Interview with Terry Ryan

Terry Ryan is an instructor living on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington State. Her company, Legacy, conducts dog training camps throughout the world.

Gill: Firstly may I thank you for giving us the time to share your knowledge. May we start by asking you how you first became involved with dog training?

Terry: I have always been attracted to dogs. I was never allowed to have a dog since my father was an immigrant from Europe during a time rabies was a real concern. When I came home from playing at the neighbours who had a dog, I’d be quizzed. Did you touch that dog? “yes” then I’d have to take a bath. My first dog was a stray who was hanging around the school yard circa 3rd grade. I lured the dog home with pieces of sandwich I saved from my lunch. I told my family he followed me home. Lots of people went to bat for me with my father and I was eventually allowed to keep the dog. A very naughty cocker cross.

I noticed the question was how I got into dog training, not into dogs.

Here it is:

Shortly after Bill and I got married in the late sixties we acquired a German Shepherd puppy. We considered him our first born son and really had fun working with him. Honcho could do 15 tricks before he was four months old. We thought he was a genius. Our neighbour across the road had a chocolate poodle puppy. One day she told me she had signed Ruffie up for the local obedience classes and would really like if we would sign up and go with her. I told her my dog didn’t need classes, but I’d go just to keep her company.

This is when we found out the Honcho was not a genius, had problems with other dogs, and was quite “over the top”. Needless to say I worked really hard to “save face” with our obnoxious (but good at tricks!) dog. I was so busy trying to keep him one step ahead of the mini poodle Ruffie, that I didn’t even notice I was doing a pretty good job at training. Back then the club ranked graduates. When we graduates #1 in our class, I was hooked.

It’s been all downhill from there…

Gill: I’ve used your booklet “Games People Play To Train Their Dogs” on many occasions in class. Do you have any other games since the booklet and if so, could you tell us one please?

Terry: Yes, there is a sequel to that book called “Life Beyond Block Heeling”. Also Ian Dunbar and I helped develop a board game for pet dog owners called My Dog Can Do That.

I have cut and pasted below an article I wrote for the AKC Gazette on Personal Best Games. You can quote from this:

Dog Training: Your Personal best, Terry Ryan

“You finished the race in fourth place, and you accomplished a personal best. Congratulations, your time was faster than it’s ever been in your life!”

Coaches often speak to athletes about their personal best, instead of how they rank among their peers. Although many of us have a foundation in competitive dog events, we can begin to think about dog training in terms of personal best too.

Now a days there’s not much emphasis placed upon organized performance events in my pet classes. Even the training games we play are mostly non competitive. I do think however, that to reach their potential, the learning style of some people demands a bit of inspiration (read motivation, pressure, “good stress”) which competition can provide. Hence the “personal best” concept in dog training. Following are a couple of exercises you can do at home with your dog:

The 1-2-3 Exercise


1. Work on a common “gray area” of handler/dog communication by emphasizing release

2. Speed up the stimulus-response time of the dog’s sit behaviour

3. Encourage owner to lighten up with music so training is more fun for both human and dog. Be happy with small improvements


a. Owner prepares a 30-second tape of medium-fast music.

b. Dog is on leash, in no particular position.

c. When the music starts, the owner declares “Let’s Go” and takes three steps to the beat in any direction. On the third step the owner cues the sit. After the dog sits, the owner mentally counts three beats and releases the dog with a distinct verbal and/or physical cue such as “OK” and a slight arms-out gesture.

Note: “Let’s Go” essentially releases the dog from “Sit”, but because I wish to stress Goal #1, my students do both.

d. “Let’s Go” – Owner then takes three more steps in a different direction–if it was backwards last time, try a diagonal or straight forward the next. Owner cues the dog. When sit happens the owner mentally counts to three and releases the dog.

e. Repeat until tape ends.

f. Now do the math. How many sits in this 30-second session? Write it down. Train for a week and do the 1-2-3 exercise again. Did you improve your personal best?

Different Objects, Different Methods.

I view 1-2-3 as a sit and release exercise and therefore do not look for sits in any particular position. However if your desire is to improve heeling for example, simply change the format and design an exercise to improve heeling skills. Just be sure to have the finished product in mind, and put the right ingredients in your recipe to get you there.

What ever method of training you prefer, be sure to think through the exercise and carefully plan your strategy. For example if your training includes the use of primary reinforcers (rewards such as food treats) or bridges (a marker which promises a treat) think ahead as to how the food will be delivered: Will you start out by using continuous reinforcement and reward every sit and then move to a variable schedule and reward randomly? Will you differentially reinforce only the very best sits?

My students often comment (complain?) that I’m always coming up with some new or wacky activity for them. In my opinion that’s what keeps life interesting, instructor burnout at a low, and dog training fresh and fun to do.

Here’s a second personal best exercise I developed from an idea given to me from Texas trainer Lori Rizzo. Just like the 1-2-3 exercise, rework this one to suit your needs.


The Walk About ROUTE


Judy wanted more control around the house with Shane, her high-energy adolescent dog.


1. Increase good behaviour around doorways

2. Work on loose leash walking

3. Demonstrate to owner that the dog can indeed make progress!


Judy was instructed to plan a walking route in and around her home which included any locations associated with a control problem. She would then train rewardable behaviour to take the place of the inappropriate behaviour in that area.

Here’s her Walk About Route:

1. Shane must remain sitting at the front door while Judy attaches the leash to his collar.

2. Judy opens the door and they walk out together in heel position. Dog remains sitting while Judy closes the door and reopens it.

3. Judy goes through the door while Shane sits, then calls the dog in, closes the door and plays with Shane for ten seconds.

4. Judy must settle the dog into a sit after the 10 seconds of play.

Through the living room, but no pulling! If Shane’s leash becomes tight during a walk across the living room, Judy simply waits for Shane to figure it but he’s not going anywhere, or works with him. They proceed when the leash is slack again.

Now Shane must remain on a down-stay at the threshold between the living room and kitchen while Judy opens the refrigerator and rattles some food around. At random, she might give a treat after she closes the door and after he comes when she calls him. But not, if he hasn’t stayed in position and only sometimes if he’s been good. Shane enjoys playing the lottery.

With their leash loose, they walk down the stairs to the basement in heel position Shane is requested to sit between the coat closet and back door while Judy puts her jacket on and takes it off again. She also takes her car keys off the rack and replaces them. This helps desensitize Shane to the departure cues that excite him.

Exercise finished! Judy notes the time and plays some inside games with Shane.

The Walk About ROUTE is a training exercise, not a test course. Judy will take time at any point during the route to communicate with and help Shane be successful. Judy and Shane will try the route again after a week’s training and strive to improve their personal best.

Gill: Can you explain to us how you view the “Human-Animal bond in your own words?

Terry: Looking at things for the animal’s point of view and trying to enhance our lifestyles for the benefit of both.

Gill: Any tips or words of wisdom in selecting a puppy or older dog that is right for you?

Terry: SCIENCE first – use your brain not your heart, for the first cut, then in the end, go with ART – your gut feeling about the individuals.

Gill: Do you use Clicker Training and if so what do you think of it?

Terry: Yes, I have used clickers in training for years, but am not exclusively a clicker trainer. I find it the very best method for a number of behaviours I and my clients want to teach their dogs. I wouldn’t be without a clicker in my toolbox.

Gill: How would you go about choosing a good dog training class, what would you be looking for if it was a pet dog in need of basic training?

Terry: Here is an except from my book The Toolbox:

What to look for in an obedience class

Investigate-training classes are not all alike. Before enrolling, ask the instructor if you can visit a class in currently in progress. Things to look for and think about before signing up:

A good instructor will have a variety of techniques, most of them positive. Are the majority of the exercises taught by reinforcing good behaviour or by punishing inappropriate behaviour? Too much compulsion will have a negative impact on your dog.

Are the people getting individual attention and coaching or is the instructor simply calling out general directions? A ratio of more than five students to one instructor is pushing the limit for a quality class.

Are the instructor’s directions clear to you? Do the people and dogs seem to be catching on with ease or are either confused?

Is there reasonable control of the class? It should be clear to you right away WHO the instructor is and what is happening in the class. However don’t confuse lack of class control with enthusiasm and animation! A good class can have both.

Can the instructor tell you the goals for the class and the steps that will be taken to attain the objectives? Are the exercises being taught are useful for your lifestyle or consistent with your expectations?


Why wait and allow your pup to fall into bad habits? You then have to untrain and retrain. Mould your dog to become a good canine citizen. As in human preschoolers, the experience gained in early puppy hood will influence the pups for the rest of their lives. Therefore it’s imperative that you check the credentials of a puppy preschool instructor. Here are some additional things to look for in puppy classes:

There should be a very tight window as to age grouping. Young puppies, regardless of size, can be set back by the brashness of an older pup.

Families should be welcome, but the class should not turn into a wild, free for all party. Children especially should be carefully supervised or pups could learn the wrong things about kids.

Free play among small groups of carefully selected puppies is beneficial to their social skills. Care must be taken not to allow bully dogs to overly dominate the quiet ones.

Training class should be the highlight of your week. It should be a good night out with your best friend. Be brave, if you don’t like what’s going on in an obedience class, don’t participate.

Gill: How do think puppy socialisation classes should be run?

Terry: Very carefully, V E R Y CAREFULLY.

Puppy classes are one of the best thing that ever happened to the dog world. Since early puppy hood experiences can make or break a pup, Puppy classes should be run by a club’s most experienced instructor. Often it is the least experienced instructor who is placed in charge of puppy classes. Special attention needs to be placed on interacting with other dogs. A free-for-all play time can actually turn into a disaster that can have far reaching repercussions on the pup. Carefully selected puppies can interact with supervision. A very good adult dog can be one of the best assistance teachers of doggy manners in a classroom. Relationships with the owner and family is more important than sit and down. Come when called and the reduction of inappropriate mouthing is important and an extension of the relationship exercises. Housetraining including how to act indoors and respect the house, as well as where to toilet, is imperative.

We have Milo Pearsall to thank for getting us all started on puppy classes. I still have the first pamphlet he wrote back in the sixties helping instructors plan their “kindergarten puppy classes (KPT)”

Gill: If an owner is experiencing problems with a dog that wants to chase everything, joggers, bikes, cars etc, how can they work to overcome this?

Terry: Overcoming it comes later, if appropriate.

1. First figure out why the dog wants to chase

2. Decide if it’s important to stop it or is redirection OK..

3. Then use some management techniques to avoid his “practicing” the behaviour until you can work out a training program based on #1.

Gill: How would you introduce a new dog to a resident cat?

Terry: Supervision! After considering safety for both animals. The important thing is to first introduce the dog to any cat that won’t run.

Gill: How do you help owners that have a dog that shows aggression to other dogs on walks?

Terry: Find out what they mean by aggression. Ask them to describe the behaviour – paint a verbal picture for you.

Gill: How would you start desensitizing a dog that was aggressive about being touched/handled?

Terry: very short answer is a program of Counter conditioning and systematic desensitization along with training an incompatible behaviour. Too many variable and too complicated for a short answer.

Gill: How can you help an owner that finds he/she cannot go out without their dog, without it being destructive or noisy?

Terry: Figure out the reason for the behaviour. “Separation anxiety” is not specific enough. The acronym I go through for noisy dogs (which is often the same for dogs that act out in behaviours other than barking) is: LOUDER

Libby, The “Look at Me” Barker

“Will somebody, anybody, please pay attention to me?”

Omaha, The “Offensive” Barker

“Get out of here now. In fact, I’d like to show you the way!”

Utah, The “Under-employed” Barker

“I have nothing to do. Barking is my recreation.”

Dallas, The “Defensive” Barker

“I’m afraid. Please go away. I’ll try to put more space between us if I can.”

Elizabeth, The “Enthusiastic” Barker

“Do I need a reason? I’m just having a blast!”

Reno, The “Reduce-My-Dependence” Barker

“Will my special person please come back?”

Gill: Who is your favourite dog author and why?

Terry: Louise Shattuck. for her sense of humour

Gill: I believe you have set up dog training classes in Japan? Can you tell us a little more about this please, like how different has it been compared to training in your own country?

Terry: I’ve been going over 3-4 times a year for the last ten years. I work for a private training school there and also the Japanese Animal Hospital Assn. I helped found the national Canine good citizen organization and am a consultant for several service dog groups there. I do seminars, workshops, but mostly my time is spent on training instructors. Because of the communication challenge, working extensively in Japan has made me a better instructor.

Gill: How do you start training a dog to come when its called?

Terry: By rewarding attention – eye contact – when the dog’s name is called, not even worrying about a step toward the owner.

Many thanks to Terry Ryan for taking the time to do this interview – from all members at the Behaviour Problems Forum.

Books, videos and products by Terry Ryan:


Toolbox Games – two books
Bark Stops Here
CD: Sound desensitization

Bait Pouch: Of our own design

And much more.

For information, contact Karla Kimmey: Legacy by Mail, Inc.