Nine Things That Dog Trainers Want You to Know [Part 2]

unspecified-5Read Part One here.

The longer I do what I do, the harder it is to ignore what I see in the human/canine interaction scenarios of the general dog parenting public. Those of us who help modify dog behavior for a living have to try and not see things during the course of our daily life. If we fully absorbed everything that we see between dogs and their humans, it would be hard to remain sane. What dogs are trying to communicate to humans is often a mystery to some, but to us, it’s glaring. Which brings me to part two of what dog trainers want you to know. This second edition is a bit more somber than the first edition of this subject.

Being at an event that is dog-centric is a little like being multilingual in a foreign country where you obviously don’t belong. Most people don’t know that you can understand everything that goes on. But the dogs who are near enough to see you usually do know. Their recognition of our understanding of what we see they are saying is often clearly on their faces. YOU GET ME, their faces say as they make clear eye contact with you. But sometimes that clear eye contact seems to be issuing a plea. Those are the hardest visuals to ignore. But ignore we must, unless what we are seeing is illegal, of course. So in the interest of seeing less pleading eyes directed at me and my fellow behavior colleagues, here is what we want you to know.

  1. We love that you want to teach your dog manners. But we want those teachings to be instructional rather than frightening. Seeing someone on an outing with their dog actively using a shock collar means that we see that pain at the same time that the dog feels it, whether there is a vocalization or not. It shocks us (pun intended) to our core and if it meant that the dog would not feel that pain, we would gladly take it for them. Please consider other alternatives to electronic collars. Your relationship with your dog will be enhanced so much more than I can even express when you base your training on mutual respect. You can read why we feel this way here.
  2. While still on the subject of training methodology, at the risk of an outcry, I will briefly touch on other punitive training methods such as leash corrections, etc. When I see this type of handling on a dog in public, it takes everything in my power to not intrude. As previously mentioned, if I felt that a law was being broken, I would step in immediately, but unfortunately in the USA, there is far too much latitude given to people who hurt dogs in the name of training so intruding in many cases would only land me in jail. And the dog, more likely would suffer more corrections. Learn more about better ways to train here.
  3.  All modern reward-based dog trainers hear certain key words or phrases that make us wish that there was an immediate way to educate the entire dog loving world all at once. We would do so in a heartbeat. We want to spread the word because this information is not just an opinion. It’s a documented fact. Your dog is not stubborn, nor does he believe he is alpha, nor is he dominant, nor is he plotting to take over the “pack”. There is no pack, even if you have multiple dogs. You can allow your dog to walk in front of you without worrying that he thinks that he is alpha. None of your multiple dogs are an alpha. Your dogs don’t even know what that means!  That theory was disproved. Read more on that here. Just teach him that you are walking in partnership rather than as a dictatorship as defined by your own needs. Your dog is not dominant if he lays on the couch. The couch is simply comfortable. If you don’t want him there, provide an equally comfortable space for him and pleasantly teach him an “Off” cue. Your dog is not stubborn if he doesn’t respond to your cues (you may call them commands, but that is another article). You have simply not taught him this cue completely or you are asking him to perform it at an inappropriate time. Your dog desperately wants you to understand him better. Read more about “dominance” here.
  4. Your dog is mentally and emotionally similar to a child. Please don’t leave your dog unattended outside of a store, tied up to be at the mercy of anyone. That is such a vulnerable position to be in. Think about how you would personally feel in that position. It’s not a good feeling, is it? Please don’t do it to your dog. You would not do it to a child. I see dogs looking around in a panic when placed in this position. Your dog needs to trust in YOU to be their safety. Don’t allow that trust to be misplaced. Your dog is not barking while you are shopping because he is being demanding. He is terrified. Please look into his eyes and see that emotion. Read more about this here.
  5. So often I see people allowing strangers to touch their dog when the dog in question is clearly begging to be allowed to get some space. Dogs are not public property. Please ask your dog whether he wants to be touched. Do you like to be touched by strangers? Then chances are that your dog doesn’t welcome it either. Please learn about dog body language so that you see your dog’s requests. You get to say no to touch. Allow your dog that same option. Being touched by anyone should be the dog’s choice. Please read this article for a better understanding on this subject.
  6. Telling your dog no. "No" is a very general concept. I often have people tell me that their dog understands the word no. What is more likely that they understand is the tone of voice that you use when you say this word. Tone is everything. Say no in your happiest tone of voice and see whether they still understand the word. Better yet, show your dog what you want him to do instead of what you are telling him no for. Win/win on both sides. You will be amazed at the communication that follows!
  7. The saddest situation that I come across, both in public when talking with dog parents and in privates with clients and potential clients, is what is now coined as MLD syndrome. My Last Dog… Just as you have a different personality from every other human, your dog's personality will never mirror that of your last dog, even if both dogs are the same breed. Read here for more on this subject. Please accept your dog for who he is, not who you want him to be. He will be so relieved.
  8. Watching a dog parent walk a dog with the intention of said dog walking immediately by the human’s side like a soldier makes me sad. Of course in a crowded city scenario, heeling is a necessity. But when out on a walk for enjoyment with space to do so, allow your dog the courtesy of exploring his environment. This is his time to get caught up on neighborhood current events and check his peemail. This simple act gives your dog more mental stimulation that anything else you can arrange on a daily basis. Read here for more on this subject.
  9. We love that you want to help your dog, but please don't ask random dog parents for behavior advice. At best, this will confuse your dog as you try different options.  At worst, this will make whatever behavior that has prompted your inquiries, to become more concerning. Would you go online and ask random parents how they deal with a serious behavior problem, or would you go to an expert in that field? Do yourself and your dog a favor and seek out an expert so that you can truly help your dog resolve his behavior issues safely.

This is obviously not as lighthearted as part one in this series. I expect that some people will be offended. I hope that number is few. My fondest wish for this information is that it helps educate the dog parents who simply don’t know any better. YOU are my audience. You and your dogs are my goal to help. Please accept this information in the spirit that it is given. To educate so that both your life and your dogs life are enriched. What you do with the information is your choice. I hope that you welcome it and put it to good use.


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Positively Expert: Debby McMullen

Debby is a certified behavior consultant and the author of the How Many Dogs? Using Positive Reinforcement Training to Manage a Multiple Dog Household. She also owns Pawsitive Reactions, LLC in Pittsburgh, PA.


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  • Janet Velenovsky

    Nicely done, Debby! I am definitely sharing this one.

  • Aaron Morrow

    I appreciate that you love dogs, and there are several points of what "not to do" that I agree with, but you refuse to offer a single scintilla of usable, constructive information for those of us that want to treat our dogs in a manner that will both treat our pets in the way that they deserve or help us mitigate behaviors which endangers them. I get it, you believe every dog owner without your service is an idiot that doesn't love their friend, but your judgement without wise, compassionate correction for those of us that have spent their lives trying to rescue animals and create loving, permanent homes, rings of the mercenary rather than the merciful. I'm just going to love and care for my furred friends, I don't need your judgement on my efforts to help. Consider all the animals that you have rendered homeless and unadopted because you refuse to provide practical, constructive advice and choose instead to indict everyone that does not meet a standard that I doubt you are able to meet. Nobody as condescending to those that are trying, as you are, can possibly care about the animals that we have devoted ourselves to loving and rescuing. Congratulations, more dogs are homeless because of your unwillingness to recognize that there are actually people trying to make a difference.

  • Debby

    Hi Aaron, I'm not sure why you are taking my article personally but my article is echoing the thoughts of literally thousands of rewards based trainers who share a modern dog training philosophy. It is not possible for me personally to work with every dog out there nor do I have a desire to. All rewards based trainers feel this way about what they see. Many trainers offered ideas for this article in advance, based on their own thoughts. We absolutely are not in any way rendering any animal homeless by educating the dog parenting public at large what is best for their beloved dogs. As far as alternate advise offered, there is an abundance of links provided within the article on nearly every subject that is mentioned. Actual training advise would be inappropriate in this article as well as lengthy. However, there is again an abundance of information available on many behavior and training subjects on the Victoria Stilwell site itself. Feel free to avail yourself of that information.

  • APalici

    For the author of this article: Hi. If you see people treating their dog badly in public places (park, street etc.), tell the owner that you are a professional dog trainer and teach him how to train the dog correctly on the spot. People aren't mean, but they don't know how to train their dogs, so an advice on the spot from a professional is welcomed.

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