14 Things Your Dog Trainer Wishes You Knew
So you want to be a great dog training student or client? Of course, you do, who doesn’t. Every pet parent needs to know a few essentials in order to cohabitate with their best friend and new family member. Learning the basics of dog body language and the science of behavior is high up on the list. Dogs communicate primarily through their body language and behavior. Therefore it is imperative that a dog lover or pet parent understand what a dog is saying, otherwise there is very little communication going on. This is analogous to having a conversation with your partner without understanding what they are trying to say to you or vice versa. Communication is a two-way street, force, bullying, and intimidation is the antithesis of power and not an option for any loving, humane, intelligent, and compassionate parent. When was the last time someone bullied you into being their best friend?
I spoke with several certified professional dog trainers and behaviorists and pooled together some of the most frustrating and common myths and dog basics that they wish pet parents would be aware of. So let’s have a go at it, shall we!
14 Things Your Dog, Dog Trainer, and Behaviorist Wish You Knew
– Dog training, and especially behavior modification is a process, not an event. Dog training and behavior modification take time! Dog training is the only discipline where one is teaching two different species simultaneously, both beginners, how to communicate. Each unique individual is different and the time varies based on a number of factors including but not limited to: age, how ingrained the behavior is, mental health, physical health, cognition, motivation, breed, circumstances, environment, pet parents commitment, the financial situation of parents, etc.
How long does it take to train my dog? If only I had a dollar for every time I was asked this question. There is no answer to this, just as there is no answer to how long does it take someone to learn how to learn Japanese or a new language. Everyone is different. It may be easier to provide a time frame for simple tricks or obedience skills such as sit, down, stay, roll over, bow, paw, back up, rest, leave it, drop it, take it…etc. but when it comes to behavior modification (BM), desensitization and counterconditioning (D/CC), all bets are off, and it is imperative for the pet parent to be fundamentally aware of what is ailing your pet. Behavior modification is not going to work as well if a pet parent is checked out and expects a behaviorist to do all of the work and have a “fixed” dog, parents need to participate in the dog training process and be aware of what is going on.
Dog training and behavior modification is a process and does not end when a trainer or behaviorist leaves your home! Your dog is learning, whether you like it or not, 24/7. The quicker you realize this the better off your relationship will be.
– Seek out a specialist! News flash, television is not real. Television programs are productions, existing only to make money and collect viewership. Most shows are contrived reality shows that do not provide up-to-date information, educated, sound or humane advice. In other words, if you listen to Cesar Millan for dog training or behavior advice you might as well listen to Dr. Phil for your medical advice, the Kardashians for your dating advice and Jerry Springer for your world social news. Just don’t do it. Your dog will thank you later. Every dog and family needs training otherwise known as coaching, teaching, learning, guidance, and help from a qualified dog professional. Dog training is the unregulated, wild, wild west – caveat emptor!
– Enrichment and socialization are ongoing and vital for a healthy well behaved pet. Imagine never leaving your home or a few block radius and rarely meeting new people or experiencing the multitudes of what life and mother earth has to offer? You would go insane! Yes, many behavior problems stem from a pet’s basic needs not being met. Enrichment, socialization, toys, healthy food, veterinarian checkups, shelter, love, care, bonding, clean water are all basic needs of a dog.
–Your dog does not “know better”. Your dog is NOT obstreperous and peeing on your new couch or rug to spite you or because she/he is obstinate or lazy. Look in the mirror and say “What-did-you-do! Bad human!” It is not your dog’s fault. First, make sure their incontinence is not a medical issue, then, think LOSS – Location, Olfactory, Substrate, and Spatial – and get to work.
–Adopt don’t shop! Over 25% of dogs in the shelter are purebred and even more, are puppies. Millions of adoptable family pets needlessly die every year. To the tune of tens of thousands every year in Miami Dade alone! Don’t kid yourself; there are no more behavior problems that come from an adoptable dog than a dog bought from a breeder.
–Dog training and behavior is a science and requires practice and good mechanics. Every family needs dog training as much as they need a veterinarian. Skimping out on either is abusive and doesn’t meet your dog’s basic needs. You wouldn’t cut back on food or water for your dog, would you? Well then don’t skimp out on their education and behavior. Ethology, nutrition, and medicine are sciences. In fact, more dogs are killed for poor behavior than any other reason! Hence the primary reason I became a dog trainer and behaviorist. Just as you wouldn’t try to repair your broken arm from watching a reality TV show or by attempting to fix it yourself, you shouldn’t attempt to fix your dog’s behavior from a TV show of from what you read on the internet or hear from your neighbor either. Call a certified dog behavior consultant (CDBC) or if you need a psychopharmacologist make sure you speak to a board-certified veterinarian behaviorist.
–Dogs are not acting dominant towards you. Get over it, in animal behavior, dominance is described as “a relationship between individuals that is established through force, aggression, and submission in order to establish priority access to a preferred resource.” Who holds the resources in the family? Who decides if your dog lives or dies? Who makes the money? YOU. It is a moot point; your dog is not trying to dominate you or take over the world, nor should you dominate them! This includes why you should never practice dominance theory alpha roles, flooding, and any other abusive practices.
–Your dog is not a pack animal. You are a family, not a pack. You don’t need to be a pack leader. Being a pet parent as you are with any family member is the correct family dynamic and structure. Misguided and outdated perceptions drawn upon from captive wolves pervade the uninformed. On this note, your dog is also not trying to be your Alpha, Beta, Omega or any other letter of the Greek alphabet. This illogical comparison is drawn from studies done on captive wolves and even David Mech, the preeminent scientist who founded the term “Alpha” wolf has long ago denounced the support of the outdated Alpha pack notion. If the leading scientist who first coined the term “Alpha” status for wolves has stopped using this term decades ago, why is it still being used to describe dogs?! Wolves are not considered Alphas any longer by contemporary scientists; instead, they are considered the breeding pair or more simply, the mother and father, no different than our family structure.
–There is NEVER a need for a choke chain, shock collar or pronged collar. Not in the military, not in the police, not for service dog training and not with a family dog. It is more outdated than smoking inside commercial airplanes. It is not only highly unethical but also inhumane and not as effective as force-free positive reinforcement. Don’t let the pretty marketing and advertising and euphemistic names (tickle, stimulus, vibrating collar) fool you. They were ALL designed to inflict pain and only work by increasing the amount of pain and discomfort.
–Your dog is not revengeful or acting a certain way to spite you. Fluffy does not rip up your couch or new Jimmy Choo shoes to spite you. You have to teach your dog good habits and behaviors with appropriate chew toys. Otherwise, your shoes and couch are the same texture, materials, and plushness as their toys. Now, who’s the dummy 🙂
–Chuck that food bowl in the ga’bage! Food bowls are the lazy human’s product to ensure a pet that can care less about working for anything. Bowls do more harm than good, chuck it, and look at these alternatives for a dog’s food bowl.
– Keep your dogs out of the kitchen. Allowing dogs in the kitchen is often dangerous medically and causes behavioral problems. There are too many potential hazards from eating something harmful to self-rewarding inappropriate behavior. Simply put, the kitchen is not a place for your pooch.
–Don’t allow a dog to self-reward with inappropriate behaviors. Around 2/3rds of behavior change comes from the antecedent arrangement, gasp! In fact, the very definition of applied behavior analysis is the process of solving practical behavior problems by changing the environment. Yes, don’t be pissed when a behaviorist first comes over and works minimally or at all with your dog and instead focuses on you and the environment. A dog that is rewarded covertly or overtly (self, environment or from others) strengthens that behavior by means of a very strong variable reinforcement schedule making it much more difficult to change the inappropriate behavior. It goes without saying, the more a dog behavior is practiced and rewarded the more difficult it will be to extinguish and change that behavior. The strength of a variable reinforcement schedule may be seen when people get addicted to playing the slot machines in Vegas. Jackpot!
–Microchip your pet. If you ever want a chance at seeing your dog again when not if, they run away, you drop the leash, or an accident happens – and accidents do happen, folks- then get your dog microchipped. More dogs are stolen in Miami when left tied up outside of a store or left in a backyard than bicycles! If you wouldn’t leave your 3-year-old child unattended, don’t leave your dog alone. More important, keep your microchip information up-to-date, or your chances of finding your pup are slimmer than a MacBook Air.
Lastly, as a human animal, remember to keep an open mind and be coachable. What does that mean? Try-on what your dog trainer or behaviorist is saying and see how it fits. After all, why pay a specialist to help you and then not listen or follow instructions and advice? Your trainer is there to help you, your dog and your family.
Chime in below to add your two cents, and I will update this list.