Finding the right trainer isn’t easy

Finding a dog trainer who can help you and who you enjoy working with can be a challenge. There are no rules governing who can be a dog trainer. Some perfectly wonderful trainers have no official accreditation; while trainers with wonderful letters after their name are not very good with either dogs or people.  Add into the mix that there are several very different training methods with trainers of each method being very adamant that only their training method works and you have a murky soup.

This is a case study if you will of one of my recent clients. I’ve changed the names. But, I think it is a good illustration of how challenging finding the right dog trainer can be.

Heidi owns a 2-year-old Labrador named Teddy. When I met them, I was the four trainer Heidi had called in.

Trainer #1 was a positive reward-based trainer who Heidi chose for Teddy’s first group class. Teddy was five-months old when he attended group classes. He was overwhelmed by the group class experience and could not focus. While the other puppies were focusing on their owners; Teddy was barking, circling and doing flips. No amount of treats in front of his nose could distract him. The trainer suggested Teddy was not ready for a group class; but gave Heidi some tips on working on his reactivity on her own. The trainer suggested Heidi take Teddy on the Monon (a popular dog walking trail) and give him treats when he saw dogs. The Monon was way too overwhelming for Teddy. It was just like the group class. No amount of food in front of his nose could distract him when a dog walked close to him.

Teddy was now an adolescent Lab who Heidi could barely control. Taking him on a walk was a nightmare, so he also was not getting enough exercise, which added to his frustration, which in turn made him more destructive at home.

Trainer #2 used a choke chain and told Heidi the only reward Teddy needed was “good dog” and the release of the pressure from the choke chain. He told her to never use food rewards. However, this trainer understood threshold and explained it to Heidi and told her that Teddy should only be worked in areas where he wasn’t too close to other dogs. The trainer her gave her good advice in terms of working with a dog that was over stimulated and how to keep him farther away from dogs until he could handle seeing them in a distance. Choking Teddy out when he saw a dog did stop him from barking; but only because he couldn’t breathe. And it took a lot of strength. Heidi was unable to duplicate the trainer’s technique on her own and soon Teddy didn’t care about the choking and just kept dragging his owner and flipping himself on the ground.

Trainer #3 was a board and train person. Heidi left Teddy with him for two weeks. On the last day of his training; Heidi went to pick him up and the trainer proudly demonstrated Teddy’s new skill. Heidi saw Teddy on a matt in the middle of a room while other dogs were running all around him. Teddy never moved a muscle; but there was a rope of drool coming from his mouth. The trainer used a shock collar and taught Teddy that if he moved when other dogs were around he would get shocked. The trainer spent an hour showing Heidi the ins and outs of shock collar training and sent her on her way. Heidi did not like the way Teddy looked when she picked him up and she noticed the drool and how tense the dog was. He was still way over stimulated by seeing other dogs; but now he had learned that he had no choice because if he moved he would hurt by an electric shock to his neck. Heidi decided she didn’t want to use a shock collar on Teddy.

Now Heidi has a 2-year-old Lab who is not getting enough exercise and who is a nightmare to take on a walk. She is understandably very frustrated that she has spent thousands of dollars on dog trainers and she still can’t walk her dog around the block.

Heidi’s veterinarian recommended she contact me. My first thought was how frustrated this owner already was and how I was going to come in and give her completely different advice yet again.

Prior to our first visit I emailed her the Position Statements from the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior on Dominance and Punishment. I wanted her to see information from people who have lots of education backing up their words. That way it wasn’t just me saying something.

We did a lot of talking on that first visit. People who want to be good dog trainers need to be people oriented first. If you can’t convince the human end of the leash, you will never help the dog. I talked about how frustrating it was to have spent all the time and money and gotten so much conflicting advice only to have me come in and give yet more conflicting advice.

The good news was; the woman already knew that nothing she had been doing was working as obviously she was calling me to get help. If her previous trainers had helped her she wouldn’t need me.

It turned out Teddy’s issue was he was socially awkward. He never got to play with any puppies when he was young. He really, REALLY wanted to go meet some other dogs and see what they were about. His frustration at not meeting other dogs became lunging, barking and growling when he saw other dogs. He didn’t know what to do with all this pent-up anxiety and over the top exuberance.

The only way Heidi could walk Teddy was on a prong collar. While I don’t advocate them, I wasn’t about to tell her to take it off him at this point. She had to have some way to physically control him and the prong collar worked for her. We got some big gun treats (hot dogs) and I used my fake dog Spot. I put Spot far away from Teddy and we gave Teddy a hot dog when he looked at Spot. When Spot went away; there was no hot dog. At first, we didn’t care what noise Teddy was making; I only wanted to know if he could eat the hot dog. In the beginning, he was lunging; barking, howling, etc. at Spot, but it turned out Spot was far enough away that Teddy could eat the hot dog. Within a few minutes Teddy’s behavior calmed somewhat and he became less interested in Spot and more interested in the hot dogs.

Then I had Heidi take Teddy back inside for a short break.

We repeated this a few more times with Spot moving to different parts of the yard and Teddy becoming more comfortable seeing Spot and ignoring him or calming looking at him. Then I let Teddy meet Spot. Teddy rushed in like a bulldozer and jumped on Spot knocking him over. Teddy then jumped on Spot and started sniffing him all over. Then Teddy did a play bow. Sadly, Spot is great at working with reactive dogs; but his interaction skills are stiff.

After Teddy “met” Spot, Teddy was much calmer and easier to control. He took treats for ignoring Spot. He could walk close to Spot and ignore him.

After another break for Teddy to regroup and get a drink of water; I brought out my dog Skywalker. Teddy was initially amped up when he saw Sky moving; but Teddy really liked hot dogs. Soon we were walking down the street alternating between me and Skywalker being way in the lead or Heidi and Teddy being in the lead. Then I did some walking with Sky on the other side of the street.

Teddy was still highly aroused at some points and I would have to increase my distance from him; but he was able to go for a short walk and his owner was able to control him and feed him hot dogs.

At the end I allowed Teddy to meet Skywalker. It wasn’t ideal; but I felt Teddy needed some serious intervention and Sky is super tolerant. Teddy rushed into Sky and jumped on Sky’s back and which point Sky snapped at Teddy and Teddy fell to the ground in a very submissive posture.

Because Teddy was so over the top exuberant and I don’t want Sky to not have fun with dogs; I didn’t let the interaction go on long. Teddy took corrections well; but he just had a hard time understanding that humping Skywalker’s head was not the way to initiate play. But, Teddy did figure out that he could be near Sky and sniff around and that worked out. I think if Teddy meets some extremely tolerant very playful dogs; he will soon get his doggy interaction skills down.

I just had my second meeting with Heidi and Teddy. We met at a park that is popular with dog walkers. The park has lots of space so we can put distance between us and other dogs.

Teddy came out of the vehicle like a bulldozer and was immediately over stimulated. Heidi hasn’t been taking him lots of places due to being unable to control him. We worked on politely getting in and out of the vehicle and talked about how the more he is exposed to things like this, the less over whelming they will be (as long as he isn’t too overwhelmed). We worked in an area of the parking lot as far away from people and dogs as we could get.

As Teddy calmed down we moved closer to the action. We also worked on some loose leash walking skills and moving away from people and dogs in a calm manner. At the end we were able to sit on a park bench and have Teddy calmly laying down. And his owner was walking him in an Easy Walk harness and not on the prong collar.

tucker

In our second training session, we were able to get Teddy off the prong collar and onto a Gentle Leader and laying down calmly. There are three dogs about 20 feet away from this park bench as well as lots of people walking around.

Teddy and Heidi still have their work cut out for them. But, Heidi is now much more confident in her ability to take him places. This means Teddy will be getting lots more enrichment and exercise. He will have more fun and Heidi will have more fun.  Heidi is going to work with some doggy daycares and see if there is a place for Teddy there. If not, we discussed other ways for Teddy to safely meet a few tolerant dogs.

If you have been to multiple trainers and you still have issues with your dog; don’t give up. Look for trainers who have experience with the types of issues you are having. Look for trainers who are certified through an all-positive organization such as Karen Pryor Academy. Read the position statements on punishment and dominance and don’t let a trainer talk you into an electric collar or using punishment.

 

Don’t wait until disaster strikes: Be prepared

With the videos from Hurricane Harvey and now the anxiety over Hurricane Irma; it would be an excellent time for all of us who love our pets to figure out a plan in case of disaster. (And you should have a plan for the humans as well)

You certainly do not have to be in the path of a hurricane in order to need to evacuate: tornadoes, fire, flood, earthquakes and even chemical spills could force you from your home with little notice.  If you are asked to evacuate; what will you do with your pets? Even if you think you will only be gone a few hours; your should always remove your pets as situations can change quickly and you could end up being away from home for weeks or even longer.

condor in water

Don’t wait until the water is at your doorstep to figure out how you will save your pets during an emergency

Here are some ideas to help prepare you and your pets in the event of an emergency:

  • Make sure your pets are microchipped and that all microchip information is up to date. Ensure you have emergency backup phone numbers on your chip information in case you are without cell phone service. If someone can’t reach you; they could perhaps reach another family member. Choose someone who does not live near you to up your chances someone you’re your contact list will be out of the danger zone. You should review your microchip information at least once a year to ensure everything is correct.
  • Have enough crates or other forms of carriers to safely contain all of your pets. Cats, dogs, rabbits and even ferrets can generally be safely transported this way. Other small pocket pets may need different types of containers. Know what you need before you need it.
  • Crates and carriers not only will keep your pets safe; they can also act as a home away from home once you reach safety. Collars and leashes can slip off animals; pets can quickly escape a vehicle if they are stressed. Having a pet safely contained in a crate is the best option for most animals.
  • Condition your animal to enjoy being in his carrier BEFORE you ever need to evacuate with him. Five minutes before your home is flooded is not the time to be stuffing your terrified collie into a crate. Cats are also notorious about hiding when pet carriers come into view. Take time to teach your pets that crates are safe and fun. Even if you don’t use a crate for your dog on a regular basis, it is still a good idea to teach him to enjoy going into a crate on cue. For a free hand out on crate training, just shoot me an email at iclickdogs@gmail.com. For cats; take crates out periodically and feed cats high value treats in the crates while the doors are open. You want the cats to see the crates as something to check out for food rather than to run and hide at the sight of a carrier.
    cat in crate

    Take time to teach cats that crates can be fun. Cats need a carrier large enough to hold a litter pan and allow them a space to sleep. 

     

  • If your pet has never been in a vehicle; teach her that getting into a vehicle is fun.
  • Ensure you always have enough medication on hand to safely see your pet through at least a week (and two weeks is even better).
  • Keep a bag of food in a container such as a plastic tote. Add some jugs of water and some bowls in the tote as well. Have the tote in a location where you can quickly reach it in an emergency. Just make sure you rotate the food out of the container on a regular basis so it won’t become stale.
  • Have a pet first aid kit. You can buy great kits at just about any pet store as well as at numerous online sites. If you have a special needs pet; talk to your veterinarian about what types of items you will need in the first aid kit. Rotate the medicines out on a regular basis as well to ensure they are not expired.
  • Keep calming products such as ADAPTIL and Feliway in your emergency kit. You can use these products to help ease pet anxiety.
  • Have a copy of your pet’s medical records in a watertight container or plastic bag. Some facilities may not wish to house your pet if it is not current on shots or if you cannot prove its vaccination record. A Rabies tag is rarely proof of vaccination. You need a veterinary record that describes each animal with the Rabies vaccination information.
  • If you have multiple dogs; ensure that each dog has a readily accessible collar and leash. The collar should have updated contact information (even if your pet is mircochiped it is also recommended to have ID on a collar as well.). Cats should also have breakaway collars with ID tags.
    harley

    Have leashes and collars for all of your pets; even those that may not got on walks on a regular basis. 

     

  • If your pet has special needs; either in terms of behavior or medical, write out clear information and attach it in a waterproof container to the pet’s crate or carrier. For example; if your dog is afraid of men or your cat hates dogs; make sure people have access to that information.
  • Once you get to a safe location; do what you can to minimize stress for your pets. Use blankets, cots or other items to form visual barriers around your pets so they can have a break from seeing the chaos or being constantly stared at by other pets. This is not a social; do not let your pets mingle with other pets. Even pets current on vaccinations can easily become ill in stressful situations.
  • Even the friendliest of pets may become stressed in an unfamiliar location surrounded by chaos. Keep him safe from being handled by lots of strangers.

It is better to be prepared and never need it; than to find yourself frantically trying to save your family and the family pets.

The American Veterinary Medical Association has an amazing free pamphlet called Saving the Whole Family, Disaster Preparedness. You can download it from the AVMA website at  https://ebusiness.avma.org/ProductCatalog/product.aspx?ID=140

The pamphlet covers everything from saving your fish to your pasture animals.

Doggy daycare: Does your dog want to go?

Let’s put on our Imagination Caps. I want you to imagine yourself in this scenario.

You have a 5-year-old son. He is the apple of your eye. You want the best for him. But, you work 8 to 10 hours a day. You need to make sure your son has fun while you are gone. So, you enroll him in daycare. He will have fun, right? Be with other kids his age; play games, etc. But, what if your daycare just put all the kids in one big room; some of the kids are younger than 5; some were older. There is only one person to watch all the children. There are no structured activities, no nap time, no breaks, no lunch and some of the kids didn’t speak your son’s language and he can’t understand them. Some of them are bullies and push your son around. New kids keep entering the room; or a child leaves just when your son is getting to know him. Sometimes an adult walks through and shouts “Quiet” or picks up a bottle of water and sprays some of the kids.

No one would subject their child to this. But, many of us do this to our dogs on a regular basis. For some reason, many people think their dog should go to doggy daycare and play nonstop for four to eight hours. We feel guilty for leaving him at home while we work. Or we don’t have enough time to exercise our dog, so we put it in doggy daycare and hope it comes home exhausted.

This is not a slam against doggy daycares. There are awesome ones out there; there are also not so awesome ones. I was recently asked to consult with a daycare to help its employees learn more about canine body language and brainstorm ways for dogs to have more fun and less conflict.

three dogs running

These three dogs are having fun. There is no conflict over the stick. They played for less than 20 minutes.  The three dogs have similar play styles and energy and all three are under 18 months of age. 

It turned out one of the major stumbling blocks to many of my suggestions were the dogs’ owners. No one wants to find out his dog isn’t the best-behaved dog in the room. Many owners want their dog out in the play room playing for the entire time they are at daycare. For the daycares that have video cameras so people can see their dogs; owners will call and ask why their dog isn’t playing or why he is in his kennel so much.

From the other side of this coin; I meet with many training clients whose dogs have either been kicked out of daycare or who are using daycare to exhaust their dog so they don’t have to deal with it. Or people are sending their dog to daycare out of a misguided notion that the dog will love it and have a great time. Over the last eight months, I’ve met with 15 clients who were devastated because their dog was kicked out of daycare and who wanted training help so their dog could go back to daycare.

So, first, STOP and ask yourself why you are sending your dog to doggy daycare? Is it so you will feel better about leaving him all day? Do you not have time for him when you come home from work so you want him tired? Or is your dog a super social butterfly who enjoys playing with all dogs, is highly confident in play and can handle an occasional rude incident from another dog?

If you fall into categories one or two of the above paragraph; you may want to rethink

silas resting

For many owners a tired dog is a good dog. Appropriate play is a great activity for your dog; but you want to make sure your dog is enjoying his play time. 

your options. Most dogs probably do not want to spend hours and hours playing with other dogs. It is just too stressful. Many dogs may prefer to be home in a crate or loose in the house with a bone or frozen Kong to entertain them. If you don’t have time to walk your dog or provide adequate mental stimulation; then you need to rethink owning a dog or look into a dog sitter who comes to your home.

 

 

If you want to send your dog to doggy daycare; do research. You would research anyplace you were sending your child. Do the same for your dog.

If I ran a dog daycare here is what it would look like:

  1. There would always be at least two people in the play room. There are daycares that are allowing 20 or more dogs loose with only one person watching them. If a dog fight breaks out; one person cannot stop it. And that one person could be in danger. What if that person goes down before he or she can make a help call on a radio? I don’t care if the room has two dogs or 10 dogs; it should have at least two people in the room.
  2. There should be a cap on how many dogs are in a playgroup at any one time. I personally have a difficult time keeping track of more than 10 dogs. Also, how many dogs depends on space as well.
  3. The people watching the dogs should be confident in their ability to read canine
    20170114_131311

    A great doggy daycare staff will know when it is appropriate to step in and redirect a behavior or when to let it go. 

    body langue and know when to step in and when to leave things alone and let the dogs sort it out. I see too much talking by the staff to the dogs and too much stepping in when the dogs growl (which is ok with me in many circumstances) but not enough stepping in when a dog is clearly bothering another dog but the other dog is too polite to say something about it.

  4. The doggy daycare should have time limits on play and a quiet place for each dog to rest based on how long it will be in the facility on a particular day and how much fun it is having in play. Some dogs only want to play for 20 minutes and then they get stressed. But, they have a great deal of fun in those 20 minutes. Maybe they take a two-hour break and come back and play again.
  5. More than one play area so dogs can be grouped by age, playstyle or size as needed. Putting adolescent, high-energy dogs into a room with older dogs probably is not fun for the older dogs. Dogs under 10 or 11 months probably should be together and anything under 6 months definitely needs its own play area with age appropriate playmates. Small dogs may be confident, but can be accidently injured by larger playmates. Various dog breeds have their own playstyles and may not enjoy playing with other types of dogs. I watched a border collie annoy the heck out of 10 other dogs and the humans because the border collie was barking into the face of every dog and then rushing in and grabbing the dog’s hindlegs. No one was having fun, not even the border collie because she was just becoming more and more frustrated.
  6. I would have a program for dogs that had issues playing with lots of dogs; but who could play with some dogs. Staff would work on helping the under confident dog learn to play with other dogs by slow introductions and limited numbers of dogs in the group.
  7. My staff would be certified in canine CPR and basic canine first aid.
  8. My staff would not encourage behaviors most owners would not want to see in their homes. Or if an owner was reporting nuisance behaviors; the staff would be proficient in working on these issues and helping the owner have a better dog at the end of the day.
  9. If your dog just didn’t enjoy playtime, then there would be walks, fun time in a play yard with enrichment equipment and human contact throughout the day.

Hopefully, there are doggy daycares out there like this, but all my ideas are extremely expensive to staff. However, if you are looking for a good daycare, see how many of my criteria they are utilizing. And if the doggy daycare staff tells you your dog isn’t having fun; don’t be mad at them. Recommend that daycare to anyone who is looking as that is the mark of a great daycare. Don’t be cheap either; the great daycares are going to be more expensive. But, most of all; don’t send your dog to doggy daycare just because it makes you feel better.

 

 

 

 

 

Don’t let your pet become a July 4 statistic

I spent an hour last night rubbing the belly of Harley, the Chihuahua. Outside, fireworks were booming. Inside Harley was jumping up each time he heard a loud boom and racing frantically from window to window. When I went to bed; he followed me as usual; but could not settle or relax. Each new bang brought shivering and barking. I found that rubbing his tummy helped him relax. Every time I heard a boom; I started rubbing his belly and after about half an hour the noise of our neighbors celebrating the Fourth of July early wasn’t as stressful for the little guy and we were both able to get some sleep.

harley napping

This is Harley after an hour of belly rubs. He was able to go to sleep despite the continuing fireworks.

Statistically; more pets go missing in the days leading up to and following the Fourth of July than any other time of year. The ASPCA says July 5 is the busiest day for U.S. animal shelters in terms of people bringing in lost pets or people searching for their lost pet. It is estimated there is a 30 percent uptick on July 5 of lost pets.

Sadly, the statics of people who find their lost pet are not so encouraging. The ASPCA estimates between 15 to 20 percent of lost dogs are reunited with their families and only two percent of cats find their families again.

It isn’t just the fireworks that cause this upswing in lost animals. We LOVE to travel with our pets. Many people take the family pet to their favorite holiday spot or to visit family and friends. If the pet goes missing he is now in unfamiliar territory with no idea where home is.

Here are some tips to keep your pet safe this holiday season.

•••• Identification: seems simple, but so many people forget about it; especially for animals that rarely go outside. Animals have been known to go to great lengths to escape during fireworks including going through screened windows and even through glass. All pets should be wearing some form of identification.

I recommend two forms: A collar with an ID tag and a microchip. The collar with the ID tag will help someone locate you quickly. More people are likely to stop and help a pet if they see an ID tag because they know there will be a way to contact the owner. Don’t rely on your Rabies’ tag. Yes, it can help get your pet home; but the person finding your pet would have to wait until your veterinarian is open to get contact information. Your pet’s ID should have your CURRENT phone number. It is amazing how many pets are found with ID that has an outdated number. My ID tag also says Alone = Lost so anyone finding my dog will know if he isn’t with me; he is lost.

However, you also need a microchip on your pet. Lots of animals lose their collars when they are lost. I deliberately have my collar loose enough so my dog could get out of it if he became stuck. A microchip is a tiny device (the size of a grain of rice) implanted under your pet’s skin. A special scanner can find the chip and read the information. That information then has to be called into the chip company so the owner’s contact information can be located. Again, during holidays it might be 24 to 48 hours before someone can be found who can scan the pet. Veterinarians and animal shelters have the scanners and the information needed to retrieve the owner contact information. If your pet is microchipped now is a great time to log into your microchip company’s website and ensure your contact information is up to date.

There are also lots of GPS tracking systems now available for pets as well. These go on your dog’s collar. Again; only useful if your dog does not lose the collar. Don’t wait until your pet is lost though to try and figure out how the software works.

•••• Does your pet have to travel with you? While you love the companionship of your dog; and you know your dog loves you; is he really going to have as much fun as you are traveling to a Fourth of July Celebration? If he does travel with you; make sure he has a very safe and secure place to be anytime he is not with you.

•••• Don’t take your dog with you to the firework’s display. Even if he seems ok with loud noises, the flashing lights; people screaming, children rushing around with Sparklers, etc. are stressful to dogs. Believe me, your dog does not want to see the fireworks display.

•••• Bring outdoor cats inside. Put them in your garage if there is no other place to keep them. Not only are cats also afraid of fireworks, but each year there are horrific stories of people taking cats and doing horrendous things to them during the Fourth of July.

•••• Bring outdoor dogs inside. Dogs can easily break chains when they are terrified. Imagine being scared and being tied up. It is horrific for dogs. And if you have an invisible fence; forget it. Something like 30 percent of lost dogs are wearing invisible fence collars. Four years ago on July 3 I stopped at a four way stop sign and a huge dog came barreling out of a field frantically jumping at my windows. He was covered in drool and shaking so hard he could barely stand. He jumped in my car as soon as I opened the door. He was wearing an invisible fence collar, but no other ID. Luckily he was microchipped. Sadly, the primary contact number was no longer in service. Luckily, the secondary contact number still went to a relative of the owner and after three hours I was able to contact the owner and get his dog home to him. He said the dog had been out in the yard and had “never gone through the electric fence before.”

•••• If you know noises are problematic for your pet; spend some time preparing for the Fourth of July. Get some of his favorite chew items and stock up. Chewing can be very calming. If your dog heads to the bathtub when he is scared; line the tub with blankets and some chews for him. Do not allow children to bother the dog while he is scared.

harley belly rub

Harley says it is hard to be stressed if you are getting lip licks from Skywalker and belly rubs from Mom.

Some websites still advocate not consoling the animal when it is scared. The thinking is that if you pet the dog or tell him it is ok then you are rewarding him for being scared. This is hogwash. If you were terrified of a spider and I hugged you; would you be more or less scared of the spider? Rubbing Harley’s tummy is a perfect example. Instead of making his behavior worse; I was able to reduce his anxiety because I was pairing something he loved (a tummy rub) with the sound of the bangs. If I was rewarding his barking behavior; then it should have gotten worse, not better.

•••• If your dog is truly phobic of loud noises; please seek the help of a veterinarian. There are several great products available. You can also look into products such as the Thundershirt and ADAPTIL. My previous dog, Condor, was terrified of fireworks. He would pant and drool. The Thundershirt definitely brought down his anxiety. He was still afraid, but it lessened the panting and drooling and allowed him to be in his crate curled up in a tight ball.

I generally don’t go to the local fireworks displays. I stay home and make sure the pets are ok. When I got pets I realized that they were a commitment that would sometimes mean that I had to think of their welfare.

 

 

 

Conflict can be so conflicting

 

I met with a client yesterday who spent most of our consult saying “but that’s not what the other trainer told me.”

There is a lot of conflicting information out there when it comes to dog training and dog behavior. There are at least two trainers in my geographic region who could not be more different from me in terms of our philosophies. Several times I have gone to someone’s home who has hired one of these other trainers in the past and it is obviously very confusing for the person to hear me say something which turns out to be vastly different from what the other trainer told them.

Who is right? Who is wrong?

First, where I live there are absolutely no regulations overseeing dog trainers. Anyone can be a dog trainer. Many of us who are trainers don’t agree about training procedures. We tend to use words that the average person may not understand. And we don’t all agree on the definitions of the words we do use.

No wonder our clients are confused. I try really hard never to bad mouth a trainer who has come before me. For one thing; I’m sure there are times when that trainer is the person who is called after me. I would hate for him or her to bad mouth me. Instead I try to provide information so clients can make up their own minds.

I explain why I use positive training methods and why I don’t recommend dominance based or force based training methods. I can do that without specifically slamming the other trainer.

For example, with the client I spoke with yesterday; the other trainer told the client that he needed a prong collar on the dog so the owner could do a better job of “asserting dominance” over the dog. The other trainer also slapped the dog on the nose when the dog did something the trainer did not like. The trainer told the client that by slapping the dog on the nose, he (the trainer) was mimicking how dogs communicated with each other.

I could explain to my client that what we know about dominance and how it is applied to training has changed dramatically over the years. The dog was not dominating his owner. No resources were involved. Dominance needs a resource such as a mate; food, a place to sleep. Instead the client had an 80 pound adolescent dog that was destroying furniture. The dog was bored out its mind. He wasn’t eating the table because he wanted to dominate his owner. He was eating the table because he wasn’t being walked enough and he wasn’t being given enough to do with his brain.

Likewise, smacking the dog on the nose isn’t going to help the dog learn not to eat the table. It is just going to make the dog know that his owner is scary and unpredictable. Dogs may sometimes nip each other as a warning and a mother dog certainly could grab a puppy by the snout. But, that has nothing to do with boredom. And dogs know their owners aren’t other dogs. So, even trying to mimic what dogs do to each other probably make zero sense to a dog. Plus, we aren’t fast enough. If you watch dogs interact, when they correct each other it is lightning fast. Humans will never be that fast. So, when we do correct a dog; our correction is often so far behind the behavior we are trying to correct that we end up punishing the dog for something else entirely.

Also, when dogs and wolves interact; there is always a choice when it comes to who is dominate and who is submissive. For example, if I am the dominate wolf in a group; and I see another lesser ranked wolf with a tasty bone, I might decide I would like that bone. I am not going to rush in and smack the other wolf on the nose or grab his neck and pinch him. Instead I am going to walk over in a confident manner and look at the bone. I might raise my front lips and show my canines. I could ruffle up my fur to make myself look taller. The entire point is I want to AVOID a conflict, not start one.

The wolf with the bone now has a choice. Does he want to let me have the bone? Does he want to avoid a conflict? Or, has he decided the time has come for him to take over? If the wolf with the bone wants to avoid conflict and if he has decided he can’t win a fight; he will submit. He may roll over and expose his stomach. He may just slink away and leave the bone. But, it is his CHOICE. The dominant wolf didn’t force the issue. The wolf with the bone could decide he does not want to give up the bone. He could whine; show his teeth back; try and take the bone farther away. The two wolves might engage in a lot of posturing. But, whatever happens it almost always ends without a fight. One wolf just says “fine, let’s not fight about it.” Sometimes it might end in a fight if the two wolves both decide they won’t back down. However, it is still a choice.

So, if you alpha roll a dog (force him to lay on his back and expose his neck and stomach); you are NOT behaving like a wolf. No wolf would have forced the other one on its back. Instead you are acting scary. You are not following canid protocol. You are dangerous and your dog may decide he has to bite you.

But, don’t take my word for it. The American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior has some awesome information on the subject and you can take their word for it. According to their website, “The American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior (AVSAB) is a group of veterinarians and research professionals who share an interest in understanding behavior in animals. Founded in 1976, AVSAB is committed to improving the quality of life of all animals and strengthening the bond between animals and their owners.” These people often have very advanced degrees in both veterinary medicine and behavior related fields.

To read the awesome position statements the AVSAB has put out on dominance and punishment click here.

The bottom line is; do your own research. If a trainer tells you to do something that makes you uncomfortable; then ask the trainer not to do it. That’s what happened in my client’s case. He was not comfortable with a trainer hitting his dog on the nose. So, he looked around for a different kind of trainer and found me.

Reward the good; ignore the bad

Does your dog drive you crazy sometimes? Is he constantly barking at you; pawing you; grabbing things and running around with them?

puupy-boot

Give  a dog or puppy something to do before it does something you don’t want it to. While this tiny pup is very cute with the big boot; it won’t be so cute when the puppy is older.

 

Dogs do many things that annoy us; and unfortunately; we trained the dog to do most of them without realizing it. Dogs are so smart; they put together what rewards them and what doesn’t reward them.

For example; you are cooking dinner and the dog is pawing at you; barking, jumping up on the counter, etc. You may respond with: “stop it;” “bad dog;” “get out of here” or you may push the dog away from you. You might give the dog something to do to make him stop bothering you. Excellent. You just taught your dog how to get you to interact with him. You gave him attention. Negative attention is still attention.

I just worked with a client whose dog has started humping her leg when she ignores it. The woman knew to ignore attention seeking behaviors; but the dog upped the game and started humping. Humping is one thing people have a hard time ignoring. This dog was not dominating the woman; he was learning. He learned that humping got the attention he didn’t get with his previous behaviors. The owner would push him away; tell him “no,” etc. Again the dog got attention.

I asked the owner to just walk away from the dog; cross into a space where the dog could not go (over a baby gate) and ignore the dog for a few minutes. I just got an email from her saying how awesome this worked. The dog figured out quickly the humping behavior not only didn’t get him any attention; but it made his owner go away. This is definitely not what he wanted to happen.

Attention seeking behaviors can be very difficult to ignore because we have done such a great job of teaching the dog they work. Barking is especially difficult because it is so annoying. The same client also had an issue with her dog barking at the back door to be let back inside. If the woman wanted to take a shower while the dog was outside; she would get out of the shower to hear a dog barking and know the neighbors had been listening to the dog bark for the entire time she was in the shower.

The dog knew barking worked. It brought the owner running to open the door and let the dog inside. We put the dog outside and it immediately started barking. I stood just inside the door; but in a position so the dog could not see me. The second the dog took a breath during a huge barking tirade; I opened the door and tossed a treat five feet from the door. The dog ran to get the treat; spent a few seconds eating and sniffing (and not barking). I threw a few more treats. I then waited and the dog began barking again; he stopped for a second; I opened the door; tossed treats. I repeated this several times and gradually went from one second of no barking to six seconds of no barking. The dog began to stand away from the door instead of rushing in and pawing at it (because the treats were falling behind it). Over time the dog will learn barking does not make the door open.

Sometimes we inadvertently train the dog to annoy us so he can get something fun to do. For example; if your dog annoys you and you get up from the couch to get him a frozen Kong; then he just learned how to get the frozen Kong. Instead; put the frozen Kong down before you sit down. The dog will learn to settle when you settle. And think about this: Do you say “good dog” when your dog gets down after he jumps on you? Most people do. The dog may learn he loves to hear “good dog” and make you happy; and the way to do that is to jump on you so he can get off and then hear “good dog.”

Instead; say “good dog” right before your dog jumps on you when he still has four feet on the floor. Ignore him or walk away from him if he does jump on you. He will soon learn “good dog” happens when four feet are on the floor.

Think about what you want your dog to be doing instead of annoying you. When you find him practicing that behavior reward him for it. Believe me; your dog does sleep sometimes or lie down and rest. Find those times and give him a treat or praise him. Your dog does what gets him what he wants; which is your attention. Give him the attention for what you want him to do and life will be happier for both of you!

 

Just say ‘no’ to saying ‘no’

As a trainer, one of the top questions I receive is, “how do I teach my dog the word ‘no?’”

My response is usually, “how well did that work out with your children?” We tell children “no” often, yet they still will sometimes repeat the behavior. Your child speaks a verbal langue and is smarter than your dog. So, how can we expect an animal that does not speak a verbal language to understand something as complex as the word “no?”

harley-trash

Harley decided the time is right to get into the trash.

Dogs live in a world of safe vs. unsafe. A behavior is either safe to perform or it is unsafe. Imagine you are in the kitchen when your dog sticks his head in the trashcan to go after that pork chop bone he smells. You yell “no, bad dog, get out of there,” often while raising your voice and approaching the dog in a threatening manner. The dog just learned it is unsafe to be in the trashcan while you are near it. You leave the kitchen for a few minutes and when you come back, the trash is everywhere and your dog is happily holding that pork chop bone.

Most people become angry at the dog for “disobeying” them. But, in the dog’s world he did not disobey. You told him not to get in the trash when you were around. When you left the kitchen, you made the trash safe. In the dog’s world, leaving something as tasty as a pork chop behind would mean you didn’t want it anymore. If it had been important you would have taken it with you. If you punish the dog at this point, he will not understand what he did wrong.

If you yell at your dog because he pees in the house, he doesn’t understand you are saying it is wrong to pee in the house. He just understands it is not safe to pee in front of you, so he will learn to be in a different room where you can’t see him because it will be safe to pee when you are not in the same room. And if you try taking him back and showing him a potty accident that already happened, your dog will not understand that you are punishing him for going inside the house. He will learn instead you are scary and he should run from you if you approach him when you are angry. Often dogs respond to our anger by offering submissive gestures such as lowering their heads, tucking their tails, etc. People often read these gestures as “guilt” and assume the dog knows it was wrong. Instead it is the dog’s way of trying to appease you and beg you not to hurt it.

We also get into trouble with our canine companion because we send him mixed signals. For example, if he jumps up on you when you come through the door, it is an attention seeking gesture. If you say “no”, you are giving the dog attention. You spoke to him, you most likely looked at him and you may have touched him when you pushed him away from you. To the dog this was all a win. If you truly do not want him to jump up on you, you have to ignore the dog completely. Don’t look at him or talk to him. Stand still and after several weeks of this new behavior, your dog will learn this game no longer works. When he greets you with four feet on the floor, then give him lots of praise and he will figure out this is the new way to get your attention.

What happens if your dog brings you something he shouldn’t have such as your shoe? If you get up out of your chair and chase him through the house and then try and tug the shoe out of his mouth, you just played the best dog game ever invented: run and chase and tug. Your dog just learned if he is bored and you won’t play with him, he just has to bring something out of the bedroom and you will jump up and play with him.

Instead give your dog a long-lasting chew or a puzzle toy before you sit down so he has something to do while you are relaxing.

Trying to see the world as the dog sees it rather than trying to fit the dog into a human peg will go a long way to helping you have an awesome relationship with your canine companion.