Two Minute Training – Reward Timing

It’s not about training the dog. It’s about training you. In today’s two-minute training, a quick read on how to properly reward your dog.

Dogs work “in the moment.” A lot of us would be happier humans if we could do more of that, but with dogs it creates a challenging issue: How to make the dog realize the reward is associated with a behavior they just finished. If you’re too late, the dog will simply think you’re a wonderful person who gave them a cookie.

Some experienced handlers whom I respect believe that a reward must be delivered within one second for the dog to associate the reward with the behavior.

Some handlers use clickers, but you don’t always have a clicker in your hand. So get in the habit of saying “yessss” or “g’boy” when your dog gives you the correct behavior. Then follow up with the cookie.

You should also practice this verbal “click” in a very soft, almost falsetto voice.

During changed behavior, or even just while the dog is thinking, you can let them know they’re on the right track with a very soft “yesss” or “gooood.” If you speak too loudly, you’ll distract the dog and pull them off-task. But spoken just above the level of an exhaled breath can encourage them “in the moment” and lead them toward the desired behavior.

Then, once they’ve done the whole enchilada, throw a party for the dog.

Stay found!

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On Batteries

Our 2018 Outdoors RV 250RKS, with batteries!

You’d think that in a travel trailer we’d be pretty self-sufficient if the power in our RV park went out. Well, you’d be right, but it wasn’t without some nail biting on our part.

The story is a visit to Sequim for an author appearance with Ruger. An unexpected “mountain wave” windstorm blew up and over the Olympic Mountains, and right down onto the Sequim and Port Angeles areas.

We only knew the power had gone out because the satellite TV receiver died. Everything else in the trailer is 12v, even the TV itself. The lights didn’t even blink. I tapped and banged on the receiver until it finally dawned on me why it didn’t work. So then, the worrying began. How long would our two 12v deep cycle batteries run the fan on the furnace? The furnace itself is propane, and we had plenty of that. But if the fan dies, the furnace dies.

We got through the experience just fine, and learned a good lesson about battery life in our RV. (It was fine. 24 hours with no power and only down 25%.)

Ruger waiting patiently for my return from an excruciating long absence, to take out the garbage. 

The best part was that Ruger and I still did the appearance and demonstration. Our host received numerous calls from people planning to attend. “Is it still on?” Well of course. Probably 70 percent of our real searches are in the dark anyway, so no problem. And I suspect the event gave attendees a chance to get out of their own darkened homes for a little fun.

We’d love to visit your group, school, church or community event. Shoot me an e-mail at robert (at) calloutpress (dot) com and we’ll get something set up.

Stay Found!

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Aggressive Dogs Need Love Too. Smart Love.

OK, so you’ve figured out your beloved puppy is turning into an adolescent dog that can’t get along with other canines. It’s aggressive or reactive every time another dog is in sight. That doesn’t mean you have a bad dog, but it does mean you have one that needs careful managing.

This dog needs lots of love and consistent discipline around the house. If the dog is confident that you love and will protect it, then it will be far less likely to act out in public. I’d respectfully recommend asking your vet for the name of a good dog behaviorist and get a consult. But there are some things you can do inexpensively. And there are some things to avoid.

Definitely give the dog lots of social experiences, within good reason, so it can become desensitized to things it might once have found threatening. Walking down a street with cars, people and other dogs can do wonders.

That said, it’s one thing to walk your dog on a sidewalk or trail, letting it learn to be calm each time another dog passes. That’s dog, singular. Sequential positive experiences, with praise and a treat each time, can be effective. You don’t need to interact with each dog you pass. Just walk by and if your dog shows no reaction, then reward. But this is critical: make it one dog at a time.

I was recently at a K9 related event with probably 50 dogs present in sort of a courtyard. An older gentleman arrived with a dog that was muzzled, and which was clearly overwhelmed and out of control. It was lunging and barking at every other dog present. It was in danger of pulling the older man down, possibly injuring him and causing him to let go of the leash.

Finally, the muzzled dog really went to town on another pup, to the point that passersby had to intervene. I had to ask the organizers to exclude that dog from the premises. My fear was that he’d pull the man down, get loose, and attack whatever dog might be nearby. I will not put my dog in that position.

Kudos to the man for trying to give an aggressive dog a positive experience. But this was horrible judgement. That particular dog should never have been in such an overwhelming environment. And here’s what’s worse: while the muzzle prevents bite injuries, it doesn’t stop the dog from trying to dominate or outright attack other dogs. The barking, lunging and canine body language still happen. So how many other fearful dogs did this animal create with its intimidating behavior?

Bringing this dog to an overwhelming event didn’t help it, and risked creating reactive or aggressive dogs for other handlers to manage.

Love your aggressive dog, but love it enough to be smart in how you handle it. You owe that much to your beloved-but-aggressive dog, and you owe it to other dog handlers as well.

Stay Found!

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Coolest Thing Ever

To an author, having a reader come up and tell you they enjoyed the book is wonderful. To get a five-star review on Amazon is over-the-moon. But I recently had an experience that eclipses both of those, by a long shot.

A couple came up to me at a Farmer’s Market, and the wife told me they loved Digger. The husband didn’t say much. He just leaned on a very long walking stick and smiled. It’s not unusual for readers to stop by with a compliment. (Those who don’t like the book probably don’t stop to talk.)

But this was special. The wife went on to explain that her beloved hubs had recently suffered a stroke, and was in the recovery phase. His cognitive therapist had looked at Digger, and felt it would assist in his recovery. As a result, they were reading the book together. The husband was using Digger to restore his reading and cognitive abilities. The wife would read with him, and then quiz him on what he’d just read. I’m no doctor, but I can only presume the “use it or lose it” theory is in play. Get those synapses firing and running again.

To know that a book I intended to provide a few hours of doggie-related entertainment is helping someone recover from a stroke is overwhelming. No five star Amazon rating ever made my eyes leak.

You can find Digger for yourself at

Stay Found.

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No vs. Wrong

What do you say to your dog when it gives you the wrong behavior during an exercise, or even on a walk?

If you say “sit” and the dog lays down, should you say “No?”


Unless you believe the dog is deliberately blowing you off, you should have another word in your vocabulary that tells the dog it’s wrong, but won’t confuse it with “No.”  I like to use the word “wrong.”

“No” means that particular behavior is unacceptable. Would you ever tell your dog that laying down is unacceptable? Of course not. But you can use a word like “Wrong,” skip rewarding the dog, and continue with the exercise. If Ruger was doing a cadaver exercise and alerted on an empty box, I would say “Wrong. Back to work. Find Digger.” And I’d say it in a very even tone, with no scolding. We want to keep the game fun.

If the dog just makes a mistake, don’t scold or make it feel bad. Help it get to the correct answer and then reward like crazy. One of the best dog trainers I know once said “unrewarded behavior self-extinguishes.” If the dog gets no reward for an empty box, it’ll eventually stop alerting on them. If your dog gets no reward for laying down when it’s supposed to sit, it’ll eventually start sitting.

Stay Found

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Bigger Isn’t Better

One of my favorite conferences each year is the Las Vegas rendezvous of the Public Safety Writers Association. PSWA is a small group, made up of about half cops (who want to be writers) and half mystery writers (who need to know how cops operate.) The program is divided between the two groups, with writers teaching writing and then cops teaching police work.

Because it’s a small group, everyone gets to know each other. That enhances both the fun and the learning. Almost everyone at the conference has some knowledge or experience to share, and does– willingly and graciously, with not a hint of snooty.

Not everything has to be bigger to be better. This is my group. These are my people. If you’re a writer of mysteries, check them out at Please also consider joining us in July 2019.

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Can you find my lost dog?

You’d be surprised how often search and rescue dog handlers are approached by distraught pet owners, asking for help locating their beloved-but-missing pet.

This breaks our hearts, partly because we can’t imagine what it would be like for our own K9 partners to run (or be taken) away. But our hearts break mostly because we can’t help.

To get our dogs to reliably find humans, we teach them to NOT alert on animals. We’d never get far searching the woods if our dogs followed every deer or rabbit that toddled through. In fact, a dog that won’t stop chasing deer or rabbits will likely be washed out as a SAR dog.

In this case, your best options develop before your pet ever goes missing. License and microchip them as soon as you get them. Make sure to keep both the license and the microchip numbers where you can find them perhaps years later. HomeAgain gives you a refrigerator magnet where you can write the animal’s name and microchip number. I keep Ruger’s on a desk organizer in my home office.

Finally, if you announce publicly that your dog is lost, be cautious of those who offer to find your dog for an up-front fee. You have no real way of knowing the person’s qualifications or success rate. When a human goes missing, the sheriff’s office makes sure that only qualified searchers are on the case. When your pet is missing, that level of protection is not in play.

Stay Found!

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Off to the “drag” races….

Getting to meet fans at dog-friendly events means I also get to see every kind of dog collar, leash and harness. I always cringe when I see big dogs on those retractable leashes.

Bob & Magnum getting ready for a training search.

There’s nothing wrong with the leashes themselves. The ones I’ve seen are well-manufactured, comfortable, retract as promised and don’t break. The issue isn’t the leash. It’s your dog’s ability to go from zero to sixty (Squirrel!) in the 20 feet of line they get from a retractable leash.

A friend who is far and away the best dog handler I know suffered serious injuries when he was pulled down as his German Shepherd hit the end of its 20 foot long retractable leash. We’re talking broken ribs and shoulder surgery.

Math majors will remember that if you double the speed, you quadruple the force. So if the dog has a bunch of extra distance to build up speed, you risk becoming the down payment on some orthopedist’s new BMW.

And really, six feet of leash is plenty anyway.

Stay Found!

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Why SAR doesn’t charge for searches

Scent Article
Ruger isn’t hopping mad about anything. He gets this excited when he sees I’m about to offer him a scent article.

We’ve all seen the news reports. Somebody does something incredibly dumb, like attempting a solo hike across the Cascade Mountains in winter. People immediately get hopping mad. “That person should have to pay for the cost of the response.”

Makes sense, but like so many things that make sense, there is another view.

If families believe they will be charged for the cost of a search and rescue mission they will likely delay reporting until there’s no other choice. That delay can have serious implications for everybody involved.

If the subject is injured, they are continuing to suffer. If their condition is dire, they could die while waiting for help that hasn’t yet been called.

For searchers, any delay means a much larger search area to cover. If the person is overdue by four hours, we have to search everyplace they could have walked in four hours. If they’ve been gone 24 hours, then we have to search anyplace they could have walked in 24 hours. The search area gets bigger faster than any of us would imagine.

For those reasons, most credible SAR teams are opposed to charging for even the dumbest mistake. That would have a chilling effect on families who legitimately need our services.

That’s not to say a SAR team wouldn’t take a donation from an embarrassed subject, but they won’t ask.

Stay Found.

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Briefings at Trainings? Do you bother?

A good pre-event briefing includes everyone who’s there, even if it’s just a couple of people….uh..dogs

There’s maybe only four or five of you at the training. One person will do X, somebody else will do Y, it’s no big deal, right?

No. No matter how many people are at a training session, there needs to be both an in-brief and out-brief (after-action or “hotwash”) at every training day. It might seem overly rigid, but it sets a tone and establishes a best practice for when things get bigger.

The in-brief makes sure everyone knows everything that will happen that day. It’s pretty common to start a training session with one plan, but then switch people around depending on how the individual evolutions go. How can you switch people around if you haven’t briefed everybody on everything that’s happening? I’ve seen more than one training evolution get derailed because the “fill-in” didn’t know what was expected.

The out-brief is just as important, even if there are only a few people at the event. Everyone should be offered the chance to explain:

  • One thing that went well.
  • One thing they learned.
  • One thing they’ll improve or do differently in the future.

Even at small trainings, nuggets of gold can be found. Because there are fewer of you, someone is more likely to notice great work and offer positive feedback. When there are problems, people are more likely to speak up in a small group rather than “in front of everybody.”

If you’re an ops leader or training chief, don’t be afraid of looking officious. Get your people doing in-and-out briefs. They’re gold.

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