(Or why I chose force-free positive training)
My first experience with a professional dog trainer was hugely disappointing and left us feeling that our dog was untrainable and that we were terrible dog guardians. Let me start at the beginning…
When we adopted Steffi at the age of 16 weeks, we thought that with her being puppy that it would be so much easier than bringing an adult dog into our home. (All puppy owners will be smiling at me now just knowing how naive that was!) We did some things right – putting in place a regular daily routine for her, a crate for her to sleep in and take time out, taking her to puppy school with a positive reinforcement trainer, and exposing her to new environments (public transport, pubs, cafes, the vet), people and other dogs.
As Steffi grew larger and larger (she now weighs in at a lean 35kgs!) and progressed through adolescence, we encountered a number of challenging behaviours including pulling on the lead (a lot, to go anywhere), and in particular pulling towards other people and dogs, and not coming back on recall – she’d run off after other dogs to play, or pursue the contents of a nearby picnic – causing embarrassment and frustration.
As our dog grew bigger, we encountered number of challenging behaviours…
…pulling on the lead, running off after other dogs to play
So we did what any responsible dog owner would do and sought out a referral for a professional dog trainer to help us train Steffi. With only a brief exchange of text messages, the trainer turned up and started with telling us what we were doing wrong in the home (being ‘too permissive’ by allowing her to sleep on the sofa).
We then went for a walk where the trainer proceeded to jerk the lead to pull Steffi back and then push her into a ‘Sit’ while shouting ‘NO!’. The emotional hurt in Steffi’s face was painfully obvious to me each time she was pushed into a ‘Sit’ position, but we pressed on because we had hired this trainer and felt we had no other options. (When Steffi was 8 months old she had a hip replacement, so forcing the ‘Sit’ position may have also caused her physical discomfort.) We then went to the local park to practice recall – it was fun playing ‘hide and seek’, but I struggled to see how Steffi would choose this over running to play with another dog.
At the end of our session, I felt very uncomfortable. Uncomfortable with some of the methods used and uncomfortable that I had acquired any new skills to help train my dog.
I knew there had to be a better way – something kinder but still effective. By chance, I met a fantastic pet behaviourist. She knew I was passionate about dogs and asked if I wanted to assist her in her local puppy classes. Observing her training methods – positive reinforcement based, kind and fun, and pursuing training resources by leading experts on positive reinforcement training (Jean Donaldson, Patricia McConnell, Karen Pryor, Kathy Sdao) led me to pursue formal learning to help me train Steffi better behaviours.
My frustrations in hiring the ‘professional’ dog trainer wasn’t all for nought. It’s what helped lead me on the path to pursue qualifications through the Karen Pryor Academy and become a registered trainer with the Animal Behaviour & Training Council. With my professional experience in the corporate world coaching leaders and their teams combined with my passion for people and their dogs, it only seemed natural to work with people and their dogs to achieve the life they want.
Tips on what a good dog trainer will do with you and your dog
I would like to pass on some tips on what a good dog trainer will do with you:
- Conduct an initial consultation to get to know you, your dog, and your family’s needs
- Customise a training plan to support you and your dog in getting the behaviours you need
- Train with food, and also show you what other reinforcers (toys, activities) can help shape the behaviours you want
- Not use punishment or aversive tools in training your dog to stop behaviours – instead a good trainer will train your dog alternative behaviours and offer suggestions to better manage the environment
- Take into account the overall welfare of your dog
And last but not least: A good trainer will be kind and courteous to you and your dog
(Don’t just take my word for it – read more here on How to Choose a Dog Trainer by Zazie Todd, PhD.)
We weren’t terrible dog guardians for Steffi, we just needed the right help. Steffi isn’t perfect (who is?), but we enjoy our walks, she’s a keen learner and loves our 10 minutes of training time we do almost every day, and is a wonderful family dog.
If you have been experiencing frustrations with your dog, or finding the right training help, then please get in touch and let’s talk about how we can help ☺
Ps. Yes, Steffi still has her own bed on the sofa. This is where we enjoy cuddling with her while we watch tv or relax with friends. But she does a perfect loose lead walk, gets on well with our cat, and knows dozens(!) of other learned behaviour cues. Steffi is the well-mannered dog we love with all our hearts and enjoy every day. We’re pretty sure she feels the same way about us too!
Are you ready to enjoy a happy, well-mannered dog? Then get in touch, we’d love to help.