Academy Time, Pig Pumpkins and Imitation

                 Welcome to Peaceable Paws!


We are just one week away from our first Trainer Academy of the year – and I’m so looking forward to it! We had to postpone 3 months worth of academies due to coronavirus, and now we’ve crammed them all into the rest of the year, so it’s going to be a busy next-five months!! It’s a bit humbling to realize we are now in our 18th Academy year and I have had the incredible good fortune to personally meet, interact, teach, become friends with and hopefully influence some 500 academy student trainers over these 18 years. Thank you all, for being a part of Peaceable Paws! I am honored.

Here is the very first Peaceable Paws Academy graduating class:

Peaceable Paws Academy Graduates, April 2002




If you were one of those 2002 grads in Chattanooga, Tennessee, I would love to hear from you!!


Meanwhile, here on the farm – what I thought were this year’s crop of pig melons actually look to be pig pumpkins! Which is cool, because I love pumpkins; pumpkin pie is one of my all-time favorite foods. In the past, first Sturgis, then Dexter, would poop out seeds from the melons we feed them, the pig poop would go into the manure pile, and melons would grow. Last year we fed Dexter a lot of mini-pumpkins after I was at Martin’s one day and saw that their leftover mini-pumpkins (after Thanksgiving) were on sale, but some were getting soft – and some were even moldy. I asked the produce manager if they would drop the price even further. She went and looked at them, came back and said, “You can have them all for free.” JACKPOT!!! Dexter was in pumpkin heaven for quite some time. And now we have these. Look like mini-pumpkins to me… what do you think?

And here’s the whole plant, cascading down the side of the manure pile. Many mini-pumpkins to come!!

Dexter — our current seed-pooper

And a few shots from my most recent hike around the farm, including a big fat toad, what I think is a damsel fly, and butterflies… not sure what kind but I’m calling them fecal butterflies, as the two of them appeared to be happily feasting on a couple of piles of fox poop:


We have a ton of fun with imitation at our academies and workshops – what I call “Copy That” – developed by Claudia Fugazza as “Do As I Do.” (

There was a time when behavior science told us that dogs don’t learn well through imitation, and then Claudia, and others, came along and showed us that, like so many other things we have discovered (and are still discovering) about canine cognition – they are capable of much more than we have given them credit for.

Copy That isn’t easy – it takes some real dedicated work to help our dogs understand the concept of imitating us. We work in three phases – I will explain Phase 1 here – with Phases 2 and 3 to follow in future posts. In Phase 1, we use 3 behaviors that your dog already has solidly on verbal cue. Here are the steps:

  1. Have your dog in the starting position. (They have to start in the same position or else the starting position is a cue to what behavior you are going to ask for). I like to have my dog start in a sit.
  2. Tell her to “Wait.”
  3. Stand for several seconds in front of her in a neutral position, hands at your sides.
  4. Tell her to “Watch.” This will become her cue that you are about to demonstrate the behavior you want her to copy.
  5. Demonstrate Behavior #1.
  6. Return to your neutral position.
  7. Tell her “Copy” (or whatever you want your imitation cue to be) with no body language – no leaning, no glancing sideways, no shoulder shrug (this is HARD!!!), pause for a few seconds, and then give her the verbal cue for the behavior you just demonstrated. When she does it, Click and treat.
  8. Repeat two more times with Behavior #1, then switch to Behavior #2. (If you repeat the same behavior too many times in a row, she will think “Copy” is a new cue for Behavior #1.)
  9. After 3 repetitions of Behavior #2, switch to Behavior #3.
  10. As you continue, she will occasionally start to offer the behavior after the “Copy” cue, during the pause, before you give the verbal cue. WOO HOO – you are on your way!!

You can read more about Copy That here: (my Whole Dog Journal article):

When she will consistently and reliably copy these three behaviors, you are ready for Phase 2 (next blog!).

Here are some of our Copy That pictures:

We will be doing Copy That (and lots of other cool canine cognition stuff) at our Brain Candy workshop here at Peaceable Paws, August 15-16. We still have working spots and auditing spots available – come play with us!! (

Warm Woofs… Stay Safe and Well!!


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