Wednesday, January 20, 2010

"dog trainers"

I am just a dog owner - I am not a dog trainer, but I've been around for awhile, and I've met a lot of dog trainers, and I've read a lot of books. I've seen a lot of well trained dogs, I've seen a lot of badly trained dogs, and I've seen the "dog trainers" who their owners have gone to.

Because of my Charlie loves Halifax website, people email me asking for advice - and I always tell them that I am just a dog owner and can't give them training advice and I forward them on to trainers who I think are really good and hope that they do follow that advice that I give them! But when I go to some local dog trainers web sites, sometimes I do have to shake my head. As a dog owner who's been around for awhile - I have my own ideas about dog training, and since I have my own blog, I have the freedom to spout off about my own ideas, which I now will.....

On the "trainers" site that I was at tonight, who I am not going to say who it is - they are talking about their training philosophy - and this person is not the only one who has this philosophy. This person believes in the idea of training "through praise, motivation and correction". They also don't train with treats - treats are a big no no. If you use treats you are a bad dog owner. If you use treats your dog won't respect you!

We'll use the example of a squirrel for instance. If you are somewhere and your dog starts chasing a squirrel - if your dog respects you - he will come to you instead of the squirrel, but if you treat trained your dog - he may not come to you, because your recall is based on treats, not respect - so what would the dog rather do in that moment - chase a squirrel, go to someone he respects, or get a treat? In this dog trainers world - they think the highest likelihood is that the dog is going to go to someone he respects.

And guess how that dog has learned to respect his owner? Through praise and correction! And so what is praise and correction you ask? Well, when the dog does something correct - like do something that he's just been asked to do - like walk beside the owner obediently in a subservient manner that people like to call the "heel position" - the dog is praised, but when the dog shows a negative behaviour, like nipping or growling - the dog is "corrected".

On the dog trainers web page - "praising" and "correcting" are described a little bit - "praising" means stroking the dog on the top of his head and saying "good dog!" - and a "correction" is a sudden jerk and release on the lead. Also, strong verbal corrections with the word, "No!" are used as well.

The reason why I'm talking about this is because there's getting to be quite a few dog trainers in the HRM now, and a lot of them are quite good.

The people who care enough about their dogs to actually go out of their way enough to actually seek out a dog trainer should really get a good service for their money, and they shouldn't have a more damaged dog at the end of their program, and not understand why it happened.

The idea about the squirrel is kind of a perfect example. If one of my dogs went running after a squirrel, do you know what I'd do? I wouldn't even attempt to call them to me, because I know I'd lose that fight. What does that say about me as a dog owner? That I'm realistic. What would a GOOD dog trainer say to me about that?

That I've done the right thing in not trying to call my dog in when they are completely lost chasing a squirrel, UNLESS that squirrel is headed towards a highway or straight into the path of a senior citizen or something - and THEN I'd call them to me of course. Because I am a responsible dog owner after all. But under normal legal off leash conditions where they are having fun and that's what we're there to do - I wouldn't dream of making them have to make a decision between me and a squirrel - that's just me taking a power trip. Which a lot of asshole dog owners do tend to do - and a lot of dog trainers seem to think that's an important thing that you need to train your dog to do, for some reason.

But to me - and I'm pretty sure, the dog trainers who I believe are good - would agree, dog training is about building a relationship between us and our dogs so that they can live happily with us in our homes and community, so they can be good members of society - not so that we can have control over them 24 hours a day - every second.

I believe my dogs respect me, but they also enjoy my company - I can't say that they love me, because I can't say for sure that dogs feel such a strong human emotion - but they certainly are willing to work hard for everything they get, and we can interpret that however we want.

And I don't think that you can get that kind of relationship training them through methods that involve "praise and correction" - I don't think that a dog - in the long run, will look at his owner, who at any moment will suddenly without warning lift him up from the ground by his collar and holler "NO!" - and the dog not understand what he's done wrong. It'd be like living with a spouse who's mood changes on a dime - you never know from moment to moment how they're going to react to something - imagine how horrible that is - except that none of it is based on anything you actually do, you figure - but you have to take all the shit for it.

In my dog training world - it's all sunshine and lollipops - ignore the bad and praise the good - if one of my dogs does something I don't want them to do - I don't give them any attention for it whatsoever, and soon enough - they figure out - that doesn't get them what they want - ATTENTION - so they stop that behaviour. And stuff I do want them to do - I praise that like hell and give them lots of attention. It's a no-brainer. If it's good enough for Ian Dunbar - it should be good enough for me.

I believe in "on the job training" for my canine life companions - and I guess you could also call that socialization, and training all through the day while you're while you're just experiencing life together. Way back when I first started my website in 2002 - I wrote a page called "Tips for a benevolent alpha" - but the stuff I said on the page are things I still believe to be true. And they're things I think are pretty gentle, and are definitely said from one dog owner to another.


  1. Fantastic blog, Joan. I couldn't agree more - of course. When my dogs get the "go-play" command that also includes "playing" with squirrels and I might feel differently if they'd actually catch one.

    Whenever they do chase, I yell in a loud and happy voice: "YEAH!! You found another one", which causes them to return right back to me to see what I am so happy about, which I reward with a "go-play" command again, or a game of chase with me, or a hide-and-seek game, or whatever else they like.

    Yes! I want my dogs to want to be with me and want to work for me - and not because I have hands that can physically control and force them.

  2. If one of my dogs is chasing a squirrel and comes back when called - I don't care what the reason! A treat or me - I'm just glad they came back!
    I don't care so much if my dogs "respect" me - they are dachshunds! As far as they are concerned - I am here to serve them!


  3. You tell it like it is Joan. I like that about you.

    Cheers, Sybil