Feelings Matter: Successfully Teach Come

Okay, so for all you men that read my blog title, you may or may not have rolled your eyes, but hear me out. Today discussing feelings matters for your dog and I promise this won’t be a painful conversation. 😉 For us ladies, I know we are all about this topic. 


The way that you respond to your dog’s behavior creates an emotional response for him. Let’s think about this for a minute. Let’s say that you are in the beginning stages of falling in love with someone. Your emotions are strong. You have this yearning to be with that person. You can’t wait to be with that person. It’s intense. There are butterflies, roses, and rainbows when you think of this person or hear this person’s name. You cannot wait to spend time together.

On the other end of the spectrum, maybe you’ve been fighting with someone for months. Everything now that he/she says and does annoys you. You even hate the way he or she holds the fork, chews food, or says certain words. You cannot even stand the idea of being in the same room with that person.

Emotional associations matter for us, and emotions matter for dogs as well. Your response, positive or negative, to your dog coming to you will make all the difference in the world.

Has your dog ever run away from you? What did you do? If your dog does run away from youc never, ever, ever (Did I say that enough times??) punish, yell, spank, or act annoyed with your dog. Please. Never. The way that you respond to your dog, especially with the cue come, will determine his response. It’s important to be appear unfazed even if you are upset. You want him to want to want to come to you, not the opposite.

But It’s a Negative

For a moment let’s think about things from the dog’s perspective. You have a coworker that starts off saying something positive, but you know she will end with a negative. “You did a good job, BUT…” “I like your shirt, but gosh, it’s probably too tight for the office.” You will begin to dread any sort of positive thing that comes out of her mouth because you know that there is a negative “but” that follows.

Similarly, when working on the come cue, you must always think about things from the dog’s perspective. In other words, what is negative for him? And whatever is negative for him, do not pair it with the cue come.  What does this mean? A very good example would be illustrated in my group class for basic manners where we work on recalls. The dog comes running in hard to the owner and performs what is actually quite a beautiful come. When the dog gets close to the owner to get his yummy treat, the owner gives it to him and then starts petting him like crazy. Typically what I see at this point is the dog backing up. He is backing up because at that moment he did not want to petted. He wanted a treat. Now, because of this first association, on the second recall that we do, the dog doesn’t run as fast to the owner.

What are some things that are your dog may perceive as a negative?

  • When he is at the dog park, and owner cues come, leashes the dog and then leaves the park.
  • Before you leave for work, you cue come, and put the dog in the kennel for 7 hours.
  • Owner cues come. The dog runs up to the owner, and the owner pets the dog.  The dog backs up because he doesn’t enjoy someone petting his face.

A negative doesn’t necessarily have to come in the form of you yelling at your dog. A negative is anything that he finds unpleasant or he just doesn’t like. You want the cue come to mean rainbows and butterflies, a day without rain or flies, because feelings really do matter.

Hear the cue “come” –> Feel happy –> Run to owner

Eww, Yuck!

So one of the most rewarding things that I have going on in my life is being a mother. I have beautiful identical twin boys that rock my world. They will soon be 5 years old as I write this. Sometimes the things they say crack me up.

A few mornings ago I was making my green drink (yes, a health nut too). I mix carrot juice with my green drink. Anthony saw the carrot juice and wanted some. I poured a little bit into his cup and handed it to him. After he tasted it, I asked, “You like it, Anthony?” “No!” he said as he placed the cup back on the counter. “YUCK!” As a result of this negative experience, he won’t even touch an orange-colored juice again. Why? Because the first orange-colored drink he tried was gross to him, and that was that.

There are times that the cue come has become like carrot juice to Anthony. He sees it, and he is not interested. Your dog hears come and he runs. The scientific term for this is a “poisoned cue,” a result that occurs from calling come and doing something your dog doesn’t like (putting him into a kennel, leaving him for the day, petting him in a way he doesn’t appreciate, or putting him into the tub for a bath, etc.), but it can also be caused by punishing your dog. Let’s just say your dog runs away, and you finally catch him and then spank him. If I were your dog, I wouldn’t ever want to come to you again either!

When I had my training facility in Iowa, I had a couple working with me on come with their dog. They said their dog knew come, so I had them say their recall cue and then watched their dog literally run as fast as he could to the opposite end of the facility. They obviously had poisoned the cue somewhere along the line.

If your cue has been poisoned, you will need to start from scratch. In other words, you will need to create a new come cue as if you have never taught come before. It is back to the basics for you and your dog.




Training tip from my book “Come, Boy!”
Michelle Huntting
Building the bridge of communication between dog and canine guardian 

Pets Make all the Difference; a Mom’s Perspective on Autism

petsmakeallthedifferenceRecently, a mom was crying to me that her son has autism. I know that “I just got soccer punched in the gut” feeling after the doc says my children are “on the spectrum.” I listened to all her heart’s concerns and comments with the autism diagnosis. When she was finished I said to her, “Girl, if it wasn’t for autism your son would never be able to fulfill all that God has for him in this lifetime. He is perfect just the way he is. My sons see the world differently and that’s part of their brilliance. Their “disability” is what makes them genius. Teachers thought Einstein had a learning disability and many other famous people have autism Dan Aykroyd, Gary Numan, and Liane Holliday Willey. They are the ones that changed the world and they are in the history books. Flame your son’s greatness; don’t cry over it.” Throughout our conversation, I noticed her medium-sized yellow Lab would place his head on her lap and she would pet him. When she was done petting, he would either lay down near her or interact with her son.

As rewarding as it is to be a mother of children with greatness, I know the level of stress it brings along and I know it well, but for me my pets make all the difference in the world.

Our lives aren’t easy. Living with melt downs, tantrums, and many times all of us frustrated with the communication barriers. I know that I have to do things just a certain way. Like the green bowl. Cheerios and fish crackers belong in the green bowl. Not purple or blue or even a sandwich bag. A green bowl. Milk belongs in the red cup, and everything goes in order as far as our schedule. If our schedule gets off, our entire day is rough. This is my life. I have learned to navigate it, but even Miss Super Mom here has her moments.

Last weekend I think was the worst for me. I was sick with an ear and sinus infection and had to make a Walmart run on Sunday for groceries before the week started. One of my sons decided he wanted pretzels and I said “no.” I will make a long story short and share that we both ended up sitting in the middle of the Walmart floor crying as I was trying to get my hair loose from his impressive grip. There was a crowd. Autism is an invisible disability so people quickly judge. I know what it’s like.

In addition to being a mother, I am also a dog trainer. And for me and my children I know our days would not be as great without our dogs, Boy and Belle. Pets make all the difference in the world. There are many benefits to sharing our lives with them. Service dogs for kids with autism are sent from heaven. Therapy dogs help teach new skills and provide a bonding experience that sometimes is on a deeper level than with any other person. Then there are our family pets and the endless number of benefits they offer us throughout our lives. funwithboys

Benefits of Pets for Autistic Kids

Not a lot of research has been conducted on the effects of the pet/autistic child relationship, but from what we do know, the results are impressive. Research aside, what I see as a mother is nothing short of inspiring. We all know that social moments can be a struggle for our children. Taking a dog on a walk through the neighborhood or a park can allow for social interaction and a great time to work on conversational skills with others doing the same. Sometimes, the door to a conversation can be opened merely by asking a pet walker the breed of his/her dog. Or, if your child does trick training with the family dog, then this is a great time to demonstrate. One of my favorite books on trick training is 101 Dog Tricks Kids Edition by Kyra Sundance.

Another great lesson with pets for our children is working on grooming and handling skills as this will allow for sensory integration. My kids have learned how to be gentle by petting Boy and Belle. When I teach my boys to use a gentle touch with our dogs, I place my hand over theirs and show them how much the dog enjoys it when they pet just so, stroking with the hair, and in a particular area.

handoverhandpettingtitus handoverhandpetting

I do the same when I show them how to brush Boy and Belle. Because my kids are not always the most gentle as they are learning, I use a Kong brush, specially designed with rubber as to not hurt the dog if too much pressure is applied.

brushing  brushingtitus

I have also found Carol Gray’s book helpful in teaching my children to understand our pet’s likes and dislikes. Though, she uses the example of a cat, the principle is the same whether cat or dog:

“I have a cat. Many people like cats. Usually my cat likes to be petted. Cats feel soft. Cats purr when they are happy. When I pet my cat, it may make me happy, too. It may be fun to pet a cat. (p 19)”

Because I have two children, petting one at a time can allow for opportunities to learn share taking and the discussion before/after allow for a time to build language skills.

Because I am currently working with my kids on the need to respect personal space, I have a wonderful opportunity to encourage them to practice this skill with Boy. Dogs like space, and we practice by walking around the dogs and not intruding on their space.

When doing activities such as these with pets and kids, it’s always important to keep your dog’s comfort level in mind, making sure you remove your dog after a quick, successful session before any “challenging” behaviors occur. Watch for signs of stress from your dog, and provide lots of praise and rewards for both pet and child. family noonewillknow

Aside from the obvious benefits of pets to the lives of autistic children—or any children for that matter—there are obvious benefits to the parents as well. At the end of every day, some more challenging than others, Miss Belle does her impressive circling tail wag and looks up at me. She seems to be just checking in on me like, “You doing okay, Michelle?” Sometimes I am not, and her eyes tell me she knows. Then, I stroke her soft fur, just so, in the way that I have taught my children. Thank God for pets and their remarkable ability to make our lives whole and complete and for the therapeutic benefits they offer to all of us.


Blog written by Michelle Huntting


Kids and Dogs, Oh My!

amomBeing a parent is rewarding, but exhausting. I wouldn’t trade being a mom for anything in this world, but I had no idea what I was getting myself into! I have worked several different types of jobs in my life and I think by far that taking care of children 24 hours a day 7 days a week is the most challenging. Being a parent involves multi-tasking, being an emotional support system, and staying calm all while trying remembering you have something cooking on the stove and the dogs need fed.

On top of my many projects, writing, public speaking, dog training, instructing and volunteering I am a stay at home mom of three year old identical twin boys.


I think, though, one of the greatest challenges of being a mom is managing my kids and dogs. I call my twin boys Gladiators and if you met them you would see why. Maybe this is due to the fact that I gave them Roman names (ha!). They throw things, randomly hit or tackle me or each other, or decide to quickly move in any direction and if you aren’t paying attention you could easily be a victim of their speed.

Many times, I am overwhelmed by my children, so I feel for my dogs. I have had my dogs almost eleven years and eight of those years were without children. Before the children, my life was all about my dogs, their schedule, and there was peace and quiet in my house. Peace? Quiet? What? Yes, we only know loud antics in the house now!


Prevention and Advocacy
I have to be my dog’s advocate and one of the best ways that I can be is being an ACTIVE moderator. This means that if I am on the computer writing emails in the living room while the boys are eating breakfast and watching Curious George that my dogs are safely behind a baby gate in my office. Why? Because I am not going to be actively watching the dogs and kids interact. Anything could happen.

Most dog bites occur when there is no adult supervision.

For those of you reading the blog thinking, “Well, I am glad that my dogs are easy going. They are great because my child can grab their face, lay on them, and pull their tail and my dog won’t do anything.” Let me say this, I have been called a VERY patient person by many people in my life. I worked with children all through high school, college, and was a Kindergarten teacher for a bit out of college. I love children. After caring for twin boys that poke, prod, tackle, punch, and smack me there are times where I am just done. I don’t want someone in my space anymore. Because I am human, I can speak using words and communicate with my hands to stop.

Dogs are not invincible and can use their mouth to communicate “stop.”

There are many reasons why dog’s bite and for a list of those click here.

Other Ways to Be Your Dogs Advocate

Make a Space of Their Own
I am the baby of the family. I didn’t grow up hearing a baby cry, having a younger sitter pulling at my shirt for my attention, or a loud home. My sisters are almost a decade older than me, so I practically grew up as an only child. While I was growing up my sisters would come over with their family. At that point, they had young children and it was overwhelming to me. At times I would have to slip away to a room to help muffle the sound. I wasn’t used to the constant chaos, the loud chatter, or crying.

Dogs can feel the same way. It’s important to make a place of their own that the children cannot get to, so your dog can relax.

My dogs share my office space. I have a baby gate up so my boys can’t bother them. The dogs also have their own cots and beds in the office space. This is their place. It doesn’t have to be a huge room either. A laundry room can work well, too.

Play Structured Games
We will play structured games like fetch with Boy. It’s a great way to interact without directly touching the dog and it’s an appropriate activity that both the dog and children enjoy.

How to Interact
Another way that I am my dog’s advocate is that I teach my children what is appropriate behavior around dogs and what is not. This means that the times the dogs are interacting with my children that I am actively involved. I am teaching my children “gentle”, do not allow interaction while the dogs are eating, and never allow them to use the dogs as pillows or pull tails. We often have conversations about what the dog’s like and don’t like.

It’s important that you are your dog’s advocate for the emotional health of your dog as well as for the safety of your family.

For more information on baby, kids, and dogs visit:




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, www.missbelles.com

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