Interview with Joel Walton

This interview with Joel was conducted in The Kennel chat room on Sunday 13th June 1999. Joel Walton is an American Behaviourist and author of “The Complete Idiots guide to Labrador Retrievers”.

Gill: Well I make it 1 minute past now, so shall we start? Can you tell us more about the book you have just published?

Joel Walton: My favorite question!

Gill: Okay, make me buy it

Joel: I got a phone call a little over a year ago from the editor in chief of Howell asking me if I wanted to write a book about Labrador Retrievers. My first thought was: No, I would rather write a book about training or my Rottie Herschel. It seems that she was having dinner with Ian Dunbar in NYC and she said to him: I need someone to write a book about Labs. Ian said give Joel Walton a call… Now about the title: there are over 400 Complete Idiots guides out there. It is a popular series and I could not get them to change the name (smile),,. Anyway, I wrote the training book with some Lab history etc….I am writing my second book right now, it will be a training book, but the management relationship/

Gill: Would it be suitable for beginners and experienced alike Joel?

Joel: and education system and the training info will be very similar to what you find in CIG Labs

Pattie: Why did they want the book just about Labs?

Joel: Gill, I write in very simple words and the guides like that so the info is great for beginners and i like to think that experienced folks would benefit from the positive system I encourage.

Gill: thats good

Joel: Before I forget, you folks are lucky to have Gill answering questions, he is one of the best and I see him over here learning from the best folks in the world.

Gil: lol…..he is a she, but thanks

Joel: Has anyone here read CIG Labs yet?

Gill: I know Dianne from our forum is in the middle of it now Joel

Gill: okay, has anyone else got a question to ask Joel?

Joel: ok

Pattie: Joel, do you use clicker training or operent conditioning?

Joel: Clicker training is a subset of operant conditioning, I use clicker and lure and reward and lots of just watching the dogs and rewarding wanted behaviors.

Pattie: Do you suggest giving the command while luring, or getting the behaviour before introducing the command?

Joel: I like to use lure and reward with new pups and untrained dogs to get sit stand down heel and stuff like that. I like to use clicker training with fearful and aggressive dogs and to grab hard to lure behaviors.

Wendy: What sort of rewards do you use – food, toys or voice or a mixture

Joel: All of the above, but with a hungry non fearful dog or pup food is quick and easy.

Grumby: I tend to use body language to put the dog at ease with me before trying anything at all

Gill: Dogs communicate through body language Grumby so thats good

barbara w: what kind of body language? the calming messages?

Pattie: Do you ever suggest aromatherapy or TTouch for dogs and when?

Joel: using your voice as a reward marker is important. body languqage is important. pups and dogs understand food rewards…

Grumby: I find they respond very well

Dianne: Where can we learn more about our body language?

Gill: Calming Signals is a good place to start Dianne

Grumby: Watch your dog playing, eating,sleeping etc

Dianne: Is that Turrid?

Gill: yes

Dianne: thanks

Grumby: you will find it very complicated at first but once you start to understand you soon pick it up

Pattie: I don’t want to hog the questions, does anyone else want to ask Joel something?

Gill: Joel did you see the question on aromatherapy and TTouch?

Joel: Hi Grumby, Did you have any questions?

Dianne: may I ask about dog posturing?

Gill: Ok, lets have Diannes questions first

Gill: please could you ask again Dianne?

Grumby: How should I cater for a Teddy and Sheeba?

Grumby: problem

Joel: Would you like me to try to answer it or should we let Grumby?

Grumby: Sheeba is very dominant at times but Teddy is most certainly the Alpha

Gill: Grumby, hang on a minute please, can we come to your question next please

Grumby: sorry, I’m busy typing

Pattie: What did you want to ask, Dianne?

Dianne: I have a castrated dog (16mnths) who approaches my bitches head on but with body turned and then offers his side of his backside to the dogs. What does this mean?

Joel: Gill who would you like to answer this question?

Gill: you please Joel, your our expert tonight

Joel: Ok, what happens after this approach?

Dianne: They play

Joel: Ok, then it looks like a invitation to play and a signal that nothing bad is going to happen .

Dianne: Yes but I would like to understand why he goes in backwards

Joel: I tend to like to solve problems and always interview the client thoroughly about behaviors they want to improve and what they want the dog to learn. Turid’s book is excellent for reading doggy language

barbara w: would that be his personal signal do you think? I don’t think I’ve ever seen an approach like that

Joel: I have seen other dogs do this.

Gill: Is it an invitation to the other dog to chase Joel?

Joel: One advantage to owning multiple dogs is watching them interact. If I was not at the computer. I would be out in the yard with a beer watching my dogs play.

Gill: lol, so true

Wendy: During play our dogs do what we call a hip check where they bump hips as an invite to play

Joel: Does anyone have any training or behavior questions?

Grumby: Yes

Joel: go grumbly

Grumby: Is it normal for a new bitch in the pack to attempt domination of the alpha male?

Joel: Grumby that is a general question, do you have a specific behavior questions? Normal covers a wide variety of behavior so my answer would be yes it is normal any problems?

Grumby: We have just got a GSd called Sheeba from the dogs home and she is intent on winding Teddy up to the point of fighting

Wendy: Sheba is also a tail chaser

Gill: can I help anyone?

Cecilia: This is not directly behavior – but I had a question out about smell – anyone with experience with using Vicks to dilute smell on a male when a bitch is in season?

Gill: you can buy Vick for babies, its not so strong as the adult version better to use a tiny tiny amount of that

Dianne: Thanks Gill

Tina: Cecillia are you trying to live with a intact male and female in the same house?

Cecilia: Unfortunately, yes – right now we are playing rotating dogs – one in – one out at any one time except at night when Quinn is baracaded in my room

Tina: Cecillia I would invest in a totally enclosed dog run with concrete floor. what your are trying to do is enough to drive you insane

Grumby: While were waiting, i would like to say that the backing on bum first is a natural thing for a dog to do in the wild. It provides a non threatening posture so there is no uncertainty on the part of the dog/s being approached that there is going to be play

barbara w: oh, so backing shows the other dogs that he’s not going to growl or bite or doing anything aggressive.

Gill: anymore questions?

barbara w: what about tail chasing? is that behaviour?

Gill: yes Barbara, its called stereotypic behaviour

barbara w: what does it signify?

Wendy: Our Sheba chases her tail, usually when no one is paying her any attention. We have been told that it is something that she does as a result of her having been kept for long periods in kennels.

Gill: yes, very often learnt in kennel environments

Tina: Barbara I find tail chasing normal in most accounts. caused by boredom

kathy: My dogs chase their tail from time to time, it seems quite normal

Gill: Aromatherapy is excellent for stereotypic behaviours, like tail chasing

kathy: where can we find more info on aromatherapy

Wendy: What aromas would you suggest for tail chasing?

Pattie: I’ve been experimenting with aromatherapy for separation

Gill: It depends on the dog, every dog is different and needs a particular remedy made from them

Pattie: Has anyone used the Bach Flowers?

barbara w: I have a website somewhere for the aromatherapy. I’ll post it when I find it.


Cecilia: Speaking of aromatherapy – is there a scent or combination of scents that works to mask the smell of a bitch in heat??

Joel: To answer to aromatherapy and TT question. I do not use either, but am not against them (smile). Some of my friends use Bach Flower and they find some success with it. I tend to use behavior modification and training smile.

Gill: Okay I think Barbara had the next question

barbara w: I wondered about recall. Kali is very good about coming until she gets interested in something. I’ve tried food and scratches etc and wonder if I should keep her ON leash and then let her off only for short occasions

Joel: Happy to answer the recall question…. You always have to remember that dogs will do what is most rewarding to them. If playing with another dog is more rewarding then food or a scratch: You need to set it up so if she comes to you she gets to play with other dog for a couple of minutes. Then you do a recall. If she does not come, then you make sure the other dog can be taken away from play and you get your dog using any pleasant method, then you say go play and release. Very quickly dogs find out coming to you results in all rewards.

Joel: Meanwhile you have to manage the dog to prevent the dog from rewarding herself by blowing you off.

barbara w: ok so with her she just loves to run. if she comes to me she gets to go back and run some more. but if she doesn’t for a while when she does come do I put her on the leash. …. seems like punishment for COMING since she doesn’t think about the not coming at that point.

Joel: I would keep her on a flexi and not let her run until you have better control. Or just don’t call her when she is running if she is not going to come. If you can find a long narrow controlled area that should help you.

barbara w: ok. I think I’ve got it. thanks.

Gill: thanks Barbara

Gill: Cecilia, its your turn now

Cecilia: my question has to do with prongs vs the head halters – I know that prongs can create more aggression in dogs – is it the same with the head collars?

Joel: I tend not to put dogs on special equipment. If the dog is already on a halti or gentle leader and I don’t see any harm, they can continue to use it. I train the owner to train the dog. I don’t like prongs especially on aggressive dogs. buckle collar, leash food voice smile……best equipment is your brain and voice.

Cecilia: For the most part my pyr bitch is OK about things, but every so often she gets concerned. Every so often she will decide that she would like a cat while we are walking… If I have her on a buckle collar she will pull till she is choking and I am being dragged, not fun for either of us

Joel: Don’t let her have the cat! Can you find a cat she likes to train her around? head collars may be ok. I have had good success training dogs to pay attention to the owner

Cecilia: We have 3 cats at home and there is no problem in the house w/ her cats. We have a very firm “no chase” rule which is followed – the problem is outside on walks

Joel: whenever they see any exciting stimuli. Read Jean Donaldson’s Dogs are from Neptune and try the open bar method.

Cecilia: open bar method – is that for the cat problem??

Joel: Yes.

Gill: Is equipment and how to use it in your book Joel?

Joel: Yes.

Tina: hahha I am so glad I have your book on order!

Joel: Thanks Tlna!

Gill: Me too Joel

Grumby: Can I comment on the Current subject?

Gill: Grumby you have a comment on this subject? before others have there questions?

Grumby: I would like to say that the pinch collars are a barbaric excuse for people who do not talk to their animals people who advise you to use such equipment don’t really understand social communication with their animals and seeking stimulation from others through chat rooms like this IS 100% better !!!!!!!!

Gill: thank you Grumby

Gill: DIANNE, I believe its your turn for a question?

Dianne: Joel, i am at the end of my tether with my dog aggressive, nervous aggressive dog. I have tried various methods but none really work

Joel: Sorry to hear that. Dianne can you describe the last episode of aggression?

Dianne: The last episode was 2 days ago when she ignored the come and went for a dog

Joel: I would not want you to have an aggressive dog off lead. Ask Gill to refer you to a competent behavior consultant in your area. or If you want to send me a e-mail at I will try to refer you to a behavior consultant in your area.

Dianne: She is normally on a flexi, muzzled. On this occasion she was running free as there were no dogs in sight

Joel: You must manage her better. That is your job smile

barbara w: I have a quick question. what is a flexi?

kathy: a flexi is an extending lead

barbara w: like the ones you can reel back in?

kathy: yes

Grumby: I found controlled meeting (rewarded with food) worked in 2 Weeks to the extent of removing the muzzle completely

Wendy: I run a puppy socialisation class where I let the pups play together. Occasionally we get a dominant pup who in my opinion seems to go too far when playing. Do I let the other pups sort it out or do I intervene?

Joel: That is a judgment call. You have to make your best decision. Lots of times you can split the group so a real pushy puppy is playing with bigger or stronger dogs. You could invite the puppy into a group with older pups. They will teach him some manners!

Grumby: good advice but we don’t have the option of splitting the group

Wendy: How do I know when to as sometimes the other pup is squealing away?

Joel: That is one of the things you must gain with experience. Safety is always your first concern.

Gill: Do you let them all free run at the same time?

Grumby: In general they are allowed to rummage the club hut together

Wendy: We tend to have small groups of about 4-5 pups who all run free in the play sessions

Joel: Also, make sure that the pups don’t play for more than a minute or two before they do a recall. You don’t want the activity to be so rewarding that you teach the pup to ignore the owner. By doing recalls every two minutes you can control the level of play and tone it down. Just don’t let them play until they are calm

Wendy: They are allowed short play sessions then the owner must recall them for some exercise before they can go and play.

Joel: Wendy sounds like you are doing it right. Don’t you have a nice pit puppy for the overpowering pups to play with?

Wendy: We’re not allowed such things as those I’m afraid. The powers that be in the UK think pit bulls are killers.

kathy: I have a question

Joel: Go kathy

kathy: I have a border collie who jumps up and down manically when I’m doing things like hanging out laundry or in the garden.. any suggestions?

Joel: Another management problem. If the Border Collie keeps doing it, it is rewarding. First prevent the jumping up. Don’t let the Border Collie run loose when you can not pay attention. Then train the Border Collie to sit for attention. I explain take it and off in my book, which might be helpful to you, but sit is the best answer. No training takes the place of good management. However a great relationship and great training allows you to manage less

kathy: thanks joel, I think this probably goes hand in hand with a problem gill is helping with

Gill: Elaine cant be with us tonight Joel, but she had a question, may I ask it for her?.. she wanted to know more about rage syndrome

Grumby: What is rage syndrome?

Joel: I have been working with dogs for about 18 years and have never seen a case of it. When people say their dog is exhibiting aggressive behavior, I do a careful history and I always understand why the dog is being aggressive. Sometimes there can be a medical problem that is contributing to the aggression, that is why a complete physical is always called for in aggression cases.

Grumby: I would like to know if it is possible that the aggression I mentioned before could be down to the Bitch being complete and the Dog being Cast…?

Joel: Are you a dog owner or a dog trainer?.. or both smile

Grumby: Both

Joel: Great! The answer is sure it could be, but i would want to do a complete history see what the dogs

Grumby: I have 7 and train 3, wife trains 2 and kids 1 each

Joel: were doing see what you are doing and then go on from there. My experience is that most dog trainers with multiple dogs have intra-family aggression problems.

Grumby: This is a first as the others are mostly related

Joel: Especially if they feel they are the Alpha and they can punish dogs for being aggressive towards each other.

Joel: Whenever I am asked to speak to dog trainers, the most popular topic is intra family dog aggression.

Gill: thats interesting Joel

Grumby: So it is very common then ??/

Joel: I have over twenty five labs and one rottie, been there , done that, now I have very few problems. Yes extremely common.

Grumby: Should I intervene at any point ????

Joel: Ok with me… Oh you mean with the dogs grin.

Tina: ok I do see it in my pack. but it is not bad yet. do you interfere when the dogs fight? no blood fights. 3 field labs/ 1 field/confer. 1 beagle,1 aussie/border mix

Joel: Let me say this. Giving advice about aggression without seeing the dogs is dangerous so all of the following applies to my experience with my own and clients dogs. you want me to continue?

Gill: yes please

Joel: Ok this will be a little long.. I used to have bitches that would fight and hurt each other. I separated them and that kept them from getting hurt. I listened to old breeders and trainers that said you have to be the alpha bitch smile. When I jumped in, they fought harder and sometimes i got bitten. Years ago, I started reintroducing bitches in the following manner: I crate them right next to each other so they are the closest canines to each other. I do not let them out together for weeks or more. When I see that they seem to like to be next to each other…I put them out in my fenced in yard, I go in the house and watch from the window. I have done this with many pairs over the years and they never have put holes in each other. My experience is that almost all intra family dog aggression is caused by or made worse by what we do;.

Gill: totally agree

Joel: Yelling and correcting usually make it worse. Leaving many times stops the dogs from fighting. they probably fighting for your attention.

barbara w: if they already had a rivalry-relationship, would putting them in crates next to each other as you described help with the problem? or would it already be too late?

Cecilia: What about 2 males – intact males? Has this approach worked?

Tina: most of our fights are outside when I am inside the house. I do not interfere at this point. but they are still getting worse between older alpha and 4 yr. Female

Gill: Can they see you watching Tina?

Tina: no they can not see me

Grumby: I think that may be the answer as Teddy is certainly very attached to me and Sheebe most definitely thinks of me as her male

Joel: It works with bitches who fought for years. I works with dogs. I currently have three intact males kenneled in the same run with bitches in heat on either side. They don’t fight they are buddies. Crating them prevents fights and lets you see how they feel towards each other over time.

Cecilia: The crating together reminds me of something I read and applied when my daughters were young – the advise was to have bickering siblings sleep next to each other – it worked.

Tina: The 4 yr. only stays with us 6 mos. out of the yr. co-owned. maybe I should reintroduce this way. they are mother /daughter

Joel: You could always muzzle both of them and then train each one on lead in the same room, two people.

Gill: A super answer Joel, thanks

Joel: you are welcome.

Cecilia: Can I bring up another issue?

Joel: fine with me.

Cecilia: my 6 mo old pyr has a problem with being confined. He will go into his crate, or any other small place and is OK until the door or whatever is closed. I have come upon 2 solutions – at night the crate is currently not workable – so I have a sort of play pen arrangement by my bed. He has a door that opens up to me – if he gets concerned at night he nuzzles me and goes back to sleep. Am I encouraging his displeasure of being confined by offering myself as a reward of sorts? I do know that both of us are sleeping a bunch better now.

Joel: Well, the crate is usually a management tool to use while training the pup where to go to the bathroom. And what to chew. Are you having those two problems?

Cecilia: the potty thing is taken care of – but he chews on all sorts of stuff

Joel: Teach him what to chew and what not to chew. That is covered in my book and in Jean Donaldson’s books.

Cecilia: this morning he got a CD, some shoes, some plastic food stuff…

Joel: Stuffed kongs are great. Meanwhile do what works for you. Sounds like you have a workable solution.

Cecilia: so far he will accept the crate door being closed for about 5 minutes – if I continue to toss in treats.

Joel: What does he do when he does not accept the crate?

Cecilia: he attacks the door – actually he attacks any door/ barrier. We have baby gates that we used with Marcella – he had those figured out in no time. He has tried chewing through the front door.

Joel: Has he hurt himself doing that?

Cecilia: When we first put him in the vari kennel he had all of his baby teeth – he pulled them out pulling at the door.

Joel: How about lately?

Cecilia: has he hurt himself – I would think pulling his baby teeth out hurt <grin> currently, I don’t leave him in the crate unless I am there looking for signs of being uneasy

Joel: Where do you live?

Cecilia said

in southern California

Joel: There are some great trainers in that area that I can refer you to. Send me an email with exact location zip code ect. and I will refer you. You need in person help. Keep doing what works while you look for help. Lots of positive training builds up confidence. Long downs at a distance would help.

Cecilia: ok – thanks

Gill: How long have you been working with dogs/people Joel?

Joel: about 18 years…

Gill: wow, you must have seen some changes in that time

Joel: I was in the military for 25 years and instructed there… I changed entirely when I went to Ian Dunbar’s first ever puppy workshop. There are still too many dog trainers that have not changed….

Tina: the aussie/border mix stray i took in about 3 wks ago. lots of desensitiation to car lawnmowers bikes etc. we have great progress until I am cutting my grass on the opposite side of the fence.

Joel: And the question is? (Ian loves to say that at seminars)…

Tina: he still goes nuts. I have used kids”snappers” not fireworks and tossed them about 3 ft behind him to distract him then praise him… am i creating a problem? he is not scared but curious about the sound

Joel: Please explain the situation more completely. You are mowing the lawn on the other side of the fence and he gets real excited?

Tina: totally frantic

Joel: Don’t do that any more. Put him in the house when you mow.

Tina: I can cut inside the yard with him loose now. at first just the sight of the mower made him frantic even with the engine off

Joel: He probably thinks the lawn mower is going to eat you! … You have made good progress.

Tina: I hadn’t thought of that~

Joel: He might, ask him.

Gill: does he chase the vacuum Tina?

Tina: I dont know havn’t introduced it yet. but was really afraid of cars

Wendy: Our Sheba likes to stalk the vacuum cleaner

Pattie: Charley just stands where ever you need to vacuum next.

Joel: I suggest that the owner learn to communicate with his dog. And to learn to pay attention to what the dog is trying to say with his doggy language. I do not recommend calling someone up at a distance and asking them what your dog is thinking. But hey it might work. I just know that good education. good relationship, good management and lots of love works and you don’t have to make the long distance phone call. The rules of learning apply whether you understand them or not, just like gravity…. They are simple and any psychology 101 textbook has them. Of course Jean Donaldson, Ian Dunbar and a few others (smile) spell them out in doggy terms in their books…

Gill: who is your favourite author Joel?

Joel: Ian Dunbar, Karen Pryor, Jean Donaldson…. “Don’t shoot the dog” by Karen Pryor is a must read.

Gill: in that order?

Joel: How to teach a new dog old tricks by Ian Dunbar is another must.

Gill: do you know of John Rogerson?

Joel: sure have seen him many times… nice chap…..John Fisher has some great stuff. Johns is good.

Gill: Such a shame he passed away… terrible loss

Joel: John Rogerson is good. His aggression stuff categorizing every type of aggression is interesting.

Gill: I do a lot of work with JR

Joel: Any more doggy questions?

Wendy: Just one. How can I get Sheba to break her fascination with her tail?

Joel: Is Sheba causing any damage to her tail?

Wendy: Not at the moment. It is going bald at the end, the last 2-3 inches. She sometimes lies with it clamped in her mouth.

Joel: What have you tried so far?

Wendy: We have tried calling her, throwing things near her and recently Graham has been flicking her ear when she has not been looking.

Gill: did you read the post on endorphins Wendy?

Pattie: Didn’t Marie suggest some TTouch?

Wendy: I did read the post. It seems to be like a comforter to her when she thinks she is alone (even though we are all around her). She also does it when she doesn’t seem to have anything to do. The other dogs will settle when they have nothing but sometimes it is like she doesn’t know how to settle.

Pattie: Is there any way to teach a dog to relax, or is that a personality thing?

Joel: Have you tried addicting her to a kong?

Wendy: She likes tennis balls and rawhide bones but is not a chewer like the other dogs.

Joel: If you stuff a kong she will want to chew it and try to get the food out…

Wendy: Will try it but will have to keep her away from the others with it because they love tasty things. They are presently fed separately at the moment because Sheba and Benji are being fed on meat whilst they are on dried food.

Cecilia: don’t know if this will work in your situation – but we have 2 kongs and I fill and present them together that way they each have a kong – I even try to “even” the treats…

Joel: You need many stuffed kongs if you have two bitches….Bitches fight over limited resources…

Pattie: You can also make it easy at first, so she gets really interested in it. Then make it harder so it takes her more time to figure it out.

Wendy: In our house if everyone had a treat then Beaux would want to gather up all the treats and protect them and Benji would go around barking at those with the treats because he wants theirs as well as his own. I did think about getting her a Buster Cube but she is not really a food dog. We noticed that when she came to our house where our dogs looked forward to a titbit of our food she didn’t seem to know what it was.

Joel: When she is with other dogs, is her tail more interesting?

Wendy: She forgets her tail when she plays with other dogs

Joel: Then you only have to use the kong when she is alone.

Wendy: She also forgets it when Graham is training her. It is only when she has nothing to do or feels that she is alone that she chases her tail.

Joel: That’s when she has the stuffed kong.

Wendy: Is this not giving her a reward for chasing her tail?

Gill: not if you give it to her before she starts that and give attention for chewing it

Joel: Listen to Gill.

Gill: Well Joel, many thanks for contributing so much tonight

Joel: My pleasure. Good evening and give your dogs a hug and kiss for me.