Frequently Asked questions
How is your training style unique?
I have worked with dogs, wolves, and human mentors to become proficient at interpreting canine behavior. But I have also trained in psychology and mediation for six years to perceive entangled conflicts and solutions forward.
I believe North by East is unique because I have a toolset to work with canines and a toolset to help people to see the ways they contribute to "problems" with poor communication.
When people really see what the problem is, they can change it.
My skills help clients to reach understanding quickly and give them the tools to easily create their desired changes.
Will obedience classes prepare me for life with my dog?
They might, depending on the dog. Generally I see obedience classes teaching how to train a dog to specific commands like "sit," "stay," etc so the dog is generally obedient. That is a valuable part of dog training, but it leaves people stuck when trying to heal trauma or when new behavior problems crop up.
I train clients in a flexible framework that can respond with love and skill to any problems that arise.
Can I avoid "No" and just use positive encouragement?
Positive encouragement is very important. There are dogs who can be trained to satisfaction, be connected, and behave well simply through positive encouragement and ignoring (or avoiding) the things that are problematic.
But I have worked with many clients that were at their wits end trying to use only positive encouragement (and often medication) to resolve problematic behavior, including biting and aggression.
The word discipline is problematic. I believe our first job is to make sure dogs feel safe and loved. However, I also believe it is important to be able to say "no" to some issues (aka stop nipping my hand, stop barking all day long, stop knocking people over.)
I teach clients how to set boundaries (aka say "No") in a way that solves the issue and results in more love and connection. The goal is always greater love and understanding. That is possible.
How can saying "No" create more respect, understanding, and love?
The short answer is that having healthy relationships is more important to a dog than being able to do whatever he or she wants. By far. My technique ensures that the dog understands the "no" and creates a space where dog and person can connect. I work hard to make sure my clients plan their No's to ensure they are appropriate, reasonable, and achievable.
If you have ever had a fight with a friend and come away better friends, with more understanding, respect, and connection, you will know what I am talking about.
Does anger have a place in dog-training?
Yes! Absolutely. This is an essential piece that is often left out of training conversations. We are working with a relationship. No emotion is wrong. Many of my clients have needed to get more in touch with the anger that they repress. I would not want any dog or person to be without the protection of their anger and aggression.
With that said, we should never allow our anger to control us. I always move clients towards increasing communication, trust, and connection. Noticing anger and listening to its message is an important step for healing dysfunction.
This means recognizing when our anger is based on unrealistic expectations of a dog. An example might be expecting a dog to learn too much within one training session. This is anger we have to stop.
It also means recognizing when we are angry because a dog is doing something truly problematic, or even inappropriately aggressive. An example might be intentionally crashing into people or dogs on a trail, barking excessively, or constantly nipping at our hands. Those are situations where anger tells us there is a problem to be solved. At that point, anger may simmer, but it is calm and cool thinking and action that is needed.
Anger is a part of us, and we cannot solve situations effectively if we deny it its place.
Anger does not build, it only helps us to destroy.
Sometimes destruction (removal) of a problem is important.
Our goal is to create more love and connection through any discipline action.
Are you ever afraid you will traumatize a dog by saying "No"?
Yes! I always have this fear.
But in a world of strange dogs, highways, and porcupines, "No" is an important word for a dog to learn. When I am teaching "No," I move very very slowly. I judge the dog's personality. For some dogs (especially those with trauma), a VERY strong "No" is a look and a stern word.
I also teach clients to first build many small "No's." It is a foundation of clear communication and learning that paves the way for a healthy No.. NOT a huge confrontation.
Our first goal is to create a space of absolute love, connection, and rapport with a dog. Only then do we think about communicating boundaries of any kind.
How do you feel about electric collars?
E-collars are a form of power.
Power is not good or bad. It is the nature of the user that is important. People can be cruel to dogs without an E-collar, and they can use an E-collar to prevent a dog from running across a highway.
E-collars can be extremely valuable in situations where you want to have your dog free-run but the dog doesn’t always listen. You could go back to basics and start training the dog from the ground up, using a short leash and reinforcing your commands. Or you can use the extra distance and leverage that an E-collar will give you. For most people, the E-collar takes some sweat out of training. As long as my clients are aware of the dangers of abusing the E-collar (using it in a unilateral way, without understanding or listening to a dog) I am happy to work with them.
Do you rehabilitate abused dogs?
Yes. I have rehabilitated abused dogs. It is one of my favorite areas of canine work! Working with sensitive animals is where subtle skills are developed.
What is the most common error you see people make when training a dog?
The most common error I see is people (trainers included) following rules rather than observing a dog and their actions. Dog training is based in connection and understanding: Rules should be loosely followed.
A connected issue is what I call a “misguided solution.” People often try one solution for a given problem and if it fails, they try the exact same thing again but with more intensity. After a few failures they conclude the situation is hopeless.
The biggest part of my job is getting people to be creative and to listen to what a dog is saying. My experience can help speed the learning curve, but you have the tools you need to succeed already. Move slowly. Try something and judge if it succeeds or not. Failure is just good information. If you fail, try to perceive what is going on and then try a different tact.
Does this style of training take a lot of work?
All relationships take work. What you want to look for is relationship-life integration, where connection (and caring) for the dog is fun, fulfilling, and brings out your best self.
That said, my clients historically have success over very short time spans. We can often get to the root of problem behaviors inside two weeks. They also experience the pride, security, and increased connection that comes with knowing you are the one making the changes, not a third party trainer.
I work with clients that want to play a role in having a fulfilling relationship (which means being able to speak similar languages as their dog). It is my job to make sure that growth is as rapid and seamless as possible.
Very large changes can happen in a very short time frame. See our dog training process.
How do you teach clients to understand body language and canine communication?
We are built for relationships with others, human or animal. Psychology shows us that 80% of human communication is nonverbal. This communication includes body posture, tone of voice, usage of eye contact, and even how close another person stands to us. Humans have evolved to understand this language because it helps us to navigate social situations essential to survival.
There is a certain amount of this evolutionary knowledge that is applicable to all mammals, including wolves, dogs, and horses.
It is my job to help people learn the special communications that are unique to dogs. I teach them by working within each session to decode what I see within a dog. With simple guidance, all of my clients have been able to understand layers of body language very quickly.
Do you train wolves?
No. And I don't recommend that anyone gets a wolf or wolf-dog as a pet either. Mission:Wolf, where I lived with wolves, is a sanctuary for wolves that have been bred for a variety of poor reasons (movie projects, pets etc.) The wolves are manageable while they are puppies, but by a year old the "owners" learn what separates a wolf from a dog. They are wild.
Dogs have been bred for thousands of years to follow humans. Wolves are different. Besides their greater size and strength, wolves think differently than dogs. They are independent beings: They don't understand (and mostly won't obey) commands that conflict with their worldview, like the choice to chew through a house or attack a strange dog.
Don't get a wolf. Our human world of lines and rules is emotionally traumatic to them.