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Empowering Dog Owners Through Balance, Part I

One day at work, I was the one to take a client into the room with her “new” puppy that she has had for a while already, but at 4 months, was seeing worms in the stool. A fecal float confirmed the finding, and the dog was placed on an appropriate dewormer and its vaccinations updated, especially the legally-required rabies vaccine, for which the pup was of age.

New puppy appointments usually include a lot of information, but at a maximum of 30 minutes allowed for any new puppy or new client appointment, there’s a lot that either is glossed over, or is deemed OK to wait until the next visit. This includes information such as leash training, prevention of bad habits, puppy classes (of which this clinic provides the clicker variety at another location), crate training/housebreaking, flea prevention, zoonotic parasites, heartworm prevention, microchipping, sterilization, and the importance of regular veterinary visits.

This one appointment stuck in my mind because this black Labrador puppy was at an age where he had had acquired some bad habits, one of them being to jump on anyone for any reason. This was not the “Aw, how kyoot” type of jumping—this puppy was going on 25-30 pounds and enjoyed using his weight, as well as his long nails, to get whatever he wanted and when he wanted it.

During the appointment, I discovered that the puppy responded well to a gentle knee-to-the-chest approach. This was not the traditional “knock the wind out of the dog” method that you might need for a fully-grown Newfoundland who has seriously injured people with his exuberance, nor is it the “knock the dog tail over teacups” approach I have seen demonstrated in the more redneck areas in which I’ve had opportunities to visit. No, this puppy responded to a simple bump on the chest coupled with the word “No,” to which he responded with a puzzled look and promptly sat right in front of me. I explained to the owner what I was doing and why I was doing it, as she had previously expressed concern over the jumping, and she seemed impressed that he could be taught so quickly to stop doing it. Throughout the history-gathering part of the appointment, the puppy quickly learned that jumping was not a fun thing to do anymore, and sitting garnered him more attention and praise.

It was probably the first time he had been consistently told, in a way he could understand, “Don’t.”

Imagine my (lack of) surprise when the vet came in to do the exam and give the vaccines, and the puppy reverted to prior behaviors that it had previous learned Did Not Fly with me—maybe they would work with this person.

This particular vet’s way of handling a jumping dog is to make a nasal-sounding “Ah-ah” sound and turning away, removing attention. Which, admittedly, works with softer dogs that haven’t been jumping for a long time, or have had previous training and are reverting slightly. It rarely works for a normal dog, especially a 4-month old puppy who’s feeling his oats and never been told in a way he could understand that it’s unacceptable.

This poor vet was pretty much doing this the entire time she was in the room.

As the client was paying for the appointment and leaving, she said something that really puzzled me, in this era of “positive” training, “gentle” approaches and the mindset of handling animals and children with kid gloves. It was only a few words, not anything profound, but they held a lot of emotion. You’ll get to read what she told me in a later installment. Remember, it’s not exactly earth-shattering.

When it comes to owning a dog and training it in a results-based, balanced manner, one does not have to be a disciplinarian, and I’ve been over this before. However, the problem comes when someone who desperately wants to tell their dog to “Stop that” lacks the appropriate means and knowledge to do so.

In truth, you ARE supposed to think in terms of what you CAN do and WANT to do with your dog during the training process. Think in terms of “I want to enjoy walks with my dog,” or “I would really like my dog to come to me regardless of the distraction.” “I want to trust my dog around the house and not have to crate him all the time” is also a big one too. The ugly matter rears its head the moment you encounter the situation where the owner has to tell the dog “I don’t want you to do that.” No matter what dog is in training, no matter the situation, this WILL happen sometime. Even if you have the most biddable retriever whose life revolves around “Your wish is my command,” you will encounter a time when you have to tell that dog “No, don’t do that.” You can think positive for everything you’re worth, think all the “I want”’s and “My dog can”’s in the world, and you will STILL come a point where you have to draw the line and tell your dog “I don’t want” and “You can’t.”

Anyone who tells you otherwise has never trained dogs to the point where you want them giving you advice on how to work with YOURS.

The problem comes when many so-called trainers (such as the ones referenced in the previous sentence) refuse to empower these owners with the appropriate techniques and necessary tools to properly communicate to their dog that something is NOT allowed. Remember, dog owners don’t have to be disciplinarians; they just have to draw their lines and stick to their guns. The major problem is that many people don’t know how to stick to their guns in a manner that benefits both them AND the dog, and the inability (or refusal) of trainers to teach these essential skills to their clients can cause serious problems not only at the start of training, but also further down the road.

2 Responses to “Empowering Dog Owners Through Balance, Part I”

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  1. [...] Dog Owners Through Balance, Part III Please be sure that you have read parts I and II to this [...]

  2. [...] and corrections, and removing rewards in addition to correction (see the jumping example in the Empowering Owner Through Balance series). A grand total of about 15 minutes scattered throughout the lesson was spent working [...]