About Ellie Johnson

Professional dog trainer in the San Francisco Bay Area for over 20 years.

Go To Your Place Command

One of the most useful commands I teach is “go to your place”.  It’s a simple command to teach, but it takes a lot of “proofing” (by proofing I mean practicing it in all kinds of challenging situations). You must always put your dog back in the designated place immediately when they “self-release” (decide they can get up even though you didn’t say so). Alternatively, you can banish them from your presence for an hour or two. Here’s how to teach the command.

Start by teaching “down” on command.  Once the dog is consistently doing down on command, begin asking them for that command in new places and situations. This gets your dog used to downing even when there are a lot of stimulating things going on around him.

Next, teach the “down-stay”. Ask your dog to down and tell them to stay. Stand near them. Reward if they stay until you release them. I start with about a minute with no distraction and build on this. Gradually lengthen the time they are staying until you can ask them for down-stay and they will stay for 10 minutes.

Gradually add distraction and also move around; maybe go out of their sight. Have someone watch for you or use a mirror so you can correct if they break their stay. It’s important to keep the dog in the stay until they are released and not let them get up and move.

Lexie PlaceAfter practicing these things, you can assign them a “place.” I use a dog bed in my living room. Where ever you choose to have their place, it should be easy to check if they are staying and positioned in an area where you are nearby at least some of the time.

Give the command “go to your place.” Walk the dog to his place and ask them to down and stay. Give a treat. Release the dog and repeat. You will probably be surprised how quickly they understand the behavior of walking or running to their place and going into a down.

Now comes the hard part: “stay”.  Start this practice with 10 or 15 minutes in their place and you going about your normal routine. Remember, you have to watch them so they don’t break the stay. As soon as the dog is doing great on this, we make it harder.

Always be vigilant or cheat by using a tie-down if you are busy and not able to be vigilant. The tie-down won’t replace vigilant work entirely but it will help strengthen the habit of staying in their place.

Next step: ask your kids, husband or a friend to go out and ring the doorbell. If your dog breaks the stay correct them and put them right back where they belong. I like to train this before trying to get a real visitor in the house with the dog doing its place command.

Take Aways:

  • Teach this and any other complex commands in stages.
  • Practice with the down-stay in many situations and with varying levels of distraction before expecting the dog to do a good solid “place” command.
  • Even after the dog understands “go to your place” there will be work to do on the stay in that place.
  • Don’t let the dog break their stay!
  • Always release and reward the dog at the end of the lesson!

Pulling on Leash

There are a number of ways to solve the problem of your dog pulling on the leash. Here are a few things to try:

  1. Stop walking and do not move forward until the dog moves back beside you and the leash is slack.
  2. Put your dog in a sit stay or a down stay for a minute or two before moving forward.
  3. Reverse your direction.
  4. Use treats and targeting to teach the dog where to walk.

It’s always best to practice when you aren’t trying to accomplish two things at once, such as trying to get your exercise and trying to get your dog to stop pulling on the leash.

I suggest training alone until the dog is responding. I also suggest not having a destination in mind; think of this as training time only. Once you’ve got this down while Good_heelon your own, gradually add easy distractions and possibly a destination. If you are successful with small distractions you can start to add more difficult challenges.

Set yourself up for success by practicing for ten minutes then taking a break.

I find a combination of these solutions to work well when training dogs to stop pulling on the leash. Good luck!

Puppy Greetings at the Door

You have a puppy and you have been doing some training.  Great work so far!

You’re very proud of your pup and you’ve invited a friend over to meet the little cutie.

The doorbell rings and you run to open it with the fuzz ball right at your heels.  Your friend at the door immediately starts cooing and talking baby talk in a high-energy, high-pitched voice and puppy goes crazy dancing around jumping on your friend who is busy telling him how cute he is and telling you oh I don’t care if he jumps on me! Ugh!

We really want to build good habit patterns with our dogs right from the beginning so we won’t have to break bad habits later.

Here is a strategy I use for building and practicing good greetings with friends and strangers.

  1. Put a treat jar outside the door.
  2. Tell your guests that you are working on your pup’s training.
  3. Ask them to help by getting a treat or two, and when you open the door giving the dog a treat once he is sitting and being polite. Give the treat by bringing it under his chin so he’s not tempted to jump for it.

If they are calm and the pup stays calm they can pet him for a moment, but ask them as soon as he starts to get excited or jump to stand up and turn away from him.  By ending the attention when he starts to get excited you teach the puppy that being calm is the way to keep getting attention.

My thoughts with this are:

  1. Involving others in the training process by requesting their help, providing the needed supplies and giving clear instructions helps keep them from accidentally teaching your dog bad habits
  2. Involving other people in the training of your dog can reinforce that the things you are teaching apply to other people too.


We’ve all met the dog that jumps all over friends when they come to visit . Some of us have personally experienced the dog that jumps all over us.

We hear simple logical remedies like turn your back and ignore the dog…great advice and it works in most situations.

But what about the dog that jumps on your back? That guy is determined to get your jumping doggieattention no matter how determined you are to ignore him, and being climbed like a tree is not good fun. Those toenails are sharp.

It’s almost impossible not to try to correct this in the moment, and it probably should be corrected because you’re being hurt.

You could carry a boat air horn in your pocket and (assuming it doesn’t drive your neighbors crazy) give that dog a blast with the air horn when he tries to climb your back. If this happened every time he climbed on someone he would stop it quickly. Not all neighborhoods are air horn friendly, and even if you just found a quick fix ,only the symptom has been controlled and the underlying problem is still there.

Here are steps you can take to change it:

  • Start by giving the dog a job so they can earn attention and praise. The first jobs you will give them are both obedience jobs: sit ,and stay!
  • It doesn’t matter how you teach them-clicker, classic conditioning, old school, new school-get the dog’s mind engaged and give them attention for doing what you want.
  • If you put in ten minutes working with your dog each day you will see changes. If you put in two ten minute sessions it will go faster.

The take-away is that dogs are intelligent social animals that need a relationship with their people. We give them the interaction and mental stimulation they need when we train them.

A More Beneficial Way to Greet Your Dog When Coming Home

When you get home from work or from just being out, you might think it’s lovely to see how excited your dog is.  Just look at how much he loves you.

Try to bear in mind that happy as you are that your dog is excited to see you, you don’t really want him jumping all over you or a guest.

When we act excited to see our dog we don’t really think that we’re training the dog to jump and be wild. The fact is we are helping to create a habit pattern.  Training is basically the creation of habit patterns. If we create negative habit patterns like the dog jumping all over us, what should we expect when someone new comes into our home?

A more positive approach will be to bear in mind that the more calm and non-reactive you are the easier it will be for your dog to be calm and centered as well.

For the dog’s sake and your guests please don’t get all excited and say all kinds of oochie coochie baby talk in a high-pitched voice. This will create a crazy reaction.

It’s much better for you, for the dog’s training, and for the dog when you come in to do it quietly without a lot of reaction.  After you’ve been there for about 5 minutes call your pup over and give them lots of love. This will help build the habit pattern of being chill when someone comes in.

Poison Oak and Your Four Legged Friend

I believed for years that dogs were immune to poison oak, but guess what, this isn’t true! Dogs’ fur protects them pretty well from getting poison oak but those with very fine coats, relatively hairless bellies, or just plain sensitive skin are susceptible.

Poison_oakIn addition to rover getting poison oak from crashing around through the brush, you can catch it from the oils on his fur.  If your dog is off-roading through the bushes it’s a good idea to pack damp towels and Tecnu® soap and a pair of rubber gloves to wipe him down with before you need to handle him or let him into the car. Once you get home (or to Pet Food Express where you can rent a bathing station for $15), you can use Dawn dishwashing soap to remove any remaining poison oak oil from your dog’s coat. It is probably a lot cheaper than Tecnu® and you may want to use it as a secondary line of defense depending on how sensitive you are to poison oak.

You can choose to keep your dog with you on fire roads, avoid a lot of the brushy wooded areas and avoid a lot of labor, but this of course is up to you.

Remember if your dog does get poison oak, it will look bumpy.  The dog will be itchy and will probably need to go to the vet for steroids and antibiotics (if they scratch, they can introduce bacteria into the skin causing an infection along with the poison oak rash).

Click here for more information on the four seasons of poision oak from the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy.

Make Training Fun for You and for Your Dog & You’ll be Much More Likely To Do It

While there is value in obedience drills, there is also the potential for fatigue and boredom. So look for ways to engage your dog’s brain and yours by finding ways to make training fun.

Try teaching some agility. Running around over the obstacles once the dog learns them is great fun – there’s nothing better than having fun with someone you love.

If your dog loves to play ball buy a tennis ball clip, put a ball in it, throw the ball for him as soon as his tummy touches the ground on a down. It will change the way he looks at down and at working altogether.

Throw a squeaker in your pocket and when he’s distracted; squeak it when he focuses on you and slip him a treat. Wow! Who is this interesting person I am working with?!

Playing_ballWhen teaching fetch, I don’t initially make the dog drop the ball into my hand every time. I may jostle it in their mouth or act as though they are winning tug of war. I want them to be happy to play with me, of course I’m usually teaching this to young puppies but many of these principles apply with adult dogs too.

If fetch or tug aren’t your dog’s thing, maybe chase is.  When your dog performs a stay, release her and run with her

Teach a couple of tricks like find the treat, find the ball, or bang! you’re dead. Change things up. Try rally obedience.  Use a wading pool and teach your water dog to find the toy or scent article you put in the pool.

If they love to play with the spray from the hose, use that to teach them to stop, and down and stay while you are running the water then release them to chase and bite the water. You can figure out some way to turn training into play. Try to add some play into your training sessions each time you work.

One of my favorite things that I got to do when I first started my business was handle and play with puppies. You can teach in short bursts while still having a great fun

Practice and discipline will help you build a strong bond. Sharing fun times together will too!

Ugh Ticks!

…disease-bearing, blood-sucking creepy creatures. Believe it or not they have an active season. They are out in force from the first rain in fall and are more prevalent during warm, wet conditions.

Ticks carry a number of diseases including, but not limited to, Lyme Disease, Ehrlichiosis and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. Your dog can catch these diseases and you and your family can too.

These days as I hike with the crew, Frontline or Advantix are not enough to keep ticks off . The darnn things are digging in in spite of these topical anti-tick medicines. I add a tick preventative collar and a drop or two of terra shield essential oil to discourage the nasty beasties. I use the essential oil on myself as well as on the dogs.

I have  seen a significant reduction in the number of eight legged hitchhikers since I began using  preventive collars. This is good because no matter how hard we try to get all of them off they are extremely difficult to find and are very good at hiding.

If you too are finding ticks on your four legged friends try a collar designed specifically to address ticks. There are some relatively new oral medications which target ticks and control fleas. I have not used them, but some of my clients have and report good success.

Many people think that ticks are in brush and trees and while this is true, they are also very prevalent in grassy areas so avoiding brush won’t (unfortunately) keep you or your dog tick free.

I spray my clothing with Off! Deep Woods Insect Repellent or some other deet-laden repellant, tie my hair back and wear a cap, but that doesn’t keep the ticks from getting on me if they decide the dogs aren’t such a tasty feast. If possible, after I have combed the dogs thoroughly, I shower and change clothes. If I don’t have time for all that I step into my bath tub, remove and shake out my clothes & brush my hair. If any ticks are dislodged I will see them on the white porcelain and dispose of them.

First aid: If your dog has a tick embedded use your fingers or a box style paper clip (clip the clip to the tick) and unscrew the little bugger counter-clockwise. Some vets will tell you to pull them straight out and that unscrewing them is an old wives tale. I can’t vouch for old wives, but I know the counter-clockwise method of tick removal is the one I have been using successfully for 30+ years.

Of course always wash your hands after handling ticks!

Happy and tick-free hiking!

Foxtails and Hoodies

In May the grass is well on its way from green to gold. Along with the color change come the stickers: foxtails, filaree, oats, bronco grass, and even comparably innocuous rye grass has stickers that can be dangerous for your pet. As you have no doubt noticed on your own hikes these pesky stickers can cause a worlDaycare_0209d of misery. They get into your running shoes or hiking boots, work their way into your socks, and even work their way up your pant legs

I used to think that if I just kept the group all leashed I could keep their noses and ears sticker-free but I realized rather quickly that in reality all it takes is one wrong sniff or an inside-out ear and off we go to the vet. To prevent this, one of my clients has come up with an ingenious device:  it’s a hoodie to keep foxtails out of ears, eyes and noses. It also protects dogs from scratched corneas when running through tall grass and yay it helps prevent their wantonly ingesting the nasty stuff they find on the trail.

The dogs in my care wear their hoods every day during sticker season. They are able to pick up a ball or a stick with their hoodies on. They can pant freely to cool off and can drink water with their hoods on. I am so grateful for this well thought out tool!

These hoodies are available at www.foxtailfree.com.

Rattlesnake Avoidance

Rattlesnake avoidance training is just one of the clinics and services we offer to help keep your dog safe on the trail.  Natural Solutions does an impressive job using live, muzzled, wild rattlesnakes and electronic collars which teaches your dog in the gentlest way possible to stay away from rattlesnakes on the trail and in your yard or campsite. One of the nice side benefits is that your dog will alert you to the presence of rattlesnakes and allow you to avoid the snake! I have been very impressed as the dogs in my hiking group (who have all received the rattlesnake avoidance training) consistently come away from snakes and directly to me. This training takes about 1/2  an hour and it is good to refresh it at least once a year.

For more information about the Rattlesnake Avoidance Clinic, click here.

In the picture below, Niki is avoiding a rattlesnake by putting the trainer between her and the muzzled rattlesnake.