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Ethical Training

It’s time for a trainer rant. As many of you know I work at a vet clinic a couple days a week. In the past couple of weeks I have had multiple owners tell me about their dog’s behavior (mostly leash reactivity towards other dogs), that they had worked extensively with other trainers (I shall not mention), and after a lot of time, money, and no improvement these trainers told them “This is how your dog will always be.” For lack of a better way to say it, that is crap. Each of these owners had given up hope until I told them “Umm, no I can actually help with that and if I can’t I know another trainer that can.”
Why does this irritate me so much? Whenever a dog owner calls me asking for help I have a responsibility as an ethical trainer to say one of two statements.
One: Yes, I can help with that. Two: No, I cannot help with that but let me refer you to someone that can.
I know where my current knowledge and abilities are and will take on cases that I can help the client. I won’t turn away a client because the dog cannot be fixed but because I know of some trainers that have more skill in that area. I know when a behavior is out of my realm of work and will refer owners to another trusted trainer. Why? Because I am not here to take the business or make the money and then say “actually the dog can’t be fixed, because I don’t know how not because the dog is genuinely unfix-able.” That is what these trainers are saying, and instead of referring to another trainer, like they should, they let the owners continue suffer with their dog’s behavior.
Now, I am not saying that with training these dogs can magically become the perfect dog that loves everyone and every other dog. Giving owners proper expectations of their dog’s behavior and management is half the battle the other half being fixing the issue as best possible. What I am saying, is that if you are an owner that has been told your dog will always be like this, please continue to reach out to other trainers. If you need help on where to start or who to contact, contact myself. If its something I can help with I will, if not I will steer you toward some ethical and honest trainers.
To current and future clients: I will do everything in my training knowledge and power to help you, even if that means referring you to another more qualified trainer before we even start training. I want you and your dog to find the best possible match even if that is not me. Please don’t ever give up on your dog. Keep searching for the right trainer, for new methods, for new knowledge.

Socializing the Working Pup

Narsil 5 months riding around in a wagon. Narsil will climb anywhere asked or unasked.

As promised, a brief article on the extra socialization, training, and exposure I do for young pups I raise (service or police). Much of this information can and should be transferred to the average pet dog. Other portions are not needed, some may hinder.

First, the amount of exposure I do for a working pup is different. I try to expose them to EVERYTHING. Its a constant game of what new can I do today with the pup. It occupies my mind even past the 16 wks. Umbrella, tarp, horses, barns, statues, climbing, going under, dark, pots/pans, garbage truck, people in hats. This list never ends. I do almost daily field trips to new locations. They are short and fun, unless I have a super confident pup then we may hang out for longer (Narsil was this dog-the world was hers to conquer). Less confident pups get short trips that are very fun (food or toy filled (the new pup and Ronan before he I started work with him). All pet dogs can benefit from lots of exposure. I don’t think there is to much as over exposure for a confident pup. A less confident pup benefits from the exposure as long as its planned and executed well.

Second, every working pup, service or police, works for their food in some way. This starts day one. They may work from it through a feeder toy (Kong Wobbler), through field trips, through confidence exercises like climbing and crawling on new places, through walks, and through puppy obedience. This creates a dog that from the very beginning understands that in order to eat he has to work. It builds real nice food drive because from the get go hes had to put effort into getting it. It also creates a dog that will take food everywhere, as hes done it as a puppy. I personally think this is a really good step for pet owners. A highly food driven dog is much easier to train in the long run.

I teach both service and police dog pups to ignore other dogs and people. I don’t have them interact with every single dog or person. That’s not their job. Their job is to focus on me or the work they are doing. Lots of focus exercises, redirects, quick turns away, and explanations of why they cannot meet. This in my opinion, teaching a dog to ignore the world around him, is the single most missed training in in young dogs “socialization.” This teaches impulse control (for excited social dogs not meeting everyone), builds trust (for more nervous pups that don’t want to interact), teaches focus (for distracted pups), and helps prevent aggression/reactivity (pup must focus on handler and ignore the triggers). Think about it, you don’t greet every person you meet. If forced to you might develop some unwanted behaviors around people, I know I would!

Confidence building. This extra step can be good for pet dogs but I take it to the extreme. I teach police dogs to climb anything, go under everything, jump up, go anywhere. I use food or toys. I usually start with feeding my puppy food in a cardboard box full of plastic jugs. I’ll lure and feed these pups up onto, under, and into places of all sorts (stairs, dark cabinets, ladders, odd surfaces). I’ll do recall games through obstacles. The end goal is a dog that will go anywhere just by asking or because he wants to, no fear or hesitation. These are good for pet dogs. Maybe not the crazy recall type games I do, or how challenging I will make the climb, crawl, etc.

Creating a problem solving puppy. I do this through shaping behaviors. I generally start with a game called 101 things to do with a box. I place a cardboard box on the floor and with an end behavior in mind, usually feet in box, I will slowly shape the behavior I want. I do not lure or throw anything in the box but rather reward for small steps in the beginning. I will shape other random behavior also, like a place command, or a retrieve. I’ve really found that if I can get the puppy problem solving young, starting neural pathways young, then its much much easier later in life to continue that growth then to start it. These training sessions create what I call a sharper/brighter puppy. They are more willing to try, to problem solve on their own, to catch on quicker.

Finally, with both service and police I will imprint some important behaviors. This does not have to be within the 16 weeks, its preferred but I usually focus on exposure then move to this. With service dogs I will imprint touch, retrievals, pivots, nice heeling, and a handful of other general behaviors. For police dog I imprint bite work, work on grips, build drive for toys, imprint on tracking, and usually imprint on an odor. Drive building, and playing in new areas is key. I’ll do hunting exercises with food or toys also.

Socialization

Socialization. The information I am presenting is not anything new. It’s not revolutionary or new, and it certainly isn’t anything I have discovered or created. However, with the new puppy I am doing a lot of socialization and figured I’d share.

We all hear we need to socialize our young puppy, but what exactly is socialization? Having everyone meet and pet your puppy? Taking your dogs to dog parks to meet other dogs? Taking your puppy to class? Getting your adult dog around new people and dogs? Would you be surprised if I said socialization is none of these? So what is socialization?

Socialization is the process of exposing and equipping puppies to everything they will see and do as adults. We are preparing confident, social, and polite puppies. The ability to live and act in any part of society. Yes, we do have people and other dogs interact with puppies but that is only ONE part of socialization.

Before we go any farther I want to address the issue of waiting until a puppy has had all of his shots to start exposure. Puppies have a very short window to expose them. This is the window of puppy care free days, they absorb everything and have little fears. This lasts up until about 12-16 weeks. There is no “socializing” adult dogs, only counter conditioning and training new behaviors. After the 16 weeks, new exposure will rely on previous exposure and genetics. Meaning if you did a good job beforehand with exposure you will have a confident puppy. If you did a poor job you may have a very nervous, insecure pup. However, depending on genetics you may get either confidence or fear from under or correct exposure. Some dogs never see the outside world until six months of age and still turn out just fine. Many police dog pups are raised this way. They have fearless genetics. Other pups get a good amount of correct socialization and exposure and still end up nervous. What’s at play here? Genetics. Some puppies genetics are wired for him to be anxious regardless of socialization, socialization can make the puppy better but may not “fix” the puppy. And some puppies are fearless regardless of socialization.

Back to my original point on waiting until all vaccinations are over. Vaccinations end at 16wks. Which means if you wait until a puppy has finished his vaccinations to expose him to the world, its too late. He may be safe health wise but now you have a slew of behavior and mental issues that are likely to occur. More dogs end up euthanized because of behavior issues that could have been prevented through proper socialization than die from disease as a puppy. Now I am absolutely NOT saying don’t vaccinate and don’t be careful where you take your puppy. I am saying to expose but thoughtfully. No dog parks, no parks full of other dog’s feces, most likely no pet stores. There are plenty of other pet friendly locations you can expose your young pup to. So I expose my pups and I don’t wait till they finish vaccinations. I won’t risk behavior issues because I improperly exposed them at a young age.

Socialization includes, more than anything, exposure. Exposure to different surfaces, noises, places, people, and dogs. We expose our dogs as puppies because as puppies they don’t know to be afraid. Positive exposure young carries over to adulthood later. Positive expereince with people, other dogs, new places help create a confident puppy.

So you are probably thinking, yes I already know that, that’s why I have everyone pet the puppy. He is getting exposed to new people. This is where mistakes are made. If you have a very outgoing puppy that seeks attention, certainly allowing many people to pet the puppy is fine. Even then I don’t allow everyone to pet my pup, he doesn’t need to be pet by a rough individual and learn to dislike strangers. Allow your pup to meet people if they are comfortable with it, have treats handy when they are comfortable, do not force if your pup would rather ignore people. The same goes with meeting other dogs. Choose very carefully which dogs you allow to play with your pup. Pushy dogs are not suitable for puppies. Dog parks are full of unbalanced dogs that teach poor behaviors. I use Narsil, and actually Ronan has been great also, when socializing new pups. These dogs play at the level of the pup, self handicap, don’t escalate, know when to take breaks, and are polite.

The final portion of exposure encompasses everything else. The world. Surfaces, buses, bikes, noises, hissing air, crowds, animals, buildings, climbing, crawling, exploring, etc. The list is massive but you need not expose to everything. The goal is enough exposure to as many different places, noises, surfaces, items, that your dog approaches new experiences in the future with confidence. A weird person in costume? No worries mom exposed me to Santa when I was young. Flapping tarp in the wind? No worries mom exposed me to umbrellas.

There is so much more information regarding socialization. I’ll write another post on the extra exposure and imprinting I do with young pups for police and service work. If you have any questions or want further information feel free to contact me.

Place and Structure

The importance of place command in a multiple dog household. These three are in down stays while I do paperwork. No free roaming for them, especially with a new dog.

Introducing a new dog to a home can be exciting and stressful. It’s crucial that introductions are planned and structured, not random. Many new owners just throw the dogs all together in the yard and “see what happens.” A recipe for a fight and bad first memories.

I introduce new dogs to my pack based upon each of my current dogs’ character. I do this one at a time. If you only have one dog (or multiple) I recommend a structured walk (heeling, no face to face meeting), followed buy structured yard and house time. When I say structured I mean all dogs are on leash and under complete control. Place/stay commands are in use and no free roaming. Toys picked up, food away. No copious amounts of attention for anyone. Everything is earned, freedom, food, affection. All of this is slowly given back to each dog as they prove they can behave.

I introduced Maple to Narsil first. Narsil has a polite greeting behavior, has a calm energy, and adapts her play style to each dog. Maple loved her. I introduced Jager next. Generally I introduce him on leash as he can be pushy, but with puppies he’s a perfect angel. Ronan met the puppy first just through interactions in the crate room as she would leave or come. Then he met her while in a place command, and finally outside.

Meet Maple! Maple is a 5month old yellow Labrador Retriever donated to Nine Realms. Maple was donated by her breeder to undergo training for service work and they be placed with a handler. She’s incredibly biddable, sweet, and food driven. She’s currently learning the basics like sit, down, stay, come. She has a possible puppy raiser already lined up but if anyone else is interested in puppy raising let me know. Puppies may come in the future and I’ll put you on a list.

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