Give Him a Break; Puppy Training

Training puppies is not the same as older dogs because of attention span. It works the same for kids. Younger kids have a short attention span, right?

objectplayWhen working with your puppy keep training sessions around 15 minutes or less. Within that session you will train 1-3 minutes and then provide a 1-3 minute play break.

When you are ready to start a play break use a release word like, “Okay, go play.”

What are “play breaks?” A play break is a small break from training 1-3 minutes which can be playing tug, chase, fetch, etc with your puppy. You can also pet and talk sweet to your puppy during this time.

After your play break, return to your training session. justfunandplay

Puppies are a ton of fun to train, but it’s important to meet them where they are at developmentally and just like children, they have a shorter attention span with a stronger need to play.

What’s your puppy’s favorite game? Have you used that game in training? Share in comments below.





Michelle Huntting
Building the bridge of communication between dog and pet guardian 


Check out more of Michelle’s PUPPY TRAINING TIPS HERE

Solving Nipping Problems


As a puppy owner, you quickly realize that your very cute fluffy ball of wonderfulness also has very sharp teeth that can easily draw blood, bruise, and scratch. Owners have called me in tears because of puppy nipping problems. This isn’t an easy issue for any pet owner and for those of you experiencing this issue; you are not alone.

A Soft Bite
Years ago we taught puppies to not bite at all by punishing them every time their teeth came into contact with skin. However, research shows that if a dog was never allowed to put his teeth on skin, he missed the opportunity to learn that human’s skin is very tender. Because of this knowledge, we now teach puppies a soft bite, or also known as “bite inhibition.”

Exercise for Soft Bite: This exercise should be implemented when, and only when you are okay with the puppy interacting with you. Also, it goes without saying that this exercise is for adults only. When you are okay with the puppy interacting with you, allow the puppy to “nibble” on your hand. Anytime a bite is harder than what you think is okay (even if it doesn’t necessarily hurt you) then squeal with a very high pitch, “Ouch!” Make sure that the “ouch” is very dramatic. Usually puppies will back up and look at their owner. As soon as the puppy looks at you say, “Good” and continue interacting with him.

If you said the high pitch, “Ouch!” and he didn’t stop nipping, give him a time out by crossing your arms in front of you and do not look or talk to him. The moment he backs up away from you, continue interacting with him.


Use Toys to Redirect (Larger Toys Are Better Than Smaller Toys)
As a puppy, Morgan my Golden retriever mix needed something to chew almost constantly.  I always had something for her to chew on, no matter where we went. Every time she would try to chew on me, I would immediately redirect her to the Nylabone or her bully stick.

When petting a puppy, our hands can sometimes become a game. The exercises below will help him learn that hands are not toys.

Training Exercises For Petting:

1. Place ten treats in the opposite hand that you will use to pet your puppy. Sit in a chair. Now reach over and pet your puppy one time. Before the puppy begins to nip present the baited hand and food lure him away from the hand you are petting him with. As the puppy is turning his head away from the hand petting him say, “Good” and treat. Your puppy will learn to look to the other hand when petting and you can soon replace the food reward with toy or a treat.

2. Place five treats in opposite hand that you will use to pet your puppy. Sit in a chair. Now present baited hand closed. Place directly in front of the puppy’s nose. If he sniffs or nuzzles the hand say, “Good” and treat. If the puppy puts his mouth on your hand, use your correctional sound “eh eh” and stand up, cross your arms, and do not look at puppy (form of a time out). Ignore him until sits or stands and then repeat.

3. Present baited hand to the puppy. If the puppy sniffs, then pet by stroking his head and neck one time. Say, “Good” and treat. Gradually increase the number of times you pet your puppy before you say, “Good” and treat.

Of course, with all treatment plans you must be consistent. If you don’t allow nipping, but someone else in your family does, this will cause confusion for the puppy and not produce the desired results.

If you are not consistent with the treatment plan you can’t expect a consistent response!

Other Nipping Tips:
• Avoid getting the puppy overly excited.
• Keep play time manageable. For example, you know at seven minutes of play he’ll be too excited, so only play for four minutes.
• Exercise, exercise, exercise. This includes an outdoor walk involving mental stimulation.

What to Do When Puppy Nips:
If your puppy starts to nip, quickly fold your arms in front of you and ignore him. After two seconds of no nipping, calmly start interacting again with the puppy. If the puppy starts to nip, repeat the process. If you’ve done this twice and the puppy is still nipping, get up and leave the room for a few seconds (sometimes I shut the door behind me which seems to get my point across).

Blog written by: Michelle Huntting

The Wolf, Alpha, and Owning a Dog

wolf2When pet owners, friends, strangers, and even doctors find out that I am a dog trainer, they begin sharing with me about their dogs. Nine times out of ten I hear these people say that they are not the pack leader even though they’ve tried, or they proudly share what they are doing to maintain the alpha position in their pack.

When I first started working with dogs as a hobby, I had the same thoughts myself about being alpha because of the information that my trainer and other popular TV shows discussed. In order to maintain the alpha position I was encouraged to “alpha role” my dogs (role them on their backs and hold them down), use the prong collar, and never allow them to walk through the door first or walk in front of me when leashed.

This training concept comes from the idea that wolves have a strict dominance structure where the wolves compete for the dominance and then are held in check with the alpha male or female. People have assumed that because dogs evolved from wolves, that their hierarchy structure is the same.

When I started getting into the science of dog training I was relieved to find out that the term “alpha,” coined by Dr. L. David Mech was misunderstood by the public.

In his book, The Wolf, Dr Mech specifically states in reference to the term “alpha,”

Hopefully it will take fewer than 20 years for the media and the public to fully adopt the correct terminology and thus to once and for all end the outmoded view of the wolf pack as an aggressive assortment of wolves consistently competing with each other to take over the pack.

We have discovered from research that dogs and wolves do not have the same hierarchy structure.

The problem from a scientific perspective with the “dog in wolf’s clothing” approach is that it assumes that the social system of dogs is the same as wolves’. However, domestication has changed the social system of dogs. A comparison of feral dogs and wolves reveals a number of important differences in their social structure…Leaders in a feral dog packs are not the most physically dominant individual. Instead, dogs with the strongest affiliative bonds or friendships in the group are the most likely to be the leaders.[Hare and Woods, The Genius of Dogs, 236-237]

Holding the concept of being alpha was stressful for me as a pet owner. Am I doing this right? My dogs aren’t even paying attention to me; do they understand I’m alpha? So I was very relieved to find out that I didn’t have to worry about my pack position any more. However, I knew that just letting my dogs run amok wasn’t going to serve me either. In the past 10 years I have discovered that I still needed to be a leader. The leadership style that has worked well for me and my clients hasn’t involve alpha roles or dominating the dogs, but mutual respect and consistency.

“You don’t lead by hitting people over the head-
that’s assault, not leadership.”
Dwight D Eisenhower

So what does leadership look like?
Being a leader with your dog doesn’t involve domination, any more than it would with raising children. If you’ve ever worked with children, you will find out quickly that dominating them isn’t a route that will bring about the results you desire and more than likely will have a negative affect.

I have found with my own dogs, fosters, and rescues that a mutual respect has to be developed. This would not be allowed with domination, but only with trust, time, and consistency.

Yes, rules are needed. If we don’t have rules there is chaos. Your dog will be spoiled and not only will you not enjoy being around him, neither will anyone else. We’ve all been around children where the parents never say “no.” Please don’t spoil your dog! It surprises me what little thought has gone into the rules of the household for dogs. For instance, are my dogs allowed on the couch? If so, is there an invitation required? How are my dogs to behave before I leash them for a walk? Are they allowed in all areas of the house?

Following through
One of the sports that I played as a child was softball. We all know that to be a good hitter, it’s important to make contact with the ball and follow through with the swing of the bat. If you don’t follow through you are cheating yourself out of a good hit. When you’ve created a rule with your dog like not getting up on the couch, it’s important for you to follow through consistently with this rule.


A good example of following through is if you tell your dog to “get down” off the couch and he looks at you. Rather than repeating yourself, you walk over to your dog and encourage him to get down by using the movement of your body (like patting the side of your leg).

When you create a rule everyone in the house must be consistent.

Let’s say, for example, your rule is “dogs aren’t allowed on the bed.” The first night your partner allows him to sleep on the bed, then the next night you say, “no,” and a week later you notice your dog napping on the bed, but you ignore the behavior. Being inconsistent will lead to confusion and will not work towards the results that you hope to achieve.

It’s important to consistently follow through with your rule. So in this particular example, you will tell your dog to get down every time he gets on the bed, prepare the environment in a way that will set him up for success, and ensure that everyone in the household understands the rule.

 “Leadership is the art of getting someone
else to do something you want done
because he wants to do it.”
Dwight D Eisenhower

Being the Leader
We can finally stop stressing over whether we are “alpha” in our pack and just enjoy our dog’s friendship through mutual respect and communication. Being a leader with our dog is much different than taking a dominant alpha approach. Growing mutual respect through rules, following through, and being consistent will allow for the great relationship with your dog that you’ve always wanted.

Blog written by Michelle Huntting

Puppy Training & the Vaccine Dilemma


The theme the last few weeks at Miss Belle’s has been puppy socialization, when to start training and the dilemma with vaccinations. Pet owners often feel overwhelmed by the amount of information available and it seems like a lot of the information is contradicting. On one hand, great information is a good thing. The internet provides an unlimited amount of information just a mouse click away. On the other hand, it is hard and sometimes an overwhelming task to sift through and discern which information is “good” information. I have even found that there are times when dog training professionals are misinformed, especially when it comes to puppies, socialization, and training.

False Idea: Puppies need to wait until their older to start training.
The root of this idea stems from many generations of training. Training methods many years ago were harsh and would be extremely difficult for even some adult dogs to handle, much less puppies. The methods that we use at Miss Belle’s and many other trainers are using now (thankfully) are gentle, kind. The idea of being gentle and kind doesn’t solicit the idea of “fluffy” dog trainer either. These methods are reliable.

“By 7-8 weeks puppies have fully function brains (as shown by EEGs) and are capable of learning anything, keeping in mind their short attention span.  More importantly, learning at this age is permanent.” – Pat Hastings

Concern: Puppies could be exposed to a disease when training.
I understand the concerns of disease prevention, but with this topic there is an element of common sense. You would not want to take your puppy into a pet super store or to a dog park, where numerous dogs are walking about without having their health status or vaccinations regulated. But in a controlled environment where dogs are regulated this is less of a concern.

More dogs are dying each year by being euthanize due to behavior (many associated with the lack of proper socialization and training) versus a disease. According to author Terry Ryan in Coaching People to Train their Dogs, they have gathered data from coast to coast showing no cases of parvo-distemper disease in puppies attending the early socialization classes. In that particular data that was accumulated, the puppies completed 22,147 weeks of puppy socialization class exposure with no associated illness.

Puppies have “window times” of learning opportunity.
We have found that puppies have “window times” of learning.  Science has shown us, that from 3-16 weeks a puppy’s brain is biologically ready to make long-term change in response to social input. And this “window time” is temporary and should not be ignored or forgotten!! Limiting the time of socialization till after 16 weeks increases the risk that dogs will develop unwanted or sometimes even dangerous behaviors.

Puppies learn faster when they are young.
What we’ve come to know is that at six months of age there is a shift in the dog’s brain. I have not only read this in books, but I have also witnessed it as I train puppies. At my training facility in Iowa, I gave all day training for puppies. We worked on socialization, free play, and basic cues (sit, down). I had puppies that were 12 weeks old and puppies that were almost 6 months of age. The puppies at 12 weeks of age learned a behavior in one week.  The puppies that were 6 months of age learned the same behavior in three weeks. It’s not that the dogs aren’t able to learn, but it takes longer.

Puppies learn to speak dog from their mother and litter mates
Puppies are usually taken from their litter without having much time to learn from their mom and from their litter mates, so it is not uncommon to see dogs that have no understanding of what other dogs are attempting to communicate.

Can humans teach puppies dog body language?
There are very limited things that we can do to teach dogs their own language. Imagine you needed to learn a second language. You would learn the language much quicker if your teacher spoke the language fluently. This is true for the dog world as well. Dogs need to play with each other to learn bite inhibition, how to properly greet, how to use his/her body to deflate a fight and maintain the peace, and the list goes on. The amount of knowledge puppies learn from interactive play is probably more than even behaviorists or trainers have yet realized. It is important that puppies have the opportunity to play with puppies, and equally as important to play with older dogs who will teach good things. Be careful to select the playmates with good behaviors, otherwise your puppy may learn behaviors you wouldn’t necessarily want. This interactive play needs to be a positive experience for your dog, keeping in mind the fear imprint period is between 8-11 weeks of age.

Michelle’s Passion: I have been there
The topic of socialization is the very topic that reaches the core of my heart passion strings. I met the dog of my dreams, my beloved bloodhound, Ellie. I rescued her out of a horrible situation. Long story short, after one year we were forced to euthanize Ellie. It was a very heart breaking decision, but at the end of the day we weren’t safe and neither were the other dogs. I do partly blame genetics, but I also feel that the lack of socialization she received greatly influenced the outcome of her life. The first time one of my dogs play bowed to her, Ellie attacked her. Ellie had no knowledge of dog body language.

There are many positive dog trainers that are providing this interactive play time as part of their classes. There should be a lot of praise, encouragement and rewards during this time. At Miss Belle’s we offer a class for young puppies called Puppy Preschool. We encourage puppies to walk on different surfaces, hear common noises, see people in hats, try out some climbs and the teeter tot, and yes, interactive play time. Our Puppy Kindergarten class has this as well.

Under-socialized dogs
According to Pat Hastings, “Under-socialized dogs are shy, fearful, become defensive, discriminate threats inappropriately, and may even bite out of fear.” For an under-socialized puppy that has been exposed to fearful stimulus during the fear imprint stage (8-11 weeks) this will always be a fearful stimulus throughout his entire life without extensive desensitization. So for those of you considering doing something like ear cropping, transitioning to a new home, or shipping a puppy this is not the ideal time.

Puppy’s Needs
Puppies need to have challenges which would include things to climb on, chew, carry, or sharing tug toys with others. Play will help in their development both with agility, coordination, strength, and skills to function as an adult.

When should we start?
An easy answer would be 8 weeks of age. Obviously, there are different things that can affect the start time for example if the puppy is ill, etc. Also, there can be factors that your veterinarian might consider concerning your pet’s health that would prevent attending class. As long as a puppy has at least one vaccination of DHPP, I am comfortable allowing him/her in a controlled environment for interactive play, socialization, and very short training sessions. Miss Belle’s Puppy Preschool starts at 8 weeks of ages in a very controlled environment. Puppies at this age learn so quickly and are a ton of fun to work with. It is important for trainers to ensure that all puppies are healthy in class, and always disinfect all equipment after class.

Have fun with your puppy! Enjoy this special time and be sure to socialize. Allow for proper puppy play, and start with short training sessions!!

Written by: Michelle Huntting, B.A., CPDT-KA, ABCDT
To find more information visit,

Resources for Blog:
Puppy Development by Pat Hastings and Erin Ann Rouse
Coaching People to Train Their Dogs by Terry Ryan

Puppy Socialization


What is socialization?

When someone talks about socializing a dog or puppy, most people start thinking about take a pup to the dog local park.  While many dogs may enjoy trips to the park, there is actually much more involved in properly socializing a puppy than just turning them loose with other dogs.  A properly socialized puppy will have been exposed not only to other dogs, but a wide variety of people, other animals, sounds, obstacles, and environments.

Why is socialization at an early age so important?

Puppies learn most of their social skills during the first twelve weeks of their lives.  This is also the time during which a bad experience may cause a life-long fear.  A lack of proper socialization during this time period can lead to fearful, nervous, or even aggressive tendencies that are very difficult to modify later in the dog’s life.  While it is important to continue socializing your puppy even after the twelve week mark, the experiences your puppy has before turning twelve weeks old are crucial to their development.

So, how do you make sure your dog gains this experience?

It may sound like a huge undertaking, but socializing your pup can be worked into your everyday life fairly easily.  Here are some ideas on how to expose your puppy to a variety of things:

  • Take your puppy out and about with you!  As simple as it may sound, a daily walk through your neighborhood can expose your puppy to a variety of things.  Cars going by, other pedestrians out walking, the odd sounds of the city garbage truck making its rounds, just to name a few.  Visiting downtown areas or around schools can also expose them to larger crowds of people and children.

Please note that If your puppy has not yet received their vaccinations, it is best to carry them when you are out and about.  This will limit their exposure to potential diseases, but still allow them to take in all the activity going on around them.  Check with your vet to make sure your puppy is receiving the vaccines he or she needs, and at the appropriate times.

  • Find a local trainer.  Most trainers will offer classes specifically for puppies of this age, giving your puppy a great chance to be around other puppies and people.  When looking for a trainer, always make sure you find someone who uses positive reinforcement ONLY!
  • Enlist the help of your friends and family.  Ask friends or family who have friendly, vaccinated dogs (or even cats!) to come visit your house.  It’s also a good idea to visit them so your puppy can meet them in different environments.  Even if some of your friends don’t have pets, they can still help!  It’s important for your puppy to meet lots of people, including men, women, and children. 
  • Practice grooming.  Even if your puppy isn’t a breed that requires a lot of maintenance, it’s still important to teach them that basic things such as brushing, bathing, and having their paws and ears touched are no big deal.  Aside from being able to groom your pet, these things will come in handy when your dog has to be handled for other things, such as a veterinary exam.  If you aren’t comfortable doing these things yourself, seek the help of a qualified groomer. 
  • Introduce your dog to various sounds.  The vacuum cleaner, hair dryer, or a dropped pot or pan in the kitchen are all noises that you can expose your dog to.  Sudden sounds that are particularly loud or obnoxious should be introduced from a distance initially, then gradually bring them closer.

All of these are great ways to get your puppy’s socialization headed in the right direction, as long you take the time to do them safely and positively!  Here are a few things to remember when working with your pup.

1)  Avoid letting your puppy interact with dogs you are not familiar with.  At this young age, your pup is more prone to illness and disease.  Only let them interact with dogs you know are friendly, healthy, and properly vaccinated.

2) Take things at your puppy’s pace!  Don’t force them to confront too much at one time, especially if they seem nervous.  For example, if your puppy is nervous about approaching an object, take them back to the distance at which they are comfortable, and gradually work from there.

3) Keep in mind that dogs, especially young puppies, typically learn more from multiple short training sessions each day rather than one very long one.  All dogs are different, but a good starting point is about ten minutes at a time.  If you notice your dog acting distracted or frustrated, your session may be too long.

Remember to always keep a positive attitude when working with your dog!  Training and socializing should be fun for both of you, and create the foundation for a strong relationship.

Written by Kristen McCartney
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