Well, it’s been about a month since I headed for sunny WARM Atlanta, Georgia for the Association of Pet Dog Trainers Annual Conference and Trade Show. This was the first conference I have attended although Renee has brought me back the conference workbooks from the past two conferences. We were in the presence of the best of the best, as far as I am concerned and it was worth every single penny! Now, things have been percolating for a bit and I’ve had some time to think about what was really new to me at the conference and what information will change how I think about dogs, dog behaviour and possibly how I do things at Prairie Dog Daycare and in classes at Two Brown Dogs.
Watching a dog training TV show does not give you the whole picture. You may or may not have heard of British TV dog trainer Victoria Stillwell and you may or may not have seen her show It’s Me or the Dog. During a discussion of working through clients in a TV setting she revealed that on average they shoot 56 hours
of film to cut down into a 42 minute show. If you want to talk numbers – that means we see 1.25% of all the video that is shot and the other 98.75% hits the cutting room floor. So next time you use dog training methods you see on TV, take a moment to reflect upon the fact you may not be doing it exactly as the TV host is doing. (For the record, I share Ms. Stillwell’s views on force free, however turning any huge behaviour issue around takes time, it takes work, and it takes the guidance of someone who knows what they are doing.)
For a term we hear a lot in our business, dominance aggression has been poorly defined in scientific literature. Not even the people who study dog behaviour for a living can agree on what dominance aggression is certainly no one can agree on the solution. This is rather alarming – how did they become such popular terms!? What I took away from this information is that one needs to be careful when identifying behavioural issues and even more careful when attempting any behaviour modification plan. A lot of awful things have been done to dogs in the name of ‘curing’ dominance aggression. This also explains why dog owners are confused (i.e. well trainer 1 says “abc” and trainer 2 says “xyz”) and why both Renee and I find aggression issues in general are extremely difficult and complex to work with – there simply is no magic pill!
The puppy you have now is the dog you will get. This came across from a number of presenters who lamented the fact that sometimes we believe (or rather hope) that with enough love, training etc, etc, we can turn our Cinderella Puppy into the Belle of the Ball. A lot of people find shy and fearful behaviour “cute” not knowing that without some form of intervention the puppy will likely get worse. Suzanne Clothier who has done a lot of puppy testing as a breeder and in her work with Guiding Eyes for the Blind has devised a temperament test called the Clothier Animal Response Assessment Tool (CARAT) to help better match puppies to potential homes and to help select dogs for service works. One comment she made in a presentation is that the test is performed at least twice with the service dogs (at different ages) and that a puppy’s CARAT score does not change very much.
I think all trainers would agree that a lot of training can be done to help shy, insecure or assertive dogs better cope with the world however most training does not “fix” the issue and dogs will generally revert to previous behaviours if we do not provide the necessary consistently for these dogs. I have a dog like this – I would never consider him a canine social butterfly but under specific circumstances and within the structure I provide for him he does get to “work” and play with some dogs, – I’d like to think he has a pretty satisfying life. He could be a poster child for dog rescue but I always try to let people know how much work he is. While I may now be better prepared than most to work with such a dog, it would not be my first choice.
Dogs are learning all the time. The assumption that a dogs’ brain gets filled, sealed and never leaks is one that gets a lot of dog and puppy owners in trouble. I am sure it’s also the reason we see a lot of adolescent dogs in rescue. There is certainly an important (critical!!!) learning window during puppyhood but dogs are learning throughout their lives and they are learning whether they are at Dog School OR at home with you. It’s our job as owners and trainers to make sure they are learning what we’d like them to learn and to remain consistent in our expectations if we want them to keep being good dogs!
30% of a dog’s brain is dedicated to smell. This is huge because it means our dogs are walking noses…can you imagine being able to smell in the same detail you can see!? As trainers and dog owners I think this is something we overlook a lot.