Dog Training Education Month

by | Dog Training, Dogs

February 2024 BLOG post (800 x 425 px)

by Bobbi

February is Train Your Dog Month. This month we wanted to share information from someone who is skilled in dog training.  Please welcome Kai to our blog post.  We had a few questions we have had our pet parents ask, so we thought we would get some answers!

1. Is there a particular age you should start training your dog?

Training begins the moment you bring a puppy home! Young puppies soak up new information like a sponge, and they are very eager to learn and explore. They will also build habits based on the behaviors you allow them to engage in, and anything that they find rewarding/reinforcing. At the puppy stage, most training requires solid home management – think child proofing. Making sure they don’t have access to the garbage or counter tops. Teaching them to respect the boundaries or thresholds of doorways. Setting good play expectations and redirecting bites/nips to appropriate toys.

There may be some things that you need to wait to teach them (like walking at a heel or getting involved in running/agility), but you set the foundations right away. If you’re thinking about classes – those should wait until your dog is fully vaccinated! No puppy should be around strange dogs until they are safe from parvo, distemper, and rabies. You don’t want to risk their health looking for good training and socialization. Instead, start with private training and start socializing by going to parks and other public places where your puppy can watch others at a distance.

No dog is too young, OR too old, to learn. HOW we train them though, and the specific things we focus on will change based on their age and development.

2. What are the top three reasons you find you get called to help with training a dog?

The most common things I get asked to help with are leash reactivity issues, dogs that are shy or anxious, and dogs that are needing help integrating with another dog in the home.

Leash reactive dogs often struggle with other reactivity issues too. Excessive barking at things they see out the window. Noise reactivity. Fence fighting. And sometimes resource guarding. All of these behaviors stem from a difficulty with emotional regulation – feeling overly anxious or overly excited when presented with a “trigger” (the sight of another dog, the sound of a knock at the door, a squirrel or cat, etc). They then become frustrated by the presence of the barrier (leash, fence, window) that prevents them engaging with the trigger in the way they want to (greeting, playing, chasing).

This behavior can be exacerbated by a lack of focus, lack of impulse control, and a lack of good communication with the owner/handler. Improving this behavior requires getting to that root issue – the emotional regulation. Helping a dog learn to be calm in the presence of their triggers. And giving them a rewarding action they can do INSTEAD of the behavior they are wanting to engage in. Often, it means going back to the basics and building a stronger bond, as well as desensitization training and counter conditioning that can be very difficult for a person to accomplish without professional guidance.

Resolving issues with shy dogs, on the other hand, usually requires more change on the part of the people. We often expect all dogs to be friendly, outgoing, and comfortable with everyone they meet. But just like people, dogs will have personal preferences and a desire to have their space and autonomy respected – especially by strangers! Some dogs are extroverted, and some are introverted. Some dogs take time to make friends, and some will warm up to everyone quickly. Some will be very protective of their home, and some will be excited about visitors. And some will enjoy being petted and cuddled, while others will prefer not being touched.

You can’t force your dog to be what they aren’t! But if you advocate for your dog, and ensure that their interactions with other people happen on their terms, your dog will come to trust and rely on you more. They’ll become more comfortable around strangers, because they know you will ensure they are respected.

And finally, integrating a new dog into the home can be a challenge! Whether that new dog is a puppy or an adopted rescue, working out the dynamics between your established dog and the new one requires building trust and comfort. They need to learn each other’s play styles and boundaries. How to escape a situation they are uncomfortable with. How to bring energy down when the other wants a break. How to exist around one another without being constantly engaged with each other. Etc. And if an owner is calling me after a fight has already happened, that experience can cause tension and heightened awareness that makes another fight more likely to break out if not carefully addressed.

3. What are two different types of training and how are they sometimes confused?

It’s hard to give just two examples of training types, because training can be categorized by:

  1. Your overall training philosophy
  2. The kind of tools you use when training
  3. The kind of behaviors being addressed with training
  4. The relationship between handler and dog
  5. The overall goal for the dog

And there’s quite a bit of overlap between these!

For example, if a trainer states that they are a “balanced trainer” this means that they will use whatever tools are available to them to work with a dog. But you can have a balanced trainer who has a “dominance based” training philosophy or one that has a “positive reinforcement” based approach. A dominance based trainer will focus heavily on having control and enforcing follow-through with commands, while a positive reinforcement trainer will have a bond-building approach focused on looking for behaviors to praise and reward so that the dog will value and repeat those behaviors.

You can also have positive reinforcement trainers who are “force free” instead of balanced, meaning that they will only use non-aversive tools when training a dog. And you can also find trainers who will identify themselves by the tool they most use when training, such as an “e-collar” trainer or a “clicker” trainer. And many trainers will identify themselves as “science based” to mean that they use methods supported by current scientific studies in animal behavior and dog behavior and psychology.

No matter the tools or philosophy behind their training, trainers will often specialize in things where they have the most experience. There are many breed-specific trainers, as well as trainers who are familiar with preparing dogs for various jobs or competitions such as protection work, agility trials, or service dogs. Trainers will also vary in their style of teaching – in that some will work almost exclusively with the dog (private and boarded training), some will coach the owner/handler through working with the dog, and some will teach in a group or class setting. Just as there are variations in the skill and experience with different ways to train a dog, there are variations in the skill and experience in working with people, privately or in groups.

Probably the most confusing aspect of identifying different training types and styles is just understanding what it means when a trainer gives them self a particular label. Dog training is not a regulated profession – anyone can call themselves a dog trainer! So, it’s important to look beyond those labels and get to know the person you are hoping to have help with training your dog. Ask about their experience, their education, their philosophy, what kind of training tools they use, and what kind of dogs they’ve trained.

Kai Murphey,

Unchained Melodies Trainer

The Devoted Dog (573) 476-7233

​Thank you, Kai!

Bobbi Wilson CPPS since 2018