Tuesday, October 9, 2012

An Animal Behaviorist vs Dog Trainer

The more I try to help my dogs live amongst humans, the more I learn that I don't know what I'm doing........

When one of your dogs develops an issue,
whether it be aggression, fear, pulling, lunging
or dominance;  it is wise
to get a person who is trained 
in animal behavior to help you.

Let's face it.  There are a lot of dog trainers out there.  And the responsible person who buys or adopts a dog will usually want to get some training for it and themselves.  So where do you go?  Pets Mart or another local dog supply place, until you find out that there is really no room to work there and that the 'trainer' is not really that organized and doesn't really know your breed.  And there are usually way too many dogs in the small space to work.  Yes, you can get very very basic information there, but not much else.

Our first glimpse on the internet...we hadn't seen him in person yet.

The more sophisticated dog owner will try to research various independant dog trainers in their area and some will be good and others won't have a clue. Some people even ship their dogs off for a month's stay while someone else trains the dog.  (This creates it's own set of problems, because if the owners don't understand how to behave, how will the dog react to them)?  And this is how some people, like myself, have found various dog training clubs that teach classes for a small fee and have all the equipment one could hope for.  They offer an indoor area to train in all types of weather, large training rings with everything needed for the typical Show Dog.  My dog club offers Obedience, Rally, Agility and Freestyle.

Graduation from Beginning Obedience

The problem I'm running into is this:  That facility is for people who SHOW dogs in competition.  The trainers there know their stuff about competition.  Some trainers there know their stuff about how to teach a dog to do the 'trick' to get a ribbon in competition.  They have been training for competitive sports for all their lives.  They have titles and ribbons galore.  They train their dogs tricks.  They can enter a ring and go out to a certain spot, sit, stay and go pick up a certain dumbell from among others with the handlers scent on it without having ever seen it before;  and all without a word having been spoken by the handler.  That's what they call obedience.  It's for the Show Ring.

That's NOT what I call obedience.  I want my dog to come when I call it, to not lunge at the squirrel while we're on a walk and to not pull me down the street to chase a ball the neighborhood kids just threw.  I want my dogs to sit calmly on the rug while I answer the door and I want them to leave the damn cookies alone when I have guests over and I'm trying to serve refreshments.

Obviously, I don't know what I'm doing

My point is that there is a difference between a dog trainer, who trains tricks, and a dog behaviorist, who understands and can read the language of a dog.  When you can read their language, you can begin to understand what is going on in their brain and you will know that the behavior they exhibit is a result of fear, nervousness, anxiety, happiness, puppyhood or whatever else.  At that point, you can take the correct steps that will make the dog more comfortable in the situation and allow it to calm itself down without you having to pull, jerk, yell or put the dog in a room by itself.  When the dog is able to calm itself down, then you can all enjoy each others company in a calm and balanced atmosphere.  And you don't have to be the bad guy.

I've done a little research in my years of dog ownership on the nuances of dog body posture.  The one book I really like is by Turid Rugaas called 
On Talking Terms With Dogs: Calming Signals .  She has a couple of other books that also might be interesting: My Dog Pulls. What Do I Do? and Barking: The Sound of a Language (Dogwise Training Manual)  But because I've done a little research, doesn't mean I'm an expert at reading the signals my dogs are giving me.  That's where Tiffany comes into the picture.  Tiffany is a Dog Behaviorist and dog trainer.  She can read what's going on with Malcolm.  She interprets the yawning, the body posture, the ear and tail dynamic, the color of the eyes, nose, mouth and skin and even the drooling.  She can put that together and she can interpret to me what Malcolm is telling me.  That's why I hired her.  That's what she's helping me with.  And that's how I'm finding new methods to help Malcolm overcome his fears and to calm himself down so that we can enjoy a trip to Lowes or PetsMart together.  And  as I learn to distinguish his cues more and more, that's also how I can have my form of obedient dog in my environment.  Without bullying, lunging, barking, hiding or running away.

Yes, I joke a bit and say that Lord Malcolm is see a psychiatrist.  I know people are imagining that he is laying on the couch with a box of tissue talking about how his mother never breast-fed him (that's true, she couldn't) and how he was the runt of the litter and no one gave him a chance;  that he had to fight and scrap for every thing he ever got.......
While the Therapist, with her glasses on and notepad in lap, is asking questions and taking notes.  It's the "Fraser" moment of the dog world.  But seriously, I need help in finding out what I've done wrong with Malcolm.  Here I was thinking he was the most stubborn, bull headed, very strong and crazy dog (and he is), but he is also very sensitive (which I never understood) and I didn't handle his bull headedness the correct way for a sensitive guy.

An Extremely Stressed out Malcolm

He'll be 3 soon.  He had one really good year, when I did most things right and one really bad year when I did some things wrong.  I'm hoping in his 3rd year, we find that happy medium where we can both grow in our relationship and be happy as what we are.  And I will work hard to maintain the balance for the rest of his life.  (or mine)  :0)


Casey said...

Behaviorists can work wonders! We have a pawsome one, Dr. F, who works with LBR dogs who need an extra touch. There's nothing wrong with finding a specialist for a task. After all, you humans wouldn't go to the family doctor if you needed brain surgery!

Agility Boxer said...

I was about to give up on Kiah, figured I had pretty much ruined her with the pressure and stress I put on her to perform. She just shut down at trials and I was miserable. My friend and agility trainer sent me to a trainer for private lessons. In the 3 months we worked together I learned so much about Kiah and myself. I worked with Kiah everyday for 5 minutes, made it fun and we had a wonderful play session afterwards. It will be a long process before she gets back to the fun loving dog she was but everyday I see a little improvement and that is all I ask of her anymore. NO Pressure!!!!