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Sunday, June 17, 2012

Choosing the Right Trainer is just a Matter of Doing your Homework


  Would you let just anyone watch or teach your kids? I should think not. Most people investigate who will take care of their children and teach them in their absence. The same should go for your dog when you hire someone to train them. I have been a professional trainer for a very long time. And I hope some of you will consider me as the trainer of your choice. If not, then read on for some insights into the world of professional dog training.
  Dogs learn only 2 ways. That’s it. Period the end. I have spoken. Don’t let anyone tell you different. They learn through “classic” Pavlovian conditioning. Remember Pavlov’s dogs? Where a “conditioned response” is created and the dogs salivated when he rang a bell thinking they were getting a steak. Then there is “operant” conditioning. Which is very similar to “classic” conditioning, only we now introduce “consequence” to the equation. In other words we force the dog to make a decision. Choose door letter “a” you get the treat and door letter “b” you get nothing. My idea of punishment for getting the command wrong is lack of reward. I teach dogs to seek reward rather than avoid corrections.
  Which brings me to my next point. Trainers who use harsh corrections. I recently had a client who had a 10 month old German Shepherd. He passed a remark to me that it seemed that lately all he was doing was giving his dog corrections with a leash and choke chain. I replied, “how’s it workin’ for ya?” The problem here was that he was using another trainer that all he knew was to give the dog corrections to get the dog to do anything. The dog had no idea of what the trainer wanted. So to avoid the correction, he did what he thought the trainer wanted. He really was not fluent in the behavior. So he got it right  only about half the time. This method is called “avoidance and escape training”. This method has been around for a very long time and was started around the early 1900’s by Colonel Konrad Most, a colonel in the Prussian army. His book, “Training Dogs” was really the only book we had up until around 20 years ago.
  Another method that is used, is training with electric collars. Like most tools, everything has its place. And this method puts a new face on an old method. That’s right, you guessed it, avoidance and escape training. Like I said, there are places for this method however you do not teach behaviors with an electric collar.
  There are plenty of good trainers, (yours truly included) and allot of bad ones. But how to decide. Check their credentials. How long have they been doing it? Did they go to a school? How did they learn? Check their references. Usually if your veterinarian recommends somebody they are probably good because your vet would never associate with someone who is a problem. What methods do they use? If they use “yank and crank” (avoidance and escape training) run the other way.
  Investing in professional training for your dog will strengthen the bonds between the two of you. This will also keep them out of a shelter. This stuff should be fun, not a second job. You will both enjoy a better relationship and have allot of fun doing it. That’s what it’s all about.
  

Responsible Dog Ownership Is Good For All of Us

Most of you who know me by now have heard me say time and time again, that the single biggest problem most dog owners face is that they get the wrong breed of dog. There are many, many reasons why people get dogs. Whether it’s the way they look, or it’s the same dog in a popular TV show, protection or service work. The reasons why are endless.
  People follow trends. What’s ever “in style” at the time. Currently the AKC (American Kennel Club) recognizes over 400 different breed of dogs. That’s allot to choose from. And certainly, somewhere in there is a dog that fits your lifestyle and needs. Which leads me to my next point? Why is the Pit Bull breed so very popular?
  Let’s get this straight right from the beginning, the author IS NOT anti-pit bull. Actually I am very indifferent to the breed. I have trained many pits over the course of 30 years. I have found them to be fairly good students and very likeable. But they are a “strong breed”. And not for everyone. Certainly if you don’t treat them with the respect they deserve. Here comes the problem.
  There is a big word out there that describes a part of the problem: anthropomorphic, which means that you assign human qualities to an animal. These dogs are not little children that you can talk to and they understand. It doesn’t work that way. All dogs especially “strong breeds” ( German Shepherds, Rottweiler, Dobermans, to name a few) need a certain level of training. After all, when you adopt a dog, essentially you are putting an animal into a human world and he may have a hard time relating. And now comes a problem. The animal won’t know how to handle a given situation and when they don’t, it usually ends up in a bite. And these dogs are serious.
  I have a neighbor who has 2 pits. He and his wife are very responsible dog owners. They make sure their dogs are secured in there pen and when they walk them they take precautions to ensure the safety of others. One dog is animal aggressive, but they take all the necessary steps so their problem doesn’t become anyone else’s. I applaud them.
  On the other hand, I have a client that has a Pit that is getting unruly. He just turned 2 and he is starting to come of age. Problem is that she has 6 Pits all together, none of them are trained and they have formed a pack. She has absolutely no control over them and is in way over her head. This is an accident waiting to happen. I am attempting to help her but she has to cut them back to no more than 2 dogs at most. She just can’t handle any more.
  One more example. Back east I had a client with s 190 pound, St. Bernard. Very nice dog. He had a girlfriend who weighed about 110 pounds. Not that much of a problem, so far. I was teaching her to walk the dog. The boyfriend and I stayed about 10 feet behind them to observe and coach her. Meanwhile across the street, a woman pushing a baby carriage was walking. She also had he young daughter besides her walking a little white Maltese. All of a sudden, the St. Bernard bolted across the street. The girlfriend panicked and just plain let go of the leash. Both I and the boyfriend ran across the street, he securing his dog and I calming the situation down. Needless to say, we all had a long talk after that incident.
  Which leads to my next point. If people continue to act irresponsibly with these kinds of dogs, they will force the hand of government to step in. And we all know how that ends up. Case in point. Recently the Maryland legislative leaders want to impose a ban on pit bulls labeling them “inherently dangerous”. “This decision will have profound effects on dogs, dog owners, property owners, tenants and landlords,” House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel) and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Cavert) wrote in a letter to Gov. Matin O’Malley (D). “Therefore, we are appointing a Joint Task Force to study the court decision and make possible recommendations.” These things start trends. First one community than another. And in the end the dogs are the ones who pay.
  I love “strong breed” dogs. I own one. But before you get one whether it be a pit, German Shepherd, Rottweiler, Doberman or anything else, please, please consult a canine professional with credentials who can evaluate your abilities to responsibly own such an animal. Owning such an animal can be a truly great and rewarding experience. Or it can turn into a nightmare that will affect both you and others for the rest of your lives.