Tag Archives: Amber Stacy


Most dogs, like most people, are natural followers. In fact, humans have bred dogs to follow our leadership for thousands of years. Even if you’re not a natural-born leader, your dog needs you to learn to be one for his sake!

Many behavioral problems are a result of a lack of leadership in the home. (As you well know I’ll say: The rest are likely a result of a lack of exercise!) Leadership related behavioral problems can be seen in anxious dogs and dominant dogs alike. In fact, a simple lack of leadership that can magnify fear, anxiety, dominance, and many other common behavioral concerns. Leadership is essential for a newly adopted dog, as well as one that has been in your home for years.

So, what are some actions that you can take to become a better leader for your dog? An easy start is a “Nothing in Life is Free” program (NILF, for short). This means that your dog must work for everything that she gets. It can include sitting and waiting for food (being on a feeding schedule, if free-fed), performing obedience for affection and/or treats, having a handler enter/exit doors first (This includes being let into the yard!), and staying off of the furniture. These are some simple, but highly effective, changes that can be made. The best part? They won’t take extra time in your daily routine!

One more note to make regarding leadership: It’s important to remember that in a pack of dogs, it’s always the submissive dog to initiate play and interaction from the other dogs. (Watch them at the dog park, it’s true!) Because of this, be sure that your dog is the one to initiate play time with you, and not the other way around. If you initiate ball play, you’re inadvertently putting yourself in a submissive position. Wait for your dog to request play time or affection. From there, you have the choice to play or not- and now you’re the leader. Simple!

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Starting a training journal

Keeping a training journal while working with your dogs can be very rewarding. I often suggest this to clients that own dogs with behavioral concerns when they enter into a training program, although this can be very useful for all dogs. I keep one for each of my dogs, in fact. Now that we’re well into the new year, I can look back to last year’s entries to see how my dogs have progressed, and what still needs to be worked on. Perfect!

What should go in a journal entry?

Every month, I create a calendar as the first entry. Then, I mark each date that I’ve trained. I also mark when I’ve exercised the dogs, what the exercise routine was, and what the temperature was outside. This way, I have an overview that I can easily reference that shows how many days the dogs and I have worked together and what we’ve done.

Following the calendar page, I enter detailed information regarding what was accomplished on each training date. Did the dogs do anything well? Did they need more attention on certain aspects of what we worked on? How was their endurance when exercising? These details will help you to adjust your next training and/or exercise session.

Next, once you’ve progressed and have several entries, you can look back to see how far you’ve come! I suggest monthly and yearly reviews. This is particularly beneficial if you’re trying to accomplish something specific like behavior management, competitive obedience, or endurance training. It can be used for anything, however. If you come up with a new use for journaling your dog’s progress, please share it with us! info@muttmagic.com

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Controlling your dog in-home with new visitors

A very common question I receive is, “How do I control my dog when people come over to visit?” The best training techniques I can suggest would be to pattern train boundary training and target training. Commonly used in our classes, the “Place” and “Touch” commands are a great way to teach your dog what is expected during the excitement of a new visitor. When pattern trained (always performing them in that order- “Place” and then “Touch”) this further engrains the lesson in your dog’s mind.

Starting with “Place,” which is the command we use for boundary training exercises, you will teach your dog that he needs to remain in his area until he’s released. This will allow your guest to come in and settle, while your dog manages his excitement levels in his own area. You may learn how this is done by visiting our YouTube video, online. (Links at the bottom of this article)Next, once your dog is calm, you will work on the “Touch” command, which is what we use for target training exercises. This shows your dog what is expected in a proper greeting.

The combination of these commands can prevent problem behaviors resulting from both fear, and excitement. Of course, if your dog isn’t already familiar with these, she won’t remain in “place” when you go to the door tomorrow, but working these commands daily and building distractions regularly is the way to go!

To get started, you may view how-to videos on our blog, here!

Appropriately Exercising Your Dog in the Heat

Heat can be very dangerous to our pets. Last month, I repeated an essay by Dawn Rexroad on the “Hidden Dangers of Summer,” which included information on parasites that are common, as well as how to recognize and, more importantly, prevent, heat stroke. This month, let’s address how to safely exercise your dog so that he doesn’t go stir crazy during the summer months we should all enjoy!

Especially during these months, when I ask clients the question I always ask “How much exercise does your dog get?” The answer is often “Plenty, her tongue is hanging on the ground by the time we’re done!” While panting can be a sign that the dog is winded, it can also be a sign that the dog is hot, or even stressed. Panting alone cannot be an indicator of adequate exercise. However, if you notice a fat, swollen tongue, that is probably a sign that you need to make an effort to cool your dog down.

So, how do we safely ensure that the dogs get the amount of exercise that they need? I don’t recall a summer where we’ve had this many days over 100 degrees in a row, but it’s time to start getting creative! Personally, I’ve been making an effort to go to bed early and wake up to walk dogs at a safe time. I learned that even 8am is too late to walk the dogs the distance they need to go for proper exercise. So, we’ve been getting up and walking at 7am. Late night walks are an option for those that are night owls, as well. Swimming can be a GREAT way to exercise dogs and keep them cool, if your dog is inclined to like the water. Fortunately, swimming is also an activity that we can join them in, staying cool ourselves! Last, indoor activities can suffice in some cases. For some dogs that I normally walk in the afternoon, I’ll give them a quick potty break, and then give them a run on a treadmill (if one is available and when the dog has been introduced to it properly).

While there is no substitute for proper exercise, other activities such as teaching new commands using target training (watch: teaching touch), playing hide and seek, and having interactive toys and puzzles for your dog to play with are good ideas. These will all burn some mental energy, which can help keep them entertained during the day when it’s not safe to play outside.

Be creative; exercise and train safely. Enjoy your summer!

Please visit Mutt Magic online: www.muttmagic.com AND The Crate Escape: http://crateescape.muttmagic.com

Everyday dog needs

Some dogs are content with simple provisions of food, shelter, and our affection. Of course, these are the basic necessities of pet ownership. However, most dogs need more than this, and failure to provide the other essentials can make for not only an unhappy and disobedient dog, but a sad owner, too! If you’re the lucky one whose dog waits patiently by the door for you to get home, feed him, and give him a pat on the head, kudos. If not, please read on for important tips on how to fulfill another three of your dog’s needs to keep him well balanced in the home.

The number one thing that many dogs could use more of is exercise. Aside from keeping your dog trim, healthy, and in good shape, the appropriate amount of exercise can also keep behavioral issues from surfacing. A great example of this is Star, a now 6-year-old rescue dog that came into my home when she was 1.5-years-old. When she arrived, I was heavy into biking the dogs using a Springer. Star would get several 4 mile runs along side of my bike per week. Somehow, she was arriving home from her runs just as energized as when we left, however. As she was settling into her home here, she developed sores on her feet from chewing on them. After ruling out anything medical, I bumped up her exercise routine. Now, after her runs, we would play ball in the yard until she was visibly tired. Her sores healed and she was now a relaxed, happy dog. The 4 mile runs weren’t enough for the 1.5-year-old Star!! Thankfully for all of us, most dogs don’t need this excessive amount of exercise. Thankfully for me, the 6-year-old Star doesn’t need that much anymore, either! The sores on her feet are a great example of how an unfulfilled exercise need can manifest into a behavioral problem, however. Behavioral problems aren’t all like Star’s. Some dogs may bark, whine, fuss with housemates, chew, or otherwise be destructive around the house. Many of these behaviors can be corrected by more exercise.

The next need that dogs benefit from, is discipline. This is not to be read “punishment,” because discipline has a very different meaning. Most dogs, like people, don’t desire to be the leader. They are much more happy and content with structure, and being given a clear role in the household. If they are forced to take on this leadership role (even if it’s not intentional!) many problems can develop. Anxiety is one great example of many behavioral issues that can benefit from additional discipline. Anxiety  is something that is being seen more and more in our pet dogs. In fact, it is being seen to the extent that it is being medicated. Of course, there are dogs out there that are simply imbalanced. However, a lot of the anxiety cases that I see can be remedied with more discipline in the home! What exactly does this
mean? Beginning a “Nothing in life is free” (NILF) routine with your dog in the home is a great start. With this, your dog needs to earn everything that she gets. This means that in order to receive even the basics- food and affection, she must do something. The task and reward should be balanced. For example: sitting, waiting as a food bowl is placed on the ground, and giving attention, earns the ability to be released to eat a meal. Such strong discipline is not needed to earn a pat on the head. It is one of your dog’s basic needs, however, and discipline can fix certain behavioral issues.

The last need to be addressed (for now) is that of mental stimulation. Smart dogs get into trouble. It’s true!! If your dog is not being mentally challenged, he may decide to challenge himself, and that rarely ends with a happy owner. Some dogs need more stimulation than others. Thankfully, the range of options to entertain your dog is almost endless. A food or puzzle toy for your dog to work on while you’re away is a good idea for some, while other dogs may benefit more from the interaction they get with you in a training class. Some may need the interaction of a dog walker or daycare during the day. There are even dogs out there that will need to learn something new every week to keep them out of trouble. . .if you own one of these guys, you’ll know it! In these cases, you have the rare ability to get truly creative with entertaining your dog. If you run out of creative energy, picking up a “dog tricks” book can jump start you into a one-dog circus act that will surly keep your dog (and house guests) entertained.

As we all know, most of our relationships with our dogs are very complex in nature. I like to sum it up by my favorite quote, by an unknown author: “He is your friend, your partner, your defender, your dog. You are his life, his love, his leader. He will be yours, faithful and true, to the last beat of his heart. You owe it to him to be worthy of such devotion.” Often, it is a lack of one or more of the needs discussed that can lead to kinks in the relationship with our dogs. Thankfully, the fixes are within our abilities. Train safe, and be well.
Aja Harris


Mutt Magic Training




One command, one response.

Most of us know that issues our dogs have are often related to us, as handlers. I’ll even admit that, in a competition setting, I’ve been told by a judge: “Your dog looks much better off leash than on leash.” Wow. Yes, that means that problems in how my dog performs are my fault! Probably one of the biggest mistakes we make as handlers is repeating ourselves. Our goal with any command should be to obtain one command, one response.

Every time we interact with our dog is a training exercise, whether it’s intended or not. If we ask our dog to “Sit. . .Sit. . .Sit. . .Sit,” our dog is learning that he doesn’t have to sit when told the first time. These repeated commands are not gentle reminders once the dog knows a command, it’s us being ignored! Often, we repeat commands without noticing it. The more aware you are of how many times you say a command, the easier it is to correct yourself. Once your dog has obeyed, think back to the command you just gave, count in your head how many times it was repeated, and be aware of it for next time.

If you find that your dog does not respond the first time you say a command, it may be best to re-teach it from the very beginning, luring them into position, and reinforcing your command one time, after the dog is in position, associating the word with the task. Along these same lines, whenever you go to a new location or provide new distractions, you may find the need to backtrack to more basic training to get the results you’re looking for until your dog has been “proofed” with a large variety of distractions.

Yes, training a dog is more like training ourselves!

To learn more about Mutt Magic, or to sign up for classes, please visit our site at www.muttmagic.com


Henry needs a home!

Henry needs a home!



Henry is a 6-year old, male, collie/hound mix, and as you can see he is a cutie! He loves long walks, chasing squirrels, and above all else affection from people. He makes a great running partner (currently runs 3-4 miles a few times per week).



Henry is neutered and up-to-date on all of his shots.  House-trained and knows various commands (sit, down, place, heel, paw, fetch). He is excitable, but well-trained and reliably obedient.  Not recommended for a home with children.

If you are interested in adopting Henry, please contact Aja, and she can give you more information on the adoption process. Thank you for reading!

Visit Mutt Magic online: www.muttmagic.com

Hidden Dangers of Summer

In May, 2011, we included a survey regarding summertime heat knowledge. Thank you to those that participated!! If we used majority responses, there was an average of 100% correct answers out of the 10 questions. Great job, it looks like everybody knows how to protect their dogs against summertime dangers! There were only 4 out of 10 responses that all respondents answered the same, however. Let’s take a moment to address all of the answers, both for those that responded, and for those that may be curious about the answers. . .

Question 1: Which of the following are transmittable to humans?

Answer: Hookworms, Tapeworms, and Roundworms are all transmittable to humans. Whipworms are not.

Question 2: What is the cause of heartworms?

Answer: Mosquitoes carry heartworm larvae. Fleas and ticks are not carriers of this parasite.

Question 3: What is the difference between heat exhaustion and heat stroke?

Answer: Heat exhaustion comes before heat stroke. Keep reading to learn the signs of each!!

Question 4: How do dogs cool off?

Answer: By panting, and finding a cool, shady area. Even sun-loving dogs will search for a cool spot when they’ve had enough!

Question 5: Securely hooking a bucket in a shaded area, leaving a hose running to it with a trickle is a good way to ensure an outdoor dog has a fresh supply of cool water.

Answer: TRUE! On hot days, water buckets can become hot, especially metal buckets. Ensuring that an outdoor dog has a bucket that is secured from tipping and securely attaching a trickling hose can make sure the water supply is fresh and cold.

Question 6: Turning a fan on is the best way to keep a dog cool.

Answer: FALSE. Dogs cannot sweat, and therefore do not cool as we do when a fan is turned on. Continue reading to learn the best ways to keep a dog cool!

Question 7: The following is a symptom of heat stroke:

Answer: Wide eyes, rapid heavy panting, increased body temperature, bright red mucous membranes and tongue, thickened saliva, and vomiting. (All of the above.)

Question 8: A dog’s normal body temperature is:

Answer: Between 101 and 103 degrees F. Anything above this could be a sign of heat stroke.

Question 9: Veterinary care is critical when the following is noticed:

Answer: Whenever signs of heat exhaustion are present. Re-read question 7 to review these signs.

Question 10: When heat stroke is suspected, it is important to do the following WHILE transporting the dog to a vet:

Answer: Cool belly, inner thighs, paw pads, and tongue, cool the entire body, and stop cooling once the dog’s temperature lowers to 104 degrees F. (All of the above.)


To read a summertime article, by: Dawn Rexroad, please click here. Questions and answers for this survey were taken from this article, which was reviewed by Dr. Charles Lerner for accuracy. Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions about what you read! Heat can be dangerous, and we’ve had a lot of “code red” days so far this year. Be careful out there. If you’re hot, you’re dog is hot as well!

Target Training: The “Gateway” Training Tool

Target training has been used for years in animal training. From dolphins, to lions, to dogs, it is a great exercise to stimulate an animal. You can use the following information to help you teach your dog (or cat!) to target. The possibilities of what you can develop this skill into are endless!


Start by scenting your hand, or an item of choice. A “target stick” is used by some while teaching targeting foundations. A target stick is often a stick with a ball at the end of it. You may use any item, however. Encourage your dog to investigate the scent. Once thier nose touches, say the command “touch,” while simultaneously rewarding. Repeat this until the dog is spontaneously touching regularly. Once your dog is offering the behavior, you may begin to use the “touch” command before you expect it. 


Where to go from here? You can transfer your targeting to various items, once your dog understands the exercise. Tell your dog “touch” while your hand is near the light switch to guide them into turning the lights on and off for you. (Say “lights,” or something of the nature once he touches the panel, to associate a new command with the task.) You may also teach your dog to close doors, answer the (corded) phone, or even spin in circles to a moving target. The possibilities are endless!


Have fun, and be creative with targeting this summer. It is a great mentally-stimulating activity that is good to practice indoors on hot days!