Podcast Episode 19: How to train a dog to “sit” from scratch

My latest podcast episode is all about teaching a dog to sit. Because… who doesn’t want a dog to know how to sit! In the episode, I break down how to do it, and how not to do it. In doing so, I introduce some training vocabulary I thought it’d be worth defining:


Capturing is the process of pinpointing a precise moment in time when an animal is engaging in a behavior that you, as the trainer, want to encourage. I think of it like the shutter of a camera literally snapping a moment in time.


A marker is what we use to “capture” a behavior that we want to encourage. A marker can be any neutral stimuli that the animal perceives. It should be distinct and speedy and easy to notice and to deliver. A marker should act as a “conditioned reinforcer” or a “secondary reinforcer,” in that it should always be swiftly followed by something that your subject likes, be it food, play, or praise. With dogs, we tend to use a clicker, a word (I usually say “Yes”). Dolphin trainers usually use a whistle. Horse trainers often use a tongue click.

how to train a dog to sit

People too often try to teach “sit” by resorting to leaning over a dog (to get the dog to look up) or by holding a hand over the dog’s head. Drawing by Annie Grossman


Luring is the process of “helping” a dog, usually by using body language or by using food. Often, when teaching sit, people tend to get stuck in luring, and use their hands (frequently with fingers pinched as if they’re holding food, whether or not they are) long after the dog needs that kind of visual prompt. In my experience I find that people often lean over as a kind of lure, since leaning tends to encourage a dog to look up, and when a dog’s head goes up, a dog’s butt tends to go down.  I suggest luring no more than a couple of time if you must. In almost every case, it’s better off to get away from luring as quickly as possible, or to avoid it from the beginning.


Truth be told, this isn’t really a dog training word. I’ve borrowed it from Plato and Freud, both I of whom used this term to refer to the idea that one may “pull” an idea or realization out of a subject. The traditional way of teaching “sit” seems, to me, like midwifery of this kind: A person says “Sit” over and over, sometimes using various physical lures and prompts, until the dog sits. I tend to think of this as a backwards way of teaching something, since, in the case of “sit,” there is no idea or realization that needs to be pulled out of the dog. The dog already knows how to sit. The trick is communicating to him a) we like it when you sit and b) “sit” is the word we use to describe that thing that you’re doing.


Traditionally, when we ask a dog to do something we want him or who to do, we refer to this as a “command.” In the world of Positive Reinforcement training, we tend to use the word “cue” instead. To some extent, it’s just semantics — I mean, you could refer to asking your dog to do something as “Howdy Doody-ing” and your dog wouldn’t care! But we say “cue” because, once we teach a dog the meaning of a word (the “cue”), than the presentation of that “cue” let’s them know that there is something in it for them if they partake in the associated behavior. The word “command” instead implies a kind of “or else” that is inherently coercive.


Fun Dog Fact Of The Day: 

This month marks the 40 year anniversary of NYC’s Pooper Scooper Law, which made it illegal to not pick up after your dog. It was the first law of its kind in the country. You can read more about it at the School For The Dogs blog.

Woof Shout Out:

leo tolstoy frank dog real happy dogs

Photo by Milla Chappell

Meet our student Leo Tolstoy Frank, who you can find on Instagram at @LeoTolstoyFrank. His two dads have been bringing him to School For The Dogs in the East Village all the way from Harlem– no small trip! He recently completed our Sidewalk Psychos program. Says his dad, Steven: “Before Leo started Sidewalk Psychos with Kate, we went out of our way to avoid other dogs on our walks. He couldn’t pass most dogs on the sidewalk without an outburst, so we’d end up taking circuitous routes around the neighborhood to avoid a confrontation. Now we (and Leo) have learned how to manage the situations we can control, and how to avoid situations we can’t (off leash dogs are the worst!). Now Leo can pass just about every dog on the sidewalk without incident!”  Nice job, Leo!

Sanebox trial school for the dogs


If you have yet to sign up for a two week trial from SaneBox, then I’m willing to bet that your inbox is… a mess. What are you doing with your life, friend?! SaneBox is like a personal assistant whose sole job is to help you spend less time on email. You literally train it to learn what email is important, and what isn’t. You can also use it to send yourself reminders in the future, schedule when you plan to reply to certain emails, and more. Check it out, and get a $15 coupon, when you  visit this link.

Podcast Episode 18: The Dog Training Triad Part 3

dog training triad timing

This episode is all about the importance of good timing in dog training. It is the third part in a series about what I call The Dog Training Triad. You can find Part 1 here (on Management) and Part 2 here (on Rewards). In my opinion, if you can understand these three pillars, you’re well on your way to being able to train a dog (or any animal) to do anything he or she is physically capable of doing.

Here are some of the people, tools, and books referenced in this episode:

BF Skinner: 

bf skinner animal trainer

BF Skinner (1904-1990) is considered to be one of the founding fathers of the study of the science of behavior. 

Skinner is, in my opinion, probably one of the most important scientists of the 20th Century. If you’re jonsing to nerd out on animal behavior, I suggest reading… everything he ever wrote! He has already come up on the podcast and will definitely come up again in future episodes. Here are a few things I’ve written about him in the past:

How Trained Pigeons Could’ve Won World War II

Happy Birthday, BF Skinner


While a clicker isn’t essential to training, it can certainly be helpful. We sell a variety of kinds of clickers at StoreForTheDogs.com. I also like using the app DoodleBuddy to help demonstrate the importance of timing, while taking some of the work out of having to use a marker word yourself: Your dogs nose activates the screen, acting as a “marker.” Read more about how you can use a touchscreen device with your dog here; see this post to learn about a few of the apps I have found that you can use to make “art” with your dog — and practice using a “marker” at the same time.

Me with Karen Pryor in 2011. I earned my “KPA CTP” aka “Karen Pryor Certified Training Partner” at the Karen Pryor Academy in 2010. 


I mention three books by Karen Pryor (founder of my alma mater, Karen Pryor Academy) in this episode, and here I am including a fourth: Lads Before The Wind, which is about her experiences learning to train dolphins.

Reaching The Animal Mind is an excellent book about the science of modern dog training. It goes over some of the neurological research that has been done on the use of the clicker.

Don’t Shoot The Dog is a classic that has a title that is a bit of a misnomer, as it isn’t a book about dogs or dog training, but rather is about how to make good use of positive reinforcement in your own life, and in order to affect change in the lives of these around you. If you are interested in Good Dog Training, this book is a must read… But if you’re a parent, spouse, boss, teacher, or really any person whoever interacts with other people, this book will only make your life better.

Lads Before The Wind is her most personal book, and goes into great detail about her life at Sea Life Park. It’s a very enjoyable read.

Nursing Your Baby is a book that I admit I haven’t read… yet. But I will! I think it’s really cool that this remarkable woman had a career as an expert in a totally different field where she basically trained mothers and babies, long before she found her calling as a trainer of dolphins, dogs, people, or animal trainers.



Fun Dog Fact Of The Day:

ww2 dday clicker

Small metal clickers, aka “Crickets” were used on the beaches of Normandy by American paratroopers who were trying to tell friend from foe in the dark. One click meant “Who are you,” and two meant “Friend.” This wasn’t a very complex code, of course, which is why they apparently weren’t meant to be used for more than one battle. You can learn more about the clicker’s military history here. Want your very own reproduction WW2 Clicker? You can get one!

Woof Shout Out:

pitbull melinda dog sheaYou can follow Melinda and her beautiful dog Shea on Instagram at @mmssunshine. Melinda fosters dogs through Mr. Bones + Co.


This episode features our very first sponsor! SaneBox! SaneBox will help you get your inbox straightened out. It’s like the personal assistant you always wanted to sort your email for you, except you don’t actually have to talk to anyone. Ever. Try it out with 2 weeks free and $15 off your subscription (if you decide to sign up and… you will!) by visiting this link. No code necessary.


Special thanks to Danielle Coles and The Energy Collective for their cover of Time Is On My Side (which, like most of the songs I use on the podcast is — surprisingly! — in the public domain).


Podcast Episode 15: Let’s talk about dog walking with Shelley Goldberg of DivaDog

diva dog shelley goldbergMeet Shelley Goldberg, owner of DivaDog, a Manhattan-based walking and sitting service. For this episode I interviewed Shelley in her East Village home and spoke to her about her nearly 30 year career walking dogs, and managing dog walkers, in downtown NYC. In a day and age where walking companies are increasingly the domain of app developers — where steps are tracked, pees-and-poops are reported in real time, and walkers are “gigging” more than they are committing to any kind of longterm prospects — Shelley’s old school approach is, in my opinion, really refreshing. Here are some things you should know about Shelley:

  • She used to be a lounge singer at the Gramercy Hotel.
  • She company doesn’t have a website or a publicly available email address (if you want to reach her, call or text 707-DIVA-DOG.
  • She keeps her walkers’ schedule entirely on paper.
  • Hers is one of the most expensive walking companies in NYC.

There are so many pitfalls to watch out for when hiring a walker. Over at the School For The Dogs blog, I wrote up 11 questions to ask a potential dog walker. 

Miscellany from this episode:

  • Here are excerpts from the book of notes and pictures that Shelley’s walker, Rosmarus Schneck, produced while walking her charge, Fanny.

dog walker book

  • Twelve years ago I wrote this NY Times article and, in the initial draft, I mentioned that the little boy in the lede wanted to become a dog walker when he grew up. His mother freaked out and hounded me and my editor to not include this fact! Because clearly the idea that anyone should aspire to be a dog walker was… terrifying.
  • Kendall Jenner used to be a dog walker. I think this might be the only interesting fact about her. In this Vogue video, after she mentions her dog walking past, the interviewer asks her what is something about her that she wished more people would focus on and she says “my ass.”
  • The song I used in this episode is the 1958 song Rockin’ Robin by Bobby Day. I’m able to use this song because — little known fact! — its copyright was never renewed, making it a rare well-known pop song that is in the public domain. The version I used was done one-man-band style by Danielle Anderson, aka Danielle Ate The Sandwich.

Podcast Episode 14: Let’s talk about dog photography with Milla Chappell

milla chappell drawing by annie grossmanAs someone who works with pets and pet owners and spends a lot of time on social media, I see lots of photos of dogs. In fact, I see so many dog photos that it can be hard to judge a single one as good or bad any more than I could judge the value of a single grain of sand. But every now and then, I’ll see a picture that really gets my attention. It was a photo like that that helped me first discover the work of Milla Chappell, owner of Real Happy Dogs. I was scrolling through Instagram when I saw a picture of our client, Bane, an English Bulldog, on a train platform. Often, taking a photo of a dog at the dog’s level means that all you get are the legs of the human who is with him or her, and this can be a bit of a visual bummer — I don’t like decapitating people, in real life or in photos. And it’s true that all I could see of Bane’s humans were their legs, but it didn’t matter. The three of them were on a subway platform, and despite no apparent natural light, the image still jumped out at me. It was a slice of life, and I had a feeling that the person behind the camera was taking a picture of a relationship as much as she was photographing the dog.

bulldog bane by milla chappell of real happy dogs

Bane and his humans, by Milla Chappell  (@BaneTheBulldog)

When I met Milla, who was then living in Pittsburgh, I felt an immediate kinship. Both of us had a background in writing (her in academics, me as a journalist) and both of us, I’d later learn, had attended a lot of strangers’ weddings (her as a wedding photographer, me as a wedding announcement columnist). And both of us had our own small businesses that were similarly celebrating the human-dog relationship in a way that wasn’t… twee? I’m not sure quite how else to put it. I guess there is a way in which anything in the “pet” realm can be dismissed as cutesy and silly, but both Milla and I are among the kind of pet professionals who see the way in which people’s relationship with their pets can really add depth to life and can be the root of a lot of love and heart. Sure, as a dog trainer I may just be dealing with house training and she might just be making people’s holiday cards but, we both see it as being about something more…

You can find Real Happy Dogs on Instagram here. We will be featuring Milla’s photos of our students on our Instagram all month, so stop on by!

Dog Shout Out: 

A few days after I interviewed Milla, she adopted a dog named Mona! Mona is a beautiful gray pit bull from PupStarz.  Milla had photographed her at an adoption event and told her husband, Brad, how wonderful she was. She had been found in a supermarket parking lot in Brooklyn in the snow during a blizzard in March, and had been skin-and-bones until her foster mom nursed her to health. On Mother’s Day, he surprised Milla by bringing her to see Mona and telling her that he’d already signed the adoption papers. “It was the most wonderful surprise!” she said.

mona the pitbull by real happy dogs

Milla’s first photo of Mona at an adoption event

Mona with Milla’s husband and daughter on her first day as part of the family

Further Notes:

  • You can read some of Milla’s tips for getting great photos of your dog over at the School For The Dogs blog.
  • Milla sells really adorable greeting cards featuring her photos on Etsy.
  • If you’re curious about my former life as a wedding journo, there is a smattering of pieces archived in The New York Times and The New York Observer.
  • X-Small Kong balls are great for getting your dog to look at you while you’re taking a photo, because they fit discretely into the palm of your hand.
  • Photo printing services Milla recommends: Mpix and Mixbook
  • Some of Milla’s pics of senior pugs can be found on Emoji’s Instagram 
  • Here are some of the sounds I make to get dogs’ attention when I’m taking pics:

Fun Dog Fact Of The Day:

This is how dogs drink! Their tongues scoop up the water backwards! Who knew!

More on Milla, via GoodNewsForPets.com:

milla chappell of real happy dogs

Milla Chappell of Real Happy Dogs

How did you get involved in dog photography?

I actually started taking dog photos when I was a wedding photographer. Many couples brought their dogs to engagement sessions and weddings, and of course, those were always my favorite! So, I started Real Happy Dogs with the hope that people might see the value in having photos of their dog-kids in the same way that someone might want photos of their human-kids. Turns out, they absolutely did.

You describe your dog photography as documentary in nature, can you explain? What is your process?

In general, my photo sessions are very unposed, as I want to document life as it truly is. I typically start the session in the dog’s home so I can photograph her playing with toys, hanging out on the couch, relaxing in her favorite dog bed, etc. We then take a walk around the neighborhood or visit any of the family’s favorite dog-friendly spots. Every once in a while, we stop and take a posed photo, but generally I just photograph the family interacting naturally.

There is also a writing component to your work…

I have always enjoyed writing. In fact, my degrees were in English literature and linguistics and I took many writing classes in graduate school and always thrived in these classes. For many years, I focused exclusively on photography in my career, but when I started writing stories to accompany the photos I was taking, I saw a great response from followers! I am so thankful to have a career that allows me to enjoy both artistic outlets and I am always looking for more opportunities to write.

In addition to photography, you are also a writer. Can you tell us how you became interested in writing?

Many people see photos of homeless dogs in cages or looking sad/lonely, and I certainly believe there is a place for this type of photo. But, I wanted to add something different to the conversation by showing positive photos of both success stories (dogs with their new families) and of dogs currently living with a foster. I think these positive images resonate with many people and allow them to consider fostering or adopting a dog who is senior, handicapped, abused, or otherwise homeless in a way that the sad photos out there might not. The first rescue story I photographed and shared was of @apugnamedemoji, a blind and deaf rescued pug who was adopted by an amazing mom and given many happy retirement years. People still mention how much Emoji’s photo story meant to them, and sharing that story changed the focus and direction of Real Happy Dogs.

Both your parents are veterinarians. How did this influence your relationship with animals?

My parents’ career was foundational to my relationship with animals. I learned everything I know from my parents, as they devoted their lives to caring for animals and the people who love them. I grew up working in their animal hospital and became comfortable with all animals of all shapes, sizes, and temperaments. Additionally, I learned to interact with all types of pet owners, which is something I am very thankful for.

You now live and work in NYC but you’ve lived in many places. Is there anything different about photographing pets in NYC?

Absolutely. Here in New York, most people don’t have yards or fences, so we spend more time walking, exercising, socializing, and enjoying our dogs in a public settings such as restaurants, parks, and the streets. There is a much more social aspect to dog-life in NYC, and I think this element is really special. When I walked my dog around town, it allowed me to interact with the people who stopped to talk to him, and when I photograph dogs, I almost always have people stop us to ask what we’re doing. I love walking, enjoying, and photographing dogs in public spaces.

How did you come up with the name “Real Happy Dogs”?

I wanted a name that captured the spirit of the dogs I was photographing. I chose the word “real” because my photos are unposed and natural and capture dogs in real life and “happy” because dogs have an everlasting positive spirit. I think this name perfectly captures what I want people to think of when they see my photos.

Illustration by Annie Grossman

Podcast Episode 13: Ask Annie: Curtailing jumping and helping scaredy dogs

drawing dog training annie grossmanFor our first Q + A episode, I addressed questions from three listeners. If you would like to have a question answered, I will be happy to answer it!

The best way to ask a question, there are several ways:

-Join our Facebook Group and comment there
-Email Podcast@SchoolForTheDogs.com
-Click “Send a voice message” next to the show icon in the Anchor App 
-Leave a voicemail at 917-414-2625
-Visit anniegrossman.com/ask

Please give as much detail about your situation as possible!

Two of the questions in this episode are about jumping — one is about dealing with a dog who is jumping on people on the street, and the other is about jumping on people who enter the home. I’ve written a blog post that the deals with protocol for dealing with both kinds of jumping over at School For The Dogs. The third question is about a dog who is dealing with a lot of fear regarding novel things, people and dogs. To address this issue, I talk a lot about creating new and good associations using Classical Conditioning. For more on Classical Conditioning, see:

Who was Ivan Pavlov?

Let’s talk about Classical Conditioning with Anamarie Johnson

Classical Conditioning: Teach someone how to hate Beethoven, cowboy boos and their ex

What Mister Softee can teach us about dog training

Three dog training techniques you can use on people

Products and other relevant links:

For dealing with jumping on the street, the right tools can make a big difference. I particularly suggest using a fanny pack style treat pouch that can snap open or closed easily (or a rubber belt-clip style one if you prefer). I also find that it’s nice to use tools that make it possible to deliver treats without getting my hands yucky, like a Liquid Treat Dispenser (great for peanut butter or cream cheese or liverwrust or baby food), or else camping tubes if you’re trying to give canned food or other kinds of wet food outside.

For combatting jumping at the door, a Treat + Train can be a real lifesaver. These remote-operated treat dispensers can be used with almost any kind of dry treat or food. The Treat + Train, which is batter operated, has been around for a long time and works on a radio signal at a distance of up to about 30 feet. There are a lot of other new products on the market that have way more bells and whistles, like bluetooth and cameras and speakers, but I have found that the Treat + Train is the sturdiest and most reliable device of its kind.

dog jacket yellow Give Me Space

Mimi Reid of Give A Dog A Home custom makes jackets that instruct people to leave your dog alone.

In our question about dealing with dogs who are scared of people approaching on the street, I mentioned a couple of sites that have good information about helping dogs who need a wide berth in public. These are Dogs In Need Of Space and The Yellow Dog Project. I also think it can be a really good idea to get a jacket that literally instructs people to leave your dog alone (I get them for our clients from Mimi Reid of Give A Dog A Home on Etsy, and/or a briht yellow leash or a leash sleeve that can do the same job.

Fun Dog Fact Of The Day

shakespeare dog two gentlemen

Launce with Crab by Sir John Gilbert. 1862.

Our fact today is about Shakespeare. Did you know that in all of his plays, a dog only appears on stage once? It’s in The Two Gentlemen of Verona, and the dog is named Crab.

Dogs are, however, mentioned a good deal. But never favorably. In this Psychology Today post, Clive D. L. Wynne writes:

It isn’t that people in Shakespeare’s works never mention dogs. On the contrary, the word dog appears nearly 200 times, with another 27 for cur (mutt); 53 for hound; five for brach (a female dog); and three for bitch. For comparison, Shakespeare’s people say England 271 times—so dogs are a pretty popular topic around the Shakespearean water cooler.

But what stands out in Shakespeare’s references to dogs is that they are nearly all insults. “Whoreson dog” (Cymbeline, King Lear, and Troilus and Cressida); “Slave, soulless villain, dog” (Anthony & Cleopatra); “egregious dog? O viper vile!” (Henry V); “cut throat dog” (Merchant of Venice); to name just a few. Often it is insult enough just to liken a person to a dog. When Richard III is killed at the end of the play of that name, victorious Richmond proclaims, “God and your arms be praised, victorious friends,/ The day is ours, the bloody dog is dead.”

When Shakespeare has people describe the things that dogs do, they are seldom attractive activities. In Coriolanus, Sicinius Velutus points out that the rabble may be turned against Corialanus “as easy/ As to set dogs on sheep.” The same image is used in Richard III. Dogs are often cudgeled; they can be cowards;  they bark and bay; they fight; they steal. And when they try to make friends, they are just fawning.  King Lear complains of his daughters, “They flatter’d me like a dog.”

Illustration by Annie Grossman 

Podcast Episode 12: This is what you need to know about the dog flu

dog flu outbreak nyc by annie grossmanThis week’s episode is all about the dog flu which has recently swept through the NYC area. I’ve heard different numbers thrown around, but it’s safe to say that somewhere around 100 cases have been diagnosed in New York City in the last month. To learn more, I interviewed Dr. Andrea Y. Tu of Park East Animal Hospital and Veterinary Behavior Consultations of NYC.

Dr. Andrea Y. Tu

I’ve written a primer to the two concerning flu strains, H3N8 and now H3N2, at the School For The Dogs blog. It answers the most common questions people have. Here is the CliffsNotes version:

Should I get my dog vaccinated? 

Yes. This will require two shots over a two week period.

Can I still take my dog to the dog park or day care? 

Not unless he is fully vaccinated, you probably shouldn’t.

If my dog gets it, will he die? 

Probably not.

dog flu mat usa

A map of the Dog Flu strains throughout the country, via dogflu.com.

For further reading, I suggest reading up at the American Veterinary Medical Foundation site and at the Center for Disease Control and Prevention site.

If you’re a business owner in the pet service realm, this is a particularly frightening situation. There’s a helpful report on the subject that was recently put out by the American Animal Hospital Association, downloadable here. There are also good recommendations for professionals at DogFlu.com, a site built by vaccine providers. Their major suggestions are the following:

Also make sure to check out this recent post about how we keep things clean at School For The Dogs without using chemicals that hurt doggy noses, or the environment.

Fun Dog Fact Of The Day…

Okay, this fact perhaps isn’t that “fun,” but cut me some slack! Dr. Tu mentions “Typhoid Mary” in our conversation about the flu. Fact: Typhoid Mary was a real person — an Irish-born chef who worked as a private chef in kitchens throughout Manhattan. Several people in the homes she worked in died of Typhoid, and many more were infected. The cases were eventually linked to her. Although she never got sick herself, she was a carrier of the deadly virus. She was banned from working in kitchens, but did so anyway, and was eventually forced to live the rest of her life in confinement on North Brother Island in the East River near The Bronx. It is usually reported that she spent more than two decades there in total solitary confinement but it appears that she… had a dog! I’ve tried to find out more about her pooch, but haven’t come up with much beyond her being quoted as saying:

I never had typhoid in my life, and have always been healthy. Why should I be banished like a leper and compelled to live in solitary confinement with only a dog for a companion?

Our Woof Shout Out goes again to our Papillion friend, µ! Aka “Mu.” Tiny little µ got stepped on by accident last week and is now in a cast. Poor guy! We are thinking of you, buddy, and hope you get well soon!


Podcast Episode 11: Lets talk about dog parties with Hayley Mehalco of Puppy Parties NYC

If, when I was a little girl, someone had said “When you grow up, you can be a professional dog party planner,” I think growing up quickly would’ve become much more of a priority. I didn’t take that particular awesome life path, but Hayley Mehalco did! Hayley is the founder of Puppy Parties NYC (http://puppypartiesnyc.com), a party planning company that specializes in throwing parties for dogs and the humans who love them. On the latest episode of School For The Dogs Podcast, I interview Hayley about how she has made a career for herself in a niche industry, and I learn about some of the wilder parties she has thrown.

Parties for Dog: Terrible or Terrific?

I’ve talked about this previously on the podcast, but I think that there are a lot of niche dog services that can easily be labeled as ridiculous and silly and unnecessary, but deserve a second look. I think dog birthday parties fall into this category. I’ve come to see pet ownership as a hobby that isn’t less legitimate than any other pastime; the main thing that separates it from other leisure activities, however, is that it involves spending money (and time and energy) on a living thing rather than an inanimate thing, like a car or sports gear. I particularly have noted over the years how the media can very easily paint any spending on pets as indulgent and eye-roll inducing, as if they don’t really deserve anything then a few walks and bowls of kibble everyday. Maybe they don’t “deserve” more than that, but it starts to seem weird when you think about how people don’t have that kind of attitude about the objects of other hobbyists’ expenditures. If someone gets their car repainted, we don’t call it “spoiled.” If you get an expensive new pair of running shoes, no one will question about whether your feet deserve them. We implicitly understand that this is money people are spending on themselves, and there isn’t necessarily anything wrong with that. Well, I’ve come to think about a lot of dog-related expenditures in that way, too. Just like your car doesn’t care about the paint job, your dog probably doesn’t care if his party balloons match his cupcakes. But if you’re doing something for your dog that is making you enjoy your dog’s brief life a little more, and you’re doing something that helps you share your excitement with your dog about others, then your dog’s experience of the whole event is really besides the point.

(I say all this with one big caveat: I don’t think we should indulge our own whimsy at our dog’s emotional expense. This can happen, and does happen, particularly when dogs are put into costumes. This is always tricky for me around Halloween, when people put their dogs in costumes. On the one hand, I’m glad people are enjoying a holiday with their dog. On the other hand, a lot of the time dogs are visibly stressed when in costumes. Here is a graphic I put together, with the top row including faces of dogs in costumes and the bottom row showing faces of dogs at a shelter. Looks like dogs would rather be homeless than dressed like a butterfly…)


World Pup Cup

Hayley mentions Puppy Party NYC’s upcoming “World Pup Cup” party, which is happening next weekend. Dogs will be divided into two teams and will be “competing” against each other while running around on an indoor artificial grass soccer field. The game will be scored and officiated by dog sports coach, Alex Middleton from @downtownpets, and will feature live commentary by comedians Richie Redding and Katie Haller. Tickets are $52.73 and include access for your dog to play in the World Pup Cup, a team bandana, treats, snacks for humans, a raffle and more.

So you want to throw a puppy party…

Here are links to some of the resources and ideas mentioned in this episode


It can be hard to find places that are dog friendly and also can accommodate a bunch of dogs and people at once, but Hayley offers a really good tip about finding a venue for a dog birthday: Check out hotels. Many hotels have dog-friendly party areas. She also mentions D Pet Hotels in NYC, which hosts lots of parties every year, and Alamo Draft House, which is apparently dog-party friendly.


Hayley suggests that, in stead of getting presents, you direct guests to send gifts directly to a shelter. Nice idea, right? Amazon makes it easy to find shelters that have “wish lists” so your guests can send products that are most in need. Another idea: Collect donations for a local rescue. For their upcoming World Cup party, she is raising money for Brooklyn Badass Animal Rescue. 


A fun idea for human food at a dog party? “Puppy Chow” is a chocolate-peanut-butter kind of Chex-mix covered with powdered sugar. Looking for a DIY option for your dog? There are several brands of cake mix for dogs on the market. I’ve also gotten served peanut-butter-and-jelly mini cupcakes from Baked by Melissa at parties we’ve had for dogs. They’re just the right size for a dog treat, contain nothing worse than some sugar, and are yummy for humans, too!

Hayley’s Events

Our fun dog fact:

Jason Biggs, the actor, held a Bark Mitzvah for his 13-year-old dog, Teets, in 2014. You can read all about it here.

teets biggs bark mitzvah

Our “Woof” Shout Out

Our “Woof” Shout Out goes to Sarah, mama to two of our favorite students at School For The Dogs: Meatball and Hammy. Last year, she gave Meatball a unicorn-themed party:

This year Meatball (and Hammy, he recently joined the family) got a Mexican fiesta party!

Podcast Episode 10: A modern dog owner’s guide to nipping

Puppies learn to use their mouths very carefully. Their super-sharp teeth help exaggerate the power of their not-yet-fully-developed jaw muscles.

Nipping is something that tends to drive new puppy owners batty, for two reasons. Firstly, no one likes to be chewed on; secondly, there are just too many conflicting opinions out there on how to deal with it. A lot of the advice you’ll find on the Internet suggests scolding a pup for nipping; usually people are told they should use a high pitched voice (as if to emulate another puppy) or to berate the dog in the deepest voice possible. There are still lots of professionals out there who will advise that conversing with a puppy will curb the problem, if done in the right tone of voice. This was what my mom and I were told to do when we got our dog Zeke. Here are the two of us, in 1992, with said puppy.




In this podcast episode, I suggest thinking about puppy nipping less as a problem and more as a natural thing puppies do as they start to learn about the world. Both you and your puppy will benefit if he has lots of daily opportunities to use his mouth appropriately.

I’ve outlined 7 ways to reduce nipping in this blog post at School For The Dogs. 

In the podcast, here are the major points I make and some relevant links, etc:

  1. Make sure your dog gets lots of puppy playtime. We offer playtime at School For The Dogs six days a week, and the first one is free. If you aren’t in NYC and/or you can’t make it to to us, I suggest asking your vet if he or she knows anyone with a puppy who might be a good playmate. Puppies really play best with other puppies, so it’s worth putting in the time to find a good puppy playmate, rather than gamble that your puppy will have a good experience playing with an older dog, many of whom don’t have the patience for puppy antics.

    Two of the bully stick holders available at StoreForTheDogs.com

  2. Get your puppy some great things to chew. You can read my infamous post on bully sticks here. We sell bully sticks (aka bull penis!) at Store For The Dogs and also have a few bully stick holders, which are a great way to extend a bully stick’s chewing pleasure.
  3. Play tug. Tug is a great way for your puppy to let out some energy, exercise his jaw, and spend time with you. Win, win, win! I suggest playing with something long, so that there is less chance your dog will chomp on your hand when he is trying to get the toy. I suggest a long stuffed squeaky toy, like the Duckworth Webster, or a flirt pole, which is basically like a really big cat teaser. You can read more about flirt poles here.
  4. Let your puppy use his mouth in all sorts of creative ways by getting him some work to eat toys. I’m obsessed with work to eat toys, and you should be too! The more time your dog spends giving his mouth a workout during mealtime, the less interesting he is going to be on snacking on your fingers.
  5. treat held inside hand

    The “Hand Kong” can keep your dog’s mouth busy.

    Biting and licking can’t happen at the same time, so make your hands more lickable than bitable. You can do this with by just dabbing a bit of peanut butter or olive oil or butter on the back of your hand– I don’t mean doing this ALL the time, but if you are in a situation where you have to have your hands near your puppy’s face, then this is one option.  If you have a dog who is nipping when he is trying to get treats from your hand, I suggest trying a lickable treat, like Kalles, or a Bark Pouch, or a Liquid Treat Dispenser, all of which are great ways to encourage licking in general. You can also make a kind of makeshift version of this by stuffing any kind of treats into your hand to make what I call a “Hand Kong” and letting them lick the treats out of it. This is also a good way for your pup to practice using their mouth very gently when your skin is involved. If he goes for it too roughly, take a break and offer it again; he’ll learn that too much pressure causes the Hand Kong to vanish.

Just to be clear: Don’t conflate nipping and biting. Puppy mouthiness, what I call nipping, is the kind of mouth action that feels, on your skin, like someone scraping a needle without a lot of force. It doesn’t feel GOOD, but it is the kind of thing that wouldn’t hurt that much if you were covered with fur. Biting is a much bigger problem. As I define it, biting is generally intentional and usually stems from fear; you probably won’t be bitten by your puppy, unless you torture the puppy, or are unlucky enough to have a puppy who has some serious issues.

Of course, sometimes dogs bite by accident; three or so times in the last eight years, a puppy I’ve been playing with has gone to bite a toy and ended up catching my finger along with it. THAT pain is like someone stabbing you with a thumbtack. Blood and band-aids were involved.  This is why I suggest playing with toys that are long! Older dogs can do this, too. My 13-year-old dog did this once when we were playing together with a small toy, and has never even come close to trying to bite me in any other situation, before or after. But I didn’t scold him, and I don’t think a puppy should be punished for this kind of thing either. Hey, we all make mistakes!

See this Psychology Today article for more on our fun fact about dog saliva. 

A note about Barbara Woodhouse

Barbara Woodhouse, who had a popular BBC dog training show in the 1980s, had some bizarre suggestions on dealing with common dog issues.

I briefly mention Barbara Woodhouse in this episode; she is one of my favorite sources of antiquated-weirdo dog advice, and I keep some old editions of her books around for a laugh. Woodhouse, who was a very matronly schoolmarm dog trainer,  was a household name in the 80s, particularly in England, where she had a hit TV show. She was really into choke chains and yanking dogs around by their collar. At left, I’ve illustrated her suggestion for getting dogs to stop chasing cars:

Enlist the aid of a friend with a car. Ask him to drive you slowly past the dog that chases cars, and as the dog comes in to the attack, throw out as hard as you possibly can any fat hard-covered book, and make certain that the book hits the dog. The shock it gives the dog so frightens it that I have never had to repeat the treatment more than twice, even though the dog may have chased cars for years.”

Sadly, Woodhouse is still revered in many circles. To me, she represents how willing people are to take advice on dogs as if they were aliens who just arrived on a new planet and are trying to capture the locals. She also seemed to think that everyone was pretty bad at following her instructions. I want to go back in time and ask the people who she bossed around on her show “Does any of this actually make any sense to you?” As always, I think dog training should be intuitive, not because you were born part dog or have some special experience under your belt that gives you innate knowledge of how they work, but simply because we ALL know a lot about animal behavior. That’s because WE are animals, and the laws of learning aren’t species specific. That’s why I think most “good” dog training should have a “oh, duh” quality about it, and should be just as clear and sensible whether or not it’s delivered in a haughty British accent!

Anyway, I could go on and on about Woodhouse. She certainly is a fascinating entry into the cannon of popular-but-really-bad dog training. Do you remember seeing her on TV back in the day? If yes, please go over and to our Facebook Group and share!


Illustrations by Annie Grossman

Podcast Episode 9: Our Student Basket is Helping Geneticists Extend the Life of Large Dogs

What happens when you fall in love with a certain kind of dog, but then learn about all the genetic problems that plague the breed? You might eschew the breed all together, or you might just take your chances. Or, you could devote yourself to finding a mixed breed that closely resembles the breed that you want, with the hopes that its more diverse gene pool might mean its healthier.

That was the route taken by our clients Samantha Schwartz and Ben Ment of Brooklyn. They ended up with a beautiful puppy who is half Bernese Mountain Dog, but not before finding themselves inadvertently embroiled in a debate about the ethics of “messing” with the genetics of a purebred dog.

Over a year ago, Samantha began emailing breeders saying she was concerned about Bernese’s health issues — issues that can lead to degenerative spinal diseases and rare cancers — and was therefore looking for a  mixed-breed Bernese. She thought breeders might be able to help her find dogs that had other breeds mixed in. What she didn’t expect was to be inundated with harangues from breeders and breed enthusiasts who took her to task for suggesting the breed is anything less than perfect as it is — genetic problems and all. One of her assailants even posted about her on social media, including her personal email and phone number. She started receiving angry phone calls and text messages from around the world. “These dogs are dying at, like, six years old,” Samantha told me. “And they didn’t see that as a problem.”

Eventually, Samantha’s email made it to the inbox of Pat Long, the woman who was in charge of inputting data into Berner Garde, a decades-old database of Bernese Mountain Dogs all over the world. “She said to me, ‘I see what is happening to this breed, and you are asking the right questions.'”

Pat helped Samantha get in touch with Anne Wolff Nichols, one of the founders of the Bernese Mountain Dog Vitality Project. The Project’s goal is to improve the health of the breed through careful cross breedings, done with the consultation of geneticists (including Dr. Jessica Perry Hekman of DogZombie.com), in order to attempt to rid them of the health problems that cause these dogs to live such short lives.

bernese mountain dog vitality

Dogs from the Bernese Mountain Dog Vitality Project’s first litter.


basket the brave bernese mountain dog

Basket at 8-weeks old, when he first met his new parents.

According to the Bernese Mountain Dog Vitality Project’s site, in the first litter the project bred, five of the seven pups were free from the gene that leads to a degenerative disease of the spinal cord causing progressive paralysis; testing on all the dogs found they each exceeded the average Bernese in both genetic diversity and health index. Overall, the dogs in the first litter are a bit  taller than full-bred Berneses and have been characterized as “not as clingy or emotionally sensitive as the average BMD.”

After learning about the project and visiting a puppy from its first litter, Samantha and Ben signed on to take a puppy from the second litter, which crossed a mixed-breed mother with a Bernese father. On New Year’s Day this year, Samantha went to Minnesota to get Basket and bring him back to New York. She found him to be extra courageous on the long journey from his old home to his new one, so she gave him the nickname “Basket The Brave,” which is now his Instagram handle.

There are certainly other breed clubs that have attempted to improve their breeds health through crossbreeding. Here is a visual example of how this was done with the German Pinscher in order to reduce the tendency of the breed to develop cataracts, among other things. Since the 1970s there has been an effort to cross Dalmatians with pointers in order to help rid them of the bladder stones that plague the breed, but these healthier types of Dalmatians aren’t able to be registered with the AKC.

bernese mount dog vitality bernese mount dog vitality

Basket’s sisters Bella and Brooke. All the dogs in the first litter had names that started with A; the second litters all have B names, the third will have C names, and so on.

Interested in getting involved?

Our fun fact for this episode is about Irish President Michael D. Higgins, who has two Bernese Mountain Dogs, Brod and Shadow. Here he is with them!

brod and shadow bernese mountain dog

Our “Woof” shoutout goes to Suki the Frenchie. She’s still looking for a forever home! Learn more about her at Bucky’s Foster Crew on Instagram. 

french bulldog suki

Special thanks to Samantha Farmer, whose version of “A Tisket A Tasket” I used in this episode.

Illustration by Annie Grossman

Podcast Episode 8: Let’s talk about classical conditioning with dog trainer Anamarie Johnson

Meet Anamarie Johnson, School For The Dogs’ longtime General Manager and one of our trainers.  Anamarie is relentlessly peppy, talented and effortlessly funny woman and being her employer these last three years has been a complete pleasure. When I first me her, she was workin at NYC Animal Care and Control and getting a Masters in Animal Behavior and Conservation from Hunter College.

anamarie johnson dog trainer

She is now leaving NYC to go back to Northern California where she is from. She will be working as the Animal Care Manager at Pets in Need in Redwood City. But don’t fret: She isn’t leaving us entirely! We plan to rope her in to do some webinars and remote training for us soon, and we hope she’ll also be doing some private sessions under the School For The Dogs umbrella in San Francisco.  Yes that’s right: We’re gonna be bi-coastal! Fancy us!

I spoke to Anamarie about growing up without dogs (she instead had cats and also… pet flies) and how she developed an interest in learning about dogs. A graduate of UC Davis, she made me laugh (a lot) by telling me about the experiments that went on there that involved spray painting squirrels orange and green, and giving them birth control. 

We also talked a good deal about Classical Conditioning, which is one of our favorite topics!

Go over to School For The Dogs for a brief history of Ivan Pavlov, he who first “discovered” Classical Conditioning. 

She mentioned that there are often references to Pavlov in popular media, sometimes more overt than others. For instance, there is Dwight being classically conditioned to associate a computer’s restarting noise with the craving of an Altoid.

There is also Frasier’s demonic prank rooted in classical conditioning…

And that time Lisa trains Bart to convulse at the sight of cupcakes.

We also discussed Rudy, a dog she and I have worked with and both love very much. Rudy, although he has made lots of progress over the years, is a skittish guy and is always making associations that stretch way beyond the original scary thing. If Woody Allen and Amelia Bedelia had a dog, he’d be it. When he moved from Atlanta to New York City, he developed a fear of bicycles, especially speeding ones at a close distance to him. In New York, food delivery guys are usually the fastest and most erratic bicyclists, and the most likely to side swipe him on the sidewalk. So, he developed a fear of food delivery men, even if they were in his building, and or not on a bike. This then led to him growling at anyone holding grocery bags, and also reticence around hispanic people, since most delivery men in New York are hispanic. Indeed, skin tone, height, weight and hairstyle are all things about which a dog can become phobic, due to either bad interactions involving certain people (even if it’s a false perception) or because of no early exposure to people who look certain ways.

News flash: Humans can ALSO be quick to make grand generalizations based on looks and the like! Sometimes, it’s not even because of a bad experience. Pure lack of experience can also be a culprit. That and… classical conditioning. 

Special thanks to Elly Lonon, author of the forthcoming book Amongst The Liberal Elite, for her ukulele rendition of the old song Aba Daba Honeymoon.