Friday, July 15, 2011

Do you want it done fast or do you want it done right?

Can you get fast and also permanent results at the same time? There are experts in the dog training field who advise trainers such as myself, "If you hope to compete with traditional trainers, you have to promise quick fixes, just like they do." I would agree...if we were plumbers and our goal was to unstop toilets or sinks. And really, when you get down to it, it's not even the training so much as the everyday interaction using that training that is the crucial part of having a nicely behaved dog, whatever training method you choose.

Dogs Come In Different Flavors

Take Dexter, for example. Dexter is a very high energy dog. I work with Dexter every day to help him cope with the world he lives in (mine). Barking and running and jumping and eating anything he finds at his eye level-all of these things are normal dog behaviors. However, if he is to live in my world, in my home, these behaviors allowed to flourish would soon grow quite tiresome. 

Just going for a simple walk requires constant attention from me. I reinforce what I like and prevent what I don't by limiting his opportunity to practice those behaviors. This takes diligence. I happen to enjoy the process of working with my dog. Some people don't. Then again, some parents of human children are unwilling to relinquish old habits or to change their lifestyle in order to provide a stable and consistent home life- Casey Anthony being the most current and extreme example.

List of acceptable behavior from Dexter during a walk (video of a typical walk here):

Marking bushes (where appropriate)

Not acceptable:
Lunging towards joggers or cars or fast moving bicycles
Chasing cars, birds, cats, bunnies
Snarking at other dogs
Pulling me

Now, could I cut to the chase and use something to STOP the unacceptable behaviors in their track? Yes. I could use a prong collar. I could use a shock collar. I could use a choke collar and leash yanks whenever Dexter even looked like he was going to Step Out Of Line. I could also nag-I could scold, spank, or even grab his muzzle and squeeze it while issuing a low warning through gritted teeth "You Will NOT Do That"...

But...will any of those fast fixes change the actual underlying behavior? Not likely. I suspect (but would never put this to the test) that even if I chose to use a quick-fix tool, Dexter would still need reminding again and again, not because he is "stubborn" but because it is his nature to be energetic and overcoming nature is not easy. It is who he is. Each dog, like each person, is different. I accept and work within those parameters.

Take a look at the tempting array of food to your right -->-->-->-->

Will eating these foods immediately stop your hunger? You bet. Do they fill your long-term nutritional needs? You tell me.

As with food choices, when teaching my dog, overall, I prefer an organic approach - one that respects the nature of the dog.

But Chris-I don't have time to train. Some people have to work all day, you know! Some people have lives!

Then darn it, you should not have a dog. Harsh? You bet. 

Before I became a full time dog trainer, my husband and I ran a small 501c3 Siberian husky rescue in Southern California. The reasons people gave for surrendering their dog held few surprises (an exception-one rescuer I know swears this is true-a woman wished to surrender her dog because she changed her carpeting and the dog no longer matched) Hands down, the vast majority of surrenders came from people who simply did not want to deal with their dog's bad habits, even after being offered free training (from yours truly).  I then had to agree with their decision to re-home the dog. This is a far better scenario, in my view, than the dog being left to languish in the back yard, or worse.

"I just don't have time for her. She has too much energy. She needs a home that can give her the attention she deserves-she's a great dog!"
"My husky keeps escaping the yard"
"My husky has torn up my (sofa, back yard, furniture, etc.) and I cannot afford to keep replacing it"

Sadder still were the calls from people who truly cared for their dog, but that dog had just bitten a family member. Conventional wisdom is quick to blame "permissive owners". This is what happens when a dog "thinks he is in charge", they say, shaking their heads.

The funny thing is, I never once found that dog who thought he was "in charge". I found dogs that were fearful, anxious, and on a hair trigger. I found dogs that had the growl punished out of them and so went straight to a bite.

I found dogs that guarded food and were challenged and made worse ("You must show the dog you are the pack leader-but don't try these methods at home!"...huh?) or the guarding behavior was ignored until the inevitable explosion occurred. In those cases, nine times out of ten it was a small child that unwittingly got too close to the dog and his food bowl. I would often hear "The dog just bit with no warning! It came out of the blue!"

Good things take time...
Well, not really.

After some conversation, the missed or ignored warning signs would emerge. "Well...she has always been a little jealous around her food bowl" or "He never really liked it when the baby pulled on his ears"

Why were these signs ignored or missed? I suspect that some hoped the behavior would somehow resolve itself. "We told her "no" each time she did it" and "We thought she would grow out of it" are statements I (and anyone in rescue-just ask) have heard more than once.

If I sound heartless and judgemental, please forgive me.

Can some things be trained quickly?
Of course. Just as not all food that is fast and easy is bad for you, some behaviors can be taught with lightning speed. To teach a  "sit" or a "down" is a piece of proverbial cake. To teach a different species to live peacefully in a home with us-not so easy.

Complex behaviors, such as changing dog to dog aggression, for example,  did not develop overnight and cannot be fixed overnight,
I don't care what the shock collar trainer tells you. And, let's be clear here- it is a shock-not a "tap" or a "tingle" that stops the behavior in its tracks or it wouldn't work. There is no magic about a shock collar and the ease in obtaining and using one is frightening to me.(If you are brave, you can watch this video of people using shock collars on themselves on YouTube for the errrr...shock value)

As long as the problem is solved, why should I care?

Because it probably isn't solved until the underlying behavior is addressed.  And that takes time.


Because you love your dog. Because there are other methods that may take longer, but are kinder. Because you have the bigger brain. Because you chose this dog. But most of all, because you are human.

Need help?
International Association of Behavior Consultants
Karen Pryor Academy Certified Training Partners
Truly Dog Friendly
Articles and videos by veterinarian and behaviorist Dr. Sophia Yin
Happy Training,