Unfortunately, a sad fact is that over 80% of euthanasia of healthy animals is due to behavior problems that are really normal dog behaviors that are simply unacceptable in our human world. Shelters and Rescues are overburdened with this sad statistic and Awesome Paws is determined to help minimize this problem by offering these educational services. Most pet owners do not understand how to teach their pets how to live peacefully in our world and do not know how to read canine body language in order to avoid problems in the first place. Most owners are also inconsistent with their training programs and think that just because their dog will sit on cue in the house when there are no distractions, the dog knows sit everywhere. This is true then for ALL of the cues they think they have taught…and can be seriously wrong, especially in an emergency like when a pet darts through the front door towards a busy street.
Whether you would rather take classes, have private lessons, enroll your dog in a boarding school program, etc, be on the lookout for trainers who promise instant results. This is simply not true in ANY learning environment – even human schools! Training your pet takes time, patience, consistency, trust, and understanding. You should find a trainer who can keep things fun and rewarding for both you and your pet and can communicate effectively with you and your canine friend. Contrary to popular belief, your dog does NOT need a collar to learn…it is merely the traditional way for most trainers. We at Awesome Paws like to teach “naked” obedience. Collars and leash-laws apply to all public situations; however, it is rare that you will have a leash or collar on in an emergency. Teaching your dog to respond in ALL situations under as many distractions as possible should be the ultimate goal for any pet owner. Owners should find a trainer that motivates them and keeps them smiling while they learn how to strengthen their bond with their pet. Trainers should be creative and ready to modify their approaches in training as well.
Does this mean you must find a “certified” dog trainer? We’ll be quite honest when answering this question: we do not believe so. There are a lot of extremely good trainers out there that can help you establish a much better training bond with your beloved companion, just like there are also a lot of “certified dog trainers” that have destroyed bonds or escalated bad behaviors. We recommend doing your research before you decide.
Our founder, Julie Westphal, is NOT certified as a dog trainer at this time. She is a Certified Veterinary Technician (licensed in the state of Wisconsin) and continues her training in the lifelong love of animal behavior by consulting with clients, holding group classes at an AKC member kennel club, competing with her own dogs in dog sport trials and continuing her own education within the veterinary medical and behavioral fields. She is referred to by four animal hospitals, several Rescue organizations, and has been holding seminars and educating the public at many local events for several years.
There are many “certifications” now offered for students at varying facilities or online or through correspondence schools. These certifications can be mis-leading in that sometimes a person can attend a brief course, intern as an apprentice dog trainer, take a written multiple choice examination, and then call themselves “certified”. We suggest you do your due diligence and research your training facility and faculty in depth before deciding on who you choose. If they offer a credential, we recommend looking up that credential and see what they had to do to earn it. We believe that in order to consider yourself a “professional dog trainer” you really need to be able to practice what you preach, be able to repeat the success with multiple dogs, keep current on the latest behavioral research and theory, attend continuing educational events, and prove it with your own dogs, whether in competition or just by having doggy ambassadors that you can showcase in any environment, at any time. Do not settle for just anyone – you may end up regretting it or cause an already bad behavior to escalate! You have to be the one comfortable with their methods and be able to understand and replicate the exercises so that your dog can learn from you.
Dogs only learn what we teach them. Reward the Good Behaviors, Ignore the bad ones (or get an experienced professional to help with any Aggression or Anxiety issues) and you will have a dog that tries to keep offering good behavior. We too often forget to reward our dogs for calm behavior (we just “expect” it), and then get angry when they are wound up and yell (or worse!) at them…only reinforcing that wound up behavior gets attention and calm does not! What a goofy world of opposites we are projecting! Without going into the boring details of theory (positive, negative, reinforcement, punishment, etc), just remember: Whatever gets attention…which your dog craves as a pack member…will be continued…whether it is “positive” or “negative” to you. Attention IS attention. We, being human, EXPECT our dogs to understand us and the reality is: they don’t. Pets CAN think. They CAN learn. But they CANNOT think as COMPLEXLY as we expect them to. They only LEARN what gets them what they think is rewarding…whether attention, treats, toys, freedom, going potty, for a car ride, whatever! So REWARD your pet for EVERYTHING they do RIGHT (and ignore what they do wrong by turning your back and walking away!)…and you’ll already have a better dog.
So, instead of thinking of training as “correcting the bad behavior”, think of it as teaching your pet English” – their SECOND language! Just as we can learn a second language, so can our pets. At the end of the day, a dog will be a dog and we will be human. Period. We will NEVER be dogs – therefore never be a true “pack” – and our dogs will never be human, as much as we want them to be. Instead, let’s learn a little “Dog” so that we can more effectively teach them “Human” (in whatever language we choose)…and this, just like with us, will take some time, consistency, exposure, generalizations, and reinforcement…sometimes maybe even a few “corrections” but tonal change and using “no” are all that should be required. If we keep even the “corrections” reasonable (let us show you how to use those verbal punisher words since physical corrections are not needed in many situations, therefore allowing you to have a CONVERSATION with your dog, versus a mixed martial arts battle), we can develop a solid, healthy, lifelong relationship…based on trust, clear communication and understanding.
CVT & Owner of Awesome Paws Academy