Blogs, Creating a Happy, Healthy Life, Planning for a New Dog

Dog Trainers Make Me Happy!

When I picked up little eight-week-old Jackson to bring him home, one of the things to which I agreed was that I would take him to obedience school. I happily agreed, partially because even though I had lived with dogs my entire life I had not had a puppy in fifteen years, and partially because my breeder was in the process of becoming the person in the dog community who I respected and trusted above all others. However, in the back of my mind, I thought, "Well, it will be a nice refresher but I'm sure I know everything I need to know to train this puppy!"

Oh, how wrong I was about that!

You see, my hubby and I could have trained Jackson to sit, lay down, stay, come when called, and walk nicely on a leash without help. I think we could have pulled it off on our own and we would have raised a nice dog. I mean, we haven't had a class on raising the human kids and they're all turning out ok.

The thing is, though, why try to wrangle dog training on your own when there are these extraordinary people roaming the world, looking like normal ordinary people, who are really magical wizards or fairy dog-mothers with a vast understanding of your dog's brain and body, who can teach you how to give your dog the best possible life ever? 

I seem to write about the importance of working with a professional trainer each and every time I sit down to write a blog, and there is a reason for that. I firmly believe that dog trainers can help owners solve a massive amount of the issues that lead to owner surrenders. Not to mention, not only is the dog owner happier when their dog is nicely trained and knows the rules of the house, but the dog is happier when she knows what is expected of her and how to approach each situation!

You see, the whole reason we love dogs so much is the same thing that makes some people throw up their hands and think that life with that particular dog is impossible: they cannot speak English, and their brains work differently than ours. It is the proverbial blessing and a curse.

Honestly, aside from the fact that they are furry, adorable, walk on four legs and don't have thumbs, what really sets them apart from humans is that they live in the moment, they are not afraid to show complete and utter joy when happy, they never "get in their heads" or lie, cheat, steal. And while that is all part of what makes us love them, it makes it so that a lot of humans have a hard time teaching them things. But dog trainers know how the canine brain works, and their superpower is acting as a translator between humans and dogs to help everyone get on the same page!

What I love the most about watching dog trainers in action, at least the ones who use a positive reinforcement, reward-based approach, is that they are so calm and easy going and make training your dog seem so easy, and how it really can be that easy if you just follow their instructions! In fact, the inspiration behind this post is that last weekend I was "booth-neighbors" at a local dog rescue fundraising event with a trainer from the same facility where I trained both Jackson and Tinkerbell. As we ran our booths in the vendor area, I spent much of the day chatting with the trainer and basically eavesdropping on her conversations with the dog owners who were attending the event, and I realized just how happy I am to watch a trainer in action.

One family was having some sort of issue with their 3 small dogs when someone comes to the front door. I missed the first part of the conversation but I watched as the trainer so easily explained a solution in which they could train the dogs to all run to their kennels and get rewarded with treats every time the doorbell rang, so that it would break the cycle of the dogs doing whatever unwanted behavior they did at the front door. I listened as she explained how to do this, how to practice it by ringing the front door and going through the whole series of events a few times a day, and that pretty soon the dogs would just associate the doorbell ringing with running to their crates and getting food, so that they would begin to view the ringing doorbell with happiness and joy. She was so fun to watch, so relaxed, so confident in this answer and I watched as the owners had a visual "ah-ha" moment just like I have had before when working with a trainer, thinking, "Oh my gosh, that is so simple yet so genius!"

As the crowds thinned and we waited for the official booth tear down time, I laughed as I told her some of the things that my super smart Jackson had taught himself based on some of my puppy rearing practices. For example, when Jax was a puppy and he would get into stuff that was off-limits, I would tell him a firm "no" and then redirect his attention with a toy or antler, and shower him with praise and affection.

Jackson to this day remembers that sequence of behaviors, and will intentionally jump on the sofa, grab a contraband item, look at me to make sure I see him, and then start to destroy the item until I jump up, tell him "no" and watch as he wags his big thick otter tail with a mischievous doggie grin on his face, and grabs a toy for me to play with him. He has been doing this for seven years, and only touches contraband items when I am present and in the room. I can leave him in the room as I go about other activities, and he never touches a thing. It is 100% for my benefit and to get me to play.

Jax grabbing the contraband Love Laugh Woof
Jax grabbing the contraband

I have also noticed that every time the dogs play a round of Zoomies and Bitey Face, that after they are done, Jax runs to the back door and stands there to go outside. Every. Single. Time. For the longest time I thought he really had to go outside to go potty, but then I realized (when he just stood on the deck and looked at me) that he was still going through the sequence of events that we used to do when he was a puppy and we were house-training him, when the rule was that every time he got done playing, it was time for a potty break.

The funny thing is that we trained Tinkerbell exactly the same way, teaching her which items were hers and which were not, and using the same house-training method, and she learned the lessons but not this exact sequence of events. This is why we call him "Sheldon Cooper smart" because he is such a stickler for routine and absolutely the most intelligent dog I have ever met in my life. I tell him all the time that he needs to be more dog-like, but he just snorts and walks away...like a dog.

Love Laugh Woof Blog
"Come on, Momma, come and get me!"

But back to my fabulous fangirl day watching a dog trainer at work, as I relayed the stories of Jackson's odd habits, I told her that I was trying to break the first behavior by simply ignoring him with the hope that if I did not reward him with playing, that he would stop snatching up my magazines and the remote control for the TV, but it was not working. She calmly and quickly offered up the suggestion to insert another behavior in between those 2 things, so to correct him, then have him go through some commands like sit, down, etc, and it would break the association between stealing stuff and getting momma's attention. Um...GENIUS!

I have watched other trainers in action with someone's dog who they have never met, and I just love how calm they are, how their mannerisms are so simple and yet the dogs hang onto their every word and movement and immediately seem to trust them as their leader. Just like human educators, I think these are some of the professionals who need to be paid about 20 times whatever their current salary is, because they are in possession of knowledge that can literally save the lives of dogs who were taught the wrong things early on in life or whose owners are at their wits end and about to surrender them to a shelter.

The next time you are around a dog trainer, hang back and just watch them in action, and you will see what I mean. And make sure you tell them thank you for what they do for dogs because they truly have magical powers.

 

 

 

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The Consequences of a Dog Bite
Blogs, Creating a Happy, Healthy Life, Safety & Emergency Prepping

The Consequences of a Dog Bite

The Consequences of a Dog Bite

by Lynn Stacy-Smith

The Consequences of a Dog Bite The last few Love, Laugh, Woof blogs have focused on training and socializing dogs so that they do not bite, or if they do because they are backed into a corner or they are older and caught off guard, that it is a soft warning bite. The reason that bites have been on my mind so much in the last few weeks is two-fold, and those blogs have been leading up to this.

The first thing that happened was that a friend of mine, who is a dog lover and works with dogs professionally, sustained a very bad bite and has been sharing some of her story and experience with me. Shortly after she was bit, the town in which I live also began reviewing their dog bite laws based on two dogs who recently bit a few people. One of our elected officials made some strong statements regarding his feelings on the issue of bites and several of us went to speak to the village board and present our thoughts, even though no official change to the law has been proposed.

Now, let me say that I am not a professional trainer and I am not a dog behaviorist. I am a lifelong dog owner who shares my vast experience in this blog on how to care for dogs, how to give them a healthy, happy lifestyle as a compassionate, forever owner. I am not the person who you are going to take a reactive dog to for training, I have never personally owned a dog who had the slightest bit of aggression or behavioral issues. I have also never been bit, except for my grandfather’s dog who nipped the side of my face when I caught her off guard with a hug. She did not leave a mark and I never told anyone because I felt like I should not have hugged her, that I had crossed some sort of boundary.

However, I can say without a shadow of a doubt that we owe it to our dogs to take every step possible to raise them to be dogs who do not attack humans, do not push past us out the front door to chase someone and bite them, do not jump a fence into a neighbor’s yard to bite someone. People who let their dogs do these behaviors fail them because it is the dogs who are going to pay the highest price for the owner’s mistake. It is the dogs who are going to pay with their lives while the owners pay with their wallet.

Part of taking on the lifelong responsiblity of a dog is to make sure the dog has positive experiences with people of all ages, everyday noises and situations, like we did with Jackson and Tinkerbell when we literally went down a list of things that we wanted to them to experience as puppies. That way you increase the chance that your dog will be view unusual people and experiences with the same chilled out response as they do the everyday things.The last few Love, Laugh, Woof blogs have focused on training and socializing dogs so that they do not bite, or if they do because they are backed into a corner or they are older and caught off guard, that it is a soft warning bite. The reason that bites have been on my mind so much in the last few weeks is two-fold, and those blogs have been leading up to this.

Is it foolproof, that if you socialize your dog that she won’t ever react fearfully or with a growl? No.

Does it mean that your dog won’t be completely freaked out if she sees a big blowup Santa waving in the wind on a December walk through your neighborhood? No.

But the more positive experiences you give them in the world the more likely they will not be fearful in other situations. Training and socializing help your dog understand that the UPS driver or the pizza dude are just more new people and not there to cause you harm.

Training is so much more than just training your dog to perform a command. Training establishes you as your dog’s leader, their trusted human to guide them through a human world. Yes, you are a dog mom or dog dad in your heart, but they are not furry children. We can love our dogs as our children and still do right by them by understanding that they are dogs and have different needs than an actual human child. 

This is why I write so frequently that I believe that every single dog should go to several obedience classes with their human even if the human is a lifelong, experienced dog owner. It is about teaching your dog that you are their go-to source of “what to do next” in a situation. In fact one of my favorite things about going to dog events and expos is that I get to watch people with their dogs out in public, and my number one favorite thing to see is when a dog looks up and checks in with their owner as if to ask, “what do I do in this situation?” When my dogs do that out in public I heap on praise and treats!

I found two great articles for owners to read to learn more about dog aggression and signs to look for in your own dogs. One is called, Dogs Don’t Bite Out of the Blue and the other is Aggression in Dogs.  I think they are both important to read even if you have the most relaxed, socialized, chilled out dog who ever lived. Like I wrote, I am not a behaviorist and will not pretend to be one, so if you have any concerns that your dog may be aggressive in a situation, please seek out a professional trainer through a one-on-one consultation so you can learn what to do so that you do not end up in a situation in which your dog has bitten someone.

If your dog bites or even worse, attacks, a human or another dog, there can be extremely serious consequences. In my friend’s situation, her bite has required surgery and extensive medical care and it is unclear if the dog’s owner will pay for her co-pay and costs that are not covered by insurance. There are lawyers involved on the financial side of things and the dog has had to be quarantined for ten days to determine if he is a dangerous dog. His life could come to a tragic end because of this bite, and my friend could have permanent damage to her arm, all because the owner made several mistakes leading up to the bite.

When dogs bite, the consequences could involve the following:

  • Substantial harm or death to the human who was bit, including muscle damage, infections, mental or emotional issues, a fear of dogs, and missing work or school.
  • Quarantine of your dog, investigation into whether your dog is a dangerous dog, and possible death to your dog by euthanasia.
  • Substantial harm or death to other dogs who were bit.
  • Financial responsibility to humans who were bit or the owners of dogs who were bit.
  • Loss of homeowner’s insurance or increased premiums.
  • Lawsuit against you by the humans who were bit or owners of the dogs who were bit.
  • On overall blight on the dog loving community that is continually working to improve the quality of life for dogs and public opinion of dogs as sentient beings.

The love that an owner has for their dog should be enough to prompt them to proactively take their dog through several obedience classes as a puppy or a new rescue or to specialized training if their dog shows signs of aggression. Once you begin a class you realize that training is the best bonding activity that you can do with your dog and it becomes a fun weekly adventure for both of you.

If love is not enough to make that investment in the dog, owners should consider the total cost of having a trained versus an untrained dog. Most training classes that I have taken are between $150 to $200 for six weeks. That is under $1000 to take your dog’s training from puppy socialization to advanced obedience, even allowing them to retake a class if needed. The cost of paying for medical bills, replacing your home owner’s insurance, or being sued for medical damage, emotional suffering or loss of life could be many times that amount, and could even result in complete financial ruin from a tragic situation that could have been prevented.

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Why Every Dog Should Go To Obedience Class
Blogs, Creating a Happy, Healthy Life, Planning for a New Dog, Surviving Puppyhood

Why Every Dog Should Go To Obedience Class

Why Every Dog Should Go To Obedience Class

by Lynn Stacy-Smith

Why Every Dog Should Go To Obedience ClassThe last few weeks have been a seemingly endless stream of stories about dogs that are both frustrating and heartbreaking, including dog bites, re-homing requests, and frustrated owners with 8 month old puppies who are still not house-trained. Sadly they all have a similar theme because all of these could have been prevented or could be fixed by one thing: training. 

I have talked to a lot of people who have never taken a class with their dog or who look somewhat confused when I suggest that they take one. There is also the response “Oh, I’ve had dogs my whole life, I don’t need to take an obedience class.”

I think that sometimes there are misconceptions about what an “obedience” class is all about and what an owner can gain from attending a class with their dog, especially for people who have had dogs before or feel like they have a lot of knowledge about dogs. Actually, until Jackson was born I had never taken one either, having grown up with dogs who came to me rescued and pre-trained like my late Babe, or who were trained by my father.

Dogs have been companions to humans for so long that it seems like it should be second nature for us to live together. The reality, though, is that no matter how harmoniously we are able to live together, at the end of the day they are still another species and we can both use all the help we can get at learning how to understand each other and communicate across our separate and very different species.

Dogs are very different from humans. Their bodies are different, their minds are different, their communication methods are different, their learning requirements are different, even the structure of their brain is different as they are blessed with a whole extra area to analyze scents. Things that are acceptable in our world are rude or aggressive in theirs, similar to someone from another country in another part of the world. Just like trying to speak to a fellow human who speaks another language or has different social norms than we do, we need to learn how to speak in a language our dogs understand, learn how to understand what they are saying to us without words, and understand their cultural norms.

However, despite my analogy comparing your dog to someone from another culture in a different part of the world, a dog is also an entirely other species than we are. They are a very special, precious species that deserves to be treated well, loved for all the days of their life, and considered to be a family member, but they are not a small furry person.

Why Every Dog Should Go To Obedience ClassDog obedience school or dog training classes are first and foremost about teaching humans to teach their dogs the rules of life in a human household. In most beginner obedience classes you will learn to teach your dog how to sit, come when called, look at you when you say their name, stay, lay down, settle and start to walk nicely on a leash. Usually around six to eight weeks in duration, the beginner obedience class is just the very tip of the proverbial training iceberg!

When you find a really good dog trainer, you learn so much more than how to teach your dog how to perform those commands. Don’t get me wrong, those are the must-know commands that can literally save your dog’s life, particularly the stay or come command. But the best dog trainers teach owners about how a dog’s mind works, the importance of repetition and patience, the benefits of positive reward based training, and how to understand your dog despite being two very different species and get your dog to understand you.

The first night of my Basic Obedience class with Jackson the trainer spoke to us with made-up, random words that might not have even been actual words. Her words made literally no sense at all.  There were no dogs in the room, the first session was a human-only orientation.

She said it again, only louder. Then even louder. Then with a raised voice and anger, and asked why we could not understand her, she was speaking English! What was wrong with us that we could not understand what she was telling us?

As you might expect, this exercise was to show us what it is like to be a dog with humans randomly saying words to them and growing impatient when they do not instantly understand. It may sound silly, but that was one of the most impactful moments of all of the classes in which I participated and is something that has stuck with me during every moment working with and living with our dogs.

Different trainers have different nuggets of information and different methods that will stick with different people. Add in the fact that every dog is slightly different in terms of what motivates them, how easy or difficult they are to train, with different backgrounds and life experiences, and you arrive at the same suggestion for all dogs: that every human needs to take every one of their dogs to at least one training class and ideally several additional classes after they graduate from beginner.

Dog training classes are really about training owners to teach their dogs. Most of the class time is spent learning from the trainers, and most of your actual training time with your dog is outside of the classroom. In fact, when you do practice the commands in the classroom it is the owner who the trainer is really watching and correcting rather than the dog because the class is to train the owner how to train the dog.

When you find a good trainer you will understand how to take your training beyond basic obedience because you will know the concepts behind teaching your dog. Once you can teach her sit and stay, it’s not a far stretch to teach her other commands, to teach her tricks, to teach her games. Learning about how your dog learns will help you with socializing her, with teaching her not to bite (bite inhibition), with a variety of situations that you might encounter during your dog’s life.

Why Every Dog Should Go To Obedience ClassNot only will you forever have the skills to teach your dog and future dogs, but you will have a go-to resource should something pop up in the future. I often wonder how many dogs would not be re-homed if their owners had a relationship with a trainer so they could easily reach out when a life change happened like a new baby or the introduction of another dog into the house.

Training your dog can be a lot of fun for you and the dog as long as you are patient and realize that the fun part is for you and your dog to be learning together and to build an incredible bond together. In fact I often look for additional classes to take just for fun and I am strongly considering joining a local dog training club so that one of the dogs and I can go once a week and practice their skills, be around other dogs and dog owners with similar goals, and to continually learn from some of the amazing dog trainers that we have in our area.

If you are looking for a professional dog trainer, check with your veterinarian for recommendations.

Also check out these websites:

Association of Professional Dog Trainers (ADPT): https://apdt.com/about/trainer-search/

Karen Pryor Academy: https://www.karenpryoracademy.com/find-a-trainer