Monday, December 28, 2015

Keeping Kids and Dogs Safe Together

I've recently had several families with children approach me with questions about kids and dogs, and how to keep their children from getting bitten by the family dog.  

So, I figured it was time to pool all of my information and write about this oh-so-important topic!

The FACTS:  Kids don't have good boundaries, and they also don't read dog body language signals...which is why they get bit.




The Language Barrier:  The number one problem in dog/human interactions in a lack of understanding.

Usually by the time I hear from parents of small kids that there is a problem, the dog has been saying very politely (but very clearly) for a long time, "I am uncomfortable about this child."  

But the kids don't see it (and often the adults don't, either).  So the dog has to 'raise his voice.'  

By the time we have growling, snapping, or barking, the dog has usually given 100 or more small canine body signals about how stressed he is.  And he may have been giving those signs for a long time - weeks, months, or years.  But if we've missed the signals, it's not the dog's fault, right?  

First off, more adults and kids need to learn to read canine body language, so we can intervene in stressful child to dog interactions long before the dog feels the need to bite.

Here are two awesome body language videos we regularly recommend at Front Range K9 Academy.  They are just the tip of the iceberg in regards to the amount of good information you can find on the internet about canine body language.  We invite you to explore the vast internet resources about dog body language even more, but these will get you started:
  

RIGHT & WRONG:   The next step is teaching kids how they should - and should NOT- interact with pets is imperative.  

Some things should be obvious - no yanking of tails, poking of eyes, pulling of fur, etc.  But other things are more subtle - like teaching toddlers to 'let sleeping dogs lie.'

These two posters from the late Dr. Sophia Yin are perfect for most families to explore together:



But parents, beware!  Simply telling a child under the age of about 5 to 7 years old these things is not really going to help the situation. 

Before the child has developed the appropriate neurological links that lead to consequential learning skills, they are not able to process this information enough for it to affect their behavior.  Even when children can parrot back that they should 'be nice to doggy,' it doesn't always mean they understand what they are saying.

So, it is still up to the parents to keep both the dog and the child safe.

So, what should YOU be doing to keep your dog and children safe?  

My rule to new parents (or anyone with kids under 15 around) is that during any time dogs and kids are together, one adult must be in charge of watching dog-kid interactions 100% of the time.  

That means that you can't watch the dog and the kids and cook dinner, and watch a movie, and respond to emails, and talk on the phone, and.....  The person in charge of the dog has ONLY that job.  

I know.  I know.... But you're busy!  Or you want to relax and enjoy the family!   You can't watch the dog and the child 24/7, right?

Sometimes in today's busy world we really do need to be multi-tasking.  So, I also recommend giving the dog a space that is truly 100% off limits to the child.  

Get creative! You can use simple barriers like these small, adjustable pet pens, to section off areas in rooms so that the dog is not banished to a crate, etc. and is still part of the family, but is protected.  Make training to go to a bed in his 'special space' fun for the dog - providing lots of chew toys, treats, and attention to him while he is there.

BUT, the supervision rule still applies, even with a dog in his 'special, off-limits' spot.  If there isn't an adult able to supervise the child to make sure he's not breaking through the boundaries or barriers -  then the dog must be kenneled.  This includes dinner prep, quick trips to the bathroom, catnaps, etc.

Our job as adults is to protect our child AND our dog.  While this may seem extreme, the alternative - which involves direct and present danger to both the dog and the child - are unthinkable.

Another great resource for parents with pooches is Barbara Shumannfang's book: Happy Kids, Happy Dogs.  It's loaded with great training tips and ideas on getting through parenthood with dogs - from infants to teens!

That's it from this end of the leash.

Jennifer Hime is a dog trainer and behaviorist, the owner of Front Range K9 Academy in Wheat Ridge, CO.  

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Do You Know Your Dog's Emotional Age?

The Seven Year Rule and Your Dog’s Emotional/Behavioral Age

When I was a child, I remember hearing our family veterinarian telling my father about the ‘Seven Year Rule’ for calculating our dog’s age. The idea is that a dog will age seven years to every one of our human years.   

My first dog, Mugsy, was a spunky Jack Russel Terrier mix who lived to the ripe old age of 15 – which would have made him 105 in human years!

Of course in recent years, there has been a lot of talk about how the 7 year rule doesn’t really apply in all cases.

It’s probably more like 5 human years to 1 dog year for smaller dogs like Mugsy; and more like 10 human years to 1 dog year for large and giant breeds, with the 7 year rule holding somewhat steady for most medium sized dogs.   


Here's a handy chart for calculating your dog's age in human years:  http://pets.webmd.com/dogs/how-to-calculate-your-dogs-age

But what interests me more is that the ‘7 human years to 1 dog year rule’ has always been thought of in terms of physical age of the dog.

What about mental age?  Or social age?  Emotional age?

Have you ever thought about how your dog changes mentally, socially, and emotionally over time?  Most of us notice the (blissful) differences between a 6 month old puppy and a mature dog.  But have you ever stopped to think about how those changes come about? 

Have you considered your dog’s ‘behavioral age?’

Through the years, I’ve worked with and trained dogs ranging in age from 8 weeks old to 16 years, and I’ve come to believe that the good old “7 to 1” rule applies very much to the behavioral age of most dogs.

My whippet, Trinity; pictured at 24 hours old, 4 weeks, and 9 months.

Additionally, as my dog training career heads into its 26 year, I am more and more convinced that dogs and humans share the same basic emotional and social developmental stages.  This probably goes a long way towards explaining why dogs have been domesticated for so long, and why we still get along with them so well!

So – what does this mean for you and your dog?  Well, let’s first take a look at the 7 to 1 rule in regards to dogs’ emotional, social, mental and behavioral development.

This little mud lover is named Bailey, a Golden Retriever puppy at 6 months oldSay you have a 6 month old pup – if we do the 7 to 1 rule math, your pup would be the equivalent of a three and a half year old child.  Anyone who has spent time with a rambunctious pup and a 3 year old toddler can probably readily see the similarities!  The pup is aching to be a big dog – exploring its entire world with its nose and new teeth – itching to try out its newly found coordination and strength.  

Likewise, the toddler is walking, talking and mastering her independence with that shudder-inducing phrase, “NO!”

Both the pup and the toddler are exploring new levels of independence and confidence.  And we look at them both and know they are far from the ‘finished’ adult products they each think they are.

Fast forward to the 2 year old dog.  Compared to our human toddler, he’s maturing exponentially faster.  Using our 7 to 1 rule, our dog is now 14 in human years – a young teenager.  

And again, anyone watching the painfully awkward stages of a human teenager can often suddenly relate to the same social ineptitude and struggles of a 2 year old dog – if they stop to think about.

To read more about ‘The Terrible Two’s’ for dogs, check out our earlier blog post:  "The Terrible Twos"

Now let’s move forward in time again.  Our canine friend has just hit 4 years old.  Using our 7 to 1 rule, our dog is (finally) officially an adult; probably around 28 years old. 

At this age, he’s established where he belongs in his family.  His social circles are pretty well defined and fixed He has set social circles of intimate friends and family; and while he can still make new friends, he takes a bit longer to warm up to strangers.  He may be less tolerant of new dogs or people who are socially inept and get in his space.  Like most humans of the equivalent age, he’s begun to be somewhat more selective about who he hangs out with.  


This is all assuming our 4 year old dog has had mostly positive experiences throughout his social development.  Dogs, just like humans, carry memories of traumatic (or even just annoying) interactions with them through their lives.  Imagine a 28 year old human who had less than ideal childhood, teenage, and young adult experiences.  That 28 year old human may be less socially developed than another human with different, more positive life experiences.

How about a 6 year old dog?  If our 7 to 1 rule holds, this dog is now around 42 human years – a fully mature adult, who most likely still feels quite spritely and ready for life, but who is even more set in behavior patterns and routines.  Even more than our 4 year old dog, this dog has a very clear idea of who he wants to be friends with, and who he doesn’t. 

So often, I have clients with dogs between the ages of 5 and 8 or so who are surprised their dogs are not itching to meet and play with every single dog they see.  Owners are caught off guard when their mature dog snaps or growls at a puppy who has just jumped on its shoulders. 

This adult Rottie is hardly amused with the younger, smaller dog's antics.
But again – if we think about the emotional and behavioral age of the 5 to 8 year old dog (35 to 56 human years), I think we’d be hard pressed to find many humans in that age range who are fans of having toddlers or teenagers jump all over them exuberantly and inappropriately. 

Even worse, imagine going to a party for people your own age, and suddenly being surrounded by adults who are not acting their age, but are behaving like toddlers or teenagers.  This is generally disconcerting to even the easiest-going of folks, be they dogs or humans.



Of course, as we fast forward to the ‘golden years’, our dogs continue on the fast track of the 7 to 1 rule.  The 10 year old dog is emotionally equivalent to a human at age 70. The 12 year old dog is a sage 84, and so on.

Often, it’s only as our dogs age that we begin to really pay attention to their changing social, emotional, and behavioral needs.  As hearing and sight begin to fail, arthritis kicks in, and sometimes cognitive function declines, owners are often caught suddenly by how rapidly their canine friend has aged.

It may seem quite sudden, and certainly 7 years of advancement to each year of ours is quite rapid.  But if we pay attention to the 7 to 1 rule throughout our dogs’ lives, we can be much better owners – more in tune with changes in social, emotional, behavioral, and physical changes in our dogs.  

Where your dog is on the 7 to 1 behavioral development scale should play a part in your daily decisions about your dog’s overall health and care – from how much mental and physical exercise your dog needs, to whether or not it’s the right time to add a new puppy, and everything in between.

That's it from this end of the leash.

Jennifer Hime is a dog trainer and behaviorist, the owner of Front Range K9 Academy in Wheat Ridge, CO.  





Monday, May 18, 2015

Proper Canine Socialization - Dogs are like BOOBS.

Now that I've got your attention....Yes.  You read that right.

Dogs are a lot like boobs.

Curious?  Read on.

I know that sounds silly.  But if more owners protected their own dogs like they protect their boobs, and if more people on the street would treat dogs like they treat other people's boobs, I would hear of way fewer issues regarding over-enthusiastic puppy greetings, fear bites, and actual aggression in my job.

Think about it...in fact, I'll help you.  Just insert the word "boobs" in the following statements:

1.  Dogs [boobs] are everywhere, but they are not for overt, sustained, focused, public attention or groping.

2.  Just because dogs [boobs] are around - even if the dogs [boobs] belong to a good friend or acquaintance - there are limits on how much interaction is appropriate with the dogs [boobs]...by both people and other dogs!

3.  Dogs [boobs] come in all shapes and sizes.

4.  Some people really want you to notice their dogs [boobs].

5.  Some people are more reserved about their dogs [boobs].

6.  Sometimes, dogs [boobs] are really brought out on display - at barbecues, parties, or other public places.  In fact, a lot of dogs [boobs] are even purposefully being 'shown off' - so to speak.


When it comes to boobs, we all seem to know without talking about it that it's not appropriate to stare at, talk to, or touch them when we see them out and about.  In fact, we take this so far as to know that even talking about NOT talking about them is socially 'off'.

Yet somehow, many people feel it's completely ok to walk right up and begin staring at, talking to, or touching someone else's dog.  Or to let their dog run right up to say "Hi!"

And many dog owners are also unaware that this is not ok.  For dogs - especially as they mature - unwanted fondling, eye contact, and being prattled at by strangers (be they dogs or humans) is uncomfortable!

If you are a dog [boobs] admirer (and anyone reading this blog probably not only admires, but down right loves dogs of all shapes and sizes), your love of dogs [boobs] does not give you license to ogle, fondle, or babble at someone else's dog [boobs].

And for dog owners - the next time you're out in public (or have guests in your home) with your dog, think about...boobs.  I guarantee, if you protect your dog the way you protect your boobs (or your spouse's boobs), your dog will thank you for it!

For both dogs and boobs, there can (and should be) be such a thing as discreet admiration and appreciation.

Jennifer Hime is a canine behavior consultant and the owner and training director at Front Range K9 Academy in Wheat Ridge, CO. She has been working with dogs professionally for 25 years.  She can be contacted through her website at: www.k9counselor.com





Wednesday, April 29, 2015

More on Leash Aggression & Urban Overload

This is a partially revised entry from August, 2011 - As Front Range K9 Academy begins to kick off our campaign to end Urban Overload, we felt this information deserved a reprint!

Are YOU causing your dog's leash aggression or re-activity?

It's important look at the very obvious similarities between humans and dogs when it comes to proper socialization. 

As our dogs mature, we humans often don't keep up with most natural changes in canine social development.  And we continue to let our dogs 'meet' every dog they encounter, thinking, "He's so social. He looooves dogs."

In essence, we're trapping our dogs into adolescent behavior without allowing them to mature and limit their social contacts as they would in the wild as they grew up. Just because your dog was very social as a puppy doesn't mean that behavior will continue into adulthood.

Some humans and some dogs do stay more social throughout life. But really, think about it:

You're social...but do you looooove every human you meet? Just like dogs, as we age, we begin to shrink our social circles - or at least we have fewer people we want to be 
socially intimate with.

Imagine if I tied you up and placed you on a bench outside the grocery store. Then I let every stranger coming and going from the store come up and touch you. Then, if you got upset when a stranger groped you, I slapped 
you instead of the stranger.

It might seem extreme, but this is the equivalent of most leash-to-leash meetings for dogs.

They can't escape; they can't take things slowly or at their own pace; they feel restrained, so they panic and tell the other dog to get away from them the only way they know how: Growling, snapping, etc.
But when dogs do this, they get punished by their owners!

This only worsens the problem, as your dog has no way out. What you are telling the dog is that any dog can tickle, fondle, sniff or downright dominate, molest, or intimidate them and they just have to take it. 


Would you do the same to your child if they were being bullied?

I know this sounds radical to some...but I'm on a roll, so bear with me. With the warmer weather and a slew of dogs out there, these face-to-face, leash-to-leash meetings are more common than ever. And dogs who are forced into these situations generally become worse and worse, and expand the aggression to even off-leash situations.

To make matters even more complicated, the general public perpetuates the problem by continuing to push the myth of 'all dogs like each other.' 


(I bet we ALL can think of a family member, neighbor, or friend who subscribes to this INCORRECT view of canine socialization.)

So...what to do?

1. 
AVOID leashed greetings. If you are walking your dog and another person walking theirs is pressing for a meeting, politely hold up a hand and cross the street. Or put your dog in a stay behind you and block the other dog's access to yours. Or find any other way out of the situation.

(NOTE - you may have to be downright rude about this with some people. So be it. That stranger & strange dog on the street are just that - strangers. You owe them no loyalty and will spend maybe 30 seconds of your life around them. You will spend the next 10 to 15 years with your dog.)

2. 
Don't be the stranger listed up above in item #1. As your dog ages, it very likely doesn't want to meet the every other dog on the street anymore than you want to shake hands with every single person you encounter at the grocery store!

3. 
Supervise off-leash contacts and limit them to dogs that your dog knows and will have a relationship with. 


(Again - referring to item #1 - beyond the puppy stages, dogs tend to become much more selective of who they WANT a long term relationship with, and how intimate they wish to be with those other dogs...they are pack animals after all...and packs tend to be small.)

4. 
Keep in mind what GOOD leashed dog-to-dog interactions should look like. In essence they should look exactly like you at a grocery store, or other place where you and other humans are tightly packed. 


They should look NEUTRAL. If the other dog is being too hyper, too forward, too dominant, too anything, your dog will NOT be able to maintain control, just as you wouldn't be able to maintain control if someone were doing those things to you in a grocery store. 

If your dog needs more work at being neutral around other dogs (remember to keep good distance between your dog and the strange dog), then it's back to the practice field for TONS of distraction-proofing of your stays. (Shameless plug here - we TEACH these skills specifically in our Level 2 Obedience program!)

5. 
Last but not least, spread the word! Let family, friends, and yes - even strangers - know that you are working on teaching your dog appropriate dog-to-dog manners and that you need their help and respect in not allowing other dogs (or people, for that matter) to fondle, caress, or otherwise molest the dog without your permission!

Yes, I'm on a soapbox here, only because this issue is at pandemic levels in our city!!!! Do your part and promote good dog-to-dog social behavior - your dog will thank you for it.

That's it from this end of the leash.

Jennifer Hime is the head trainer & behaviorist at Front Range K9 Academy in Wheat Ridge, CO. She can be contacted at www.k9counselor.com 

Sunday, April 26, 2015

URBAN OVERLOAD - The Canine Behavior Epidemic

Is your dog a victim of URBAN OVERLOAD?

What is Urban Overload?

"Urban Overload" is a term we've adopted for an emerging problem in today's dog population.

It describes a phenomenon in dog behavior that is not just a trend, but an epidemic.  

Dogs experiencing Urban Overload are usually dogs who used to get along with other dogs - but who have become reactive (or even aggressive) when they encounter other dogs outside their yards, on walks, at the dog park, at the vet's office, etc.

Some dogs show signs of Urban Overload with people, bicycles, skateboards, etc. in addition to other dogs.

Many of these dogs are fine with their own housemate dogs and human family members.  It's when they encounter new dogs or people that the trouble starts.  And often, they only react to some dogs and not others - creating a lot of unpredictability and confusion for their owners!

56% of the dogs we evaluate each year at Front Range K9 Academy are suffering from some form of Urban Overload.  The problem does not go away on its own, and in fact, it seems to get worse if left untreated.  

Is your dog a part of this epidemic?
  • Do you become tense and worried whenever your dog might encounter some other dog or person on a walk?
  • Do you find yourself crossing the street when you see dogs or people?
  • Do you avoid taking your dog out in public, when you used to enjoy it?
  • Do you avoid walking your dog altogether because it's too stressful?
Many owners report they cannot take their dog out in public at all without worrying that if their dog sees another dog, it will begin to:
  • misbehave
  • bark, whine, howl loudly
  • growl
  • pull very hard on the leash
  • leap up and down in frustration
  • lunge and snap
  • attack if approached
Dogs experiencing Urban Overload seem to be just that - overloaded. They become stressed, then fearful, then reactive, then aggressive.

Very often, the problem begins much sooner than the owners know.

This makes the problem worse, because the early warning signs are often hidden.








What causes Urban Overload?

Urban Overload is caused by a combination of factors, including:

1.  The changing landscape of dog ownership:

Today's dogs are exposed to much more of everything - more people, more dogs, more sounds, more sights, more smells.  

This describes a relatively new trend of owners taking their dogs with them to more places than they used to.  Many dogs go to work with their owners, visit family and friends with their owners, go on vacation with them, go to sporting events with them, to dog parks, dog bars, and dog cafes.  They are generally more out and about. 

While this development may be very good for dogs in some ways (they get much more attention and mental exercise than the dog that stays home all day), there are specific social pressures associated with this increase in social activity.  

In particular, dogs who have not been trained to behave well in public have no foundation for good behavior. Not knowing what they should be doing often leads to behaviors that increase the stress of their owners and other people and dogs around them, as well as increasing their own stress.  This is a recipe for setting up Urban Overload in a dog.

2.  Humans misinterpreting signs of social stress in dogs:

If you can't tell when your dog is stressed, you can't do anything to avoid or recognize Urban Overload.

Many people make the mistake of believing that since dogs are social animals by nature, they should like all dogs or people they meet.  

Humans are social creatures as well - but that doesn't mean we like every other human we meet!

Forced socialization leads to stress, which can lead to fear and aggression.

3.  Inappropriate socialization experiences:

Over-socializing a dog can be just as damaging as under-socializing it.

When dog owners understand the natural social development of dogs, they can socialize their dogs appropriately - creating dogs that are relaxed and friendly when they encounter other dogs and people outside their usual social circles.

Is there a solution?


Luckily, most cases of Urban Overload can be helped.

As more and more behaviorists, dog trainers, veterinarians, groomers, and most importantly, dog owners begin to recognize the problem of Urban Overload, we can begin to change the trends that have caused it.

Helping dogs who are experiencing Urban Overload involves a unique training approach.

First, owners must be taught to read dog body language better and to recognize stress signals. Owners must also learn about proper canine socialization (and no - the dog park is NOT the answer to socializing dogs), and social development stages in dogs. This means owners can avoid the problem (or reverse it in dogs already having trouble) by creating safe, appropriate social learning experiences for their dogs.

Dog owners who have dogs that are already experiencing Urban Overload can learn how to change their dog's reaction to stress - reducing or eliminating re-activity, and aggression.

When paired with owner education and proper training exercises, stopping the tide of Urban Overload is an entirely attainable goal.

If you think your dog might be showing behaviors consistent with Urban Overload, the professionals at Front Range K9 Academy can help.  Contact us today!

Jennifer Hime is a canine behavior consultant and the owner and training director at Front Range K9 Academy in Wheat Ridge, CO. She has been working with dogs professionally for 25 years.  She can be contacted through her website at:  www.k9counselor.com

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Living with Dogs - Part 2: "The Toddler-Canine Connection"

In my last post, I mentioned that most dogs have the moral reckoning of a 2 or 3 year old child.  We'll look more at what that comparison means for you and your dog in this post...

For the first 20 years of my dog training career, I tried desperately to get dog owners to stop seeing their dogs as "little people in fur and fangs..."


..and for the last few years I've been desperately trying to do the exact opposite!

Why the change in my training message?

Well, the more I see of dogs and humans, the more I am convinced that the reason dogs have been domesticated for so long is because of the similarities in social structure that they share with humans and our families.

By example, within a human family, there are general social rules and roles that each member plays - from who's in charge of paying the bills, to who gets to pick what's for dinner and so on.

The same is true for dogs living in a group together.  These social rules may be slightly different from family to family, and who plays what role can change some with varying ages, etc., but generally the rules and roles themselves don't change.

So, whether we want to see our dog as living in our 'pack' or just as living as part of our human family, there are some things we need to consider:

  • Most dogs have the moral decision-making skills and self control of a 2 year old human child.  
  • Most dogs also have the problem solving skills of a 4 or 5 year old child (they can figure things out almost as well as a kindergarten student!)

You read that right - here is some science behind the statements made above:  http://www.livescience.com/5613-dogs-smart-2-year-kids.html


So...when we live with dogs, we are pretty much living with furry toddlers...strange little creatures with their own wills, strong emotions, lots of affection to give, lots of tantrums to throw, good days and bad days, not much self control, and lots of interest in getting their very own way.  All my clients with children can relate to this!

But unlike our human children, these furry 'canine toddlers' can also deliver a bite with about 320 pounds of pressure per square inch  in those powerful jaws.


Fortunately, most dogs really do want to be part of the family, and are very careful about not using those fangs.  But after 25 years of dog training, I am seeing a sharp increase in the number of aggression cases I evaluate each year.

Is this because we really have that many more aggressive dogs running around, or is it that we are doing something different in the way we live with dogs than we used to?

Maybe it's a bit of both.

This all points back to my first post in this series, about the differences in how most dog trainers live with their dogs vs. how most pet owners live with theirs.

Trainers (including myself) throw around terms like "dogs need discipline," "dogs need structure," and "dogs need boundaries," etc., but we don't always clearly define what that looks like for our clients.

Likewise, if I had a nickel for every dog whose owners are convinced their dog is "dominant," I'd be a very rich woman indeed.  And again, "dominance" is a word that gets bandied about, with no clear definitions - even among professionals!

To make matters even worse for the dogs, often our society sees the concepts of structure, discipline, dominance and boundaries in a negative way.   Because of this, owners shy away from clear communication with their pets - leading to confusion on the dog's part and frustration for the owners.

What can we do?

To start, go back to the analogy of your dog as a toddler - when we begin to see our dogs in this way, it becomes clear just how much help from us they need to get by in the world.

We don't expect our children to raise themselves.  We set guidelines and boundaries about everything from bedtime, to eating their veggies, to how to play nicely with other kids .  We give guidance about homework, social skills, and how to behave in public.  (Or we should!)

All of this takes self discipline on the parents' part. If you doubt this, try disappointing a 2 year old child who really wants something like another piece of cake or a new toy...it's hard!

In fact, it might actually feel easier in the moment to give in to the child.  But as any good parent knows, giving in to the tantrum in the moment can lead to all sorts of trouble in the future.

The same is true with our dogs,  They need us to guide them and parent them through the pitfalls of our hectic, confusing human world.

And we must remember - while the human toddler will grow up and gain more and better communication skills, acquire stronger morals and self discipline...

...the dog remains a toddler.

I hope that message is not a negative or disappointing one to dog owners.  I hope that through this series of posts on living with dogs, we all gain a better understanding of how to truly meet our dogs' needs, which in turn will lead to happier dogs and happier humans.



Jennifer Hime is the a canine behavior consultant and lead trainer and owner of Front Range K9 Academy in Wheat Ridge, CO.  She can be contacted through her website at www.k9counselor.com.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Living with Dogs - Part One: Is your dog thriving or just surviving?

In recent weeks, the trainers of Front Range K9 and Denver Dog Dynamics have been kicking around an interesting thought:

"Why don't professional dog trainers' dogs have the same problems our client dogs have?"

When discussing our own dogs, trainers talk about drive and motivation, or reinforcement schedules and how to build a better mousetrap.  We hotly debate the four learning quadrants, whose technique of reward delivery is better, etc., etc.

But we rarely are troubled by the dog who is dumping the trash, peeing all over the house, chewing our shoes, guarding the sofa, or is at risk of biting the neighbor's child.

Why is this?

There could be quite a few reasons for this, of course.

One reason could be that pet owners don't have all the same information or experience that dog trainers have.  (If they did, dog trainers wouldn't have jobs!)

Another reason could be that dog owners don't always have the best physical training skills - their timing of rewards and corrections, and their consistency (or lack thereof) can make training a struggle for them, and for their dogs...

...not to mention frustrating the heck out of their dog trainers!


(I can't believe she just said that out loud!)


Yet experience shows us that both humans and dogs are very capable of learning new skills, and that consistency and practice does improve the skills of both.

So why, even after taking training classes and often improving their training skills greatly, do some owners still report problems that dog trainers almost never experience in their own dogs?

Does the general public just have 'bad dogs'?   Are they just bad dog owners/trainers?  I don't think so.  But what's the big secret dog trainers know that owners don't?

The missing puzzle piece lies in the way the most dog owners live with dogs - as opposed to the way most dog trainers live with dogs.

All of the dog trainers I know live with their dogs in a much different way than average pet owners live with theirs.

Whether trainers have a single dog, or a horde like I do, they all follow tenants of leadership and guidance that most pet owners just don't (or won't).

It all comes back to basics:

During our first meeting with most dog owners at the training facility, we talk about the 3 F's:
  • Food
  • Freedom
  • Furniture (or where the dog sleeps)

In upcoming posts, I'll be going into a lot more detail about the 3 F's, but suffice it to say that these 3 things are seen as valuable resources by all dogs on some level (and by most humans, too, if you think about it).

And demonstrating and maintaining control of those valuable resources - throughout the life of the dog - is something that comes naturally to dog trainers.

Dog trainers don't view feeding schedules, kennel/crate time, or sending our dogs to their own beds when we want the whole couch to stretch out on as 'punishment.'

And neither should dog owners see it that way.

Dog trainers also don't view the reinforcement of these activities, guidelines, and rules as temporary.

When do you stop parenting a child?  Most parents who are worth their weight in gold will tell you "Never."

When do you stop communicating with your child?  Never.  We guide and teach our children for their entire lives.

This ongoing communication and education and guidance is part of what defines us as pack animals -  kinda like dogs!

Why, then, do so many dog owners look forward to the day when "training is over, and the dog can just be a good dog."

The dog is a good dog because you never stop teaching it, guiding it, and communicating with it!

There is no magic date when you can stop being the responsible one in the relationship, because the dog has suddenly turned into something you are no longer responsible for.  It is, after all, a dog.

And even the very brightest of dogs still have the moral reckoning of about a 2 or 3 year old child.

Really - would you want a child totally in charge of it's own life - or yours?

I'll admit it.  I've gotten lax recently about really making a big deal out of owner responsibility and the dog's need for guidance.  It's no fun telling 200 or 300 new people a year that the way they are living with their dogs is a big part of what is causing the dogs' problems.

Owners so often see 'the rules' as a negative.  But I am on a mission to change that.

It's time for dog owners to recognize that lifetime commitment to a dog is not just about feeding and housing them.

It's not just about taking a few training classes and calling it good.

It's also not just about buying the most expensive toys, bedding, and food and thinking throwing money at the problems will help.

It's about taking responsibility for a life and a mind that needs our guidance; in fact - a mind and spirit that is not as equipped to deal with our world as we are.

And now - for the BIG SECRET that all dog trainers know:

When a human does embrace all parts of dog ownership - from spoiling them rotten with all the best toys and food, to setting and maintaining clear guidelines on how to survive in a truly crazy, confusing human world - something amazing happens.

Dogs thrive.





Jennifer Hime is the a canine behavior consultant and lead trainer and owner of Front Range K9 Academy in Wheat Ridge, CO.  She can be contacted through her website at www.k9counselor.com.