Vera Murri is a certified dog trainer and the owner of Dog Life Hoboken. She teaches obedience training, behavior modifications, and dog introductions for families with babies and young kids.
What is your background and how did you get into training?
I started my dog walking business because I saw there was a huge need for it in Hoboken. I started by training Bear, my dog at the time, to do things like walk nicely and walk off the leash. I taught him without actually knowing anything so I thought, you know what? This is something I can do! I enrolled at Catch Academy in Little Falls, and have been training professionally since 2017.
What is your training philosophy?
I believe in only positive, force free training. You want to create a relationship where the dog obeys because they want to obey, not out of fear. That’s not the kind of relationship that I want with my dogs, and it’s not the relationship I think most people want with their dogs. All you need to do is explain to the dog what you want them to do and try a couple repetitions. They figure out pretty quickly that if they sit down… oh! I get a cookie!
What are the most common reasons people come to you for training?
One of the most common issues people come to me with is leash reactivity - when they start lunging and barking at other dogs. I also get a lot of puppies. Many of my classes are full of puppies and the sessions will be literally a week after they get the dog. This is really good because then they will have a great foundation for training.
Who should get professional help with training?
Everyone! Haha… I believe that every dog needs professional training. If you get a puppy and you have a professional come at the beginning, it will set you and your dog up for success.
Training a dog isn’t instinctive, we are different species! Sure we get along great, but nobody is born knowing how to train a dog and there is no shame in getting professional help.
What is the typical course of training?
For puppies, I recommend three sessions. The first session, we talk about potty training, crate training, and about nipping because all pups start out nipping. I’m really training the humans. I’m giving them the tools to know what they’re doing with their dog. I teach them about body language, the signs of stress, and all the things to look for to avoid biting.
In the second session, we cover the basic training like sitting down and staying. By the third session, we cover leash training and behaving outside.
You are a rewards based trainer. Can you tell us about your approach and how to use different rewards based on the situation?
Positive reinforcement and reward based training does not necessarily mean food. A reward can be anything from cuddling to going outside to playing with a favorite toy. The reason I like using food is it’s a very valuable thing for most dogs and they actually want to work for it.
I always stress having completely different treats inside versus outside. If we are training at home, I like using kibble. I prefer giving treats outside because treats are higher value. The dog knows that when they are outside, it is really the time to listen because they are going to get a special treat like a piece of turkey.
If they are outside and there is a squirrel and kibble, the squirrel is going to win. But a piece of liver or turkey is special - they will forget the squirrel and listen to their parent.
We love that you use HOLI treats for your high value treats, thank you! What is it about our treats that you like so much?
I always try to use the most natural treats. All the treats that Holi makes are really great because they are all just one ingredient. And of course the dogs absolutely love them! So they make great high value treats.
I like the turkey treats best for training because they are easy to break apart. A common mistake people make is using training treats that are too big. I like to break them into 6 to 8 pieces. It’s not about the size of the treat, it’s about how often you give it. Those turkey treats can last for quite some time.
How do you wean dogs off of treats while keeping them performing the good behaviors?
This can be a slippery slope. You don't want to bribe your dog. I teach dogs using hand signals, and this becomes the command with or without the treat. After repetition, it clicks.
The key is random rewards. Completely random rewards, not every third time because they can count. They need to know that the hand doesn’t always have a treat, but there could be a treat. And you do this for the rest of their lives. The amount and value of the treats should be random too. Sometimes it’s kibble and sometimes it’s 3 treats… jackpot!
Last Question… What one piece of advice would you give to new pet parents that will help with their dog’s behavior?
Dogs need to do work. Don’t baby them too much. Dogs are scavengers and need to use their senses to look for everything. Puzzle toys and puzzle games, those are the best things. If you have a bored dog who is mentally sharp, it’s going to start misbehaving. It’s just like a kid. If you have a smart kid in a class and they’re bored, they’re going to start acting up.
Smarter dogs are definitely harder to train. I recommend the Kong toy with food and I also love snuffle matts to keep them busy and thinking.
Thanks so much for taking the time to do this interview… and thanks so much for working with me to train Bailey!