Getting rubbed the wrong way

I rarely get involved into discussions but this morning I got “rubbed the wrong way”. Those are actually the words my counter part used in the conversation I had with her this morning.

Facebook and Dog Goups

This morning a post about a woman wanting to re-home her dog due to house training issues popped up in my newsfeed. There may have been more issues going on but it appeared in her first post that house training was definitely an issue. Many judgmental comments followed the post. Not many could validate her decision and indirectly accused her of being a not so good person. I’m pretty sure you have seen those posts as well. Feeling sorry and being in an ever helpful mode I offer my services for free. A phone conversation and setting up a training plan for house training is not going to kill me or my business. I was hoping to help. Maybe today was one of those days I could help make a difference in a person’s world.

Well Meant Advice

Another woman stepped up to offer her help as well. It seemed like the posts were getting more positive. What caught my eye was the information she was providing.  It started with “I have heard….  And Dogs are den animals and … when put in crates they generally adapt very well.” Providing advice about dog training is one of those often discussed topics we professional trainers have. Well meant advice can turn into situations that often cause the behavior to become worse. The individual went on offering behavioral advice saying she is not a “trained behaviorist” but felt she had an “innate guidance about doggies” since she was a little girl.

Animal Behaviorists

Animal behaviorists “study the way animals behave and try to determine what causes certain types of behavior and what factors can prompt behavior change. They usually specialize in certain types of animals, whether it’s fish, birds, large animals, wild animals, livestock or household pets. They also may focus on certain types of behavior, such as hunting, mating, or raising offspring.” Behaviorists are highly educated academic individuals who have spent years studying animal behavior. Behaviorists often stay in the academic setting to continue their research in animal behavior. Some work for businesses or veterinary clinics.

Not even I can call myself an animal or pet behaviorist as I do not have the academic background to call myself that. I am allowed to call myself a dog trainer and dog behavior consultant. Why? I have had years of formal training and hands on experience working with dogs on various levels. Still there are cases I will not take. I refer them to other professionals I feel are more capable of handling them due to their specialization or years of experience.

Back to Facebook and the re-homing thread. I respond on my iPad to the post. I caution the individual not to offer advice in a field she is not trained in no matter how well her intend is. My post was expectantly not taken well. Engaging her full defense mechanism she defended her statements and blamed me for being territorial, afraid of her trying to steal my business and degrading the profession of dog trainer by saying you need no certification to potty train a dog. She thanked me cynically for slapping her on her wrists. Although not intended I guess it was one. Not for the sake of business but for the sake of avoiding individuals providing professional advice on a questionable level.

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Gut instinct does not make you a dog professional no matter how comfortable and knowledgeable you feel. Even if in your heart you believe you are providing the best advice possible to the person seeking help think twice before providing it.

Dog training consists of the knowledge of how dogs learn. Do you know the two ways of how dogs learn? Do you know the stages of learning? Do you know when to apply operant or classical conditioning? What kind of operant conditioning? Should I reinforce or punish a behavior? Do I want the behavior to increase or decrease? When do I use rewards? How do I reinforce? What about timing issues? Am I going too fast or too slow in training? My dog is not responding to the training. Motivation problems? Rate problems? Are you prompting correctly?  If these questions seem like a foreign language to you then you should reconsider your dog training abilities because providing dog training advice means you should have some kind of knowledge of these terms. You can waive them off as dog training jargons, which they are, but they provide the professionals among us to do our jobs without using explanations. It is professional dog training language. Language we don’t use with clients but language that helps us do our job.

House Training Case

Back to our case: A three year old dog is not house trained and causing the family a lot of grief. They feel their only option is to re-home the dog into a home that has more time for this dog and the possibility to tackle the issue. Other issues are unknown at this time. The dog has not been crate trained. That is all the information we have. I would most likely ask her to see her vet first to exclude any medical issues. If those are excluded I would set up a training plan. We start with the wanted end behavior and build up a plan from there. What advice would you give in such a situation? Tell them that the dog is 3 years old and should be able to hold it at least 8 hours? Crate them all day? Any training comes with an incremental plan. A step by step guidance on what to do. What if you get stuck? What if the dog still eliminates even though you have stuck to the plan? What if the dog doesn’t respond well to the crate training? “What if …” A trainer provides you with an appropriate answer. Adjusting the plan, splitting the step where you got stuck and helping you to take your dog one step further into ensuring your dog becomes house trained.

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Good Advice or Bad Advice?

When it comes to dog training and behavior ask a professional. One that has the qualification. Getting the advice of one that has not been educated in the matter will provide you questionable advice. It could be good or bad either way. Just because people have had dogs all their lives doesn’t make them knowledgeable in the field. They may have picked up things here and there, gone through some training and thus feeling content about dog behavior. How correct is their knowledge? Don’t wait to find out and possibly cause more damage to your dog. It is not worth it. If you do take the suggestions of unqualified individuals then be prepared to deal with the consequences. Dog Parks inhabit many so called “dog professionals” with all different answers to one question.

Which professional?

Stay away from professionals with no formal training. If you don’t see any accreditation or education in the “About” part of a business web site then rest assure it is a self-proclaimed dog professional. No education means they are basing their own experience, whatever they have picked up here and there and mingle it together into a whole new “dog training and behavior” guide. A vet is not a dog trainer nor is a Vet Tech unless they have gone through some specific training. They are qualified within their field of education even though they deal with dogs on a daily basis. I don’t do their job and they shouldn’t do mine. If they do ask them for the qualification in dog training and behavior.

What can Dog Connect do for me?

Dog Connect is a group of dog lovers. We have individuals in this group on every single level. From first time dog owner to highly educated professional. If you have a question please just ask. We may provide you with insight, helpful links or refer you to a professional in your area.

Nathalie Mosbach is the owner of Beyond Companions LLC. K9Consultant, The Dog Hikers and pawDOGraphy are a few of her successful businesses. 

Getting rubbed the wrong way

Training Troubleshooting Series, Part 1: Consistency

Saying that dog training is complex is like saying life is unpredictable. It’s a massive understatement that is of little use to anyone in the midst of teaching a dog a “sit” from a “down.” Training involves communicating with a different species that speaks a different language. Training involves teaching dogs how to behave – not always according to rules that make sense in our dogs’ minds, but according to rules that make sense in our minds. Often, despite research and consultation with others, training hits obstacles – and this is often when clients call my colleagues and I for help.

Although it can be incredibly frustrating when training techniques fail to change behavior, it doesn’t mean the training is a failure. Tweaks in timing, mechanics, and procedure are sometimes all that’s needed for a successful outcome.

Over the next several blog posts, I will focus on ways to make your training more effective and how to troubleshoot the difficult spots. This week’s post will focus on a topic that is critical to any type of behavior modification program: Consistency.

Pat Miller, a noted positive dog trainer, summarized the importance of consistency in the Whole Dog Journal, writing, “…consistent responses to a dog’s behaviors, both desirable and undesirable, are predictable for the dog, which helps him make sense of his world and feel safe. A dog whose world is orderly and safe is usually calmer, more relaxed, predictable, and better-behaved than one whose world is chaotic and intimidating. Dogs and owners who perceive each other as safe, predictable, and well-behaved, tend to enjoy a better mutual relationship.”

When teaching a dog any new behavior, be it a simple obedience command or reverting a deeply entrenched phobia, repetition and consistent communication are key. Continue reading “Training Troubleshooting Series, Part 1: Consistency”

Training Troubleshooting Series, Part 1: Consistency

Thresholds: When dogs reach their emotional edge

Originally posted on Mutt About Town.

IMG_2188Until recently, I never thought I’d utter the phrase “Dog training is just like yoga.” However, in researching fear in dogs and the best practices for treating it, I’ve found a distinct parallel.

After countless yoga sessions of stretching and twisting, I’ve encountered the term “edge” quite frequently. In yoga, you are encouraged to work toward your physical edge in a pose – the moment when your muscles and joints tell you, “That’s it, this is as far as I’m going to go.” If you move into your edge too quickly, you’ll definitely experience discomfort. You might even experience injury in the form of a strained or pulled muscle, which will impede your overall progress. But if you acknowledge your edge, concentrate on it, and move into it gradually with proper breathing and alignment, you end up going deeper into a pose and opening tightened muscles.

Edges in yoga are similar to a concept in dog training known as the “threshold,” and you’ll encounter it often in training publications and this blog. When dealing with fearful and anxious dogs, the threshold is similar to the physical edge in yoga. Once a dog goes over his threshold, learning shuts down, the emotion takes over, and harm occurs. However, by knowing a dog’s threshold, working through it gradually, and ensuring a dog never crosses it, dogs overcome their fears and anxieties, much like conquering a difficult yoga posture. Continue reading “Thresholds: When dogs reach their emotional edge”

Thresholds: When dogs reach their emotional edge

Scientifically Speaking

Originally posted on Mutt About Town.

What's really behind your dog's behavior?
What’s really behind your dog’s behavior?

Imagine going to your doctor complaining of chest pains. The doctor determines you have a heart condition that requires surgery, and refers you to a surgeon. The surgeon, after a superficial examination, weaves you a story of what he thinks is going on. He doesn’t have a plan for your operation, but intends to muck about once you’re on the operating table and will figure out what to do on the fly. Think you’re going to sign on the dotted line for that surgeon? Of course not – you’ll be running away from the office with rapid speed!

The scenario above is ludicrous. When it comes to our health, we require science, evidence and research because our lives are too important to entrust them in the hands of hunches, whims and egos.

Time for another scenario. This time, you’re at the dog park, watching a group of dogs interact. You hear a slew of comments, all variations on the same themes: “This dog is thinking this,” “I heard that dogs do this because,” and “I know dogs think this way because I’m a dog person.”

This scenario doesn’t seem quite as ludicrous. In fact, it’s one that plays out countless times each day. Maybe you’re guilty, as I am, of uttering a variation of one of the comments above. (It’s okay, we all do it and the world won’t end.) Dogs constantly encounter interventions based on hunches, whims and egos – the same things we abhor when it comes to hiring doctors, lawyers, and many other professionals. While some of these whims and hunches are harmless, others lead to misinformation about how dogs think and learn and, even worse, can cause them harm.  Continue reading “Scientifically Speaking”

Scientifically Speaking