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 this is only a part of what I offer. 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.
I give them a broad understanding of the layout of the canine world, the skills they need to move forward, and insight into the ways they are obstructing positive change. Change is not difficult: Seeing the problem (and being honest about the ways we often create it) is the hard part.
It is always my goal to cut through to the simplest approach so YOU can become the expert.
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 an important part of dog training, but it leaves people in a hole when new behavior problems crop up in the future.
"When you have a hammer, every problem looks like a nail." When you only have a few disciplining options (like telling a dog to go lie down) your ability to solve problems is very limited. You cannot directly address the roots of an issue.
I train clients in a flexible framework that can respond to any problems that arise. My first session is purely information on dog psychology, leadership, the roots of specific problem behaviors, and the arc of a successful discipline action. On the second session we practice the new training skills together. The client plans interventions and I collaborate/guide to create an effective training that meets all my requirements for success.
Can I avoid disciplining 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 the things that you do not like.
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 dog-training world has moved to an extreme, away from punishment. Disciplining is avoided because people do not know how to discipline in a successful fashion.
Disciplining is a part of the dog world. Wolves choose between ignorance, nonverbal deterrents like growling, and physical punishment to communicate displeasure and set a boundary about a particular issue. There are times when disciplining is the way forward.
I teach clients how to set boundaries (aka discipline) in a way that solves the issue and results in more love and connection.
How can disciplining 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 disciplines, ensures that the dog has understood and accepted the message, and then creates a space where dog and person can connect. I work hard to make sure my clients plan their disciplining to ensure it is 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 pull back.
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 disciplining it?
Yes! I always have this fear. It is part of the love I have for dogs. “First, do no harm.” But at times, in the service of our relationship (or the dog’s safety), I have to set a boundary to stop a particular behavior. I understand that each dog is different, and what works for one may traumatize another, so I trust my experience, listen to the dog, and move slowly. I also am alert for any possibility that I am asking something a dog cannot do or cannot understand.
Healthy ground rules are an important part of any relationship. In the dog world, ground rules are set nonverbally, at times with physicality. I have seen this in both the wolf and dog worlds.
I have made two big disciplining mistakes in my career. Mistakes happen. However, since I was moving slowly, both dogs got over it and I learned from the experience. Ultimately, it is far more detrimental to both parties to have a dysfunctional relationship than to have a rocky moment.
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. If you are interested call for a consultation.
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 at best.
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.
This style does take initial work for far less work later on. If you are not motivated to change your own communication styles, you can send the dog elsewhere to be trained for you. That can work, but it can fail because you have not changed the ways that you contribute to particular problems.
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 (x). 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.