D is for dog

Danielle Haywood, CPDT-KA, CBCC-KA

Do Not Tease Dogs, Keep Away From Fence

 

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Thank you for being a respectful neighbor and responsible dog owner! And walking your dog a safe, polite distance away from fence lines.

Nose-to-nose greetings through a fence are much riskier than you might assume.

  • The dog on the other side of the fence may be friendly with dogs, but not being able to really meet and play can cause barrier frustration, upsetting them and changing their behavior over time. Soon they may bark at other dogs, sometimes even when they’re outside their yard.
  • The dog on the other side of the fence may be shy or fearful of other dogs, so dogs approaching the fence and/or lingering there can make them feel unsafe in their own yard, leaving them anxious and potentially causing them to act out in self-defense towards other dogs.
  • The dog on the other side of the fence may not like other dogs very much, or maybe doesn’t appreciate strangers approaching their property. Your dog could be very frightened by their response. One severely inappropriate encounter can leave puppies especially traumatized, but adult dogs too may become less outgoing after an upsetting interaction which could have easily been prevented.

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It’s best to avoid direct contact with dogs through fences, practice your “heel” cue or shorten your leash as you pass by. You can cross the road if you know a certain yard contains barking dogs, so as not to scare your dog. Or bring a few treats on your walk if you’ve worked up to passing by without paying attention to other dogs. If you come around a corner or you didn’t see the dog in their yard and they accidentally sniff through the fence – be quick and upbeat, redirect your dog, lead them away, carry on with your walk. Don’t wait for things to go sour.

Some people allow their dog to greet another dog through a fence because they thought the situation appeared friendly. So what would a friendly fence greeting look like, in a perfect world? Ideally, the dogs on either side of the fence would be relaxed and quiet. Their bodies might be described as loose or wiggly. They might sniff briefly, pant slowly, wag their tail gently. They’re only there for three seconds or less, then move on. That’s it! They’re not running up to the fence, not running up and down the fence line, not jumping on the fence, not barking at each other. They don’t have their hackles raised, they don’t have their tail held straight up or tucked under, they are not growling or baring their teeth, nor are they rigid like a statue. And, very important, they’re not hanging out too long.  If your dog is interacting with other dogs inappropriately, please contact a dog trainer.

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As a professional dog trainer and behavior consultant, I’ve worked with dogs who were bitten by another dog through chain-link fencing, and dogs who were lead up to a fence to “say hi” to another dog – but when they were barked at they redirected their frustration to the other end of the leash, biting their owner. You don’t want or need for anything like that to happen to you and your dog. It’s so much better safe than sorry! 

Want to help your dog make dog friends? Go to a group dog training class, a playgroup, take them to dog daycare, visit a dog park, or simply make playdates with your neighbor’s or friends’ dogs. These are much better options than trying to make friends with unfamiliar, unsupervised dogs through their fence. 

Be safe. Be respectful. Please keep your dog on the sidewalk or at least a few feet away from fence lines. Thank you!

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For more information:

Redirected Aggression and Barrier Frustration” by The Dog Trainer at Quick& Dirty Tips

How Do I Manage My Dog’s Barrier Frustration?” by Mikkel Becker at Vetstreet

Better Designed Dog Fences Make For Better Dogs” by Pat Miller at Whole Dog Journal

 

 

This morning, while putting the trash out for collection, my nice neighbor felt the need to scare my dog. Ok, so he totally didn’t mean to scare my dog, he meant to make friends. But he went about it all the wrong way, and he’s not alone – lots of people try to say hi to dogs who are saying, “Please don’t.” So here I go, posting a public service announcement.

How to pet a shy dog: DON’T

Unless you are saving their life, you really don’t need to approach or reach out to a shy, timid, or fearful dog. If you approach and reach out to befriend a timid dog, you risk scaring them, being bitten, or worse. They will be much more comfortable and more likely to eventually befriend you if you completely ignore them, allow them their space, and give them time to sniff and warm up to you on their own.

– Danielle Haywood, CPDT- KA, CBCC-KA of D is for dog

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(Photo: Dr. Sophia Yin’s “How to Greet a Dog”)

There are times when a rescuer or a vet tech or someone might need to get ahold of a dog who isn’t comfortable with what’s happening, sure. The dog may have been hit by a car and those actions are saving them, but then the person usually understands that they may be bitten and they take precaution to rescue the dog in such a way that does not completely traumatize them.

If you are my friendly neighbor in your bathrobe, putting out the trash at quarter to eight in the morning  – and my dog is perfectly healthy, not in any danger, just calmly standing in my driveway… That’s not one of those times. And if you approach to say hi and the dog cowers, STOP. Be respectful. Prove you are not a threat to them by stepping back or turning to the side. Do not continue to approach and reach for them. I told my neighbor, “Oh, she’s shy, please ignore her,” but maybe he didn’t understand what that meant? Ignore means ignore – pretend the dog’s not there. Don’t stare at them, don’t talk to them, don’t reach out to them. Leave them be. Pretty simple, but not so easy apparently.

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I once prevented a friend from being bitten by a small dog outside a restaurant. When a large group of us left after brunch and the dog was alone, tethered at the edge of the parking lot. The dog hunkered down and put his ears back as we all came out the door. As we passed by about ten to fifteen feet away, looking at him, and “awww”-ing at the cute doggie, his eyes grew large and he bared his teeth in a low growl. He was uncomfortable with the large group of people, uncomfortable with our attention on him, maybe just scared of being left outside and obviously ready to defend himself against the perceived threat. My sweet, supportive friend, who is normally a smart person, felt an instinctual urge to comfort the dog with physical affection. She could’ve easily made a very bad judgement call in that moment, if I had not stopped her. She very likely would have been bitten and/or traumatized the poor dog. I know it comes from a good place, it’s just not the right way to comfort the dog.

Now, it’s not a good idea to leave a dog tethered outside a restaurant anyways, especially if they are timid or potentially aggressive. It’s best to train dogs, leave them home when you go to lunch, and muzzle them in public if necessary. But there’s also no excuse for a stranger to provoke a dog to bite them. Dogs are not public property – just because they are there and you can see them doesn’t mean they’re there for you. You don’t have to approach them. You don’t have to pet them. This goes for ALL dogs, but especially dogs who are working (service dogs for example) or dogs whose body language says, “Please leave me alone.” How can you be sure? Let’s look at that body language. To be clear, you are the scary monster feet in this graphic:

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Want to pet a dog? Ask! Then wait for permission before reaching out. If the person says, “No,” don’t reach out to the dog at all. There are a number of reasons a person might say no, and that’s their right. The dog may be shy, may be potentially aggressive, might be sick or injured, or they might be in training. I sometimes say, “No, thanks,” when I’m working with a client dog (if I don’t know how they are with strangers and that’s not what we’re working on, I’m not going to put them in that situation.) Or I might be busy (even if they are known to be sociable with all kinds of people, we might be on a tight schedule.) Stopping to be petted might be distracting to our training, or it might require additional training or attention (rowdy children, for example, get an automatic “no,” because they are likely to not follow basic instructions or be respectful to the dog.) Sometimes, when people ask if they can pet my older dog, who loves everyone he meets, I say “No, thanks. But thanks for asking!” simply because I don’t want to reinforce the idea that everyone should be able to pet every dog ever.

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Some dogs need you to respect their space so they can trust you. Some dogs might become comfortable with you, with strangers in general, or they might just not like being petted by people they don’t know. That’s ok too! I don’t hug everyone I meet.

Here’s great advice from John McGuigan, Glasgow Dog Trainer, on advocating for your dog’s safety and well-being:

To learn more, I highly recommend you check out Dogs in Need of Space (DINOS).

If you have a shy, anxious, or fearful dog, Fearfuldogs.com is great!

If you are working on socializing your dog or puppy to new/different/normal things, including people, I highly recommend the help of a positive, professional trainer. Make sure you read up a little on proper socialization: Don’t Socialize the Dog!

For a good resource on teaching kids to properly greet dogs, more from Dr. Yin: How Kids Should and Should Not Interact with Dogs

Questions? Concerns? Comment!

 

 

A lot of people love dogs… But not very many are actually experts on dog behavior. Our personal experiences are seen through a lens, which could be made clearer with education or cloudier with imagination and misinformation. It really doesn’t help when media and other news sources are misinterpreting dog behavior too. Take for example the article posted yesterday on The Dodo and picked up today by The Huffington Post’s Facebook page.

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In the photos and video, a dog is shown protecting a live lobster. The article’s author describes the dog as protecting “Her Little Lobster Friend” and HuffPo writes that “She’s serious about mothering…” That would indeed make for a very cute story, if either of those things were true. However, as a professional dog trainer, I see something entirely different.

Dogs can absolutely be maternal, especially to other baby mammals when they’ve recently had puppies of their own. And they can have very strong bonds with their friends, dogs or otherwise. But that’s not what’s happening here. Dogs can also be protective, this one certainly is, but her motives may be much less compassionate than we’re being lead to believe…

Resource-guarding is a term used to describe the behavior of a dog protecting something of value. The something and its value are determined by the dog doing the protecting or guarding. For some resource-guarding dogs it’s food or bones, for others it might be a toy or even a person. If they feel threatened, they protect their valuable something just like you or I might defend  our purse or wallet, or even dessert. If I order the fancy chocolate pie at a restaurant and my significant other dares pick up a fork, I shoot a quick, stone-faced glare across the table without even thinking about it. That’s something I want and I don’t want to share. Then rational thought kicks in and I know that a.) I’m not going to starve to death if I share and b.) I don’t need to hurt anyone over pie. Well, dogs don’t really do “rational thought”.

This dog’s body language is saying she’d like the keep this item to herself, thanks. This may be the best treat she’s ever been given, and she may not understand that there’s always a bag of kibble in the cupboard. Her “sad” look is saying “please, don’t take this from me,” and she even bares her teeth towards the other dog in the home. Notice how the other dog turns away when she does that – respecting her wishes. Sticking around and reaching for it would be rude and could provoke a bite, but that’s just what her humans do. (They’re lucky this time.)

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Dogs can be taught to share, of course, just like children in preschool learn to ask permission instead of grabbing, take turns with toys and playmates, and leave any high-prized possessions at home. If your dog might snap at other dogs over special treats or toys, you probably want to work on that (with a professional) and in the meantime you shouldn’t bring those items to the dog park. If you have multiple dogs at home, feeding them separately (not right next to one another), giving them each their own bones (maybe in their own crates or in separate rooms), and supervising playtime with toys can ensure that no one feels the need to protect anything. Teach your dogs a “leave it” cue to mean ‘You’ll get something way better if you ignore that over there.” If your dog gets ahold of something they shouldn’t have, call them away or carefully switch it out for something else the dog likes. This is a time you totally can bribe your dog with treats!

Unlike the folks in the video, you DO NOT want to reach for coveted items (and risk being bitten), shout “No!” or otherwise scold the dog (that doesn’t teach them anything and it may make matters worse long-term), or “hit her in the face with it to make her hate it” as they recommend towards the end. Remember that there’s lots of misinformation on dog training and behavior – if it sounds like it’s scary or painful (or just plain rude), it’s poor advice. Take advice only from the real experts!

One of my favorite experts, Jean Donalsdon PhD wrote a little book about resource-guarding called “Mine!”, which can be purchased via Tawzerdog or Amazon.com

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ASPCA also has free information online from Emily Weiss, Phd, CAAB. Check out these videos showing how shelters have come a long way in treating resource-guarding over the years.  (Dogs used to be put to sleep for it.)

Our dogs are still cute and we still love them,  even if they have room for improvement. Resource-guarding is a serious issue that can be really stressful for them and potentially dangerous to us and/or other dogs. It is best handled with help from a qualified, positive, professional dog trainer or behavior consultant. This blog post is only intended to educate on what the issue is and to enlighten dog owners that training is an option. Feel free to comment if you have any questions!

And I’ll leave you with this adorable tv commercial, a series of clips of animal friends! Because that’s what we like to see, right? For real, animal friends. Not a misinterpretation of a dog and her dinner. ;p

Note to news sources and media outlets: consult with a trainer or behaviorist on dog training and behavior, please and thank you!

 

 

 

*Update* 6/10/2015 The Huffington Post updated the story with the help of a trainer!  Now hopefully people can learn a little bit about resource-guarding, avoid issues, and/or help their dogs live healthier, happier lives!

To each their own.

 

I mentioned in a previous post that there’s much more to dog training than personal experience and opinions. Although lots of people like to give advice on dog training, they may not be qualified to do so. And that’s probably why I often hear things like, “Ask five dog trainers, and you’ll get five different answers,” – who are they asking, what are their qualifications? And things like, “Well, that’s your way of training, and this is my way of training,” even though opinions really don’t matter when we have actual scientific research…

A friend recently asked me about the profession of dog training, surprised to learn that the field is unregulated; dog trainers don’t all learn the same things or have the same credentials. There are NO requirements to become a dog trainer, despite the seemingly obvious threat to public safety that misinformation and poor practice poses… So here’s my response to my friend, and some explanation for you dog-lovers, dog owners, and dog guardians out there! This summary of the methodology of training is intended to help you know what to look for in a dog trainer or when evaluating information online, in a book or tv show for that matter.

 

So there are different kinds of trainers?

Yeah, there are “traditional” trainers, “balanced” trainers, and “positive” trainers.

Which are you?

I’m technically a “positive trainer”.

What’s the difference?

Well, positive trainers have science to back up their methods.

 

Let’s start with Dog Training 101: The Quadrants of Operant Conditioning

In learning theory, we have four quadrants of operant conditioning: positive reinforcement, negative punishment, negative reinforcement, and positive punishment. Positive and negative aren’t “good” and “bad” in training as they are commonly used, they are actually “adding” and “subtracting” much like in math. So positive means adding something and negative means removing something. And reinforcement means increasing a behavior (think of reinforced steel, which is stronger!), whereas punishment means decreasing a behavior.

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Positive reinforcement (+R) is adding something which increases a behavior, like rewarding your dog with a treat for sitting nicely. “Positive training” is really short for positive reinforcement, because positive trainers use primarily or entirely this method. It’s quick and effective and offers long-lasting results without side effects. It does require a great deal of skill, timing and consistency, and creative problem-solving, but even if you make mistakes, they won’t result in harm to your dog.

Negative punishment (-P) is removing something in order to decrease a behavior, like turning away from your dog when they jump up on you (because you are removing your attention, which is what the dog wants at that time). Negative punishment should come only after excessive +R, if at all. Your dog still needs to know how to get your attention by sitting patiently, in order for him to understand that jumping up doesn’t work as well.

Negative reinforcement (-R) is removing something in order to increase a behavior, like relaxing the choke chain when the dog walks nicely on-leash. This method requires positive punishment first in most cases, usually you would have to inflict pain or cause fear in order to then remove it. There are exceptions, which I will write about in more detail later. In general, this is not an effective or humane means of training.

Positive punishment (+P) is adding something in order to decrease a behavior, for example giving a sharp jerk on the leash/prong collar in attempts to discourage the dog from pulling on the leash or squirting a dog with water in attempts to stop them from barking, for example. Positive punishment is pinching a dog’s ear, yelling at them, anything that is added to discourage a behavior. This method has been shown to be much less user-friendly and less dog-friendly, not really communicating what you intend to and actually creating behavioral side effects more often than not. Professional trainers don’t employ these tactics, unless very, very, very rarely and only after exhausting all other methods and consulting with colleagues, as outlined by the Humane Hierarchy and written into the code of ethics of various professional organizations and certifications.

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Now, why do you need to know all that? Because, sadly, even some “trainers” don’t. Any trainer may describe their methods as “relationship based” or “motivational method”. I actually know balanced trainers who market themselves as positive trainers, so you need to know the difference. Here are the three major types of trainers:

Traditional trainers use positive punishment, negative reinforcement, fear, pain, intimidation, and mythology in training. Of course, they probably don’t call it that; they usually use euphemisms like “correction”, say that they tug on the leash to “get the dog’s attention”, claim that flooding will help the dog “face their fears”, and claim that dominance is “natural” to dogs, etc. They might tell you that you have to be the boss of your dog, make him do things or else; everything is their way because they said so. They’ll probably tell you that training with food treats is bribery and clickers are a silly fad. They typically use so-called “corrective” devices such as choke chains, prong collars, and shock collars in order to scare or hurt the dogs under their care – but they’ll call it an e-collar or insist that the shock doesn’t hurt, it’s only a “vibration” or “low-level stim”. However, these devices do cause an enormous increase in dogs’ stress hormones (ie anxiety and aggression) even when used “correctly” by “trainers”. And if there is another way to train that offers the same or better results WITHOUT those long-term side effects, why wouldn’t you use that?

Balanced trainers try to incorporate all four quadrants into their practice, without regard to modern science (which proves that positive reinforcement is the most effective and humane way.) So while they might claim to be “positive” because they introduce new behaviors with treats, if they subscribe to dominance myth or still use “corrections” after they believe the dog should know better – this is disingenuous; they are NOT a positive trainer, they are a balanced trainer. I wasted the first couple years of my career as a balanced trainer; I understand that it sounds reasonable enough (there’s good AND bad in life, yin and yang). If only I knew then what I know now! It’s simply not a good way to teach any animal anything.

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*If you are a dog owner, and you’re thinking, Hey, wait a minute! I thought balanced training sounded good… You are not alone, and it’s not your fault! The people giving training advice have a responsibility to give you the right advice, whether that’s a rescue/shelter, pet food/supply store, daycare, or veterinarian, but especially if it’s someone claiming to be a professional dog trainer. If positive training sounds new and far fetched, I highly recommend the books Culture Clash by Jean Donaldson and Don’t Shoot the Dog by Karen Pryor. And check out the links listed below for more info.

Positive trainers:

  • use current, legitimate scientific research, cognitive behavioral therapy, applied operant conditioning / applied behavior analysis, and mostly or only positive reinforcement in training.
  • typically use a clicker or a marker word in conjunction with immediate food treats (or another rewarding experience) in order to reinforce a dog’s behavior.
  • also use careful management to prevent the practice of unwanted behaviors, teach the dog alternative behaviors, or teach behaviors which are incompatible with the problem behavior.
  • use only humane and scientifically sound treatments of fear and aggression, such as systematic desensitization and counter-conditioning.
  • DO NOT use or recommend positive punishment, aversive stimulus including choke chains, prong collars, and electronic shock collars, they do not cause flooding, use physical force or psychological intimidation, etc. – the “traditional” training techniques that balanced trainers also employ.

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You might hear positive trainers go by different names, like “dog-friendly”, “force-free“, “clicker trainer“, “humane hierarchy trainer“, “science-based training”, or even “progressive reinforcement training“. Some just call themselves professional trainers, because positive training really is what we now know all training should be.

 

“What I’m advocating isn’t an all or nothing approach that discourages independent thinking.  What I’m saying is that no legitimate independent thinking and thoughtful inquiry starts without first acknowledging what we already know to be true, based on scientific evidence. What I’m suggesting is that according to the experts in this field, we are many years of work and mountains of evidence beyond having to balance our training philosophies because the real scientists, knowledge producers and expert practitioners have confirmed ten times over that the new art and science of animal behavior IS the field.” – Emily Douglas, The Unexamined Dog

 

 

For more information:

The Truth About Positive Reinforcement written by Dr. Haug, run in Psychology Today

‘Types of Training Methods’ and ‘Red Flags’ in How to Choose a Dog Trainer by 4Paws University

Application of the Humane Hierarchy Position Statement from The Certification Council of Professional Dog Trainers 

Dr. Sophia Yin’s Philosophy

The Science Behind Positive Training from Victoria Stilwell

Least Invasive, Minimally Aversive (LIMA) approach from the Association of Professional Dog Trainers

The Continuum Generator by Jean Donaldson of The Academy for Dog Trainers

Buyer beware!

 

Buyer beware! What to look for in a professional dog trainer.

If you’re thinking about hiring a dog trainer for any reason, first of all, pat yourself on the back for being a responsible dog owner! However, you should be warned, that the field is unregulated. While it’s illegal to pretend to be a doctor when you’re not, and hair stylists need to be licensed in order to work – anyone can simply claim to be a dog trainer, whether they know what they’re doing or not. Horror stories abound; I’ve heard plenty first-hand accounts from clients who worked with other trainers before me and I’ve personally seen not only misinformation but also physical abuse take place under the guise of training. It’s important to know that not all dog trainers are created equally, there is much more to dog training than opinion and personal experience.

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So here’s what to look for:

  • Degree.  Look for formal education; undergrad degrees in psychology or zooology, graduate degrees in those or similar fields, like biology, anthrozoology, animal behavior, or applied behavioral analysis. Not everyone goes to college, and that’s okay, but ideally a professional has some kind of education or proof thereof, maybe a certificate from a reputable trade school or other certification.
  • Certificate. There are some trade schools for dog trainers which offer certificates. The best ones by far are the Academy for Dog Trainers (aka Jean Donaldson’s Academy for Dog Trainers or SF SPCA Academy for Dog Trainers) whose graduates achieve a Certificate in Training & Counseling (CTC) and the Karen Pyror Academy, which might be proudly listed after a trainer’s name with the designation of KPA CTP (Karen Pryor Academy Certified Training Partner). There are other certificate programs and certificates for particular subjects as well.

Certification. This one’s important! A certificate for completing a program and an independently earned certification aren’t actually the same thing. You will see letters behind trainer’s names sometimes, different certifications mean different things. The acronyms listed in BOLD below are titles you want to see!

A good standard for any dog trainer is CPDT-KA or CPDT-KSA (Certified Professional Dog Trainer). Even better would be CTT-A (Canine Training Technician) or PCT-A (Professional Canine Trainer).

If you’re working with behavior, there are more advanced certifications: CBCC-KA (Certified Behavior Consultant Canine) or CDBC (Certified Dog Behavior Consultant), and PCBC-A (Professional Canine Behavior Consultant).

There are also certifications for specific subjects or types of training, such as the OSCT (Operation Socialization Certified Trainer) and CBATI (Certified Behavioral Adjustment Training Instructor). And Victoria Stilwell approves select trainers to represent her values as VSPDT (Victoria Stilwell Positively Dog Training).

Behaviorists have their own designations, too: ACAAB, CAAB, DACVB. Note that a behaviorist is either a veterinarian who also studied behavior (veterinary behaviorist) or someone with an advanced degree (MA or PhD) in animal behavior. If someone calls themselves a “dog behaviorist”, ask which one they are! 😉

  • Membership to professional organizations. Memberships act as a support and networking group to learn from and contribute to. They might also have professional requirements or practical and ethical standards which its members must adhere to. Look for trainers who are members of organizations like the Association of Professional Dog Trainers (APDT), the International Association of Animal Behavioral Consultants (IAABC), the Pet Professionals Guild (PPG).
  • Keywords. Not all good trainers go to school or have certification yet, they may be working on it. So look for at least a mention of it, as well as certain keywords on their website, in their pamphlet or flyer, or when you speak on the phone with them. You want to hear about “positive training”, “reward-based training”, “force-free training” and words like “teach” or “guide”. The trainer should describe how they’re going to help you teach your dog what TO DO by giving or possibly removing rewards, not by doling out harsh punishment. Beware of words like “correction” that are focused on telling the dog what NOT to do and may include using fear or pain, “balanced” methods which seek to reward your dog for good behavior as well as “correct” their bad behavior, or words like “alpha” or “pack leader” that imply you should be the boss and overpower your dog – this myth is out-dated and erroneous.

If you are reading a trainer’s bio on their website, or a dog walker or pet-sitter for that matter, and their sole claim is that they “really love dogs!”, please don’t hire them based on that alone. We all love dogs! The length of time they’ve dabbled in dog training and how much they charge are not necessarily indicators of expertise or quality service, either. Typically you will not be saving money by hiring someone without credentials; short-term it may appear that way, however, their lack of knowledge and/or skill can be not only counter-productive to your training goals but also even dangerous to your dog. Like many professionals, I’m often hired to undo damage done by other trainers, and my clients always express regret at not having known to look for credentials in the first place. By knowing what to look for, you are better able to make the right decision the first time for you and your beloved pet.

The Humane Society of Boulder Valley was hiring a dog trainer recently, this is what they required and you should too!

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Links to the trade schools and professional organizations mentioned above can be found on the ‘Links’ page of main menu, if not linked here. Please note that I’ve intentionally named only the best – if you see credentials from other schools, they may or may not be good ones. If you’d like help screening a potential dog trainer based on their qualifications, please send me a link to their info! I’d be happy to help.

Best wishes in your training endeavors!

 

For more information:

How to Choose a Dog Trainer according to the Association of Professional Dog Trainers

4PawsUniverstity’s How to Choose a Dog Trainer

How to Find the Best Trainer for Your Dog from the Whole Dog Journal

How to Hire a Dog Trainer according to the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists

 

Don’t quit your day job.

 

You’re not a dog trainer, and that’s okay.

I have teeth, but I’m not a dentist. I drive a car every day and I can even change a tire, but I’m not a mechanic. I enjoy cooking, but I never went to culinary school and I’ve never been employed as a chef – even if I have any natural talent, watch a lot of Rachel Ray, or have a whole shelf of cookbooks, I’m really not an expert. And that’s okay.

What I am is a dog trainer. And I meet a lot of people who feel a sense of personal responsibility to train their own dogs. That’s okay if you feel that way. And if you have the time and patience to learn and do the work yourself, by all means! But it’s also okay to acknowledge you’re not an expert – because you have a career, a family, hobbies, a home, other things to focus on and do. Dog training isn’t your job, or maybe isn’t even something you’re very interested in. So you might reach out for advice.

I personally know little to nothing about computers and I don’t care to. So when I walk into Best Buy and I’m overwhelmed by numbers and symbols and Star Trek-esque technology, I might browse for a moment, I might Google something, I might text my brother who studied computer technology. But then I’m going to ask someone who works there to translate things for me; what exactly is a gigabyte and how many do I need in order to blog? (Kidding! Kind of.)

Sometimes we might seek help from our friends, family, or coworkers. Sometimes that’s no big deal, like if you’re trying to get a stain out; there might be a right or wrong way to remove a stain from carpet or clothing, but even if you take your neighbor’s terrible advice, the worst that typically happens is it stays stained. No one gets hurt. No one dies. When you’re dealing with dog training though, it can be that serious. That kind of help should come from professionals.

A good professional dog trainer will make it easier for you. They have all the education and experience, they read all the books so you don’t have to, and they’ve probably attended a seminar or workshop on the very training or behavior issue you’re puzzled by or at wit’s end about. Have you ever been sick and thought, I have no idea what this could be with such strange symptoms… ? And then your doctor only has to take one look at you to know you have the same strain of flu that the last hundred people they saw also have. Dog trainers should know what’s going on scientifically, they should get to know you and your dog, provide you with options for treatment, and make your training goals attainable.

How do you know if you need a dog trainer? Well, do you have a dog? Maybe you’re thinking of adopting a dog but you haven’t had one in a very long time, and want help selecting a dog and starting off on the right foot. Or maybe you’ve already tried everything you could think of, but you’re still dealing with a training or behavioral issue and it’s time you gave a professional a call. That’s okay too! Whether your dog is purebred or rescued, or both, every dog has something to work on, just like no person is perfect – we all have room for improvement. So don’t be afraid to ask for help! Contact a qualified professional – after viewing Buyer Beware! to learn what to look for in dog trainer.

Happy New Year!

 

It’s a new year. That usually means New Year’s resolutions, self-improvements, goal-setting, living life better in some way. Sadly, a few million dogs are euthanized every year due to behavioral problems, more than the number of dogs who die of medical causes like cancer and diabetes. Let’s try to do better this year.

People surrender their dogs to shelters for a number of reasons, like allergies, job loss, relocation, divorce, etc., sometimes it’s because they are overwhelmed with the dog’s behavior. Turns out, most behavioral problems are actually normal dog behaviors which simply need(ed) to be managed and/or trained. Dogs chew; teach them what to chew on (toys), and it’s not a problem. Dogs bark; teach them when it’s acceptable to bark (when they “speak!” as a cute trick), and it’s not a problem. Dogs go potty; teach them where they’re supposed to do that (in the yard), and it’s not a problem. Unfortunately, with millions of family dogs in the US, only a small percentage of people actually attend basic dog training classes. Many people believe the misinformation on television or take advice from unqualified sources on the internet. Some don’t even realize that training is even an option. For example, have you seen the video of the dog left wearing a GoPro and it turns out he has separation anxiety – so the owner vows never to leave his dog alone ever again (as though that’s realistic)?

That’s where I come in. I’m only one of nearly 2,500 certified professional dog trainers in the United States. By no means do I think that I’m the best, everyone makes mistakes from time to time and my dogs aren’t perfect either, but I’ve been at it for a while now, learning from even better trainers and keeping up to date with all the exciting new research that will help you and your dog live a happy, healthy life together.

D is for dog looks forward to bringing quality educational information to the public. I was inspired to begin a blog while helping in an animal shelter, where kind-hearted, hard-working people are sometimes forced to face the question, “Is this dog safe for the average dog owner?” This dog may have a naturally unsafe temperament, or it may have accidentally been taught to act out due to lack of socialization and/or poor training practices.  While we cannot and maybe should not save them all, I felt it was time that I take a bigger, broader step toward starting dog owners off on the right foot and keeping more dogs in good, long-term homes. By networking and spreading the word about real, positive, and force-free training, hopefully we can all be wonderful dog owners with well-behaved dogs. When we know better, we do better!

What else can you do to help reduce the number of dogs euthanized? Adopt from your local shelter or rescue instead of supporting puppy mills, volunteer or donate to legitimate rescue organizations, spay or neuter your pets, and, of course, learn about scientifically sound and humane training practices. I’m going to help you with that last part – let’s get started! Here’s to a new year and a new venture.

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