Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Why trainer's dogs bark.

I always thought that dog trainers would automatically have the "perfect" dog. You know the sort, the ones that can dance the waltz on Britain's Got Talent, can do agility with their eyes shut, know 9007 different cues and can perform them across a field using just the sound of a whistle, and never, ever chase anything except their guardian's dreams.

No. This is definitely not the way of it.

It seems that these amazing dogs are everywhere. There to make us feel like serious failures in our dog training abilities, and to give our clients ridiculous expectations and to let them know just how shit their own dog guardianship and training abilities are too. Obviously we/they are not shit, in fact most are far from it. Coping with the emotions that come with a dog with issues while trying to work out how to manage them and make them feel better is really hard. But they can be made to feel that way - and the more conscientious among all dog guardians find it even easier to compare them/ourselves and their/our dogs with these "perfect partnerships" as we want to do our best by them.

What people do not always see is that although many people who work with animals knew that was what they wanted at an early age and went to University to learn about it, many trainers or behaviourists find their way into training and behaviour completely by accident, while learning how to help their own Reactive Rovers and Anxious Annies. We have watched our own dogs trying to navigate their way through life, reacting at other dogs, or hating men with beards and hats, or trying to make sense of their lives before rescue or coping with illness and pain. We learned about how to help them, and found a passion for it, so we then want to help other dogs and their people too. 

Most of us then spent £1,000s on education and have spent pretty much our every waking moment ever since, learning how to help dogs. We continue to learn to keep ourselves on top of our game and we continue to work on our own dogs while we are at it.

The barking dog, or the dog with a lack of recall does not reflect the skill of the trainer/behaviourist. OUR DOGS ARE NOT ROBOTS.

What the trainer is doing about it DOES reflect the skill of the trainer.

The methods of training being used reflect the skill of the trainer. A good trainer does not need to use aversive methods, and knows there is nothing that can be trained with punishment and aversives that can't be trained with rewards, fun and kindness. This trainer knows the pitfalls of punishing methods, even if they appear to work quickly. They know also the relationship building, confidence boosting buzz of training with force-free and positive methods.

Where the dog has come from and where they are now reflects the skill of the trainer.  How was the dog when the trainer first began working with them? Has the trainer worked out what the dog's issues are? How long has the dog been undergoing behavioural modification and have they changed/began to change their response to some things? Miracles do not occur overnight, and neither do lasting behaviour changes (apart from fear responses). However progress in the right direction, done with the right methods is a gradual and ongoing process that becomes a way of life, making everything better for the dog and guardian and their life together.

The trainer's ability to judge what the dog can cope with and respond accordingly reflects the skill of the trainer. Overwhelming a dog or expecting too much can be very counter productive. Training ineffective and unsuitable solutions to a dog's issue will be either counter productive, or simply make no difference at all. Far better to train the dog in front of you, tempering expectations to a realistic level and going at a speed that suits the dog, keeping them below threshold - preferably training FOR the situation rather than IN the situation. A dog might never learn to be the one that can play fetch in the park with 800 dog friends, but he might be able to learn to walk down the road comfortably on his lead and go past another dog without panicking, taking a treat from his trusty human as he goes.

Our dogs with problems need to work on their emotions and will often need to undergo a behavioural program for a long time - they can still have ongoing problems for some time. Just because their guardian is a behaviourist, well, it just means that their human has been lucky enough to gain extra knowledge, in order to help them make progress with their issues. 

They are often not the dog that we started with. The dog you see barking at another dog when they go down the street, may have once been too afraid to even leave their house. The dog running with wild abandon through the leaves in the park with little recall might once have been curled up in pain and unable to move for days on end. (A good trainer will have them on a long line for safety, but still....). 

The ability to make that dog's life better, to help them make progress and to have patience while doing it is reflective of the trainer's/behaviourist's skill.

Like any living creature, we are all a work in progress, and trainer's and behaviourist's dogs are no different. Those dogs you see on TV? They are the exception, not the rule, They are fantastic to watch, and brilliantly trained, but just like people do not look like those air brushed models on TV and in magazines, not all dogs will look like the dogs on TV. Not even trainer's dogs. 

Sometimes, especially not trainer's dogs.

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