Prevention Is Dog Training
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A great deal of the things I teach dog owners is how to prevent behavioral problems. Yes, I can come in and solve a problem after it has started, but it’s much easier for everyone to never have a problem in the first place.
Because I’ve trained so many dogs over so many years, and owned dogs for so many years, I can see where a dog is heading, and where I’d like that dog to be. I can look ahead 3 or more years and predict what problems a dog owner might face with a particular puppy or dog. I can see it. So, I can start heading off problems long before they happen. Certain skills help the learning of other skills, so I teach lessons in a general sequence. Those simple early lessons lead to more complex behavioral control later.
It starts with Socialization. One of the first things I do when I meet a puppy or dog is get an impression of their temperament and level of socialization. A well socialized dog is much less stressed, and easier to manage, train and own. If I spot timidity, or aggression, hyperactivity or some kind of sensitivity, I will assign homework in order to counterbalance anything that might develop from that trait. I suggest a customized socialization plan for that dog, and then I follow up to see how the dog is progressing.
Next comes House Training. I believe that house training is one of the most important lessons you can teach a dog. When it goes right, all is good. When it goes wrong, not only does the dog soil the home and wreck the yard, the relationship between the dog and owner gets into a trouble zone. A well mannered, obedient dog has a good relationship with its family. If the relationship is off, then it spills out into every aspect of the dogs behavior. What some dog owners, and some dog trainers, sometimes incorrectly diagnose as disobedience, brattiness, and dominance are really the result of a bad relationship that needs to be repaired. I spend a considerable amount of time teaching proper handling skills to my students. Most people don’t get to the optimum relationship with their dogs because they only do a handful of lessons. There’s no way you can get that kind of relationship through a pet store training program, or a program that is designed to be completed in 5 weekly lessons. It just doesn’t work that way. I get offended, as a professional dog trainer, by competitors who offer quickie programs to unsuspecting dog owners. I know they are getting their wallets cleaned out for very little in return. I only see the best relationships from students who have taken their dogs through the advanced levels of obedience. Everyone is happy, including the dogs.
Manners must also be taught. Manners are those socially appropriate behaviors that make living with a dog enjoyable. A dog that is destructive, barks incessantly, digs, mounts people, gets in fights, and scratches up the kids isn’t a dog that’s going to remain in the home for very long. It’s going to end up in a shelter or dead, especially if the owner starts getting mad at the dog, and the dog starts fighting back to protect itself by biting. All that stuff can be prevented long before it gets that bad.
Then, there’s Obedience Training. I have numerous students who have told me of how they saved their dog’s lives through the training we did. I can think, right off the top of my head, of three dogs I recently trained that got loose from their owners, running for traffic, the owners commanded the dogs to Come, the dogs instantly turned around and returned. Mistakes happen to all dog owners, even to me. Dogs can slip out of collars, out doors, get out of the car, get away from you in the blink of an eye.
In one case, the leash came off the dog’s collar while on a walk. A freak occurance, but something that eventually will happen to almost every dog owner. At the same moment, a car came by, the dog (who was only half way through my Basic Obedience program) started chasing the car. The owner immediately commanded her to Come, she turned around instantly, and ran back to the owner just as we had been practicing in the lessons. Long before, when this puppy was just 8 weeks old, I had seen that this kind of thing could happen with her. So, I had assigned homework from the very start to teach her to come when called. That foresight paid off. And she’s alive today instead of dead.
I also assess my students, because training isn’t just about the dogs, it is about handler skills. I spend a considerable amount of time teaching dog handlers how to deal with emergencies. If you don’t just KNOW what to do when an emergency is happening right in front of you, then your dog is going to die. I go over and over a variety of things in my handling classes to ensure that when that day comes, and most likely it will, my students are competent to handle just about anything their dog might do. Since I started doing this in 1997, I have yet to hear of a student’s dog that died as a result of not obeying in an emergency. And I’ve also heard numerous accounts of just the opposite, life saving stories that are directly attributable to the drills and concepts I have taught in the lessons.
Prevention is better than a cure. That’s my philosophy in dog training. I’m kind of like your dad, who told you all that silly “be careful” stuff as a kid, as you rolled your eyes. And then when you grew up, that silly stuff saved you from harm.
Sam Basso is a professional dog trainer and behaviorist, in the Phoenix/ Scottsdale metropolitan area. He’s known for being fun, kind, intelligent, and humane. Sam Basso has a unique personal touch. He has appeared on his own TV show, been a guest radio expert, gives seminars, publishes a dog related blog, does rescue volunteering, and is active in promoting animal welfare and fair dog laws.