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Canine 101

"Can I just buy a 'shock' collar?"

by Konnie Hein on 07/21/16

As a professional dog trainer, one of the most common frustrations expressed to me by dog owners is that their dog does not pay attention to them off-leash, or will even run away if not on a leash. This can be a dangerous problem. 

Many times these folks will ask me about a "shock collar," with the assumption that it is something you can just put on your dog, push a button, and the dog will immediately know how to respond. I also have clients who have tried to use these collars in this way (before calling me!), but with terrible results. Sometimes the use of the collar was their idea, and sometimes it was recommended by a trainer with little to no knowledge of how to use this training tool the right way. When dogs experience this new and strange stimulation without a proper introduction to it, they are often confused. If used at too low of a level, they will ignore it, and if used at too high of a level, they will often try to run to escape it or even associate the discomfort with a nearby object. This is exactly the OPPOSITE of what we want them to do when training for off-leash reliability!

The first thing I tell people is that the label of "shock collar" isn't accurate. I prefer to call them Remote Training Collars because the best, modern electronic training collars are designed to be used at low levels and as a way to communicate with your dog when he/she is off-leash. Modern remote training collars are NOT designed to be introduced in a sharp, traumatic, or intimidating way. When my clients feel the stimulation of the collar in their own hand, they often describe it as a "tickle," "tingle," or "tap," at levels much higher than we would ever use with their dog. With proper training, these collars can be used to improve off-leash reliability and communication with even the most stubborn or most sensitive of dogs!

I also describe to people the training process required to teach the dog how to respond to the stimulation from the remote training collar. A dog MUST be properly shown how to respond to the collar for the best off-leash training results. This is a process that should be done under the guidance of a professional trainer experienced in remote collar training. The collar should only be used at VERY LOW LEVELS during this training process. We also use treats or other rewards during training to motivate the dog to follow the commands we give. This method accelerates the dog's understanding of commands and ensures that he/she will respond better to commands, even when the rewards are not present.

If introduced to your dog the right way, the modern remote training collar can improve your relationship with your dog and assist in solving a number of difficult behavior problems. It can also give your dog freedom to run and play in a way that you never thought possible.

***Check out our videos page on our website for examples of dogs in training with remote training collars***

It's All in How You Raise Them. Sort Of!

by Konnie Hein on 03/14/16

Have you ever heard the phrase, "It's all in how you raise them" when referencing certain breeds or types of dogs? It's a common sentiment during discussions about aggressive or misbehaving dogs, but it causes many dog lovers and dog trainers to cringe.

As a professional dog trainer with many years of experience working with all breeds of dogs, I can tell you that despite the controversy surrounding this phrase, it is TRUE. Well, sort of!

It is true that if you do not properly socialize your puppy by safely exposing him/her to a variety of positive experiences, there is a possibility that you will end up with an adult dog who is nervous away from home or acts inappropriately in various social situations. And if you do not foster appropriate behaviors and take steps to minimize nuisance behaviors, you will likely end up with a dog who chronically misbehaves. 

So, poorly behaved or aggressive dogs are the result of being raised incorrectly, and if you raise any puppy of any breed the "right way" it will be the PERFECT companion for you, RIGHT? Not exactly! And this is where the concern originates. The statement, "It's all in how you raise them" is usually used in a context that ignores two extremely important aspect of raising dogs - the first being genetics, and the second being the owner's training skills and lifestyle.

Through selective breeding, humans have created hundreds of different breeds of dogs. These individual breeds were created in order to perform different tasks. Huskies were bred to pull, Shepherds and Collies to tend and herd, Mastiffs to guard, Pointers and Retrievers to aid in locating and bringing back game, Beagles and Hounds to track and chase game, Terriers to hunt and kill small animals, etc. etc. And as some jobs for dogs have all but disappeared (such as herding), certain breeds are now instead being selectively bred for comparatively modern tasks such as police work or dog sports.  

These traits should not be ignored when selecting your future family member. Do you want a dog with an insatiable desire to pull? What about a dog who likes to chase or nip running children? Would a dog who needs to run for hours a day be a good fit for you? Would you want a dog who likes to pick up objects around the house and carry them in his or her mouth? How do you feel about a dog who will track the scent of an animal and follow it for miles? Is a dog who aggressively guards your property from anybody who isn't a close family member something you're hoping for?

These are not the traits of "bad dogs," but they are very real genetic traits of certain working, herding, or hunting breeds. If these traits do not suit the lifestyle of the dog's owner, or fall outside of the scope of the owner's ability to control or manage them, then they can be very frustrating or even dangerous. And proper socialization along with your average obedience class will not eliminate, effectively control, or appropriately direct these traits.  

Am I saying that these breeds can't be good companions? Certainly not. In the right hands and in the right homes, working, herding, and hunting breeds can be amazing, useful, and fun companions. What I am saying is that future dog owners need to research the breeds they are interested in owning, and be very honest with the breeder and themselves about their lifestyle and dog training skills. Dogs from working, herding, and hunting breeds often require patient, skilled training and an appropriate and controlled outlet for their natural tendencies.  

Another aspect of genetics to consider is the individual dogs being bred. A puppy is likely to have the same or similar temperament of their parents regardless of how they are raised. Shyness, aggressiveness, and difficulty in housebreaking are all traits that can be passed from the parents to the puppy, even if the puppy is raised in the best environment by an experienced owner. When looking for a puppy, it's important to find a good breeder who is committed to breeding dogs who have a temperament suitable for your lifestyle.  

And that's the truth of it. If you do your research to find the most suitable breed for you, get a pup from a reputable breeder, and have the time, desire, training skills, and knowledge to raise the pup properly, then you have the best chance for a rewarding and fun relationship with your dog. In this case, having a well adjusted, well trained, and fun companion truly is "all in how you raise them."

Dog of Your Dreams

by Konnie Hein on 02/29/16

Whenever I take my dogs to public places, I inevitably hear comments like, "Your dogs are so well-behaved," or "Your dogs are amazing!" Some people have even commented that they would love to have a dog like mine (or even would love to have my dog!). It makes me feel good to hear this positive feedback, and yes, my dogs are usually very well-behaved in public settings. However, a more realistic assessment of their behavior would be, "Your dogs are so WELL TRAINED."

Although I do feel that my dogs are pretty darn great in their own right, their good behavior in public is no accident. Assuming that they are just "good dogs" leaves out a very important part of the equation - me! The breed I own has certain traits that can make them difficult for the average person (and even some experienced trainers!) to manage. Generally speaking, they have a very high energy level and a need to be doing some sort of work or structured activity on a very regular basis. 

And even with all that energy and desire to do something, I still expect them to behave in public places. This means no jumping up on people, no pulling on the leash, no inappropriate aggression towards people or other dogs, staying where I tell them to stay, coming when called, and generally being as calm as that particular setting calls for. And I think most of us agree that this is a good, general definition for "well behaved."

So, given that my dogs (like most dogs!) are not born canine good citizens, how do I get them to behave so well in public? It's training, of course. I take the time to teach them to do the things I want them to do. Without that training, most people would not find my dogs pleasant to be around at all! They would most definitely be jumpers, would pull on the leash, and would probably rather run around to investigate their surroundings than hang around in one place. And this is the case for most dogs.

Sure, there are dogs who are just naturally calm and generally obedient in the absence of any training. However, these dogs are very rare. All dogs require some sort of guidance to understand what acceptable behavior is in public or in their home. When people first bring home their new dog, they have a vision of this dog becoming their dream dog - an amazing canine companion to share their time. And often the situation falls short of that dream.

The reason it falls short may be that the dog they selected is just the wrong breed or type for them (and we'll cover that in a future blog), but often it is the owner's lack of experience or knowledge to effectively train the dog to behave in the way they'd like. And there's no shame in admitting this! When clients tell me that they feel like failures because their dog misbehaves, I tell them not to be so hard on themselves. Nobody is born a dog trainer. We have to learn the skills necessary to make communication between our dogs and ourselves possible. And since all dogs are different, success with one family pet doesn't necessarily prepare you for the next one.

And this is where professional trainers are invaluable. Pro trainers have worked with hundreds (thousands!) of dogs from all different breeds and all different temperament types. A good pro trainer has many tools in their toolbox to help a dog understand how we'd like him or her to behave. They also typically have years of experience applying these tools, so no time is wasted on ineffective methods! While it is possible to glean helpful training advice from sources like Google and Youtube, it's also tough to determine what advice is truly sound, and what advice applies to your unique situation. Personalized training advice given by a professional trainer truly is the best way to get long-lasting, effective training results, and the dog of your dreams.