Choosing Your Dog’s Trainer

Choosing Your Dog’s Trainer

Choosing Your Dog’s Trainer

With so many people involved in the field of professional dog training today, trying to determine who’s truly qualified can be a difficult task. Your dog is a member of your family so you should make enquiries as to whom you will entrust your pet. Remember that the wrong person or techniques can have damaging consequences for your relationship with your pet.

However, a good trainer will be able to enhance the bond between you and your dog.

There is a difference between competition obedience and pet training, although they share similarities. I have worked with clients who have had a good competition dog with excellent recall if it was started in the correct position ie. a sit. However, it would not return if called from the garden or any other position. This was because it was trained for competition work only. The generalisation of training is important and should be explained by a good trainer, as should other important areas of learning theory.

Class or individual training?

If you can afford the time and cost, then personal tuition over a graded programme is ideal. The combination of personal attention to address specific training issues means training problems can be more quickly resolved and any potential behavioural problems prevented. Once the basics commands have been learnt then you can graduate to a class situation, where the other dogs can act as a ready-made distraction for your dog’s continuing training. For some owners where trainers or classes are unavailable then a residential course may be the only alternative to having an untrained dog. Check on the credentials of these trainers, the kennelling environment and the amount of time given to instruct the owners once the dog is trained. Please be wary of these courses and check the premises yourself before committing your dog to someone else’s care.

The other option is to enquire from a professional trainer as to recommended reading. There are many good books on the market but unfortunately, there are at least as many bad books based on rough handling and outdated training methods.

 

An excellent reputation

Shop around and get recommendations from your vet, the ISPCA, DSPCA, other humane /rescue societies, other reputable trainers (being one who can show credible credentials), or your breeder/breed club. Ask for a recommendation from these bodies and do not assume that because you have seen a flyer in the waiting room that the trainer comes recommended.

 

Widespread experience

Enquire about his or her training background, years of experience, and areas of expertise. You deserve to have your questions answered, so don’t be timid about asking them.

Humane training methodology and gentle, effective handling skills. Reputable trainers are concerned about their dogs’ welfare. They also know that harsh or abusive handling methods are not only unnecessary but are often counter-productive as well. A good rule of thumb is to ask their opinion of check/choke chains. Do they have alternatives to this method of control or do they insist that all their clients use them? How do they teach control methods? When is it ok to punish your dog and how?

Extensive behavioural knowledge. Dedicated trainers keep themselves up-to-date by attending dog training and animal behaviour courses, conferences, seminars and workshops whenever possible. 

Good teaching and communication skills. Trainers who have this gift make the learning process quicker, easier and more enjoyable for their students.

A sense of humour. Training can and should be fun for both dogs and owners. A positive attitude and a little laughter go a long way.

Affiliations with reputable associations, organisations and training clubs. While this is not mandatory it is certainly a plus.

Ethics before profit. Is monetary profit his or her primary motive for training dogs? Is everything this trainer geared towards making money? While financial success is great, ethics must come first.

Ask other dog owners. Who helped them train their own dog? Were they happy with the results and would they recommend them? If you have had your dog trained did you inform your vet or other body whether you were satisfied with their recommendation?

 Remember, absolutely anyone can call himself a dog trainer or behaviourist. Slick ads with inflated claims, grandiose self-descriptions, and impressive-sounding titles can be very deceptive. Investigate any stated affiliations a trainer lists on his or her brochure, Golden Pages ad or web site. If a trainer claims to be affiliated with an organisation (past or present) or claims to have “studied” with well-known dog trainers or behaviourists, ask for their telephone numbers and contact them to be sure. 

A common ploy for some trainers, is to attend a couple of one-or two-day seminars or workshops with a well-known dog expert (or University), then claim to have studied with that person (or at that institution).

 Also, verify how many years the trainer you are considering has been training dogs professionally. While years alone are not enough to determine a trainer’s experience level in and of itself, it certainly says a lot.

Behavioural Problems. Please beware of any trainer who claims to have the knowledge and education to offer behavioural advice. This is a highly specialised area and those who have qualified would certainly not have spent up to 5 years in postgraduate study at Universities such as Southampton if it was not necessary. The Association of Pet behaviour Counsellors has a website with listed members who have joined their association by undertaking a rigorous application process. Your pet insurer will have a list of those qualified and whose fees they will reimburse.

Jim Stephens - Pet Behaviour Consultant

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Jim Stephens

Jim is a pet behaviour counsellor and founder of The Pet Behaviour Centre, where he specialises in solving problem behaviours in companion animals. Jim graduated from Southampton University with a Master of Science degree in Companion Animal Behaviour Counselling.

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Why Should Pet Dogs Be Trained?

Why Should Pet Dogs Be Trained?

Why Should Pet Dogs Be Trained?

You are not a shepherd. Your dog does not need to work for a living. Why, then, should you train your dog? Since the first wild canid and human beings discovered that they could live together, we have selectively bred dogs to perform certain tasks. These tasks include hunting, guarding, herding, tracking, pulling carts and too many other jobs to fit on this sheet of paper. Very few of the early dogs were kept as pets. The whole concept of pet-keeping is a fairly recent one.

Your dog, no matter what its breed, will have probably had working ancestors. A dog is an intelligent creature which needs mental stimulation. Finding ways that your dog can work for you will improve your relationship and fulfil certain needs for a dog. You will probably find that your dog will be tired after doing some work because he will be forced to use his brain.

Other than your dog’s mental well-being, there are more important reasons for training. We live in a society which is becoming more anti-dog every day. Public pressure and new legislation means that the onus is on every dog owner to keep their dog under control in public places. In our own homes, it is also very important that our dogs know what is required. As pack leader, we feed, shelter, protect, provide veterinary treatment, groom and many other things for our dog. In return, we should expect our dog to bring pleasure to our life. For many, dog ownership has become less of a pleasure. They cannot walk their dog due to it’s misbehaviour, friends will not visit because the dog is a nuisance, neighbours complain about the noise and many people lose their furniture to destructive dogs. Pet dog training may not solve all of these problems on its own, but it will provide a basis for developing a good relationship with your dog.

Punishment & Reward

Dogs will not do anything unless there is a good reason for doing it. There are usually two different reasons. The first is to avoid pain and the second is to obtain something pleasant like food or a toy. For some dogs, the punishment method works. But for most, it will ruin the dog/owner relationship. Punishment must happen within two seconds of the undesirable act to be effective. Most dogs do naughty things when we are not around to catch them. This makes punishment completely useless and can confuse the dog. Rewarding good behaviour is far simpler and much more effective.

Reward-based training includes “Lure and Reward” and other methods such as “Clicker Training” borrowed from marine mammal trainers. Different methods suit different people and their dogs and an individual programme tailored to your needs will be provided. The use of modern methods increases compliance to owners’ commands and helps maintain a good owner/animal relationship. When your dog begins training he will learn how to learn. This means that teaching him will become easier and easier. For the owner, the major requirements are common sense and patience.

Adult Dogs

Older dogs (six months upwards) have had the time and opportunity for their previous learning (e.g. pulling on the lead) to be strengthened often by inadvertent rewards from their owners. Previous learning and the use of inappropriate equipment (eg choke/check chains, short leads etc) will interfere with new learning. The reasons for this and how to overcome previous learning will be explained to you during the initial session.

Puppy Training

Your puppy is learning from the moment you bring him home, therefore you can begin his/her training at the earliest time. However, you must ensure that the puppy’s vaccination programme is complete before attending classes. Your veterinary surgeon will advise you on this, but as a general rule you can attend classes a few days after the final vaccination. Alternatively you can arrange for initial training to take place in your own home before vaccinations are completed. General puppy training covers the normal developmental stages of pups, the sensitive period for socialisation, lead work, sit, down, stay and recalls and how to avoid and reduce the development of problem behaviours, eg excessive mouthing, destructive chewing and jumping up.

Jim Stephens - Pet Behaviour Consultant

Written by

Jim Stephens

Jim is a pet behaviour counsellor and founder of The Pet Behaviour Centre, where he specialises in solving problem behaviours in companion animals. Jim graduated from Southampton University with a Master of Science degree in Companion Animal Behaviour Counselling.

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Behavioural differences between pedigree and crossbreed dogs

Behavioural differences between pedigree and crossbreed dogs

Behavioural differences between pedigree and crossbreed dogs

There is a wide held belief that Crossbreeds are healthier than their pedigree counterparts. People think that such crossbreeds/mongrels have inherited the best of whatever breeds are in the mix ( so-called hybrid vigour). However, data suggests that mixed-breed dogs can inherit many of the problems associated with each of the breeds that go into their makeup and that mixed-breed dogs are no more or less likely to have health issues than their purebred counterparts. However, what about behavioural differences?

In most countries, mixed-breed dogs outnumber purebred dogs. For example, a national census showed that 53% of the dogs in the US are mixed breed whilst here in Ireland the number of IKC registered pedigree dogs is approximately 250,000 out of almost 700,000 dogs ( some of which may be non-registered purebred breeds). Is the behaviour between these classes of dogs different? There are the breed differences which through selective breeding have strengthened particular traits producing for example sighthounds, herding gun dogs, but what of behaviours such as excitability, trainability, aggression etc. 

One of the PETA websites claims, “Mixed-breed dogs are wonderful compared to purebred dogs who have a greater tendency to be nervous, neurotic and excitable.” However, no supporting evidence for this statement is provided. Now a recent study from Hungary has looked at the issue and has provided some interesting conclusions on the behavioural differences between pedigree and crossbreed dogs. (1)

Data was collected from owners of over 14,000 dogs (7700 pedigree dogscomprising200 breeds and 7691 crossbreeds) by survey via a magazine and website using the C-bar questionnaire. Analysis of the data showed the following differences between the two groups :

  • The mixed-breed dogs were significantly less calm than the purebred dogs. Calmness is demonstrated by a dog who is cool-headed and emotionally balanced versus one who is anxious or appears to be stressed.
  • The mixed-breed dogs were also considerably less sociable toward other dogs. Sociability is shown in dogs which are judged to be friendly and willing to share toys as opposed to dogs which are apt to be quarrelsome and are rated as being bullying.
  • The mixed-breed dogs were also more likely to show behaviour problems. These include dogs that frequently pull on the leash, jump up on people, don’t respond when called, show dominance behaviours etc 
  • However, mixed-breeds’ owners walked their dogs for longer than the owners of purebreds.
  • However, pedigree and mixed-breed dogs showed little or no differences in terms of their trainability. 

There was no difference between the groups in how much time the owners spend with their dog in general, or with playing, for what purpose the owners keep the dog, whether they buy gifts for the dog and whether the dog is allowed onto the bed.

Genetic Factors

So why should there be such a difference? Is it genetic or are there other influences such as environment, husbandry owner type which impact? An obvious difference is that mixed-breed dogs are for the most part the result of random breeding rather than planned matings. Purebred dogs are usually subject to careful selective breeding. Even if breeders are most concerned about the appearance of their dogs, they also tend to pay attention to temperament. 

It is less likely that an ill-tempered and excitable dog with behaviour problems will be bred. This is because, in part, that breeders know that this will not be good for the breed in general, for a show career and the possibility that a badly behaved dog will be returned to them by the purchaser. Therefore differences between mixed-breed dogs and purebreds could be, at least partially, attributed to genetic factors.

Owner influence

However, the research team also found that several environmental factors were having to do with the demographics of the dog owners and the way the dogs were reared which might affect. For example, the study found that mixed-breed dogs were more likely to be owned by women, and these women tended to be younger, with a lower level of education, and had less previous experience with dogs than the owners of purebred dogs.

Dogs with more training experiences displayed fewer behavioural problems (according to the owner). More educated and more experienced owners also reported that their dogs had fewer behaviour problems. Finally, owners who had long walks with their dogs reported fewer behaviour problems, but that might be because a well behaved dog is likely to have longer walks a result of its behaviour.

 Another factor was that mixed breed dogs tended to receive less formal training than purebred dogs. This is important because the amount of training affected how well the dog scored in terms of calmness and sociability and also dogs that have received training were reported to have fewer behavioural problems.

Mixed-breed dogs were also more likely to be the only dog in a household and tended to be kept indoors most of the time. These dogs also tended to be brought into the household at an older age than were purebred dogs. This fact is important since the researchers found that dogs brought into the home at an age of fewer than 12 weeks were calmer overall.

Neutered status

A further interesting factor was that mixed-breed were more likely to be neutered. These investigators found that dogs which had been spayed or neutered will have lower scores in terms of their calmness and were more likely to show behaviour problems. This is consistent with other research which shows that neutered dogs are more likely to be aggressive, fearful and excitable.

Conclusion

Thus this research team concludes that there are real differences between mixed-breed and purebred dogs in terms of their personality and behaviour. They also suggest that these differences are not only genetic but also may reflect the environment in which the dog is reared, the training that the dog receives, and the characteristics of the dog’s owners.

 

(1) Owner perceived differences between mixed-breed and purebred dogs

Borbála Turcsán , Ádám Miklósi, Enikő Kubinyi

http://journals.plos.org

Jim Stephens - Pet Behaviour Consultant

Written by

Jim Stephens

Jim is a pet behaviour counsellor and founder of The Pet Behaviour Centre, where he specialises in solving problem behaviours in companion animals. Jim graduated from Southampton University with a Master of Science degree in Companion Animal Behaviour Counselling.

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Pets and Fireworks

Pets and Fireworks

Pets and Fireworks

Many pets are upset by the noise and flashes of fireworks. Loud, sudden bangs can cause fearful reactions such as cowering, trembling, flight from area, loss of toileting habits, destructive behaviour and excessive barking/noises.

What can you do?

 

  • Dogs and cats should be kept indoors and, where possible, in a room without windows or with curtains drawn.
  • A radio, music tape or TV will help overshadow the occasional noise outside, especially if the music has a steady, rhythmic beat.
  • Anxiety in the animal can be reduced by altering feeding regimes. Feeding later in the evening will encourage the animal to eat during what are anxiety-creating periods.
  • Licking objects such as Kongs filled with peanut butter will help reduce stress.
  • Increasing the level of carbohydrate in the animal’s food and adding Vitamin B6 will also help; if your animal is prone to diarrhoea then don’t try this!
  • Make earplugs out of moistened cotton wool. Squeeze out excess water and roll into a long thin cylinder and twist into ears so as to pack the ear canal. Care must be taken that the cylinder isn’t too thin and goes too deeply or so fat that it cannot be secured.The plug should be secure and firm but not so tight as to irritate your pet.
  • Certain drugs can be useful but must be given early so they take effect before any noise occurs. Your vet should be able to advise.
  • The use of Appeasing Pheromones has been shown to be very effective in firework phobias. Contact your vet or The Pet Behaviour Centre for more details.

If your pet has severe reactions to fireworks or other noises then a programme of desensitisation and counter-conditioning is required, once the firework season is over. If possible, record fireworks on tape so the sound can be used as part of the programme. Often pheromone and /or drug therapy is required as an adjunct to the behaviour modification and Jim will be happy to discuss the appropriate regime with your vet.

Jim Stephens - Pet Behaviour Consultant

Written by

Jim Stephens

Jim is a pet behaviour counsellor and founder of The Pet Behaviour Centre, where he specialises in solving problem behaviours in companion animals. Jim graduated from Southampton University with a Master of Science degree in Companion Animal Behaviour Counselling.

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