Don't Hire a Mechanic to Do a Dog Trainer's Job
As some of you already know, I am a bit of a late bloomer when it comes to driving. I was nearly 30 before I got my license. While I don' t believe my exact date of birth is any of your business, I will confess that I have been driving for less than five years (significantly less than five years, which will be the trend indefinitely because I refuse to continue aging).
Let's imagine your car is making strange noises. Concerned, you call me. "Casey, your car made loud noises that one time, didnt it? What would you suggest I do to fix my too-loud vehicle?
Well, I answer proudly, you are correct. I do drive a vehicle. In fact, Ive been driving vehicles for five years and Ive driven a number of vehicles that made a variety of noises. Despite all of my experience with loud vehicles, I cannot fix your vehicle. Therefore, nobody can fix your vehicle. I recommend you just junk it and move on, preferably to a car that is not predisposed to noise pollution.
Yes, I have driven a loud vehicle. I've found that placing Silly Putty over the holes in the muffler fixed the problem. If you just place Silly Putty on your muffler, it will stop making noises.
In the first instance, Im insisting that because I cannot fix your vehicle, nobody is capable of fixing your vehicle. If I cant do it, it cant be done. In the second scenario, I am asserting that one simple solution can fix all vehicle noise-making problems. Granted, your car may be making noise for an entirely different reason, but my one-size-fits-all approach will surely fix the issue.
Both of these scenarios sound absurd, right? Believe it or not, the same types of conversations happen every day between well-intentioned dog owners struggling with unwanted behavior in their pet companions and their well-intentioned friends who have had success using a technique to rehabilitate one or more of their own dogs.
Living with one or many dogs throughout one or many years (or decades) does not make you a behavior expert any more than driving a car makes you a mechanic.
Recently, I worked with a client who had just rescued an American Bulldog mix. The dog was growling, barking, hackling, fence-raising, and snapping when guests would walk by the house. She would attempt to bite people who tried to grab her or give her a pat or scratch on top of her head.
Initially, the client went to her groomer for help with the dogs behavior problem â€” the groomer had groomed her last dog well and had a few very nicely behaved dogs of her own. The groomer was confident that she could fix this broken dog.
Ninety minutes later, the groomer called the owner and said, I have tried everything I can and nothing worked. I cannot help this dog. There is no hope for her; she must be put to sleep.
The owner was devastated. Here was an animal professional, who worked with dozens of animals each week, telling her there was no hope for the dog. Luckily, this plucky lady was not the type to take no for an answer and called me.
When I met with the dog, I saw a startlingly different picture â€” a young dog who was a great signaler and had displayed amazing restraint when put in situations where she was fearful. This was a dog who was bright, easily motivated, and very responsive to positive training.
While this owner still has a lot of work ahead, in the first lesson we were able to have her dog targeting hands through the gate with her nose as opposed to biting the hand that reached toward her. The dog's body language went from tense and stiff to loose and wiggly. I can help this dog, I told her. The owner visibly relaxed, as if an enormous weight had been lifted from her shoulders.
Most of my clients who are seeking help for dogs with behavior issues are coming to me as a last resort. While I dont have human children, I imagine that rearing a child is much like raising a dog â€” anyone who has done it before has virtually limitless reserves of advice for you on what youre doing wrong or could be doing better.
But let me make this very clear: NOTHING IS WORSE THAN THE WRONG TYPE OF TRAINING. It doesnt take long to make literal mountains out of what were initially behavioral molehills by doing the wrong things.
When you take the time to research and hire a qualified professional, you are making an investment â€” an investment in the quality of life youre able to share with your dog.
Trainers and behavior consultants spend years, decades, tens of thousands of dollars, and hundreds or thousands of hours on their craft. They strive to hone their skills as trainers of dogs and teachers of people. While your Avon lady may have three dogs (one of whom had a minor problem with nail trimming but is now muzzled for the procedure), a qualified local trainer has probably trained 3,000, and probably at least 30 of those have had behavior problems just like your dog's (separation anxiety, perhaps â€” nothing to do with nail trimming), each needing a subtly different, customized training approach.
While its perfectly fine to talk with your friends, eyebrow-waxer, mechanic, landscaper, groomer, veterinarian, or newspaper delivery boy about your frustrations with your dogs behavior, if you are truly concerned about a behavior problem placing your dog, your family, or your ability to live well together at risk, seek the assistance of a qualified behavior professional. Dont rely on YouTube videos, television reality shows, or late-night infomercials; instead, read and follow these guidelines from the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior on how to find a good trainer to help you improve your dogs behavior.
About the Author: Casey Lomonaco graduated with distinction from the Karen Pryor Academy for Animal Training and Behavior, and is a member of the following professional organizations: APDT (Association of Pet Dog Trainers), CGC evaluator â€” AKC (American Kennel Club), TDF (Truly Dog Friendly), and the No-Shock Collar Coalition.