Friday, November 30, 2012

Buckle up your dog

A lot of you are probably planning to travel with your dog over the holidays. If you're going on long car rides, it's a good idea to buckle her up. You don't need a special dog seatbelt, although those are probably safest. You can just use a back-fastening halter. Attach the leash, then wrap it around the headrest.

Actually, I recommend using harnesses for your dog any time they are on leash. It's just much safer and more comfortable, not to mention an easy training aid for the dog that pulls. The harness doesn't put pressure on your dogs trachea like collars do, and a damaged trachea is a lifelong problem. Even if your dog doesn't generally pull, she can still do plenty of damage with one lunge towards a squirrel. And the front clip doesn't let your dogs forward pulling pay off - it swings them around without letting them move straight forward. If it fits correctly, you'll see results.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

"If you walk into a wall, you will get hurt."

My aunt, a veterinarian, once argued for the use of shock collars by dog trainers by saying, "Well, if you walk into a wall, you will get hurt."  She meant that if dogs get shocked for doing something wrong, that was okay, since we humans experience the same type of consequence and don't consider it unusually cruel.

But it's not the same.  How many times after you walk into a wall will you repeat that action?  Never, if you can help it.  So you've learned your lesson after one broken nose.  That happened for one reason and one reason only: timing.  You felt pain the moment your face made contact with plaster, and so you were able to make the connection between forceful impact with a wall and the painful consequence.

Training dogs using punishment doesn't work that way.  Because our timing is so dreadful when attempting to catch the actions of dogs who see many more frames per second than we do, they rarely ever make the connection between what we consider the "wrong" action and the consequence.  So they produce that action again and again, getting shocked, yelled at, kicked out of the house again and again.  What a miserable way to live - and forget about learning anything.  After all, would you be able to think clearly if throughout the course of your day a fist would come out of the sky and punch you in the face?  Would you get kind of anxious, paranoid, unsure of yourself and your environment since you never knew what situations would cause that punch to land on your nose?  Imagine - you wake up, forget to brush your teeth.  Hit in the face.  Go to eat breakfast and sit in the wrong chair - hit again.  Then, you finally proceed to go about your day.  Just as you've almost forgotten about the looming danger, you're hit again and have no idea why.  My guess is that after the he third blow, you'd be ready to yell at anyone who looked at you funny.  Not surprisingly, dogs react the same way to constant aggravation.

Positive trainers see plenty of fallout from shock collar courses and even much lesser forms of punishment like raised voices or intimidating physical postures.  None of it is worth it! 

Monday, November 26, 2012

Welcome DC Dog Lovers! Useful tips from a DC dog trainer.

Welcome to my new blog.  I hope you find it interesting and informative.

I remember when I got my third dog several years ago, and I was confident that I knew all about dogs.  Training them, interacting with them, etc. - I had lived with dogs before, I watched a lot of Dog Whisperer, and read a book or two about obedience training.  But I was sorely mistaken - and very unprepared.

Riis (named for Riis Park in NY, where I'm from) is a mutt that I adopted from a rescue organization.  He was found with the rest of his litter in a cardboard box on the side of a road in Memphis, Tennessee.  By the time he got to me, he was about four months old, ten pounds, and full of fear and anxiety that manifested itself in a whole host of behavior problems.  He was reactive to other dogs, had severe touch sensitivity - would flinch when touched anywhere on his body, and completely freak out when you went near his ears or paws - and was generally fearful of any unfamiliar noise or movement to the point that he was literally stopped in his tracks a dozen times a day.

Nothing I did to train or modify his behavior was working.  All the information I found was either really distasteful (using shock collars and other aversives) or I didn't understand enough to really believe it would work.  I felt guilty for failing to help my dog and myself, I felt confused about why I couldn't change him using all the expert advice I had come across.

Finally, I found a trainer who employed positive training methods.  For once, her reasoning made sense to me.  So much so that it changed the course of my professional life.  I've been working with dogs ever since, and it has made me a more observant and compassionate person to people and dogs alike.

The contents of this blog, then, should hopefully provide some comfort to dog owners who feel like they're out of ideas, at the end of their rope, or just want to learn more about how they can interact and understand their dog in a more positive way.
Riis, fixated on a piece of broccoli on our kitchen table.

Happy reading!