Tuesday, 8 September 2020

Teaching “Leave It”

"If I can't see it, it's not there!"

Teaching “Leave It” 

Goal:  Your dog learns not to take an item (particularly delicious food) until it is given to him, whether it is in your hand or dropped on the floor.

Step 1:  Place a treat in your hand and close your hand around the treat.  Your dog will sniff, lick, paw, and he may even gently nibble at your hand.  Don’t move your hand or say anything, just wait quietly until he stops, even for just a second.  It's not helpful to use a cue (or command) yet, because your dog hasn’t learned the behaviour, so the word won’t have any meaning to him.  

When your dog leaves your hand alone momentarily, click (or use a verbal marker, such as “yes”) and give him the treat.  It’s important to give the treat directly to him so he learns he only takes the treat when it’s given to him and not when it’s dropped.  

Variation:  If your dog is struggling to get the hang of step one, you can use a lower value item in your hand with a higher value item as his reward.  For example, have a small piece of carrot in your hand for him to leave, but behind your back in a treat pouch is freeze dried liver or diced chicken or something he really likes.  When he leaves the carrot, click and give him a piece of meat instead.  That way he learns that leaving it when asked results in receiving something even better.  

Practice this a number of times in various locations until he stops licking or nosing at your hand altogether.  

Important:  Keep your training sessions short, sweet, and fun.  Frequent, very short sessions are much more effective than a single long, drawn-out training session.  Dogs have short attention spans and we want to leave them wanting more.  

Step 2:  Once he’s really good at leaving the treat with a closed hand (and this can take a very long time, so please be patient and don’t rush the process!), do the same as above with an open hand.  Have your thumb ready to cover the treat or be ready to close your hand in case he goes for it.  If he offers a different behaviour (leaves the treat, sits, moves away, looks away, etc.), click and give him the treat.  You are reinforcing a behaviour that is incompatible with taking the item he has been asked to leave, so he is still successfully leaving it.  As before, practice this a number of times and in various locations until he is catching on to the game and getting really good at it.

Step 3:  When you are satisfied that your dog is a pro at step #2, then you can name the behaviour. You can say “leave it” or whatever cue you want to use for “don’t take that until I give it to you”.  Keep it simple and memorable so you will be consistent with the cue. 

Once you have added a name, you will need to go back and practice steps 1 and 2 again with a verbal cue to give your dog a chance to learn the word(s) before moving on to step 4.  Whenever you increase the criteria (or make harder) one aspect of a behaviour, you need to relax your criteria on other aspects, so don’t want long before you click and reward.    

Step 4:  Now you can place the treat on the floor.  Tell your dog to leave it and have your foot ready to cover it up in case he goes for it, or sit on the floor and be ready to cover the treat with your hand if needed.  When he leaves it (moves away, looks away, backs up, sits, anything but trying to get the treat), click, pick the treat up off the floor, and give it directly to your dog. 

Remember:  It’s important to pick the food up and give it directly to him.  You don’t want your dog to learn that he can scoop food off the floor in case one day you drop something that could make him sick, or something you really don’t want him to have.  Practice step four a number of times in various locations to allow your dog to generalize the behaviour and get really skilled at it.  Don’t be in a hurry to move to the next step, as always, be patient and set your dog up for success.

Step 5:  Your goal is to be able to drop food on the ground and ask your dog to leave it.  Start by dropping the treat from a very low height to make it easier for your dog, then very gradually increase the height from which you drop it.  The treat will bounce, making it ever so enticing to chase!  

If your dog does try to go for it, just cover it up, then try again with a lower value item.  When you can drop the treat without your dog trying to get it, click and give him something even better from your pocket or treat pouch.  This simulates a scenario wherein you are opening or using something potentially unsafe for your dog and accidentally drop it on the floor.  If you drop a pill on the floor, you want your dog to listen to "leave it" and then you reward him with a dog treat, or something safe for him to eat and enjoy.  

Step 6:  Your goal is to be able to have enticing food on the ground as you are walking and ask your dog to leave it and continue walking.  You may want to do this exercise after a walk when your dog is relaxed and already has his leash on, this way you can walk past something tempting and ask your dog to leave it while still having control of his movements in case he tries to go for it.  

If your dog does try to go for it, just cheerfully say “oops” (or “let’s go”) and happily go in another direction so that he is eager to follow you away from the treat, then try again with a lower value item.  When you can walk past the treat on the ground without your dog trying to get it, click and give him something even better from your pocket or treat pouch.  

With step six you want to simulate being out for a walk and passing something on the ground that your dog is curious about and may try to eat.  You ask him to "leave it" and then give him a treat from your pocket so that he doesn't eat something off the ground that could potentially be unsafe.  

Step 7:  Once your dog is walking past the treat without looking longingly at it, drop the leash and drop treats on the floor, asking him to leave it.  Remember, when you increase the difficulty, you have the lower the bar for your dog.  Now that you're combining both dropping the treat and walking past it, you want to back up and start with dropping lower-value treats from a very low height and then gradually increasing the difficulty again.  

If he does get them, just back up a step and keep practicing with a lower value treat.  Do not correct your dog for taking the treat, he simply needs more practice, and taking readily available food is an important and natural behaviour for dogs.  

If he does not take them, click or use a verbal marker, then pick each treat up and feed them directly to him one by one.  This is a very difficult task for a dog, moving/falling food is even more enticing than stationary food, so be patient with your dog as he learns this new behaviour.  

When he gets it right, reward him heavily so that waiting and leaving it really pays off!

If you prefer a visual demonstration and/or prefer a video, KikoPup recently uploaded a great tutorial on You Tube.  This video was created by Emily Larlham of Dogmantics Training:  

About The Author

Jillian is a fear-free certified and CPDT-KA certified animal behaviour specialist and has been working in the animal care and behaviour field since 2009.  

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Friday, 21 August 2020

Door Training with your Pets

"Can we go out yet?"

Threshold Training

The goal of these exercises is to teach your pet that they do not automatically go through a doorway when a door is opened and they should wait until you give them permission to move forward.  This is important for your pet's safety and is an extremely important skill for all dogs to learn, especially door-dashers.  Door-dashing cats definitely benefit from this training as well, we'll focus on dogs here, but the Cat Behaviour Associates website has fantastic resources for cat behaviour. 

Waiting in a Controlled Position

It is easier for your dog to wait if they are in a control position (sitting or lying down).  Ask your dog to sit or down, whichever they do best; the focus is not on sit/down, but on waiting and on impulse control.  

For cats, you can often do what we call "station training" and have them up on a cat tree.  Pam Johnson-Bennett has a great article on door-darting on her website that focuses exclusively on cat behaviour. 

Choose a safe doorway within your home and have your dog sit or lay down by your side.  Similar to your “stay” cue, gently move your hand in front of your dog, or put up one finger, and say “wait”.  


Most dogs associate their person touching a doorknob with the door being opened and will jump up or run toward the door as soon as our hand reaches toward the doorknob.  Before we even begin door training, we need to desensitize our dog to this process.  Currently your dog may have the association of door knob touch = rush the door.  What we want to do is teach him to remain in place when we touch the door knob and then open the door, and make waiting more rewarding than rushing.   

It can be easiest to have a mat or dog bed near the door to give your dog a visual cue for where he is supposed to wait.  If you have a threshold that changes flooring type (i.e. a hardwood or carpet that transitions to vinyl), then using that line can also be a good spot to start.  

Have your dog in his control position (down/sit), ask him to "wait", then put up a finger (don't do it at the same time, use the verbal signal first, then the hand signal).  Move your hand to touch the doorknob.  If he jumps up, return him to his place and his control position, then try again but move even more slowly.  If he remains in place, move beside your dog, then reward him.  It is important you return to your dog before giving him a treat so that he does not start moving toward you in anticipation of his treat.  

Next, turn the doorknob and repeat the steps above.  Then open the door a crack and repeat the steps above.  Continue this until you can reliably open the door without your dog moving (meaning he doesn’t move at least 8 out of 10 times).  

Step 2 : Practice With the Door Open

Step one can take days or even weeks to perfect, so please do not rush the process.  Take your time and set yourself and your dog up for success along the way.  Your patience will pay off!  

Now, with the door open, have your dog in his control position (down/sit), ask him to "wait", then put up a finger.  Take one step toward the doorway.  If your dog does not move, return to his side and give him a treat.  If he does move, ask him to sit/down and try again but take a smaller step to make it a little easier for him.  

Once you can take one step without your dog moving reliably (at least 8 out of 10 times he doesn’t move), ask your dog to sit/down & wait and take a step through the doorway.  If he does not move, return to your dog and give him a treat.   If he moves, ask him to sit or down and try again with a smaller step, perhaps stopping right on the threshold instead of going through the doorway first.  

Choosing a Release Word 

Once your dog understands the concept of "wait" and is reliably waiting while you take a big step fully through your doorway, you can then incorporate a release word.  Your release word can be anything you choose.  Remember, your dog does not speak English (or any other spoken language); he just makes associations between certain “sounds” (words), actions, and their consequences.  A common release word is “okay”, but this is not always the best choice because we use the word “okay” a great deal in our everyday conversations.  Other options are “break”, “alright”, “free”, or truly anything you choose.  It can be in any language, or it can be gibberish, a made-up word, as long as you are consistent and everyone in your household will use the same word every time.  I like to use a crisp, one-syllable word so that it is easy and clear for the dog.  

Step 3 : Increase # of Steps

Once you can walk through the doorway without your dog moving, ask him dog to sit/down & wait and take two steps through the doorway.  If he moves, ask him to sit or down and try again with only one step.  If he does not move, return to your dog and give him a treat, and then release him!  Remember: It’s important to reward him in his waiting place and not after you release him, so that he’s getting rewarded for staying there, and not for going through the door.  His big reward will be getting to go where he wants to go – through the door, usually to the outside world.  Slowly you will be able to reduce and then phase out the treats for waiting, and his reward will be the release and being allowed to go play in the yard, or out the front door to start his walk.  

Step 4 :  Generalize

Dogs are not good at generalization, so they need to practice new behaviours in as many different locations and scenarios as possible.  Practice “wait” in various doorways throughout your house, including the bedrooms, bathrooms, and back door.  Once you can walk through the doorways without your dog moving until you release him, move to the front door, but make sure your dog is on his leash for safety. 


You can also practice "wait" at the bottom of the stairs, having him wait at the bottom until you get to the top before you release him, and then starting at the top and releasing him when you get to the bottom.  This helps generalize the wait command and also promotes safety on the stairs, especially with those big dogs who like to rush past your legs while you're trying to go down the stairs!  

Another very important place to practice "wait" is yard gates.  If you have a fenced yard with gates that can be blown open, or left open accidentally, this is another important place where your dog should wait for a cue to proceed out.  

Once he gets good at waiting, you can use a longer leash so that you can take more steps through the doorway before returning to him and releasing him.  It is important you return to your dog before giving him a treat so that he does not start anticipating and moving before you are back by his side.  

Remain Consistent

It is very important that once you start this training, you do not allow your dog out the front door without waiting for your permission.  It may take a long time to leave the house for walks at first, but the hard work and patience will pay off, and it will become a habit for your dog to sit and wait at the door and to be invited out to start the walk.  

Environmental Management 

You can set both your dog and yourself up for success (and safety!) by using the environment around him to reduce or prevent the likelihood of getting out doors without waiting first.  Use baby gates, closed doors, whatever you can to prevent access to frequently-used doorways to prevent any door dashing.  

Proofing (Step 5): Door Dashing

Some dogs will try to push their way out the door when their owners are talking to a delivery person or getting the mail.  With your dog on leash, have a friend, partner, or family member practice coming to the door and having a conversation with you with the door open just a bit while your dog is asked to wait on his bed or wait by your side.  Start with the door only open a crack and slowly practice with the door opened a little more each time, again, always make sure your dog is on leash so you can keep him safe if he does try to sneak past you.  You also want to prevent the opportunity for him to be rewarded by door-dashing, so even if you’re practicing on a garage door or back door, I still recommend using a leash.  

Keep it Short & Sweet

Training sessions should be frequent, short, and fun.  Cut up 10 very small pieces of your dog’s treats and do 10 reps or practice during commercial breaks while watching television.  Keep sessions only to a minute or two so that you end with your dog wanting more, don’t over-train until he’s tired of the game and no longer engaged.  Remember that puppies’ attention spans are even shorter, and they wear out faster!  

Reward heavily for your dog waiting successfully!  It’s hard work for him to fight the urge to run free and explore the outdoors, so make sure that you make waiting inside a very pleasant event for him by using high-value (and high-value is determined by your dog’s preferences) treats.  Most importantly, have fun!

About The Author

Jillian is a fear-free certified and CPDT-KA certified animal behaviour specialist and has been working in the animal care and behaviour field since 2009.  

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Tuesday, 16 June 2020

Pet Sitting Health and Safety

Pawsitive Pet Care Pet Sitting Health & Safety Policies

At Pawsitive Pet Care we take the health and safety of the pets, our clients, and our staff very seriously.  

As we resume services following the Covid-19 closures, we will be taking the following precautions for live-in pet sits, and many of the below precautions will also apply to drop-in pet sitting as well: 
  • Our staff will perform the Self-Assessment Screening prior to travelling to any client's home. 
  • Staff will not enter a home wherein a person has Covid-19 symptoms or has been diagnosed with Coronavirus.
  • Our staff will wash hands before and after visiting any client's homes. 
  • During their last pet-sitting visit, our staff will sanitize frequently-touched surfaces such as countertops, doorknobs, light switches, and handrails and will wash any dishes they have used.
  • Staff will bring their own water-bottle and other personal-use items from home to avoid using client items as much as possible.  

We ask our clients to please provide the following: 
  • We ask that clients cancel services if they have Covid-19 symptoms or are concerned that they may have Coronavirus.
  • Please ensure there is plenty of soap at each sink in the household for hand-washing. 
  • Please ensure there are cleaning supplies available for staff to use as needed.
  • Please provide clean linen (bedding, towels, hand towels, etc.), or ask our staff to bring their own if you prefer.
  • Please sanitize frequently-touched surfaces such as countertops, doorknobs, light switches, and handrails.  We will have our staff do the same prior to leaving your home.  

Non-Medical Masks

Please notify our staff well in advance if you wish us to wear a mask when entering your home so that we ensure we have adequate PPE supplies.

Because we normally work alone, we do not require our staff to wear masks, but will accommodate for those who request it, pending mask availability.  We will also meet with clients outdoors whenever possible.  

Please contact us with any questions or concerns about our health and safety policies, or any questions about our services.

Click here to learn more about our Live-in Pet Sitting Services.

Please contact Jillian with any questions or concerns.  

Thank you for doing your part to keep everyone safe as we resume services.  

Pawsitive Pet Care turns TEN YEARS OLD on June 18, 2020!

Monday, 1 June 2020

Preventing Separation Anxiety

Working proactively to prevent separation anxiety as some families gradually return to work.  

If you've been home for the past two or three months and are planning to return to work soon, we have a few suggestions to make the transition easier for your pet(s). 

Practice leaving when you don't really have to 

Make the cues and signs that you're getting ready to leave meaningless to your pet(s) by doing your leave routine and then staying home. 

For example: Get dressed, get your keys and briefcase or purse, grab a cup of coffee, put your hand on the doorknob and then...  sit down on the couch or your home office and enjoy the coffee :) 
If you do this randomly these signals will not give your dog anxiety with the anticipation of your leaving. 

Practice leaving when you don't have to be gone long 

Do all of the above, then leave for short, but varying and unpredictable lengths of time and at random and varying times of day.  

Don't increase the length of time on a linear fashion.  Instead, go out for 2 minutes, then 1, then 3, then 2, then 4, then 1, then 5, then....  etc.  

When you do have to go for real... 

Give your pet(s) as much exercise and enrichment as you can before and during your absence.  Take your dog for a long morning walk, play with your pet(s), and leave fun things for them to do while you're away.  

Make leaving a good thing 

Don't make a big fuss over your dog when you are leaving or when you first get home.  When you leave, consider providing a puzzle toy, a frozen Kong, something enjoyable to keep your pet(s) busy and create a positive association with your departure.  (For more ideas, visit our Boredom Busters blog post).  

When you get home, calmly and kindly greet your dog, but don't make a huge deal out of arriving home.  Once they are settled, then you can make a fuss over them, play, go for a walk, whatever you normally would do.  

Consider a Dog Walker, Pet Sitter, or Half Day at Doggy Daycare 

If your dog is quite anxious or struggling to adjust, you may want to consider hiring a dog walker to come to your home and take him out mid-day.  Some company, fresh air, and exercise will help break up the day and help him relax.  If walks aren't suitable, consider hiring a pet sitter to visit and check in on your pet(s) while you're at work.  

Click here for advice on choosing the right professional and getting the most out of your dog walking service.

Click here for advice on choosing the right pet sitter for you and your pet(s).  

If you feel more is needed, consider a half-day at a reputable doggy daycare.  Please be very particular and thorough when choosing a daycare, as a negative experience could cause more trouble for you and your dog.  Visit our post on Doggy Daycares for further information and advice.  

Full disclosure:  We offer and promote both of these services, so naturally we will have some biases.  We do, however, recommend other services or companies when prospective clients are seeking out services that we do not offer, or when our services are booked up.  

Seek support from a compassionate, qualified trainer 

If you feel your pet's separation anxiety is worsening, or you feel you need assistance, please contact a compassionate and qualified trainer who is knowledgeable about separation anxiety.  (Click here for our blog post with advice on how to find the right trainer for you and your pet).  

Click here for more resources on preventing and treating separation anxiety in dogs.  

Our Services

Click here for more information on our dog walking services.

Click here for more information on our doggy daycare service.

Click here to learn about how we're working hard to keep everyone safe as we resume services.  Please contact Jillian if you have any questions or concerns.   

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As for those humans experiencing separation anxiety from their pets....  well, that's outside our area of expertise, but we highly recommend sharing copious photos of your pets online for us to enjoy!  

Stay safe, be well. 

From the Pawsitive Pet Care team. 

About The Author

Jillian is a fear-free certified and CPDT-KA certified animal behaviour specialist and has been working in the animal care and behaviour field since 2009.  

Friday, 15 May 2020


Tenth Anniversary Special! 

All half-hour weekday dog walks will be 25% off from June 15 to June 30 in celebration of our ten year anniversary!

Visit our website to learn more.  

Thank you to our wonderful clients and staff 💛

Pawsitive Pet Care has been providing professional pet care services including dog training, dog walking, and pet sitting in Winnipeg and Headingley for more than 10 years.

Our pet care business was founded June 18, 2010, originally named Sturgeon Park Dog Care, a dog walking service in the Crestview and St. James neighbourhoods of Winnipeg.  

We very quickly grew into a full-time operation, and when Jillian went on maternity leave in 2012, we began hiring staff to continue providing excellent care to our clientele.  

When Jillian returned from mat leave in Fall 2013, we expanded our service area and our service offerings, outgrowing our original name to become Pawsitive Pet Care.

We are very proud and excited to celebrate our 10th anniversary of providing premium pet care services in Cartier and Winnipeg Manitoba.  

A huge thank you to all of the amazing staff and clients who have helped us become who we are today!

To learn more about us, please visit us on 

About The Author

Jillian Enright is the founder of Pawsitive Pet Care and a fear-free certified and CPDT-KA certified animal behaviour specialist.  Jillian has been working in the animal care and behaviour field since 2009.  

Monday, 4 May 2020

Slowly Returning to our New "Normal"

Slowly Returning to our New "Normal"

Returning to work soon and needing professional pet care? We can help!  

*We have ONLY been providing services to essential workers for the month of April and have always maintained social distancing protocols.

*We continue to wash our hands before and after every visit, as always, per our disease prevention policy.

*We are only returning to dog walking and pet sitting on a gradual basis for people whose workplaces are beginning to re-open.

*Our staff work independently and only visit family pets, so it is very easy for us to maintain social distancing and minimize any risk.

*Our first priority is the health and safety of our clients, their pets, our staff, and our community.

Please visit our website for Covid-19 related service updates.

Pawsitive Pet Care has been serving Manitoba since 2010, we will be celebrating 10 years of caring for pets on June 18, 2020!

Celebrating Our Tenth Anniversary! 

Pawsitive Pet Care was founded June 18, 2010,  originally named Sturgeon Park Dog Care, a dog walking service in Crestview and St. James Winnipeg.  

We quickly grew into a full-time operation, and when Jillian went on maternity leave in 2012, we began hiring staff to continue providing excellent care to our clientele.  

When Jillian returned from mat leave in Fall 2013, we expanded our service area and our service offerings, outgrowing our name to become Pawsitive Pet Care.

In March 2017 we moved out to our current rural location, in the R.M. of Cartier, and expanded our service area and staff team even further.  

We've been so lucky and are so grateful to have such amazing clients, and to meet amazing pets, thank you all for your ongoing support and for allowing us to do what we love.

Saturday, 18 April 2020

Teaching Your Dog “Touch”

Teaching Your Dog “Touch” (Also called “Target Training”) 

Steps to Get Started: 

Hold two fingers out near your puppy’s nose without touching your pet.  Don't try cuing (or giving a command) yet, that comes later, once the behaviour is well established.

When puppy sniffs your fingers, click at the moment of contact, and give your puppy a treat.

Move your two fingers behind your back as soon as the behaviour is complete.

Pop your two fingers back out near puppy’s nose, when puppy makes contact with your fingers, click and treat.

If puppy doesn’t touch your fingers, start them from very close to puppy’s nose and slowly move them away to encourage puppy to follow and investigate.  Again, if puppy’s nose makes contact with your outstretched fingers, click and treat.

If moving your fingers doesn’t work, try putting them behind your back again, then popping them back out.  The novelty can encourage puppy to check them out.

If two fingers aren’t working, you can try using your whole hand or a more obvious object like a brightly coloured tupperware lid, and use the same steps above.

Donna Hill has a good YouTube video tutorial.

Why use “Touch”?

Touch can be fantastic for shy dogs as it encourages them to move forward and initiate contact, rather than being pursued, which can make them more nervous.

Touch is great for positioning an animal where you need them (i.e. onto a scale at the vet’s office for a weight), or as a foundation for teaching new behaviours or fun tricks.

Touch is good for moving dogs without having to grab their collar and physically move them.  This is important for fearful dogs and for dogs who have handling issues and allows the dog to be in control of his movements and helps him gain confidence.

Adding the Cue

Once your puppy is catching on to the game (touching the fingers or object 9 out of 10 times), add in a word, like “touch” to give the behaviour a name for your dog.

It’s important to wait until the dog understands the behaviour before adding a cue, otherwise the dog will hear the word as noise with no meaning and will learn to ignore it.

Make it easy for your dog.  In a happy voice, say “touch!”, pop your hand or the object out from behind your back, and move it just slightly away from your puppy.  When he makes contact, click and treat, and repeat.


Once puppy has learned the “touch” game with cue, start doing it from a sitting or standing position (both yourself and the dog!), having the object or your fingers coming from different angles and at different heights.  Then practice in different environments and locations (even different rooms in the house, outside vs. inside, etc).

Dogs don’t generalize learning well, so they need to practice under a variety of contexts and situations in order to become “fluent” in a behaviour, meaning they can do it anywhere when asked.


Keep It Short & Simple.  Training should be fun, so do various mini-sessions rather than occasional long sessions.  Keep it fun and light, set your dog up for success, and leave your dog wanting more.  Set aside just one minute before meal times to play “touch” when your dog is hungry and find other opportunities to sneak in little training moments throughout your days.

About The Author

Jillian is a fear-free certified and CPDT-KA certified animal behaviour specialist and has been working in the animal care and behaviour field since 2009.  

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