Ask the SPCA Trainer

With many dogs being brought into the shelter from unknown backgrounds, our Canine Behaviorist, Michelle Jurnak, works tirelessly to prepare our pups behaviorally for a successful life outside of the shelter. Her rewards-based training style has worked wonders in keeping pets in homes and preventing returns of adopted SPCA dogs. No matter what behavior you are trying to correct, Michelle’s training ‘tips & tricks’ can help any pet owner that is willing to take the time turn their dog’s destructive behaviors into constructive behaviors. The following are Michelle’s tips for the top-asked training questions:

How would you describe your training style? How can I incorporate it into training my dog?

Reward, reward, reward! Cheap things to use are ‘Moist and Meaty’ dog food – the steak-flavored ones that are square – and hot dogs. If you have a dog that likes to chomp at your hands for [treats], the cheap cheese is wonderful because you can squish it and they can lick it out of your hand. It teaches them to take it a little slower.

What is enrichment? How can I keep my dog enriched?

Enrichment is basically keeping your dog’s mind engaged with a job. Offer plenty of things to do. Games and frozen Kongs are wonderful. I taught a dog at the SPCA how to play peek-a-boo last week. He was engaged. I was engaged. It was great. When you keep a dog enriched, it’s keeping his/her mind going. Just going outside and running around is not enriching. It’s not keeping their mind going. They’re going to try to dig out. They’re going to jump over [the fence]. They’re going to start chasing livestock. They need something new and stimulating to keep them active. Give them a job.

Enrichment toys:

How do I potty train my dog?

I would start with crate training, because crate training gives you a great base. As soon as you take them out of the crate, run them outside. They learn that when they wake up, it’s time to go potty – we go outside. Another great way is to put a bell on your back door. Every time you walk by with a dog to go outside, hit the paw on the bell and then they learn [to do that] when they have to go out. I don’t necessarily like puppy pads. It kind of defeats the purpose. But if you are going to use them, put them by the back door.

How do I keep my dog from being destructive in the house?

Crate training, again, is number one. Also, giving them something [appropriate] to be destructive with. Nylabones are a great thing. Never give rawhide, because it can get stuck in their insides and you have to get it surgically removed. If they’re bored, they’re going to be destructive. Give them plenty of outlets for their energy, whether it’s puzzle games or frozen Kongs.

Other than potty training and keeping them from being destructive, are there other benefits to crate training?

It gives a dog a safe place. All of my dogs are crate trained, and if I have a crate in the house and it’s open, there will be a dog asleep in it. Especially if you put a sheet over it and it makes a den, and it’s completely a safe place for them. It works especially well for shy dogs, because if they want to hide, they can. If they want to come out, they can. (Side note: Don’t use crate training as punishment.)

Can you teach a dog to play well with other dogs?

It depends on the age and type of dog. If it’s a puppy, I would definitely try to get them socialized throughout their whole life. If you have an older dog that already has issues with other dogs, it can be difficult – not saying that it can’t be done – but it can be difficult because the dog already has its natural tendencies. A lot of times a younger dog would be better for an older dog because they’re more tolerant of [a young dog]. They’re more likely to put up with puppy antics than adult antics.

My dog randomly started snapping at other animals? Why is he doing this now?

Lack of socialization. It could very well be that he is now unsocialized. Slowly get them back into it. Find one dog that they like and build from there. If you have a friend with a dog that your dog likes, go from there.

How do I stop my dog from barking?

They’re typically barking because they’re left alone for too long, don’t have enough enrichment, have no outlets for their energy and need a job. Something that you can do is expand their world. Walk them daily. Teach them tricks. These also build their confidence. The more confidence they have, the better behaved they are. If they’re barking at a visitor, have the visitor give them treats as they walk by the dog.

How do I teach my dog to walk well on a leash? Or, not be reactive on a leash?

The main thing is that you have to be in control of the dog, not the dog controlling you. There are two great tools that I always recommend. One is a front clip harness, which teaches the dogs not to pull. [Secondly], a training leash, which is basically a leash with a handle on the end and a handle in the middle. It keeps the dog very close to your side. And, constant treats when they’re walking well. They’re going to start looking at you for direction because they want that treat.

Though Michelle works with the shelter animals and is not available for personal dog-training classes, we’re here to help. Follow us on Facebook for future posts requesting your training questions. They may be featured in an upcoming ‘Ask the SPCA Trainer’ article.


Claire R. Grimes is the SPCA Albrecht Center’s Development Director. She is an Aiken native, who graduated from College of Charleston and interned with Charleston Animal Society. She is excited to be working in animal welfare in her hometown and is proud of the community efforts to better the lives of Aiken’s animals. Her family includes her husband, Logan, an SPCA adopted black lab, Ozzy, an SPCA adopted Siamese mix, Luna, and Claire’s first love, Anakin, a 17-pound rescued Maine Coon mix.

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The SPCA Albrecht Center for Animal Welfare is a

tax-exempt 501(C)(3) nonprofit organization.

EIN: 57-0329782

  199 Willow Run Road  Aiken, SC 29801      Shelter: (803) 648-6863    Vet Care: (803) 648-6864

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