Camerado! I give you my hand!

Camerado! I give you my hand!

Allons! The road is before us!

Friday, July 14, 2017

The Value of Preparation

When we decide to acquire a dog, we know that we will need to have certain tools and supplies in place before the dog arrives. Those who have owned dogs previously wouldn’t even think of bringing a puppy or dog home without the essentials of crate, gates, a knowledge of where the pup will be confined, and a plan for housebreaking and obedience training. Even newbie dog owners know that bowls, food, bed, collar and leash are going to be needed. We may elect to procure these items at the same time as we get the dog, if not before, but we certainly don’t (or shouldn’t) think we can bring a dog or puppy home and go for days or weeks without the proper equipment.

Preparation saves a lot of headaches later on. It tends to make things like having a picnic, buying a car, going on a vacation, and bringing home a new baby much easier, doesn’t it?
Well, the same is true for dogs, but not just for the first night home.

Preparation regarding training is also quite helpful.

I’m not talking about knowing the best method for training, per se. There are many paths to a well-trained dog, including hiring a professional, or reading books and articles and watching videos in a “DIY” manner. Some people try it on their own first, then hire a pro. Most dog owners do not hire professional trainers, though. They either make it work with DIY, or they just live with the dog’s behavior. Or, they get rid of the dog.

What method you use isn’t really the point here. It can matter, for sure, but you probably already knew that.

What I’m talking about is preparing the dog for his life ahead, or the training itself as a preparation.

Pretrain your dog to lie in her bed while you answer
 the door, instead of mauling your visitors.
If your dog jumps up on people when they enter your house, waiting until people come over and yelling “DOWN!” at the dog (or yanking him down, or something worse) when he jumps is not training.

If your dog chases the cat, waiting for him to start chasing and then yelling at him or throwing things at him is not going to fix that problem.

If he jumps up on counters, pulls on the leash incessantly, barks obnoxiously at passerby, chews your belongings, or tries to bite you when you walk past him while he is eating, your responses during those situations do not constitute meaningful training.

Oh, learning is occurring, but it isn’t the type of learning that is going to help you.

So, you say, “When IS the time for meaningful training to begin for the dog who jumps on guests, chases the cat, jumps up on counters, pulls on the leash incessantly, barks obnoxiously at passerby, chews my belongings, or tries to bite me when you walk past him while he is eating?”

The answer, of course, is “before he started to exhibit those behaviors.”

And you are saying, “But I didn’t know I needed help with those things until he started doing them!”

That’s where you should have prepared a bit better.

See, you don’t try to train a dog not to do something when he is in the middle of doing it. And you don’t try to train him to do something when he is in the middle of doing something else. You train him to do the behaviors you want before you need him to do those behaviors, so that when the time comes and the need arises, he already knows what you require and either 1.Waits for you to remind him what to do, and then remembers and does it, or 2. Does it automatically.

(2. comes after a certain amount of teaching. 1. constitutes a trained dog, but 2. is even better.)

Dogs jump, pull on leash, eat what smells good, chase moving objects, make noise, and chew things naturally. These are default behaviors to most dogs, and one can pretty well assume most dogs will do them if not taught not to. In fact, you should absolutely assume they will.

Pretrain your dog to sit quietly when
you want to stop and chat with a neighbor.
So, you pretrain the dog to sit for greetings, keep four feet on the floor in the kitchen, walk nicely next to you on leash, chew their own toys and bones exclusively, refrain from chasing the cat, and allow you to control their resources without complaining. You train in advance of these things so that the dog can fully concentrate on what needs to be done when the behavior is needed. You pretrain because while he is learning the new behaviors, you need to be able to control the dog’s attention and give him lots of small successes, and this is unlikely to be successful when things are already hectic.

In short, you don’t train when you need the behavior—you train before you need it. That way, it’s already instilled in the dog, and all he needs to do when told to sit, or stop, or get off, or move away, or be quiet is remember what he already knows.

Because if you haven't taught him these things, he doesn't know them.

Think of it like taking a test. You don’t try to take a test without having studied. You learn when the test will happen, and you prepare for it by learning the material. Then, on test day, you walk in, sit down, and wrack your brain to remember what you just stuffed into it. There is no learning happening at that moment—it’s all recall.

Good dog training imparts the lessons before they are needed, so that when they are needed, all the dog need do is remember.

Prepare your dog to exhibit good behaviors in stressful or hectic situations by pretraining him. It’s much more kind and effective, and a lot less frustrating, than reacting in the moment.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

It Works When You Work It

Do you ever wonder why your dog trainer tells you to do certain things?

When we tell you to crate train your dog, to practice leash work, to teach your dog how to be physically handled, to socialize your dog properly, to leave him alone sometimes, to forge a good relationship with a vet you can trust, and to obedience train to a “holy-cow-the-leash-just-broke” standard, why do we bother?

Are we motivated by money to tell you these things?

Believe it or not, we actually make more money off untrained dogs. Trainers who do board-and-train programs can charge more for dogs who have never been crate trained or socialized. Trainers who give private lessons can make more money off of dogs who don’t have any type of head start because it will take more lessons to get them to a trained state. Trainers who work with aggressive dogs can definitely charge more for their services because they are taking on higher risk (vets can charge more for aggressive dogs for this reason, too).

In short, untrained dogs will cost you more to own, and your trainer could benefit financially from your unpreparedness. (So can your vet, your insurance company, and your landlord, but that’s another post.)

But putting some simple rules in place when you first acquire your dog can save you money and time and frustration later. So why would a dog trainer tout these things if they might “cheat” us out of cash? If the trainer has no connection to your vet, why would we care if you have a good relationship with one?

Most of us have sources we like to share, such as books or articles or videos about dog training, which we will happily point you towards. Why would trainers recommend books and videos that can teach you how to train your dog yourself? Some of us spend hours (typically without pay) on emails or phone calls with our clients to keep them going, to keep them practicing. But we make more money when you don’t practice, actually.

Maybe it’s not about the money? Well, we need to pay our bills, too. We’ve spent years and our own cash, often earned at mindless jobs to get us through, learning how to be best at our craft, and we deserve remuneration for that. You are paying for expertise and we are no different from other service providers in that regard.

But that’s not the sole reason, or even necessarily a reason that is more important than others.

If it’s not about money, is it about exerting authority, or making you feel dumb? No. We don’t get into dog training because we hate people, or want to feel superior. We don’t study long hours, get our hands on thousands of dogs (sometimes at risk to our body parts and often at risk to our emotions), and attend seminars all across the country because we want to lord something over you. We really don’t have much control over you, anyway. You are free do as you please when it comes to your dog; we just hope you take the advice you are paying us for. (Good trainers know that the dog doesn’t have any money to pay us, but his owners might.) Many of us like people just fine, believe it or not. And the ones who don’t care for people much (but are often excellent at their craft) get good at hiding it. Treat your dog well and commit to the training, and even those trainers will sing your praises.

If it’s not money, or making people feel dumb, then what? You are probably saying, “Well, it’s a love of dogs.”

Sure, 99% of trainers love dogs. It’s pretty much a given. But loving dogs doesn’t a career make. Anyone can love dogs, and millions of people do. It’s not difficult, for goodness’ sake. Dogs are ridiculously easy to love, even when they are misbehaving. People put up with a lot of crap from their dogs in spite of misbehavior because they love them. Loving dogs is as easy as falling off a log.

So, it’s not about money, really, and it’s not because we want to feel superior, or that we “just love dogs.”

Your trainer suggests crate training, physical handling practice, leash training (and other obedience) practice, socialization, passive bonding, and having a good veterinary partnership because we want what is best for dogs.

The fact that crate training, physical handling practice, leash training (and other obedience) practice, socialization, passive bonding, and having a good veterinary partnership saves you time and money and frustration isn’t what drives us. It’s a lovely benefit, and that’s always a positive.

But we suggest these things because dogs need them. We recommend them because dogs thrive with them. We beg, plead, cajole and encourage you to provide these things because they are important to the well-being of the dogs. We want you to meet your dog’s needs, because when you do, everyone wins.

Your dog wins because he is safer, less stressed, more comfortable, and calmer. He knows what is expected. Therefore, he gets more freedom, more walks, more things he enjoys. He lives longer, and in better health. He gets to go places with you, explore, and be a dog. He thrives.

You win because when your dog’s needs are met, and he is safer, less stressed, more comfortable, and calmer, you get to enjoy him more instead of being frustrated. He lives longer, and in better health. He gets to go places with you, explore, and be a dog. He thrives. Is that not what you wanted in the first place?

And when your dog wins and you win, we win. The fewer dogs who live lives of frustration, pain, and suffering because their needs aren’t being met, the happier we are, and the more we feel as if what we do matters. The better dogs are cared for, and the more their needs are met, the fewer end up deprived, or homeless. This is what drives most of us. More than anything, we want what’s best for the dogs, and by extension, their people will benefit.

There are no magic wands in dog training. It's work, but it's gratifying work because it forges a communion that cannot exist without it. You may love your dog, and he may love you, but without clear expectations and practice, you will never have true, honest relationship.

Help us help you, and your dog. He’s so worth it.