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Savvy Dog Owners Make Dog Training Class Rewarding

September 23, 2009

I LOVE my “job”! Being a certified professional dog trainer has so many rewarding elements. I get to:

  • Work with dogs
  • Work with dog guardians
  • Help the human-canine relationship through better bonding.
  • Help problems be resolved through fun and rewarding techniques.

I really appreciate people taking the time to be inquisitive. Just last night at my Canine College dog training class over at Ventura College Community Education a couple of students stayed after asking about some dog behavior issues they’re having. I find questions quite rewarding, especially when the answers really help dog guardians see a solution, instead of just the problem.

It seems that “dog aggression” is still a hot topic – and one that many dog owners all too often misunderstand. This family was concerned with their dogs behavior towards other dogs. Their dog would bark, lunge, growl at other dogs while on leash. They wanted to know how to “correct” their dogs behavior. I went through my little check list, taking a brief history and explained a little about normal dog behavior, and the fact that us as humans are really not much different. In brief, this is what I went over:

  • “Aggression” is a very subjective term. A “construct” in the applied behavior analysis world. We often tend to try and figure out what the dog is thinking, versus what they are doing (or not doing) when we use labels like this. So I tend to stay away from them whenever possible.
  • Barking, lunging and growling are normal ways for dogs to express themselves. Just like us talking, screaming, crying… With dogs, this type of behavior is often a result of “fear”. Whether it be fear of something specific, fear of the unknown or fear of not being able to get away from something they don’t like, or fear of not being able to defend themselves – leashes can get in the way of dogs expressing themselves through their body language.
  • Distance: it sounded like this dog had what are known as “proximity issues”. He only responded in this way when other dogs were at a specific distance to him. Otherwise he was fine – personal space is important, and each animal, human and non-human has their own specific personal space. Being on leash he might feel he cannot escape or get away from something (or someone or another dog), so he reacts in order to move whatever is near him away.
  • Dogs have feelings and they are valid! This means, if their dog is upset, then telling him he’s wrong to feel a certain way and that he is a “bad dog” for being upset would be like me telling these folks that they shouldn’t be upset, and that they’re wrong for ever being upset about something. We all agreed that being told our feelings aren’t valid would NOT make us less upset – it would more than likely make the person even angrier, or more upset! I saw the lightbulb go on over their heads…it was lovely!

So, what’s the solution? Simple:

  • Give their dog something else to do!
  • Determine what behavior they want their dog doing, and reward them for that!
  • Whenever their dog behaves the way they want around other dogs, acknowledge that and reward him!
  • Throw a steak or chicken party whenever another dog is around – but only when other dogs are around. With time and consistency, their beloved four legged friend will begin to associate other dogs with fabulous things for himself – then he’ll want other dogs to be near him all of the time.

Training your dog doesn’t need to be complicated. The simpler we make it, and the better we understand our dogs, the faster we can get to our goals!


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