Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Think outside the box . . .

Dog training is just about one of the most frustrating industries to be in due to the fact that one trainer could be polar opposite of another.  At least in most lines of work there are more facts that you can't refute so one may be slightly different but comes back to one basic fact.  Dog training is filled with a lot of bad advice, good advice and "who told you that?" advice.  Because dogs are animals and we can't actually talk to them and find out what they are thinking, it makes it very difficult to know what is actually right and what is actually wrong.

Many trainers use the "well it works for me" approach and others are completely science-based.  But what is science-based dog training?  That's also a revolving door of this and that.  It has been scientifically proven that the old "Alpha dogs rule" theory is wrong and using this thinking for raising and training a dog can often be disastrous.  But it was so drilled in folks heads in the 60s and 70s that it's hard to think that now the scientists say, "Oops, we were wrong, forget what we said . . ."  

Many trainers still use the techniques used many moons ago on dogs and see results, so they keep doing it.  Sure, this type of training yields what looks like instant results, but the truth is that it doesn't fix anything long term and more often that not it causes either more behavior problems than you started with or escalates the issue you started with.

I've found that over the years dog training isn't always, teach the dog this, make him stop doing that.  Often it's much more thinking than that and you have to use your noggin to think outside the box.  There is no black and white for dog training if you want a dog that is really good, really willing and really ready to be your friend.

I must admit that I was prompted to write this particular post after lying in bed at night thinking about a particular client I have been working with.  This particular dog has shown some aggression toward his owners as well as others.  After going in and meeting with the owners, the dog and getting a history I realized that this dog is only aggressive because of the way it has been handled, raised and supposedly "trained".  It's all wrong, so wrong that now the dog is becoming quite nasty.  This dog is the true example for why you can't use physical punishment or "alpha rolls" on dogs.  They don't work and often you create a real problem.  Did I mention this dog isn't even a year old yet?

I also had an epiphany when I asked my Jack Russell, Trevor to sit and stay as I opened the back door to let my Great Dane outside.  I didn't want Trevor to go out so I wanted him to stay back.  Trevor gladly sits and stays but he scoots and trembles, and he's almost nervous about it if asked to do it in certain areas.  He is great at it when I put him in a visual tool.  If I tell him to stay in his doggie bed, he'll stay like a champ.  He's funny like that.  Out in the middle of the floor--not so good, sitting in his dog bed--great!  I had to think outside the box.  What would have been most people's first reaction to their dog not staying?-- Most would correct him for not staying in the middle of the floor.  My reaction--just put him in a dog bed where I know he'll do a great sit-stay.  All I say is, "Trevor can you get in your bed?"  He goes to his bed, sits and stays there until I say, "okay!"  Problem solved, dog receives praise and avoids any "punishment".  Perfect-o! (I just took this photo literally for this paragraph--isn't he cute?!)

I also remember when I took my BC/Aussie, Noah, to a farm with goats to test his herding abilities. He loved it!  He was put in a round pen with 4 goats.  He was afraid of them at first and then suddenly they shifted and he immediately started to herd them.  While he wasn't graceful about it or great at it, he was herding them and having the best time of his life.  He barked and barked and barked at those goats.  The lady that owns the farm was out there with him and she turns to me and says, "He's too vocal," then turns to Noah and says, "Shut up!"  It drove her mad that he wouldn't stop barking at those goats.  I just laughed.  I thought she was an idiot.

Noah barks all the time in play.  He's not a vocal dog otherwise.  But play and fun he barks.  He has the best time when he's doing it too.  I never try to stop him.  I don't care if he barks when playing or expelling energy.  Have you ever been to an agility trial?  Many dogs bark as they go from one obstacle to another--they are having the time of their lives out there!  Why try to shut them up?  Who cares.  When we got in the car to head home from Noah's exhausting, yet fun, goat herding my husband says, "I guess we need to teach Noah to be a little quieter?"  I said, "Nope. She needs to learn how to let a dog be a dog in the right situations!"   That may have quite possibly been the best day of his doggie life so far,  but would he have felt that way if I had corrected him the whole time and told him to keep quiet?  I doubt it.  . . . . Noah slept for 2 full days after that night.


  1. I love that you are setting your dogs up to succeed! We often do that with our children, and even adults in our lives; why shouldn't we do that with our beloved pets? Let's set up everyone, two legged and four, to succeed!!!

  2. Stacy this is THE BEST blog post! I love that picture of Trevor...omg he is a cutie pie!
    You are right about that goat lady...what?? tell him to be quiet! LOL I hope she never comes to my house because my BC Mix is VERY vocal. He loves to talk to you, at you and behind your back! His mom is a husky mix so that might be where he gets it. His sister (litermate) likes to talk to you as well, but not quite as much as Zephyr.
    Setting your dogs up to succeed is identical to setting your children up to succeed...getting people to understand that concept is a whole new bag of tricks!
    Thanks for the great postings Stacy!!!!