Frequently Asked Questions...
"How old should my puppy be before I attend obedience classes with him/her?"
Generally it is recommend that for group classes a puppy should be at least 12 weeks old. He should also have at least 2 distemper and parvo virus boosters, his rabies shot, and 1 deworming before being exposed to other dogs and puppies. For his own protection.
However, many owners may experience difficulties in those early, formative weeks. If that is the case, 2-4 weeks can be a long time to wait! In those cases I suggest getting a private consultation so that you can have skills to work on while you are waiting to attend group classes, or get involved in a private program geared towards your needs.
A puppy is learning from the time his eyes and ears open. He can actually be actively learning as early as 3 weeks old.
It is not recommended that they be separated form their mother before 8 weeks old, for not only health reasons but for appropriated social skills, like bite inhibition, that they learn from their mother and littermates. Some responsible breeders keep them as long as 9 to12 weeks of age before letting them go to their new home. Both the puppies and the new owners will benefit from this.
Getting a puppy at younger than 6 weeks of age can lead to several different behavioral problems due to lack of emotional maturity before a critical separation period. It is a myth that they will bond better or be easier to train if they are bottle raised or gotten at a younger age, and in some states it is illegal for a breeder to sell a puppy before 8 weeks of age. New York is one of these states.
"Are your Puppy Primer Obedience classes for puppies only?"
The short answer is no.
The long answer is...
My Puppy Primer Obedience class is exactly that. The basics. They include all of the things that I feel are important for ANY DOG of ANY AGE to know.
More importantly... the things I feel all owners should know.
However it is geared to dogs under 1 year of age who have not yet developed behavioral issues that would preclude them from participating in a group situation.
It doesn't matter at what age, or how you acquire your dog. Whether its from a responsible breeder, a breed rescue, a shelter, or if he/she wandered into your yard one day.
I have tried to incorporate all of the skills I think are important tools in your toolbox to basically prevent or fix almost ANY behavioral problem you might encounter through your dogs life and build a strong foundation.
We keep small classes so that we can have the opportunity to get to know you and your dog and evaluate his personality and temperament so I can modify training techniques to fit your dog and his needs.
Whatever your dog's age, breed, experience or background, you can learn how to serve him best by improving your bond and relationship, and fix or prevent any behaviors that might make him less than perfect.
"What training methods do you use?"
Over the years I have studied and attended countless seminars with many different trainers, behaviorists, authors and ethologists. I think it is important to understand your subject (here, it is dogs) thoroughly from many different angles to communicate effectively. Understanding, evolution of that species, psychology, as well as its motivation, are important aspects of teaching. Similar to children. So is understanding rewards (reinforcement) and punishment (stopping unwanted behaviors) from the dogs point of view.
Strangely enough, if you read dog training books, you may be surprised to find that they include many different methods and schools of thought, often contradicting one another. This makes it difficult for many people to understand and use those methods effectively to train their pet. Mostly because it is difficult to understand the nuances of timing that are needed to help your subject understand effectively, what you are trying to teach. This is why it is easier for most people to learn by watching and doing.
Here, I have taught for many years with some methods that are not often used by other trainers in our area. Some of them are what I use to quickly and effectively teach new behaviors is called "marker training", "yielding" and "conditioned relaxation". All are a manner of identifying and creating correct behavior for the dog very clearly and efficiently.
I also teach "pressure training". This is something I feel is very important in animal training, whether you are training a horse, dog, cat, sheep or chicken. It is something some people who are good animal trainers use instinctively, but is very seldom taught.
I think these are all things VERY important to understand with ANY animals, but especially important with shy or fearful animals. It is important communicate effectively and to desensitize them to the stresses of everyday life in a human world to help them become a well balanced pet. Teaching them how to respond to pressure while socializing them in a controlled environment, is the best method to assure success.
I call this "Balanced Training"
"Why do you use food to train? I want them to do it for ME."
Food is not an essential component of rewards, and praise and caress may suffice, but food is PART of social reward structures. For people and canines.
And lets face it... its a powerful reinforcer and motivator. Quite frankly... I WANT to share good stuff with my dogs. Don't we all? You have no problem giving treats and table scraps for just being cute, but not to get good behavior?
I do work hard to have a variety of ways to reinforce my dogs, but sometimes you have to admit there are things that are more reinforcing than YOU. No ego here. You simply need to learn how to use a variety of reinforcements and use them wisely.
I don't want to bribe a dogs behavior... but I will pay him for a job well done. I use what the dog wants, as a paycheck. We are all motivated by something. Here you will learn how to use touch, body language, voice, toys, access to desired things like walks, and yes... food. And if you use all of these things properly you become a very powerful motivator.
Of course, after the dog is successfully trained and completely understand what is asked of him you "proof" the exercise and your dogs understanding of what he has learned. It is only at that time, when you teach the difference between 'want to' and 'have to'.
"Well-meaning friends have told me my shy dog needs socialization. I have done my best to expose him to new and normal things he will come across in our daily routine... but his problem seems to be getting worse. My other dogs didn't have this problem.
Why isn't this working?"
Well, first... this dog isn't your other dogs. Due to his natural temperament (the personality he is born with) he isn't as confident about environmental stimulus as your other dogs were.
You might add to that various factors. Not having the training skills for you to help him cope with the experiences he considers stressful. Pent up energy that goes into anxiety rather than more positive activities.
Most of all he may not have been prepared for the homework you were trying to do. Socializing. He needs to be set up for success. Given the tools to cope and have experiences set up or controlled in a way he can handle and leave that situation experiencing it the way you want him to. In a calm, positive way.
Socializing does NOT mean exposing to environment and situations willy-nilly. That "exposure" or "flooding" CAN (unintentionally) be done wrong. In and of itself socialization does not always turn out to be a positive experience that it was intended, if it is not done appropriately. To be "exposed" might also be a word we use to describe vulnerability. Would you like to be exposed (?) or socialized, in a safe and controlled way, to a new, possibly stressful situation or environment?
The word "socializing", as you would use it if you were describing "to cause a positive social experience", should be done carefully, with planning, especially with nervous people and animals if we want them to learn to trust you to learn that these are not stressful experiences.
You CAN still fix this problem. You simply need to start over. Build your relationship, gain his trust, and RE-socialize him! Learn how!
"My trainer has suggested getting my dog involved in weightpulling to drain excess energy. We haven't done this before and since you seem to encourage this regularly to your clients, could you explain how this can help?"
Resistance Training as Behavioral Therapy:
Its called canine weightpulling.
Many obedience trainers and behaviorists often search for a better solution to a common denominator of their clients behavioral issues with their dogs.
That common denominator is exercise. Common complaints about issues with dogs are, barking, biting, whining, chewing and jumping. All of these complaints can often be addressed by draining excess energy. Giving the dog a job. As well as training appropriate behavior of course. But even with good behavioral modification, the improvements can be minimal or slower, if the dog is not exercised according to his/her individual energy level needs.
In our current society, and given the busy lifestyles of Americans today, many people find it difficult to properly exercise their dogs. Whether that is because of living in the city, having jobs and children, or having a handicap (like being elderly) that prohibits an owner from exercising consistantly enough, life happens. Sometimes owners can be QUITE dedicated and spend more than reasonable time exercising their dog, sometimes it just isn't enough for that dog!
As a trainer that regularly works with owners and their dogs with a wide variety of behavioral problems, 10 years ago I happened across a solution to an efficient way of draining excess energy that requires no more time and effort on the part of the owner than putting on a harness, and going for a walk, yet has made a considerable difference in behavioral issues in many dogs. Owners often notice improvement nearly immediately in many cases.
I started offering weightpulling as a sport at my training center as a different sport to offer my clients in addition to agility. I wanted to make something available that was less equipment and time intensive than the demanding sport of agility. I thought that perhaps people thought their dogs would enjoy it because they dragged them down the street. They might enjoy putting their dogs natural tendency to pull, to work. I also thought those people might also seek obedience classes.
What I actually found to be the case, is that my obedience students, wound up doing weightpull. Quite the opposite response than I expected.
As it turns out, I wound up recommending weightpulling to my obedience class students whose dogs actually suffered from mild, to much more severe, behavioral issues. From aggression, to anxiety, to extreme fear issues... I try to encourage a method of exercise that builds confidence, is simple, and drains energy in a calm, thinking way.
I found that resistance training was especially successful for fearful and reactive dogs, because the dog didn't need to think too much. And this method could drain more energy in less time by engaging more muscle groups in a longer more consistent muscle contraction, than the fast sports that require running and chasing (like agility, coursing and retrieving). This requires a different type of focus and concentration on the part of the dog. Swimming would have been a sufficient alternative, except for the simple fact that many owners don't have regular access to a body of water, either because of proximity or season. I do find a direct correlation to reactive issues in dogs due to the weather in our region. January through March are often the worst for many dogs because it is just too cold to spend extended periods outside exercising regularly.
As a result of conditioning dogs with a variety of issues in this manner, we (me AND the owners) found that the length of time it takes to rehabilitate problem behaviors through behavior modification was significantly decreased.
We also found that dogs who had already had behavioral modification techniques in place for some time, and had come to a plateau in their progress, their trainers found significant improvement in the dogs confidence and continuing improvement after starting this conditioning regimen.
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"How do I decide whether a group puppy class or private program will fit my needs?"
This is a common thing to consider. But the answer can be simple.
The better question is... What is it you want?
My group classes are typically for puppies. The things that are covered in those classes are very basic behaviors that ALL puppies need and owners need to know. Even if you have raised a puppy before, you may like a refresher to help with housebreaking issues, biting, and other common puppy problems.
Problems specific to your particular puppies needs may not be able to be addressed properly in a group situation, or time availability may not fit into your schedule.
Keep in mind, that a group environment may not be an ideal learning situation for some puppies and owners due to the distracting environment of other people/dogs, but it can be a valuable tool for some.
If you have specific plans and goals for your puppy that may require more than basic skills, or if your individual dog has issues, fear, anxiety or reactive/distraction issues clearly private programs will suit your needs better.
A private program can be specifically designed to you and your families needs, lifestyle and goals, and how long it may take you to attain them... and adjusted to fit your, and your dogs particular learning style. You also have the advantage of scheduling your appointments to your week-to-week availability.
Please think about what you really want and what your desires are for you and your dog to be as happy as possible. It IS attainable!
Call me and tell me about your dog. Tell me about you. Understanding your personality, desires and lifestyle, as well as your dogs personality, together we develop a plan to help you reach your goals.
Whether that is helping build confidence in a shy anxious dog (no matter the history, age, breed or rescue status) or training your puppy to be a WONDER dog!
You are my walking billboards. I want you to be happy with your results. Call me any time. 315-280-0107. If I am not available, leave a good time for me to return your call and I will as soon as possible.