Oh Behave! Would you like your dog to walk politely on a loose leash? To come when called? Need help with puppy training? Do you have a fearful or anxious dog? Is your dog suffering from separation anxiety or home alone distress?

Worry no more. Oh Behave! can help with all that and more.

Owner/Trainer Lisa-Anne Manolius, an honors graduate of the renowned San Francisco SPCA's Academy for Dog Trainers, works with you and your dog privately to bring out the best in your dog. She specializes in puppy training and socialization, fearful and anxious dogs, and separation anxiety/home alone distress.

How to Teach Your Dog Words

By Lisa-Anne Manolius | January 11, 2010 ~ 3 Comments

Scruffy, sit, sit, sit, SIT! . . . Sound familiar?

Training words is often cause for much human frustration. Dogs attend to and learn our physical gestures and body language easily. Dogs notice facial expressions, small gestures and tones of voice that often we aren’t even aware of. Learning words is another matter. Unlike humans, dogs aren’t verbal. They communicate with one another and us using a wide range of physical gestures and vocalizations, not words.

If we want dogs to respond to words, it’s up to us to take the time to teach dogs what certain words mean. Keep in mind that it’s much easier for dogs to learn physical cues for a behavior — such as a hand signal that means “sit,” — than it is for dogs to learn what specific words mean.

Fortunately, with lots of consistent practice you can teach your dog words or “verbal cues” by following this simple three-step mantra:


Let’s break it down using “sit” as an example. You’ve taught Scruffy to sit using a food lure, and you’ve been training Scruffy to sit in response to a specific empty hand signal. By “empty,” I mean you are no longer holding food in your hand to lure Scruffy into position.

When Scruffy sits eight out of ten times in response to your empty hand signal, it’s time to start teaching her that the word “sit” means the same thing as the hand signal. Here’s how:

    SAY IT: First say, “Scruffy sit.” Say the word one time only in an upbeat tone. Articulate clearly. Repeating the word doesn’t make Scruffy learn faster. In fact, repeating the word will most likely land it squarely in the meaningless blah-blah-blah category from Scruffy’s standpoint, or she might learn to sit only after you’ve said the word several times in a row.
    SHOW IT: After you’ve asked Scruffy to sit once, show her the empty hand signal for sit. Don’t say the word and do the hand signal at the same time. If you do that, Scruffy will pay attention to the hand signal and ignore the word. If you tend to say the word and do the hand signal simultaneously, it helps to say the word, take a breath, then do the hand signal.

    Saying the word once, then doing the hand signal teaches Scruffy that the word means the same thing as the gesture.

    PAY IT: After Scruffy sits, click and reward her with a treat and tell her what an awesome dog she is.

Stick to the mantra, practice regularly, and one day Scruffy will surprise you. You’ll know she’s started to connect the dots when she sits after you’ve said the word, but before you’ve shown the hand signal.

To take word training to the next level, wait until Scruffy’s sitting in response to the verbal cue at least 8 out of 10 times. When she’s at that point, modify the reward scheme. Reward her with a yummy treat for sitting in response to the word. If she doesn’t sit in response to the verbal cue, show her the hand signal, and reward her with praise for sitting. This teaches her that sitting in response to the word alone earns a better reward than sitting in response to the word plus hand signal, and should motivate her to sit more reliably when you say the word.

Keep training sessions brief (3-5 minutes at a time) and expectations realistic. It takes most dogs many many repetitions of SAY IT, SHOW IT, PAY IT to learn words. Try to put yourself in their paws. They’re learning a completely foreign language, a task that must be as challenging for them as it would be for us to learn to “speak dog.”

Patient positive practice pays off. Happy training!


The FUN-tastic Training Game

By Lisa-Anne Manolius | January 06, 2010 ~ 1 Comment

Training and fun may not seem like obvious bedfellows. I suspect many folks think of training as a bore, drudgery. But not only can training be fun, training and fun should go hand-in-hand. Training with old-school methods – yelling, leash jerks, physical force, shock collars, pain and punishment – is no fun for the dog. Punishment-based training often makes the dog fear its guardian/trainer. Because punishment is hard to do correctly, the dog often has no clear understanding of what behavior is “wrong.” While punishment may teach a dog what not to do, it doesn’t teach the dog what behavior is acceptable. Punishment-based training also undermines confidence and causes fearful and aggressive behavior to worsen.

Positive reinforcement training however, is reward-based; it rewards dogs for behaviors that humans like and want to see more of. By definition, rewards are enjoyable; the dog getting the reward feels good. Given that, positive training done the right way can’t help but be fun. The trainer rewards the dog for desirable behavior with stuff the particular dog finds rewarding. Depending on the dog, the behavior being trained and the environment, rewards range from a variety of yummy food treats, to playtime or socializing with dogs, to a walk in the park, to fun and games with humans. The trainer works at the stage that’s right for the individual dog, a strategy that minimizes dog and human stress and frustration. Instead of shutting behavior down, positive training teaches dogs to do alternative acceptable behaviors that are incompatible with the undesirable behavior.

Dogs trained using positive methods develop a strong positive association to and eagerly anticipate training. Because training activities predict rewards for the dog, he’s happy to train. Training’s not work, it’s the “FUN-tastic Training Game!”

Whether you’re teaching your dog to take a bow or stay on a mat while you cook dinner, positive training done correctly should feel less like work and a lot more like play. If you’re not having fun training your dog probably isn’t either. Common causes of frustration around training include:

The training exercise is too hard for the dog. If the exercise is too difficult, dogs get frustrated and lose interest in training. Backpedal and make the exercise a little easier. Make the exercise harder only when the dog’s getting the behavior right at the current level at least 8/10 times.

The rewards aren’t rewarding to the dog. Dogs are individuals with unique personalities and tastes. Just because Rover likes sweet potato doesn’t mean Fido does too. Find and train with rewards that your dog really likes.

Rewards aren’t sufficiently rewarding to the dog. Vinnie really likes small hard biscuits and will do many tricks in a row at home for one. But when out romping off-leash around lovely distractions like gopher holes and other dogs, if I want him to leave all that alone and come to me, I reward him with something he loves to make it worth his while. Using rewards your dog really loves in more distracting contexts keeps him interested in the Training Game.

It’s time for a break. You and your dog may have been at it too long. Dogs have short attention spans. A few 3-5 minute training sessions scattered throughout your day are far more effective than one long marathon session. If you’re prepared with your training game plan, treats and training setups you need, you’ll get a lot of mileage out of a brief session.

If you and your dog are in the doldrums about training, take an informed break. Check out the resources at www.trainyourdogmonth.com. You’re sure to come away inspired and with practical easy-to-apply information for a new Training Game plan.

If you’ve never trained your dog, there’s no time like the present. If it’s been some time since you trained your dog, brush up on his manners, teach him a new trick, or sign up for a positive training class. Here are a couple of websites dedicated to positive dog training and with loads of free information to get you started:

• The Bay Area’s own www.dogstardaily.com
• Karen Pryor’s Clicker Training site at www.clickertraining.com

Have fun training!

Pet Portrait Art By Laura K. Johnston

By Lisa-Anne Manolius | January 05, 2010 ~ 1 Comment

Pet Portrait Art By Laura K. Johnston

This post isn’t about behavior or training but it does celebrate pets and our relationships with them. I couldn’t resist writing about a fabulous pet-related gift I gave my husband for Christmas.

Laura K. Johnston who lives here in San Francisco, is a fabulous artist who paints original watercolor portraits of pets. I asked Laura to paint a portrait of Vinnie as a Christmas gift for my husband, or “He-Who-Is-Notoriously-Hard-To-Shop-For.”

The painting is spectacular. My husband is thrilled and so am I. Not only did Laura create a stunningly life-like portrait of Vinnie, she brilliantly captured his real essence, his very “Vinnie-ness.” The bright spark in his eyes, his curiosity, zest for life, playfulness, sweetness and yes, the light of mischief that lurks just beneath his surface…all these qualities shine from her painting.

Here’s a photo of the painting, though I must add that it doesn’t begin to do justice to the actual painting:

Vin Painting

Laura’s love of animals is clear in her art. She’s easy to work with, professional, works quickly and for an extremely reasonable price. If you’ve ever considered having your pet’s portrait painted, I recommend Laura highly and heartily. A pet portrait by Laura is a one-of-a-kind extraordinary gift for a pet lover – a gorgeous lasting portrait of a pet in all his/her glory.

You can see more of Laura’s art and contact her about painting your pet at www.laurajohnston.net.

Clicking Your Way To Better Attention From Your Dog

By Lisa-Anne Manolius | January 04, 2010 ~ 2 Comments

Clicking Your Way To Better Attention From Your Dog

In honor of National Train Your Dog Month, I’ll be posting as many fun and easy training tips as I can throughout January. Welcome to the inaugural post.

“Sammy pays attention to me when we’re inside, but as soon as we go outside, he’s all over the place. He acts like I don’t even exist.”

Although this may sound like a lover’s complaint, it isn’t. It’s something many dog guardians say as they lament the fact that outdoors, it’s difficult to get their dogs’ attention.

This makes perfect sense from Sammy’s point of view. Dogs by nature are extremely impulsive creatures. Many dogs are very inquisitive. Puppies, adolescents and young adult dogs love to explore and investigate and are notoriously easy to distract. Home is a familiar place filled with sights, smells, sounds and people the dogs encounter every day and know well. As environments go, home isn’t very distracting to dogs — that’s why training at home is the best and easiest place to begin teaching dogs new behaviors. Confined to a familiar location with few to no distractions, most dogs pay great attention to their people.

paying attention outdoors

Step outdoors and it’s a different story. Just think of all the wonderful stuff there is out there to grab a dog’s attention! Bushes and hydrants, trees and sidewalks, trails and beaches are all filled with exciting things and scents to sniff out, mark, roll in or dig at. Birds, squirrels, gophers and other wild creatures beg to be chased. Humans roam around exclaiming over Sammy’s cuteness and wanting (naturally!) to pet and coo over him. Other humans carry delectable edibles about or have the nerve to eat full meals in sidewalk cafes right in front of Sammy. Dogs galore pass by or frolic off leash inviting Sammy to join in the fun.

All of that spells distraction with a capital D. The world outside your front door is crammed with one amazing distraction after another as far as Sammy’s concerned. Whenever you’re outside, you’re competing with everything else that’s going on for your dog’s attention. As much as our dogs love us, when they’re out in the world they’re bombarded with enticing things that cry out for investigation. Given that dogs are so impulsive, those things often claim dogs’ attention immediately.

Fortunately you can easily click your way to getting better attention from your dog outdoors and in other distracting places. By rewarding your dog for paying attention to you outside and around distractions, you teach him that focusing on you is fabulous for him no matter where you are. The more you reward him for attending to you outdoors, the more he will repeat the behavior.

Like training any other behavior, you need to train better attention and focus gradually and incrementally, making sure to reward your dog at every step of the way. When training outdoors, use treats your dog loves, instead of treats he just likes. Why? Sniffing and digging and investigating and playing outside are activities that are highly rewarding to your dog. If you want him to come away from butterflies, pinecones and other dogs to check in with you, make it worth his while to do so. As rewards go, kibble, a hard dog biscuit and/or praise don’t even come close to a dog’s delight when playing with other dogs or sniffing a gopher hole. However, rewarding your dog with spectacular yummies for paying attention to you around distractions makes that behavior highly rewarding to him and means he’s much more likely to repeat that behavior.

I especially like using the clicker for this training because it enables you to mark precise behavior the moment your dog does it, and because dogs can usually hear the clicker in noisy places and at a distance.

If your dog is clicker trained, try this easy exercise. Take him outside on leash to a familiar spot that’s more distracting than your home. Your yard or the sidewalk/street in front of your home are good places to start. Take your clicker and some really yummy treats your dog loves. Doing this training when your dog is hungry will make him more motivated to play the training game.

Stay in one spot the first time you try this and observe your dog closely. The moment he turns his head in your direction, click and then treat. Keep clicking and treating every time he turns his head towards you. Once he figures out that the head turn is earning the reward, he’ll do it more often.

With consistent training, head turns will become deliberate looks at you and later, your dog will most likely begin approaching you to claim the reward for his hard work. That’s progress! Click and treat those behaviors when they occur. They show that your dog is focusing on you more intently.

When distractions like cyclists, other dogs or people pass by, reward the heck out of head turns, looks at you or approaches towards you. Give him lots of treats and praise for focusing on you around distractions. That’s hard work for a dog! You can prompt him to look at you as distractions approach by saying his name in a happy upbeat voice, making kissy noises or doing lots of jolly talk.

Keep training sessions short — about 3-5 minutes at a time — and train in different outdoor locations. Gradually increase the distraction levels so your dog doesn’t get frustrated and doesn’t give up on training. When you first try the exercise off-leash, practice in a familiar spot at an off-peak low activity time.

A wonderful recipe for teaching your dog to respond to you outdoors is a combination of the above exercises, training a strong recall and “leave it” behavior. When your dog is an expert at paying attention and responding to you outdoors, remember to reward him randomly for doing so. Random rewards will maintain a learned behavior and ensure that it doesn’t disappear.

Playing With Your Dog – A Very Good Thing

By Lisa-Anne Manolius | January 03, 2010 ~ 6 Comments

Playing With Your Dog – A Very Good Thing

Do you need an excuse to play? Many humans probably do. In this age of constantly-evolving technology we’re expected to do more and more in less and less time. Sometimes just scanning my Monday to-do list leaves me feeling somewhat overwhelmed.

Unlike many of us dogs need no excuses to play. Dogs love to play. They may not all enjoy playing the same games or with the same toys. But where there’s a dog, there’s very likely some kind of playing to be done and much fun to be had.

Scientists are still trying to figure out why animals play. Theories include practicing survival skills, and learning and maintaining important social skills. If you’ve watched dogs playing with other dogs or people, it may have occurred to you that perhaps one reason dogs play is to have fun. They certainly appear to be having plenty of fun when they’re at it.

If you have a dog you also have a perfect “excuse” to play. Playing with your dog yields wonderful benefits. It provides your dog with mental stimulation, an essential daily requirement for a healthy happy dog. Some games (like fetch and tug) afford your dog a chance to exercise, another daily necessity that too many dogs get too little of. Exercise keeps doggy bodies in good shape, avoids obesity and its attendant health risks, gives your dog an appropriate outlet for his energy and helps ward off behavioral issues. Depending on the game, dog play means you get some exercise too. My dog Vinnie adores playing one-on-one soccer with my husband; whenever they play they both get a great workout.

Playtime offers up lots of little training moments that help dogs practice impulse control. Play is an excellent stress reliever for humans and dogs. Play can be an especially effective way of building a shy, fearful or anxious dog’s confidence.

Doggy soccer anyone?

Doggy soccer anyone?

Perhaps best of all, playing with your dog regularly strengthens your relationship with him. Sharing enjoyable activities is one way in which people bond. Studies have shown that couples that play together enjoy longer happier relationships than those that don’t play together. As a therapist friend explained to me, doing fun things with a friend or significant other puts deposits into the emotional intimacy bank. You feel closer and happier when you’re doing having fun together.

Playing games with your best canine bud involves doing an activity together in which you communicate, work cooperatively and develop mutual understanding — all hallmarks of good social relationships. So is fun. Whether you’re playing tug, Frisbee, hide and seek, Freeze and Go Wild, or another game you or your dog has invented, hopefully you’re both having fun. (Part of the fun for me is seeing how much my dog’s enjoying himself when he’s playing!)

Life is tough. We could all use a healthy dose of frivolity and fun. So go ahead. You don’t need any excuses. Play with your dog! Play with him regularly, safely and have loads of fun. If anyone scoffs, remember that play’s underrated. You’re doing something fabulous for yourself and your dog, and deepening your relationship while you’re at it.

Do you have favorite games you play with your dog? We’d love to read about them in a comment.