Instinct Dog Behavior & Training Washington DC

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Are you taking your dog with you to visit friends & family this holiday season (or do you have family coming to stay with you)? If so, here’s your gentle reminder that it’s not fair to ask your dog to be “the Adult in the Room” at family gatherings.

What do we mean by this? Well, you know how we all have one or two relatives who behave in a less-than-lovely manner with your dog? The ones who don’t listen to your direction, or who insist on handling or interacting with your dog in the way THEY think is best, regardless of how that makes you or your dog feel?

If you and your dog will be spending time with these particular relatives over the holidays, it’s important that you don’t put the burden of responsibility on your dog to deal with or tolerate these unpleasant and unwanted interactions. In other words, Don’t Ask Your Dog to Be the Adult in the Room.

Instead, try one of these two approaches to keep your dog safe, comfortable, and out of trouble during family gatherings:

Tactic #1: Speak with your relatives *before they/you arrive* to explain your dog’s current behavior needs or training goals, and ask whether they’re on board with helping you with stick to them. If you get a resounding yes, proceed cautiously with involving your dog in the festivities (if appropriate), but monitor closely and be prepared to intervene if needed.

Tactic #2: If you’re not comfortable having that discussion, or if your conversation falls flat, opt to put your dog away in another room with lots of yummy bones and chews, a comfy bed, and some white noise. Or, if you have the option, have them go stay at their normal daycare, boarding facility, or a friend’s house during the festivities. If folks ask where your dog is, simply say that they’re not comfortable with or ready for this type of gathering.


Home School client Nuggets plays “Find It” on a recent training walk with Coach Ciera.

If your dog likes to scavenge for garbage or other icky items on walks, try giving them a “legal” outlet to engage in the behavior instead.

When we learn to work *with* our dogs natural instincts - instead of trying to suppress them - not only do we see happier more fulfilled pups, but training & behavior therapy progress is more efficient and effective, too! It’s a win-win 🤗🐶.


Check out Private Coaching client Hank, practicing his “Go Say Hi” cue during a recent lesson with Coach Ciera!

Before you think about practicing this with your own dog, keep these important Do’s & Don’t in mind:

❌Don’t: Make this the first or only skill you teach your ‘stranger danger’ dog
✅Do: Teach other skills first, like general responsiveness to the handler, the ability to disengage easily from triggers, and the ability to remain comfortable in closer proximity to strangers WITHOUT approaching to interact.

❌Don’t: Practice the cue with strangers until your dog has mastered it (and loves doing it) with familiar people
✅Do: Practice often with familiar people your dog likes, in a wide variety of situations, before trying it with an unfamiliar person.

❌Don’t: Give your dog the Go Say Hi cue if they are already displaying clear avoidance behaviors in the presence of a stranger
✅Do: Watch your dog’s body language closely - give them more space if they appear uncomfortable, or give the Go Say Hi cue if they seem genuinely relaxed & curious.

❌Don’t: Have the stranger feed your dog the treat. It can create a sense of conflict and entice your dog to get closer to the stranger than they’re comfortable with.
✅Do: Reward your dog yourself, to build a strong behavior pattern of turning AWAY from the stranger and returning to you after a brief greeting

❌Don’t: Make the treat/reward contingent on your dog approaching the stranger on cue
✅Do: Make the cue totally OPTIONAL. Reward your dog whether they say, “Yes” and choose to perform the hand target with the stranger, or whether they say “No thanks” and opt to check in with you/stay by your side instead.

Other notes: this is not a suitable skill for all stranger danger dogs to practice, depending on their behavioral history and profile. BUT, for certain dogs, as part of a larger program, it can be a fantastic icebreaker to allow them to make new human friends in a safe, low-stress, predictable way.

Great job, Hank & family!

Home School client Frieda takes a break during a training session with Coach Ciera to enjoy some stick deconstruction 🌳....

Home School client Frieda takes a break during a training session with Coach Ciera to enjoy some stick deconstruction 🌳. This lovely girl is working on loose leash walking and feeling more comfortable and confident outside.

Giving Frieda lots of opportunities to engage in satisfying natural behaviors - like stopping to chew on a stick or explore an interesting smell - allows her to relieve any build-up of stress or frustration that might accumulate during walks, which sets her up to learn more efficiently and effectively when she resumes training. It also provides a fantastic opportunity for her to observe and process her surroundings in a relaxed, comfortable manner, while doing something she enjoys.

When we work *with* our dogs' instincts and natural behavior needs, it sets the stage for happier dogs AND more efficient learning 💕.

We are so excited to announce that Instinct is coming to WASHINGTON D.C.! Co-owned by Instinct National and Ciera Moberg...

We are so excited to announce that Instinct is coming to WASHINGTON D.C.!

Co-owned by Instinct National and Ciera Moberg, a fantastic behavior consultant & former full-time team member of Instinct Portland, Instinct D.C. will offer help & hope to D.C. area dogs and owners navigating behavior issues large and small.

Service offerings include behavior consulting, private coaching, day training, and puppy raising camps. Later this fall, we’ll roll out our free alumni group classes as well.

Our official D.C. website and online booking options launch September 1st (next week!!). Stay tuned.



Washington D.C., DC


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