Know Your Trainer

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Recently I’ve been hearing some very disturbing training methods that are being utilized by trainers within the local area. I have had several clients tell me that a trainer has told them to kick their dog in order to get a solid heel. I have had a client tell me their dog was hung up by a pinch collar in order to teach loose leash walking. Another client told me the trainer advised pinning their dog to the ground to gain dominance. Please understand that when it comes to dog training there are currently no regulations in place, anyone can hang a sign up and suddenly they are a dog trainer.  Most organizations such as the Association of Pet Dog Trainers do not require anything more than paying an annual membership fee. They offer continued education but don’t require it.  Some trainers are great networkers so they get a huge following but again this does not make them a good trainer.  The methods described above are inhumane and outdated. Please ask about your trainer’s background. Ask what kinds of training they receive .throughout the year. Ask for references. Ask for proof of that training.  Ask if they consult with other trainers on difficult cases because I do, because I don’t always have all the right solutions in my pocket. Question their training techniques. Ask them if they utilize the same methods for every dog or if they have a plan B and C.  Research training methods, there are so many great books by authors like Nicole Wilde and Ian Dunbar. Most importantly trust your instinct and do what is right for your dog. There are some excellent trainers in our area just do your homework first, ask questions second, and challenge any training methods you are not comfortable with because in the end this is your dog not the trainers.

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Consistency is the Key

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My husband and I will be celebrating our 5th wedding anniversary on May 3rd and he will be the first to tell you that being married to a dog trainer can be ruff. You also have to understand that dogs love my husband and I mean really love him.  His parent’s dog Shasta goes bonkers every time she sees him and she only does that for him.  So a typical day in our house consists of: Honey you have to make them wait; Honey did you make them sit before you let them in; Honey don’t let him pull like that; Honey ask for a sit or down before you throw the ball.  I can’t help it, as a dog trainer I spot things that others would not, it is my job.  I also teach my clients that the basis of good training is first to establish a solid sit and second to be consistent.  Dogs do what works that is how they are wired.  So if it works to pull, jump up, bark at you for the toy, beg at the table, and many other behaviors, they will continue to do it as long as you reinforce the behavior.  In order to stop the behavior you have to be consistent every single time.  This not only builds solid obedience it also makes your dog feel safe and secure.  It is the same concept we use with our children because it gives them comfort knowing that if they do A, B will always happen.  So be consistent and your dog will understand you and feel safe and secure.

Music Benefits All

ImageI love American Idol.  I also love music in general because there is always a tune for how you are feeling.  Recently the American Idol contestants visited Children’s Hospital in L.A. and brought music to the kids.  The hospital understands how important music is for healing and stress reduction for the children.  This is the same for our dogs and even our cats.  Music in my opinion benefits every living creature.  I use music a lot during my training sessions with clients. There is music for dogs that is paired with noises such as fireworks and thunderstorms to desensitize dogs that are sensitive to these sounds. There is music to calm your dog while you are away or if they are nervous when you have guests over, and some dogs love country or classical or rock or specific songs.  Music benefits all of us and has amazing healing powers so never underestimate the benefits for both you and your pets.  As William Shakespeare said “If music be the food of love, play on.”

Benefits of a Good Settle for All

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Ever have one of those days?  Well today was one of those days.  You see I’ve been sick for a few weeks now so my schedule has been quite hectic as I play catch up.  So on my way to my client’s house this morning to administer Sub Cutaneous fluids to their cats I realized I had the baby, but forgot the stroller.  My daughter usually sits in the stroller while I administer the fluids so she is not exploring my client’s home.  As I was driving I was pondering what to do and an idea popped into my head.  When I am training dogs I always teach my clients a settle command.  That settle command always involves a bed, towel, mat or blanket for the dog to rest on.  So I thought why not apply this same technique to my daughter.  So we arrived at my client’s house and I got my daughter out of the car who is almost 22 months old and her favorite monkey blankie.  We walked to the door, my client answered and I explained the unusual situation with my free range child.  So I went in and went into the room where I do fluids for the first cat and spread out her blanket and sat her down with a few toys and YES I did ask her to stay.  Amazingly she did and she was happy.  So when we went to the next room for the next cat I repeated the same thing and she stayed and was happy.  I was so excited.  So our next stop was the Spine and Sport doctor and again I had a free range child.  So I brought in her blanket and a few toys.  Again I spread it out when it was time for my treatment in the room and told her to Stay, and guess what?  She did and she was happy.  Honestly my daughter was much happier on the floor on her blanket then in her stroller so this will be repeated again and again.  Brilliant I thought to myself.  This is not the first time I’ve attempted to use dog training techniques with my daughter, YES I have even clicker trained her.  Most importantly like the dogs I work with who learn the settle command she was happy, safe and relaxed.  So remember teach your dogs the settle command and it works with children too.

Dominance Theory Debunked

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Moonridge Animal Park, Big Bear

I recently had a client tell me how they had a Chow Chow who was dog aggressive.  She would growl at the other dogs in the home and occasionally get into fights with them causing deep puncture wounds.  She told me that she read online to stop the behavior she needed to perform the “Alpha Roll Over”.  So she pinned her Chow down on a number of occasions and flipped the dog onto her back and held her down forcibly.  When the aggression became worse towards her dogs she went one step further and did the “Alpha Roll Over” with a bite. She pinned her Chow down and bit her on the neck.  When I asked how this went she replied that the dog then bit her in the face and had to be euthanized.  She felt she was not doing it correctly because wolves use it and it works.

Thankfully with the recent stand by the Veterinary Association and the ASPCA against utilizing these training methods which were introduced by a very popular TV trainer the public is becoming aware that dogs do not learn this way and aggression met with aggression will always produce more aggression.  Also, it has been proven that wolves do not utilize these methods with those in their pack.  Wolf positions shift based on the needs of the pack, Alpha implies the breeding animal not dominance. This concept is further explained below in a piece of the article “Alpha Status, Dominance, and Division of Labor in Wolf Packs” by L. David Mech:  To read the full article click here.

Labeling a high-ranking wolf alpha emphasizes its rank in a dominance hierarchy. However, in natural wolf packs, the alpha male or female are merely the breeding animals, the parents of the pack, and dominance contests with other wolves are rare, if they exist at all. During my 13 summers observing the Ellesmere Island pack, I saw none. Thus, calling a wolf an alpha is usually no more appropriate than referring to a human parent or a doe deer as an alpha. Any parent is dominant to its young offspring, so “alpha” adds no information. Why not refer to an alpha female as the female parent, the breeding female, the matriarch, or simply the mother? Such a designation emphasizes not the animal’s dominant status, which is trivial information, but its role as pack progenitor, which is critical information. The one use we may still want to reserve for “alpha” is in the relatively few large wolf packs comprised of multiple litters. Although the genetic relationships of the mothers in such packs remain unknown, probably the mothers include the original matriarch and one or more daughters, and the fathers are probably the patriarch and unrelated adoptees (Mech et al. 1998). In such cases the older breeders are probably dominant to the younger breeders and perhaps can more appropriately be called the alphas. Evidence for such a contention would be an older breeder consistently dominating food disposition or the travels of the pack. The point here is not so much the terminology but what the terminology falsely implies: a rigid, force-based dominance hierarchy. The degree to which these arguments apply to other species no doubt varies considerably and is beyond the scope of this article. However, it is notable that similar arguments might be made for African hunting dogs (Lycaon pictus), which ecologically are similar to wolves (Mech 1975). Whereas some workers observed no rank-order behavior in this species (Kuhme 1965; Estes and Goddard 1967), others liberally write of “alpha” animals (Creel and Creel 1996).

To read the full article click here.

Furthermore the Chow Chow above upon further talking to my client had fear issues, which presented themselves as aggression, which is very common when all warning signals have been ignored.  The Chow Chow also had no bite inhibition because as a puppy she was punished for play biting, so she never learned the difference between a soft bite and a hard bite.  All of these elements together combined with the training method utilized led to her ultimate demise.

Cases like these sadden me greatly. I always advise clients to do extensive research and do what they feel is right for their dog.  I advise them to also dig deep within to see what makes sense.  I have dogs because I enjoy their company and I want them to trust me.  Trust is based on respect for all living things.  Trust is not based on fear.  In my opinion treating a dog cruelly will get you the end result for a short period of time just as Domestic Violence gets the victim to comply until she gets out, lashes back or dies.  A healthy trusting relationship gets compliance too but because the dog wants to please you not because they are fearful of you.  I want my dogs to obey out of trust and not fear and that is why I only utilize positive training methods with my dogs and my client’s dogs and I hope you will to.

Stop Bullying

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My oldest daughter and I watched “ParaNorman” the other night which is a movie that highlights bullying. My daughter was recently a target of bullying. The school did an excellent job of dealing with the issue but for my daughter understanding why it happened to her was very difficult.

Our dogs can also experience bullying but in dogs we usually have much clearer answers for the why.  For example some breeds of dogs look different making them a target. A study found that dogs with shorter tails get into more fights because other dogs misread their signals.  Chows have more problems with other dogs because their hair always looks like it is standing up. Sheepdogs fur often times covers their eyes leading to mixed signals and increased risk for a dog fight. Our Husky Alusia Sue is snarky with other dogs so she will growl and walk away. Our foster dog is fearful of big dogs so she will growl and snap at them while backing away. All of these things attribute to dog fights and can lead to bullying. For example a fearful dog is giving off very mixed signals both chemically and physically which can make even the most neutral dog react to them. A sick dog may get attacked because another dog does not understand them. Unlike in humans most of the time if we look at a situation carefully we can figure out what caused the bullying with the dog. Usually it was that the dog misread a signal or another dog was giving off a strange odor due to fear or illness.

So what can dog owners do? Be vigilant, watch body language carefully. I’m not a huge supporter of dog parks largely because some owners don’t watch their dogs and I often times see one dog bullying and another dog cowering unnoticed by either owner. So I can’t stress enough to stay vigilant and as we would with our kids stop bullying before it escalates, the warning signs are always there.  Also remember your dog may be the bully or the victim and those roles can change depending on the situation.  The best thing to do is remove your dog and come back another day.  If you continue having issues then first get a wellness exam to make sure your dog is healthy and then seek the help of a professional dog trainer in your area.

Stop and Check the Pee Mail

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My youngest daughter and I enjoy taking nature walks. When out on our walks we play with sow bugs, lizards, caterpillars, snails. We feel the leaves, the trees and talk about the birds, squirrels, deer and other wildlife we find. It may take us an hour to go a block but this is the most relaxing part of my day.

I’ve had many clients ask me if it is okay for their dogs to sniff the grass while out on walks. My answer always involves a question. Why did you get a dog? Most respond for enjoyment, companionship, to add another family member.  So my response is then let your dogs sniff when you are okay with it, plus it is good for us to also stop and take a deep breath and enjoy the beauty around us. When you are ready to move on start walking, your dog will follow. Sometimes take time to sit cross legged in the grass placing your dog in a down while you enjoy the scenery, again this is good for both you and your dog. Owning a dog should be peaceful and fun for both of you. So stop and sniff the roses and let your dog check the pee mail and then walk on. Happy Earth Day.