10 Things to Pay your Dog for

Rewarding your dogs random good behavior is a jumpstart to dog training.

Put your wallets away! We are not actually paying our dog with money, that would be silly. Unless, of course, you’re a Hollywood producer that is paying your animal actor, in that case pay up!

So many people say they prefer dogs over people. I’ve got a theory. Maybe it’s because when you hand a dog a piece of your chicken they become your best friend. However, with humans even when you’ve established you are best friends your best friend might question that friendship if you have tagged another friend in a “best friend” meme. That might have been hard to follow; my point is, dogs are simple. You don’t have to pay them with money, bonuses, or special “team-building” paintball trips. Food will do just fine. So, what do you pay your dog for? Doing your taxes? Um… no. Don’t be weird. Here are 10 things you can pay your dog for.





Letting you know things.

Now unfortunately this doesn’t mean your dog can secretly give you intel on what happened in the home when you were away. He’s not going to greet you at the door and let you know that your spouse ordered $17 worth of gourmet soaps on Amazon with your credit card. What your dog can let you know is if they have to go outside to eliminate, or that their water bowl needs refilling. When your dog gives you subtle hints instead of barking or throwing the entire water bowl halfway across the room, give them a cookie.


Chewing their bone.

Seems redundant to feed your dog for chewing a bone. It is. Good news your dog doesn’t know what redundant means and will probably just look at it as an awesome bonus from their awesome mom or dad! If they’re chewing their bone, they aren’t chewing your couch. Reward it. Your welcome.



Sittings cool. When our dogs sit it makes them look polite and sophisticated. Nobody ever paints a gentleman dog wearing a monocle while standing up, do they? Point proven. Pay up!


Laying down.

I know, I know. I wish I could get paid for laying down too. I used to think this one was ridiculous, until I saw my friends Pug walk across the table like it was nothing. Eh, I think I’d prefer it if that Pug was laying down, on the floor, instead of knocking coca-colas off the table for them to lay on the floor, and spill out.


Eliminating outside.

House-training can be a pain. Luckily, if we remember to pay up every once in a while, our dogs will happily do their business outside for years to come.


Playing with their toy.

YES, I KNOW I WANT TO GET PAID TO PLAY TOO!! We are all slowly figuring out where the term “lucky dog” comes from. Look at it this way, if your dog is playing with their toys, they aren’t playing with your shoes. Treats are $2. Converse are $60. Seems ridiculous to reward this but your bank account will thank me.


Resting on their bed.

Some people don’t want their pets on their furniture, some pets think you are the furniture. So, to avoid getting hair on that brand-new couch, or getting crushed by your 70-pound lap dog, you can pay your dog for resting on their own bed.


Looking at you.

Good thing about dogs is they don’t care if you’re wearing you $35 MAC foundation or that $14 Sephora blush. Dogs probably think we are funny looking all the time and so won’t judge you for the bed head and eye bags. When your dog looks at you it gives you the opportunity to give them directions. The more you pay up for this behavior the easier it will be to get your dog to do the things you want them to do in distracting environments.


Coming when called.

We all want our dogs to come when called. To make this behavior even stronger make sure you pay up. Your dog could be out sniffing out some good neighborhood gossip when you call them. Make sure you are more important by rewarding them when they come your way.


Having four paws on the floor.

This seems silly. Don’t they always have 4 paws on the floor? Why is the writer criticizing her own work? Calm down. Think of when our dogs don’t have four paws on the floor. When they jump up on us and furniture or when they are slowing being hijacked by aliens through a bright light that has cascaded down into your living room. So to stop the jumping and prevent an alien invasion reward your dog for having 4 paws on the ground. The state of human-kind as we know it depends on you!



When we pay our dogs for doing these things, we are avoiding unwanted behavior. If you pay your dog for doing things you want them to do, and ignoring things you don’t, you will see more good behavior in your home. A good way to start is to implement our 50-cookie-challenge into your home. So, stop all this reading mumbo-jumbo and start paying up!



Samantha Brown, Victoria Stilwell Graduate

Sam graduated with Distinction from the Victoria Stilwell Dog Training Academy.  While completing her studies she mentored under Tara. She is a Fear Free Certified Professional and is continuing to seek other ways to expand her knowledge base. Her background as a professional comedian compliments her skills as a trainer.  She volunteers at the local shelter and specializes in day training, kitty kindergarten, and class creation.

10 Ways to Properly Spoil the Dog

Did the dog trainer just give you permission to spoil your dog? YES, I did!  Clients often sheepishly tell me things they do as if I’m going to wag my finger at them and tell them they shouldn’t do certain things.  This is one thing that I really think sets Force Free trainers apart is that we don’t wag that finger at you or your dog.  We understand each of us “loves” our dog in different ways.  Some ways do help promote good behavior and others accidentally promote behavior we don’t want.  But, just like the reward is determined by the learner, the behavior we don’t want is determined by the dog’s family. By implementing a few changes, we can help them feel like royalty without creating a lot of that behavior we don’t want.  Here’s 10 ways you can properly spoil your dog.

Give Cookies When They Make You Laugh

Every day dogs do things that make us laugh.  Whether it’s chasing a leaf that is fluttering thru the air or laying like a dying cockroach, I get at least one good belly laugh from my dog’s behavior every single day. If your dog isn’t doing things that make you laugh, then you probably aren’t guilty of spoiling him. But if he does, give him a cookie when you get a good belly laugh from his behavior.  He’ll do more of it just to earn those cookies and less of those things that he is being judged for!

Give Really Good Cookies When They Come When You Call Them

Speaking of giving your dog cookies, treats, rewards, or whatever you want to call them… if you call your dog, don’t get stingy on this one.  Now is the time to lather on the spoiling.  Yummies, petting (if they enjoy it), and lots of happy words!  You can take this advice and use it for anything you really love for your dog to do like sitting instead of jumping, being quiet when they might otherwise bark, laying in their bed instead of chasing the playing kids, etc.

Really Get To Know Them

The best way to spoil someone is to take time to listen to them.  The same is true of our dogs.  Learning to really understand what they are saying to you and then showing them you understand will totally ROCK THEIR WORLD.  Not sure how to learn what your dog is saying you can always contact us or start with this amazing website.

Give Them Daily Walks and Let Them Sniff

Your yard might be big and they may have a bunch of toys out there, but getting a chance to check their facebook is not something dogs can do without you. So get them out of the house, down the block, and into areas they don’t normally go.  They will be able to find out what Fido is up to, what Chopper ate last night, and whether or not Rocky finally caught that squirrel.  Walks are great for exercise, but if you really want to spoil your dog let him sniff until his heart is content.

Buy Them Toys That Have Places For Food

Feeding toys, aka enrichment toys, are the best way to spoil your dog.  You will never be able to buy them all.  Some are expensive and very high tech and even require your dog to have his own tablet, while others are inexpensive and just require your dog to use his “smarts” and a little muscle to get to the food.  Don’t have a lot of leftover money, no worries.  We have you covered in our Two Broke Dogs series or empty food containers (egg cartons, cereal boxes, etc.) with a little kibble inside of them serve the same function.

Have a Family Game Night

Family game night with Fido? Yes, the whole family can be involved.  There are board games specifically designed for you to play with your dog and as an added bonus it helps them learn a few new skills.  Our favorites include: Funagle, Woof, and My Dog Can Do That.

Take Car Rides to Nowhere or Somewhere

Not all dogs like them, but some absolutely adore car rides.  For dogs that love car rides, a car ride to Starbuck’s for a Puppacino or Dunkin’ for a Doggie Donut is a real treat.  You don’t necessarily even have to take them anywhere, a car ride with the windows down enough for their little noses to pick up all those great scents in the world will make any dog feel extra special.  Those extra smells, sights, and sounds for dogs that enjoy these kinds of things can wear them out.  Added bonus, visit a park and go for a stroll. If your dog doesn’t enjoy car rides, we can help make them more enjoyable which will help you when you have no choice but to take them somewhere they need to go.

Take Them To New Places Often

Just like with car rides, new places are great options for spoiling your dog.  Don’t you love when you get to go to the new fancy restaurant that just opened in downtown? Good news, your dog doesn’t need the fancy restaurant. A simple change in the walking route or different hiking trail can be the cat’s meow, or in this case, the dog’s bark.  As a bonus you can pack a picnic, and sneak a little something in the basket for him.

Give Them A Special Place to Lay in Every Room (including the Kitchen)

In our classes and private training we teach a “go to mat” behavior which is for many people, go to your bed.  What better way to keep your pup out of trouble than teaching him that there is a special place for him to be no matter where you are in the house.  Buy him a comfy bed for every room and teach him this is his spot when you are busy in that room.  If you want to put some icing on the cake, you can add a yummy stuffed Kong when you need him to stay on the bed.  Give me a great snack and a comfy bed to rest and I’ll be your best friend!

Let Them Sleep With You

Everyone has their limits when it comes to dogs in their beds so I’m not saying you need to do that, but let them sleep in the same room with you.  It’s very comforting to know your loved ones are nearby.  If you aren’t opposed to a cuddle session, make it happen.  They won’t think they are in control if you let them have that space near you.  Just be sure you can politely ask them to “off” if you need them to.  After all, some nights you just need to stretch out, right?

Now that you know how to spoil your dog, GET TO IT, and tell those naysayers that the trainer said to!

Tara Houser, KPA-CTP, PMCT-2, CSAT, CDW

Tara is a certified trainer and behavior counselor.  She specializes in separation anxiety, thunderstorm and noise phobias, and aggression.  She has attended numerous workshops and professional animal training courses, and participated in obedience, agility, flyball, and nose work with her own dogs.  She has been training professionally since 2010.



Game of Destruction (Thunderstorm Fun)

Have you ever watched your dog with a new stuffed toy? The sheer joy as they shake it, squeak it, and unfortunately try to mutilate it makes me smile every single time.  Of course, I’d prefer the de-stuffing take several days, but with a Jack Russell Terrier this could be a matter of minutes.  I often told my husband, wish I could bottle the feelings she has right now and then serve them up during the next thunderstorm.  That’s when a little light bulb went off and screamed, YOU CAN!

I could! Not literally, but I could create a similar opportunity during thunderstorms.  Heck, she wanted to destroy my drywall anyway.  As an added bonus this just might just be an avenue for counterconditioning too.  I purchased 10 of her favorite toys, the honking Hedgehog stuffed toy. He only came out during the thunderstorm.  She squeaked him a few times, but it wasn’t until much later when Sileo was introduced that she tore him up like she usually does.

What else could I offer up? That’s when the Game of Destruction was born.  This game alone has made a change for many dogs.  It almost forces us to get super excited and take our minds off the storm and into getting the dog to shred something.  I’d love to explain some science behind this, and I’m sure if I dig deep I could relate it to the “hunt,” but where’s the fun in reading that right now.

The Game of Destruction is simple and there are only two rules:

  1. Use an object that you don’t care if you ever see again.
  2. Children can help prep toys, but only adults should play this game with the dog.

Here’s a list of some of the favorite things we have “destroyed” during a thunderstorm:

  • Pool noodles from the dollar store
  • Egg Cartons
  • Toilet Paper Tubes
  • Amazon Boxes (I know you have a secret shopping addiction!)
  • Old t-shirts
  • Old blankets
  • Paper (Forget the shredder, use the dog!)
  • Old stuffed toys
  • Socks
  • Rope Toys

If your dog doesn’t naturally destroy things, start with a peanut butter smear and get excited.  Have them chase the item while you run (this works great with the pool noodles). If your dog gets too excited, you can always slow down your movements and/or redirect him to a food toy for breaks to calm down.  It typically does not escalate for most dogs as they are stressed and alter what they might normally do.

Play and have fun with your dog. Just remember, this game can have the consequence that your dog may see these items as fun outside of a thunderstorm.  If your kids use pool noodles in the pool, don’t choose that item if you think your dog will try to play this way outside of the storm.  Some dogs learn quickly that its only when they are engaged that they should do this, others don’t learn this so it is important that you know your dog.  If you need help determining if this is a good fit for your dog, we are here for you.

Why am I holding a clicker?

Raise your hand if you’ve ever been to a dog training class that used clicker training.

Ok that was silly. If your hand is up, put it down, this is just letters on a page and I can’t see you.

If you have ever been a part of a clicker training class you understand the first class can be confusing. Anywhere from 4-8 people and their dogs of different breeds and colors separated in a room. Every single person staring at the instructor and their demo dog, which may or may not be stuffed depending on the exercise. In each person’s hand is a clicker. If your dog sits when you ask, you “click” and then follow with a food treat. The instructor asks everyone to practice while they walk around to assist each student, and suddenly, clicks are heard all throughout the class. You hear reminders to keep hands out of treat bags, hold completely still, and depending on each dog’s noise tolerance where clickers should be held. Without a right rock star instructor like yours truly (yea, I’m vane), it can seem very militant if done correctly or if you’ve watched way too many horror movies like me it might seem like the beginnings of a cult.

Don’t worry it’s not that way at all. Most instructors who teach clicker training class are very good at making it totally fun. Think of this as learning sign language, facial expressions and body language are all integrated with the way your hands move. The clickers we use aren’t just training tools, they are a gateway into a new form of communication with your dog. A way for a human and dog to properly communicate. Consider it the Pilot of human-dog relations. The clicker is how we tell your dog what they are doing is exactly what we want them to do.

Why not use “good boy” or “yes”?

You definitely can. Some dogs prefer it over the sound of the clicker. However, these are words we might use in everyday life, and they can lose their effect. Also, using a verbal marker (the “good boy” or the “yes”) is typically delivered slower than a click decreasing the chances your dog is going to understand.

Is my dog going to automatically understand what the clicker means?

Just like a person from 1865 wouldn’t understand what a phone ring meant if they were suddenly surged into 2018, your dog won’t understand right away. Side note: I watch way too many movies. Good news, just like that 1865-time traveler we can easily teach your dog what the clicker means. We teach our dog that the clicker means a reward (yummy treat). The easiest way to do this is by clicking randomly throughout the day and then tossing treats in your dog’s direction. Do this at least 10 times a day for a week, the more the merrier. After the week is up your dog should be looking at you for treats when they hear the click. When you see them look to you, congratulations, you can now use the clicker as a training tool. This is a fun exercise to pair with our 50-cookie-challenge. The improvements you will see in your first week of clicker training and cookie challenging should make you hook on a treat pouch and head to class for the good ‘ole dog training cult class.

Samantha Brown, Victoria Stillwell Graduate

Sam graduated with Distinction from the Victoria Stillwell Dog Training Academy.  While completing her studies she mentored under Tara. She is a Fear Free Certified Professional and is continuing to seek other ways to expand her knowledge base. Her background as a professional comedian compliments her skills as a trainer.  She volunteers at the local shelter and specializes in day training, kitty kindergarten, and class creation.

Top 10 Tips To Help Pets During Fireworks

Fireworks can be scary for both dogs and cats. It never fails that on New Year’s Day and July 5th stories pop up in my Facebook feed notifying me of missing pets. When dogs get scared they try to get away from the scary thing. I wish they understood that getting out of their homes and yards is not in their best interest, but unfortunately they don’t. Cats tend to hide and we don’t necessarily know they are scared. It can take some indoor/outdoor cats several days to feel comfortable enough to come back home and unfortunately this could mean they are picked up by someone else. Here are our top 10 tips to help keep your pets safe and comfortable during fireworks (and thunderstorms).

Tip #1: Talk to Your Veterinarian Now

If you haven’t discussed your dog’s fear of fireworks with your veterinarian, now is the time.  They can offer tips and options for alleviating anxiety.  Additionally, if your pet is not already microchipped, you may want to consider getting this done right away.

Tip #2: Blankets to Dampen Noise and Darken the Room

Blankets can be one of the most useful tools to have on hand. They can serve multiple purposes and can save you a lot of money if you have a dog that is in such a panic they dig at drywall or flooring. Many dogs and cats love to burrow in blankets during scary times, but blankets can also be used to cover windows or crates to dampen noise and darken a room.  For more uses see our blog post, 10 Uses of Blankets During a Thunderstorm.

Tip #3: Exercise

Taking your dog out before the fireworks begin for a nice long walk can help tire him out.  This will not necessarily eliminate his anxiety, but can help to elevate those feel good chemicals and reduce some signs of anxiety.  Additionally, this will provide your dog an opportunity to use the bathroom.  It’s possible your dog may not want to go out for several hours after fireworks end so being empty before is ideal.

Tip #4: Close Blinds and Curtains

While it is primarily the sound dogs are scared by, the flashes of light may be scary too.  Additionally, closing blinds and curtains can muffle the noise ever so slightly.  I suggest you ensure the doors and windows are also locked.  It is not unheard of for scared dogs to get windows open and escape.  If you do not have blinds or curtains, you can use the blankets.

Tip #5: White Noise in Resting Areas

White noise can be played throughout the house, but at the very least play it near your dog’s resting areas.  White noise is very good for drowning out other sounds, but for some dogs it can be scary.  If that is the case, classical or other relaxing music can be very helpful.  You can find very good tracks of white noise on YouTube, or purchase a special white noise machine such as the Dohm by Marpac.

Tip #6: TV

While white noise and classical or other relaxing music are beneficial, don’t forget the television alone can be helpful and good for masking noise.  For my own dog, if I put on a funny movie and called her up on my lap and covered us both with a blanket she’d almost completely forget the fireworks were happening.  It doesn’t have to be a comedy, but for me this type of movie can take my mind off of stressors in my life.  She is pretty in tune with me, at least according to the Dognition games we’ve been playing lately, so this could perhaps have something to do with it.

Tip #7: Don’t Leave Them Home Alone

For dogs that exhibit fear, having you there can help calm them.  It’s hard to have to stay home while others are out celebrating the incoming New Year or the country’s independence, but there are benefits.  You don’t have to find a designated driver for one.  The main reason though, is that you will be able to intervene if your dog tries to get loose.

Leash clipped to both collar and harness.
Tip #8: Proper Identification and The Right Tools For Walking

If you absolutely need to take them outside during the fireworks, you will want to ensure you have proper identification on them (even if they are microchipped).  Additionally, a six foot leash firmly attached to collar and if possible a front-hook harness as well.  Using the front hook harness in addition to the collar gives you added security in case your dog tries to slip out of one to run away.

Tip #9: Lots of High Value Food

Don’t skip on the treats during fireworks.  Not only can treats help your dog feel better in the moment and take his mind off the sky blowing up, but they can help create an association that fireworks make treats rain down from the heavens.  The next time fireworks happen, your dog may feel a little better about them.  Some suggestions are boiled chicken, cut up hot dogs (we cut them into 80 pieces), cheese, peanut butter, and bacon bits.

Tip #10: Play Their Favorite Games

Now is the time to break out fetch (in the house of course), tug-of-war, nose work games, and anything else your dog enjoys. If your dog doesn’t want to play, don’t worry. Leave the games out and available until the fireworks end.  They may end up playing as time passes.  At the end of the fireworks make a note of how long it takes for your dog to start to play.  This information can be very helpful if you choose to work on how they feel about fireworks later to know if he is improving over time.