I have been tagged in thousands of facebook and forum threads that often start this way “Can anyone recommend a good dog trainer?”
As I scan through, it does not take long before I see the conversation going in a common direction which has posters and trainers describe what a good dog trainer or behaviourist is.
Now, if I was looking or a “good doctor” I would be looking for a person that could cure me.
If I was looking for a “good school teacher” it would be one that could teach my children.
If I was looking for a “good mechanic” it would be one that could fix my car, and you know not once have I ever asked what brand of tools they used…
But often these days, a “good dog trainer” is a person who fits into one ideology or another.
When did our focus start to ignore the one true attribute you should be looking for?
I don’t want to go to a doctor that holds my hand and feels sorry for me, I want the cure!
I don’t care if my kids think their teacher is “cool”, as long as they are learning and being effectively educated.
I come to work everyday with the desire to help people with their dogs, behaviour problems, obedience problems, competition goals, puppy raising and this list goes on.
I often wonder do some trainers go to work with the mindset of “I must steer dog owners towards my beliefs” and not worry about the actual dog problems.
These days, people are so smart, no matter what you say it can be twisted into something you didn’t mean.
For example – there is a saying amongst some some dog trainers that goes something along the lines of the LIMA principle, Least Intrusive, Minamally Aversive.
So cool the use of words to make the acronym and it sounds like a great principle. But whilst we focus on not being too intrusive and not to aversive, I guess the desired outcome has gone by the way side.
What a clever marketing ploy to take all focus away from the fact that many people are offering a service they can’t provide.
There are a bunch of sayings just like this, another is “do no harm”.
Isn’t failing to modify the dogs behaviour harmful?
I have met countless people who have euthanased their dogs because even though they worked with a trainer and tried hard, no changes ever occurred in the dogs behaviour and it was intolerable, dangerous, illegal and just impossible to live with.
So whilst trying to “do no harm”, the harm occurred because they did no good.
A reasonable amount of time…
For a long time I have used this saying as a guide when working with people and their dogs.
There are no amount of days, weeks or months that I can accurately predict it will take a dog to change its behaviour, but what I do know is that every person has an expectation of how much work or how long it will take to see a change.
This is often an unconscious thought, more than a well laid out step by step plan.
Things trickle along ok until the day when it all changes, the dog has done something that has just taken the owners hope away. Perhaps the owner has reflected on how long they have been plugging away and can see no appreciable difference in their dogs behaviour.
The owner has gone from optimistic to pessimistic, and in that moment the “reasonable amount of time” is up.
They fear their dog will never stop this behaviour and start looking at options that are driven by the (pessimistic) “it won’t work” mindset they are in.
Next your “good dog trainer” suggests euthanising this dog because it is just too far gone, the person who has lost all hope starts to entertain this idea and next thing they are saying it was the “kindest thing to do”.
It is never KIND to kill a dog that is not suffering incurable pain.
If this has ever happened to you, trust me I get it, but if you must fear something, fear giving up, giving in or quitting.
Because as soon as you allow your brain to satisfy itself that giving up is the only option, it WILL BE the only outcome.
Why do people give up?
To be honest whilst it would be easy to blame methods, trainers, maybe even breeds, and many do, but the reasons are many.
Just know that the people really struggling need support, not criticism of what they are doing, what training aid they are using or what ideology they follow.
Some of the more common reasons people fail
Starting too late
People get a puppy and think they have met their training responsibilities by taking their pup to puppy school, and a very average one at that. (Some extra reading here http://blog.k9pro.com.au/puppy-schools/)
The pup grows into an adolescent dog with little training, rules, boundaries or impulse control and starts acting out purely on instinct.
The owner tries to train the dog with little experience and now the dog is bigger, stronger and almost addicted to the behaviour they are trying to stop, failure is highly likely unless they get professional help soon.
The way to avoid being in this group of course is training effectively when young.
Effectively means achieving results, not just participating in training.
If you want to get a dog and want him or her to be a nice pet, commit 12 months to training your dog from the day they arrive as a puppy.
That means find a good dog trainer that IS focussed on results and work hard. The pay off is huge, 1 year investment for 10 plus years return.
This video shows a beautiful Lab called Laiken that just needed to learn to control herself.
Her owners worked with us and really took on the responsibility of helping Laiken learn impulse control and they have done such an incredible job with her!
Your a hopeless trainer.
Yes you are, and SO WHAT? There are lots like you and some will never get much better because you are probably excellent at certain things in your life but perhaps dogs aren’t your thing, but you love them, what now?
Start with a breed that is a low energy breed with temperament traits that you can handle. Getting a German Shepherd, Amstaff or any high drive or guardian breed when you are not great with dogs will see you with problems.
The below video is of a boy named Tank, look at his extreme strength and determination to get what he wants at the start vs his self controlled version at the end!
Perhaps you could get a rescue that has been temperament tested by an independent professional as suitable for your needs and experience levels.
The dog may have already received some training and could be a perfect match for you if you start training when you adopt the dog and keep it up.
Maybe you want to learn, so getting a pup that has been temperament tested suitable for you and diving into a year of training would be better for you.
But please choose temperament over looks, colour, breed etc.
If you have a dog that has a behaviour problem then get some professional help and stick with it.
Some trainers and behaviourists can be outside of their experience with high levels of aggression from large guardian breeds, and that is completely fine, so find a good dog trainer that works with your breed and CAN SHOW YOU RESULTS with past dogs, and lots of them.
Below is a dog that was a serious case and not a dog that all trainers and or behaviourists can or should try and work with. He was dangerous and needed skilled handling.
You hired the wrong trainer
This is easy to do, flashy website, all the right words and memes and “do no harm” splattered everywhere, have made you feel you are in the right place, but is there focus on results?
Is there a measurement system that will accurately be able to show the improvement in the actual behaviour problem your dog has?
I work with a lot of people and the majority have been to other trainers before, and of course no harm was done except for the “no good” they acheived.
But this person still has some hope (optimism) left and we get started.
The sad thing is that the previous person who aimed at doing no harm has laid fear traps all over the owners conscious telling them that anything other than (the no good) ideology they subscribe too will ruin their dog, make him or her worse, or create a whole bunch of new problems.
Such a cruel thing to do to a person struggling I think.
So now as well as having to deal with their dog and his or her behaviour issues, I need to assure the owner that what we will be doing WILL work.
I am also now dealing with an owner that is confused, anxious, scared and worried and this come from a person they trusted to help them?
It just takes time
Most people understand this but they may underestimate how much time.
If you fall into one of the categories I Mentioned above, and I want you to know that many of my clients fall into them all, then you will be up against a dog that will resist you quite a lot of the way.
I also want you to know that when I say it takes time, I don’t mean let the calander tick over and one day your dog will be better, it means breaking down steps and training every day, and in our busy world this is harder to do than agree too.
But I can tell you this:
No matter how bad your dog is
No matter what he or she has done
No matter what stage of the behaviour your dog is at
No matter how many systems, techniques, trainers, behaviourists, training aids, medications and treatments you have tried
I CAN change the way your dog behaves.
I CAN get your dog to a level where he or she can function in a social environment
I CAN teach you to get these same results with your dog
The most common problem is the time it will take.
How deep seated are your dogs problems?
How adaptable are you at learning and applying new skills?
How damaged are you by your dogs behaviour and what scaremongers have done to you?
How committed are you to making this work?
These can all be gathered into one question?
HOW MUCH DO YOU WANT IT!
I don’t make excuses, I make results.
Good dog trainers help you get your dogs behaviour to a place where he or she can be trusted, can enjoy some freedom, will follow direction from you and can control THEMSELVES.
The video below is of a little girl called Zaylea, Zay lived in a home in which she was fighting in an extreme manner with the other dog of the home, if you have the time this article has the owners description of what life was like.
Once Zay went home, Mel and Kirk have stayed the program and have a peaceful home where everyone gets along together, and Zay is an example of a red zone dog turned into a sweet pet girl again.
Here is one final article to read, it was transferred to this website in 2002, I wrote it in 1998, 20 years ago, you will see that a good dog trainer in my mind was the same then as it is now.
As a dog owner, you deserve honesty and a service that WILL help you and your dog learn to be a better team, with a confident team leader and a happy team member.
My goal is to give you just that, is it easy? no, in many cases it is not, well at least many of the cases I get, but there are so many other people that have been trying for years that ONE simple 2 hour consult was all they needed.
No dog is beyond improving in some way, probably more than you think.