What kind of methods do you use?

We follow the Least Intrusive, Minimally Aversive approach to behavior modification and training, as supported by the IAABC. The vast majority of anything we need to teach can be accomplished by first ruling out physical or medical causes for misbehavior, creating thoughtful antecedent arrangements (manipulating the environment), and training using positive reinforcement. We do NOT train using aversive tools that inflict pain, elicit fear, or psychologically intimidate the animal (prong collars, shock collars, physical corrections, shaker cans, air horns, alpha rolling, etc.).

Why are those aversive techniques so bad? Shouldn’t I tell my dog “No!” and punish him when he misbehaves?

Unfortunately these outdated techniques are not yet obsolete and some uneducated “trainers” still endorse their use, but the bottom line is that they are NOT necessary to modify behavior. Using aversive techniques is not only unnecessary, there are also multiple negative side effects associated with their use, including apathy, learned helplessness, generalized fear or anxiety, escape/avoidance behaviors, and increased aggression. There are ZERO negative side effects when using positive reinforcement.

Isn’t positive reinforcement just bribery?

Absolutely not! With bribery, the desired stimulus (reinforcement) is presented before the behavior rather than after it. We will not be using bribery to train your dog, but know that reinforcement, when used properly, is what drives behavior! When done correctly, an animal will learn to respond to your requests (cues) even when reinforcement is not visible or readily available.

How do I know if my dog is trying to be dominant?

Dominance is not a personality trait; it is a relationship with a particular resource. Correct use of the term “dominance” is most appropriate when describing an animal that has priority access to resources, such as food or sleeping areas, within their social hierarchy. Guess what? Your dog realizes that you are not another dog. The dominance theory has been disproven, yet unfortunately there are still individuals in the training community who prey on unsuspecting owners and convince them that they need to be the “pack leader” (and often use the above-mentioned aversives) to keep their dog(s) from taking over. Dominance is a concept, and concepts cannot cause behavior. Reinforcement (which yields a learning history) causes behavior. Dog gets on the couch? It’s comfy! Dog pulls on leash? You follow! Dog jumps on you? You give attention! There is reinforcement (sometimes accidental) for the behavior in each of these examples, and they are often completely unrelated to each other. No, keeping your dog out of your bed will not make him respect you more, or door-dash less.

Will I have to use treats?

Food is a commonly used reinforcer in training because we can deliver it quickly and do not have to teach dogs to like it (they do need it to survive, after all). As mentioned above, behavior is driven by reinforcement. That being said, there are many things that a dog may find reinforcing that we can use for training; it just depends on what the dog finds most motivating at a particular time. A dog’s preference for reinforcers can change over time, and may vary depending on the context of each situation.

When we do use food to train, it does not mean that you will have to have it with you all the time, and it certainly will not be used to convince your dog to do a behavior (aka bribery). Once the behaviors we are trying to teach become fluent, we will show you how to get to a place where your dog’s behaviors will still be reliable even if you have no food (or toys) on you at all!

My dog is not food motivated, what should I do?

Dogs need food to survive, therefore all dogs are food motivated to some extent. There are many different reasons that a dog might not be interested in food for training. This most commonly occurs when an animal is free-fed (food out all the time, therefore they may not be hungry when you want to train), when the treat is not valuable to them (“Boring cookie? No thanks!”), or when the animal is too stressed. There are other reasons as well, including potential underlying medical causes. We can help you troubleshoot if this seems to be an issue for your dog, and remember – there are often many other things we can use to train as well!

I want my dog to respect me and do what I tell him because I am the human and because he loves me – isn’t that good enough?

…And I would like my dog to speak English, but it doesn’t work that way. Dogs do not understand concepts like respect; they understand when their behavior works to achieve a desired outcome. While your dog may appreciate your company and the enjoyable things that you provide, “just because” is not always going to be enough to motivate him to do the things that you want him to do, especially when he has other options. Want your dog to come to you quickly when you call rather than run across the street to greet your neighbors? You need to teach him that you are a BETTER option and make it worth his effort to choose you over something else that he wants. Remember, the value of a “reward” is determined by the individual – just because you think your dog should find something reinforcing does not mean that he actually does (yes, even treats that he actually eats). HINT: The proof will be in his behavior. Does the behavior that you are trying to teach maintain or increase over time? If so, the reinforcer is effective.

How many sessions will it take to train my dog, and how quickly will I see progress?

This depends on a variety of factors, including what exactly we are trying to teach, the severity of the issue(s), how long the dog has been doing the unwanted behavior(s), how frequently you are able to practice what you learn in each session, how effective you are in your practice, and how well you follow the instructions that are given.

The bigger goal with private training sessions is to explain, demonstrate, and coach you on how to apply each technique so that you will be able to practice and train your dog even after the session is over. Training involves some technical skills that require repetition, consistency, and problem solving and each individual learns at a different pace. We will teach you as much as you are willing to learn, and will do our best to provide as much information and support as possible to help you hone your training skills so that you can successfully train your dog even after our sessions together are completed.

Progress when teaching new skills involving obedience behaviors or tricks tends to happen fairly quickly once you learn how to get and reinforce desired behaviors.

Issues involving fearfulness, reactivity, or aggression tend to come with emotional baggage and the learning curve is a bit more gradual, as we are changing underlying emotional responses, not just teaching simple behaviors like “sit” or “down.”

It is important to remember that most behavior issues do not develop overnight, and they will not just “go away” overnight either. Patience and consistency are important!

It is critical to follow the instructions that are given as part of the training plan. Dog trainers work in much of the same fashion as a personal trainer at the gym; if you wanted to lose weight or get in shape, a personal trainer could give you instruction on what to eat and how to work out, but if you do not follow through and put in the effort, you will not see the results you are hoping for! The same applies for partial effort, or only choosing to do half of the plan. Doing your workouts at the gym but eating a box of donuts every day will probably hinder your progress as well. We will not ask you to do things that are unnecessary for your training goals, so please help us help you by following the instructions in your training plan. 🙂

How frequently will we meet for sessions?

If follow-up sessions are needed after the initial consultation, we would generally aim to meet at least once per week. Sometimes it makes sense to meet twice per week or more, depending on what we are working on, but that would be discussed on an individual basis. For some clients, sessions will be spaced according to how much progress is made in their practice between sessions.

How often do I need to work with my dog?

Generally the more frequently you practice with your dog, the faster you will make progress (with a few exceptions). For example, a client that can only practice with their dog once or twice a week will probably not make progress as quickly as a client who is able to practice multiple times per week. Keep in mind this “practice” is not necessarily a formal session with us; this is the practice you are doing as part of your “homework” between our meetings. We understand that many of our clients have a lot going on with work and life in general, and that some people might not be able to practice every day, while others can. On days that you do practice you might only be doing 2-3 minutes at a time, or you might be spending 30-60 minutes with your dog. Obviously if you are needing to practice with your dog outside of your home then a bigger time commitment is to be expected for travel, acclimation to the environment, etc. Recommendations for how long or how frequently to practice will be made on an individual basis and can be discussed during the consultation and/or in subsequent sessions as we help you develop and modify your training plan.