Tips From A Professional Dog Trainer
Q: If readers were to do just one thing differently with their dogs, what would you reccommend it would be?
Stop (inadvertently) rewarding bad behaviour! Training is letting the dog know you like or don't like the behaviour as it’s happening based on timing, body language, and voice intonation. No animal reads us better than the dog. None. A thousand times, I’ve arrived at a client’s home and when the door opens, Cujo wants to eat my kneecap and is being held back by the owner. And what's the owner doing? He's trying to tamp down the aggression, calm him if you will, by petting Cujo while telling him, “It's OK.” That’s like Mom telling her four-year-old son “good job!” when he’s pinching Grandma
Q: Do people need to be more aware of the energy they transmit to their dogs?
You bet! Feisty thinks it's his job to exert his supremacy with every dog he sees. You’re relieved because it's bad weather today—best time to take Feisty to the park because there'll be fewer people out with their dogs. So, you're hanging out in the park, facing the entrance. Feisty is nice and relaxed, facing the opposite direction. Then you see someone entering with their German Shepard. Without thinking, you immediately tighten the leash, saying, "Feisty!!" Feisty was just fine until the sudden strong pressure on his neck and the tension in your voice startled and freaked him out. What's he going to relate all this anxiety to? Of course, the other dog he now sees. The timing of the energy you transmitted to Feisty exacerbated his relationship difficulties. One of the many things I do with a dog like Feisty is con him with love and praise just before he sees another dog, thus changing the initial association when seeing another dog.
Q: Why would a middle aged dog suddenly be exhibiting problem behaviour?
I lost count of all the times a dog owner said, "My dog is doing "whatever" for no reason at all. Well, there's always a reason! Like the time the terrier owner said, "Gouger keeps scratching at this piece of wall—for no reason at all!!" That was an easy one. I told her to call an exterminator because there were bugs or mice behind that section of wall. Your dog is cognizant and sensitive to the vibes in the house, and will often react to your mood change, from the joy of winning the lottery to the depression of a cancer diagnosis, job loss, or nasty arguments leading to a divorce. So, when I'm told an older dog is suddenly presenting aberrant behaviour, I ask a lot of questions to see if something might have changed the vibe in the house.
One time, a couple called me to help with their six-year-old mini Schnauzer, Smokey, who was all of a sudden urinating in the apartment and acting very scared and sketchy “for no reason at all.” After a vet visit to rule out anything physical and an hour of questioning, I came up with nothing, so I told them to leave a voice activated tape recorder in the living room. (I've used tape recorders as proof in court to discern the truth of how long a dog really barked when a tenant complained. Never lost a case—plaintiffs always vastly inflate barking time). Did I mention the couple also had an African Grey Parrot named Bandit? The day after the tape recorder was set up, I got the call. “That stinker Bandit is imitating the sound of the doorbell and then screaming at Smokey when he barks at the door, calling him a bad boy, and some other things. Bandit is having a great time making poor Smokey nuts!" With a little confidence building for Smokey and Bandit moved to another room, problem solved. There's always a reason.