Promoting positive rewards with food, play, and bonding exercises.
Love the dog you have; embracing each dogs unique personality and abilities, and understanding their comfort levels and what THEY truly enjoy.
Enjoy your dog; finding activities that you enjoy doing with your dog to get more out of your relationship with them.
Dealing with behavioral issues in a safe and secure way that allow owner and dog to feel comfortable and happy at all times.
-Down time with your dog; being able to give yourself and your dog stress relief time to avoid frustration
-Understanding why issues arise
-Learning about your dog and what makes them tick
Why I changed my dog training philosophy.
I've worked for years as a dog trainer, and helped owners fix countless problems, but there were many times that I felt unsuccessful, usually because of frustration on the owners part. Getting fast results is important, but sometimes the expectations of what we want from our dogs can be out of sync with what we are getting. More often than not, the source of this frustration is based on a focus of everything that is going wrong, leading to resentment and a negative association between dog and owner.
Let's talk about the many pitfalls of understanding dog training, and how difficult it can be to navigate!
Too often I hear "But I see dogs in public just sitting with their person at a coffee shop, perfectly trained, laying at their person's feet. Why can't my dog be like that?" Well, first of all, that dog may be perfectly trained, yes, but they may also have the personality that is suited to enjoying that with little or no training. You may have a dog who enjoys a lot of activities with you, but laying at your feet for hours on end is not one of them. Can it be trained? Sure! But some dogs may take a lot of time and effort to get there, whereas others seem to take to it right away.
But my friend told me...
Fill in the blank. For example: They had a dog that was social and loved everyone and it's all because 1) they took it everywhere as a puppy, 2) they showed it who the "leader" was at an early age, 3) they used a special tool that made all of the difference, etc., etc. The list could go on with all of the advice that people will give because they have a dog, or have had multiple dogs that were "well behaved". Just because those things seemed to work for those dogs, doesn't mean it will work for every dog, which is why having an expert is so useful. Before I was a trainer, I always had "well behaved" dogs too, but that didn't mean that I was a dog trainer; it took a lot more work, education, and experience to become an expert trainer. The truth is, "well behaved" is a subjective term. We have a general idea of what that is, but each individual person has different specifications of the details and preferences that define a "well behaved" dog. Taking a friend's advice can sometimes be useful, but take it with a grain of salt. A good trainer has dedicated their life to perfecting methods, and you can be sure that they choose to do certain things, and NOT other things, because of the knowledge they have attained. There is no "one size fits all" dog training. Each dog is different, and so is each person, which means that just because your friend/neighbor/family member did it, doesn't mean that it's the right choice for you and your dog.
My goals as a trainer.
I want to help people and their dogs enjoy each other and to be happy and successful, in whatever way works best for both.
I DO NOT want to force a dog to behave in a way that makes them uncomfortable.
The point of having a dog is to enjoy it and bond with it, not to force it to do things for my satisfaction.
But what about serious behavioral problems like aggression?
You can still train your dog with kind methods to overcome and manage serious issues. In fact, humane methods are shown to be more effective in the long run for serious behavioral issues. Just like with any type of dog training, the key to success is patience and repetition. When I deal with serious behavioral issues my goal is to CHANGE HOW THE DOG FEELS and therefore reacts, rather than just punishing a behavior to try and get rid of it.
Sometimes the lure of correction based training can be strong. It seems as though results are quick and effective, but we know based on studies, as well as years of scienctific research on how humans and other animals learn, that just because a swift punishment seems to show immediate results, there is a lot more going on. When we punish a behavior harshly to get rid of it, we are suppressing the behavior, and suppressed behaviors can resurface, sometimes in other ways, and become bigger problems in the end. Changing how a dog (or human for that matter) feels about something takes time, but the rewards are priceless.
Don't be fooled by quick results; they are not reliable and can evolve into bigger problems.
Let's get specific.
What is healthy mind and body dog training?
Choose the right dog for you and your family.
This is often the most overlooked step, and yet it is the most important! Research different breeds to understand what their personalities are like, how much exercise they need, and how much socialization and training they will require. Don't just be pulled in by a cute puppy face! Often, the best option is to adopt an adult dog from a rescue, who has a stable adult personality, and has already gone through all of the puppy problem behaviors. Prepare your household before bringing a dog or puppy into the mix. Having a trainer come to your house, or at least do a consultation over the phone, BEFORE you get your new dog will really help with the transition.
Step 2: Set your dog up for success. Manage the space that your dog is able to use in the home. Use baby gates, exercise pens, and a crate to help keep your dog from getting into trouble when they first come into the house. With new dogs, it is also useful to keep them on leash with you in the house.
**Managing your dog's freedom to roam around the house is a temporary stage. The intention is to prevent them from practicing any bad behaviors when you are not looking.
Teach your dog what you WANT them to do.
This is where positive reinforcement training is so useful. You can use your attention, praise, toys, treats, or anything your dog finds rewarding, as incentive for good behavior from your dog. Anytime you see your dog doing something you would want them to do in the future, reward it. It could be as simple as your dog laying at your feet while you watch TV. This is a wonderful opportunity for you to praise and pet your dog! If your dog chooses to not jump up on you when you come in, that's a perfect moment to reward them! The list goes on, but the goal is the same: find your dog doing something good!
Learning is the key to success.
The more you can teach your dog, the better your communication will be. Of course, obedience is essential, but also tricks, and other activities will help to build the bond between human and dog. Activities can be anything from structured and creative playtime, to organized dog sports like agility, rally obedience, etc.. Never stop learning!
Consistency is critical.
Setting clear rules and boundaries for a dog is essential to helping them understand how to navigate our world. Positive training does not mean permissive training! Having rules and boundaries is wonderful as long as everyone in the household is on the same page. Often, dogs who are having basic training issues in the home (potty training, jumping, counter surfing, etc.) are actually just unsure of where the boundaries are in their training. Sometimes they get attention for jumping, or they manage to steal a tasty morsel off of the counter. These rewards for unwanted behaviors confuse dogs. It's important that everyone in the house is on the same page about the rules and boundaries, and consistently follows through with them.
Sometimes training can get frustrating; if we aren't seeing results quickly, some behaviors can be hard to deal with. Understanding how to balance in some down time with training is crutal to everyone's sanity. Sometimes this might mean teaching your dog how to quietly hang out in the crate with a chew or a stuffed treat toy. Other times, focusing on teaching your dog how to settle with you can be the best relaxation.
There is a lot of information out there, but I prefer to assign to the researched, tested, and proven scientific methods that exist. Over the years, what we understand about animal learning, and dog behavior specifically, has changed dramatically.
I am a member of the Association of Pet Dog Trainers, a wonderful resource for seminars, education, and information, and I highly recommend checking out their library of articles! For relevance here though, I suggest you at least check out their article on why Dominance Theory (arguably the most prevalent idea that has taken hold in society) is outdated and problematic in dog training: