Ask the Trainer:
Common Questions Answered
Is it a good idea to send my dog away for training (board & train)?
Generally, it is not a good idea to send a dog away for training because your dog may perform the trained behaviors for the trainer but may not perform them for you. Behaviors need to be generalized to the owner and the home environment. Much of a dog's desire to work for their owner is based on a good relationship. Additionally, some training and behavior issues are specific to the home so the training needs to take place in the home (e.g. not getting along with a sibling dog, barking in the home/yard, guarding the owner, resource guarding toys or locations, separation anxiety, etc). The biggest concern is what the trainer is doing with your dog when you are not watching. The majority of board and train facilities utilize aversive tools like prong and shock collars, or even withholding of multiple meals to get the behaviors they want. There are NO REASONS this is ever necessary.
Will I always have to use food rewards in the future if I use them for training?
With food or other rewards, we are showing value in performing the behavior and creating a positive association with performing the behavior, so your dog will willingly want to perform the behavior down the line. In most cases, food rewards are gradually reduced so that they are only occasional. The speed of this process varies with the dog.
Are some breeds impossible to train? Do certain breeds require a "firm hand" like prong, shock/e-collar or similar punitive methods?
One thing that I have learned is that every breeder thinks their breed is special. They are, but mammals are mammals and learn which behaviors are reinforced and which are not. Dogs perceive the world differently and may have different responses to situations due to what they were originally bred to do, but ALL dogs respond positively to having desirable behaviors reinforced. There is incalculable value in seeing the dog through the lens of his original purpose to understand those innate drives to perform certain behaviors, and then training alternative desirable behaviors that the dog can eventually perform on his own when he encounters these stimuli or situations. Breeders and other who advocate these methods may not know what is possible with skilled, positive training.
Should I let my dogs "work it out" when they fight?
It is not a good idea to let your dogs "work it out" because it may end up where one or both dogs are injured or have a severely negative experience that impacts their behavior in the long term. In the latter case, they may be quicker to resort to aggression in the future to make sure they never have a bad experience again where there boundaries are disregarded. Dogs often "work it out" with their teeth, or one dog gets walked all over. It is our responsibility to step in when needed to help them navigate difficult situations. Sometimes, dogs are giving every signal possible to another dog that they want space but their signals are being disregarded. Some dogs are jerks, lack self control, or have poor skills at reading body language communication. If your dog is the aggressor in these situations, we may be able to help your dog learn how to better navigate these situations. If your dog is a victim in these situation, make sure to protect him by stepping in and removing him/her from the situation.
Is it ok to scold my dog when he growls?
A growl is a gift! The problem is not the growl but the emotions behind it that are usually stress, fear, and anxiety. A dog who does not growl when stressed/fearful/anxious is a scary dog...a ticking time bomb. That is a dog who may go straight to biting and skip precursor warning signals because he has been punished for growling. If your dog is growling, we need to find ways to relieve his stress and help him cope with the situation. Punishing the growl is NEVER a good idea.
My dog is afraid of people/dogs. Should I hold him so others can interact with him so he learns they are ok?
This is not a good idea because your dog does not have choice. This is what we call "flooding" -- subjecting the dog to maximum intensity of the anxiety-inducing situation or stimuli without a way to escape it. This can work on rare occasion, but often it ends up creating more fear. We want dogs to choose to approach people and be around people. We can do this in ways that are more cooperative and enjoyable for the dog than flooding.
Should my dog always heel when we walk? Should my dog walk in front of me?
Heeling has a place in a dog's skillset, but usually is not utilized in leisurely walks around the neighborhood. A walk through the neighborhood is not much exercise for the average dog. A walk is about both the mental and physical stimulation that take place, much of this through the sights and SMELLS. Dogs' primary sense for exploring the world is through smell. They can explore the neighborhood through smell while they are walking on a loose leash. They can gather information on which people, dogs, and other wildlife have come through the area, what they eat, and other details about them through smell. This is similar to reading the newspaper for them. It is a wonderful way to enrich your dog's life to allow him to walk loose lead, whether he is a little in front or behind you. Many trainers believe that a dog is trying to dominate you by walking in front of you. There have never been any cases of a dog dominating a person. Why would they? You provide all of the resources for their well-being. If your dog is pulling on leash we can provide training for that.
Do I need to let my dog know I am the alpha?
Your dog is not seeking to be an alpha in his/her relationship with you. Your dog may be pushy or lack manners, or maybe he feels nervous and anxious, but he is likely not trying to dominate you. There have never been any cases of a domestic dog trying to dominate a person. The alpha wolf myth was long ago debunked and later retracted by the scientist who originally was the biggest public promoter of the research's finding. You can read about the debunking of alpha wolf myth here at the Whole Dog Journal.
What your dog does need is to have a trusting relationship with you, to understand clear boundaries and expectations, to be taught how to behave in various situations, and to have his physical/emotional/mental needs satisfied. Showing force against your dog will not help to accomplish any of these. Instead, if may make your dog feel less trust and less security in the home. Remember, you have all the power. You choose what and when your dog eats, when and how he plays or exercises, when and where he defecates, who his friends are and when he sees them. You hold all the cards. Be kind to your dog and clear in teaching your expectations.
Why not use an e-collar or prong collar for training?
The American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior (AVSAB), the AVMA, AHAA, APDT, IAABC and other trusted veterinary and training organizations recommend reward-based training both for its effectiveness as well as concerns about animal welfare. There have been several recent independent studies showing that dogs receiving reward-based training outperformed dogs who received e-collar and other aversive training in every circumstance. E-collars/shock collars/stim collars, prong collars, or whatever else trainers like to call them are not necessary when you have a skilled trainer. This includes behavior modification for aggressive behavior. Read the latest position statement from AVSAB here.
What trainers don't tell you is that your dog will most likely have to wear an e-collar or prong collar forever to continue getting the behaviors that you want and what you see with the collar on during training. The dog will not see any value in doing what you want since the behavior was only coerced through pain/discomfort/punishment. The "value" to the dog is avoiding punishment, so the threat of punishment will need to be there by the dog wearing the collar, even if a correction is not frequently used. I see many anxious dogs and dogs whose relationships with the owners have deteriorated due to the use of e-collar/shock collars. Given that better results are achieved with reward-based training as shown in current studies without the risks posed by collars, there is no use for these tools in a good trainer's toolbox.
Should I eat before my dogs eat or walk through a door before they do to show I am the leader?
It really does not matter to your dog who eats first or walks through a door. He likely does not view that as some kind of establishment of leadership. What does matter is establishing routine. There is comfort and predictability in routine, especially for those who lack much control over their environment. Dogs lack control over the happenings during their day and their access to resources. Having a routine can help them know what comes next. Taking them outside to play after waking up each day, taking walks after getting showered in the morning, feeding their meals while you are cooking dinner, providing a bully stick after you finish eating breakfast...these are a few example of associations and predictors that may help your dog understand what is happening when during the day. This can help them feel security in their access to resources.
How do I train if my dog does not like food?
With reward-based training we simply use rewards...which is decided by the dog. Most dogs love food, but there are also other rewards, including play with toys, play with the human, play with another dog, chews, a particular activity, scratches/petting, and other things. Some dogs cannot eat treats due to health issues. We can also use kibble and fruits/vegetables as rewards. Basically, a reward is in the eye of the beholder and that is your dog!
How can I teach my dog what "no" means?
When we say "no" to a dog, we are typically looking for specific behaviors so they will stop what they are doing, such as turning away from something, backing away from it, looking at us, or coming over to us. When we say "no" dogs do not understand what we want them to do. They just know that we are angry or irritated. I recommend teaching specific behaviors to redirect dogs and help them learn boundaries, as they know exactly what to do when we verbally cue the behaviors. This is what I like to do with clients. Dogs generally like to do work (it is what they were originally bred to do!), and they like to please, so it is better to teach them what we would like them to do instead of constantly nagging when they do what we do not want them to do.
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