Why Hire a Professional Dog Trainer?

I was recently asked by somebody why she should hire a professional dog trainer.  This person was of a mature age and she told me that she has owned dogs all of her life and has never hired a dog trainer before; she didn’t see how paying somebody else to train her dog was a wise financial decision.  The funny thing was, this nice lady stopped to talk to me because she was having a problem with barking that she has been unable to resolve, and she was hoping for a few tidbits of information to help her out.  Hmm,  I guess having dogs all of your life doesn’t really teach you how to effectively resolve behavior problems.

As our conversation progressed, I learned that she got her now 2 year old dog as a puppy from a breeder and the dog has always been inquisitive, an investigator and is quite the couch cuddler.  I also learned the dog lives on 20 acres and runs free and has a wonderful time all day, he is just very dominant when friends or family come to visit; he barks continuously at them and refuses to go lay down when told.  I also learned that other than going to the vet, the dog rarely leaves the property unless it’s for a quick ride to the grocery store where he waits in the truck for his owner to shop and come out.

So now I’m getting an idea about why the dog might be barking at strangers.  We talk about Puppy Socialization and the critical role it plays in the development of a dogs confidence with the world around him, learning that things in the human world are either safe or dangerous from the dog’s point of view.  This person was looking for help, a good thing, but what she was expecting was for me to validate that her dog was a dud and needed to be corrected.  She was not buying into my suggestion that maybe the reason her dog was barking at strangers is he is not comfortable in their presence and not the over confident dominant Labrador Retriever she thought he was AND maybe the “stimulation” collar she was using to solve the barking problem was making it worse and why?

So, in thinking about how to answer this lady’s question, I came up with a couple of examples to talk to her about.  I like pulling human examples out of my hat, even if they sometimes only almost apply, because most of us humans can at least understand and put ourselves in the position of experiencing the example.  So I asked her how she felt about rattle snakes, was she particularly fond of them?  She looked at me quizzically and said no, she hates them.  Further, she said she gets the shivers even thinking about them.  Ah, I said.  So if a snake were to be in the parking lot over there, you would be a bit uncomfortable?  Yes! she said.  So I followed up, if that snake were to start moving in our direction, you might get nervous?  Maybe look for a stick or weapon or maybe want to run away?  Most definitely!  So then I asked why?  Have you ever been bitten by a snake?  So few people ever are, why are you so afraid.  I just am!  That my friend is how your dog feels about the strangers.  He didn’t get to meet a variety of different people during his critical development period, he may even have had a bad experience in his perspective with a stranger and so he hates them, he just wants them to leave…to go away.  To your dog, strangers ARE snakes; Bark!,  Bark!,  Bark!

The good news?  Because I am a Professional Dog Trainer with education in behavior and learning theory and experience working with this type of problem, I can help you:)

I often tell folks that I have been driving cars for a long time but if mine breaks down, I call a mechanic.  If I get a toothache I go to the dentist.  If I have a plumbing leak, I don’t ask the grocery store clerk, my sister or the mailman how to fix it.

If you have a dog behavior or training question…call a Professional Dog Trainer who has experience with your type of problem and who has had education in behavior and learning theory and can help you train your dog or resolve a behavior problem using modern, scientific, proven methods.

The Problem With Science

Today I was reminded about problems we face when it comes to relying on “Science” to help educate people on the best known methods for training dogs and resolving behavior problems. Don’t get me wrong, I am a huge advocate of science and do my best to share the latest in scientific information with my clients. 

 

The problem with science is there are far too many informal and very flawed “studies” that people rely on.  These studies usually come in the form of personal experiences, what friends, family and sometimes even people who advertise themselves as content experts say.  Never mind that none of these experts people listen to have any formal training; sometimes they have not even reviewed a single study or document presented by behavior professionals.  

What makes these informal studies (really tribal knowledge and hearsay) so powerful that otherwise very intelligent and caring people believe them?  They “seem” to work.  People see behavior or lack of behavior in a dog and that is enough to sell them on the method.  Sometimes there are no real lasting artifacts of aversive training methods…but sometimes there are real and often dangerous results.  When things go bad…it’s the dogs fault.  It can’t be the methods.  

Case in point: On our walk today, Dakota and I ran into a client and her dog.  This is an absolutely awesome, with a capital “A”, 2 year old Black Labrador.  Awesome in every sense other than he had “suddenly” began to show serious resource guarding aggression toward his mom and dad when he found a valuable item, usually a bone or chew, and they tried to take it away.  After working with this dog and his mom for several weeks we had gotten to a point where the dog had learned “drop it”, “give” and “scoot – back up” cues and was trading extremely valuable chew items with enthusiasm and no longer showing any signs of tension when approached.  We had him to a place where he would take his item into his crate (where he tended to guard ferociously) and I would stand outside of his crate and ask him to “give” and he would happily bring his chew bone to me.  In every conceivable situation he was showing nothing but enthusiasm for making trades. He has been working wonderfully with his mom and they have been on a practice / maintenance schedule for a while.   Here is the problem.  Where mom internalized and had bought fully into the science of desensitization and counter conditioning and using positive rewards for desired behavior to avoid fear, anxiety and aggression.  Dad has not.  He had dogs growing up that were “good dogs” trained using punishment methods and his brother has a “good dog” who is reprimanded and not allowed to get away with undesired behavior so the methods do work.  Apparently except when you show the dog something he chewed up, bend over close to his face, look him in the eye and say “you see this?” in a low growly voice.  When you do this to a dog who finds this type of reprimand scary and threatening, because he has been punished in the past, you get a dog who lowers his head and growls at you.  As a dog trainer, I understand that was a warning where the dog said “don’t do that, I am not comfortable” but what dad heard was “Don’t boss me around or I’m gonna show you”.  What do you think happened?  Yep, the dog growled and then dog got yelled at, pushed off the back porch and left outside.  Later in the evening the dog tried to show appeasement behavior toward dad by climbing up on the couch to snuggle and you know what dad said?  See, he knows he was wrong and is saying he’s sorry.  Never mind dad doesn’t realize the dog is trying to say please don’t be so scary, I’m not a threat to you.  Dad believes even more strongly now that his ways are showing the dog who is boss and will lead to better behavior.  Mom and I will work with dad in this example and hopefully it is before a bite occurs.  Thank heavens this dog has mom as his advocate! 

The problem with science is that most people don’t get their data from a reputable “scientific” source and the hearsay versions are so readily available and offered freely by the people in our inner circles.  The other problem is that even when diligent dog owners go looking for the good data, it’s not necessarily easy to find.  How do people who are not trained in animal behavior know who to listen to?  Their breeder?  Their Veterinarian?  Their Groomer?  Their Trainer?  Unfortunately these are sources who are in fact often listened to and so many, probably the majority yet today have no behavior education.  The problem with Science is the challenge it provides us to make it known. The challenge of dog behavior professionals everywhere is to help make the good information easier to find and more available in mainstream channels so more people can learn the good stuff.