Raising Puppy Loki was difficult. He had (indeed, still has) what I call “ninja” skills. He had a knack for getting things off shelves without me noticing…until it was too late. I needed a way to prevent this.
(Note: This was before I had learned a whole lot about dog training. I would do things so much differently now. So don’t try this at home.)
Utilizing my much bigger brain, I realized that if I put things in front of the forbidden things, then they would act as decoys. That would enable me catch him before he actually stole the more valuable item.
Lo and behold, it worked!
Out of the corner of my eye, I would see Puppy Loki snatch the decoy and prance off with it. I then chased him down and asked for a “drop it”. (Note: He really liked the chasing part. See a problem here?)Once I retrieved the decoy, I replaced it for the next round, which was sure to come.
I don’t know how many times we did this. I was happy with the way things were going. And, truth be told, I confess I was also a bit proud of the way I outfoxed him.
If you aren’t doing it already, you should probably be walking your dog. There are benefits for dogs who go on walks beyond just physical exercise. Besides, walks with your canine companions can be lots of fun for you as well as your pup.
All I have to do is say, “It’s walkin’ time!”, and my dogs are ready to go. Loki will run out to the front gate and pace until I get there. Lugh will run to the gate, run back to me, run to the gate, run back to me, run back to the gate….until I finally get to the gate myself. I imagine this ritual plays out in about every house where a dog gets a walk. If you don’t walk your dog regularly, you should. There are several benefits a nice thirty-minute walk will bring your dog and you.
What are Some Benefits of Walking a Dog?
Some people don’t walk their dogs because they have a nice, fence-in yard that their dogs can romp in all day long. It’s wonderful when dogs can have such a gift. It’s especially nice if they have someone who can play with them in that space. But playing in an enclosed space is not the same as being out in the world. Consider what it would be like if you had a magnificent house to live in, but you were not allowed to go outside it. It might feel like you are under house arrest. There are certain life-enriching benefits that you simply can’t get in the confined space.
Trying to find a dog trainer is serious business. Consider for a moment the significance of the event. You are choosing someone to be your guide with regards to “raising” your dog. Their methods are going to help shape your dog’s life from that point on. You want to find someone who uses an approach that facilitates not just acceptable behavior, but also nurtures your canine companion’s emotional health. Science-based dog training does just that.
Science-based dog training leverages canine learning theory to facilitate a dog’s development. It uses tools (store link to gear) and methods (link to behavior issues page) that target the specific needs of the dog being worked with. I would presume that most dog trainers are in this day and age at least partially informed by the recent research done with dogs. Just because they are influenced somewhat by science doesn’t make a trainer a “science-based” dog trainer. A good, science-based dog trainer will also consider the wider consequences of those tools and methods before using them, as revealed by research. While working with one issue, you don’t want to be developing others.
Before you hire anyone to work with your dog, make sure to ask questions. Here are some that you might find helpful. After you have your answers, you will have to determine whether the trainer meets your standards.
Separation, isolation, loud noises, and even old age. Those are just a few of the many reasons dogs experience stress. Sometimes, stressors are minor. But sometimes human companions want to reduce the stress levels of their stressed dog, because they are concerned about the dog’s health and well-being.
Continuously elevated stress levels can damage a dog. The regular rush of adrenaline through the system can cause digestion issues, arterial damage, and increased susceptibility to disease. Consider the times that you have been locked into a situation for an extended period of time. Now consider the long-term effects those situations have had on your life. Going beyond that, try to imagine how you might have felt if you didn’t have the more “rational” human brain to help regulate those stress levels. Too much stress can and does cause both physical and emotional damage. As your dog’s guardian, it is important that you consider how you might reduce those stress levels.
Loki came into my life as a puppy, a very high-energy puppy. His favorite things were play, play, and more play. He had so much energy, I didn’t know whether I would be able to keep up with him. We played at the dog park. We played in our back yard. We played running around the house (my house goes in a circle, which makes for a never-ending track). It felt like it would never end. Back then, the main thing I wanted was for him to burn energy. I thought that was what play was for.
Little did I realize at the time how important play was for his developmental process. By playing with Loki as a puppy in a variety of different ways, I was doing much more than just burning energy and having fun. I was actually laying a solid foundation for a well-adjusted, healthy dog.
Oh, how we loved to play together. As I look back on that time, I can see some of the wonderful side-effects of our playtime had on him. Here are a few.
When I train dogs, I use a clicker and treats. I think a lot of people balk at the use of treats in dog training because they don’t understand the science behind the approach. I understand why: they don’t want their dogs to get to the point where they will only do something if they see the treat ahead of time. The potential for “bribery” is a valid concern. However, I think that the concern is generally misplaced. The use of treats in dog training goes back to the school of “behaviorism”, which is a branch of psychology. I’m going to briefly explain the science behind this approach to illustrate that training with treats isn’t really about the treats, it’s about the conditioning.
Many people don’t even think to hire a dog trainer until behavioral issues have become unmanageable. They balk at getting their new dog into training early probably because they don’t think it’s worth the time and money. I encourage people, however, not to think of dog training as an expense, but as an investment in the quality of life for the whole family.
The earlier in life you start training your dog with force-free methods, the stronger you are making your dog from the inside out. Puppyhood is a formative period, and the lessons learned during that time shape who the dog will become as an adult, and it will affect who the dog is once a senior.
If you've adopted a dog, again, it's best to start the positive-training process early. Since you don't know the history of the dog and are unaware of any issues that may arise, the transition period is a critical time that sets the pace for the rest of the family's life together. Ideally, you will have training set up so start during that first week together.
Here are some key rewards you can reap by working with a science-based dog trainer as soon as your new canine family member enters the home.
1. Head Off Issues Before They Become Significant
Entering a new home can be scary for a dog. Your new family member may even seem a bit shut down for a couple of weeks or more. Remember, she will need time to adjust and start to feel comfortable in the new environment.
Eventually, she will start to emerge from her shell, though. And, when she does (be warned) she might start to exhibit old habits that are undesirable for your household. As soon as these old habits appear, you will want to work through them. Just as in the medical field, preventative medicine is a lot cheaper and easier to implement than reactive medicine.
Your goal will be to help your dog replace unacceptable behaviors with acceptable ones as soon as possible. For example, some dogs can be rude and jump up to get attention. Or they might let out their nervous energy through chewing on furniture. Others may demand attention by continuous barking.
In each of the case these instances it’s important to remember that the dogs are behaving in very healthy ways for dogs: they are happy to see people, they are releasing energy in a calm way, and they are expressing themselves. So, this is actually good.
It’s the mode of expression that is the problem. So, we need to help them to engage the same activity in a way that is acceptable to the humans around them. For example, in the case of jumpy greetings, we might replace them with sitting ones.
Remember, habits become habits through practice. The more they are practiced, the stronger they become, and the harder they are to break. So, the earlier you hire a dog trainer to help your dog to choose more productive alternatives, the easier it is for her to transform into a well-adjusted family dog.
The reason companies do “team building” exercises is because doing things together helps people to bond. It’s the same with dogs. When human and canine companions train together, the bond between them grows. Indeed, just consider the significance of simple “watch me” training.
When you begin training, you may think it’s about helping the dog to listen to and respond to you. But the bulk of the responsibility in training really relies on the one with the bigger brain (that’s you).
It’s just as important (if not more so) that you learn to listen to your dog (including body language) to understand where she or he is emotionally. Just as with any relationship, Its important to learn to listen before speaking. Training facilitates this process.
Too often, dogs are subject to scenarios where their voices are ignored, which can actually cause significant problems. We see this when dogs are placed in uncomfortable situations and asked to perform equally uncomfortable behaviors regardless.
If Aunt Sallie with the scary big hair insists that Fido come say “hi”, Fido may tell you that he is uncomfortable with his body language. If he’s afraid of Aunt Sally, then forcing him to go see her is a dismissal of his voice in the relationship. The result could be that Fido learns to despise Aunt Sally, and he may even trust you less for forcing him into that situation.
But if you learn to read the signs, or “listen”, then you can simply say to Aunt Sally, “Sorry, but Fido is a little uncomfortable right now and needs a bit of space.”
Remember, you are not only Fido’s companion; you are his guardian. You need to earn his trust. Training helps with this. A good relationship is not only the foundation of solid training, it is also the result.
3. Less Household Stress
Feeling helpless is horrible. When a dog has issues in the household (whether minor or major), stress levels rise for everyone.
The best way to lower stress in those situations is to address the issues that are contributing to stress. Just as there are appropriate and inappropriate ways for dogs to behave in a house, there are also appropriate and inappropriate (or “productive and counterproductive”) ways of dealing with a dog who has issues.
Did you know that yelling at a dog for soiling the carpet can actually lead to more soiling of the carpet? Did you know that punishing a dog for getting into the garbage can encourage more getting into the garbage?
What many people think are productive ways to handle situations sometimes turn out to be great ways of making the problem behaviors even worse.
Good science-based trainers will not only give you techniques with which to address issues, they will also help you understand the dynamics behind them. They will explain how dogs learn, why dogs might engage in certain behaviors, and why the techniques work.
The more you understand about dog behavior and psychology, the more competent you will feel in stressful situations, which in itself reduces stress. As the old GI Joe cartoon used to say “knowing is half the battle”. Empowered with new knowledge, you will then be able to make a difficult situation better.
4. Emotionally Healthier Dog
Dog training has changed a lot over the last half-century. I believe that the most defining shift has to do with its focus.
The old-school approach revolved around the question, “how do we get the dog to obey commands?” Hence, “obedience classes”. Trainers took an “outside-in” approach. They used “commands”, “corrections”, postures of “dominance”, and tools that leveraged the power of pain and intimidation to enforce their will. They used these techniques because they gave them answers to their guiding question.
For modern training, the question has changed. Now, we are concerned with “how do we work with dogs to draw out healthy and acceptable social behavior?” On the surface, it sounds like the same thing, but it’s not.
Thanks to developments in dog psychology, we know a lot more about how dogs learn and how unhealthy (and even damaging) more “traditional” or “balanced” techniques are.
The old-school approach worked on a dog from the outside-in. The modern approach works with a dog from the inside-out. Not only is this newer approach more humane, scientific studies are showing that this approach is simply more efficient and more effective.
As a result of its psychological approach, science-based training is kind of like cognitive-behavioral therapy for dogs (which is exceptionally important for rescue dogs, since they need to heal). Because the focus is on empowering the dog to make better decisions, confidence grows. A confident dog is a less-fearful dog. Most dog bites are the result of being afraid. By strengthening the capacity of a dog to feel more confident and comfortable in situations, the dog is able to make better choices when they feel discomfort.
Nurturing a dog’s emotional health through science-based, force-free training is as important as caring for physical health and has far-reaching consequences for everyone around.
5. Someone to Talk With
Regular training with your dog has many fantastic outcomes for your relationship together. But what happens when something goes wrong? What happens if issues develop despite your best efforts?
Setting up early training isn’t just about the training itself; it’s also about having a relationship with someone who can help you in times of need.
If you find yourself in a situation where you need more help, your trainer already knows your dog and will have a bit more insight than if you waited until issues arose to start training. You might be able to send a quick question over e-mail for minor things, or you might have to set up a session or two.
Regardless, it’s important to know that you have someone in your corner when things go beyond what you can manage with your canine companion. I think that sense of security alone is well-worth the investment.
Tackle Problem Behaviors Efficiently and Humanely
The longer problem behaviors continue, the harder they are to stop.
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The metaphors by which we live guide us as we navigate our way through life. For example, my primary metaphor for spiritual care is “bearer of sacred space.” I want a person to be able to come up to feel safe. So I maintain the space between us as non-judgmental, which gives them the opportunity to become vulnerable. If I do that, the effect should be that people are able to bring (even if briefly) their baggage to the surface for us to sort through together. And in the end they should walk away with a better sense of who they are and who they can become. The metaphor “bearer of sacred space” serves a specific purpose: it guides how I interact with people to bring about the desired effect.
After I had been working with Loki, my German Shepherd/Siberian Husky mix, I realized I needed a metaphor to help keep me focused as we progressed. I had looked into more traditional approaches to training that incorporated “corrections” with reinforcement. In the end, I came to believe that positive training served both my own purposes and my dog’s wellbeing best. But what were “my purposes”?
Perhaps it’s no surprise with my interest in the numinous that I believe that the best way to describe what I’m doing with Loki is “nurturing his spirit.” I don’t necessarily need him to be the kind of dog that jumps immediately when I bark. Don’t get me wrong. I do want him to listen, but I don’t expect instant obedience. I want him to find his own sense of self-confidence. I want him to be free, yet safe. Basically, I want him to become the best “Loki” he can be. That may mean that he will drive me nuts from time to time (and he does). That’s fine I don’t want him to be an automaton. I’m not domineering over him. Rather, when he and I are at our best, we’re a team.
I generally hesitate to identify simply as a “dog trainer”. That can mean different things to different people. My current favorite way to describe myself is a modern, science-based trainer who uses force-free methods. It’s long-winded, but it sets me apart from schools of thought that I don’t want to be associated with.
Intentionality is important to me. When I approach dog training, I don’t just grab a method and run with it. I have questions. How does it work? Why does it work? What are some pitfalls? What are the side effects?
As a result of thinking through what I do, I feel it is important to explain why I chose this path, as opposed to a more “traditional” (aka, “balanced”) path.