Simple explanations for dog behavior

Michigan Dog Training, Belgian Malinois, Kaboom, Happy Halloween


Is Michigan Dog Training haunted? This was a question I amusingly asked myself the other day when I saw a Halloween Pumpkin Ornament disappear and reappear. Ohhh.

Michael Burkey, Michigan Dog Training, dog behavior, simple answers to dog behaviorFor the holiday, my staff hung a Halloween Pumpkin ornament light in between two Ghost ornaments on our kitchen windows (pictured above). The next day while providing private dog training lessons, I glanced over and saw the Pumpkin had disappeared. I assumed that one my staff members took it down to put up somewhere else in the building. However, the next day I noticed it had reappeared in-between the two ghosts. So I amusingly thought that Michigan Dog Training must be haunted because the Halloween Pumpkin disappeared and reappeared like magic.

Obviously, the simple explanation was that the sticker which hung the Pumpkin on the window had come loose causing it to fall to the floor. On the following day, someone spotted it laying on the floor and reattached it to the window. This whimsical analogy made me think of the times that dog parents often times put human emotions on their dogs and come up with complex explanations for their dogs’ behavior. When in actuality, there are really a lot more simple explanations as to why dogs do what they do.

One time, I had a client tell me convincingly that their dog was upset with him because he was watching the Super Bowl game rather than paying attention to his dog. So naturally, his dog ripped out the cable cord that was attached to the house. The client seriously thought his dog had done this to avenge him. I explained that a simpler solution was that his dog found a wonderful tug toy attached to the side of the house and since he was unsupervised, he was determined to remove it because that’s what some dogs do.

Another client told me that their dog tore up the couch pillow and when they entered the room, they could see their dog knew it was wrong to do. I asked them what that looked like to them that their dog looked guilty. I already knew the answer to my question because it’s a common one. They said their dog slinked downward toward the floor as he made an attempt to get around them and escape out of the room. I asked if it was possible that the dog knew they were upset with him. They responded, “yes of course because we were very upset, we yelled at him and he exited the room quickly. He knew he was guilty” I suggested that the dog really only knew that the owners weren’t safe to be around at that moment.

They believed the dog knew he was wrong and therefore acted guilty upon the owners walking into the room. A simpler explanation is that as the owners walked into the room and saw the cushions ripped apart, the dog sensed that the owners were upset without understanding the “why”. Thus, a human emotion of guilt was placed on the dog.  The dog was simply being a dog tearing apart a stuffed toy (in the dog’s mind).

Another owner believed their dog urinated on their bed to spite them. A much simpler explanation is that the dog had been corrected previously for laying on the bed. Thus, the dog was fearful as the owner approached and Jessica Bawol, Michigan Dog Training, Halloweentherefore the dog was unable to control his bladder at that moment.

There are many more examples of dogs performing undesirable behaviors and the stories we attach to dog behavior. There are made up stories of how we perceive things and then there are “just the facts”, as famously said by Detective Joe Friday of the TV Series “Dragnet”. So rather than assuming that Michigan Dog Training is haunted, I quickly entertained other possible explanations for the disappearance and reappearance of the Halloween Pumpkin such as the ornament simply fell to the ground.

I encourage you to look beyond your dogs presenting behavior and entertain plausible explanations as to why a dog did what it did rather than going with your first perceived complex explanation. I wish you and your family a happy and safe Halloween. Oh, and to be clear, Michigan Dog Training isn’t Haunted.      : )

President Trump, Human Needs & Dog Training

Donald Trump, Michigan Dog Training, Plymouth, Michigan, Fear of Change, dog training

On January 20, 2017, Donald Trump became the 45th President of the United States.  The Inauguration lasted approximately five hours. However, the most interesting part for me was the few moments the camera showed Donald Trump just before he walked out onto the swearing-in platform.  He was quiet and looked focused, deep in thought, and solemn.

I found it interesting to study him for this glimpse of his persona because this is not an image of Donald Trump we commonly see. Even more importantly I was intrigued by what he may have been thinking knowing he had captured the ultimate position of power. Was he visualizing his upcoming acceptance speech? And, was he nervous, ecstatic or in wonderment that he was about to become the 45th President of the United States? It would’ve been interesting to be able to read his mind in that moment of time.

Then my thought went to how an incredible feeling it must’ve been to know one was about to walk out and Michigan Dog Training, Gladiator, President Donald Trumpbecome the President; to go from President-Elect to “The President” in just a few minutes. No matter how prepared one is, change is often scary because people thrive certainty. It is one of the Six Basic Needs That Make Us Tick according to Tony Robbins an internationally known Personal Coach and Strategist. Yes, Trump was certain he would be sworn in but what challenges would he soon face as a leader of the free world?

Similarly, people face uncertainty when bringing a dog into their home. They envision the dog will be a welcomed new family member and the joy the dog will bring to their lives. Later, they realize the puppy or dog requires a lot more work to supervise and train than they first envisioned. This causes a disconnect with the original reason they got the dog. It can also cause disagreement amongst family members as they have their own ideas how to train their dog. This is where it’s beneficial to seek help from a professional dog trainer to give you the certainty you need – to build the relationship you desire with your dog and to restore family unity.

In relation to dog training, many people also need Uncertainty, Significance, Love & Connection, Growth, and Contribution; the other Human basic needs. While people seek Certainty to feel comfort, they also need Uncertainty. It provides variety, for example when a person goes beyond teaching their dog basic obedience and learn the exciting dog sport of Nosework. What fun activities do you want to learn with your dog? Please share below.

Learning how to influence and train your dog can certainly make one feel significant. It’s getting out of “the head” by dismissing self-limiting beliefs, deep practicing new skills by chunking them down into easily achievable parts, practicing them slowly, and then allowing the parts to flow back together. This is how you go from zero to mastering new skills.

Michigan Dog Training, Michael BurkeyLove & Connection can be obtained through personal relationships or by getting a dog.  I know this to be true from personal experience as it was a dog who taught me how to talk. I missed out on hearing beginning language sounds until the age of four. The speech therapist advised my parents to get a dog who would seemingly sit still and listen to me trying to make babbling sounds as I petted my friend Princess. How has a dog changed your life? I’d like to know so please share below.

Growth is crucial for self-fulfillment. If we’re not growing, we’re dying. Humans have a need to push themselves and explore their world and themselves. Working with and training a dog provides that growth not only of new skills but also the personal connection with the dog. As Robbins says, “And the reason we grow, I believe, is so we have something of value to give.”

Contribution provides meaning to life. When one gets out of themselves and focuses on the needs of others, Michigan Dog Training, Michael Burkeyone finds fulfillment. This is what motivates many people to adopt a dog from an animal shelter or rescue organization rather than purchasing a dog. They want to provide love and improve a dog’s life that doesn’t yet have a forever home. For me, I make an unspoken contract with each dog I meet that I will be there for them and help their human counterpart better understand them. They cannot speak for themselves so I can be that catalyst for them, ending suffering and restoring peace within the home. What is your contribution? Please share below. I’m always inspired learning about individual’s contributions to dogs and others.

4 actions will make a lasting change in the relationship with your dog:

  • Realize your dog’s behavior is not what you desire and use your suffering to motivate yourself to take action.
  • Know, declare and own that you and your dog deserve a close and fun relationship together.
  • Get clear on how you want your relationship to be with your dog. Commit this to being a lifestyle change.
  • Call a dog behavior expert to help you achieve your dream.

I started this conversation by wondering what President Trump was thinking before stepping out onto the platform and what were his fears as he became the President. So too, I’d like to hear what your fears are in training your dog or seeking out a professional dog trainer/dog behaviorist for assistance. What prevents you from taking action today?


What you should know about the dog training profession!

Michigan Dog Training, dog obedience

Michael Burkey and Kaboom giving a demonstration

In response to the question, “What do you wish customers knew about the dog training profession?”; Michael Burkey, President and Dog Behaviorist of Michigan Dog Training in Plymouth, Michigan responded by saying:  “Unfortunately, dog trainers are often times split into three distinct groups of trainers: Pure Positive Trainers, Balanced Trainers, and Punitive Trainers. Fortunately, there are less and less Punitive Trainers out there than in the past but they still exist.

The “Pure Positive” trainers are misleading themselves and their clients with their philosophy that all things can be taught by treats and praise alone. Think of raising children or supervising employees at a job site. Is it possible to always treat a child or employee to get them to do the desired behavior long-term? No. Sometimes, fair corrections have to be used to get the child or employee back on track despite frequent rewards.

Whereas, BALANCED TRAINERS, which I am, are largely positive based trainers who teach new behaviors through positive means such as treats, toys, & praise but will use fair corrections when the dog knows a behavior but chooses not to do it. Before a correction is used, it is important to ask yourself:

  1. Did the dog truly understand the behavior that it was being asked to perform?
  2. Was the dog proofed against the distraction that caused him/her to not do the requested behavior. If not, the dog shouldn’t be corrected but instead proofed against increasingly harder distractions before being exposed to the high distraction that caused the dog not to perform as requested, and
  3. Was the correction sufficient but not too much to regain the dog’s attention so that the dog can be praised again for completing the requested behavior. Corrections should be thought of what will it take to stop the undesired behavior from happening without scaring, intimidating, or hurting the dog.

This is the way children and employees are taught to perform in their roles and it works extremely well for dogs as well.”


Kaboom on down stay despite meat distractions

Michigan Dog Training, Plymouth, Michigan

Michigan Dog Training, Trainer’s In-Service Training

small dog training, Michigan Dog Training

Happy Client

Testimonial for highly excitable Lakeland Terrier after Michigan Dog Training’s board and train program

Jax with his mom and dad

Jax with his mom and dad

Jax, a Lakeland Terrier of Belleville, Michigan recently completed our four-week K9 Camp (board and train) dog obedience and dog behavior program.  He is one highly excitable guy and we loved working for him.  He made such improvement such as being able to walk on a loose leash and working toward being off leash reliable, to bring back and give up balls instead of growling to keep them, to sit, down, stay and go to place with duration, distractions and distance.

Today we received a lovely update from Jax’s mom Linda. This is what she said:

    “I just wanted to tell you how wonderful it is to walk Jax now!! He really is enjoying his walks instead of being so hyper and distracted by anything that he couldn’t enjoy it. Yesterday was a real test for him. We live pretty rural on a dirt road and while walking he saw the horses in the pasture. In the past this put him in a complete frenzy. Yesterday he stood and watched with his tail wagging. He was simply taking the time to enjoy it instead of barking and going off the deep end. I don’t know how you worked your magic on our little guy, but I thank you, thank you, thank you!!!!! Talk to you soon.. Linda

It is such a joy to work with client’s dogs.  At Michigan Dog Training, we help high energy dogs become ideal companions.

Matching a dog’s play style

Today I conducted an evaluation and consultation for a dog owner whose dog was asked to discontinue their participation in a doggie day care. The dog had been evaluated by their staff and at first deemed appropriate.  Later, as the dog felt more comfortable in the new environment, the dog began repeatedly mounting the other dogs at the facility and playing very rough.  The play style was over the top for the other dogs and the owner was concerned if this meant her dog was dog aggressive.

The consultation took place at an area park where I could observe the dog’s behavior to passing strange dogs.  The dog showed intense interest in the other dogs but no aggression.  The dog simply laid down and watched the passing dogs go by with no reactivity.

I then introduced him to my personal dog, Starbuck, a very friendly and playful German Shepherd.  Initially, the dog showed some nervous behavior.  The hair on his back stood up which is sometimes called his hackles or more appropriately called pilo-erection.  He closed his mouth, tensed up his muscles and monetarily stopped breathing. It’s like the calm before the storm as the dog considers his next move. Often times this behavior predicts aggression. However, a second later, he did a play bow and immediately commenced playing with Starbuck with repetitive attempts to mount him.

There was no aggression showed just a very rough style of play.  Starbuck a large dog was able to match the dog’s play style, let him know when the play got too rough and prevent the dog from continually mounting him. Therefore, the mounting ceased and their play was equally matched.  The dog also showed great bite inhibition meaning while he bit at Starbuck’s legs and side he did not bite down to cause pain.  It was simply a rough play style. And, because Starbuck was able to match the play style, they had a great time together. Additionally, the dog’s play style began to settle down to the point where they both laid on the grass simply mouthing each other.

The doggie day care facility was correct that this dog’s play style is too rough to be a good fit with most of the other dogs in the facility.  Even though the facility has different play groups based upon dogs’ play styles and energy, this dog’s style is presently over the top for even the most energized groups. What this dog needs is safe play with other dogs who can match the play style and appropriately let the dog know when enough is enough.

The owner can also interrupt the play from time to time to teach the dog to sit and be calm before resuming the play sessions.  This keeps the play sessions under control and teaches the dog that a request for it to end (by cuing come and sit) is not a bad thing because it results in the opportunity to go play again.

Based upon the dog’s history and behavior displayed it was clear the dog needs to be matched with other dogs who can match his play style and prevent the mounting from occurring, without becoming aggressive themselves, as Starbuck did. This will allow the dog to expend his energy and eventually develop a more appropriate play style. This type of consultation is very rewarding as I was able to reassure the owner that her dog was not displaying aggression but instead a rough play style that is too much for most dogs.

If you’re concerned that your dog maybe showing signs of aggression, contact a dog behaviorist for an evaluation.

German Shepherd pulls hard and circles

Briscoe, a very loveable and overly anxious German Shepherd came to the K9 Camp at the Michigan Dog Trainer for a two-week stay.  The main goal for Briscoe was to be able to walk on a loose leash.  His owner, a strong male, was unable to walk him in public because he would pull hard on the leash and spin circle around him.  Briscoe’s level of anxiousness was so bad that if he wanted to go somewhere and was prevented from doing so, he would cry out very loudly as if he experiencing utter pain and agony. Even performing a “sit” command was difficult for him to do because it meant he was not in movement.

Soon after picking Briscoe up, I video taped him during a short walk at a nearby park.  And, yes, the owner was very correct Briscoe pulled hard and would circle me wrapping the leash around me.  As you tried to unwrap him, he would wrap around you in the opposite direction.  The included video shows some but not to the full extent of his circling behavior.  He also loved car rides so much that he would try to jump on nearby cars.  For most dogs this would simply mean jumping on the car that he is about to enter.  However, for Briscoe this meant trying to jump on each parked car along a city street.

During the two-week stay, Briscoe went from pulling hard in every direction to following behind me to finally learning to heel on the left side.  He also learned to sit on command, to come when called, to heel away from other dogs instead of dragging me toward them and not to jump on cars he walked past.

Upon delivering Briscoe back to his owner, Eric, and completing a training session together; Eric said, “Wow, I never thought I would be able to walk him outside of the house.  Thanks!”

It is very satisfying being apart of the process in which a dog and his owner can now enjoy walks together and an enhanced life.


What does a wagging tail mean?

Wagging Tail May Indicate Dog Aggression

Evaluating dog reactivity

When dogs become nervous or unsure of other dogs, people or other triggers; they will show various stress relieving behaviors. Some of these behaviors may include: turning their head or whole body away from the trigger, licking their lips or flicking their tongue, increased frequency of eye blinks, increased facial wrinkles, stiff body posture, leaning toward or away from the trigger, increased ratio of breaths or cessation of breathing, whale’s eye where one sees the whites of the dog’s eyes as he/she tries to look at two places at once, tucking their tail between their legs or raising their tail high, having their hair stand on it’s end, and wagging of the tail.

To decide if your dog is stressed, it is important to view each of these behaviors as part of the dogs’ total body posture and not isolated to a single behavior.  To view each behavior separate from the others takes too long to determine if the dog is stressed and might lead to a wrong assumption.  For example, people commonly think a “wagging tail” means the dog is friendly.  Instead, it actually means “arousal”.  This arousal could be a good or a bad thing. Dogs are excited when they approach something they want to visit or investigate but they are also aroused when they are fearful and ready to bite another dog or person.  Take a look at the included video and see for yourself of an aroused dog who is wagging his tail.  However, his arousal is not friendly arousal.  He is a fearful dog who becomes reactive when the distance to another dog is decreased past his comfort level.


If you were the owner of this dog standing behind him, you might have incorrectly assumed your dog was being friendly because the tail was wagging.  However, as this video points out, a wagging tail does not mean friendly behavior.  It simply means high arousal which could be a good thing or in this case a bad thing.

So how can one identify stress behaviors and use them to their advantage so that the distance between dogs can be increased before an unfortunate incident happens? Rather than isolating behaviors and trying to play detective to decide if it means good or bad, the answer is to observe your dog’s behavior when he/she is completely calm and relaxed.

Become keenly aware of how your dog carries itself when relaxed; how tight are it’s body muscles held, how many facial wrinkles are there, are the ears usually carried forward or back, how is the tail carried (low, medium or high), etc.  This way when you are out in public and your dog reacts to a trigger, you’ll immediately will know your dog is stressed without trying to play detective.  You will instinctively know your dog is stressed and it may give you the needed time to be proactive instead of reactive and increase the distance of your dog from the trigger.

To learn more about dog behavior or to obtain personal training with your reactive dog, contact the Michigan Dog Trainer.

Dogs of Thailand; a different kind of socialization

Monk befriends feral dogAs a professional dog trainer, I am very interested in the proper socialization of dogs so that they grow up to be friendly and confident dogs.  Puppies in America that lack good puppy socialization and training may grow up to be fearful and potentially aggressive toward other dogs and/or people.

Currently, I am traveling in Thailand visiting the beach resort towns of Patong and Kata of Phukut Province, the Chalong Buddhist Temple as well as snorkeling and canoeing at nearby uninhabited islands in the Indian Ocean.  In Patong and at the temple, there are many feral dogs.

These dogs are mostly medium to small size dogs of various mixed breeds who roam freely amongst the city and temple.  They have done so probably since birth. Most cannot be identified as representing one particular breed or another.  However, I did meet two dogs who did so; one a terrier mix and the other one a very small and cute German Shepherd dog mix.

What was interesting to see is that these dogs are well habituated to their environment.  They appear very calm and relaxed amongst distractions such as visiting strangers, other dogs, cats, cars and motorbikes, etc.  They peacefully relax in the mid day sun in peaceful harmony with other dogs and cats.  They approach strangers with no fear, looking for food handouts.

As pictured above, I saw one dog who enjoyed being petted and that was by the monk who had befriended him.  Just prior to taking their picture, I observed the monk playfully petting the dog who in response appeared to be smiling. However, most do not seek out nor want interaction with humans via petting.  They keep their distance to avoid being touched but are not skid-dish as long as their sense of personal space is maintained.

The plus side is that the feral dogs have grown up to be confident dogs and live comfortably in the presence of humans.  However, they do not seek companionship just a means to an end, to obtain food.  So the feral dogs of Thailand have a different kind of socialization than what we expect of our pet dogs in America. For a puppy to grow up confidently and to be one that seeks companionship, it is crucial to socialize puppies at a very young age, between 3-16 weeks of age.  After 16 weeks of age, it becomes increasingly more difficult to socialize a puppy to new environments and strangers.

For help, in properly socializing your puppy, seek an off leash puppy socializing and training class such as the one that starts January 11, 2012 in Plymouth, Michigan by  Michigan Dog Trainer. Through proper socialization, you can have the best of both worlds, a confident dog and one who seeks out companionship.

Michael Burkey

Slideshow: Dogs of Thailand

I felt sorry for this guy as he was the only one that I saw that was so skinny.  And, his facial scars were probably due to mites or mange.  However, he still had a sparkle in his eyes.

Slideshow: Dogs of Thailand

Testimonial from Professional Dog Trainer Aranda

Ted Aranda

Ted Armada, a professional dog trainer in Adrian, Michigan had this to say about Michael Burkey of Michigan Dog Trainer:  ““Mike is an outstanding dog trainer who helps people get the results they want in their dogs behavior”— Ted Aranda on Oct 25, 2011

Spencer – Excited Doberman to the Max!

SpencerSpencer, a high energy Doberman came to Michael Burkey’s Michigan Dog Trainer board and train dog training program because it was impossible for his owner to walk him in public and while a very sweet boy; he was extremely difficult to live with in a home.  He chased cars, lunged with over the top excitement toward strangers he met on walks, had no clue how to walk on a leash, and picked up every item on the ground (paper, cigarette butts, etc.) He even tried to pick up a piece of flat tape that was affixed to the ground.

He was a challenge and a joy to work with because of his excitement level.  Spencer learned to walk on a loose leash, not to chase cars/bikers/joggers, not to jump on strangers, come when called, to leave it, to give and to walk with other dogs during group socialization dog walks.