Dog Handler Skills Training
PHOENIX , AZ AREA: (602) 708-4531
OR, if you are out of this area, inquire about a telephone or e-Lesson
Email: [email protected]
The leadership style and skills of a dog owner directly affect the behavior of their dogs, and even other nearby dogs. Thus, I spend a considerable amount of time teaching Handler Skills in all my Obedience classes.
Leadership style refers to specific dog handling techniques, including tone of voice, body positioning, ways of using the wide variety of dog training tools, and the leadership and personality projected towards the dogs. Many people, including dog trainers who should know better, see dog training as a very mechanical thing, centered mostly on the dog. However, I can easily demonstrate that two different people will cause the same dog to act differently. Most of the time, what we do with a dog just happens, without any forethought or purpose. Advanced dog handlers purposely manipulate a multitude of small details in order to get better behavior out of the dogs around them, much like the way a professional musician gets more out of a piece of music than a beginner who is just making sounds and manipulating an instrument they really don’t understand. Thus, the better trained, and more talented, the dog handler, the more influence they can have over any dog they encounter. People often tell me that they found they had more to learn than the dog in the lessons. I’m glad to hear that, because it means I know they are understanding what I’m teaching. The dogs are easy, the people skills… they’re not so easy.
Leadership skills involve learning, and becoming competent implementing, specific methods of training. A good dog trainer has a very big toolbox of training tools at their disposal. Those tools go way beyond leashes and food treats. They involve proper application of behavioral theory. They involve systematic procedures, using a variety of tools, to stimulate or inhibit a variety of behaviors in the handler, the dog, the other people present, and other animals present. It takes training in a wide variety of situations, both real life and training set ups, in order to understand and implement these methods. It takes years and years in order to learn the methods of other trainers, and then even more time to develop methods of your own. I have invented and developed a number of unique exercises over the years. And I have seen many interesting and effective methods I learned from other handlers and trainers over the years. I am not, however, a “method” trainer. A method trainer is someone who uses the same approach to teach every dog, every time. The dog is made to fit the method, instead of adapting or inventing methods to fit the dog. I prefer to see every dog as unique, and I bring along a big toolbox of proven techniques, which I will select along the way to fit that dog, and that dog’s handler. Thus, what might work for one dog, might not work so well with another dog. What might be easy for one dog handler, might be impossible for another. I have first resort methods that I prefer, which work on most dogs in most situations. And I have last resort methods that I prefer not to use, except when it might mean that if they don’t work, the dog is going to be given away or put to death.
Underlying all of this has to be a good understanding of behavioral principles and ethics. For each method, I feel there needs to be a rational explanation of why it works and doesn’t work, and which methods best implement those behavioral principles. There is no place, in good dog training, for doing things without considering the probable cause and effect of what you are doing. That is needed to be efficient in terms of time and effort, and in terms of what the student is paying their hard earned money to accomplish. It is also needed in order to draw ethical lines as to what is humane for the animals and people involved. Any trainer that doesn’t have a good sense of ethics, and a good idea of when they are going past what would be considered humane, shouldn’t be training dogs. Then, those principles need to be taught to students so that they know when they are in a safe zone, and when they are going too far with their dogs. People don’t think about this stuff enough, so it is my job to tell them where I feel the lines are. I continually have to teach people to be less harsh on their dogs, to use techniques properly and diligently, and to control their emotions. What people want to do, and often act upon in anger or frustration, can seriously set back their dog’s progress, or even cause a dog to attack. And usually what is done unthinkingly, or in revenge, by the dog handler, doesn’t make the dog any better behaved in the future. I have to discuss cause and effect, and explain what a dog can comprehend and handle, and what is beyond a dog’s realm of understanding.
Good handler skills starts from the day the puppy enters the arms of the owner. It goes on through house training and puppy manners. And is perfected in the obedience classes, and in the lifestyle the dog experiences with the owner. All this has to be somehow learned, and that’s why hiring a professional makes it all go that much better. We’ve been there, experienced what you’ve experienced, felt what you’ve felt, and want what you want: a great life for your dog.
I’ve been accused of talking too much at times during lessons, especially by those types of people who just want a checklist of “To Do’s”. I plead guilty to this charge. I know, in my heart of hearts, that you can’t train a dog according to a checklist. You’ve got to go way deeper than this in order to get a good working relationship with a dog, and to be ready for real world situations and emergencies.
I also know most people really love their dogs, but most of the people I see in public have terrible handling skills, and are way too rough on their dogs… and they don’t even realize it. All you have to do is go to any public park and watch people walk their dogs, command them to sit, or even have them get in or out of the car. They don’t know what they are doing.
There’s never an end to learning more about being a good dog handler. I learn new things all the time, even though I have been doing this full time since 1997. Dogs are just as fascinating today as they were in 1986 when, as an adult, I got my first dog. That’s why I love teaching handler skills, because I know how much more you can enjoy a dog, and be kind to a dog, if you know what you are doing.
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.