Sunday, January 25, 2015

Confessions of a dog trainer. Pet Peeves. Part I

When it comes to dog training many people feel confident and knowledgeable in the field. No one ever seems to hesitate to provide advice. Question: "How accurate is the information?"

In most cases the well intended advice of friends, family, acquaintances or even complete strangers can cause more of a headache than do good. It always amazes me with what easiness people provide training and behavioral advice. Where do these people get their knowledge?

The knowledge has been picked up by maybe reading a few books, watching dog training shows on tv, attending a dog training class, through other people, owning a dog and learning through trial and error. Is this knowledge a good base to provide accurate information about dog training and especially behavioral issues? The answer is NO.

Dog behavior is a complex field. We are looking at the psychology of another species. We are talking about Behaviorism. Have you ever heard of Pavlov, B.F. Skinner, Watson or Thorndike? These individuals were responsible for providing us an insight to the phenomenon of how we learn. This applies to humans and animals alike. The behavioral psychology these famous individuals provided us is still used today. Thanks to all their scientific experiments we know how humans and animals learn.

We humans don't come with innate guidance when it comes to dogs. There is no pre-programmed software package that we get born with. Some people simply have better dog skills than others which were most likely acquired by an early exposure to dogs in their lives. It is not instinct but something we have learned over time.

Now what bugs us trainers? The well-intended but often wrongful advice of others to a dog owner who is dealing with some kind of issue. Why do people do it? Why do people accept it?

"Advice: guidance or recommendations concerning prudent future action, typically given by someone regarded as  knowledgeable or authoritative." Definition 

In human psychology it is known that people usually hesitate to take another person's advice. Your opinion is your opinion. Period. A human will take someone's advice if advice is sought. An answer to a question. If the question is paired with despair and hopelessness and humans believe they have drained all of their options then advice is easily taken and often not even checked for accuracy.

"Are you having behavioral issues with her that you're not figuring out? Let me know what those are - perhaps I can help you." - Quote from a friendly stranger

One of the many examples that turned well meant advice into a disaster is the one of my neighbors. They rescued two dogs from the pound that had belonged to a distant cousin who had recently passed away. My neighbor knew nothing of dogs and nothing of dog training. The dogs were very well trained. The older one was not an issue but the younger one was. He was energetic, pulled on-leash and jumped on people. The dogs stayed with me and I was able to start training the younger dog. He only stayed with me for a few days which allowed me to reinforce some of his good behaviors and start working on the issues they had with him. All of the issues were basic obedience issues. No behavior ones. I provided them with a no-pull harness to decrease the pulling and some tips on how to continue.

Two weeks had passed and I ran into my neighbor. Harness was gone. Choke collar was put in place. He was pulling and she continuously jerked the leash to slow him down. When I approached her she pulled the collar up and used her leg to push his butt down.

A close friend and dog owner of my neighbor had shown her how to train the younger dog. She was not a professional. She had taken a few dog training classes from an aversive trainer. Aversives trainers use force in training. Aversive trainers also often don't have a formal education in dog training. I will be focusing on that in part II of  "Confessions of a dog trainer. Pet Peeves." A choke collar is what it is: it chokes the dog which means air is the training tool and it is used to get the desired behavior. The dog was shut down, ears pinned back, mouth slightly open, panting and his eyes were big. The dog was stressed. A new behavior was developing and it wasn't a behavior that could have been tackled with some basic obedience. The new behavior was becoming a behavioral issue since he was starting to get fearful.

"Again, happy to hear if there are other behavioral issues that you're dealing with to try to guide you. I'm not a trained behaviorist but seem to have had an innate guidance about doggies since I was a little girl." - Quote from a friendly stranger

Another good example I recently encountered. A house training issue. The owner at the end of her wits put up a post to re-home her dog. She had followed through with well intended advice from others. The result was that the dog was still house soiling.

Advice from the online group flew in from all directions. I offered to help the person seeking to re-home her dog. At the same time I engaged with the unofficial dog behaviorist with the innate guidance about doggies. As a professional one of my biggest pet peeves. My advice to her advice was to not provide advice in a field she had no accreditation in. I did so without pointing out what part of
her information was incorrect. Oh my! My advice was not taken well. Human behavior at its best.

"Potty training is something that has been done with doggies long before there was a "professional certification" around how to do it ... that's all I'm saying. I've had dogs all my life." - Response from the non trained behaviorist to my advice not to give advice.

I had to endure insults, belittling and discrediting to my profession and my person. Made we wonder how they would have responded if someone had given advice in their field of expertise. It came down to science schmience. Who needs it? You need no certification to provide advice. Good point. Maybe you don't need a certification but maybe providing correct information would be a good start.

The woman contacted me for help. We talked on the phone for an hour and I wrote up a 6 page training plan providing her with exact information on what to do and why she was doing it. The training will start soon. No more yelling "no" at the dog or pushing the nose into the pee. That well-intended advice just resulted into the dog sneaking off to a save place to eliminate. We are now pushing towards results which means we are finishing the house training by helping the dog to discriminate between inside and outside without any form of harsh punishment (no screaming, yelling or physical corrections). If the owner will pull through with the training she can keep her dog and all will be good!

My advice to people is to stop and think. Use your common sense. Have you ever asked yourself why professionals have agreements? Insurance? Professionals tend to exceed the level of knowledge and expertise in the dog behavior field. That is a fact. Education and training does do wonders! Looking like a dullard is not difficult especially when when the information is not correct. Google is probably not going to be your best friend either since the unregulated pet industry allows all kinds of dog training. Training that is based on science and training that is based on myths. Where do you look? What do you remember? Now that is exactly my point and one that I will discuss in our next part of the series: "Confessions of a dog trainer. Pet Peeves." If you do get the advice from a professional not to provide dog training to others unless you are a qualified professional don't consider it a "slap on your wrist, territorial or stealing the professionals business." You are actually helping the professional get business without realizing it. You are not a competitor. You never will be. I hate to say it. A professional is just providing you advice for your own protection.

"For now stay calm and assertive!" - Definition: Dog Trainer joke!