Learning shouldn’t hurt…

Sometimes balance can be a good thing. But in dog training the word “balanced” is often a pseudonym for use the use of punishment-based training. This style of training alternates between praise for success and pain in the form of a choke, electronic nick or physical contact. It can unhinge nervous dogs to the point of becoming reactive or just plain sullen and distant. It is a relationship based on fear rather than wanting to please the owner.

Balanced trainers often cite their success with training “difficult” dogs and working dogs.  Many of them do board and train so their clients do not need to witness their dog being shocked repeatedly for not sitting correctly and the like.  And when the dogs return the behaviors gradually begin to fall apart since the family does not keep up with reinforcement therefore the need to often return for more “training”.  In another example a trainer will use their ands vigorously to push the dog into a sit or down or to sharply pull upward choking the dog in a correction in order to make them sit more quickly rather than teaching the dog to sit first and then reading only for the quicker sits.

Yes you need patience for positive training.  There are no shortcuts to teaching and learning. Anyone who has spent time in a classroom as a student knows this.

Right now veterinary colleges and institutes of higher learning like the the Penn Vet Working Dog Center are taking the initiative and exploring new positive methods for training working dogs positively. The result is a dog that likes to work, wants to work as part of their nature, and is reward-based not punishment-oriented.  And there is a stronger bond between handlers and their dogs who serve police departments, patrol our airports and whose lives we depend on.

I am a trainer with a long-abandoned balanced past.  At one time I was reliant on the choke collar as it was all that was used for training for obedience.  And I hated it. Eventually I abandoned the use of it and sought out new ways to get better attention and response from my dog. After all the higher obedience exercises were all off-leash.  I wanted my dog to want to please me and I wanted to enjoy having a dog that actually liked to work.  And having a terrier to top it off, I was told I was a dreamer thinking that I could even think of training it to be a working dog.  I am here to tell you that it is possible.  My Soft Coated Wheaten Terriers became part of a grand experiment to prove not only the breed’s versatility but to also nourish my need to find a method that made sense and did not cause pain to my dogs and guilt in me.

Using positive leadership-based methods do work provided that they are applied with consistency, in multiple settings and with limit-setting.  My dogs get absolutely nothing for free…ever.  Their food, attention, going outside, in and out of the car, on the sofa-all of this must be earned. And it will be a part of their lives forever.  This is how I maintain the bond. I expect it of them and nothing less. And we are happy together doing all sorts of things that people told us we could not do. This form of obedience blends into our everyday lives and they not only listen but are quite happy to do so.

As a professional certified trainer  I highly suggest that you consider this style of training for your dogs no matter what their breed.  I have always felt that dogs should have a chance to learn behaviors first, reinforced by something of value and taught in multiple locations. Dogs are not universal learners like we are.  Commands need to be short and sweet and sound like you mean business. Some dogs are visual learners and hand signals are another way of communicating.  Positive reinforcement and leadership-based methods builds confidence in dogs that have had a rough start like rescues and also those dogs that are a bit of a challenge.

Having your dog know the value of rewards including attention, food, freedom, praise and play and who they come from-create a better-behaved, respectful dog that listens without hurting them physically or emotionally.

®Dorice Stancher 2016 Canines Can Do, llc® All rights reserved.

Dorice Stancher is a professional trainer certified CPDT-KA, CTDI with an MBA in Organizational Behavior. Her dogs have titled in Obedience/Rally, Conformation, Barn Hunt, Pet Therapy and Dock Diving. They enjoy paddle boarding and dogsledding when not competing.

Take Back Your “Alpha”

The word “alpha” has become one of those “don’t go there” words since it is often used to justify excessively harsh behavior, or to put forth the erroneous comparison of dogs and wolves.  But too often in an attempt to train positively, many dog parents will completely give up their position of power and rank within their dog family hierarchy.  This is not a good thing.

For me the term “alpha”  means strong and consistent leadership.  It is a person who makes rules and then sticks to them.  And when authority is challenged it is dealt with in a clear and concise manner, and without cruelty.  The best alpha is confident, has a game plan, sticks to it and when there is a need for corrections does not bite when a growl will do.  Being a strong leader takes courage. And when we step up to the challenge we can help fearful dogs gain confidence, stop dog fighting within our homes and keep our dogs well-trained.

It is a known fact that dogs thrive on consistency. In an attempt to be good pet parents, many will give in to demands or negotiate with their dogs in an attempt to win them over through bribery or accepting non-compliant behavior.  This is a mistake. Trained behaviors begin to unravel until one day it happens-your dog gets loose, is headed for the road and you can’t get them to come back.  They were allowed to make their own choices little by little, until one day they decide to take charge with potentially disastrous results.

Some frustrated owners at this point will put their dogs with a trainer who will “fix” their dog for thousands of dollars over the course of weeks, using aversive methods such as e-collars and prongs. They bar the owner from witnessing their methods, deliver a “trained” dog and over time the behavior falls apart as the owner starts to give in to the dogs demands.  And some dogs cannot handle the rough treatment.  I was savagely bitten once by a Wheaten puppy that had gone through a program like this in NJ at 6 months.  It remains on Prozac to this day and wears a muzzle in public. Being an good pet parent is a commitment and is hard work.  But it can be done in a way that builds a strong and reliable bond based on respect between the handler and the dog.

Here are 5 tips to taking back your leadership position:

  1. Set the rules early, make sure all family members are in agreement and begin training at home and in multiple settings to make certain that the dog understands that “sit” means sit no matter where they are.
  2. Once a behavior is taught through the use of reinforcement and motivators (food, praise, play, touch, free space) and understood through multiple repetitions in multiple settings,  compliance is reinforced.
  3. Behaviors are taught with distractions and in the case of multiple dogs, each dog is taught the behavior separately and then reinforced.
  4. When a dog disobeys it is held to task. A corrective word or sound marker can be used and the behavior once again reinforced, checking to see where the behavior has broken down.  When was the last time you used this command? Practice makes perfect.  And when your dog complies be sure to pay them off with one of the five motivators.
  5. Don’t give in to sloppy behavior. Many owners fall prey to the “just this time” thinking and ultimately this can lead to a breakdown in response.  Say what you say and mean what you mean. Positive training does not mean permissive.

As you are training remember that trust can be a very dangerous thing.  I can guarantee that dogs will behave like dogs almost 100% of the time and that is why when in public using a leash can be so important for controlling and re-directing behavior. Distractions and new situations can throw off even the most well-behaved canine.  I knew a dog once that was a tremendous obedience champion until one day an animal escaped from the zoo and he was gone for days following it!  When working in public the use of a long line (not a flex-lead) should be a part of your tool kit.  My next post will show you how to use SOUND to teach your dog how to be more responsive.

Copyright 2016 © Dorice Stancher/11666274_1135397353155251_7128176675293338049_nCanines Can Do, llc.  All rights reserved.

It’s Time to “Do More With Your Dog”!

Trick Training Helps to Keep Dogs in their Forever Homes
by Dorice Stancher, MBA, CPDT-KA, CTDI ©2015 Dorice Stancher, All rights reserved.

Dancing with your dog is another form of trick training and fun for the both of you!

Dancing with your dog is another form of trick training and fun for the both of you!

Want to get pet owners to train those new puppies right into adulthood? The answer may be simply introducing them to the “Do More With Your Dog” program created by famous Hollywood trainer and AKC Competitor, Kyra Sundance. This goal-oriented program creates a solid foundation of obedience in the format of simple “tricks” which owners track and apply to titles. Many of the behaviors recognized can actually be found in parallel tests such as the AKC STAR puppy program and the AKC Canine Good Citizen program. And there are also more complex behaviors that can possibly land a movie role.

Dr. Cindy Otto, Executive Director and Founder of the Penn Vet Working Dog Center credits the program with saving her relationship with her dog, a Bichon mix that had flunked obedience. She feels that this program is less stressful than obedience tasks, yet keeps dogs learning. “The component of failure is not there,” she said. “ Older dogs, young dogs are engaged and vibrant and the pedestal training helps with veterinary exams too,” said Otto. She is certified as a trick trainer with the program and recently held a workshop for pet owners. As the DMWYD program grows globally it is only a matter of time before we see more Wheaten Terriers listed on the website’s “wall of champions”.

There is no compulsion or aversive training here. The accent is on fun and positive reinforcement to create drive for both the human and canine partner. The behaviors are applicable to many AKC competitive venues including conformation, obedience, agility and more. But the best part is that owners can access learning videos and be a part of an online community of fellow tricksters for free.

The SPARK teams found on Facebook start the first of every month and guide participants through a list of behaviors to title at one of several levels. Each week new videos are posted and participants are encouraged to “strutt their stuff” and earn titles. By reducing the barriers to training, including accessibility and cost, and encouraging creativity and training in all settings, people of all ages and socio-economic backgrounds worldwide have embraced the program. And it continues to grow and benefit all types of dogs. Senior dogs needing mental stimulation can work with modified skills and dogs with anxiety thrive and develop confidence as they build a relationship based on trust, praise and having a good time learning.
Most recently I have incorporated trick training into not only my classes and private training, but with training my very own Wheaten Terriers and have found it to be quite addictive. Once you see what the breed is capable of as mastery reveals amazing feats, it is enticing and a little addictive to venture on and experiment pushing things further. Here’s to having more fun and embracing the joys and adventures of training!

FMI on classes in Northern NJ please visit http://www.caninescando.com

For more information on the program visit: http://domorewithyourdog.com