Be Positive!

Last week, I discussed finding a dog trainer to fit your values and needs.  If you want to read it, check out Don’t Be Fooled.  Basically, the intention of the post was to encourage the reader in considering his/her options for training methods and finding a trainer who uses a preferred method.  Now, I’m steering the discussion towards the problems with adversive or compulsive training methods and a better alternative in training your dog.

After last week’s post, I found myself encountered by a situation which made me think about writing this post.  Let me give you a snapshot of what transpired.  Every morning, Jack, Bernie and I go out on our daily run which meanders through the neighborhood and loops back to our house.  Usually, we end at the park so Bernie can roll around in the grass and Jack can just chill before we finish up our last mile.  Most days we are greeted by friendly neighbors walking their dogs and we sit and chat.  This particular day, Eddie had the day off which means, we all got to sleep in a bit more and Eddie came with us on our run.  Since we left early, we missed the usual crowd who makes their way to the park in the morning.  As we took our last pass by the park, we came across a couple walking their two dogs.  One was a lab or retriever puppy and the other was either a mini Schnauzer or Schnauzer puppy.  In any event, the Schnauzer became reactive when the dog saw the four of us.  The Schnauzer had high pitched barking and was unable to settle down.  This in of itself is not abnormal. What struck me was how the woman walking the dog responded.  As the dog was barking, she began yelling at the dog “NO” and repeatedly said “NO,NO,NO”!  Since that clearly was not working, she then crouched down next to the dog.  Her Schnauzer kept on barking.  She then smacked the dog on its rear end and yelled at the dog to shut the f… up!.  Well, let me tell you, this too didn’t have any effect on the dog as the dog continued on with what he was doing.  The only thing that helped in ending the barking was Eddie, Jack, Bernie and I who slipped by and moved in a different direction.

What this showed me was how pervasive compulsion training is in our society.  In actuality, this type of method is usually the most widely known because it being popular for so long and attention being paid to trainers who use these methods and have their own network shows.  First, compulsion trainers traditionally have more of a “since I’m in charge, I tell you (the dog) what to do and you must do it or else”.   In this experience of the woman with her Schnauzer, the woman demanded her dog to stop barking and tried negatively reinforcing her dog by yelling and smacking him.  What this teaches the dog is when another dog is present, I (the dog) get smacked which makes me (the dog) fear the other dog.  Therefore, if the dog continues in receiving smacks and being yelled at when another dog is present, the dog can potentially rev himself up to the point where he then is aggressive towards another dog.  Then the person’s response gets more aggressive.  Also, in watching the woman with her Schnauzer, she didn’t appear to enjoying her confrontation with her dog.  Her body language alone indicated she was tense, frustrated and irritated.  I wonder if she chose an approach of walking the dog away and rewarding when the dog was quite, how much better of a response of the dog not barking as long or at all while at the same time making her feel better about getting a desirable response.

In addition to actually creating and reinforcing reactivity with a dog by yelling and smacking the dog when the dog barks, a person who chooses to use compulsion methods must also think about the physical and psychological/emotion impact on the dog.

Let’s take Bernie.  Bernie is a more reserved dog.  He is more internal and more calculated in his behaviors.  Bernie is more cautious when meeting people, especially men and is very challenging to motivate.  After seeing the results of a pinch collar on Jack ( check out Pinch Collars, No More.. pinch collars are more in line with compulsion training methods) and understanding its effects, I knew this tool would be detrimental to building a bond and actually be harmful for Bernie.  Not only would using a pinch collar not be in the best interest of Bernie, but neither would compulsive training or yelling at Bernie as a consequence for exhibiting an undesirable behavior.  How come?  Well, as I mentioned, Bernie is reserved and pretty independent.  Giving Bernie a smack or angrily yelling his name, Bernie would withdraw.  He would hide and show fear towards us and refuse our attempts to get him to comply.  This would then set us up for failure in positively encouraging him later.  He would see as inconsistent and essentially, he would not trust us.   The secret with Bernie, which is adaptable to any dog who is independent and a bit more cautious, find those things which make the dog excited. For Bernie, he loves when he hears high pitched voices.  He loves working for food and he loves squeaky toys.  But, for him, he loses interest FAST!  Basically, when we are teaching a new behavior or reinforcing one already, we ask for the behavior.  When Bernie does it, we say good boy and reward him with a toy or tasty treat.  We constantly change up the reward and incorporate all of these things into a training session as a way in keeping his attention on us rather than get distracted with a bird or anything else he deems more interesting.  Since he’s motivated in many ways, it helps for him in making a positive association with a new behavior which in turn helps him learn and habituate it faster.  Win, win for the both of us!

Hands down, the job of the pet guardian, handler, or owner is bridging the gap between you and your dog, so you build a strong bond and relationship with your dog.  Compulsion training method only widens the gap between you and your dog, and inhibits learning potential.  Positive reinforcement offers both you and your dog a pleasant learning experience and one where learning is faster.  You may need to become more animated and use exciting toys or treats in order for your dog’s response be towards you.  You may only need little motivation in order for the dog to desire to work and get rewarded.  Whatever the personality of your dog, the only method I’ve found which works and works with reliable results which can be built upon with more challenging training is with positive reinforcement techniques.  Not only is the dog happier in working for a reward, but it leaves the handler feeling better in how the relationship is being built.

For more insight, check out Paul Owens, Original Dog Whisperer.  You’ll definitely see a difference in training between the other Dog Whisperer!


Don’t Be Fooled

The other day, I heard this newscast on NPR about how the Mayor of NYC wants to institute licensing requirements for paid performers posing with children as cartoon or superhero characters on the streets of NYC. Check out the NPR newscast: NYC Considers Licensing Costumed Performers Supposedly, some parents experienced harassment and demands by some of the performers and generally felt unsafe. In the Mayor’s eyes, the licensing requirement would help with oversight and legitimizing the performers while having some accountability measures in place.

Ok, you’re probably like, “this doesn’t have anything with dog training,” but it did spark some thinking on my end on the parallels with licensing dog trainers. Like the situation in NYC with street performers, currently in the United States, there isn’t a centralized licensing body to oversee dog trainers in its many forms. There are numerous schools, organizations and groups which bring together people who are currently trainers or who are interested in dog training. Many of these, like the one’s I’m mentioning are fantastic ones to check out.  An organization like the Association of Pet Dog Trainers or APDT is a forum where dog trainers can become part of its umbrella group and gain access to educational materials which can enhance their practice. On the other end of the spectrum, is the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers, CCPDT. This organization is an international testing body which certifies dog trainers. In between, there are schools certifying their students after successful completion of their program and excellent and knowledgeable self taught dog trainers. The plethora of organizing bodies and training approaches within these groups creates some level of confusion in identifying what a dog trainer does and how.  It leaves the consumer thinking which way to go.

Even with the advent of a potential licensing requirement for dog trainers (which may or may not happen), there is still responsibility which falls on the person seeking dog training services.  You may ask, what responsibility exists for the client?  Well, for the client, the responsibility is “don’t be fooled”.  A client has the purchasing power and with that power, I recommend for the client to do your homework.  A licensing requirement for dog trainers will not completely prevent people from abusing or manipulating clients.  I’ll go out on a limb and say that will probably be the case for the street performers in NYC.  Sometimes, people just need to say “no” and walk away!  So, here are a few things that come to mind when seeking dog training services.

First, a client seeking dog training needs to be informed and empowered by accurate information.  Before picking up the phone to call a dog trainer, consider your personal values.  Ask yourself how do I want my dog trained? What methods exist to train my dog?  What are the differences between force-free, positive reinforcement and positive punishment or aversive methods?  Which method do I prefer? What are the theories behind these training methods?  Finally, which one will have the best interest of my dog at heart? Check out some of my previous posts on the subject.    I suggest to really look into the efficacy of each of these training methods and make a choice based on facts for effective long term behavior modification and obedience training.

After you figure out which way to go, interview your trainer.  Ask for any and all training background.  Asking for a dog trainer’s background doesn’t have to stop at certification. Some of the most highly skilled and knowledgeable trainers don’t currently have certifications.   Instead, ask about length of time dog training and in what capacity (any shelter/volunteer work) and if so, ask for the places.  If you choose, you can always contact those other facilities and inquire about their recommendations for a particular trainer.  I suggest asking for an explanation of the theory behind the chosen training method so you can gauge if the training principles are in line with actual training being conducted.

Important to note, dog training will be for the life of your dog.  Training will always take consistency, patience and time on behalf of the pet guardian.  Any trainer claiming to train your dog in several sessions is worth a second, third, fourth thought.  As a consumer, please take the time considering your options and feel empowered in decision making since you took the time in researching and gaining your own understanding of how you want your dog trained. Your knowledge will enable you to choose a dog trainer based on proven methods rather than be bullied or mesmerized by proclamations of quick behavior modification schemes.

A good starting point is checking out APDT Dog Training Search.  This is not an exhaustive list, but its worth checking out.  I would also suggest talking with your veterinarian.   Many trainers are referred by word of mouth, so finding out about referrals by another trusted professional will help alleviate some stress in finding a trainer.

Happy Training 🙂

Got Orders?

This is the time of year when most military families are on the move. They are going through what is called a Permanent Change of Station (PCS). What this means for anyone not affiliated with the military, individual soldiers and families are moving. Moving to a different town, state or even country. PCSing is filled with many emotions from excitement to sheer dread. Since we as humans have the amazing ability to verbally communicate and rationally plan for a major life change, how does you’re furry friend cope with moving?  How does your furry friend relocate?

The answer; depends on your moving disposition and strategy.  Our pets depend on us for guidance and for a general sense of the world that surrounds them. If we’re angry, agitated, anxious, you better believe your pet will feel those emotions and probably have some behavioral issues. If we are calm, have good coping mechanisms, your dogs will feel more relaxed and generally go with the flow.  During times of transition, remember to find some relaxation.  This will benefit you, your family and your pets!

Since Eddie and I have done overseas moves with Jack, we’ve learned a few things. Even if you, the reader isn’t involved with the military, there are some good moving tips you may also find useful.

Before moving to El Paso, we lived in Bavaria, Germany. We loved living in Europe and became accustomed to the life style. We lived in a small farming community, so the quality of life was quiet, laid back and free from the demands of what’s new and the perceived need to have it. We created a life there. We had a good group of friends, I established myself in a job and we had amazing opportunities to travel. Then Eddie received orders to move to Ft Bliss in El Paso.

A beautiful day in Bavaria!
A beautiful day in Bavaria!
Enjoying some sunshine and beautiful June weather!
Enjoying some sunshine and beautiful June weather!

This wasn’t the best news to hear. I was pretty skeptical about moving to West Texas, moving back to the States and once again resettling into a new way of life. I chose not to lament on the what ifs because there was so much organizing and planning that needed to be done to have   a successful PCS.

I found the best way for me to get organized was get a binder.  If I learned anything from my formative school years was using a binder complete with dividers and document protectors helped me organize school work, but it also proved to be a useful tool in my adult life.   I put together and chronologically organized all of our health records, our car information and its shipment paperwork, taxes, shipment of all of our household items, and anything else I felt needed to move with us. Along with our important information, I made sure I had several copies of Jack’s vaccination records, microchip information which I registered with AKC Reunite and began researching transportation options for Jack.  I often hear of military families finding new homes for their pets because they didn’t plan ahead.  It will take some money to move your pet with you, but the financial piece can become a non issue if you plan accordingly and ahead of time.

We adopted Jack while in Germany. In Europe, pets get their own EU passport which veterinarians can put vaccination stickers showing when vaccinations were administered. This is fantastic. It consolidated the paperwork and it made it easier to ensure I had everything in one spot for him.  All I had to do was supply a copy of his passport.  I adhered his paperwork to his crate, so any custom or airline agents can easily access them and Jack wouldn’t get caught up somewhere in between.

Eddie and I wanted the most comfortable travel arrangements for Jack. We were moving to Texas during the summer, so I knew there could be an issue with flying with Jack when he had to fly with baggage :(.  Jack was just too big to fit under the seat in front of us. We also discovered airlines won’t fly with pets in baggage if the ground temperature is too hot or too cold since many airplanes aren’t equipped with temperature control in the baggage section of the plane.  We were lucky, we flew with Lufthansa which was equipped to carry animals and we had a direct flight from Germany to Texas. Lufthansa also had a pet space at the Frankfurt airport where he could stretch his legs and go potty.  I was so grateful Jack traveled with us.  Since he’s high energy and relocating to somewhere unfamiliar, I wanted him with us to ease any frustration or anxiety he may feel in the process.  As a plan B, we found Pet Express.  They would pick Jack up at home and get him to our final destination.  They also would keep him company if he arrived before us.  Now, I  see there are many more pet travel services available, so make sure the one you choose not only has the best price, but more importantly has the best interest of your pet at heart.

The last piece of the puzzle in transporting Jack was obtaining a health certificate for him from the veterinarian.  The health certificate demonstrates your dog is free from disease and can safely travel to another state or country.  In our situation, since we were traveling from Germany to the US, Jack’s health certificate was required to be in both English and German.  We were grateful, our local vet was able to do both translations, so we didn’t have to wait on receiving a German version.  In most situations, the translation can tack on time extra time from when you request translation and when you receive the document. Remember, take a copy with you and adhere a copy on your pet’s crate before you separate for the flight.

During the time we were shipping our home items and making final arrangements to move back to the states, we kept a regular routine with Jack.  We ran every day.  Not only did exercise keep a routine with Jack, but exercise alleviated stress myself and Eddie felt while living in transition.  This in turn kept our anxieties mostly at bay which left Jack feeling rather settled.  He didn’t show any behavioral issues before, during or after we safely arrived.  Actually, when we picked him up in baggage claim in Dallas, he was resting comfortably in his crate alongside a cat in the next crate!  We continued in our training and working on basic obedience.  We wanted him to have good manners while traveling outside of our care.  We made sure he felt secure in his crate and gave him some items from home that were safe to be inside the crate with him.

It takes a ton of mental energy to efficiently schedule movers and to actually get yourself and your pet safely to your final destination.  With careful planning and keeping a fit mind and body, any transition will appear seamless!

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