When people enter into a life with a dog whether it be a puppy, rescue or adopted they tend to pick which methods they choose to train their dog be it "force free", "purely positive", "positive only", "balanced" or "gentle".
There is a gross misconception out there that ALL behavior issues, behaviour modification or inhibition can be taught with any method you decide to choose or side with. This is untrue. It would be like asking a chef what cooking methods and utensils they will use to cook dinner and dessert. I'm sure they will say it depends on what you want cooked.
You wouldn't cook a cake in a toaster or ice cream in an oven. In dog training there is many behaviors you CAN train and modify using different methods but there is also plenty of behaviors that can only be trained using certain methods or tools.
Why am I telling you this? Because people tell me all the time their dog has brain damage, is dumb, doesn't listen, ignores them, untrainable, not focused and other trainers or vets have said it can't be done. It's just that you haven't used the correct method to modify behavior. Case in point, you cannot teach inhibition using positive reinforcement. This means if you want to teach your dog to NOT bite you CANNOT teach NOT to bite using positive reinforcement. All great dog trainers should not only teach the dog what TO DO but also teach what NOT TO DO.
There is 4 quadrants of operant conditioning in dog training. Those are Positive Reinforcement, Negative Reinforcement, Positive Punishment and Negative a Punishment.
If you choose to only use one of those quadrants but still struggling to cease behavior then seek out a canine behaviourist who can help.
The "Fix-It" Bug
Something I hear a lot around the traps and with clients is about "fixing" dogs. A lot of this started with the very successful TV show The Dog Whisperer with Cesar Milan and other well known shows. For all the great things that show did identifying the owners part in the whole process and the importance of exercise for your pet, the show also had a negative impact on people’s beliefs when it comes to their dog and their dogs issues.
The show staff, producers and alike had a great message. The message was more about growth, development, energy and body language and the impact that has on you and your dogs relationship and just how important exercise is, however the other message the show had was that Cesar Milan, just one guy had somewhat supernatural abilities, skill set and finely tuned knowledge that he could take any dog with any issues and transform the dog in moments from aggressive to calm-submissive or high anxiety to relaxed in only a matter of minutes.
It sounds great doesn't it? So great in fact that so many people and trainers bought into it, trainers popped up all over the place and clients had unrealistic expectations of what was capable with their dog because according to them all you need to do is cultivate your skills and your mind to a high enough level that you too could affect change to that level and magnitude.
The problem with this is dogs are not robots and do not work on a level where it doesn’t matter what genetic make up, what baggage the dog comes with or what trauma the dog has had that they can be transformed into something completely different than what it is and it what it can be.
Dogs are very complex creatures and deserve far more credit than most people give them. What I’ve been seeing a lot lately is owners who have put unrealistic expectations and unrealistic pressure on themselves and their dogs.
Because of the TV show and good editing that so many of us have been infected with the “fix” belief when it simply is not always the case.
I’m far from comparing dogs to humans but it would be like saying that you with all your past experiences, attitudes, trauma, challenges and even your genetics could be perfect, issue-free without any ongoing baggage.
I’m not saying these dogs cannot be helped, of course they can but you can do all the training in the world, hire as many trainers as you like and visit as many training schools looking for the quick “fix” model but when it’s all said and done your dog will still be themselves, they will still have their quirks, their personality, their tendencies. They can transform and come in leaps and bounds but they will still be themselves. They can be the very best they can be but will not be perfect or completely “fixed”. This will take time and effort, not just one session. You may only need one/two sessions with a good trainer to see results but ultimately it’s up to you to keep the training ongoing.
This is not the case with all dogs but some dogs especially if they have missed out on their critical period of development. They call it critical for a reason. This is not a negative or let down to hear this. It’s simply a reality check and to really think about what your expectations are and ensuring they are healthy and realistic. Expectations that do not put extra pressure on you or your dog.
Your goal should not be to “fix” your dog but to rather make them a better version of themselves and to bring out the very best that you possibly can. If you feel you have done all you can then consult a trainer or behaviourist for further help to ensure you get the maximum benefit out of the training and give your dog maximum chance at making a comeback.
I’ve seen some amazing turn arounds in dogs and some will come further than others but it all comes back to what their limits are and what your skills are to help bring out the best in them.
Just like us, we are all different and all individual but we all strive to be the best that we can be. Dogs are no different.
Critical Period of Development
The Critical socialisation period in your dog starts at 3 weeks of age and ends around 16 weeks of age. We call this the critical period. Whoopty Do, But what does it all mean?
Well it’s basically a developmental stage which the environment influences can have a profound and long-lasting effect upon later behaviour, physiology and emotional reactivity in your dog.
This is the time that your puppy must be exposed to a variety of stimuli to develop normal physiological, psychological and social capacities.
Learning during this time is far more permanent than any other time.
You’re probably thinking, but I get my dog at 8 weeks so how am I supposed to socialise the puppy from 3 weeks? Well the answer is simple. Ask yourself “Where did you purchase your puppy from?” “Does your breeder really take into account this critical period of socialising”, Ethical and reputable breeders WILL take into account this critical period and WILL socialise your new puppy usually in a home environment with other animals, noises, people and stimuli.
When you purchase your puppy from a backyard breeder, puppy factory or someone who is ignorant to breeding you run the risk of purchasing a dog with permanent behaviour problems for the rest of its life, some of which won’t show until later in the dogs life.
This is why when buying a puppy, the breeder is actually very critical to the upbringing of your new dog.
As the dog gets older, the socialising becomes less effective. I’ll give you an example. When you purchase your puppy at 8 weeks of age and you socialise with a few dogs, a few cats, a few tools and a few people, your puppy is likely to generalise and all dogs, all cats, all tools and all people should be fine.
If you start socialising your dog from 12months of age to dogs, cats, tools and people then the socialising will be more specific. For example your dog will be fine with your dog, fine with your cat and fine with all the people who visit on a regular basis BUT may still be reactive to other people, cats, dogs and tools that the dog has not been socialised with.
If you adopt a dog, how can you tell if their “fears” or lack of social capacities is due to lack of socialisation in the critical period or due to a negative experience the dog has had?
Well this is a general rule and there are always exceptions but basically the more general the fear, the more likely to be lack of socialisation. For example if your dog is afraid of cars, motorbikes, trucks, bikes, skateboards then it’s likely your dog did not have sufficient socialising when he/she was younger.
If your dog is afraid of tall men only or afraid of just motorbikes then it’s likely your dog experienced something negative to do with that stimulus. When I hear the term “my dog was abused because he/she is afraid of ALL men, it’s usually a case of lack of socialising rather than abuse. Of course this all general but something to think about.
In closing it’s far more critical to socialise your puppy from the get go. Do not wait for things to happen. Think about all the things your dog may be exposed to in his/her life and socialise now whilst you will have the maximum effect on the dogs learning.
Dogs Off Leash is a privilege
This may upset a few people but it needs to be said. Having a dog off leash is not a right. It's a privilege. It's a privilege you can give to the dog once you have trained and have effective control over them. If you do not have effective control and you've taken no measures to train them off leash then they need to stay attached for both their safety and the safety of others.
I'm not referring to off leash dog parks although my opinion on those is for another blog point.
I witnessed yesterday a poor young girl and her mother attend an on lead only kids playground. They hopped out of the car and were walking towards the playground when a large black Rottweiler and White Fluffy came barreling after them. These dogs were under no control and off lead within the confine of the playground. You can see by the attached photo that dogs need to be under both effective control and/or on lead when kids are present. There were kids present.
The fear this young girl had and her mother is something I'll never forget. I cannot imagine what was going through their mind. They were helpless.
I went to help them and just as I did the owner finally caught up with her black dog and dragged them away via the collar. She didn't even have a leash with her. She never had any intention to leash her dog in the park what so ever. She finally dragged the dog after 80m back to her car and fluffed around to find the lead and then tied her dog up around the drink fountain so no kids or other dogs had access to get a drink the entire time she was visiting the park. Meanwhile the dog was digging down to get access to the surrounding dogs near the grounds.
She said that everyone gives her a hard time but the dogs need to run. What dogs actually need is training and to be under effective control. We run classes for $15 every weekend, Work Shops for $49, 1:1 for $99 and our premium in home 1:1 services. There is a price to suit everyone and no excuse not to seek help and give your dog the amazing privilege to be free and off lead
These two girls will no longer visit the park and it's a real big shame that people don't take more responsibility with their dogs. It could have ended far worse than it did and it could have been easily avoided.
If you haven't got control leash your dog. If you don't it's disrespectful to families, other people and especially people who spend money and sacrifice things to have well trained dogs.
*Post script - She only put one dog on leash and let her other dog still run free even AFTER all this occurred.