Seven Things That Dog Trainers Want You To Know

FB_IMG_1468763976483_resizedThose of us who work professionally with dog behavior cannot turn off our skills. They exist whether we are actively working or not. There is no shut off switch. So when we are simply living our daily lives, and we see you with your dog, we cannot control what we think. Most of the times, those thoughts are full of warm and fuzzies, because we love dogs. After all, dogs are the reason that we do what we do. But it is also precisely because we love dogs, that sometimes the things that we see make us twitch and want to intervene where we have no business doing so. Please forgive us when we can’t resist that urge and understand that it comes from a place of love for all things canine. But for those of us who exercise extreme impulse control, because we know our comments might not be welcome, here is a less intrusive option to learn from.

  1. We LOVE when we see a dog parent walking their beloved dog on a front clip harness. Kudos to you! You have made the best choice for your dog as well as yourself. But for your dog’s comfort sake and prevention of skeletal issues in the future, PLEASE make sure that you have a skilled professional fit that front clip harness so that it is not dipping and sagging below their shoulder blades on their chest. I see joint issues and leg fracture possibilities with every sagging front clip harness that crosses my path. It takes every ounce of impulse control that I possess to not approach you.
  2. Talking too much. Now this is a complicated one because while us pros want you to connect with your dog, what I mean here is when a dog parent is simply talking AT their dog, not TO their dog. Walking and continually talking in full sentences that have no meaning to your dog while issuing “commands” is an exercise in futility. Communicate WITH your dog. Connect WITH your dog. You will know when you have made that connection while out and about with your dog, in the same way that you know when you are connecting with a human while on a walk. Is your dog looking at you in an engaging manner or are they simply looking back when forced to? See your dog and allow them to be a dog while enjoying the walk together. You cannot beat the bond that such a connection creates.
  3. The above twitch inducing scenario brings me to another twitch inducing scenario: put away the cell phone while you are walking your dog. This is THE highlight of your dog’s day. Be WITH your dog. The day has an abundance of other moments to ignore your dog while talking or scrolling on your phone. Save the time that you spend together out on a walk for simply connecting with your dog. The reward for attention to your beloved dog is such pleasure on that face. It’s incomparable to see. On the other hand, the disappointment is palpable when your dog knows that he is not the subject of your current interest.
  4. Again on the subject of talking to your dog, please don’t sound like a drill sergeant! No one wants to look at someone who sounds mad. Switch gears and sound like you are having the best dog party ever and watch the delight on your dog’s face. If you want to cue a behavior such as a “sit”, (not command, see this article here), then issue your cue once AFTER getting your dog’s attention by saying his name. Repetition of said cue makes that cue meaningless and you are making yourself the equivalent of Charlie Brown’s teacher and all he hears is “blah blah blah”.  And while we are on the subject of the cue, when you issue a cue such as “Sit”, and mark the moment with a hearty “Good!”, stop there. Dogs are remarkably resilient and flexible creatures and they learn despite our many human failings, but following that “Good” with a “sit” such as “Good Sit”, “Good Down”, just confuses them. The cue is just that: a signal to perform that behavior. When your dog has done so, just mark the moment rather than ask him to do it again while he is doing it. You would be amazed at how much faster he will learn.
  5. Rewards-based trainers LOVE seeing dog parents using a clicker when out and about with their dogs. We do not however, like seeing it be used like a remote control. The clicker is intended to be used as a marker of behavior that we want more or much like a good boy or good girl would be. It is not intended to be pointed at a dog and clicked as a means to get a dog’s attention. What you are marking in that situation is inattention. Do you want more of that? If you want to use a clicker, then either do some serious research on a clicker professional’s website or have a clicker professional show you the ropes. You will not be disappointed!
  6. Walking your terrified or unruly dog on a Flexi leash at all, but especially in a crowded area. Control your dog! That doesn’t mean use force to do so. It simply means that your dog depends on you for both safety and boundaries. Create both. The latter is the equivalent of an unruly child being permitted to run up to strangers in a crowded area. Just as inappropriate. Don’t be that person!
  7. Socializing your dog means that you pair good stuff (food, toys, sniffs, etc.) with new experiences/people/things. It does not mean that you drag your terrified dog everywhere while allowing everyone to touch him without asking him how he feels about what is going on. This is just a recipe for a future disaster and a desperate phone call to someone like me when your dog objects to all of the things that have been forced into his world. Do your dog a favor and read up on how to socialize your dog before you attempt it. Your dog will thank you with less anxiety. Less anxiety on your dog’s part means less anxiety on your part. Win/win!

To dog parents everywhere, please don’t misunderstand the frustration of the dog training profession. We want you to succeed. We realize that there is a plethora of inaccurate and even dangerous information available on the internet, in books, from your neighbor, from that friend who has had dogs since the dawn of time. Please do yourself a favor and look to the experts. And because identifying an expert isn’t terribly easy in an unregulated industry, just go to the top. Veterinary Behaviorists. Not veterinarians, but veterinary behaviorists. Look for what they recommend and go from there. You will find nothing but good information on, all blessed by the top experts in this field. Stay tuned for part two on this subject in the future.

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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.


3 thoughts on “Seven Things That Dog Trainers Want You To Know

  1. Matthew

    Very good article actually. I see a lot of riff raff articles on here but this one is very valuable and very informative. It's funny I've been training 15 years and you're the first I've seen express these topics the same way I do with people. I hope enough people read and understand. And the last part is the most important, a behaviorist is often the best route but I've encountered waayyyy too many incompetent behaviorists in my day who tell owners their dog can't be helped. EVERY dog on the planet can be helped if the trainer/behaviorist is really what they say they are. A trainers learning is never done and any trainer who believes they've learned enough ought to not calling themselves one.

  2. Cheryl Aisoff

    Yes! You covered my major pet peeves! I use a flexi to be able to keep her close yet when a dog is larger and too forward for her she can back off a safe comfortable distance for her. I always have my cell with me, I use it to call my mother to say it's cool enough to walk. We then wait for her to join us.
    Will check her harness when I next put it on her. Sophie walks at heel even tho the flexi is not on lock.

  3. Aileen Miles Prather

    I love your articles! They are very informative. I just want to say that if a trainer ever saw that my dog's harness wasn't fitting correctly, I would be HAPPY for them to tell me. And I learned something great on #3. Not that I sound like a drill instructor, but I read once that it was good to tell your dog what they were doing right. So I have been saying "good sit", "good _____" fill in the blank. So I will drop that now and just say good. I am trying to retrain a dog with leash reactivity & any help that I can get is appreciated.

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