Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Gentle Dog Training

After the loss of a pet, eventually most pet owners will consider adding a new pet to their family. This can lead to a time of stress and transition for both the owners and the new pet.

When we adopt a dog and bring it into our home, we do the best we can to prepare for their arrival, but sometimes we still have questions and we wish there was someone who knew about dogs to answer those questions. Ken and Lisa Beachtold of Gentle Dog Training, agreed to answer questions about bringing a rescue dog home.

Mike and I first met Ken when we were looking for an obedience class to take with Molly. It was his training philosophy and how he treated his clients, both human and canine, that made us sign-up for his Level I Obedience class.

Ken started training dogs with his mother when he was nine-years-old and he’s been training dogs for over 50 years. Lisa started training dogs 10 years ago after she got a Golden Retriever puppy.

Ken and Lisa told me they were both taught to train dogs using choke chains and prong collars and to use a lot of force to get the dogs to comply, and also that when dogs are trained this way there is very little trust in the relationship. Ken and Lisa found that by using more positive styles of training, dogs actually learned faster and complied better. They were dependable off leash and in varying environments. Ken and Lisa prefer to depend on quality leadership which helps the owner be the leader in the dog’s mind as opposed to forcing the dog to mind.

FFF: Sometimes when you’re adopting a dog from a shelter, rescue group or pound very little is know about the dog. What can a dog’s body language tell you about him/her?

GDT: Reading [dogs’] body language only tells you what [they] might be experiencing at that one moment in time. They may be very stressed in their current location and act very differently at home. They may appear shy and nervous at the shelter and then be bold and adventurous or dominant in a home. You many want to view a dog several times before making a selection.

FFF: How important is the first day? What can owners do to set their newly adopted dog up for success?

GDT: Provide quality leadership, set yourself up to win with proper equipment, leave your sympathy out with the trash because the dog has already been rescued so STOP feeling sorry for it. Let the dog know they are so darn lucky that they are now in the best quality home they could have ever been placed in and all will be great from now on! Use your body language to show confidence and energy to demonstrate you are a quality leader and the dog can follow you.

FFF: I’ve read that when you bring an adopted dog home the first 30 days are the most important. During this time you’re developing and re-enforcing the dog’s behaviors. Is this true, or does it take even less time to develop behaviors – good or bad?

GDT: Although the first 30 days are extremely vital, every day is the most important day. Dogs are intelligent animals and are learning 24/7. They are learning that they are in charge or you are in charge. When Lisa and I enter a home, most dogs realize that we are in charge within minutes and we out rank them in their own homes without saying a word to them. We depend a lot upon energy and body language like they would in a true canine world.

FFF: When someone adopts a dog from a shelter, pound or rescue group, the dog is unwanted and issues may arise during the first few weeks. What can an owner do to help the dog transition into its new home?

GDT: First and foremost - the new owner should provide the new dog with loving leadership. Follow canine protocols and let the dog know that he is a team member and you are the team captain.

Second - the owner should place all his sympathy in a large trash bag and leave it out with the trash. The dog has been rescued and can look forward to a quality leader and a great home.

Third - owners should set themselves up to win. Owners should have the equipment they need on hand and know how to use them in a gentle, confident and calm manner. Equipment such as: gates, kennels, leashes, head collars and knowledge.

FFF: If your adopted dog is shy, needy or clingy, what can you do to help it gain confidence?

GDT: Be a very confident leader yourself. If you are a new basket case owner, your dog is sure to become one his or herself. You must let the dog know you are in charge and EVERYTHING is under control. Make sure you demonstrate quality leadership by being a benevolent boss.

FFF: What does it mean to be the alpha or top dog and why is it important that you, and not your dog, are the alpha? What are the top three things you can do to show your new dog that you are the alpha?

GDT: To be the leader means that you are responsible for the welfare of the team. So the alpha needs to find food and resources. The alpha is the decision maker and decides what will be done and when it will be done.

First – Control the resources such as food, furniture, toys and space.

Second – We believe in a quality leadership walk, with our method of training we teach the dog to keep track of whoever is taking them for a walk and to keep a slack or loose leash. With our methods all of this can be done very quickly and effectively.

Third – We believe in taking charge of every situation. The dog does not get to control your space, i.e. jumping on your guests or other family members. And much, much more.

FFF: When I think about the first dog my husband and I had, I can attribute every one of his bad behaviors back to us. Who’s the real problem, the dog or the owner?

GDT: In general, a dog already knows how to be a dog in a dog environment. We need to learn how to speak dog language so the dog can learn quickly what is expected of him or her. We do believe that most things can be accomplished again with quality leadership. So to answer your question, the problem lies with the owner, not the dog.

FFF: How important is consistency in dog training, both in the way you train them and when you train them? Does having a routine help?

GDT: Consistency is extremely important. In the wild a dog has only about a 10% kill ratio but he constantly keeps trying. So if you even let a dog get away with bad behavior even 10% of the time, he will try 100% of the time. So ALWAYS be consistent.

FFF: How important is timing when you’re re-enforcing good behavior or trying to correct unacceptable behavior?

GDT: Timing is very important when it comes to behavior modification or basic training.

FFF: If you start to feel frustrated while training your dog, what should you do?

GDT: Stop the training session and proceed when you are in a better frame of mind to where you can change your energy level.

FFF: If you find yourself in a situation where you need the help of a trainer, what should you do?
GDT: You should always feel comfortable with any trainer you choose to work with. Ask questions, get references and challenge ideas. Know what the trainers’ philosophy is and see how close it matches your own. The trainer should be your coach so that you can bring the best out of your dog. Make sure you select a trainer with real experience—someone who has numerous approaches to training.

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