The importance of choosing the right trainer
This post is in hope that people will understand that there is no one method for all dogs. Dogs have real reasons for their behaviors just as humans does. I know it is a long piece but it is worth the read.
Too many trainers talk about dominance, being in control, roll your dog, prong your dog, shock your dog, and honestly I am sick and tired of it.
Over the last year I have seen a many new dogs, with new issues.
Here are three which some people would say have the same issue, Aggression towards humans. The issue may look the same to the humans, but when you scrape the surface despite looking so alike, they very different from the dogs point of view.
Case 1: Penny, German Shepherd/Pitbull mix, 18 months old, whenever she sees another dog, she is reactive and unless she can get to the dog she will bite whatever human is nearby, often family members. She was a rescue that they adopted when she was approx one year old. Penny gets along great with the two family dogs, cats and bird.
Case 2: Coco, Pitbull/plothound mix, approximately 18 months old, whenever she sees another, dog, squirrel or cat she goes crazy on the leash and redirects her aggression on the other family dog.
The family hired a dominance based trainer who, put a shock collar on her, zapped her when she saw a squirrel, this time she turned and bit the mother of the family who was holding the leash at the time. Coco was rescued as a pup.
Case 3: Katsu, Shiba Inu, 10 months old, who attacks family members whenever he has any object. He has lunged at dogs, snapped and nipped, whenever anything made him uneasy. This was almost all of the time. Another dominance based trainer came to the house, rolled Katsu into a submissive position. After 15 minutes when Katsu still hadn't given up, the trainer declared Katsu defective and recommended euthanasia saying he would never be reliable. He was bought in a petstore.
So here we are three dogs who all bite family members and lunge at other dogs or animals. Two of whom have had trainers who was using punitive methods. One made the dog worse, and one declared the other as too dangerous. In the first scenario, I was the first trainer there and thank God for that.
When studying these three dogs, which on the surface seem fairly similar, subjecting their house mates or guardians to their aggression, three completely different individuals emerged, with three different issues.
Penny Case 1: German Shepherd/Pitbull mix ; She quickly showed severe anxiety and insecurity, afraid of eye contact, hand shy, if you had a boot in your hand and lifted it she'd cower. She also had semi bad bite inhibition, and it was clear that she was likely taken too early from her family, as well as severely abused and never socialized. Whenever any dog approached she felt threatened, and got very protective. She got so worked up and nervous that she bit whatever was there. The reason she got along so well with the family dogs was that they were much smaller than her and very non threatening. Anything bigger and she would get very nervous and reactive.
Penny is still learning how to socialize but has finally developed a few friends outside the household, and each month she is getting better and better. She is also much less nervous around strangers. So in her case it was all fear. In her case we have built confidence, deference to the owner through positive reinforcement and most important heavy socialization with big calm dogs.
Coco Case 2: Pitbull/plothound mix, She suffers from co-dependency, she has had a second dog to always lean on, and shortly after she got adopted Hurricane Sandy hit, for a long time the young puppy and her house mate was boarded. The house mate got stressed and reactive, and Coco didn't get the necessary training and socialization she needed (because the whole family was displaced).
This combined with a high prey drive and no real guidance on how to behave made Coco a very excitable dog. If anything got her excited she would turn and start a scuffle with her house mate, or fly off the handle at the end of the leash. After the trainer who zapped her she even started snapping at her owner. This was all because she had no clue how to handle the excitement. Even happy excitement would flip her out. While out walking, if a person tried to interact with her even just to give her attention, she might turn around and start a scuffle with her house mate. Despite her loving people, she had no fear of people what so ever. She would react. So with her we had had to work heavily on impulse control, how to handle stress and excitement, increasing her stress tolerance, solid obedience and some socialization.
Katsu Case 3: Shiba Inu; He started nipping at the family at age of 4 months, he would be overly possessive of random objects especially food. He would constantly eat and chew on things. To the point where he has developed Pica, an OCD issue where he would eat unusual things. When he came to class, if he even saw his food bowl he'd snap at everyone around. He lunged at dogs, people, tried to bite the trainer. He was freaking out, completely nervous, and so food obsessive that the owners could not even go down to the basement where his food was without him attacking them on the way back up. They got a trainer in who tried to make the dog submit, he had to give up and declared the dog defective and recommended euthanasia. When doing my back ground research on the animal, I discovered that three times already he had been on a special diet because of diarrhea and vomiting.
The vet and owners both figured that it was because he was chewing on everything he shouldn't. He started basic obedience; he changed food bowls, and went through behavioral modification. He improved greatly when outside the house, and family could to a degree control him in the house. But he would still have bad days, where he was very reactive. When keeping a daily dairy of behavior vs sick days (with vomiting and diarrhea) we found a correlation. The vet agrees something is wrong with him medically and that is still under investigation. But his reactivity comes from pain; he suffers greatly from stomach issues. The days he's physically stable he's almost a normal pup now. The days he's sick he can be a little demon still. He is fearful when in pain and feels vulnerable.
A lot of dominance trainers will say that positive people are using cookie cutter methods, and yes, in all three cases, I have used treats, toys, snuggles and rewarded dogs heavily for the right things and the right responses. But, I rewarded different things in all of the situations above as well teaching the dogs how to adjust, and how to handle change. Meanwhile the other trainers both have done one and only one thing, punished, without even understanding the real underlying cause. Worst or all, is the case in which euthanasia was recommended, saying the dog was defective and not salvageable when a medical problem is at least partially the cause.
Choosing the right trainer and the right training methods, are extremely important, for you and your best friend!