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What can and can’t you do when it comes to “do it yourself” (DIY) dog training? With the economy still being in the Great Recession, people are looking for ways of saving money when it comes to managing their dog’s behavior. There are many options, but not a lot of good choices.
The dog world is now flooded with information on ways to train a dog: YouTube, TV shows (The Dog Whisperer, It’s Me or the Dog, etc.), movies, magazines, books, advice from friends and family, and memories from those psychology classes you took in college, and what you remember from past dog training classes. Then there are all the different styles of dog training: traditional, food, clicker, electric collar, dog whispering, and so forth. Where do you start? How do you make sure you are doing things right with your dog?
I honestly don’t think it is a good idea to experiment to find out how to train your dog. Don’t you feel that way, too?
Regardless of the information source, don’t you have to ask yourself: Who are you listening to? Do they know what they are doing? Is this the right method for your particular problem and your particular dog? Are you getting the edited version of how to do it, or what really happened? Would this method be harmful for your dog? What kind of harm could this do to your dog if you do it incorrectly?
Let me tell you about two turning points in my dog training experience.
The first was when I attended group classes for my first dog in 1986. I attended what was then one of the best managed and led group dog training classes I’ve ever seen, and I still remember every bit of it. Each class had about 20 to 30 dogs, a head teacher, 2 to 3 assistant trainers, written handouts, and a very structured program to take a dog from puppy to advanced AKC obedience. The classes were so popular you had to be on a waiting list, and class after class was full. A huge line of people would form outside the building waiting for the next class to start. I didn’t know a thing about dogs, and these classes gave me a good foundation. I still have the class handouts. Much of what was taught in those classes can’t be found in any dog training books I see these days. Dog trainers tend to not publish everything they know, because what they know is how they make their money. So, there was a lot of good stuff taught in a very organized, step by step program, because you had paid to learn it. On the other hand, looking back on these materials, I can see how much wasn’t taught, and now they are out of date. Even though I did everything I was taught, the missing parts resulted in problems my dog developed over time, especially destructiveness in the home, disobedience off leash, and aggressiveness towards some other dogs.
The second was in 2000, when I started training my Doberman, Dillon, in Schutzhund. I searched to find a top trainer to work with, and found a master trainer located in Canada. By then, I had read a considerable amount of dog training material and had already been training dogs professionally for over 3 years. By working with and paying a master trainer, someone who was better than I was, I was able to sort out the myths from the facts in dog behavior and training. I saw and discussed things that you’ll never find in any dog training book, magazine, or video. I also got to talk with other trainers, and advanced professionals and competitors. We discussed the politically incorrect things that dog trainers know about dogs and people, but don’t talk about. We discussed the various methods, and I saw by comparison, how those methods worked, and how they failed. I saw what had happened to dogs where the owners had tried harsh or ineffective methods, and I saw how those problems were either fixed or a work around was developed. I went over my years of observations and experiences, and eventually saw them in a new light. We discussed breed characteristics, and the factors that make up temperament. I saw the training of police, competition obedience, and search and rescue dogs. I also saw dogs and handlers come from across Canada and the US arrive to where we trained, who had not been able to figure out how to solve problems after hiring other, nationally known trainers. And every bit of this could be translated into what I was teaching my students in Seattle. I’ve said over and over again, this is why I can now speak authoritatively on so many dog behavior topics.
But, my education didn’t end there. I then took what I knew and started observing and applying the principles I was taught. I’m still learning. I learn something new every week about behavior. There’s no end to what you can discover if you look hard enough.
So, what can you do on your own? I’d say the first thing to do is become a student of dog behavior. Read everything. Watch videos. Listen to advice. Subscribe to dog magazines. Watch The Dog Whisperer. Do all that. Get your mind into the dog world. But then… you need to hire a live person, a top dog trainer, to help you sort it all out. A good trainer will be willing to discuss these materials with you, and they can lead you through the confusion, and keep you from hurting your dog.
One caution, however: just because you’ve read a lot of stuff, and can start tossing dog training jargon around, doesn’t mean you know what you are doing. I remember, back in about 2002, going to a dog training seminar. A woman had arrived with her Doberman, which she was training for a competitive sport. She was having trouble with her dog, primarily physically controlling such a big dog. So, she had purchased an electric collar. The instructor, that master trainer I mentioned above, was trying to tell her that the reason her dog was having trouble was because she was rushing things. She hadn’t laid a proper foundation on her dog in a variety of areas, so everything was turning out like slop. I’d watch her zap her dog with the e-collar, saw the dog flinch, and the dog still did the exercise incorrectly. Again and again. And she wouldn’t follow instructions. It was obvious what was going on. She was rushing things, too engrossed in what she had going on in her head, and wasn’t reading her dog. But, instead of listening to the trainer, she started lecturing him and everyone else about what needed to be done with her dog, and everyone else’s dog. She always had an opinion about everyone and every dog. By the second day, she was getting increasingly frustrated because of her dog’s lack of progress, and so she started arguing with and disrespecting the trainer in front of everyone. It was embarrassing. Late afternoon, she popped the dog into the back of her truck and drove away. And she didn’t pay the trainer for his services, either. She had a nice dog, but it never did amount to much of anything. She “knew” more than the trainer…
Take it from me, I didn’t start out knowing what I know today. Back in 1986 I’d no idea what to do with a dog, and I definitely wasn’t in any position to give others advice. Even 14 years later, I still had a lot to learn, and by then I’d read hundreds of thousands of pages of dog training material. I knew some things, and was doing a lot of things right. But, I still was a novice.
I believe in hard work. When things go wrong, I believe in working even harder. But, at some point, you need to ask for help and pay for advice. rofessionals make money because they know things and can do things that you can’t find out from publicly available information sources. They learned it from other trainers and through years of experience.
So, there are things you can do on your own. But, there is a lot you can’t do on your own.
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