Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Dachshund Positive Training!

I often encounter trainers who believe that a positive reinforcement trainer cannot get the kinds of results that they do...
Here is my miniature longhair Dachshund showing off some of his skills!

Monday, November 17, 2014

Finding a Dog Trainer

The "all you will ever need" guide to dog training.

First, let us recognize that there are tons of different trainers and training methods out there. It would be naive to ignore this fact. So first, let's break down what dog training is, and what elements you want to embrace as you train your dog.
What dog training is:
-Communication between you and your dog.
-Getting your dog to behave in a manner that works with your lifestyle.
-Teaching your dog to perform behaviors that are useful for day to day life.
Then there is also training for specified elements:
-Teaching your dog to be a working dog (there are many different uses for dogs including, herding, hunting, tracking, protection, searching, being a therapy dog, being a service dog, etc.)
-Teaching your dog to excel in dog sports such as agility, obedience, dock diving, flyball, ect.
-There are many different tasks dogs can fulfill, but let's focus here on the "pet dog" and what we expect from them:

1) The primary debate you will see amongst dog trainers is Positive versus Aversive.
    -it is actually often hard to tell which is which because terms are thrown around quite loosely in the dog training world.

 Positive reinforcement training means working with rewards* to tell your dog they are doing the right thing.
    -*Aversive training means correcting your dog for doing something you don't want them to do.

If you are confused at this point I wouldn't be surprised, as most trainers use a combination of both in their training methodology.

The important elements to consider are; what are the rewards, and what are the aversives?
-Many trainers define their methods based on how intense their rewards or aversives are, but most use both to differing degrees.

-*For the most part, positive reinforcement trainers utilize treats, toys, play, and praise to reward dogs for good behavior.

-*For the most part, aversive trainers utilize choke chains, prongs collars, shock collars (e-collars), to correct bad behaviors.

Many trainers use a combination of both theories in their work, and will label themselves based on whichever theory they want to embrace most.

To be fair:
-Purely positive reinforcement trainers do NOT use aversives. They reward good behaviors and ignore or prevent bad behaviors.
-Purely aversive trainers do not use rewards, they correct bad behaviors and the dog learns to avoid punishment by doing good behaviors.

Most trainers fall somewhere in the middle, but there is rarely a breakdown like this for the common pet owner to understand the differences between the two.

The first question that a dog owner must encounter when training their dog, is which element is most important to them.

There are positive and negative elements on both sides.

I will try here to be as partial as I can be, but I am a positive reinforcement based trainer, so I will forewarn that my opinion may be give a bit of background, I used to be much more of an aversive trainer until I worked with hundreds (as a conservative estimate...but it is more likely that I have worked with thousands. It is hard to estimate the numbers over they years) of dogs, did research, and found that positive reinforcement was the method that I felt most comfortable and successful with. 
Why "I" chose positive reinforcement over aversive techniques.
-I had regularly used aversive techniques, and for the most part had very good results before I chose to change my ways. I understand the immediate results that aversives can create, and for awhile I was very happy with those results.  However, I found myself in a few dilemmas.  1) some dogs would not respond...they would shut down and be worse than ever.  2) although I could gain compliance through aversives, I could not build new and better behaviors, and I could not encourage the dog to do other things when they were afraid of the possible punishment. 

I also found that the aversives would often lead to side effects for some dogs; distrust in their handler, wariness to try new behaviors, lack of motivation, and ultimately shut down during training. Aversives could also lead to aggressiveness in the presence of a stimuli which led to corrections. For example; if a dog growled when a person approached, and was corrected, they could often suppress the growling behavior, but then, the person approaching could interpret that the dog was friendly, and then would approach the dog in am overwhelming manner (thinking the dog is friendly), leading to the dog becoming uncomfortable enough to BITE. This is much more dangerous than a dog who growls as a warning.
This is a huge part of the reasoning behind why I changed my methods.
I prefer a dog who wants to work, and enjoys working. I also like to spend my time with a dog who enjoys being with me as much as I enjoy being with them.
**As a quick side note; be wary of trainers who show off their skills with videos, or examples, of only certain breeds; aversive training was created during World War 2, and intended to be used on certain breeds of dogs; those who were "harder" and acclimated well to punishment. There were, and still are, breeding programs who intentionally pick "hard" or "tolerant" dogs to work well with these methods.
The breeds generally used (but not limited to) are: German Shepherds, Belgian Malinios (or any of the Belgian breeds, including the variation of the shepherd, being Tervuren, and others), Rottweiler, Doberman Pinscher, American Pit Bull, and many other breeds intended for protection. If you find impressive videos of trainers working with ONLY these breeds, be wary that they are using dogs who are intentionally bred for intense obedience work (and often bred to accept corrections easily), and this may not work for other dogs. Look for trainers who show results with MANY different kinds of dogs, not just the ones who are bred to work.
***another side note; be wary of any trainer who says that they "only" train a certain breed. All trainers have preferences, and we all have breeds that we is prefer to work with, but all dogs work essentially in the same way...if a trainer says that they "only" work with one breed, it is likely because they have only worked with that one breed, and that means that they have limited knowledge of dogs in general. Even though breeds have certain characteristics, there are always exceptions, and if a dog is not the typical representation of their breed, your trainer should still understand how to deal with them.

-Aversive trainers can often get quick results. An intense correction can quickly stop a behavior. These trainers will often tell you that positive reinforcement, or "cookie trainers" will only be able to get your dog to behave via bribes with treats, and that you can't get results without the treats.
   •this debate is a difficult one; a good positive reinforcement trainer will explain how to quickly fade off of the treat lure, but let's explore both correction and reward based training, and the fading away from training tools.
     -if you train a dog with treats, you do need to spend time fading the lure in order to order to get a reliable behavior.
     -however, if you train a dog with leash corrections, you also need to spend time fading off of the leash corrections in order to get your dog to respond without a leash correction. 
**both methods require fading away from the original training method in order to have a finalized behavior. So, there is little difference in how these methods result in the ultimate behavior.  Both require practice in order to create a reliable end result.  This is true of any behavior in obedience, with both methods. 

To be even in my evaluation:
-Positive punishment with a SKILLED trainer is very likely to quickly get your dog to behave. A swift punishment will often result in compliance. Sometimes, these results will stick, and the dog will avoid performing the behaviors for fear of punishment.
**even though I train with primarily positive reinforcement, depending on the case, I will sometimes bring in elements of positive punishment. I never use physical pain, but will occasionally implement sound aversion or verbal corrections, and even "body blocking" to help the dog understand the end result. I DO NOT utilize elements of physical pain such as correction collars for this, but positive punishment covers a wide variety of elements. I am always very careful to only introduce these methods to dogs who have clearly shown the kind of personality that can handle it. 

As for aggressive issues: I will admit, it is much easier to give harsh corrections and get immediate results. I can correct a dog into enough fear that they are likely to not be reactive or aggressive, but I have never really changed how they feal about the thing they are uncomfortable with.
If a trainer corrects a dog enough, they are likely to remain still and "obedient" in the presence of the stimuli, but I also know from experience that they have created a ticking time bomb that can go off at any moment, as the dog has never dealt with the issue, only suppressed their reaction to it.
I spend much of my career dealing with dogs who have already experienced this kind of training, and I need to back track in order to build confidence and retrain good behavior. 
I can say, without hesitation, that the most troublesome dogs I work with are those who have gone through intensive aversive training for problem behaviors, and then come to me. These dogs are always the most dangerous cases I work with, as they often show no signs of discomfort, but then react with extreme results. These dogs no longer growl, bark, or lunge, but instead BITE, and often redirect their aggression to anything nearby (often the handler).  These are the dogs who require the MOST rehabilitation, as they have learned that whatever they are uncomfortable with results in punishment, and therefore requires them to react more intensly to keep the trigger away. If the stimuli means that they may be punished, they will often become more intense about trying to ward it off.
**For all those who will argue about their success with these methods, I will agree that some dogs have been corrected to the point of tolerating anything, and never reacting, however, I still wouldn't trust this dog, as you have only corrected them into a level of fear that they dare not come out of. And, this dog may never react again, but truly, a dog who has been punished into this level of fear is not one who I would wish to spend my life with, as you have created merely a shell of a dog, who operates only with an intention to not impose punishment, and although this dog may seem "cured" I would never trust him, as fear is a dangerous thing, and can result in outrage at any moment. Many dogs are put to sleep because they attacked "out of nowhere" and this is often the result of suppressed anxiety or fear.
This is truly the difference between positive reinforcement, and positive punishment training. 
To have a complete understanding  of these methods, we must understand that if positive punishment is harsh enough, it will often stop the dog's "reaction" (resulting in a positive experience for the owner and trainer, after all, it's very nice to see our dog stop lunging and barking at people or dogs). If this occurs we are likely to have a dog who seems, by all means, to have overcome their issues, and no longer be aggressive towards the stimuli. However, if we delve into our understanding of behavior, we realize that all we have done is suppress the negative behavior. If we suppress one negative behavior, without addressing the issue, we are likely to see this behavior pop up in different areas, just as we do with humans, and other animals.  This is why positive punishment can be so dangerous.

I will take a moment here to address the many people who will argue this point.
It is difficult to understand the difference between the two methods for two major reasons:
1) positive punishment shows such quick results that it is hard to undermine the method's success. We can quickly see the dog stop the behavior, so it makes perfect sense that the method is working.  The side effects often display themselves after the fact, and not in the same way that the original issue was presented, leading the owner to believe it is unrelated.
In the same element:
2) positive reinforcement is a process that takes time, and because we are changing the way that the dog thinks and feels about something, it is easy to misinterpret the results of this training as external, and not connected to the training at all.

**let me give an example;
-a young child tries to reach towards the stove to attain an early taste of the dinner meal. The child's hand is quickly slapped and the child walks away (likely feeling a bit angry or hurt for the slap, but nonetheless, not burned).
-a young child tries to reach toward the stove and his parent stops him, explains that if he reaches for the food before it is served to him he will be badly burned and experience pain. The parent explains that if he would like a taste of the food before hand, he should ask, but likely, he will still have to wait until he is served his dinner. The disobedience in order to gain a reward is likely to be more painful than it is worth.
**both will likely result in the child not reaching for the stove, but the second scenario is more likely to prevent him from trying it again. The first scenario gave him no information, and so gives him no reason to stop the behavior, other than the fear of pain (being slapped), and so he is likely to try again when the punisher (parent) is not present.

This example is stipulated on the use of having a common language, but we have already established that good dog training establishes a kind of communication, and therefore can work in a very similar way. 

It took awhile, but these elements lead me to try different methods to experience a different relationship with my dog.

We are all doing our best as dog trainers. We all want to help, and we have all come from different education backgrounds to get to the point of being a trainer.
There is no degree given for dog training, so our profession relies heavily on experience and character/personality.
There is a ton of education for dog trainers, through research studies, books about training, seminars, ect.
However, some of the most successful trainers out there are not those who go to these great lengths for their own knowledge.
Sometimes trainers become popular and successful purely because of their charisma. They have a personality that draws people in, or they are bossy and demanding which often misleads people into the idea that they are very knowledgable. 
Many trainers will tell you that you have to do it their way, and it's convincing because they are so certain of their methods. 
But please, don't feed into some jargon just because it seems reasonable, or because the trainer is pushy. 
Dog training is very logical, it makes sense if you think about it. There is nothing "magical", "mystical", or "amazing" when it comes to dog training.
I could easily "stop" your dog from performing a bad behavior because I "mystically" scare them into stopping the behavior.

When you interview a trainer:
-Ask them about their experience:
  •have they trained many dogs?
  •what kinds of issues have they dealt with?
  •do they compete with their dogs in dog sports (are they involved in the "dog world")?
  •MOST IMPORTANTLY: how do they feel about THEIR OWN dogs? Are their dogs a member of their family? Do they love their dogs? ***this is the most important question in my opinion, because there are many trainers out there who don't care much about their own dogs, but just like to "train" dogs as a means to make $$ and fulfill their own ego. If they can't tell you about their own relationship with their dog, RUN the other way, they are not worth your time! 

My own opinion:
As I have stated isn't hard. In fact, I could stun people with how quickly I can get results, but I know that positve punishment (aversive) results would not be worthwhile, because I would have to scare the dog, or make them fearful enough to not perform those behaviors again. This is not the kind of training I prefer.
If I only wanted to suck out money from my clients I could easily show quick results, and have them pay me for my apparent "magical" results.
But I am honest, I am a realist, and above all, I want people to have the relationship with their dogs that I have with my own.
To get this, it takes time, effort, and love to build a relationship.
I could easily get you to have a dog who "behaves" for fear of punishment, but that's not what I want. Because I know there is something better.
If all that you want is a dog who obeys you, cowers to you, is afraid of you, and therefore listens to your every command, I could give this to you...but I won't. Go find a trainer you cares more about their status, about money, or about dominating another.
Come to me if you want to build a better relationship, realize the amazing bond that can be had between a human and a dog.  
Just because I CAN get a dog to behave because I force them to, doesn't mean that I want to do that, and more so, I have been working with animals for so long, and understand why I do, and what I do it for, that I will not appease a person by lowering my ethics to get a dog to behave against their will.
There are many trainers out there who will, and many who will argue that I am naive, or sentimental, or soft, by believing in something different.
If you, as a dog owner, prefer to have a dog who behaves through fear, then by all means, do so. You can live with this knowledge, I cannot.
I have been there, and I regret every day that I put my dogs through so much negativity before realizing that I didn't have to. 
Every issue I have come up with in dog behavior has been better dealt with through positive reinforcement. 
I have experienced owners, and other trainers, who believe that certain breeds (especially large dogs), cannot be trained with positive reinforcement. This is BS in my opinion. I have worked with every type of dog, and I love large breeds, I love protection dogs, and breeds who are regarded as "difficult" or "extremely hard" or "strong". Ask my clients. Some of my favorite breeds are the giant ones (Go Great Danes! And Mastiffs!), and I have never had an issue training them with positive reinforcement. In fact, I get more people believing that it's the little ones who can't be trained, because trainers have told them that they can't use correction collars (good call because they have sensitive little necks!), and come to me because they have out of control small dogs (meet my miniature dachshund who wins every time he is in the Rally-O ring!). 
All dogs can be trained using positive reinforcement, and for that matter, so can all exotic animals; ask their trainers, or zoo keepers, what kinds of methods they use!
The only set back has been the owners; impatient with results, reluctant to do the work, or just plain stubborn about the fact that their dog SHOULD behave the way they want them to without using rewards.

Unfortunately, we have created a popular belief in American society that dogs should behave because they "respect" us. This is a misled understanding of dogs, as they are not humans, and do not have an understanding of "respect" as we do.
What we interpret as "respect" is unfortunately fear. And you can look it up, there are an amazing amount of research articles that back up this statement.
If you are stubborn enough to not believe me, and subscribe to aversive training techniques, then by all means, do so. But, before you do, think long and hard about why you are. It's a hard realization, one that I had to come to, to discover that my preference to punish a dog and get him to do as I told, was not about good training, but instead about my fulfillment in controlling another.
I discovered that this was not training...when I discovered what training was, I changed my methods.
Many people will not want to read beyond this point because it is hard to acknowledge that there is an unfortunate amount of satisfaction in getting another being to listen to us just because we say so, and because we punish them into fearing us.  The truth is, they aren't doing it out of love...if it is forced, through punishment, it is being done out of fear.

As I always stipulate, I require that my dogs follow a strict set of rules in my household, but this is gained by teaching them what I want, and preventing them from practicing unwanted behaviors. You can see these results in the many videos I post on YouTube. 

I would like to say that I will take on any client who contacts me, and I have many times turned people away from harsher methods because I show them how quickly I can get results through positive reinforcement.

However, I have enough recommendations, and a stellar reputation, that I have lost the urge to argue about the way I train, and to try and convince people to treat their dogs with respect.

If you can read this post and decide that you still want to use harsh and/or abusive tactics to train your dog, don't call me. I don't have the patience to argue with someone about why I train with the methods I do, and if you can't understand them, and want to go to someone who will quickly abuse your dog into compliance, then by all means, do.
I will spend my meditation sending good thoughts to your dog and hope that they can overcome your anger, ego, superiority, and that of your trainer, and still enjoy their life. 
If you wish to experience a better relationship with your dog, and understand how to get them through and psychological issues that they may have, please call me, as this is my passion in life; to encourage the beauty of the human animal relationship, and to support it's growth through training.

This is possible, if you take the time.
And the rewards are phenomenal if you are willing to put in the work.

Thank you for reading,

Friday, October 31, 2014

What do I want from my dog?

The last post I shared was about why I prefer positive reinforcement. I spent awhile thinking after posting about the dogs I have trained through various methods. One element that I realized is that my most recent dog, Andreu, who has had more consistently positive training in his life than any of my other dogs (partly because I started with him so young and partly because I previously utilized more aversive techniques), is the most charismatic, happy, goofy dog I have ever had.  This made me think about what it is that we all want in a dog. I have loved every dog I have ever owned, and all have been amazing examples of the human dog relationship. 
However, Andreu has made me laugh every day he has been with me...his goofy antics bring a smile to my face, and I can't help but wonder, if I had trained my previous dogs with the same methods, would they have been able to express their own personalities more? 
This may seem like a silly concept to some, but really, what is a dog there for? Why do people want to have dogs in their lives? Is it so that we can show that we have a trained companion that can do whatever we tell them to at any moment? Don't get me wrong, Andreu is very well behaved, and has received compliments in the Rally Obedience ring for his exceptional training. He also competes in agility and has been very successful, also receiving comments about how fast and willing to work he is. But Andreu is a character; he is goofy and happy all the time, sitting on the couch with his paws up like a person would, licking the face of the people he knows and likes, jumping straight up in the air when he is excited about something. He will rub up against you like a cat so that you will strach the spot just above his tail, he will randomly go into the bedroom and start rolling around on the bed barking at himself in a random game he likes to play. He loves other dogs and will play with them if they are willing, he gets excited in new places and wants to interact with any new dog around.  All of these antics could easily be distinguished "ill-behaved" but they make me laugh, none of them are breaking his rules of my training, and they all make him happy.
So, the question is, what do I want in a dog? I have some particular specifications being a dog trainer. With Andreu, I wanted a dog who likes other dogs, and can help me work with dogs to understand social manners. I also wanted a dog you loves agility and would perform for me when asked. Above all, I wanted a dog who I enjoy spending time with, and Andreu is absolutely all of those things. 
I see many trainers, and training videos/shows, out there that advocate having a well-behaved dog, and believe me, I love having a well-behaved dog too, but more so, I prefer having a dog who I enjoy spending time with, who makes me laugh, and makes each day more enjoyable.
A dog doesn't need to be trained as a soldier to enjoy life, actually the opposite, a dog can be well behaved and also exuberantly happy. 
The problem that I have seen recently in the dog ownership community is that people have a tendency to see a "trained" or "well-behaved" dog as one who does nothing other than follow orders, and others see misbehaved and wild dogs as comical. 
There is a happy medium. You can have a dog that is well-behaved and goofy/happy/exhuberant at the same time! However, this is gained through positive reinforcement training. 

One of the biggest issues that I face as a positive reinforcement trainer is that many of my clients have already implemented aversive techniques, based on tv shows, or recommendations by their friends, neighbors, or random strangers. If they are using some of those techniques, and some of mine, it can become confusing for the dog, and often leads to mediocre results at best, because the dog doesn't really understand what to do. 
I know, everyone thinks they are a dog trainer, because they have trained their own dog, or watched a show. Everyone is willing to doll out advice as if they know what they are talking about. I understand that this is a controversial point that will hit home for a lot of people, but here is the reality; just because your neighbor/friend/ect. has trained 1-6 dogs in their lifetime, does that mean that they are an expert? I can easily say that I have trained about 3,000 dogs (on a conservative estimate), and I have probably used the methods that have been recommended to you at one point or another. If I don't use them now, it's because I have found that although they may be effective in some cases, they are not in all, and more so I may have found that the fall out of these methods are not worthy of their use in the first place. 
This is why people hire a trainer, to gain their expertise. 
To be fair, I am a very lenient dog trainer; I try to not be pushy about how to do things, but please, don't mistake my consideration for lack of knowledge. There are thousands of people who will tell you that they have the answers for dog training, and you can try their thousand different methods, or you can hire an expert who can tell you the upsides and downsides to the different training methods. 
Ultimately, my point is, I would rather have a dog who I enjoy living with, and is well-behaved. I have made my mistakes, and I am the first person who would encourage people not to do the same thing. 

If you want a dog who is a soldier, shut down, and only listens to orders, then by all means, be as harsh as you like, as much as it pains me for the sake of the dog. But, if you want a dog who is well-behaved, and also happy, charismatic, funny, and enjoyable, then call a REAL trainer, who will help you find a way to create that kind of a relationship. Take their advice...don't mix your own experience with their recommendations, just try it out for awhile and see what you get.

Thank you for listening to the struggles of a dog trainer.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Why I Train With Positive Reinforcement

I started training at a very young age. Not that my family was involved in training, or even had dogs, but I was drawn to working with dogs from the time I was young. I wanted a dog more than anything, but my parents didn't want the responsibility of taking on a dog at the time. Both had grown up with them, but knew the difficulties entailed with keeping a dog in a condo with a child and many different responsibilities to uphold.
I ended up with cats, who I learned how to train, and I also ended up in the horse world, working towards goals in the hunter jumper ring. I eventually ended up working as a horse trainer's assistant, and an exercise rider.
When I finally convinced my parents to get a dog when I was 11 years old, I had already done intensive research on dog training, dog breeds, and dog health.  I had begun working with a rescue and adopted a year old dog who had issues with bolting out the door and running away, and I was told that he was "untrainable" and "not very smart".
Using the skills that I had at the time, I did a combination of aversive and positive reinforcement training, although I mostly focused on the aversive as that was the vast amount of knowledge I was able to find in the library. 
His training went well for the most part; I stopped him from bolting out the door, and taught him various behaviours that were very useful. However, there were a few things we had problems with...he would pull on the leash, no matter how manny corrections, and he always seemed slow to respond to the basic cues, like sit or down. It was also difficult to engage him in new behaviors, as he would prefer to just sit still if uncertain. Ultimately, I really wanted to do agility with him, but after awhile he refused to do the sport. It took me quite awhile to figure out why. He didn't think that training was any fun.
I fostered many dogs within this time, and had very good results with potty training and teaching basic household behaviors.
My second dog, a rescued border collie, was much more excited about agility, but health issues kept us out of the competitive ring. A bad experience in a dog park led to some serious aggressive issues with other dogs, and this is where I learned my most valuable lessons about dog training.
No matter the punishment I issued, my border collie would still attack any dog that came near, and my frustration grew. During this time I had also taught her many tricks and behaviors, and unless she was around other dogs, she was an amazingly well behaved and very impressive dog. However, her dog issues were such a problem that I didn't know what to do. She would stare at the other dog, completely ignore me, and attack if the dog came near. No amount of corrections I gave ever seemed to make a difference, and often sometimes made the situation worse. I had worked with some other dogs with similar issues, and been successful with corrections, but my own dog would not respond. 
Finally, I decided to try something different. I utilized my clicker, and when a dog was present I waited for her to change her intense stare from the dog to me, and I would click and treat. I soon saw a dramatic improvement in her behavior, and came to realize that her intention had never been to defy my authority, but instead it was about her trying to ward off potential threats for the both of us.
She had been trying to keep us safe, as she saw other dogs as a threat. No matter how much I had punished her, she was always clear that other dogs posed a threat and she was doing her best to ward them off at all costs, even if I scolded her (and probably more so because she knew that another dog present meant a scolding, so she wanted to tell them to "get away!!")
When I started rewarding her focusing on me around other dogs, her behavior began to change. She started to become much more calm and confident around other dogs, understanding that her job was to look to me to handle the situation, rather than trying to handle it herself.
I started to implement these methods with other dogs I worked with and saw much better results...not always immediate, but much more satisfiing and sustainable in the long run. 
She became my best demo dog, never showing any issues with other dogs, and in fact starting to LIKE some of the dogs she encountered. 

I decided at this point that I needed to implement a much more positive approach to dogs. Even though it sometimes took a bit longer, the overall results were phenomenally more successful, and led to happier (and I may venture to speculate), more heathy and long lived dogs. Happy and healthy dogs, much like people, will often live happier and longer lives, as they have less stress and fear to deal with. 

This realization encouraged me to train in a much more positive way, and the results I have seen in my dogs, as well as my students, has been dramatic. I now have dogs who are always happy to work, are never reluctant to perform behaviors, and enjoy every moment with their people.
That, to me, is success in dog training. 

I still get to have all of the obedience that I want out of my dogs, but I also experience so much more joy in working with them.

Overall, the results with my students have improved vastly.
Whereas I once had dogs who would sometimes respond well to aversives, and be well-behaved, I now have a much higher rate of success with training. I never have dogs who "lash out" aggressively in response to their training, instead, I have dogs who are exuberant and happy about working, and I only need to deal with curbing their enthusiasm, which is an issue I would rather deal with any day of the week. 

Ultimately, I choose to train with positive reinforcement methods because it not only works better, but it also creates a better training experience and relationship for the person and dog.

I have used aversive training before, and I have had a lot of success with it, but not nearly as much as I can have with positive training.

I am not naive to the methods of aversive training. I have utilized them successfully, and I know how they work. But I choose a different method, because I believe that it can work just as well in getting the behaviors that I want, and better in getting to have the dog that I want to live with. 

I hope everyone can embrace training their dog in a way that makes both the dog and the person happy. After all, what is the point in having a dog if it's not an enjoyable and wonderful experience?

Thank you for reading.

Monday, September 8, 2014


The work of a dog trainer is often very different than what most would consider a "regular job". There are ups and downs, of course, and sometimes it is hard to get myself into the "work" mode for the day. 
However, being a dog trainer is so is stressful (especially in the first meeting) because a dog trainer works hard to create a good impression, and because people are trusting us to not only help them, but also keep their dogs safe and happy; there is a lot of stress involved. 
To understand what a dog trainer goes through daily is difficult...we work in a profession that offers no REAL degree, so we can't rely on credentials like a lawer or doctor does, as those credentials don't really exist. We have all worked towards this profession in different means, and there are tons of other trainers out there who we are competing with, and often working with, so it is very clear that in our first session or class we are often being tested for our expertise and effectiveness. 
Many times I have people express that they believe it must be so wonderful to be able to work with dogs everyday. Believe me, it is, but it is also hard work. 
It's not very often that a trainer will break down the cost that goes into all of the time and effort we put into our work, but I would like to give everyone out there an idea. 
Working with an established company (as I do) means that I have a wonderful team of trainers to work with, and talk to for feedback and expertise that is not easy to come by on your own. This also means that I have someone to field calls, schedule sessions, and plan classes and curriculums all while I am out doing the training. My company in particular also has an office with staff who are ready to help when I don't have the time. Needless to say, all of this is expensive, not to mention that the trainers try to keep up on the most recent research and progressive ideas to give our clients the best experience we possibly can. 
We go to meetings, seminars, take classes of our own, and compete with our dogs in different dog sports in order to stay relevant and up to date with the most modern techniques in dog training. 
This is a very expensive venture, but gives us the best opportunity to provide the best service to our clients. 
We spend a great deal of our time driving to our clients houses, and then making sure that they have a successful session. 
As independent trainers, we also have the responsibility of dealing with the business aspect of training, and handle paperwork, taxes, scheduling, and marketing all on our own. 
Completing 2 or 3 sessions in one day is exhausting (and often we are doing more...I will regularly complete 4-8 sessions in one day, not including classes), because we are putting all of our effort and expertise into making sure that we give the best results possible, but is not as lucrative as most people think. For every session we work hard to do our best, and there is no down time in a session or a class; we are actively participating every moment that we work. When we are not actually in session, we are completing paperwork, working on our websites, returning phone calls or emails, and working to promote new classes and business and make new connections. 
Dog training is a wonderful profession if you love it, but it is not an easy one. As a dog trainer, you are ALWAYS working, and the work is stressful, although gratifying. 
Occasionally, we encounter a client who thinks our fee is "too expensive" or wants results immediately "like they see on tv" (which could open up a whole new conversation about the editing of reality tv, and how it is so geared toward "shock value" and marketing....but after all, do you really think that tv dog trainers go to multiple sessions within one day? Or that they charge the same amount as a trainer you would hire to come to your house? Or that they are not making their living on the tv show rather than the actual clients??). 
As dog trainers, we all work hard to give the best experience we can...however, there are not only many different types of dog trainers, but also many different levels and qualities of dog trainers. 
The point of this post is to help the everyday person understand that when you do your research and find that amazing trainer, please don't be shocked by the price they quote you...understand that we are all working hard to make a living, and us dog trainers are not living in mansions making money hand over fist, we are often struggling hard just to survive every day...and many of us are putting any excess money that we have right back into our education of dog training so that we can provide the best experience possible, because this is our's what we love to do...beyond our friends' and families' reccomendations that we find something else to provide us with the "all-mighty" dollar. 
Don't think for one minute that we are making a huge profit charging the $100-$250 (or more) a session...the amount of time put into those sessions doesn't even begin to cover all of the costs that we put out to make sure that our clients are getting the best experience possible.

**I will make a point to say here, that there are probably tons if trainers out there who charge less than this, and if they do, there is a possibility that 1) they are not doing this for a living and therefore have means to sustain them beyond their passion for dog training, and good for them! As they are doing something that they love! And possibly 2) that they are not spending the time, money, or effort, to further their eduction and/or experience to make them a worthwhile trainer.
I am not trying to put anyone down, but there is a huge difference in being a dog trainer as a "profession" and doing it as a hobby.  Just because your neighbor down the street says that they train dogs, it doesn't mean that they can create the same results as a professional does...even if they charge half of what we do.
Do your research and, please, understand that for most of us, this is not only our job; it's our passion, it's our life, it's what we do in order to try to make the world better, one dog at a time. 
Dog training is a career that is chosen for the love of dogs.
I appreciate every client that I have and have experienced immense appreciation in response. 
Thank you to all of my wonderful clients, and I hope only that with this information you understand all that I do to make every experience all that much better!!

Thank you!
Katie McGuire
My Best Friend Obedience

Friday, May 30, 2014

"Reactive Dogs"

I currently teach a "Growly" class for reactive dogs, and a conversation about it came up in a Pyrenean Shepherd forum I am a part of. Members of the forum asked me to express my opinion of what a "reactive" dog is.  
This is honestly not an easy question, even though it might seem that it is. First of all, I will give a little background...many breeds are intended to be somewhat "reactive". Surpising as this may be, prior to about 150 years ago, many dog breeds were intended to be alert dogs, or protection dogs primarily, or aside from their other duties.  The bahaviors that were prized in those dogs at the time would today be considered unsocial or even aggressive. Many breeds have been bred into "social" and "friendly" dogs because our society has changed. 
*I will take a moment here to note that I am primarily speaking of the perspective of the general population of the United States, and owners in this country.  

The Pyrenean Shepherd is a very old breed, and for the most part has stayed very true to it's original intent, without much changing within the last few hundred years. The temperament test for the breed still specifies that it is preferred for the dog to be cautious or wary of strangers, and it is entirely acceptable, if not welcomed, that the dog bark or show uncomfortability of a stranger approaching. 

During this conversation I mentioned that my Pyr Shep, Andreu, often works as my distraction dog in my "Growly" classes and does very well. I was asked what I determine to be a "reactive" dog versus a "normal" dog based on the groups understanding that Pyr Sheps are expected to be wary of strangers, and possibly bark at them (as are many other breeds).  The following is my response to this question: 
"I constantly try to explain to people that each breed has it's own instinctual tendencies (and in my world this is difficult to explain to people who have been "trained" to believe that ALL dogs must be friendly and tolerant. . . often based on certain TV trainers telling people that a "balanced" dog is one who accepts and tolerates anything. . .).  But, for those of us who are really involved in the dog world, we know that certain breeds are intended to be wary, or even protective, instinctually, and usually it is the breeds who are still closest to their original intent.  It was only within our recent history, and only in certain areas (countries), that people seem to have a hang up that ALL dogs should be friendly and loving to everyone they meet.
OK, rant done.  So, in answer to your question, I consider many different levels of "reactive" dogs, but for the class we generally have dogs who are difficult to take out into normal society because their barking, growling, lounging, etc. makes them a nuisance for their owner, or for society.  
Andreu is the only Pyr Shep that I have owned, so I can only use him to explain my opinion on the line between "natural" or "normal", and reactive with the breed.  First, I believe that even if a dog has natural tendencies, you can still train them to listen and overcome these tendencies when you want them to.  It is still Andreu's natural tendency to be cautious with new people, and if they look particularly intimidating, or very different from most of the people he knows, he will still bark at them.  He is much better with dogs than he is with people, but I think that this is because I spent much more time socializing him with other dogs when he was young than I did with people.  
The reason he works so well in my Growly Class is that I use him as a distraction for the DOGS.  He likes pretty much all dogs, and has also learned that when he is in public he should be focused on me and working.  Now, if I put him in a crate, or tied him to a post, he would likely bark at any suspicious person who walked by, but when we are working he is focused on me, and so not paying attention to the people around.  
Andreu has passed his CGC test, which includes being pet and examined by a stranger (but then again, so does conformation showing), but the entire time he was in "working mode", focused on me, and we had practiced each exercise regularly to get him used to them, and to teach him to understand that if I put him in that situation it is not a threat.
I suppose in general my answer would be, that I consider a "reactive" dog different from a naturally cautious dog because the reactive dogs I work with have been trained (which is a requirement for Growly Class) and are still having issues understanding how to be "under control" and follow their training in certain situations.  We work on creating positive associations with whatever it is the dog reacts to in order for them to feel more comfortable encountering those things."

I felt that this was an important element to post because there are many people out there who are sincerely confused about why their dogs are reactive to new dogs, people, or situations. It is important for any dog owner to understand that when you choose a certain breed, line, or even a rescue, you have to be aware that just because your dog barks at new things doesn't mean that they are "bad". Often, it just means that they are doing what they think they should do, and what is instinctual to them. Our job is to show them that we prefer that they react a different way, even if it seems unnatural to them.  They are never showing these behaviors because they don't "respect" us, they are showing them because want to protect us and themselves.
 Please, don't punish your dog for trying to do what in his mind is "right"...protecting his family. Instead, work on teaching him what you WANT him to do, and practice socializing him to the positives of humanity and the human world with treats, praise, and play. 

I offer my Growly Class to help people understand how to deal with their "reactive" dogs so that we can enjoy our experiences with them as much as possible. 

Thank you for reading.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

My Best Friend Obedience

It has been about a year and a half now since I was lucky enough to begin working with Karen Taylor and My Best Friend Obedience.  A lot has happened in that time, and I couldn't be more thankful to work with such wonderful people, and have so much growth. 
In this time I have been allowed the opportunity to create my own curriculums, learn and grow constantly, and to focus on client's needs more than ever before.  I truly feel that I am part of something great. 

Our partnership with other companies has been a wonderful element, providing the opportunity for indoor classes, at The Pampered Pet Hotel and Spa. . .

As well as Board & Train sessions for the dogs staying there. . .

As well as our partnerships with companies like Jump City Agility who we provide a specialized Focus on Agility class for. . .

And in home private sessions through MBFO exclusively that allow is to give the most in-depth one-on-one training available. . . 

Thank you to Karen Taylor and My Best Friend Obedience for allowing me to be a part of your wonderful work, and to grow as a trainer. 

To learn more, please go to

Grand Opening at the new location of The Pampered Pet!

My Best Friend Obedience will be continuing our relationship with The Pampered Pet Hotel & Spa at their new location in Northridge!

Andreu and I got a sneak peak at the new digs!

Can't wait for the Grand Opening and new My Best Friend Obedience classes! 

Andreu's First Rally Competition

Andreu and I at his first Rally Obedience competition!  

We competed in both Rally-O and Agility that weekend, and I was so proud with Andreu's performance!  His first two times in the Rally ring earned him scores of 94 and 96!  We really hadn't done much training for the Rally ring, so I was exceptionally happy with our results  :-)  Only one more leg to earn our RN title!

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Puppy Head-Start

Congrats to the newest Puppy Head-Start graduates! Don't miss out on our next round of Puppy classes starting Sunday March 2nd, at 3:30! This class is all about setting your puppy up for success! The class focuses on socialization; with people, other puppies, new sights, sounds, environments and textures! Socialization is the key to success with a young pup. We sanitize the floor before the pups come in and make sure that everyone is up to date with their vaccinations to be sure that we have the most safe environment possible for your new pup to learn in! It is never to early to start, and with gentle, positive reinforcement based techniques, you can create a relationship with your puppy that will last a lifetime! The Puppy Head-Start class also focuses on basic issues like potty training, teething, appropriate puppy manners, how to greet new people and dogs, and simple obedience cues. If you have a puppy, don't miss out on their early socialization period! I recommend that anyone with a new puppy should attend this class! For a little more background on why early socialization is so important, check this out:

Don't hesitate! Your puppy's socialization skills are crucial, and the earlier you start, the better! For safety reasons, we require that your puppy be at least 10 weeks old and have their first 2 sets of vaccinations. But, you can even start earlier with private sessions to get your pup started out right!

I created this curriculum because it is what I wish I would have had available as I was raising my own pup! Please don't miss out in this important time period in your pups life!
Check out for more info about how to get your puppy started out on the right paw!!