SDOS Episode 15 – Why it’s Cool to Fool Around When Training Your Dog with Meagan Karnes

Episode 15  Talking to Meagan Karnes about why it’s cool to fool around and make mistakes with your dog!

Dog trainer and behaviourist and author of the Collared Scholar Blog Meagan Karnes is Dom’s guest on today’s show. They talk about Meagan’s first dog Kobe, how she became a trainer, how you can motivate your dog like a dog trainer, why you need to be foolish AND make mistakes when you play with your dog and how Meagan uses dogs to teach teamwork to corporations. All in all this is a corker of an episode!


[.55] What to do if you are enjoying the podcast [1.30] Who is the first guest on our show from the USA [2.08] Why I’m such a fan of the Collared Scholar blog [4.06] How did Meagan become a dog trainer [5.30] Meagans embarrassing dog training story [6.45] What is the best advice Meagan has ever been given. [8.09] Why you need to celebrate your mistakes [9.22] When did the train with play penny drop with Meagan? [11.09] How to motivate your dog like a dog trainer without forcing your dog to like it [12.16] Why you need to be foolish to make your dog love you [13.05] How does Meagan use dog to teach teamwork to businesses [15.00] How to find out more about Meagan and the Collared Scholar blog and training school. [15.55] How does Meagan chill out? (HINT, it involves dogs) [17.00] Why are all the good dog trainers saying the same thing? [18.28] Who is next weeks guest and why was Dom Star struck when he spoke to her [19.07] See you through the window

Mentioned in this episode

The Collared Scholar Dog Training School

Dom’s Superhero Dog Owners Inner Circle


Meagan:              I think the best advice that I got was if you aren’t making mistakes, you are not learning. I use that every single day in life, and in dog training.

Dominic:              Hello, me bonny bairns. Welcome to the Superhero Dog Owner Show. This is episode 15.

Alex:      15.

Dominic:              Thank goodness. We had a super episode last week, loads of good feedback from people who enjoyed our interview with Rachel Bean, our very good friend who is a vet nurse and a dog behaviourist as well. If you are enjoying the show, yeah, you could do us a little favour and you could head over to iTunes, and you could leave a review for us, yeah. It will take you two minutes. It will make you feel really good, and it will make us feel good too. Alex, won’t it?

Alex:      It will.

Dominic:              Yeah. It’s nice to know that if you are out there and you are enjoying it, it will be nice for us to know that. Get yourself over to iTunes and leave a review if you’re enjoying the podcast. We have loads of people tuned on the inner circle this week, Alex.

Alex:      Fantastic.

Dominic:              We have a special offer that we’re running, it’s only seven pounds if you join before the end of the month, for your first month subscription. We’re going to do another interview this week. We’re talking to our first doctor and friend from the US of A. This is Meagan Karnes. We recorded this interview this week with Meagan. Meagan runs the Collared Scholar Training School over there. She has got fantastic blog that gets a bazillion shares on Facebook. That’s how I stumbled across her. She is a really good writer, really knowledgeable dog trainer. We both learned a lot from this interview, didn’t we?

Alex:      That’s right.

Dominic:              I’m sure you guys are going to learn a lot too. I’m just say, dive straight in and roll the video, Alex.

Alex:      Let’s go.

Dominic:              OK. It’s time for our next guest. If you are into dogs and dog training, you will probably have come across the Collared Scholar Blog. They have loads of blog’s fandom on Facebook. I’m a huge fan. Not only is it always really good content, I feel like it’s written by someone who knows dogs but knows people as well. It’s really interesting and engaging. I’m delighted to welcome the blog’s author, who is the founder and owner of the Collared Scholar Dog’s Training School in San Diego in California. A big hello to Meagan Karnes.

Meagan:              Hey.

Dominic:              Hey, Meagan.

Meagan:              How are you?

Dominic:              How are you today, OK?

Meagan:              Doing well, thank you.

Dominic:              Awesome. All right. We’re going to dive straight in with the greyhound round, Meagan. This is for people who don’t know anything about you at all. Hopefully, we could get to know you a little bit better. Are you ready to go off the leash?

Meagan:              I am.

Dominic:              Brilliant. OK. Would you rather be chased by an Irish wolfhound or a hundred chihuahuas.

Meagan:              Irish wolfhound, hands down.

Dominic:              Who is your favourite superhero?

Meagan:              I think I’d have to say Spiderman.

Dominic:              Good choice. Good choice. Popular choice of my kids as well. Would you prefer to walk a vizsla in the woods or a bulldog at the beach?

Meagan:              Absolutely a vizsla in the woods.

Dominic:              OK. Who is your favorite dog cartoon character?

Meagan:              I think I have to take it back to old school. I think I like Goofy.

Dominic:              Goofy, good choice. Yeah. We like Goofy. OK, Meagan. Like myself … I’m sorry. I’m going to give you a 9 out of 10 for that. Well done. You did well.

Meagan:              9 out of 10.

Dominic:              Like myself, Meagan, you’ve had a number of different dog businesses. You haven’t just doing dog training, you’ve had doggie daycare type things and lots of different stuff. What is it about dogs that you love so much? What was the moment when you went from being a dog owner to becoming a dog trainer?

Meagan:              For me, it was when I got my first dog. My first dog that I ever owned by myself, I was way over my head. I had no idea what I was doing. My dog was the best and the worst dog that I have ever owned. He tore nine foot holes in my carpet and all sorts of really awful things. Through training him, I found a passion for training dogs in general. He is pretty much the one that got me started on all this.

Dominic:              Brilliant. What was he called?

Meagan:              His name was Kobe.

Dominic:              Kobe, brilliant. What was he?

Meagan:              He was an American American Staffordshire terrier mix.

Dominic:              Wow.

Meagan:              Just a rescue dog from the shelter.

Dominic:              Yeah, awesome, brilliant. You’ve touched upon it there. Dog ownership can be really hard, especially at first. Being a dog trainer can be hard as well. I don’t want pet dog owners to think that we know everything because we always make mistakes. Tell us about something, tell us about the worst that you’ve ever had as a dog trainer.

Meagan:              I don’t know if it was really awful but I can tell you that there are a ton of embarrassing stories that I can tell you.

Dominic:              All right, that’s absolutely what I meant.

Meagan:              About training dogs, yeah. They’re animals so they never cooperate when you want them to cooperate. There was one day when we were doing a photo shoot. I had a whole team of dog trainers and dogs. We were in one of my clients’ backyard. We were setting up a scene where we wanted to stage a home invasion. We wanted to have the dog rushing in to take care of things. The photographer was noticeably terrified of my dog, just scared her half to death.

She positioned herself way out to the outside, sat on the side of a swimming pool. As I sat my dog in, she turned at the last minute after the bad guy and turned and stared directly at the photographer. As we were all screaming her name trying to get her to come back, she took off towards the photographer. At the very last second, she dove past her into the pool and took herself for a swim. She was not into working that day. She was into scaring us all and taking herself for a good swim.

Dominic:              That’s excellent, excellent. Was the photographer OK?

Meagan:              She was OK. She was a little shaken up. She thought that dog was coming for her good and we all had a good laugh afterwards.

Dominic:              She was more relieved that anybody.

Meagan:              I think she was.

Dominic:              Brilliant. Meagan, what’s the best advice you’ve ever been given in your life dog-related or anything else?

Meagan:              I think the best advice that I got was if you aren’t making mistakes, you are not learning. I use that every single day in my training and in my life. I think it was a huge moment for me. One of my training mentors told me that if my training looked perfect and I wasn’t making any mistakes, I wasn’t getting any better.

I needed to get out there and be really vulnerable and show all of the areas that we were having problems with because that was the only way we were going to fix them. I used that every single day in life and in dog training.

Dominic:              Yeah, that’s brilliant. You also use that in the blogs as well. I think the insecurities come across, the nervousness that we all feel and I think it makes dog owners think that it’s OK that they mistakes, doesn’t it, as well. Yeah, I love that about your blog as well.

Meagan:              Thank you very much.

Dominic:              No worries. Can you tell me a story about how you’ve used that advice practically, you and your business or in your personal life?

Meagan:              Yeah. I definitely use that every single day. You can read about it on the blog. I talk about it all the time. I make mistakes everyday of my life but I have definitely shifted mindset to celebrate those mistakes. Just in the blog in general, it definitely humanizes us when we’re talking to other people, to be able to not stand up on a pedestal and say, “I’m a perfect dog trainer. My dog always behaves.” I can tell people without a doubt that on a daily basis, my dog does something to completely outsmart me. I think that it helps make dog trainers more relatable in general to the public when we can show our mistakes as well.

Dominic:              Yeah, definitely, I agree, totally, yeah. Training the dog is the easy part sometimes, isn’t it? It’s getting the owner onboard. You want to get the owner onboard and make them feel like they can make mistakes as well, don’t you? Yeah, that’s really good advice. You put a huge emphasis on using play when you training your dog, which I love as well, something that we promote a lot. Not only do I think it’s the best way to connect and motivate a dog but it’s just really good fun as well.

When I was first shown how to interact with a dog and have fun with him, I can’t believe how much I enjoyed it. I didn’t want to take my dog and let him go and play with other dogs. I wanted to keep for myself. When did that happen for you? When did the penny job for you when you realized how powerful play could be as a training method?

Meagan:              I trained my first working dog not using any real play whatsoever. She was a real challenge for me, honestly. I had no idea what I was doing. She was the first dog I had ever trained for work. She used to bite me regularly. We got into our share of stuff while she really didn’t care much to be around me. I changed training clubs. I started working with a trainer that emphasized play. My second dog, we shifted gears on her as we were raising her.

It was so striking for me to see the difference between her and my relationship versus the first dog that I trained who really could have cared less about being with me when we were on the training field. It was very proof positive that play is such a powerful way to build relationships with our dogs.

Dominic:              Yeah, definitely, definitely, it is. How do you approach a training session with an owner? How do you get them to understand how important play is and how they can use play.

Meagan:              I think for me, the easiest way is just show them. As they walk out with their dog who has lost focus, which is a huge program in dogs in general, and the dog that’s paying attention to the dogs or the butterflies or the squirrels and not acknowledging their owner, then I can take the leash and play with the dog and achieve in no time, flat, 100% engagement and have a ton of fun doing it. I think as soon as they see that, the light bulb goes off and they throw caution to the wind and they’ll get more involved with play.

Dominic:              Yeah, definitely, seeing is definitely believing, isn’t it? Yeah. Getting them to believe that they can do it as well. Yeah, it’s beautiful. It’s lovely. If there is someone listening to this podcast now, they’re watching us, they hear us talking about motivating the dog, they wish they could motivate their dog more like a dog trainer. I think some people think that we have magical powers but we don’t really. We just mess about and be stupid with the dogs. What would be three things that they could try and do with their dog at home to help them have a better connection and have more fun with their dog, easy things?

Meagan:              Sure. I think my first piece of advice would be don’t force the issue. If your dog doesn’t want to play with you, shoving the toy in their face is not going to get them to want it anymore. It’s going to probably make a negative association. Instead, just be more interesting, make the toy more interesting. For sure, don’t force the issue. I would say, celebrate the small successes. For me, I’m big on just rewarding engagement and focus, just rewarding my dog for being with me, as opposed to asking for a ton of obedience right off the bat.

If we start small and celebrate the successes that will make our dog want to engage with us more often. Then I would say, don’t worry about what other people think about you. That’s the hardest piece of advice for getting owners to play with their dogs because they’re so concerned about looking foolish. I always tell them, “Are you more concerned with a complete stranger or the dog at the end of your leash?” Because we’re all here because we love dogs. I mean, we have to make those dogs a priority. We have to stop worrying so much about what other people think.

Dominic:              Yeah. Definitely. That’s fantastic advice. I always recommend people, if they are really nervous, just stay at home in your sitting room, shut the curtains and just be stupid there. Nobody can see you. Then you’ll quickly see how much fun it is, won’t you, with your dog. Then when you get them more confident, then take it outside. Yeah, that’s really good advice. You do quite a bit of corporate work as well too, Meagan, I believe, where you use dogs to teach people in businesses about teamwork and stuff like that. That was interesting to me. How does this work? Why is it so effective when you use dogs like that?

Meagan:              It’s an amazing illustration of behaviour science when we bring the dogs out. Leadership in general is about motivating our employees in the corporate world and getting them to want to make good choices. I think we use the dogs and the behaviour science that dog trainers have down pat, to illustrate how we can change the wants of a dog that doesn’t even speak our language and get them motivated to make the right choices. That’s really powerful for people to see us take this completely green dog and make them want to work with us. We can apply those same fundamental principles of behaviour change and behaviour science directly in the corporate world. It’s been really powerful.

Dominic:              Yeah, I bet it is. Yeah. Is it as easy when you have people there who aren’t dog people necessarily?

Meagan:              Sometimes it can be a little challenging if they’re not dog people. I think everybody can agree on watching the behaviour science at work and the behaviour change. I think some people might get a little bit intimidated at times but they are always warned in advance what we’re about to do. The dogs are relatively safe for the most part.

Dominic:              Yeah, definitely, as safe as the photographer was anyway.

Meagan:              That’s right. That’s exactly right. We might give a few people a good scare from time to time, but it’s okay.

Dominic:              Yeah. It’s fine, yeah. All right. We’re coming to the end of the interview now. It’s been really really interesting. You have an online dog training element to your business as well, which I was really interested in because we have something similar. Where can people go to find out more about you or the blog and what you’re up to at the Collared Scholar?

Meagan:              Absolutely, our website is and we have a huge library of articles and resources for dog owners. We also offer online training courses there that are fully interactive. They allow you to engage with the trainer and learn fundamental principles of psychology and some tactical moves that dog owners can try at home. We have that all on the website.

Dominic:              Brilliant. Are you on social media and stuff as well?

Meagan:              Absolutely. We’re all over social media. You can find us at the Collared Scholar on Facebook.

Dominic:              Brilliant. Brilliant. That’s been fantastic, Meagan. I want to thank you for your time. It’s been fantastic. When you’re not helping people with their dogs, how does Meagan Karnes like to relax and chill out?

Meagan:              I think spending time with my dogs. I spend all day training other people’s dogs. Taking my dogs to the beach is the best best escape for me. Just watching them around and play in the water. It’s amazing.

Dominic:              That’s really nice. I’ll vouch for that as well. How does a dog walker relax? He relaxes by going to walk his own dogs.

Meagan:              That’s exactly right.

Dominic:              That’s brilliant. Well, thanks again, Meagan. I’ve really enjoyed this. I’m sure people will take some of the advice onboard to help them to play and have more fun with their dogs. Hopefully, we’ll have you on the show again, I hope.

Meagan:              Absolutely. Thank you.

Dominic:              Awesome. Thanks very much. Take care.

Meagan:              Absolutely, you too.

Dominic:              That was our interview with Meagan. It was great to talk to her. You should definitely checkout her blog, the Collared Scholar Blog and follow it. She is always giving away some really useful dog training tips and advice. She has a super way of telling stories too, Alex.

Alex:      She does.

Dominic:              I’m a big big fan. I think it’s really interesting, Alex that we’re talking to all these dog trainers from all over the world now, really, aren’t we. We’ve had America, Australia, next we will be speaking to someone from India which I’ll be telling you about in a moment. It’s really interesting that all these dog trainers, we’re seeing a similar kind of thing. It’s all about getting focus from your dog, making the training enjoyable for him. Basically, just try to have as much as you can.

Alex:      Definitely. That’s why all the great training and stuff stands from these simple practices and principles.

Dominic:              Yeah. Yeah. It’s reassuring to me to … I’m loving speaking to all the guests that we’re having as well. It’s reassuring to know that we’re obviously on the right track because all the other guys are doing it, a similar thing to what we’re doing and to what we’re teaching as well. It’s also the thing that we’re teaching inside the inner circle. You’ve got until the end of the month to get your first month for just seven pounds if you joined the inner circle at That offer is going to disappear at the end of the month.

You can get your first month for just seven pounds if you go there and you sign up. I’ll send you your book and your DVD and your CD and everything that you get in your welcome pack stuff as well. People should definitely do that. They should also come back next week because next week, we’re talking a dog trainer who I have known about for a number of years. I’m a little bit starstruck, Alex, when I spoke to this dog trainer, I won’t lie to you. Her name is Shirin Merchant. She has singlehandedly transformed the way that dog training is taught and is practiced in India. It’s quite a claim to fame.

Alex:      Yeah, quite the influential figure.

Dominic:              She is also a lovely,  lovely person. The interview is just spot on. Next week, we’re going to be talking to Shirin. You guys should definitely come back and listen to that. Watch that. Enjoy that. That’s it for me. Is that it from you, Alex?

Alex:      That’s it for me too.

Dominic:              Thanks very much for watching, everyone. We’ll see you next week. If we don’t see you through the week, we’ll see you through the window.




Meet the Author

Dom Hodgson