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A word about trainers...

When I decided to start rescuing dogs, I also decided it would be a good idea for me to learn how to be a dog trainer so that I could be more confident in managing new dogs whose history I often did not know. It was necessary for me to learn how to read body language in addition to the basic training every dog should know. I had been through training with my own dogs at Pet Smart and really wanted to learn more about dog psychology.

I decided on a program through Animal Behavioral College which is based on positive reinforcement, just as I had learned through Pet Smart. It taught me how to work with a dog in a positive way much like you see on "It's Me or the Dog", a great program by Victoria Stillwell who believes in positive training. In this method of training, a clicker is used to mark good behaviors and dogs are rewarded with either a treat or positive words when they get things right. I have found this method to work well with just about every dog who has come through our doors.

There are other trainers, however, who believe in aversive tactics in dog training. These are the ones who will use electronic or prong collars for a dog. And I have come across several who, as a licensed clinical social worker who works as a psychotherapist, I would say are borderline sociopaths. I recently adopted out a dog who had a tendency to regress with toileting when his home environment was changed. When he was adopted out, he began toileting in the house. Because his adopter lives about 50 miles away, I looked for a local trainer and one was recommended to me who immediately let me know he did not believe in positive reinforcement and proudly informed me he had never once given his dogs treats for good behaviors. I then learned that his method of keeping a dog quiet was to lock it in a crate and bang it with a metal bar any time the dog began whining or barking.

Here is what you should know about aversive training. It does work, but only in the way that torture works. A dog will behave just to make the pain or discomfort stop. But that does not mean that the behavior you are getting from the dog is done so freely and with respect. And, as with people, it is only a matter of time before the dog can't take it anymore and will turn on you.

I have spoken with trainers who have justified the use of prong and electronic collars as a way to keep a dog in a home because the owner is so desperate to stop negative behaviors. The problem is that when people use aversive techniques, they often do so out of frustration and a dog can be seriously hurt. But what has the dog learned? Has it truly learned to work with you, or has it just learned how to avoid suffering? When children are hit as a form of punishment, does it truly teach them to behave better, or does it simply make them better at hiding behaviors for which they would get into serious trouble?

Does this mean I have never used an aversive technique? No. I'm human and I become frustrated, too. I have a can filled with coins that I shake when the dogs become too rowdy as a way to quickly silence them or break up a scuffle. But I will be the first to admit that it's lazy. I really should work harder on teaching the dogs the "quiet" command and how to hold in place to avoid scuffles.

You have a choice with your dog. Is it just a dog, or is it an extension of your family? There is a positive way to correct any behavior. And at the end of the day, sometimes some behaviors are too much for certain people and, in that instance, a rehoming would be justified. We have ha many negative behaviors we have had to work on here from resource guarding to aggression. We have even had a couple of serious dog fights. We have learned who can eat together and who needs to feel secure in a crate to eat well. We have learned who can be let out together and who needs to be held back. Have we always gotten it right? No. But we have quickly learned and recovered and then adjusted for the safety of our pack and our fosters. It can be done.

I have seen so many people popping collars when it has not been necessary. Our dogs learn respect and have free run of the house and yard at the same time. We use crates only for meal times and when new dogs come (while we assess personalities). The crates set up in our living room now are only to give the dogs a safe and comfortable place to lie down, should they choose.

Your dog will give you what you put into him or her. A lazy owner will get a poorly behaved dog. A good owner will work in cooperation with his or her fur baby.

At the end of the day, however, before giving anyone money to train your dog, first ask what their beliefs are in terms of training and why they hold their beliefs. And it does not matter if a person is making millions off of a television program. To be a true pack leader means having respect for your canine.

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