Pawsitive Behavior Finding the right trainer for you and your dog.
Do you ever wonder how some people seem to have the most polite and well-behaved dogs? Do you feel like your life revolves around your dog’s bad habits and unwanted behaviors? Let’s assume that you have the polite and well-behaved dog. What advice would you give your friend or neighbor whose dog just dug up your garden, fence fights or barks incessantly?
Methods for training your dog have changed from dominance and punishment-based to a positive reinforcement model. Because this type of training may not be familiar to you, it’s a good idea to get some help. Depending on your budget, you may choose group training or a private trainer. Either way, both you and your dog can learn together how to make a happier relationship and home life.
So where do you start to look for this training and support? Certified Professional Dog Trainer, Nick Hof, tells us that anyone can call themselves a dog trainer. The law does not require any formal training or licensing. So, it is up to you to find the person best qualified to help you and your dog. Here are some questions you might ask, with the answers you should look for from Nick Hof’s blog:
Dr. Sophia Yin - Teaching Your Dog to "Leave It"
1. What method of training do you use? There are many methods out there to train your dog and they go by many names. The techniques that you want to use focus on rewarding good behavior and preventing the rewarding of bad behavior. We want to set up your dog to succeed using methods that will not cause the dog to feel pain, fear, or be intimidated.
Why not punish bad behavior? Your dog could do one thing right or a hundred things wrong. Wouldn’t it be easier to reinforce the good behavior than to constantly punish all the wrong things your dog does? Punishing will also inhibit learning because your dog will not want to offer you behavior for fear of being punished. What will you do to my dog to teach them? Remember that dog trainers are trying to sell you a service and this means they are going to try and make it sound attractive. Ask for specific training methods and beware of terms like “alpha” and “pack leader.” Trainers who utilize methods based on the use of pain, fear or intimidation are often going to use clever euphemisms to disguise what they are doing because when their methods are explained in plain terms, it doesn’t sound safe, let alone nice.
However, if you ask the same question of a humane trainer, many are enthusiastically happy to explain exactly how the training works. The reason for this is dog training is behavior science and many humane trainers love the science so much that they are happy to explain fully why they do what they do and why it works.
2. What are the side-effects of the training methods you use? Dogs learn by both consequence and association. The associated learning, in a nut shell, means that dogs associate an emotion with an item/person/environment because of what it often predicts. For example, many dogs get excited when you pick up their leash because leash means going for walks. Another example is that a dog is fearful when they go to the vet because the vet office means poking/prodding/shots. Due to this learning, dogs always associate emotional responses with things that often occur together. A training example is dog lies down and you give him a treat. With repetition, the dog starts to think, “I really like lying down” because it is so often associated with a happy feeling of getting a treat.
The reason this is significant is because techniques that cause pain, fear, or intimidation can cause the dog to have an unpleasant association with whatever is involved in the training, thus eliciting behavior that you do not want. Continued negative association will just escalate the unwanted behaviors. Methods that focus on reinforcing good behavior and exclude the use of methods that would cause pain, fear, or intimidation are going to result in a dog that loves training and eagerly performs anything you ask.
It is important that your choice of trainer—even a humane trainer—is someone who knows what they are doing. There are side-effects to any training that you do with your dog and finding a trainer who knows the side-effects and how to use them to your dog’s advantage will help you on the road to a better relationship with your dog. So, your next question should be:
3. What is your educational background in dog training & behavior? Where did you learn to become a trainer? Because the law does not require licensing or formal training for dog trainers, anyone can call themselves one. There is no one-way to become a trainer and people approach it in many different ways. Dog training is a complex field of study and requires an understanding of behavior science, how dogs learn and understand and more.
Schools & Programs There are schools and programs people can attend and they range from in-depth courses that take several months or more to complete, to the weekend dog training school where after two days you are a “certified trainer.” There are both online-only courses and hands-on programs as well as some that combine both. If the trainer you are interviewing attended a school or program, ask if everyone who attends gets certified, or if the person has to pass a test to get certified. Get the web address of the program and the contact information so that you can check it out.
There are other methods of training, too, to include: apprenticeships, books, DVDs, and seminars. The best trainers will have studied through books and seminars plus apprenticed under another trainer for some time and/or attended a program.
4. What are some recent continuing education events that you attended? Since dog training is built around behavior science, the information is ever-evolving and changing for the better. For this reason, continuing education is absolutely vital for every dog trainer. This helps them to be able to offer clients the most up-to-date and effective techniques. Look for trainers that take their education seriously and whom have attended at least one continuing education event in the past year and a half. Some trainers believe after a certain point they know enough and wouldn’t benefit from attending another event but this is never the case. There is always more to learn and grow.
Learn more about Nick Hof at www.pawslooklisten.com.
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West Milton Veterinary Clinic 23 Emerick Road West Milton, OH 45383 937-698-4485