Wednesday, February 10, 2010

I'm the professional here . . .

I realize that training a dog to be great and obey all your commands is demanding and usually optional. If we were to take a poll of all dog owners we would probably find that most people are satisfied with their dogs just the way they are . . . and that's ok too . . . usually. However I am amazed at how many people hire me to come in and help them and still decide to do things as they see fit.

I often have to look people in the eye and say, "Look, I'm the professional here and if you want my advice take it and stop reading the @#$% internet!" I never say things for my health when it comes to dog training. If I see a problem, or a dog owner does, then I'll give the solution. It's often a fairly simple one. It will usually involve some dedication and I can assure you it will involve consistency (the number one problem with dog training is a lack of it) but if you do what I tell you and stop reading the internet, asking your neighbors and applying every method known to man to your dog you may actually get somewhere!

Dog training has remarkably become normal these days. Thirty years ago dog training for hire was not even heard of. Being a dog trainer for a living would be a joke. But with the growing popularity of dog training comes the price of too much advice and free advice. People can Google their dog's "issue" and get a list of sites with so-called-remedies but this can be negative for a number of reasons. First, nothing should replace hands-on training with a well-educated trainer. Self-diagnosing dog issues, even as simple as chewing, can lead to frustration, to say the least. There are several websites that have good advice, and more that have bad advice, but this is the reason you need to have a trainer help you hands-on.

However, when you hire a trainer to come help you (or you go to them) you need to stick to the advice they give you. They are professionals and give you their advice for a reason. Don't take what they said and also use some method from TV or a book. It isn't going to be consistent and your dog will suffer from it.

If you begin to self-train your dog by reading a book (or whatever means you use) you could head down a path of destruction. Dogs have to have routines and consistency or they will mentally go haywire. This is when we see behavior get worse and suddenly we think -- oh that must have not worked, let's move on to what this book says . . .

You have to set something up and stick to it for at least 14 days before you may see results. Don't just toss your hands up and move on. Success takes time. If you do this your dog will be so utterly confused that I can promise you training will make you want to pull your hair out. You will blame the dog, you will blame the author, you will blame the trainer that just left your house, when in reality it's you. You're the problem.

Nothing happens overnight and especially with dogs. We are dealing with animals, creatures not of our own kind and we expect them to understand what we want in a matter of days. It's not fair to our dogs and it's not fair to any of the dog industry who has tried to help.

So if you find yourself tossing through pages of dog books, internet sites, DVDs and other means you need to stop. Find a trainer. Get hands-on help and follow what that trainer says. (Be sure to hire a trainer with human methods, who doesn't recommend choke chains, pinch collars or leash corrections.) You have to teach your dog you are the head honcho and rules are rules. You need to get a trainer who can show you how to do this correctly, without force or out-dated methods. If you are not keeping any sort of routine or rules your dog will think you are weak and that you have no glue that holds you together. A dog won't take direction or have any respect for a weak leader. Do you blame him? No one wants to follow a leader that isn't sure about what he/she's doing, does he?

If you need help on how to properly discipline your dog read my blog post on that from a few weeks ago (here). But I advise you to hire a trainer and follow their advice as they lay it out. Don't modify it to your liking, it's incredibly insulting to the trainer. They do this for a living and they give you the advice because it works not because it sounds like it might work. At least this describe me, as a trainer. I suppose not all trainers are like this but I am very confident in what I tell a client.

Like I told one client who repeatedly swore the training wasn't working, "My training works if you do it. That means you do what I told you. Not some of it, but all of it. It's fail-proof if you do. I have yet to have someone actually do what I told them and they tell me it doesn't work. . . . " If you tell me it's not working I know you're doing something wrong or leaving something out, this is the case 99.9% of the time.

I had a woman a few years ago with a puppy that was 13 weeks old. Big puppy and cute. I went over and we went over some things and I told her how to start to teach the puppy how to come when called. I told her the steps and then how to slowly advance to distractions, etc. She calls me 5 days later, "Yeah he got out in the front yard and was doing these circles around me and wouldn't come to me when I called him. How do I get him to come to me when he 's doing that?" I said, "Have you done the exercises I told you about last week?" Client:"Uhh, well some, a few times . . ." I mean seriously, did you think showing the puppy one time in the kitchen would transfer over to him coming when he's running around like a boisterous, happy puppy outside? Did you listen to anything I told you? She, like so many, wanted a single answer and an immediate solution. It's just not that simple.

But once you actually do the work the rewards of training your own dog is ten-fold. It's great. You will be so proud and able to show your dog off to the world. I recall a recent set of clients that have a somewhat difficult dog. He's very, very active and can be a real handful but they have been working diligently with him for quite some time. They did a tricks class with me (after much training and a few other classes) and at the end they said, "We videoed his tricks and showed my whole family on YouTube--they thought he was great! These tricks have really helped him focus and calm down!"

So the rewards of listening to a professional's advice are more than you can imagine. Just do it. Don't look for a magic answer. There isn't one. Dog behavior is complex even when it's just a simple problem like annoying jumping on guests or barking. So find a good trainer, wait--find a great trainer and follow their great advice. They'll thank you and you'll thank yourself even more . . . but most of all Fido will be the happiest, well-adjusted dog on the block . . . and his thanks will be all that you need!

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