When in Doubt, Hire a Dog Trainer
by Lynn Stacy-Smith
As a dog blogger and author, I am in several dog related Facebook groups and spend a lot of time on social media sites. Behavioral questions are among the most frequent questions that I see dog owners reaching out to their peers for assistance. It makes sense to ask fellow dog owners, since the whole point of social media is to interact with friends and others who share your interests. Unfortunately, the answers that you can expect to receive can vary from being helpful solutions to downright dangerous to both dog and owner.
In my book, “Love, Laugh, Woof: A Guide to Being Your Dog’s Forever Owner,” I talk a lot about the importance of training. I am a firm believer that every dog should go through at least one obedience class, whether the dog was adopted as a puppy or as a grown dog. Veteran owners and new dog parents alike will benefit from a good training class. I have even spoken with dog trainers who have said that they take all of their dogs to someone else’s class because they never know when they might learn something new from a fellow trainer.
When Jackson came into our lives we had spent the last four or so years caring for senior dogs, so to jump suddenly into puppyhood meant calling upon training skills and a mindset that had not been put into use for many years. Attending training classes was the best thing I did because I learned many helpful training tips even as someone who had owned and raised dogs my entire life.
Every trainer has that special nugget of information that you might not have heard before, or teaches something in a way that finally clicks in your mind that might not have before. In fact, when I took Tinkerbell to training classes at the same facility where Jackson went, just two years later, there was a new concept in training dogs that helped immensely, not just with Tinkerbell but also with Jackson’s continuing education.
It’s one thing to teach a dog to sit, lay down and stay at home in an environment that they are used to. It’s a whole other experience to teach them to focus on you in a public place with four or five other dogs and humans around. When you can get your dog to check in with you visually for guidance in a public place, you are well on your way to having a dog who understands the expectations of life in the human world and a life in which you are their leader. This reduces a ton of stress on both you and your dog and could be potentially life saving depending on the situation.
Not only will you learn how to teach your dog the basic commands in a good obedience class, you will learn extremely critical training concepts like bite inhibition (teaching your dog not to bite humans) and how to get your dog accustomed to people being around them or touching them, their food, or their food bowl when they are eating.
In these screen shot examples, I fear the owners did not correctly understand what to do with their dogs when they were younger in order to have their dog react safely as older dogs.
Fortunately you do not have to write off your dog’s behavior as unfixable. In fact, the ability for dogs to learn and change as a result of positive training and plenty of patience is what makes it possible for many shelter dogs to acclimate into a new home and lead happy lives after coming out of abusive or neglectful situations. The saying, “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks” is far from the reality of what dogs can learn throughout their life.
Any time you need help with something behavioral related, check with a dog trainer, especially if it involves biting, food aggression, or both. These things in particular are too important to get wrong; a good trainer will help you solve it the right way. It may take a while, it may take more patience and consistency than you thought you had in you, but you can solve these issues the right way with the right trainer. Hiring a professional dog trainer who shares your beliefs in how to care for your dog is the best investment you will ever make for your dog’s future and place in your home as a forever dog.
I also suggest talking to your veterinarian if your dog suddenly starts growling or biting; dogs do not have the ability to say to us that they do not feel good in words and so sometimes a behavioral issue can stem from a physical problem. Your veterinarian can also be an excellent source of information on good dog trainers in your area; ask them for suggestions on training facilities or individuals who they recommend.
Another good resource for finding a dog trainer in your area is the Association of Professional Dog Trainers (ADPT) Dog Trainer Search page: https://apdt.com/trainer-search/. Just enter your zip code, choose the radius around your home that you want to search, and decide if you only want to see results for ADPT certified trainers.
Facebook friends are great for giving advice on some dog related topics, like good places for hikes or fun toys that they use, but if biting or growling issues begin, always seek out a professional trainer. If you let a problem develop without fixing it correctly, you are setting your dog up for failure and that is simply not fair to him or her. While there is not a best case scenario when a biting issue is ignored, the worst case scenario is that your dog bites someone and causes injury or death to a human, another dog, and ultimately ends up euthanized for vicious behavior.