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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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Understanding Fear

There’s an old superstition that if parents comforted their babies too much, they’d learn to cry for attention and become spoiled. Instead, parents were told to simply let their children cry it out. Unsurprisingly people apply this same old superstition to their dogs too. Dog’s who show signs of being scared or startled by things, we’re told to ignore or turn away from so we don’t encourage that behavior. As the fireworks season is still upon us (sorry doggios!), I think it’s important to look at what are doing to help our poor, terrified four legged friends cope with what I’m sure they think is the end of the world…

You can apply something a dog likes or enjoys to a behavior in order to increase the likelihood that behavior will happen in the future. In dog training lingo, this is called positive (because you added something) reinforcement (because you want to behavior to happen more frequently). Giving a dog a treat after a behavior is exactly how this training works. It’s not (as some believe) used as a bribe, which typically would be used before the dog performed the desired behavior. Instead it’s used after, as a payment for them doing what you asked.

This type of reinforcement works great for getting the dog to perform a trick or learn a new command. However what about when your dog is scared or frightened by something? Can your comfort make them more scared or more frightened the next time? The answer is kinda yes and kinda no.

The first big difference with a dog who is scared is that what they are experiencing is an emotion which shows itself in various behaviors. Your dog might slink down to the ground, have their tail tucked and have white “whale” eyes. These are all behaviors, many unconscious, the dog displays to show their emotion. These behaviors may be reinforced, but the fear itself cannot be.

A human example would be if I asked you to “be afraid.” You might open your eyes wide, open your mouth, you might add some kind of scream or sound to indicate you were startled – these bodily displays are all deliberately chosen based on what you think fear looks like. Now imagine if I snuck up behind you & lit off a firework. *BOOM*

What you experience in the second is involuntary. It’s natural. It’s instant. A high pitch scream, a jump, your heart will race, and a sense of panic fills you (plus a lot of distrust towards your new found dog trainer!). These reactions stem from the actual emotion you were feeling. They caused those bodily reactions.

Petting, feeding and/or talking softly to a dog who is scared helps the fearful feelings dissipate. The same way yours might when a friend or loved one gives you a hug or a pat on the back. Comforting this fear and helping them calm down after being startled or frightened is 100% the right thing to do. You’d do it for your human friend, so do it for your canine friend as well. Give them somewhere to hide at, talk soft, comforting words to them and make sure they feel secure in wherever they have taken refuge.

Now for the flipside. Behaviors on the other hand can be reinforced and repeated. A perfect example of this is a dog whining. The dog whines and it’s owners reach over to comfort the dog with some pets. The dog whines later while dinner is being made so the owner toss him a scrap to keep him out of your hair. Repeated over time, the dog learns that whining gets him or her attention and therefore will do so again, not to annoy you, but simply because it gets him what he or she wants.

Emotions are strong in animals, just like they are in humans. They feel a lot of the same feelings we do and we should do our best to make sure those feelings are good ones. Fireworks seasons is still active and booming away, so try to do all you can to make sure your pet feels safe and secure wherever they are. Esther enjoys taking refuge under the bed, so I make sure she has easily accessible water and food nearby so she doesn’t have to feel so exposed when the world is ending. These small adaptations you can make for your dog can help them through dealing with all the fearful emotions of fireworks season. Take comfort in knowing it will only be a few more days before its over! Stay safe and have a great week!

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Program Updates & Happy 4th of July!

Underdog’s Triumph will be switching it’s training articles to be the 1st and 3rd week of the month. We’re starting up some new educational programs with the local Boone Area Humane Society over this summer and we’re going to use the “time off” to work on developing out these programs. We hope to have these programs finalized soon so we can share them with all of you!

This week is also 4th of July – one of the worst times for lost and traumatized pets. Please especially ensure that during these coming weeks that your dog:

  • Is wearing identification on a collar or harness
    • This should include their name and your phone number at a minimum
  • Has a safe, quite, dim place that they can hide at during the fireworks
  • Are secure and supervised whenever they are outside
  • Keep ALL fireworks away from dogs:
    • This includes both discarded fireworks refuse as well as the lighters used to set them off.

Take a current photo of your pets in case they do get lost you have a recent photo that will look most like them.

I also highly recommend the Canine Lullabies music for dogs. For whimpering puppies, sick or injured dogs, or even just hyperactive pets, it is a life saver. For more information go to You can also stream these from Spotify using these links ( and ( for free with commercials or without commercials if you already pay for a Spotify account.

This has been used at our sister shelter the TLC Canine Center in Newell, IA and it works great! I have also used this the last few years and while it doesn’t cure their fear it does help dramatically during periods of high stress.

Stay Safe & Happy Holidays!

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Thanksgiving – Right Around the Corner!

Oh Man! November has just flown by and Thanksgiving is right around the corner. Just three days away! Each year around this time, it’s important to look back at all the things we (and our critters can be thankful for!) As this is a dog blog we’ll focus on how we can be thankful for the things our pets can give us and what we can give back to them too.

For those of you who don’t know, I have a kind of full household at the moment. I have two cats and three dogs! My two cats are:

Inara (In-Are-a) – who is a gray short hair cat, who’s around 2 years old. She has a LOT of kitten energy and after having her only for a few month, I knew she’d need a buddy or she’d drive me and the dogs crazy! So I got Cass.

Cass (Short for Castiel) – who is a solid white long hair, who just turned a whopping 13 years this fall! Surprisingly, this old man can keep up with Inara somehow and the two are awesome buddies.

Inara & Cass
Cass & Inara – Bath time!

Cass Needs Belly Rubs!








I’ve also recently increased to having three dogs, as many of you know I “accidentally” fell in love with Prim and adopted her as well (oops!).

But first there was Esther, who’s now seven years old. A mix of a Jack Russel Terrier and a Shih Tzu and a past TLC Canine Shelter graduate.

Then there’s Luna, who’s three years old and a past AHeinz57 graduate. She is a mix of a Shetland Sheepdog and a Papillon.

And finally there’s Prim. A ten year old blind and deaf, Cocker Spaniel.









I am thankful for all these critters who get to spend their lives in a warm, loving, safe home. With people who care for them and allow them lead full and enriched lives. However I know that all pets are not allowed these basic “luxuries”.

This past weekend, myself and a few other rescue groups had worked extra hard to find homes for four outdoor dogs. Their owner had originally reached out to us asking for help as caring for four large dogs was going to be difficult these coming winter months. These dogs, all old, 8 to 11 years, had spent their entire lives outdoors and had minimal interactions with people. Finding amazing fosters willing to take on such challenges, was not easy, but somehow the rescue groups managed it!

However when the time came to go rescue the dogs and the owners changed their mind. They loved them and couldn’t bare to see them taken away. Even though we told them the dogs would have nice warm homes, a dedicated family of their own, and a safe place for the winter – they wanted to keep them and that was the end of our discussion.

It was a sad and disappointing rescue attempt, but nevertheless, I was thankful that SO many people were willing to give up their weekend this close to the holidays in the attempt. There ARE good people out there and so many were willing to help out and open their homes to these needed pups.

That’s what I really encourage you to think about this holiday season. Ways you can help others. You could adopt, foster, donate money or time or skills, etc., volunteer, promote, write grants, and so much more. Tis the season to remember all the ways you can help out others. Take a risk, try something new, and help out!