What Do You Really Know About Dog Training And Behavior? – Dog Training – Dog Trainer – Behaviorist
PHOENIX , AZ AREA: (602) 708-4531
OR, if you are out of this area, inquire about a telephone or e-Lesson
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I received a call yesterday from an expert working with children with Oppositional Defiant Disorder in the Midwest, who was having trouble with her 2 year old, female, spayed Presa Canario / Pointer mix. Her dog has started to destroy wooden furniture in the home, and also was destroying her husband’s things (most recently his new iPad). She told me she had been trying positive reinforcement on the dog for quite a while to try and address the problem, and in the past week had switched gears and started using punishment, especially in the form of scolding and then banishing the dog to a crate for up to 45 minutes after each incident. But that also wasn’t working, and she could tell that this punitive approach was heading in the wrong direction. She also had spent a month reading all she could about dog behavior, including reading a pretty well known dog related web page. Yet, even with her impressive educational background, her hard work, and her research, she had come to realize she needed additional help. So, she found my website, called, and left me a message.
Now, think about it, she lives 1,200 miles away from where I do, and had to search that big of a radius in North America to find someone who had the expertise to address what was going on. Here’s why….
I trained a Golden Retriever last spring for a hospital administrator in the Phoenix area. She got the dog so she could do hospital visitations (therapy dog work) at the two facilities she managed. She hired me to train her and her dog in Basic Obedience. She then took her dog to do the Delta Society qualification, and her dog passed the first time with a 100% score. The testers said they hadn’t seen such a well trained dog in years, and that most dogs fail the first time they are evaluated. As usual, I encourage people to continue working with their dogs after our lessons are completed, and I had suggested they find an agility club or class for their dog. So, about 2 weeks ago (I hadn’t seen her dog in about 6 months), she contacted me, said she had enrolled in an agility class, and asked if I would like to see her dog working. Of course, I said I would. I attended the class as a spectator, and watched. What I saw was what happens in most dog training classes. The dogs are put through a bunch of exercises, but no one stops to figure out why handlers and their dogs are making mistakes. They just go through the motions, exercise after exercise, even if the dog or handler is doing it wrong, repetition after repetition of bad handling and mistakes. This is the difference between working with a trainer, that just does exercises in some pre-arranged format, and dealing with a behaviorist, that is looking at the behavior and interactions involved. So, after class, I gave her numerous suggestions on what to do, things that the trainers should have been telling her. Here is one of many small examples: dogs were being directed to walk up and along a teeter totter. Go on YouTube and see what I’m referring to. The dogs were being put at a Sit on the left side of the handler, then sent across to the other side. Then, the dogs were being put at a Sit on the right side of the handler, then sent across the other side. Since most dogs are taught, in obedience classes (and rightly so) to Heel on the left side, most of the dogs did better when sent on the left side than they did on the right. Most dogs on the right jumped off half way across and came back to their handlers. Instead of trying to remedy this, dog after dog were sent across, to make these same mistakes over and over again. Drilling dogs over and over again to do the wrong thing just builds up over time into ingrained bad habits. That’s bad training. I could give example after example of this kind of thing. I’ve seen it in many dogs trained by many trainers.
Most dog trainers, and most dog training books, aren’t very well thought out or researched. Most are pretty much derivatives of things written by other trainers 100 years ago. I have old dog training books that say the same silly things then as you’ll find in books at the local bookstore today. This is why I say most of the good stuff about dogs isn’t to be found in dog books, on the internet, or in most dog training classes. Most of the good stuff I’ve learned hasn’t come that way, either.
So, back to the original story. We set up to do a paid phone consultation, and spent about 45 minutes going over what her dog was about, what was going on, and then I assigned homework. She thanked me, and said she gained valuable insights that she wasn’t able to find anywhere else. I told her that follow up was free, and to keep me informed as to her progress. This morning, I verified a deposit in my account, and now I’m writing this article.
Dog training is a lot more complex than watching some celebrity dog trainer on TV, reading all the books in the book stores, or researching online. It is not an exact science, but scientific study, intuition and years of experience are necessary to do it well. Do it yourself behavioral analysis will fail. I told her that if she kept doing harsh corrections and punishment on her dog, that the dog would start defending itself and could become dangerous. She said she could see that and was concerned that might happen. She also asked me about that famous dog training website. I told her I knew of it, and to not read the articles. The author is well meaning, but in my opinion, is a dog trainer wannabe, and would do more harm than good for her dog.
If you are in this situation, it is better to reach out and get professional help than to try and go it alone, or with some unqualified local trainer.