Outstanding trainer, Jean Donaldson’s three questions inspired this challenge that was sent out by John Mc Guigan. Instead of doing a video, which my readers may not see, I decided to do the challenge in my column. This piece is an expanded version of what I did for the paper.
If my dog gets it right, what will happen? Dogs learn most effectively when learning is enjoyable. My goal is to have your dog want to work with us because it is fun and not because he is trying to avoid something bad. (If you do what I want the pain, nagging, threats stop). Fun and getting something you want out of doing something I want motivates great! Using desired things reinforce and motivate far better than fear and punishment.
What will happen to my dog if he gets it wrong? A couple of things will happen. First I will stop the lesson. Why? I need to evaluate what is happening. Why did the dog get it wrong? Did I unintentionally set the dog up to fail? For example, was there too much going on around the dog for him to focus or was I expecting too much, too fast? If he gets something wrong, there will be no physical punishment or verbal yelling. I will take a breath, step back and try again – this time making things easier. Dogs are dogs: they are not robots to be programmed. If something goes wrong with training, we have to look at ourselves and how we are doing things. Then we reevaluate and try again. Now depending on what else is going on, I have my limits just as every other trainer or behaviorist does. If it is determined your dog is past my current skill set, then I will teach you management and assist you in finding someone who has a different level of training to continue work. It then becomes your responsibility though to follow through. No trainer or behaviorist knows it all. There may be other reasons why your dog is getting things wrong that may not be a training issue – there could be medical and environmental factors needing to be addressed.
Are there any less invasive alternatives to what you propose? I work to find the most humane methods possible. I always have to remember that for some dogs, my presence in the house can be a negative. Therefore my first work will be trying to make my presence a positive. Then I have to work to make training and learning fun as possible. If you would have seen how I trained in 1982, 1992 and even 2002, it is far different than how I train now. I learned young that there had to be better ways and luckily found people who helped me cross over to becoming a far more humane trainer. Dog owners today have far more resources for positive training in all sports than when I was starting out! No trainer or behaviorist knows it all. We should all strive to continue learning and growing in our profession. Beware the person who insists they are the only ones who can do X or the best out there. There are always different and positive ways to try things. I have no problem seeking the advice and skills of those in my field so I can better assist you! It is my duty!
When you are looking for a dog trainer, ask these questions and others such as: What training tools do you use and why? If my animal is not food motivated, what will you do? How do you feel about dominance theory? Etc.
Remember, no dog needs harsh methods, stress or pain inducing tools. There are no magic collars or things that will miraculously stop undesired behaviors. If your dog is not really food motivated, trainers should work to find a toy or something else they like. I use a combination of food and play and other positive reinforcers to help a dog want to bond with me and do what I need him to do in order to live in my life. It may be something you did not even think of trying. A favorite of mine was a dog who was obsessed with marking every blade of grass when on walks. Food and play were ignored outside the house. He was a neutered boy too! So I started using marking as a reinforcer/reward and was able to also increase the length of walking before he was allowed to go mark. I also am rational, just because I think Sparky should do X (like be social with every dog and human) does not mean it is what he wants. I will work to teach you to be reasonable and rational with your expectations too. Finally, dogs are not out to dominate us. They are just trying to live in our species’ world and if they are confused, they may misbehave.
There, my challenge is done; questions are answered and shared with you, dear reader.
Now, go to You Tube and search for what others are doing for this challenge – you will see some wonderful videos that will benefit you as you learn to work with your dog!
Karen Peak is owner/operator of West Wind Dog Training in Prince William County, founder of The Safe Kids/Safe Dogs Project, a published author, wife, mother and the manager of a multi-dog, multi-species household.