Ask the Trainer




Q: “I have a 4-year-old Chihuahua from a puppy mill. She is insistent that she not be picked up and held, but I want to be able to take her on walks, give her baths and take her to the vet. How can I help her trust me?”

A: Megan Janning, CPDT-KA of Paws Abilities Dog Training, says that this is a common issue in survivors of puppy mills.

“Because she has likely had very little human contact, I would recommend taking it slowly with her,” Janning says. “We want to build trust before we take her on the equivalent of a Six Flags theme park ride.”

Rather than trying to pick up your timid girl, Janning suggests starting with simply reaching towards her and stroking, even if your dog generally seems comfortable being petted.

“Begin by kneeling down next to her and teaching her to associate your hand slowly reaching toward her with good things, like a small piece of chicken,” Janning advises. Reach towards her, then surprise her with a small piece of chicken about half a second afterwards, so that she learns that your hand coming towards her always predicts something wonderful.

Janning recommends that you go very slowly with this training, over the course of several weeks. “As she begins to appear comfortable with you reaching towards her, you can start putting your hand under her chest, without touching her at first, and give her a small piece of chicken.”

The trick is to stay on each step for several days before progressing, making sure your dog is happy and excited about each step before you move to the next one.

“Once she is appearing comfortable [with your hand under her body], you can begin gently placing your hand under her, where you would place it if you were going to pick her up, and give her a small piece of chicken. Eventually, once she is doing well with that, you can apply some pressure, then progress to lifting her slightly, before giving her chicken.”

Janning noted that survivors of puppy mill abuse can sometimes display PTSD-like symptoms which may require additional help. Reach out to your veterinarian or a veterinary behaviorist with questions, and “if at any point she displays aggressive behavior or you are not seeing progress, seek out the help of a Certified Professional Dog Trainer near you for an in-home session” and more customized assistance in helping your girl feel safe.

Thank you for rescuing a needy dog!


Q: “I have a Golden Retriever puppy and I want to do therapy dog work with her when she grows up. What are the steps to getting her certified?”

A:  “The first thing to consider,” says Jessica Smidt CVT, KPA-CTP of Think Positive Pets Training and Behavior, “is whether your dog wants to be a therapy dog. Not all dogs have personalities that make them good candidates for therapy work. Just like people, there are introverts and extroverts.”

How can you tell whether your puppy is a canine extrovert who will enjoy meeting new people? Smidt advises watching your dog when she meets new people. See whether she solicits attention and asks to be petted by strangers. A good therapy dog will show a strong desire to interact with a wide variety of people.

“The next thing to think about is exposure to various stimuli,” Smidt advises. “It is crucial to positively expose [your dog] to all sorts of things and people. A therapy dog needs to be non-reactive to various stimuli that you could encounter while working, and socialization exercises will help to ensure that.”

Training is also crucially important for therapy dogs. “Taking a class is recommended as it teaches [your dog] to be reliable in the presence of other dogs, people and distractions,” Smidt says.

Consider your training options carefully, however, as not all trainers have the appropriate education or background to train therapy dogs.

“When you are choosing a trainer, it is important to work with trainers who only use positive techniques. Therapy dogs need to be confident and enjoy what they are doing, and how you train them can greatly affect that.”

There are a variety of therapy dog organizations out there, so Smidt recommends researching to find a good fit. “Choose an organization to test your dog and find a place that you and your dog enjoy working at.”

There is a need for therapy dogs all over the state, and dogs who have the proper aptitude, socialization, and training are worth their weight in gold!

Sara Reusche CBCC-KA CPDT-KSA CVT, is owner of Paws Abilities Dog Training.