It is unfortunate, among the dog training community, that there is a divide. An us versus them kind of mentality. There are the traditional and balanced trainers against positive reinforcement based trainers. Neither side entirely understands the other, and then, there are trainers on both sides who don't know what they are doing, but somehow have the loudest voices and give a lot of bad information, making the entire community look incompetent. It happens on both sides. I truly believe that most, if not all trainers, love dogs and want to do right by them.
That said, there are lots of myths surrounding positive reinforcement training. I'd like to try to eradicate some of these myths and let you know the truth. You can take what you'd like from this what you'd like. I just hope to open minds by being true to myself and to the facts.
Years ago, I was at a family event. One family and their dog, let's call the dog Fluffy, were there at the same time. It was summer and we were spending time at the lake. Of course, there was a barbecue involved, with rib-eye steaks. When the steaks were resting off the grill, Fluffy causally walked by them and snatched one from the platter. Yes, there were one or two extra steaks, so no one was losing out. Yes, this was not putting someone out financially. I would have been horrified if that had been my dog, but Fluffy's owners laughed and said, "Well, that's just Fluffy. Love me, Love my dog."
***Disclaimer, should any of my family read this post, the person described is in no way related to me. Please don't get hurt feelings, because there is nothing personal.
I have said, "Love me, love my dog" lots of times. I have it emblazoned on a coffee mug and a t-shirt. However, especially in the last few years, I have been thinking and rethinking what this phrase really means. These are my thoughts and interpretations on the subject. I may not reflect everyone's opinions, and that is fine. Being able to agree to disagree without name-calling is what grown ups do. Here goes.
I love my dog. That is not a surprise coming from a dog trainer and anyone who knows me knows how much this is true. I think my dog is one of the sweetest, smartest, most well-behaved and fun dogs around. If someone wants to be my friend, most likely, they will have to accept that I'm going to talk about my dog. There are certain activities that I want to be sure he is included in, like hiking. If they visit my house, the dog will most likely be included in the party, unless someone has a legitimate fear of or allergy to dogs. My parents are happy to have Dakota come with me when I get home to visit them, and wouldn't think me leaving him behind. My friends even know that they don't want to ask me to choose between them or my dog. The fastest way to my heart is to be nice to or compliment my dog. He is a part of the equation, and is non-negotiable.
However, I've taught Dakota some basic manners that help him to be more welcomed anywhere we might go. He doesn't get on furniture unless invited up. Or, he shouldn't at least. He knows he is only supposed to jump up on me and only when cued. He is content hanging out in a crate if that is what is required of him. He might beg while people are eating, but he has a solid cue that means to leave the area right now. He isn't to be trusted left alone to guard food, but he is not a counter surfer when people are around. He is housebroken pretty much everywhere, and is quickly reminded if he thinks about marking. If he gets uncomfortable or over threshold in a situation, I can redirect him and contain him, to keep him and everyone safe. He doesn't chase cats or livestock, and he is pretty easy to get along with. This is all pretty much common sense, right? I think so too. A dog who follows all of these rules is definitely more lovable!
So, what does "Love me, love my dog" not mean? It doesn't mean that my dog gets to go everywhere with me. If I were invited to a dinner party at a friend's house, he most likely would be left at home, unless expressly invited. If someone doesn't find him as cute as I do, I know it's nothing personal. In fact, I don't want other people to love him like I do! It doesn't mean that I should be allowed to take him into restaurants and stores that aren't pet friendly, just because I can't handle being without him. If someone feels that he is underfoot, they are welcome to tell me that. If someone wants to redirect the conversation from dog talk, I can even accept that. I have this blog to talk dogs all day long.
Mostly, it doesn't mean that I can excuse all of Dakota's quirks, faults and naughty behavior. Yes, he is cute, and yes, he is well trained, but that doesn't mean that he is above naughty behavior. I need to take my rose colored glasses off and try to see him objectively. If he does something he shouldn't, I need to apologize, try to make it right, possibly contain him and work on prevention for the future. While I don't want someone else disciplining my dog, I also don't want them to excuse his behavior. If I were to get defensive, it is only because I know that he messed up, and I know they are right to be upset.
Love me, love my dog. It sounds so innocent, but too many dog owners take the idea too far. I recently saw a dog in a local store, and when the dog owner was confronted, she stated this little saying. She said that if the store wanted her business, they had to accept that her dog shops with her. The dog was riding in a cart and barking at strangers. This dog could actually impact the job of a real service dog or could bite someone. The dog was uncomfortable and didn't want to be there.
Let's remember that loving our dogs means teaching them boundaries. Loving them means being their advocate and not putting them into situations that they shouldn't be in. It means that we learn to read their body cues, and know what is uncomfortable to them. It means sometimes putting their needs above our own. It means knowing when to bring your dog along and when to leave them home or stay home with them. If we could all do this, we would all have dogs who are as lovable as you are!
My previous post was about choosing a dog trainer. This time, I'm sharing some of the things that may take a trainer out of the running. Some of these are what turns me off from calling a trainer, some are things that others have mentioned are turn-offs and some should be red flags to anyone with a dog.
***Please know, I have not met every local dog trainer in the Billings area. I have a casual relationship with a couple, would call a couple my friends, and have nothing against the ones I haven't utilized. There may some training styles I don't agree with (nor does, you know, science), but I am speaking in general terms and am not blasting a single business here.
Perhaps the best analogy for choosing a dog trainer is that choosing a dog trainer is very much like choosing a therapist. I can say this, because I work in mental health and know therapists well. Just like a therapist, it is really hard to lie to a dog trainer! "Did you do your homework?" "Yep." Dog runs around, ignores, does anything but what they should have practiced. "Did you really do your homework?" Head hung in shame, "no." They see how frustrated you may be by your dog's behavior, and how vulnerable and embarrassed. This is a person you are trusting to work with a valued member of the family! You may get called out for mistakes you've made. You may feel defensive, but the thing about being defensive is we usually know the other person is right. We don't want to admit it, but usually they are. You may leave a training session feeling drained, physically and emotionally. Your dog trainer is someone who you feel you are willing to take their advice, celebrate successes with and trust that they are helping you, no matter how you are feeling in the moment. That is why, it is a good idea to find a trainer you mesh with.
So, here's what you do: Google dog trainers in your area and check out some websites. Have an idea of what you want, whether it be group classes, one to one sessions or board and train. Do you know what training method you would like to use? A trainer should be clear about what their method is. The ones that you like, call them or send an email, see if they are willing to take you and your dog on. Be honest about what you need. Meet them, see if you can observe a class or a consultation. If you like this person, hopefully you have met your trainer!
If a trainer says they are unable to work with you, it probably is nothing personal. My insurance, for example, doesn't cover wolf/dog crosses in any way and I am not to train dogs in protection sports, bite work or for police and military. Maybe the trainer only does a specialized training service, such as training for sport or task. The trainer might not be comfortable in working with aggression, and this is actually to your advantage. You want your trainer to be confident in what they are doing, and a trainer who admits they don't know it all are less likely to mess up by taking on something they can't do.
The trainer will probably recommend a training package, if you are going with one to one sessions. This is because no dog is going to suddenly learn to walk at an obedience ring heel out and about after one session. Plus, even if they did, are you going to remember all of the skills next week? Multiple sessions are for yours and the dog's benefit. Plus, this gives the trainer time to add in other things to teach you if needed.
Please don't choose a trainer based solely on cost. Trainers put a lot of time (and money) into getting their education and experience. They may have done an online program or an in-person internship and perhaps have taken tests to prove they know what they are doing. They attend workshops and seminars, read all they can, participate in live webinars and groups. For some certifications, trainers are required to earn Continuing Education Units (CEU's) just like school teachers! None of this is free. The trainers I know, myself included, have gone into this industry because they want to help dogs and their people. That is it. But, they have to make a living as well. However, no one says, "Hmm, dog trainers have an easy job and are often on the Forbes 500 list. I'll be a dog trainer."
So, how important are those certifications that trainers are earning? A little background: dog training in the US is largely unregulated as an industry. Any person can call themselves a certified dog trainer, just because they had a dog at one point. No, even if not, they still can. Outside of veterinary medicine, this is how the animal industry is. However, there are trainers who take the field seriously and are getting certifications that are to a high standard! If a trainer can't tell you where that certification is from or you can't find it multiple places on their website, good chance they are pulling one over on you. Are there good trainers who have no certification? Absolutely, yes. It does come down to experience, but those learning opportunities help trainers be more efficient and understand what is happening during sessions. There are probably also some not so great trainers who passed tests with flying colors.
How do you pick a trainer? You pick someone you connect with. You pick someone who can help your dog. If they see you and and your dog at your worst, they are going to celebrate with you when you are at your best!
Dogs often make us scratch our heads and look on in bemusement. I’m sure they feel the same way about us too. Some of what they do is embarrassing or frustrating to us, some is potentially dangerous to them, and sometimes their behavior and habits are just plain gross. This is a good time to remind ourselves that dogs are not human. Of course we all know this, but so often, I hear someone tell me that they know their dog chewed up their shoes to punish them and they are feeling super betrayed by their buddy. I mean, a dog I used to have pooped on my bed this one day I didn’t come home at lunch time. She hopped up on my bed and left a gift right in the middle. She had a dog door, so it wasn’t a necessity thing. I felt punished, but looking back, she was just showing her displeasure in an obvious way. Let’s remember that dogs are animals and their reasons behind behavior are actually pretty simple. Here, I will share as much insight as I have on why dogs do these kinds of things.
Hi, I'm Rachel. I'm crazy about dogs and want to see all of them living the best life possible. Most of my free time is taken up by dogs, but when I am not working with my own or others, I also enjoy cooking, volunteer work, reading and Netflix in my pajamas.