Hard Won Dog Training Experience And Lessons

I regularly go to the dentist. Oral health is directly related to overall health. My dentist recommends daily flossing, use of an electric toothbrush, water flossing, and a mouth guard at night. It’s all a pain to do every day. Then, I must schedule and attend regular follow up appointments and do whatever they recommend. If I want to have my goal of good overall health, then I must follow through for my oral health to remain durable. I can’t say the dentist’s program doesn’t work if I’m not doing what they recommend.

What’s that got to do with dog training and dog ownership? I think you already get the point… Every lesson, I will provide you with homework. Each additional lesson will have additional homework. Every lesson also comes with free feedback so each student can check in with me so they can stay on track. Many behavioral problems require multiple lessons to apply layer upon layer of reinforcement to create a stable structure to bind in a set of desired behaviors that will be more durable over time for the owner and the dog.

I have a set of social skills that I recommend as goals for every dog owner. You can find them as the “Basso Method Social Skills Goals.” The odds are, in my opinion, if you can attain all these goals with your dog, you will minimize the risks of any bad outcomes over time. Even if we are only doing a Housetraining lesson, you will have more success if your dog attains all these other goals. Full basic training like this is the foundation for everything good about owning a dog.

Full training of a well-trained and mannered dog and owner is hard won. I try to turn complex ideas into easy-to-understand instructions, and sometimes you might even be asking yourself, “it seems so simple, why didn’t I think of that”? But it wasn’t simple or free for me to gain this knowledge. It was, and still is, hard work to do what I do and to keep improving my competence in all things related to owning a companion dog. I find sometimes that a few students think they can ignore the homework, and then they get bad outcomes because they didn’t follow through. Simple to understand isn’t the same as thinking that you won’t benefit or that you can get what you want by delaying or not doing the work until each problem is solved.

For serious cases, I will even bluntly tell students the following: “If you aren’t serious about this and are not committed to doing everything necessary for as long as it takes, then don’t waste your money and don’t waste my time.” This is especially my position regarding any unresolved behavior problems that might be dangerous. For example, I’ve worked with dogs that had serious aggression problems. It isn’t unusual for me to tell my student to get a second opinion with a qualified veterinarian, sometimes even a certified veterinarian behaviorist, to see if there might be a medical / behavioral problem that requires additional protocols and medical treatment.

I had a case like this about 20 years ago that I still remember. This student had a 1-year-old-ish black lab. She called the dog into the house after play, but the dog instead laid down. She went over to grab the dog by the collar to make it get up and go ahead, and the dog attacked her arm which required her to go to the emergency room. Another trainer, her neighbor, who worked with German Shepherds, said if he had a dog like that, he would have beaten the hell out of it. Seriously. (There would never be a case where I would tell anyone to do that). I told her what she described (there was more to the story) appeared to be more than just a training problem. I recommended an in-depth veterinarian exam. The diagnosis? The dog had cancer and was in pain. It wasn’t a behavioral problem; it was a veterinarian problem.

I saw another dog like this about 5 years ago. A couple adopted a pit bull puppy from the county pound. The dog became increasingly aggressive towards them, which shouldn’t have happened. We were in no way harsh with this puppy. During one lesson, I noticed that the dog’s eyes looked somewhat bloodshot, and I told them that didn’t look right. I recommended a veterinarian exam. A day before the exam, the puppy attacked the girlfriend. When the veterinarian examined the dog, it was determined the dog had distemper, it had gone to the dog’s brain and the dog was dying. They had to make the decision to euthanize the puppy. The trauma of all of that caused the boyfriend and girlfriend to break up.

There have also been times where my recommendation was to rehome the dog. I had a bipolar student who was overly attentive to her dog, and then would completely withdraw from her dog. There was no predictability to the dog in their relationship. The dog started attacking and injuring her whenever she withdrew. The dog saw that change in behavior as an unfair and unpredictable consequence that the dog couldn’t handle. She rehomed the dog with another family and the dog’s problems went completely away.

I’ve also had dogs that I worked with which started out very dangerous. But then after the lessons were over, the owners forgot what it took to maintain that dog, the behaviors came back, and someone got hurt.

So, I want each student to do the recommended steps, to follow up with the results again and again until the problems are resolved and go the extra mile when necessary to get additional help. I can do what I can do in my lane, but sometimes other experts need to be brought in to solve a problem or additional funds need to be spent for specialized equipment or training set ups. I welcome, and even recommend, you getting a second opinion on any behavioral problem from a certified veterinarian behaviorist; we can incorporate their protocols and treatments into any work we do. Sometimes I will specifically ask you to obtain that resource, and in others you can feel free to gain their advice and that will be OK with me. I’m here to solve problems.

Good, complete results are always going to be hard won, and the experience along the way will inform all of us what will be the probable outcome. Most problems can be fixed, but some cannot. Sometimes you don’t win, you lose and so does your dog. I think we can all live with the consequences if we accept the risks that might happen if the work isn’t taken to the point where you’ve done all you can do to resolve the situation.

So, just like you must do what your dentist says to have good health, you need to do what’s necessary and recommended to have any chance of good behavior out of your dog. There are no shortcuts and there is no room to ignore any problem.

Intro Video