a professional trainer, I have found that my clients want specific things when dealing with behavior problems in their pets:
◆ Second, they want methods that WORK.
◆ First, they want methods that do not cause harm to the dog.
This last point is a key one. If a method doesn’t work, the problem continues. Often if a problem continues, owners will abandon or rehome their dogs. I have heard veterinarians say untreated behavior problems are the largest preventable cause of death of companion dogs in the United States. I believe this, and any trip to a local animal shelter will confirm the fact that a large percentage of dogs in shelters are there due to untreated behavior problems. The tragic part is that most behavior problems can be dealt with, especially if you start right away. Using modern, scientific methods, trainers and owners can now more effectively and humanely address behavioral challenges than ever before. Unfortunately, many trainers and owners have fallen victim to a type of thinking that, in my opinion, lessens their effectiveness. This is just my opinion, but in my two decades of training, I have seen the specter of political correctness (PC) invade the training world. PC is a funny thing. It often starts as an understandable reaction to insensitivity and conditions that most reasonable people agree need to change. My training experience as a 10-year-old boy is just one example of the type of situation that untold numbers of people experienced and wanted to change. Thirty years ago, many training techniques were based on what is called “compulsion training.” This means dogs were taught to respond in order to avoid punishment. For example, a common method in those days to teach a dog not to jump up on people was to sharply say “No” and knee the dog in the chest. Almost no one was suggesting that clients physically injure their dogs, but clearly, training techniques based primarily on physical punishment run the risk of doing just that. Additionally, some trainers really did take physical correction to very severe levels. Other “methods” from those days included such
gems as stopping a dog from digging
by filling the hole with water, taking the dog over to the hole and sticking the dog’s head in the waterfilled crater. Nipping—not aggression, but the common nibbling on fingers that puppies often engage in—was routinely addressed by “chucking the dog under the chin.” This is a polite way of saying slapping the dog. Obviously, methods like these needed to change. And to a large degree, thanks in part to several new generations of trainers (myself included), they did. But then, because it’s probably human nature, the pendulum began to swing in the opposite direction. Nowadays, there are people who consider the use of any correction or punishment to be “cruel.” Today, there are those who object to the use of terms like “problem solving” or “problem dogs.” Their logic is: Who’s to say what is or isn’t a problem? They go on to say that most problem dog behaviors are only problematic for humans. Dogs naturally chew. Many naturally dig, bark and engage in numerous other doggie behaviors. It is arrogant for humans to arbitrarily decide that certain behaviors are unacceptable or bad. I have been told that any attempt to train and discipline a dog smacks of “species-ism!” That is, one species (humans) dominating another (canines). I swear, I’m not making this up. Some of these same people object to the use of the term “owner.” For example, I use the word “owner” in this book. I say things like “dog owners should remember” or a “good owner tries to understand why their dog does what it does.” Fifteen years ago this wouldn’t have even drawn a comment, but today there are people who object to the idea that one species should own another. There have been successful attempts in some communities to legally change the term “owner” to “guardian.” People have suggested that ownership smacks of slavery, as though owning a dog is the same as one person owning another. In my mind there is a huge difference between owning a person, which neither I nor (I hope) anyone in this country supports, and owning a dog! I think a word about definitions is in order here. Words have meaning, and over the last decade or so, the definitions of many words have been changing. I don’t mean how they are defined in the Oxford or Webster’s Dictionary, but about how everyday people use certain
words. Often, those who control what words mean can control a debate.
When trainers are afraid to say things like “dog owner,” when owners are confused after being told that any type of correction is cruel, when people spend months trying to modify their dog’s behaviors using any method as long as no correction is involved (lest they be labeled “abusive”), when devices like slip collars, commonly called “choke chains,” are labeled cruel under any circumstances and there is talk of outlawing them, I have to stand up and shout, “ENOUGH!” Some people might be wondering why I’m even bringing this up. This is the main reason I wrote this book. Specifically, I wrote it to share many of the advances in training that have occurred in the last 30 years, while at the same time publicly stating that not everything trainers did 30 years ago, and for hundreds of years before that, was wrong, backwards or cruel; and to state that punishment exists in nature and has a place in training. I do this not to enhance my reputation among trainers, but to help owners (there’s that word) effectively train their pets, so that both can enjoy better lives together. So, now that you have a little background about me and why I wrote this book, I hope you’re intrigued enough to read on! I will begin by talking about when training should start (hint: right away), then move on to a chapter about how your dog learns. From there, we’ll discuss the proper way to make your dog a comfortable member of your family. The focus will then shift to addressing common behavior problems, obedience and ways to screen and locate a professional trainer. For those of you who are interested, there is even a section on how to become a trainer, as well as a resource guide showing you where to find a ton of information about dogs on the Internet. I sincerely hope all of you find this book as rewarding to read as I found it to write. So let’s get started. Let’s get training.