I often get phone calls from frustrated people about their dog's behavior problems. I return their call expecting to have a conversation about anxiety or aggression, only to find that the dog has been jumping up on everyone or eating the garbage (which secretly makes me sigh in relief).
These phone calls have led me to the need for this post - What is a behavior problem? What is a problem behavior?
Let's start with the "easy" one - problem behaviors. These are behaviors that are unacceptable for a pet dog, but are actually a normal dog behavior. Some examples of this are scavenging (eating out of the trash & counter surfing), mouthing and nipping, jumping up, digging, and nuisance barking. Of course those are only a few of the naughty behaviors our pets can display that can easily push us to the breaking point.
The great thing about problem behaviors is that they are all fixable with proper management and training. For example: if you don't want your dog to eat something, don't leave it out! Teach leave it and drop it commands, so that you have control over what your dog puts in it's mouth. Any qualified positive trainer can help you deal with a problem behavior.
Then there are the much more complex behavior problems. These include generalized anxiety, separation anxiety, dog to dog (intraspecies) aggression, dog to human aggression, leash reactivity, obsessive compulsive disorder, and resource guarding. If a person displayed these behaviors they would need counseling, and sometimes behavior modifying medication. The same goes for our dogs!
Treatment begins with having a team of qualified professionals assembled to help you and your dog. The team should be comprised of you (the dog owner), your dog's veterinarian, a veterinary behaviorist, and/or a dog training professional with education and experience in dog behavior.
Training is just a small part of the equation. Medical issues need to be ruled out and treated accordingly if present, behavior modifying medications are sometimes needed, and a well thought out behavior modification plan must be put in to place. Luckily, if caught in time, most behavior problems are treatable, or at the very least manageable.
The truth is, both problem behaviors and behavior problems can be traumatizing and frustrating for us as doggie guardians. It's essential that help is sought out sooner rather than later to ensure that you and your dog can live in harmony. Do your research when selecting a dog trainer/behaviorist, and don't hesitate to ask questions.
An ethical and effective dog trainer will be able to answer your questions with complete transparency. They will be able to discuss humane training, and how your dog will learn through positive reinforcement. If you're facing behavior problems, the right dog trainer/behaviorist will be knowledgeable about the specific problem you're dealing with, and about the strategies that can be used to help your dog. They won't have a problem referring you to someone better qualified to handle your unique situation if they are unable to.
If you're facing a problem behavior, or a behavior problem, the Pet Professional Guild is a fantastic resource to find a qualified professional in your area.
The holiday season is a time of stress for many of us. While we scramble to get all of our shopping done, get the house ready for company and still finish all of our regular tasks, our dogs some times fall by the wayside.
It's important to any house party, holiday or otherwise, that your dog is well behaved. In order to make that happen, you have to carve out some time for your dog.
Here MUST do list for your dog and the holidays:
1) Exercise - even if the weather stinks, even if you have a trillion pies in the oven. Make sure your pooch has had a nice long walk, a run or a rousing game of fetch before your company arrives.
2) Mental stimulation - food dispensing toys and puzzle games will keep your pooch occupied AND tire out his brain. You can utilize these tools while you prepare your meal, and while you company is over. They will surely enjoy watching Fido figure out a food puzzle.
3) Dog friendly treats - while we indulge, it's our nature to allow our pets to indulge along side us. However, many human foods can be dangerous for our dogs to consume.
Avoid: cooked bones, turkey skin, fatty meat, garlic, onions, grapes, raisins, chocolate, nuts, alcohol, yeast, bread dough, avocado, and caffeine. This is just a short list, there are many more foods you shouldn't feed your pets.
Do: Have some stuffed Kong toys, raw marrow bones, or bully sticks handy so that your pup can have a holiday treat or two. Allow your guests to offer your dog a little bit of lean meat, sweet potato or carrot.
4) Have a safe space for your furry friend. Weather it's their crate or your bedroom, your dog should be able to escape the crowd if it wants to. If your dog is shy or anxious in social situations, a holiday meal isn't the time to work on training. Set them up in their safe spot with a good chew toy, and all the both of you to relax.
I wish everyone a safe and happy holiday season. As I light my menorah tonight, I'll be thinking of my friends and family - including your fur babies!
In my first post, I touched on the subject of ethics. This topic is especially important to me because of the adorable dog in the photo at the bottom of this post. When I was in 5th grade, my parents finally relented to the constant pressure from my sisters and I to get a puppy. We went to our local shelter, and picked out a fuzzy white puppy with a black eye patch and freckles.
Never having had a dog, my parents didn't give any thought to breed background or temperament. Our best guess as to Casey's genetic heritage was border collie/pointer mix, but ultimately who really knows. Regardless, she was an incredibly high energy dog who needed tons of exercise and mental stimulation. She also needed to be trained to live successfully in our home.
Casey had a lot of typical puppy behaviors - jumping, chewing, nipping, barking. She was also an escape artist, and ran away frequently. She always came back, but our neighbors didn't love her visits. At their wits end, my parents hired a local trainer who was highly recommended. We thought we were finally going to solve the problems that kept Casey from being a fully integrated member of our family.
The trainer came to our home, and immediately took a prong collar from his bag. He put it on Casey, showed us how to "correct" her, and left. There may have been some more assessment and instruction, but that is all I recall from his visit. I remember thinking the prong collar looked scary, and I hated that he made my dog scream using it. He told us that unless she cried, we weren't doing it right. Even as a child, I knew that using pain and fear to 'train' our dog wasn't okay.
The prong collar, which was supposed to be our saving grace, only seemed to make things worse. Casey ran away more frequently and one day she pulled my sister down the porch steps, knocking out one of her baby teeth. My parents came to the heartbreaking decision to find a new home for Casey.
They found her a family with a fenced in back yard, who had experience with high energy dogs. They loved Casey, and were able to integrate her into their lives rather quickly. At the time, I was completely devastated that I had lost my furry friend. Now, I am thankful to my parents for giving Casey a better life.
If the 'trainer' we had worked with had known about and educated our family on how dogs learn, and training without adversives, Casey might have been able to stay in our home. I would like to think that with the proper tools, we would have rallied around her as a family and made it work.
What Casey really needed was directed exercise, mental stimulation, management of her environment and positive science based training. Now, an adult and professional dog trainer, it is my mission to help families like mine understand the needs of their unique dog. It is my goal to keep dogs out of shelters and in loving homes.
More than 80% of the dogs in shelters, both pure bred and mixed breed alike, end up there due to problem behaviors that could have been eliminated with proper training and management. I want to thank my parents for trying. I want to thank them for finding Casey a home, instead of bringing her back to the shelter. I want to honor her memory by practicing my trade with a code of ethics that would have kept Casey in our home, and that will keep dogs like Casey in their homes now.
If you're interested in leaning more about ethical dog training, I invite you to check out the Pet Professional Guild. It's the only force free professional dog training organization that currently exists, and I am a proud member.
I've been told by clients, friends and family that I need to write a blog for a long time now. Every time it was mentioned I brushed it off with the thought, "who would want to read my blog?".
Eventually that question turned in to "why do I, as a dog trainer, need a blog?" I came up with several answers the most important of which can be summed up with a single word: transparency.
Dog training is an unregulated industry. That means anyone can wake up one day and decide to call themselves a dog trainer. How are you, the consumer, supposed to know which dog trainer is best for you and your unique dog?
Anyone can have a good looking website or a fun facebook page. What can't be contrived are ethics and education. By writing this blog I hope to not only share with you my knowledge about canine health and behavior, but display through both deed and discussion my educational background and the code of ethics I strictly adhere to.
You can look forward to posts about everything dog, from nutrition to joint disease to basic obedience skills to behavior issues like anxiety and aggression. I hope that you enjoy following me on this dog training journey.
Emily Lewis is a professional dog trainer and veterinary technician. She lives in Vermont with her three rescue dogs, tuxedo cat, corn snake, crested geckos and Russian tortoise.