Saturday, 7 January 2012

IS YOUR DOG BAD BECAUSE IT FAILED A DOG TRAINING CLASS?

I have had many clients whose dogs where kicked out of dog training classes by dog trainers.  The trainer told them that their dog was hopeless and bad. Some of them where even told that the dog should be put on drugs or euthanized. 

So is it true, is the dog bad?


The answer is no, the dog is not bad!

How can I say this with such assurance? 

Because I have had no problem working and assisting the dog and its people. The difference is that I understood the dog - I did not try to communicate with the dog by only using my voice and I did not try to use dominance and / or treats in place of proper communication. I also do not think of myself as a ‘Trainer of Dogs’. I think of myself as one who coaches and mentors dogs, trains the dog’s humans and in exchange I learn from every dog I work with. I see working with a dog as a position where I must give and engender respect and understanding, not arrogance and conceit.

Ask the trainer how they learned their trade. If the answer is I learned from ‘so and so’ or I took this course, and that is the end of their explanation, I think you have your first indication of a problem. To understand a dogs you must also learn from dogs - not just learn from people.

I understand that I must work from my heart and soul, and rely on my instinct, intuition and common sense, just like a dog does.

To affectively understand and work with a dog you must first have done the hard work of understanding and being aware of yourself, your emotions and how you communicate.

How can you work with a dog...

A - If you do not understand all the ways in which a human communicates and how a dog communicates?

B - If you do not understand anything of the real psychology of a dog?

C - If you have never taken the time to see and listen to what a dog is teaching you?

How can you work with the dog’s human...
If you do not consider and respect the psychology of the individual person?

Most trainers employ 'obedience training’…teaching a dog to repetitively respond to basic commands such as "sit", "down", "come", and "stay" and so on. Teaching a dog to be a well adjusted social member of society is no different than teaching a child - when one fails to teach in a holistic, empathetic and understanding manner much can be lost and much can go wrong.

A trainer who has not learned to understand themselves first cannot hope to train another person let alone a dog. They can however cause great havoc and trauma. If the trainer fears large dogs, does not know how to properly communicate to an overly energetic dog, a nervous or fearful reactive dog they will make the dogs state of being worse. Instead of having the capability to identify the issue the exacerbate it and then say the dog is bad.

For example most aggression in dogs occurs due to lack of leadership in the dog’s life - in the absence of proper direction a dog may become anxious, insecure and fearful. If dogs were pre-wired to be aggressive rather than social there would be very few dogs left standing. A dog in its natural state is a social being, a pack animal with the potential inherent to get along with others.  There are very few dogs born with 'bad wiring’. When a dog goes bad it is almost always a human who is responsible for the bad behaviour.

When puppies are young they learn their social skills from the adult dogs in their dog family. Now, as long as the adult dogs’ natural social state has not been negatively disrupted by human influence the adult dogs will teach their young how to get along without being aggressive.

Teaching a dog is really about taking over that socialization role - teaching, coaching mentoring - not training. I use the term ‘coaching and mentoring’ as it speaks more of commitment to imparting learning and understanding rather than habit, working towards creating a relationship/partnership, a foundation of knowledge based on learning, sharing and mutual respect.

Obedience implies compliance with the direction or command given by the ‘handler’. But a dog can easily learn to do all of these things and still not be ‘obedient’. 'A dog can go through Obedience training and not be obedient'. Why? Because the dog has simply been taught a repetitive action and little more. Just as you can teach a child to sit, every time you tell the child to do so, does not mean that the child will be a well adjusted, social being.

And I am sorry, but if the trainer sought to teach you to train your dog using only treats - the trainer has set you and your dog up for ultimate failure. Dogs do not teach other social skills using treats. Dogs teach each other social skills using calm assertive communication - body language and state-of-being. Why would you try to teach a dog using only treats? Why would you not seek to teach a dog using the same methods dogs use to teach each other? Would you teach your child to be a well rounded human being by only using treats?

If the right communication method is used, even a very young puppy will learn when it is being requested (without-voice) to sit. The early you start the earlier the positive gain begins an exponential build-up of understanding. The more you time you invest in mentoring using a complete kit-of-tools the more aware, the more attentive & sensitive your dog becomes to paying attention to you. This when coupled with your own ability to read & understand your puppy becomes a powerful tool to build an amazing partnership.

Dogs are intelligent, sensitive beings and need to be treated as such. Trainers who fail to recognize this, trainers who fail to train themselves to communicate properly set dogs and their people up for failure. They traumatize the human and the dog and can cause real psychological trauma. Yet I have no trouble working with the same dog and it's human. So who has failed? The trainer who has not done the due diligence of training themselves - not the dog, not it's human.

As a professional I personally believe that when you are engaged by a client you have an ethical and moral responsibility to take real ownership for what you are doing and understanding you capabilities. If you do not have the skills to help the dog and its human you should not accept the commission to do so. Working with dogs and their people should never be just about making money and it should never be about your own ego.

So, if a trainer has kicked your dog out of a training class, told you your dog is bad - don’t take what they said to heart, don’t believe that what they have said is true.

A trainer is only as good as their own limitations. Remember, if they did not explain to you the psychology of the situation, theirs, yours, your dog’s, if they just said your dog is vicious or your dog is hyper, your dog does not listen those are your first keys to understanding that the trainer does not know what they are doing. They are looking for excuses to cover up their lack of knowledge. There is no room for arrogance when teaching a dog or it’s human. They are a part of the problem. Your dog did not create the behaviour and your dog is not hopeless.

A client that I worked with in the fall was told by two different ‘reputable’ trainers, one dog behaviourist and one dog care facility to put the dog on drugs and/or euthanize their dog. They called me in to help - absolutely nothing wrong with the dog other then the fact that not one of the professionals they had gone to bothered to really observe and understand the dog. The dog just needed some simple understandable direction to understand how to relax.


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Article and graphics by Karen Rosenfeld