I’m about six weeks into the six-month KPA Dog Trainer Professional Program. This is mostly an on-line course, and it entails both  theory and hands-on training. In order to take the class you have to have access to a dog that has not yet been trained. That means that I can’t use Lily. Luckily, I do have a dog at home that has not been taught much of anything. Scooter.


Yes, he’s house-broken, and he has some manners, but I’ve never trained him to do anything, not even a basic “come” or “down.” Why bother? For the life that he has here at home, he’s perfect. It’s come as a bit of a shock to him that he has to work for yummy things, but he’s getting enthusiastic about the program. So far, he’s learned to lick his nose when I say snack. There’s a point to this exercise – it’s an opportunity to learn how to capture an innate behavior and put it on cue. Besides, it’s cute. I taught Lily to do it, too. Now, when I say snack! both dogs lick their lips. I’ve also taught Scooter to sit (which can be quite a challenge for a tiny dog built as he is) and go lie on a mat, and go into a travel crate. He also jumps into a box. I’ve managed to teach these behaviors and put them on cue despite the fact that Scooter is truly, I do not exaggerate, a dog of little brain. Hence the need for frequent sun-bathing breaks, as seen in the above photo. I don’t want to stress him out.

Along with doing the on-line program, I’m part of a small group that will meet four times. We’ll be training together, and working with an instructor. I’ve no idea how Scooter will react. Each time, he’ll be away from Lily for two days. He’ll be around other dogs. He won’t be sun-bathing. But, he’ll be getting lots of treats and attention. At these workshops I’m supposed to be show off all that he’s learned. However, he’s not a dog that goes places with me. He stays home with Lily. I’ve been teaching him in the familiar surroundings of our house. I fully expect that the behaviors won’t be as solid at the group session, but I’m hoping that at least it will look like I’ve done some training. I’m not sure how much Scooter’s little brain can hold. Our first group session is today and tomorrow. Wish us luck!

As the course title states, it’s focused on dog handlers, but good training methods are applicable to all species.  Sometimes, you can learn a lot about your own skills, when the emotional baggage that you carry around and attach to your dog is removed. One class exercise is to train a species other than a dog to do a behavior that it already does, but to do it when asked, on cue (this is another “capturing” lesson). These training methods rely entirely on positive reinforcement, which, for this exercise, I would have had to use anyway, as I trained a fish, and you can’t exactly punish a fish that isn’t doing what you want. Here is a video.

Another exercise required that I teach a non-dog species to do a behavior using the technique of shaping. Shaping is when you have a trick in mind, and you break it down into very small components, and then you build up and reward each step. There’s no luring. There’s no placing the animal where you want him. It’s all about observing the animal and rewarding incremental movements until you shape the whole behavior. I trained Caper to stand on a plywood square with his two front feet, and to wait there until released. Caper is a genius and he is totally fun to work with. He’s engaged, he’s cheerful, and he never gets frustrated. He works for pieces of carrot and an occasional peanut. (Whole with the shell. Crunch.) Here’s a video of Caper being brilliant.

If I could do the course with Caper, I’d be done by next month. But, most exercises are to be done with a dog. In my case, with Scooter. This little dog is quite the challenge, but he’ll make me a better trainer!

Scooter and Lily

(In case you’re wondering, Lily is not left out. I do some training just for fun with her after I work Scooter. She puts her toys away, crawls, does a figure eight, bows, etc. etc. I haven’t worked with her in ages, and she is thrilled to pieces that I’m dusting off the old tricks. Also, FYI, the next time there’s a non-dog behavior to teach, I’ll use Tonka!)


  1. Good luck with the course. Hope you and Scooter both enjoy and do well.

  2. Awe! Poor little Scooter and his adorable crazy legs. I have a bow legged, 4 1/2 lb Pomeranian named Lola Puddles. I gave up on her long ago. She refuses to fully potty train with her pea size bladder. She never asks to go out until she is ready to rupture. I have approx. 5.3 seconds to drop whatever I’m doing, leap up, and rush to the door (many times a day). If I try to force her out on a schedule she goes out, strikes the potty pose to fool me, but does not go. I give up waiting on her as I was in the middle of something I need to get back to. The instant I get back on task she is frantically dashing to and fro, her way of asking to be let out. And, all too often, she doesn’t even bother to ask. Her newest quirk, she curls her tail down between her legs instead of up over her back as she potties. Ugh! This means several mini baths a week now. I might have been tempted to send her away for all the pee in the rug long ago but when I adopted her it was a commitment. She is a special needs senior (12 – 14 yrs old) with alopecia, seizure disorder, & neurologic damage which makes her trip over her own shadow. None of which we were aware when we committed 7 years ago. It has been a slow progression of ailments since the day we brought her home. Starting with having to pull half her teeth. Who would have her now? We just throw our hands in the air, do our best to love her, and pray for strength as we secretly count the days until……… we can get all new flooring. Poor Lola, the first dog I have ever failed to train. Sigh………

    • Sounds like “failure” isn’t the right word. There are physical issues getting in the way. For now I hear those potty pads work great!

      • Some of her potty’s are seizure related in her favorite places to nap, some accidents are in front of the door if I don’t move fast enough, but most are deliberately hidden behind certain pieces of furniture. Especially on rainy days and in winter months. And it’s been a very rainy summer here. The neuro issues are recent from an apparently toxic medicated shampoo her vet insisted I try. I should have refused and kept on with my vinegar baths and coconut oil rubs. I have tried the pads in front of the door and in her hidey spots. She thinks they are cozy blankets, naps on them, and pees beside them. Even after I’ve rubbed them in her tinkles to give her a clue she will sleep on them. She is adorable (even without her hair) and exasperating all at the same time. My others dogs have been potty trained in 2 – 4 weeks and know several tricks and commands. Friends have brought me puppies they were ready to give up on and I have returned them trained in 2 weeks. It didn’t helped that she came to us later in life with bad habits and afraid of everything. Who knows what she might have endured with her previous owner. She was abandoned and rescued so we can only imagine. She’s no longer afraid but she refuses to give up the habits. Lord love her! LOL!

  3. Good Luck. Don’t underestimate how he might do. He is after all, part Chi, and the Chihuahua has the largest brain for his size compared to other dogs. On the other hand I think they are often using that brain to decide if they really want to do what you ask, LOL.

    • Yes, it does. In fact, I used it to train all of the hens that appeared in my Tillie Lays an Egg picture book to follow a target and pose.

  4. You should also try a chicken. The Baileys did amazing things with chickens.

  5. Perhaps Agatha? But wasn’t Snowball clicker trained? I hope that Scooter gets an “A” – it would surely be a shame to be out performed by a goldfish ; )

    • Actually, Agatha is one of the most dim-witted birds ever. Two years ago, Karen Pryor (one of the most talented animal trainers ever) came here for a video shoot because she needed some animals other than dogs to train. After 5 minutes with Agatha we both shook our heads, and I handed her a different chicken.

  6. Looks like Lily and Scooter have all points covered. “You watch that side and I’ll watch this side.”

  7. Poor Scooter. Little does he know what he’s in for. I just love those bow legs. Does he ever trip himself up?

  8. At one time, Stuckey’s, the favorite kind of family truck stop here in the South, had piano playing chickens. Of course, for a coin, the machine spilled corn over a miniature piano keyboard, then the chicken came out from behind a curtain and started pecking at the corn, in turn playing a “tune”. Actually, the tunes boarder on better than some played by real persons today. But I digress. I do not remember the company, but I do remember the chickens getting real workouts, as the kids would anxiously bug their parents for “chicken feed”.
    I know you can hypnotize chickens, did that frequently, but back then I did not know if it would hurt them or not. You could just put their head down for a few seconds facing a line on the ground, and when you let go, they were stuck there for a bit.
    Anyway, don’t sell Scooter, well, “short”. Ya’ just ain’t found and unlocked his true perspectives yet!

    • Those arcade chickens were quite the thing for awhile. They were also trained to play tic tac toe – and always won against humans.
      As far as hypnotizing – I don’t like it. Chickens will play dead when scared, and I believe that’s what’s happening during the “hypnotizing.”. They look relaxed, but actually they’re frightened.

  9. Took my pug Sophie to training when she was about six months old and it worked. But I did hand signals as I spoke the commands. Now, 14 years later, I am so thankful I did because she is completely deaf and watches me for signals. I did clicker train my chickens to come back to pen when free ranging. It’s works! and is so fun to watch them coming running half flying to see what I’ve got for them.

  10. I have trained my two cats to several words. When I got the first or these two, an all black kitten, I worried how I would find her if she ever got outside so I made a big deal of saying “treats” whenever I doled them out and she quickly figured that one out. So when she did get out on a rainy night, I called her, promised “treats” and shook the container they were in. Soon I heard a mournful “meow” from under a small porch outside my bedroom. I have since taught both cats the word “lunch”. They both tend to overeat so they have definite mealtimes and the bowls are picked up between times. At noontime I will have one or the other cat there so I summon the missing feline by calling out “lunch” and the cat’s name. The only time it didn’t work was just after a loud thunderstorm and Spook was buried under my bed in terror. She had her lunch later.

  11. What Fun! Scooter may surprise you yet, please let us know how it goes – and , i hate to ask, but i’d love to see Lily in the spotlight too – any chance you could video some of her amazing tricks? Thanks – I Always Enjoy your wonderful animal insights

    • Watch this older video of Lily putting her toys away. At the end of the course I’ll be sure to do a best tricks compilation for both of them!