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Friday, January 29, 2010

All for Nothing

I don't bill myself as a professional dog trainer. I would feel guilty doing so, as most of my training abilities are self-taught (and researched heavily). I will, however, happily offer my services as a 'behavior mentor' to assist my clients in teaching their dogs basic manners.

But I ask something in return.

Extra money would be nice, but like I said, I would feel wrong asking for money for something I'm not technically qualified to give.

No, what I ask for is commitment from my clients. Not just a nod of the head and a grunt of understanding when I explain something. A full on devotion to giving your dog the best possible chance to behave well.

Dogs learn incredibly fast, but they unlearn just as quickly. So for all the effort I put forth teaching a dog not to launch herself towards other dogs on the street to say hello, if my client doesn't try just as hard as I do, it will all be for naught. As I've learned, corrections (quick tugs on the leash) may work in the immediate present to stop a behavior, but they have zero effect on preventing behavior in the future. A dog must consistently be told when she's doing something RIGHT (positive reinforcement) in order for her good behavior to continue in the future. So when my pup sits quietly when she sees another dog, I reward her with praise (maybe a treat) and permission to say hello. Then her little brain will tell her, "Gee, when I sit nicely, I get all sorts of good things!"

On the flip side, no matter how many times my pup sits and waits when I walk her, every time her owner skips that step and allows her to launch wildly towards another dog, all my work unravels. Dogs are not stupid- if there's an easier way to do something, they'll do it.

It's hard not to redirect my frustration with an owner towards their dog, but I can't punish the dog for doing what comes naturally. So if you have a dog that you let 'get away' with naughty behavior, even if it's just every once in a while, remember that your pooch will never learn anything if you're not consistent with your teaching.

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