Dog Training – A Misnomer

In the United States, an estimated 2.7 million shelter animals are euthanized each year. Sadly, many dog owners surrender their pets to shelters due to behavior problems. Unfortunately, there is no quick fix for altering the way a dog behaves. Good dog training is required but that really means good dog-owner training.

By watching an episode of The Dog Whisperer or a YouTube clip of Zak George, you get the impression that dog training is easy.  They imply that in just one hour your dog can go from Cujo to Lassie.  Don’t get me wrong — some of these trainers are very gifted. But despite efforts at training, some owners still feel the need to surrender their animal.

These shows and videos paint an unrealistic picture of dog training, thus leaving the everyday dog owner feeling like a failure. Despite trying the expert recommendations, they achieve little or no successThe reality is that dog training is about 10% training the dog and 90% training the dog owner.  These numbers may be a little exaggerated but you get the picture.  With the magic of TV editing, you don’t see the dog owner’s required time commitment and consistent effort to have the well behaved dog they desired.

Dog Training is Not a Quick Fix

Most people want a quick fix.  A couple I know felt they did not have the patience or skill to train their pit bull, Daisy. They sent her away to a trainer for 2 weeks, at a cost of almost $2,000. Daisy returned home, wearing a $300 electronic collar, behaving splendidly and obeying commands. That did not last and she quickly returned to her unruly ways.

Daisy, like all dogs, is a very intelligent creature.  She realized her owners were not going to hold her accountable in the way the trainer had done. I have no doubt the trainer was great at getting dogs to do what he wanted. But he did not address the most import component. He did not address the other 90% of training by failing to also train Daisy’s owners.

It is Really Dog-Owner Training

Rose Dybel and Dog Owner

When looking for someone to train your dog, always expect them to require your participation (and perhaps your children). It may be by joining the trainer as he or she teaches your dog commands. It might also be with written instructions, i.e., “homework,” to do between training sessions. If your dog is going away to a training camp for a period of time, you need to find out how you will be informed about how to reinforce the training. Ultimately, if you are not going to be involved in the training process, your dog’s behavior will not change.

As a trainer, I emphasize that you get what you put in when it comes to training. I’m with your dog only one hour per week; you, as the dog owner, are with your dog the other 167 hours. The more you work with your dog and the more consistent you are with follow through, the more consistent your dog will be in his responses.  If the dog sees that you eventually “give in” to his bad behavior, his resolve will become stronger to disobey your commands.  I teach owners how to effectively use positive reinforcement such as treats, toys or praise to achieve desired behaviors and non-punitive corrections to deter problematic behaviors.

Remember, “dog training” is a misnomer. A well trained dog must have a well trained owner.

By Rose Dybel, DTFC, IACP


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The Dangers of Xylitol

Rose Dybel is an employee of From Wags to Whiskers. She sent me this email. It is an important message to all pet owners.

 Minpin Ted and Rose

Last night I came home from playing tennis and discovered three Orbit gum wrappers torn on the floor.  My 14 lb. min pin, Ted, got into my husband’s computer bag and had eaten the 3 pieces of gum.  I had heard about the dangers of xylitol to dogs and knew it was an ingredient in the sugar free gum that my husband and I chew, i.e. it is in Orbit and Trident gum, etc.

I didn’t really think that 3 pieces of gum could hurt my dog but I immediately took him to the Blue Pearl emergency room just in case, especially considering how small Ted is.  To my horror, not only could 3 pieces of gum containing xylitol have hurt Ted, it could have killed him!!  I was informed by the ASPCA’s animal poison control that if it had been Trident gum, he WOULD have died (astonishingly, there is over 100-1000 times more xylitol in Trident brand gum vs the Orbit gum Ted ingested).  As it turns out, the Orbit was toxic enough and the vet had to induce him to vomit, which was traumatic enough for him, but thankfully no damage had been done to his liver.

I wanted to share this story with you in case you wanted to pass the info to your customers.  For those who don’t know about xylitol, it is a sugar substitute that is being used more and more in foods, especially to accommodate the increasing numbers of people diagnosed with diabetes.  It is now found in some kinds of sugar free gum, candy, peanut butter, jello, no-sugar baked goods, and even in toothpaste!  It is 100 times more toxic to dogs than chocolate, and it does not take much of it to be ingested to cause hypoglycemia, liver failure and ultimately death.   It is supposedly safe for humans and cats, but obviously VERY toxic to dogs.

If this information can help just one dog owner, it is worth it to pass it on.”

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Dog Training for Kids

Dog training is essential for the well being of a dog but it is also essential for the people that encounter them. A bad encounter as a child can result in years of fear.

I have walked dogs thousands of miles over the last fourteen years. Most walks have been uneventful and very enjoyable. But there have been times that a neighbor’s unleashed dog or a wandering cat has added a little excitement; a sudden cloud burst has made some of the miles quite unpleasant; and on several occasions, uneven pavement has sent me tumbling to the ground–but I have never let go of the leash!

Long experience has made me very cautious of some situations, especially involving children.

Children Need Training

Some dogs, especially small ones, do not enjoy being pet by children. Kids are unpredictable; they move suddenly, they can be loud in their excitement and they can try to hug the animal, which is a potentially dangerous situation. When I can’t avoid an encounter, I tell the adult with the child that the dog is not mine and I do not know how the dog will behave. Most understand and agree it is best the child leave the dog alone.

I have learned that many people never teach their children to be cautious around a strange dog and how best to approach them.

An Old Man’s Terror

Many years ago, I glanced up from watching a dog named Jack as he sniffed a pile of autumn leaves to see an older man of slight stature who had just rounded the corner. He stood frozen on the sidewalk, arms hanging stiffly by his sides, extending slightly outwards. His mouth formed a big ‘O’ and eyes were wide with what I could only interpret as terror. He was also watching Jack.

Jack was a short-haired, pointy-eared, 50-pound dog of mixed heritage and wouldn’t have hurt a fly. He would have ignored the gentleman, had he even noticed him, because Jack was not a dog that craved attention from strangers. Although I doubt knowing this would have lessened this poor man’s fright. I hustled Jack away in search of an equally aromatic pile of leaves on the opposite side of the street.

As someone who loves dogs, it is very disturbing to see someone react this way to them. These creatures can be so loving and gentle but I can understand a person being frightened, especially if there has been a bad experience with a dog in their past.

As Parents Watch …

Even dogs that have gone through training can react negatively if they feel threatened by the way a person comes up to them and tries to touch them.

It is always disturbing to see a child quickly approach me with his or her hands extended to pet my dog as the parent casually watches without comment. I have owned an extremely affection dog but I always felt obliged to stop a child and explain how to approach him. Bad experiences can often be avoided if we understand how to interact properly with these animals.

How to Approach

People need training as much as the dogs. First of all, a child should be taught to never approach a strange dog, especially if unattended by its owner. Assuming the owner is present, the child should first ask permission to pet the dog. It is important that they understand that the answer they may receive may will be no and it is not because the owner is trying to be mean to them. Like people, some dogs may have had bad experiences interacting with children and may no longer trust them.

If the answer is yes, the child should slowly approach the animal, from the side if possible, with an extended fist. They should be told that they should not look the dog in the eyes because looking straight into a dog’s eyes can be a little scary for them. It is a sign of aggression on the part of the child.

Training Child to Approach a Dog

Copyright JPaget RFphotos

The dog should be allowed to sniff the back of the hand before the child tries to touch the animal. Wait until the owner indicates it is okay to pet the dog and then slowly reach out and pet the dog on the side of the face, under the chin, or on the chest. Dogs do not like to be petted on the top of their heads.

As a precaution, the child should get into the habit of keeping his or her face away from the dog’s face. They will likely avoid only a good licking but it is better to be cautious.

Always be Watchful

No matter how friendly or how much training a dog has had, circumstances may arise that may make the animal uncomfortable. If there are any signs of unease (ears are being put back, there is growling or whimpering, the dog is turning his head or backing away, etc.), the child should be told to quietly and slowly back away from the animal.

Training to Prevent Hurt Feelings

One day when I was walking a dog that was not my own, a beautiful, curly haired young girl about 6 years old came running towards us with a big smile on her face, arms outstretched to hug my small, white, fluffy companion. As she came close I said, “Please, stop. I’m sorry, but my dog is afraid of people.”  Because the dog was small, it was more likely to be fearful of children. I had no concrete knowledge that this particular dog had any problems dealing with kids, but I didn’t want to take a chance.

Although I tried to explain further, I felt so badly when she turned away crying and ran back towards her parents. But perhaps in the future, she will not be frozen like a statue on the sidewalk at the mere sight of a dog sniffing a pile of leaves.

Dog and people training is always needed.

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