A combination of theoretical knowledge and experience. There are many experienced dog trainers who are basically self-trained and have massive amounts of experience. Some of these trainers may not have the neccessary academic knowledge of dog psychology to make them fully-rounded behaviourists. In contrast, there are many modern behaviourists who are qualified to the hilt in terms of academic studies but lack any real experience of working with dogs and their owners. Some of them have never even owned a dog!
There are large numbers of establishments giving out dog training qualifications and many of them don’t require practical experience. This has given rise to large numbers of dog behaviourists who can talk the talk, but can’t walk the walk. Beware of the trainer/behaviourist who appears reluctant to carry out practical work in environmental training scenarios. It’s usually because they don’t know how. Be even more wary if they simply like you to visit them in their office, almost like a visit to a therapist! If it was as simple as that, there would just be a detailed text-book to cover all eventualities and there would be no need for dog trainers and behaviourists!
When it comes right down to it, the vast majority of problem dog behavioural issues are down to the dogs environment and the way it has been brought up, either by the current owner or a previous one. Of course, there are also some dogs who are born with certain genetic or inherited problems which are destined to show themselves, no matter how experienced the owner. The classic nature versus nurture contest.
The good dog trainer/behaviourist will identify those issues quite quickly and will then set about devising a training programme which will bring about a change in the dogs behaviour and at the same time, bring about a proportionate increase in the owner’s confidence and handling skills. Like my slogan says – ‘Dogs and their owners trained’.
If you are still seeing your dog behaviourist months down the line and despite all your efforts, financial and otherwise you are seeing little or no improvement – see another behaviourist!
All dogs present different training issues. Some guarding breeds can be over protective, some terriers have very high prey instincts, but at the end of the day they are all dogs and any good dog behaviourist and trainer should be able to competently deal with their problems. Of course the larger breeds often require enhanced handling skills, but dog training is about having a broad-based experience of many different breeds. A visit to my client testimonial page will show I certainly don’t just deal with Rottweilers and German Shepherds!
Puppy owners often consult us to carry out one to one training with their valued young pets and in my opinion this is by far the best way to get your young puppy off to the best possible start in life, particularly if you lack experience. Jayne works with most of the puppies and you can read some great client reviews of her work.
Dog training classes for adolescent and older dogs are fine so long as all the participants are well-behaved and the dog:instructor ratio is appropriate. However, dog training classes are no place for dogs with behavioural problems as they simply have an adverse affect on many of the other dogs present. If your dog has a behavioural problem, then you need to consult a behavioural trainer for one to one work to have any real hope of rectifying the situation. If you simply wish to teach your dog the rudiments of obedience, then some dog training classes are excellent, but I would always recommend that you observe before you enrol.
Every now and then, usually in aggression cases, one meets a dog that is just beyond complete rehabilitation due to the severity of its problem. These are the serious biters, of either humans or other dogs. With a very small number of these dogs, one has to fall back on appropriate standards of management of the behaviour and in an even smaller number, it is fairer to do the kind thing with some very unhappy dogs and get the vet to end their misery. If asked to put a figure on these cases, I would say that they are significantly less than 1% of aggression cases.
Of course, when I am dealing with aggression cases for instance, I have to use my judgement and expertise to decide if and when your dog is able to be allowed off-lead amongst other dogs and their owners. The good dog behaviour trainer bears a heavy responsibility in this respect and it is not one to be taken lightly.
Dealing with problem behaviour invariably means that the subject dog lacks a balanced approach to certain problems and in my experience, particularly where aggression is concerned, food reward is hardly ever successful. Food reward is fine for teaching well-balanced dogs obedience and tricks, but I am afraid it goes out of the window with most dogs when the red-mist descends. So for me, it’s about ignoring certain low-level inappropriate behaviours, rewarding good behaviour and interrupting higher level inappropriate behaviours.
Electric shock collars (or E-collars as their exponents like to call them) were banned in the Police service at least 25 years ago. They have also been banned in Wales and whilst still legal in the rest of the UK, it is only a matter of time before they are banned across the country. To my mind, if the Police can train their dogs to the high standards they do, without resorting to electric shock collars, then the least we can do as dog behaviourists and trainers is to emulate that. It is my personal opinion that the type of client I see, who clearly love their dogs as part of the family, would simply ask me to leave if I proposed using a shock collar on their pet.
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