Deciding on the best school for your child requires homework. You spend time reading the league tables to assess academic results, research catchment areas and you might even move house to secure a good future education. You expect suitably qualified teachers. But how do you choose your dog’s ‘school’?
A good puppy class should focus on problem prevention. It should teach your puppy ‘manners’ that are acceptable as an adult, not just a puppy. Training should be breed-specific, teaching skills for life and enabling you to continue your puppy’s education into adulthood. Noisy puppy classes may overwhelm shy dogs. These puppies need to learn in their own time, at their own pace and make their own decisions. Confident puppies that play over-vigorously are not learning good social skills. Consider what is meant by ‘socialisation’; do you want your dog to be over-friendly with every person and dog?
Choose a class that uses positive training methods. Punishment is not necessary for training our dogs. While aversives may appear to be effective the fallout can have serious consequences. The owner who shouts at their puppy for toileting inappropriately on the carpet may be teaching him not to eliminate in their presence and later finds ‘presents’ hidden behind the sofa. The dog who has his paws pinched for jumping up may learn that anyone touching his paws will cause him pain and he growls to avoid having his nails clipped. Reprimanding a dog that barks when alone may only make him more anxious and likely to avoid the person doing the punishing. Collars that ‘stop’ barking do not address the underlying cause. In Wales shock collars have, thankfully, been banned. Avoid anyone who advises you to use punishment. Anyway, why would you want to punish your ‘best friend’ when there are highly effective positive tools available?
Ensure ‘teachers’ are qualified and up to date in latest research. At present the dog industry is completely unregulated. Anyone can call themselves a trainer, set up a business and offer ‘advice’. This ‘advice’ can range from not solving a behaviour issue but doing no harm, to actually making a problem much worse. It is vital that advice is received from a suitably qualified person using positive training methods. Given the right circumstances any breed of dog is capable of aggression and the onus should be on all of us to prevent conflict situations arising in the first place. Never leave young children and dogs unsupervised. Dogs can react uncharacteristically if provoked, feel overwhelmed/threatened or are unwell.
My colleague from the Pet Professional Guild, the association for force free pet professionals, perfectly sums up the ethos of positive training: “force free training: violence ends when thinking begins.”
If you have a behaviour problem, please see your vet to eliminate an underlying medical cause and for referral to a suitably qualified behaviourist. Behaviour problems tend to worsen over time.
This article, along with a selection of others about behaviour and training, is available in our Dog Blog booklet. This can be purchased for £2 and is available as a paper copy or downloadable e-book. All proceeds to Irish Retriever Rescue.
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