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Have Dog Trainers Failed?

“Blaming individual bite victims for this almost universal ignorance, however, just seems cruel. If we must assign blame for this kind of thing, perhaps we animal care professionals and enthusiasts should start by asking ourselves why we have failed to make what seems like common sense to us truly common. “

Jeff Silverman, The Blame Game: Who's at fault when dog bites Denver news anchor?

 

Hear!  Hear!  For a long time I’ve been frustrated with conversations among dog trainers about the lack of behavioral knowledge in the veterinary community, obnoxious behavior at dog parks, lack of puppies in puppy classes, owner non-compliance and the “stupid” things that dog owners do.

 
Normal dog behavior is messy and delightful, just like farm-fresh eggs.

Normal Dog Behavior Is Messy and Delightful, Just Like Farm-Fresh Eggs!

This weekend I was lucky enough to score some farm-fresh, organic eggs from pasture-raised chickens. They are delightful! For me, opening the egg carton to behold the soft palate of pastel-colored eggs of different shapes and sizes was akin to opening a treasure chest. Not to mention the thought of the rich, golden goodness that is waiting inside. Farm eggs look at taste nothing like store-bought factory eggs or even “free-range” eggs produced in giant industrial barns under deplorable conditions. They are more nutritious than industrially produced eggs too.

 

The woman who gave me the eggs mentioned that a visiting family member would not eat these fabulous gems. The colors and variety in size and shape freaked her out. The eggs were... dirty! They had just come out from underneath the chickens after all. This visitor went on to explain that she would only eat white eggs with an ink stamp of approval from whatever “farm”.

 

 

The Blame Game: Who's at fault when dog bites Denver news anchor?

When a dog bit Denver morning news anchor Kyle Dyer in the face last week, it set the dog blogosphere and social media on fire. A high profile incident like this provides wonderful opportunities to help the general public better understand our dogs, how to be safe around them, and show them appropriate respect. The best example that I've seen of such education came from Dog Trainer Michael Baugh in a Houston TV segment that I highly recommend.  In most discussions other than Baugh's, however, I've noticed a disturbing trend. Almost every discussion (in fact almost every single comment) that I've read has focused on who to blame for this tragic incident. The dog trainers and animal welfare advocates who make up most of my Facebook feed have mostly blamed Dyer herself.

 
Photo of hands holding the Earth

"Earth to Space... Earth to Space... Come In Space"

As a diehard dog trainer, I've found that more often than not I'm inhabiting my own planet when it comes to understanding dog and human interactions, interpreting behavior on both ends of the leash and avoiding dangerous doggie situations whenever possible. Thankfully I share this planet with many brave souls like you who speak the same language.

 
Rachel and Kody

So You Wanna Be a Dog Trainer

I have had the pleasure of working with hundreds of people and thousands of dogs over the past 13 years as a licensed independent social worker passing herself off as a professional dog trainer. Privately, in group classes or both, I work on helping teach people -- of all ages, backgrounds, and abilities -- the skills and knowledge to make their human/dog relationships better. Sometimes with very difficult dogs, who become less difficult when the key to communication unfolds. Sometimes with very difficult people, who become less difficult when their defenses are lowered and they are open to taking greater responsibilities. My focus is teaching positive and non force based methods to help dog owners become benevolent leaders. A benevolent leader does not lead by force or threat, but by becoming someone the dogs want to follow because doing so is a good thing.

 

Effort or Results: What Should I Reinforce?

If you ask, "should we reinforce effort or the results?" you are liable to get as many answers supporting one idea as the other. Supporters of reinforcing effort sustain that reinforcing results creates emotional problems when one doesn't succeed and decreases the rate of even trying.

 

Supporters of reinforcing results maintain that reinforcing effort encourages sloppiness and cheating.

 

I shall proceed to argue for and against both theories and prove that it is not a question of either/or, rather of defining our criteria, processes and goals clearly.

 

 

The Challenge begins.

There is one thing I tell my clients on a regular basis and this is to have a training plan.  Don’t just blindly find yourself in situations where you’re supposed to be training your dog, without first thinking through the possibilities for distraction, reaction, reward, and an all important emergency get out clause, if things get too much for either you or the dog. 

The challenge had been set, to get my teenage puppy Guinness to stop cocking his leg on everything and anything his testosterone filled body declared worth peeing on.  You may all be pleased to hear that on day one, this exercise resulted in a major failure on my part.  I would love to tell you all that as a trainer, I do everything one hundred percent correctly, one hundred per cent of the time.  But of course I don’t.  Last week was a great example of what can go wrong.

 
Retired Racing Greyhounds at the Homestretch Greyhound Rescue & Adoption facility, consider playing in the yard on a rainy day.

Going Greyhound

While innocently surfing TV channels one Saturday afternoon in the early '90s, I came across an alarming undercover expose' on the plight of racing greyhounds. The dramatic footage showed emaciated dogs inside a dark trailer, standing up in crates stacked two-high with their heads held low, yearning eyes glowing from the light of the camera. Most of the dogs inside the pitch black trailer were still alive. Subsequent scenes featured audio of gunshots followed by dead hounds being tossed unceremoniously into a dumpster. Call it destiny, fate or divine intervention but that was it for me, time to get involved and Go Greyhound.

At the time, I had never met a retired racing greyhound up-close and in-person and didn't know the first thing about them or their intricacies. Now, nineteen years and five hounds later, here's a little bit of what I've learned about this remarkable semi-exotic creature.

 
Muttamorphosis Dog Training Guinness

Challenging Times.

I am a huge advocate of neutering.  It’s very difficult to find a dog person who comes from a rescue background as I do, who isn’t vehemently pro-neutering.  Indeed, I generally advise clients that with a few exceptions, neutering will result in a dog who is easier to live with and healthier in the long term.  So why did I make the choice to leave my current male dog intact for a year, when all my other dogs would have taken their trip to the vet for ‘the chop’ by now?

As a trainer who’s been around for quite a while, it’s easy to give the same old answers to the same old problems.  This is especially true if those problems are likely to be solved by castration (humping, scent marking, some aggression issues, recall challenges around other dogs).  Now what if the client in question is just as against castration as I am an advocate of it?

 

My Call To Action

I've got a plan to help keep puppies from ever become shelter dogs in the first place. But I need your help to make it happen. In this vlog I explain how The SIRIUS Puppy Initiative works. 

 

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