Nicole S. Silvers

Nicole started her animal-related career after quitting 3 frustrating years of classroom teaching.  Toying with the idea of pursuing a veterinary career, she spent 6 months working as a Pet Nurse at a retail veterinary chain. She then realized that animal behavior was her real interest. Accredited as a dog trainer by PetSmart in 2003, she spent 3 years teaching group classes for the retail chain, then moved to another small "positive-only" training organization, and off on her own.  And so it begins...

Nicole currently lives surrounded by dogs on 40 secluded acres, just north of Fairbanks, AK. Exactly how many of the 24 resident dogs are hers and how many are her husband's depend on which one you ask, and why!  Nicole stays busy operating a small board & train facility also offering day camp. 

Some previous essays are available at  

Blog posts by Nicole S. Silvers

Training in a Nutshell

Training (from your dog's perspective):

  • What should I do? (Cue or Command)
  • How do I do that? (Elicit)
  • For how long should I keep doing it?  (Release)
  • Why should I do it? (Reward)


Training (from your perspective) -- The CERR Model:

"Command" - "Cue" = Prompt the dog.

"Elicit" = Coach your dog the right answer. Get him to do it!  

"Release" = Mark when he's done doing it.

"Reward" = Make it worth doing.





How do you make sure the dog will do it consistently?  

Practice, practice, practice.  


What if he is too "out of control" or "stressed out" to respond?  



But what if there are distractions?  


Providing contrast -- the "mistake" lure?

The technique is one for advanced handlers.  Beginning handlers, you have enough on your mind!  You'll get to this later, and all will work out just fine.

Although the practice is typically associated with positive-punishment (pain)-only training, the concept is valid, even if the pain is unnecessary.  The idea is to provide contrast.  Elicit or at least deliberately provide the opportunity for the dog to give a WRONG answer, mark it with an NRM (non-reward marker), WITHHOLD reward (or, in other words "negatively punish"), then elicit the correct response and reward it.


What dog behaviors should I encourage?

Most owners know that they want their dogs to SIT, DOWN, STAY, COME, HEEL.  When it comes to general behaviors, owners have little idea of what behaviors they even want to encourage, let alone how to accomplish the encouragement.  By contrast, ask an owner what they are trying to stop, and there are multiple answers.  Even the most mannerly dogs' "rap sheets" tend to be read out when meeting other dog people.

As positive trainers, it is our responsibility to model the behavior we want to see in other humans.  A small step towards teaching other owners what behaviors they should want is to identify the behaviors our dogs are good at. 

What to look for

No matter how tiny a moment of these behaviors you see, if you reward them, you'll see more! 

Nicole S. Silvers

Is force-free training a misnomer?

An astute reader of my recent blog article, Beyond the Click, noted that I alluded to the idea that all training incorporates an element of force.  I'm not sure every learning interaction does, but many do.

What is force?

Force is the denial of access.  Force is the opposite of persuasion, free choice.  Confining, restraining, even insisting that the animal work for its daily ration of food are all acts of force.  Intentional breedings could even be considered forceful, since the animal is typically denied free choice of alternative pairings.  The leash, the muzzle, even the collar, the crate, the fence are all force tools.  For some people, physical guiding is an unacceptable level of compulsion.  


Adolescent Mouthing


Antisocialization: Help Your Dog Make Your Life Difficult

Socialization, building a dog's ability to adapt to new experiences without fear, is recognized by most people as the fundamental skill a pet dog needs to acquire.  It's a time-consuming process, but fairly simple.  Your dog is rewarded for choosing to experience new things.  Temple Grandin expressed the idea beautifully:  fear and curiosity are opposites.  Build curiosity, dampen fear.

If you wanted to make your dog completely anti-social, how would you do it?  You'd convey the idea that anything new or interesting, anything that arouses curiosity, is very, very dangerous and painful.  Every time your dog approached something, you'd zap the hell out it.  If you were lazy, you'd construct a machine to do it for you.  Lucky for you, such devices already exist:  the Shock Collar "Fence".  It's easier than ever to give your dog some serious fear-biter potential.

Nicole S. Silvers

You say "The dog is wild" like it's a BAD thing...

Reading canine body language is often one of the most difficult skills to teach humans.  "Wild" is one of the adjectives that can be used for anything from euphemizing aggression to describing a dog's athleticism.  So, what IS the difference between "wild", what I call "high-octane", and "wild", a dog with a genuine social problem?

Nicole S. Silvers


The essence of learning, whether you are dog or human or goldfish, is the ability to identify a pattern.  When I lower my rump to the group, my crate door opens.  When I produce a treat, my dog "listens".  Like Rachel Ray says, Easy peasy!!

For owners, pattern identification behavior can fall into one of two extremes.  Typically, these extremes arise from a lack of understanding, a lack of ability to identify relevant, effective predictors of behavior.

One such extreme is the owner who is genuinely surprised EVERY time the 5-year-old dog jumps up to greet humans (or some other "undesirable" behavior).  This owner is, well, almost a cliche.   


Keeping the Bumpus Hounds at Bay

The ubiquitous dog-related holiday disaster story appears in "A Christmas Story". Still, every year, I am contacted by distraught owners who just didn't realize how predictable and, sadly, preventable, holiday hoopla could have been.

To ensure you & your dog have a smooth holiday
Assess your situation:
Is this the dog's first holiday experience at your house?
Is the dog an adolescent (age 4 mos -3 years)?
Have you had the opportunity to properly socialize the dog?

Assess reality:
Are you able to make this a positive learning experience for the dog?
Have you been providing the correct levels of exercise, training, and stimulation over the past few weeks?

Nicole S. Silvers, "that dog whisperer lady"

Labels Create Self-Fulfilling Prophecies

Recently, my dog Lila and I encountered a group of three Australian Shepherds, out for a walk in the park with a man and woman.  As we approached, I thought I noted signs of discomfort in the humans, and, I admit, I have my own expectations about the stability of Aussies.  The group appeared to move off when we entered their visual distance, but, apart from some leash-pulling, not the total chaos I expected.  I decided to ascribe my feeling to my own stereotypes about the breed.

As we continued our walks in opposite directions, and the trail is a circuit, we re-encountered each other again a short time later.  Unlike the intial moment, where the angle of approach put our dogs facing 180 degrees away  from each other, this approach put us nose to nose. 



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