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Things Your Dog Trainer Says

Posted by Misa Martin, CPDT-KA on 8/19/2015
Things Your Dog Trainer Says

I wouldn’t have chewed your shoe if you had puppy proofed this house. Management, management, management!

I love seeing the looks of recognition and relief that come over my students faces as they recognize kindred spirits in their first puppy classes. Students see that their own puppy’s Ahem! moments are generally right in step with the other dogs - the sudden deafness, the ignoring of the Mama in favor of a fascinating smell, and oh my, the jumping up. Or barking. Or pawing us for attention. We trainers have heard plenty of wild puppy stories, and we have a lot of games up our sleeve to help. Not surprisingly, there are some common threads in the recommendations that my colleagues and I re-visit when it comes to helping students.

First on the list from every trainer I interviewed can be summed up by Bobbie Bhambree of DogCentric training, who says, "The one thing I've been saying the most is set your dog up for success by managing the environment."

Got a new pup that's a bit unclear about potty training? Manage this by confining your new dog to a limited area in your home where they are least likely to get into trouble. That's a great beginning - and as your own trainer might remind you, combining management with proactive training will help your pup learn at a brisk pace.

As you practice exercises at home, you and your dog will likely start training in places where it is easy to perform a sit, down, or stay. That place will probably not be out on the street at first - too many un-manageable distractions for beginners. So we also manage our dogs learning environments as best we can.

Management is important for good manners in your home, says trainer Jenn Michaelis of Sassy T Canine Academy . Especially for things like counter surfing, chewing and jumping. Don't work harder, work smarter.” She reminds her students that a well managed home environment will help in training as our pups are learning all the time!

Consistency from humans was second on the list from trainers I polled. In training classes, we encourage our students to use the same cues consistently for the behaviors we teach. A good example of this would be saying, "Down" only when we want our dogs to lie down, and not to use that word interchangeably with "Off"which generally means "Move away from that." It's important to be consistent with the rules you've set up for your dog.

Jorge Melara of Divine K-9 in Carmel, NY, recommends, "Be consistent with everything you do. If you allow a behavior then always allow it; if you don't then never allow it." The family member or friend who allows your dog to jump up on them when everyone else is consistently turning away from your dog is creating a lot of confusion for your dog! Confusion and inconsistency likely means that the annoying and unwanted behavior will persist.

Deb Manheim of Happy Tails Dog Training in Las Vegas, NV, has been a professional dog trainer since 1997. (Full disclosure I attended her puppy class with my first dog, Flop, over 12 years ago!) She says, "Let your dog tell you when he or she is ready to work or is in the game of training."

Let's say you've been doing your class homework and asking your dog for a "Sit" fairly regularly. Then, just as you are preparing your dog's breakfast one morning, your dog looks at you brightly and pops into a Sit before you ask him to. This is a dog that understands the concept, "My human has rewards, and it's my behavior that earns them. I can get my human to pay out!" This is a dog who's in the game and excited to work with you.


"I Love Training! What's Next?"
When you play training games that allow your dog to be right most of the time, you will have an engaged and enthusiastic partner.

The topic of setting the puppy or dog up for successful training came up many times in my talks with trainers. The tips and reminders that your instructor goes over in class help students to set up successful training sessions. Trying to train when there are a lot of excited visitors coming over to my house will likely end in tears (mine) - so, I'd rather introduce one visitor that understands that I'm training and will help me by ignoring my pup if she jumps up. My friend might even help me with a training game or two. This scenario is preferable to a human/canine free-for-all that teaches your pup to expect to run amok whenever visitors come over.

What about reinforcement? I like to remind my students that it is most definitely their dog who gets to decide what their favorite rewards are. You will need to figure out what actually motivates your dog so that you can find out what he or she will want to work for, and you'll probably want to do that before classes begin. It is such a disappointment to us to see a dog gradually "tune out" during a group class because the treats being used aren't good enough. Finding out what your dog's most favorite reinforcers are is important homework. If students skip this step, they are inevitably disappointed in their results.

Nancy Field owns Harmony Dog Training, in NYC, and is also a Family Manners instructor at PCOTC. Especially in her Foundations classes, her students are encouraged to be generous with treats, causing many students to exclaim, "I had no idea we'd have to use so many treats!" "You have to start somewhere," Nancy says. "People are sometimes resistant to using so much food at first, fearing their dogs will be "spoiled" or learn to comply only when food is offered. But the class environment is highly distracting and even stressful for many dogs, so getting their attention is a very important first step."

Trainer Deb Manheim agrees, "You can absolutely correlate between how generous you are with rewards when you begin training with how much enthusiasm your dog has for training."

Many positive reinforcement trainers need to be clear with students that there’s simply no place for punishment in dog training. Deb Manheim says, “You will work with your dog's food and toys if you work with me. Good dog training involves using reinforcers. Truly dog-friendly trainers won’t work any other way.”

The shift in outlook from looking at all of the problems that must be fixed, to seeking out better behaviors, is expressed by Jamie McKay. She says, "I try to look at it from a point of what do I want my dog to do, not what I don't want them to do."


"Go to your bed" rather than "Dash out the door!"

Jamie co-owns McKay9 Dog Training and is director of Family Manners at Port Chester Obedience Training Club in White Plains, NY. In addition to introductory courses for puppies and their parents, she also teaches specialty classes for shy and fearful dogs. When it comes to coaching dog owners with puppy issues, she prefers to keep things simple. She reminds her students, "We don't know what they are thinking, we can just describe their behavior." Anthropomorphizing an animal's behavior is a complicated road that can be fraught with misunderstanding.


"My dog is barking because he's mad at me for leaving him home last Tuesday." Really?

Trainers are sympathetic to the fact that all the things we recommend can feel like a lot. "Clients can feel overwhelmed because what I'm telling them to do involves a lot of management at first, or if they are just generally expecting too much too soon," says Nancy Field. "You wouldn't have your first dance lesson onstage at Lincoln Center in front of an audience." Part of any good training class involves explanations about how to break down behaviors into pieces that are "do-able" by the dogs! When students think the whole problem is distractions outside (or when people come to visit, etc.) but we have to get fluency without distractions first.


Trigger's ready for training.

There's a huge satisfaction for us in seeing dogs and their owners "click" as they learn how to overcome hurdles. Above all, positive trainers want to see our students succeed and that's why we are showing you how to break these activities down into "do-able" pieces. This is essential in any teaching relationship that we have with our dogs.

Trainer Jorge Melara expresses this best: "Be kind to yourself and your dog, you are after all a different species." Have fun training your dog!

Next time: What it's like to see a shy, "shut down" dog have success in Agility training.

Misa Martin is a Certified Professional Dog Trainer. Years of attending agility seminars, workshops, seminars and camps with her first dog led to the beginning of her professional dog training career as a PetSmart Trainer in 2008. In addition to joining Port Chester Obedience Training Club's Family Manners program, Misa is a staff trainer at the Mount Vernon Humane Society, active with Pets Alive Westchester as a group class instructor and consultant for training and behavior issues, and a volunteer for the Walden Humane Society's education program. Misa owns Hudson Valley Dog Trainer, providing reward-based training to private clients. Through her knowledge, experience, and sense of humor, Misa encourages students to approach dog training as a team effort, where students learn as much from their dogs as dogs learn from their "parents," making training fun for humans and dogs alike! Misa can be reached at [email protected]

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