or pain based methods!

The second area we’re going to be focusing on this year is our partnerships with other area shelters. As those who are familiar with the rescue community, shelters and rescues oftentimes struggle just to make ends meet and keep their doors open. “Extras” like educational programs or community outreach are often the first programs on the chopping block as the animals will (and should) always come first. We’re looking to start up two awesome programs. One will be geared towards shelters and rescues in the area (Ames/Boone/Jefferson) to provide a “Force Free Starter Pack” of tools & training to these facilities (please contact us if you are a member of a rescue/shelter in the area who is interested!). The second will be a “Trade Up” program where we seek to remove harmful/pain based tools from the community.

Our intent is to pilot a Force-Free/Positive Training Starter Pack in partnership with a local animal rescue/shelter. We would like to start with a local shelter and then expand to other semi-local shelters in the area. For these packs, we would prepare a semi-customizable set of training tools and enrichment toys to donate to the shelter. Then, we follow up this donation with an in-person educational program to teach shelter staff and volunteers the benefits and impacts of force-free training and how they can apply these new concepts/tools in their shelter work. After the staff/volunteers are trained, we propose a partnership event open to members in the community. This would consist of a similar curriculum except with focus being on the needs of dogs in a home environment vs their needs in rescue/shelter.

The second program, “Trade Up” is designed to help owners currently using aversive tools gain access to force free tools instead at no cost to them. During our training sessions, if a client currently uses prong or choke chain we will offer them a “trade up” to exchange these aversive tools for a brand new front/back clip harness. This helps get aversive tools out of the general population and increases awareness of the safety and effectiveness of non-aversive tools like a harness. We will also provide education on how to use a management tool like a front clip harness to aid in training as well as provide information on the risks associated with using aversive tools. We hope to have some public “exchange” events as well where folks can exchange these tools in person for new more modern ones!

All in all, while we’re in a new location the area we serve and our mission will remain as strong as ever. We look forward to continuing to provide training focused blog posts bi-monthly (1st/3rd Fridays) to our readers, in person private home sessions at low costs and improve our community outreach via the two programs described above. Thank you for joining us in 2018 and we look forward to serving you and the community in 2019!

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A Dogs Instincts: Resource Guarding

Not too long ago a majority of the dogs I knew were outside dogs. They lived their lives outside, performing some duty or job for their family – guarding livestock or protecting the family or house. Their lives were more adjacent to ours, still there but less incorporated in our day to day.

Today, most dogs are members of the family. They’re a part of our daily lives and join in on many of our everyday activities. Some might even get to sleep in a bed, or some table scraps from time to time 😉

However, with this increased integration, dogs are required to follow more strict rules and adhere to a great many of our strange human rituals. They’re required to become more tolerant and accept scary situations like vacuums, babies, music, etc. And failure to do so results in punishment to the dog.

A common thing I see in my dog training clients is that we tend to ask either too much or expect too much from our canine companions. We fail to take the appropriate time to make them comfortable with a new experience or request and we see their animal instincts surface. Let’s look at an example of this with resource guarding and figure out what we can do to make ours and our dog’s lives easier!

Our first example comes from a facebook post where a small child is reaching for something on the stove.


The idea is, in this photo, we see a child unknowingly reaching for something they don’t understand can and will hurt them. Not all parts of the stove are dangerous but eventually they will find the part that is. So what happens after this?

Do you get rid of the stove because it’s dangerous? Do you blame the stove for hurting your child? Do you remove the child from the area?

Most people blame themselves. The stove was just being a stove – doing what it does naturally. They say they should have paid more attention. They shouldn’t have let the child have access to the stove.

However, the issue arises when we replace the above image with one like this (credit:

Unlike the stove, we expect the dog eating here to tolerate being grabbed and pulled on while eating. We expect the dog to tolerate being leaned over and having a human this close to his face while eating.

If the dog does not. We blame the dog. The dog should have known she didn’t mean to hurt him, she was just playing. The dog should have just moved away if he didn’t like the attention. The dog should understand she doesn’t actually want this food. The dog. The dog. The dog.

The thing is, guarding food is a totally normal behavior for dog. It makes evolutionary sense. If an animal just gave up his food to everyone else, he’d starve. He needs to protect it and keep it safe. This is how dogs are programmed to work. We, as their caregivers have to teach them an alternative behavior if we want this natural instinct to change and even if we do change it, we still must be aware it’s still there under the surface.

“Resource Guarding” is when a dog guards or protects something valuable to them. It doesn’t have to actually be valuable (monetarily) or even something valuable to you. It can be a sock, a toy, a bone, tablescrap, etc. Anything they themselves find valuable.

When this resource is attempted to be taken from them, the react with a behavior to ensure they get to keep it. The type of behavior they reactive with tends to be whatever has worked for them in the past. If a growl will keep the person away, they’ll growl. If a growl is ignored, and they lost the item, maybe next time they’ll snap, see if that works. Their goal is never to hurt you or be mean. They aren’t aggressive. They’re only trying to accomplish their goal: keeping the object.

Teaching an alternative behavior for me comes in two ways. One, as food is the most likely resource to be guarded, I like to teach food avoidance. If food is dropped, I want their default behavior to be to move away from it. Two, if they take something I don’t want them to have or something that is dangerous, I want them to drop it. Upon request, I want them to readily (and happily) give the item back to me.

If you’d like to attempt either of the above, I’d recommend you seek out a positive trained professional to show you the ropes. Going too fast or using punishment, actually tends to increase the chance of a dog resource guarding. A trained professional will teach you how to get your dog to enjoy giving you things and how avoiding say a dropped pill or poisonous food item, is fun for them.

Little Esther, a TLC Graduate, is a master at both of the above. If you’d like to check out her food avoidance work, see this:

One other caveat I’d like to mention is dogs tend to be learn behaviors based on their situation. If you only practice food avoidance in the kitchen, then drop a hot dog in the livingroom, they’re likely to forget most of the training in the kitchen and be celebrating with a new found hotdog. That’s why, no matter what your teaching your pet it’s important to do so in as many different situations as possible until they start to generalize the behavior to other scenarios. Each new scenario, you’ll see some regression (wait, what did “leave it” mean again?) then faster learning as they pull from previous experiences (oh yeah, that thing we did in the kitchen where I move away from food).

Happy Training!

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But My Dog Won’t Take Treats!

I’ve seen the above statement used and said frequently by my dog clients (and defenders of “balanced” dog training – see my post about “balanced” training here). They have a dog or are working with a dog who actively refuses to eat whatever treats you are providing to them as reward for doing the desired behavior. Let’s look at some of the reasons why that might be.

First, let’s back up a bit and look at why we positive trainers typically use food in the first place. Simply put: All creatures need to eat food. As responsible owners of our dogs it’s our duty to provide food to our canine partners. Food is therefore a desired resource and we fulfill this need of our dog making us too a valuable resource. Once dogs learn that good behavior gets them rewarded, they will repeat the good behavior more frequently in the hopes it too will bring about rewards! Basic learning theory.

Some people incorrectly assume dogs should be “loyal” and do what we ask simply because we asked it. But that’s not how this works. In human terms you can think of this like getting paid for your job. As a kid, when you were learning things, you might have earned a gold star for doing chores or acing a homework assignment. As an adult, you go to work daily and eventually get a nice fat paycheck for your efforts.

So even we don’t “work” for free (even volunteer work provides us with rewards). But eventually we get some reward. It’s no longer instant, like it was as a child while we were learning those chores but it is still there. If you suddenly got less of a paycheck or no paycheck, you’d easily become frustrated and eventually stop working because your reward has stopped. No rewards. No work. Same applies with all creatures.

For dogs, there are some that refuse food while your training. Instead of being frustrated this can be a great signal to you that what your asking is too difficult for your dog and you need to make it easier (most common) or the reward isn’t valuable enough for them considering the challenge you’re asking. Let’s look at a dog example of my own clients dog refusing treats during training.

We were working on doing a desensitization sessions with a client and her dog Bear (name changed). Bear was a reactive Doberman who was terrified of dogs on the walk and would react when she saw them by barking/lunging at them on leash. During one of our first session, I was using my common treat bag on a mix of dog kibble, dried chicken bits and salmon. We were playing the “Look at That” game and as she looked at a dog, we’d mark that behavior with a click from our clicker and she’d get a reward of food. Our first round of this, she took the treat and spat it out. Why?

First thing we should look at is the situation. Here the demo dog was about 50 feet away and walking by sideways staring at Bear. Maybe this distance was too close to her and she was simply too nervous to eat. Maybe Bear was uncomfortable by the dogs stare. A human analogy of this would be if you were put in a the middle of a group of mean looking people armed with guns. I’d approach and offer you $100 bucks. You might take it, you might not. But your focus/priorities are centered around safety, not monetary rewards. The situation is too overwhelming for you to be considered about money.

The other issue was maybe the reward wasn’t highly valued enough for the challenge Bear was facing. Using something like cheese or freshly cooked chicken might result in her focus changing and her being able to eat the treat. You can think of it as the “payment” not being high enough for the work being asked. Imagine you were asked to empty a trailer of boxes into a storage unit. It takes you 5 hours, and you are hot, sweaty and tired. They give you $10 for your efforts. Then ask you to come by next weekend do to the same.

In this case, I asked us to move back a bit. Give her more distance so she’d feel comfortable in taking treats again. She did and her next “Look AT That” got her some yummy cheese!

In my near 12+ years of working with dogs, I’ve never met a dog who didn’t like food. Never. Some also are motivated by other things like toys or tug or a scratch in that good spot, but none have ever not wanted food. Even after they’ve just eaten dinner. If your dog ever refused treats, its a good time for you to take a step back and see what might actually be going on that is causing your dog to be overwhelmed and alleviate that overwhelmedness.

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Are Puppies Blank Slates?

As many of you already know, I currently have three rescued dogs, Luna, Esther and Prim. Despite having an already full household, with the addition of three cats (Cass, Inara and Selina), I still find myself browsing through petfinder at the hundreds of dogs (and cats) currently still looking for their forever home. It’s sad to think about the number of pets who sit her waiting for months and even years before finding a home and family to call their own. Even sadder are the pets who wait forever and never find their own family.

A lot of times the ones most often overlooked are the elderly or the sick. People want that cute little puppy. And I think a common misnomer to one of the reasons people are still hesitant to adopt is they’re worried about “adopting” someone else’s issues. A lot of people assume that dogs in shelters or foster homes have been given up because there is something wrong with them.

I think this fear of adopting a dog “with problems” from a shelter, leads a lot of potential families to looking at breeders. They want a puppy whom they can “raise right” and who comes to them as a “blank” slate. But is any of this true? Is getting a puppy from a breeder a better route than adopting another dog (of any age) from a shelter? There as an interesting dog study that was done that looked at this a similar question – which you can check out here.

To be honest, I’ve often wondered the same thing. As a dog trainer, I know a lot of the right ways to train a pup and I’ve seen a startling contrast between how I raised my first TLC dog Rufus and how I’ve raised my second TLC dog Esther. Rufus was adopted at age 7 and Esther was adopted at 6 months. Rufus was raised by a loving dog owner who had read some books and thought she knew things sometimes. Esther was raised by a certified dog trainer who knew all about the benefits of positive reinforcement and force free training. I’ve found myself wondering as of late, as puppies go through such critical stages of development between 8 and 16 weeks old, would getting my next dog at this young of age, produce a better household pet? At this young of age, they’re essentially blank slates right? Ready for you to imprint all your knowledge on to right?

Turns out what the study found was a kin to the whole nature vs nurture question. In this study they took two mom dogs each with a litter and switched the litters. One mom was extremely nervous and another mom was very friendly and confident. So switch their liters and the idea was these blank slate puppies would take on the traits their new mom showed them right? Turns out not so much. The puppies from the fearful mom, remained fearful even with their new momma showing them all the ropes about life and how exciting it could be. The puppies from the confident mom suddenly became fearful as well without the guidance of a confident mom to show them the ropes. Two moms of opposite ends of the spectrum, yet both ended up with puppies leaning towards the fearful side.

The authors proposed a kind of spectrum of fearfulness and how that potential was influenced both by environment and genetics. Take for instance this graph from the study above, about one of the fearful puppies who was given to the bold momma. Here were her end results.


Her genes from her fearful parents gave her a genetic potential leaning towards the fearful spectrum of thing but the influence of the bold mom (environment) placed her towards the bold end of her potential. Yet the end result was she still leaned towards being on the fearful side of things. While these traits are not set in stone and can fluctuate a bit throughout a dogs life, this dog will likely never be the kind of dog who runs up to a stranger and becomes instantly friends.

Thinking of these traits in my own dogs I can define see these influences taking hold. My old dog Rufus was a puppy mill rescue who spend the first five-ish years of his life in a cage without much people interaction. He likely came from parents who suffered the same fate. Coming from such a limited environment and additionally coming from stressed fearful parents, definitely played a part on his ability to think and learn in the future. After I had him for a few years, he was always eager to participate in activities, but never was the smartest bulb in the group. Despite me providing him with all the building blocks for learning, the genetic potential for learning new things was definitely limited. Was he smarter and happier after I adopted him? Absolutely! Would he ever go on to win smartest dog of the year….. Definitely not. 😉

In Esther, she came into the shelter at only 8 weeks old, and was immediately surrounded by various volunteers and dogs and experiences. When I adopted her a few months later, and began training her you could definitely see her potential blossom. Now it’s like having a conversation with an infant. “Can you please get down?” or “Hop on up” results in her actively doing those things instead of staring blankly with a wagging tail like Rufus 😉 However her limited exposure to men growing up in a predominately female run shelter has led her to be fearful of new guys from day one – something we are constantly working on improving even to this day (she’s 7 now).

In Luna, she came to me a feral who would literally scream if you startled her or tried to pet her those first few weeks. She’d panic if she saw a person walking 75 feet away. Now, nearly two years later, we can pass a person walking or running on the sidewalk from about 6 feet away. We can walk in a park and have dogs and people pass us. But it has taken us TWO years to get to this state. All because her environment and genetics predisposed her towards being fearful of new (and scary!) things. We’re working against that predisposition. Is it possible? Clearly yes. Is it easy? Definitely no.

The conclusion after looking both at my own dogs and reading the study above is that you’re never going to know with absolute certain what type of dog you’re going to get. The older dogs, even the 1-2 year olds, have a lot of their genetic traits out in the open. They’re going to present themselves as they are. Fearful dogs will be fearful and bolder dogs will be bolder. With puppies, who are still actively being influenced by their genes these traits are harder to determine and can often manifest as the puppy ages and matures.

To me, I firmly believe, you don’t always get the dog that you want, but you get a dog that will help you grow. Rufus, despite not being an A+ student, I learned all about unconditional love from a dog whose only request in life was to be WITH you. From Esther, I’ve learned to appreciate her endless enthusiasm for life and it’s experiences. From Prim, who’s deaf and blind, I’ve learned a great deal of patience and gentle ways to approach and interact with a critter who’s world consists only of touch and scent. From Luna, I’ve learned to appreciate the small steps of progress and forget about the “somedays” and “maybes” and focus on the now. All dogs change us, no matter where they come from. And all will present challenges and hurdles throughout their lives. Love them. Train them. And love them some more.

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Event: Become a Dog Detective

Join Underdog’s Triumph and the Boone Area Humane Society (BAHS) for a children’s program called “Become a Dog Detective. Learn All About Dog Body Language” this Thursday, Sept 6th from 6 pm to approximately 7 pm at the BAHS. During this fun interactive session, children and their parents will learn all about how to read a dog’s body language and the many safe ways to interact with dogs. Afterwards, the kids will make fleece tug toys for the shelter animals; time permitting, they may also make one to take home for their own dog too! Please sign up at the following link to reserve your FREE spot as space is limited: You can also like and share our Facebook post out about the event to get the word out:

Surprisingly 77% of all bite case come from dogs the children know. These are often family pets or friends of the family who despite trying to tell their beloved humans they were feeling uncomfortable were pushed past their tolerance level and bit someone. Through this program, kids will learn safe ways to approach and interact with dogs (familiar and unfamiliar), and how to minimize their bite risk. Underdog’s Triumph will be presenting an interactive slide discussion where kids (and their parents) will learn to look for stress/calming signals that dogs display hen they first start to feel uncomfortable.

These key warning signs come before a dog growls and before they bite, and can help kids and parents know when their dog is telling them they need a break. Knowing and recognizing these signs can help kids avoid pushing their dogs or their friends dog past their tolerance level to where the dog feels a bite is their only hope. Take a sneak peek at Shelby’s photos below. These are of the same dog at two different times. Which of these two dogs is okay to pet?


Photo Credit From:


To a child (or other dog ethusaist) it is oftentimes hard to see the signs, especially when the child (or adult) is eager to meet a new friend. But looking closer at these two still photos you can pick out some of the signs.


Shelby (left): DO NOT PET

  • Ears are forward and alert,
  • Eyes are staring and intense,
  • Body is leaning forward causing the leash to go tight,
  • Mouth is closed.


Shelby (right): Okay to Pet, but please ask an adult first

  • Ears are back, relaxed, and flop naturally to the side
  • Eyes are soft and brow is relaxed,
  • Body is sitting, relaxed
  • Mouth is open slightly and relaxed



Through interactive discussions, the children (and parents) will learn how to see these signs and learn how to avoid pushing a dog past his or her tolerance. Parents will also be getting a handout discussion packet to take home to continue working with their children on recognizing these key signals.

If you and your child are interested in joining us, please use the link below to register for this free program:

If you are interested in hosting another event similar to or like this, please use our contact form here to set something up. We’re eager to work with other organizations, like schools and libraries to get this important information out there!

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The Story of a Brumby Stallion

Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot,

Nothing is going to get better.

It’s not.

~ The Lorax (Dr. Seuss)


We’re going to take a break from doggios for this week and look at a brumby stallion. What? Have I gone crazy? What the heck is a Brumby? Well read on!

A Brumby stallion is a term in Australia for a wild or feral un-neutered male horse. In Australia these wild, roaming horses are considered pests as they destroy and eat the native ecosystem. The government of Australia has been struggling to determine what to do about all these feral horses having performed mass cullings semi-recently to reduce population. They have also attempted a few times to move larger herds with some sterilization to other areas less intrusive areas but without much success.

Organizations like the The Guy Fawkes Heritage Horse Association are stepping up in order to rehome and relocate these horses in the hopes that mass cullings like the one from 2000 will never be needed again. However, as you can imagine, few people want to take on the challenge of adopting a wild, feral horse – let alone a stallion. They can be dangerous when frightened or scared and their size greatly out-masses their human caretakers.

As you see in the dog training community, the horse training community too struggles with adoption of modern methods. Old time training methods or “traditional” methods includes “breaking” a horse using aversive (painful) methods and tools to “break” the spirit of a horse and force them to obey their new human owners. The goal of the aversive training was to get the wild “rebellious” nature of out a horse and transform them into an obedient, mild mannered domesticated horse. Just like with dog trainers,there are those horse trainers who remain in the dark ages using tools that inflict fear and pain to control the wild tendencies of these creatures and then there are those who have become educated in the ways of learning theory, behavioral study and positive training methods.

A few weeks ago, I stumbled across a blog about a four year old wild, feral Brumby stallion named Lumos who was adopted & rescued by a young lady name Jaclyn. Jaclyn is a dog trainer by trade and runs the “The Dog Nose” dog training and behavior facility in Australia. She had always wanted to adopt a horse, instead of buying one, and was looking forward to earning this spunky Lumos’ trust throughout the coming months as she introduced him, using positive training methods, to the modern world.

I’m always impressed with how quickly animals, of any species, respond to positive training methods. When we treat these magnificent creatures with respect they deserve, they in turn reflect that trust and respect back onto us. By listening and respecting their body language, we can show them that we will never ask them to do anything they are uncomfortable with and that if they work with us they will be rewarded for their efforts. By doing so, within just seven days, Mr. Lumos was happily eating right from Jaclyn’s hand. She had earned his trust and he understood that she meant him no harm.

After the first week of training, seeing the positive bond that was forming, Jaclyn made a promise to Lumos:

I will never hit you, whip you, kick you, force you, chase you, scare you, pull you or hurt you. Your body is your body, and you will always have a choice.

You can say “yes,” and you can always say “no,” and I will always listen.

I am beyond excited to see you progress, and I cannot wait to reach milestones with you,

like when you let me pat you, and ride you!

If you are interested in following Lumos’ journey and see many of the wonderful positive, force free training methods Jaclyn uses to teach Lumos the skills he will need in the modern world, please give their facebook page a like: and continue to be impressed with their amazing journey together. I know I sure am!

Jaclyn with Lumos just over a month after being rescued.
                              Jaclyn with Lumos just over a month after being rescued.

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Traveling with your Pets

This week I’m on vacation out on the lovely, surface of the sun, Death Valley. While out here in the blistering of temps, I do think back to my own three furry canine companions and wonder what they’re doing while I’m away. Did I get them the a responsible pet setter? Are they thinking about how I have clearly abandoned them forever? Are they happy, healthy and well cared for?

Stress in leaving your canine companions behind is a real thing. Our day to day lives literally revolve around their care and well being. We make sure they get their breakfast and walk before work. We make sure we don’t stay too late at work or we make arrangements to have a neighbor or friend swing by to take care of them. Vacations too are no easy task. We have to decide whether to take them with us, leave them with a friend or family member, board them, or have someone stay in our home while we are away.

While out here, I marvel at those who have decided to take their pets with them. Out here, most of the national parks prohibit pets, so their canines are stuck in an unfamiliar hotel room all by themselves. Others take their furry companions with them on the trails that are allowed and their fur-ladened companion looks even more miserable than I did hiking back up and out of the canyon during the 108 “dry” heat.

You know your pet best and you alone get to decide their how they are cared for. But do try to think about your vacation from their prospective. While it’s easy for us to understand that this vacation away from home is only temporary. We know this blistering heat will soon be relieved by an full powered AC drive back to the hotel. We can choose when we need to take a break on a hike, when we’re thirsty and more, but our canine companions are mostly just along for the ride. Seeing new sights and sounds can be fun for many, but scary for others.

Whether staying at home or taking them with, make sure you have all their contact information on their tags updated. It’s easy for a pet in a new area to get lost or confused about where their “home” is. Microchipping, where a small grain of rice sized computer chip is placed under the back of the skin, can greatly assist in the reuniting of a lost pet. These can be digitally scanned by special readers that can give full contact info and medical issues the pet might have to the device that scans them. Plus microchips won’t fall off or get lost, like collars or harnesses. These are fairly affordable and most vets charge $20-$40 per chip and they last the pets lifetime.

If you’re traveling via airport, some airlines to allow pets to make the journey as well for a fee. But these types of travels I would not recommend for your pet. Airplanes are loud, scary, environments for pets. There’s little “practice” you can do beforehand to help your pet get accustomed to the sounds, sights and smells before your grand adventure. And once you’re up in the sky, there’s little options for either of you if things go poorly.

Options for pets flying via airfare is pretty limited. There’s either under the seat in front of you or under the plane in with the rest of the cargo. Both options can have severe, life threatening dangers for your pet. There have been numerous stories recently of dogs (and other pets) dying from stress, overheating or lack of oxygen on their flights. Short nosed breeds like pugs, boxers, shihtzus etc are most at risk due to the nature of how their face is structured which already restricts oxygen flow. Under the seat is cramped, overhead bins lack air flow, and cargo bays are devoid of people and cramped with luggage. Plus pets have to sit out on the tarmac in the hot sun or cold winter waiting to be loaded on with the rest of the luggage.

If you decide to leave your pet at home, finding a family friend is normally the safest bet. Someone who can either stay with your pets in your home (most ideal) or someone who can take your pets with them to their home for the duration. It is helpful to have a pre-written care document that has all their critical information written out. Include things like feeding instructions, medical applications, walks, cues they know, emergency contact info and vet/hospital numbers and addresses. Having this document can assure that your caretaker will know what to do should something happen.

Options like are popular if you’re new to an area or your friends and family cannot take your pets. This online service matches you with a nearby pet sitter who can swing by for visits each day, perform daily walks and/or stay with your pets the entire vacation. I’ve used Rover a few times now, and have had mixed successes. Some of the folks on there are very reputable and perform their duties exactly as described, others take a more lenient route and show up just when they’re needed to let the dogs out and then return back to their own homes.

Boarding should be done selectively as many boarding facilities are ill equipped to deal with shy, fearful or elderly pets. Boarding facilities can be loud, busy places that can easily overwhelm the nervous, frighten older or handicapped pets. Make sure when selecting a boarding facility you ask around to get where other’s board their pets and tour the facility well in advance of your trip so you can switch if necessary. Word of mouth and recommendations from friends work well for weeding out the good and the bad facilities.

Travel, for business or pleasure, happens, and as a pet owner we need to make sure that we have a blast and so do our pets. Ensuring their basic needs are cared for and they are safe and secure will help ease your mind while you’re away. Enjoy yourself, relax a bit, and take a break from the daily tasks of pet care.

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Reactivity in Dogs

This past week we had three new arrivals to the Underdog’s Triumph family. We welcome the little standing husky, our politely sitting boston and our happy-go-lucky terrier. Why would a training center need some fake stuff dogs you might ask? Reactivity – that’s why!

Reactivity is a term I use for dogs who are experience some intense emotion that causes them to react in what we would call an inappropriate manner. A reactive dog might lunge or bark, sometime they might nip or bite, some if pushed to far can even kill. Dogs who are reactive, lack the skills of knowing alternative behaviors when they get into this emotional state – which is typically cause by fear and sometime over excitement.

The interesting thing is that dogs typically don’t start out reactive, they start with smaller, oftentimes overlooked behaviors like avoidance or lip licking (stress signals) and progress upward to these overt displays of behavior which are quickly noticed by other dogs, their owners and other people. And as I’ve written about before, dogs do what works. They don’t know right or wrong, they just repeat what was successful in the past or they try something new.  If overt displays of a crazy dog at the end of the leash work to get what they want (most often the other dog/person to go away), then they’ll continue to do that next time.

Quick note, if you have a reactive dog, I’d recommend getting professional help from an educated dog trainer. You can check out my blog posts here and here on how to find a good one. Reactivity training requires a keen sense of dog body language and observation on the owner’s part and is greatly aided by a force free professional helping them spot what their dog is trying to tell them.

For dog to dog reactivity training, we would aim to teach the other dog an alternative behavior and then reward that alternative behavior more than what the dog would have gotten simply by lunging or barking at the other dog. But for those of you who have reactive dogs, have you ever tried to ask your dog to do any command while they are flipping out and bouncing all over at the end of the leash? It just doesn’t work. When the dogs get into that reactive state of mine, I always like to say their ears go closed and their brain turns off. They are in such an emotional state that they can’t even process that you’re trying to get them to do something else.

So what’s the trick? The trick is to start working at a great enough distance before they get into the crazy flipping out stage. The part when they first notice the other dog or person and yet the dog/person is far enough away they don’t feel threatened. Then we have to practice those new techniques. Practice not only helps the human learn skills like how to hold a leash correctly, or how to recognize when their dog is in the beginning stages of becoming reactive, but it helps the dog as well.

Using these fake stuffed dogs as practice offers the owners and their dogs the easiest possible scenario. These fake dogs don’t move, they don’t bark, they come free of an owner and yet they still look like a dog. With a stationary “dog” the owners and their dogs can practice different styles of scenarios, like walking up to a dog, walking around another dog, walking away from the dog, all the while knowing that if their dog were to get loose no one would be harm, and knowing the fake dog will always stay right where we left them.

My own adopted dog Luna came as a feral dog (meaning she had never really been around other people). She started with a 75 foot required distance from the another person or she would flail and panic at the far end of the leash trying to get away from them. Yesterday, almost two years after I adopted her, she passed by a jogger with only a five foot distance between us and him.

Reactivity training takes time, effort and consistency for the dog to begin to learn a new behavior when meeting a dog. It also takes a lot of patient and practice on the owners part as well. Overtime the dog (and the human) will start naturally falling back to these new behaviors and you’ll be able to get closer and closer to the other dog or person without having them react.

If you need help with reactivity, feel free to reach out, we can help you work with your dog on reactivity training or we can help you find someone in your area qualified to do the same. Trust me though, these three little amigos are up to the challenge and look forward to helping many other dogs and their humans in the future!