Thursday, July 21, 2011

I Can Fix Your Problem Dog!

Now, what was it that made you click so quickly?

What is it about your dog that makes him or her a "problem"?

In fact, let's make a list of the top five "problem dog" behaviors, shall we?

1. barking
2. pulling on the leash
3. jumping
4. nipping/biting/chewing
5. "she's just out of control"

Are these behaviors you have to deal with, from your dog, on a daily basis?

I do have a confession to make; I don't have a magic fix for your dog.  Not something quick and easy that you only have to do once, or spend a week doing, and then your dog will be your dream dog for the rest of his or her days.  It doesn't work like that.  And you shouldn't let trainers tell you that it does.  

When you're looking for a dog trainer, typically for those five behaviors I listed above, you need to choose wisely.  How do you want your dog to be treated?  This will affect her behavior for the rest of her days.

Remember, regardless of what a trainer tells you is "necessary" to do in order to "fix your problem dog", you are the one paying him or her.  If you don't feel comfortable with what you are instructed to do, or if you feel as though it's just plain wrong, take your money elsewhere.  Different things work for different dogs, and different owners are willing to do different things, but you need to be fully committed to your course of action. 

Many trainers will be snide with regards to clicker training, perhaps referring to it as a "gimmick" or "cookie training" (at least I think that's what they mean on those web sites that I leave, post-haste).  Now, the clicker isn't for anybody; heck, I only just picked it up this year.  But the science behind it is sound.  To go to our sometimes questionable but oft-quoted source,, Clicker training is an operant conditioning method for training an animal.  What is operant conditioning?  Here's the answer at the same publicly edited source; I hesitate to confidently define it in a single sentence.

Some trainers are in fact a "board and train" facility, which means you'll pack your dog off with them for an agreed upon amount of time, and they will train your dog.  This could be a fantastic solution, depending on your problem.  Or you'll end up with a dog who is well-trained for the trainers, but acts pretty much the same for you.  My firmest advice on this topic is, unless you're choosing between board and train and euthanasia, find a local trainer and work with him or her, and train your own dog.

For all five of the problem behaviors I listed above, I have one question: How much exercise does your dog get?  Physical and mental?  Do you take your dog for walks, play with your dog, have a time and a place where your dog can run?  Do you have puzzle toys for your dog, where they have to work to get at the good stuff?  Exercise is not the 100% cure-all, but a lot of "problem dogs" are actually bored dogs.  A lot of dogs chew on things they ought not chew on, because they haven't been taught what it's okay for them to chew on, or haven't been given something they're supposed to chew on.  A lot of dogs jump and run around and act crazy because that's what it takes for them to get attention from their people, because negative attention is better than no attention at all.

I disagree with a lot of Cesar Millan's principles and catch phrases and machismo, but he does get a few things right, and one of them is this: a tired dog is a good dog.

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