Training your dog is a crucial part of pet ownership. One of the first and most important aspects of it is dog leash training. But with so many tips, tricks and advice out there, and different methods and techniques to approach leash training a dog, owners are often confused about which path to take for best results.
In today's over an hour long podcast, I spoke with an experienced dog trainer Tom Shelby, author of the book “Dog Training Diaries“. Tom calls himself a “depends trainer,” because his approach to canine training is based on the fact that there's no one size fits all and it must be adjusted based on the individual dog, the environment and many other variables. This is something I can relate to, and so we discussed in-depth leash training a dog based on his unique methods and what pet owners can do by themselves.
Listen to the episode in the video above and find the full podcast transcript below. For more, visit this episode’s post on the official Theory of Pets website.
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A Guide for Leash Training Your Dog
Samantha: When it comes to dog training, there are so many different methods out there it's hard to choose the one that is going to be best for you and your dog. Sometimes it becomes a trial and error effort where you try to find things that work, and sort of piece different types of training together.
Today I had the pleasure of speaking with Tom Shelby. Tom is a dog trainer and now a writer. He recently released his book Dog Training Diaries, Proven Expert Tips and Tricks to Live in Harmony with Your Dog. That's really how he works with canines. He tries to foster that harmony between the dog handler and the dog. He has trotted to dogs in front of Westminster dog show judges. He has a lot of experience training, working with search and rescue dogs.
Tom has kind of been there, done that, seen it all. So I was really excited to talk to him today. He calls himself a quote-unquote “depends” dog trainer. And I really related to that type of training. He says — training depends on the dog, the situation, the environment, all kinds of different variables. So it's not this like one size fits all type of training. It's more of an overall approach to, like I said, fostering that harmony with the dog and the trainer, and seeing what's going on in different instances. Every dog's different, every situation is different. So he refers to himself as a “depends” trainer. And I really liked that.
His approach is generally to take what the delinquent dog gives him and turn it into a transformative moment. No strong arm tactics, no yelling, nothing like that. He really focuses on socialization being the key to a well behaved dog.
Today I really wanted to focus on some tricks for leash training because I get questions all the time from pet owners who are either trying to train, either a puppy that they just got, or an adult dog that they adopted that's not leash trained.
I get tons of questions about the right training equipment to have, when you're training a dog, questions about what to do if your dog pulls on a leash, leash aggression, all of these things.
So, I talked to Tom about all of this stuff and he started off by just explaining a little bit about his method of training and how socialization is really key, and then gives us some great tips and tricks on leash training as well as some of his own firsthand experiences. I was really thrilled to speak with him. I think you guys are going to really enjoy this interview.
Interview with Tom Shelby
Samantha: Tom, thank you so much again for being on the show today. Tell me a little bit about yourself and your dog training style.
Tom Shelby: I literally, Samantha, had 800-plus appointments a year training dogs when I lived in New York. About half for behavior problems.
So I came to somebody's door with an aggressive dog, thousands of times. The owner in the great majority of cases was holding the dog back on the leash while the dog was pulling very hard, and acting aggressive, wanted to eat my kneecap.
And what were 95 percent of the owners doing? They were literally petting the dogs, soothingly, saying “it's okay.”
If you had a four year old child who was frightened of the ghost on Halloween, you could say to that show, “it's okay; it's a little boy under a sheet.” But your response to a dog as the behavior is happening is what trains a dog; they live in the moment.
So when the dog is being aggressive at the door and you are petting a dog trying to soothe it, what you are in a really doing is rewarding the behavior that's taking place.
Tom Shelby: And what is the voice intonation saying? “It's okay” — it's not okay.
So thousands of times I witnessed this, and I wanted to say — is this the behavior you want? — and needless to say, the owner would say no. And I wanted to say — then why are you rewarding the dog? — but I didn't say it because they weren't cognizant of it; they didn't realize training a dog is letting the dog know you like to behavior, or you don't, as the behavior is happening. It's timing. Timing is critical with a dog. Absolutely critical.
And when I say having an all-domestic animal that denotes body language of a human better than a dog, I'm really not embellishing. They also read your face.
I've been married now, I don't know, for over 95 years —
Tom Shelby: And… Well, give or take.
And if I say something that my wife was not thrilled with. You know, I can take one look at her face and I know she's not happy. So does your dog. Dogs read our faces just as well as our significant others.
So that concept of rewarding unwanted behavior inadvertently, is critical for people to understand and value of timing.
Another example which I see countless times is the dog that jumps on people. It can be a friendly jump — hello my name's Bowser; give me a pet — and the dog jumps.
So the word I use for jumping is “off” not “down.” Down is a very important command for a dog to lay down.
So I may… And again, when people say to me, what's your methodology? My answer's always been, “It really depends; I don't know.” My methodology for a hundred and 140 pound dog that bit several people is going to be different from my methodology for a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel that's 10 weeks old. It really depends. And it depends on what I read in the dog.
So let us assume the dog jumps and I just, with a frown on my face, may shrug the dog off and say “off,” and a split second later, the dog has four feet on the floor. What I've witnessed so many people doing at that point — start chastising the dog for having jumped several seconds ago, but actually the dog is now with four feet on the floor, and the unwanted behavior has stopped.
In all my lessons, I tell people — when you, let's say, shrug the dog off, as you say the word “off” and a split second later, four feet of the dog are on the floor. You need to immediately smile. You can say “thank you” or “good” or “good boy,” whatever it is; you don't have to drop to your knees and make love to the dog, but believe me when I tell you hundreds of times I've looked like a lunatic getting “off” — thank you, off, thank you, off —
Tom Shelby: If the timing is right, Samantha, the dog, very quickly will learn, when those front feet come off the floor, I'm not terribly happy. But when the four feet back on the floor, I am happy. And if the timing is done well, I'd literally couldn't stop the dog from jumping in seconds, because they get it, if the timing is well.
So this concept of the inadvertent rewarding of unwanted behavior, I go through quite a few examples of that with clients so that they understand — when the unwanted behavior happens, frown, whatever the collection is, and I don't use the word “no.” By the time I get there, half the dogs think their is “no bad dog.”
I have seen a beautiful tee shirt where I live with a picture of one dog meeting another, saying — hi, my name's Don't Bad Dog; what's yours?
I loved it, because I have a number of clients who named their dog Noah, and I suggested — well, if you ever use the word “no” negatively, Noah's not a real great name.
Tom Shelby: So, inadvertent rewarding of unwanted behavior, predicated on body language and voice intonation — this is what dogs read. So if the dog's jumped, and now you've given it a three minute soliloquy why it was wrong, and if the dog's sitting there and being chastised when the dog is really being cooperative. So very, very important concept. Then we'll get to the leashes.
Now the other concept. I live on the island of Martha's Vineyard, and one of the first things… I have a column here; it's called “Ask the Dog Charmer” where people send in their questions and I write the answers. So people have started calling and I came here to basically retire, but as Mark Twain said, if you love what you do, you never work a day in your life.
Samantha: That's right.
Tom Shelby: And you're probably in a very similar position, Samantha, and I commend you for that.
So, people started calling me, and I got an apprentice because I'm not looking to do 8 to 900 deployments a year, so I do far fewer. But one of the very first things I tell the people on this island is — and I say it facetiously — the first thing I want you to do is rent an apartment in Boston, just for a few months, and I want you to walk the dog five times a day.
And the concept again, or the nine word, been there, done that, seen that, no big deal. The dog who has seen it all, and is afraid of nothing is the stable dog. So, you know, I remember working, walking with a German shepherd I was boarding and training when I lived in New York, and I lived across the street from the state park, and we went up there and there was a tree stump that had been partially burned. And between the scent, and — I don't know if you know, I also used dogs, two dogs, and I trained over a more than 20 year period to find missing people; so I'm extremely cognizant of a dog's scenting ability; as a matter of fact, Samantha, as you're sitting or standing as I'm speaking we're dropping 40,000 dead skin cells a minute, which creates in search and rescue what we call a scent pool — but anyhow, so I'm with this German shepherd, which takes note of this burned tree stump and he never smelled anything like this or saw anything like it, and was extremely afraid of it, and on alert.
If I had laughed and said “it's just a tree stump stupid” and walked away, I would've left that door with something to be frightened of. If I had made just love to him — it's okay, don't worry — I am actually rewarding the fear response, and this is a very fine line to walk. Not rewarding fear response, yet supporting the dog when it's afraid of something.
I'm thinking of another example. Have you seen in the great state of Maine, they had a couple of years ago, lots of these large plastic statues of cows about.
Tom Shelby: Yeah. So I have a French poodle, now, I adopted five years ago, a standard poodle, who was afraid of everything when I adopted her. She's not anymore. But I was in New Jersey visiting one of my kids, and the dog saw one of these cow statues, which are life size, and just freaked out.
It took me about 20 minutes until I had this dog sniffing the cow and realizing — no big deal. And again, when the dog really showed fear, my response was — wow, that's an interesting looking statue isn't it? — And I kind of conned her, I was happy, I wasn't saying, oh, it's okay, it's okay, because she was fearful, and I don't want to fearful and tell her that's okay. I want to support her and say, wow, that's kind of interesting, isn't it? And I kind of conned the dog over looking at. And very slowly we kept approaching and she took a full step — I'm never without treats on me, and the treats I administer are the size of crumbs; it's not the size, it's the association — and very forward motion she got a treat and some encouragement and it literally took me 20 minutes until she was sniffing it and realizing — no big deal.
And that's the concept — been there, done that, seen that, no big deal. So when, I remember several years ago, a couple moved from rural Alabama to midtown Manhattan, and the dog was totally freaked out by the sirens of ambulances, throngs of people, etc. This dog didn't want to urinate or defecate; it was a very, very frightened dog.
So these are, as I said, it's a very fine line between supporting the dog without rewarding the fear response. So I get animated and happy, make slow progress forward. I remember in Manhattan, just as we were passing the truck, it backfired, the dog jumped six feet up in the air and then didn't want to pass the truck, and took me also a while to get the dog to pass the truck, and then I went back and forth. Should, and showed dogs attitude is — no big deal; I've experienced this, and I survived unhurt, and it just worked out fine.
So these are two concepts. When I say socialize your dog, expose it to everything you can think of with a positive attitude — is a very, very important concept. Then you have a much more stable dog.
Samantha: Let's talk about least training. That's what I wanted to focus on today. How do daily walks benefit dogs and dog owners? Of course they're getting their exercise, but there are some other really great benefits as well.
Tom Shelby: Well, it certainly is very, very important, and that's part of the bonding. I mean, the more walks you take, the more socialized the gets as long as you're doing that with cognizance of the dog's response to everything. And it does help with the bonding.
There's another expression of my business which is — a tired dog is a well behaved dog.
Tom Shelby: Is that valid? And yesterday I took about two and a half, three hour hike, and that makes all the difference in the world.
So I think there's great benefit to taking walks with the dog in terms of socialization, in terms of exercise, in terms of bonding. It's very meaningful.
If a dog's life is the backyard of the house, it's an unsocialized dog and it's more likely to be afraid.
And one of the six to eight types of aggression is fear aggression, is probably the most common type of aggression I've run into with dogs that were fearful, and the attitude becomes the best defense is a good offense.
So what, next question, for pet owners that have adopted a puppy and would like to work on leash training, what are your tips?
One of the keys is pulling. You don't want to pull. And what is often suggested in many of the books — and I just make mention of that in my book, Dog Training Diaries — when the dual tolls you just stop, and the moment the dog stops pulling, you continue walking, and when the dog pulls again you stop. And it comes to understand that we will continue making forward progress and that the fun of learning about the environment through the dog's nose.
But the reality is most people don't do that because it could take you 45 minutes to go, you know, 100 yards. Because a dog, especially if you have a very enthusiastic young dog, be it a 10 week old dog or a seven months old dog, and I facetiously say all the time, dogs from puppy to junior high school punk, which, depending on breed and other circumstances can be anywhere from six, seven months to a year, a year plus — so, from puppy to punk to young adult. So you have the very enthusiastic seven month old whatever type of dog that's pulling like crazy.
So how does one stop pulling? One can stop every time the dog pulls, and I have yet to meet people who can really deal with that successfully, because you just made so little progress until the dog puts it together, and it can take a long time for this to put it together, so the walks won't get you very far.
So why is the leash attached to? Makes a big, big deal. I normally suggest that, with most dogs, they use what's called an easy-walk harness. You're probably familiar with it. The leash attaches at the chest. And that basically will eliminate 50, 60, 70 percent of the pulling with most dogs and make things a lot easier.
I also am now experiencing a great deal. I am telling people who are a bit older, don't get a big dog. Because I just dealt with a lady who had a shattered elbow when her big labradoodle, and she was an older lady, retired, and then pulled her down, and she just had the leash to a flat collar, which it never stops the door from pulling; they just choke themselves and pull.
So, the easy-walk harness where the leash attaches at the chest, is the easiest way to mitigate lots and lots of pulling. The method to eliminate 90 percent of the pulling are gentle leaders. Are you familiar with a gentle leader?
Samantha: Yes. That's a fantastic training tool.
Tom Shelby: Yes. It's an excellent training tool, but I have also found, I have told all of my clients, buy the gentle leader, I told him what size to buy and don't put it on the dog until I get there. Because, you want to acclimate the dog to it on a very positive basis.
I would also, before I put the gentle leader, in most cases, as toss the dog a “leave it” command. And “leave it” is a very, very important command, especially if you did search and rescue.
I've been on a search where a deer crashed through the woods right in front of us and I just had to look at my dog and say, “leave it and get back to work.” All I had to so was say “leave it.”
So I teach dogs, “leave it.” Every single client I work with, the dog needs to be taught, “leave it.” And I do, I start almost all training in the confines of the house where you have the fewest distractions, because a very important concept of the dog training is to have success build on success.
So if the dog is outside… Well let me put it to you this way, Samantha. When you come home… Am I correct in assuming you have a dog now?
Samantha: Yes. We have two dogs.
Tom Shelby: Okay. So when you come home, and the two dogs sniff the cuff of your pants, they know who you touched, what you ate, and what environment you're in. Again, it's why Mark Twain said, if dogs could talk, nobody would own them. They have a history on you for the day.
So the point I'm making is if you're trying to teach, initially, our dog different things outdoors, the distraction level is much more intense than indoors. Because the dog is aware of the blade of grass that the squirrel urinated on two hours ago. And if it's a very young dog it's going to be distracted by the scents it finds on the wind.
In search and rescue, you had tracking, which is a dog than a 40 foot leash attached to a harness, and if I have what's called a PLS, a place last seen, where somebody stopped to tie their shoe, they created the scent pool, as you and I are creating as we're were sitting wherever we are; all these dead skin cells are falling and they created a pool of scent.
So if I have a PLS, that place last seen, I bring the dog there on a harness and a 40 foot leash, point to that piece of ground and say “track” and wherever that missing person walked, we would be able to, the dog would be able to follow just following the footsteps as he's dropping the scent particles.
Most of the searches I had been on did not have a PLS, a place last seen, so now you have no idea, even if you're in the area where the person is, the missing person is, so in that case we're working the wind home. You find out where the wind is coming from and I would tell — take the dog off leash, and that's called air scenting and the dog works the wind calm. And that is where it's especially important, or even tracking, if another dog is off leash while the dog is tracking, I have to tell my dog, leave it, even if the other dog wants to play, and continue working.
So I would go to your house and I would put a hot dog in the middle of the living room floor on a plate and we'd walked by that hot dog and it would probably take me a minute or two, teaching that dog, “ignore the hot dog” and walk by. And one of the critical parts of leash walking is what I call loose leash. There has to be no tension on the leash.
When I walk to the post office from my home — they don't deliver mail where I live, I have to go to the post office box, which is very close — I swing a six foot leash around my shoulder and I don't touch it with my hands, and then I know I am not compromising by pulling at all. I say heel, and the dog walks whatever pace, whatever turn I take, without, whatever it sees — if it sees another dog or a squirrel, I say “leave it” and the dog has to ignore it — and not pull the leash off my shoulders.
So the gentle leader really eliminates 90 percent of the pulling, because it's the same concept, Samantha, if I call pull you by your nose, what's following is your head followed by the body.
The difficulty, and the reason I don't tell my clients, just put it on the dog and take a walk, is, when you put a pair of sunglasses or on your face, you know why they're there. When you put something on a dog's face, all the dog understands is get this crap off my face.
So I will show the dog the gentle leader — and the moment it sniffs it, because to a dog in through the nose — the moment the dog sniffs that gentle leader, I give it a treat, and then now there's a positive association, and then I size… By size it properly, it needs to be rather tight, right behind the ears, not down with the collar is. And the mouthpiece, the part that goes around the snout has to be as loose as possible, but not so loose that the dog puts down that it slips off its nose. Because, if it's got something tight around it's mouth, it's going to protest it even more. And then we immediately go out and take a walk. And every time the dog is not protesting it with its paw, or trying to roll and rub it off its nose — every time it walks, I am praising and offering a little crumb-sized treat. And if it starts pawing at it, I won't tell it, “leave it,” which it has been taught, and then we continue walking.
And it often can take as much as 20 minutes, a half an hour, until the dog really starts walking with it.
And then another important concept, and I've run into this — the wife uses the gentle leader and the husband says, I don't want to use that.
And I, as best I can, I express the importance of consistency. The dog is going to make it much harder on the wife, if the husband doesn't use it. We need to be consistent.
And then the gentle leader starts to represent a positive thing — going out for a walk. Exploring the world.
So that gentle leader is very, very valuable. I show people, I tell people, kiddingly, I have the strongest pinky in the area, and I can literally hold the leash of a large dog with your pinky when we use a gentle leader. It turns their head. But the consistency and the acclimating the dog to gentle leader is really important. Because 95 percent, maybe 97 percent of the dogs will never just readily say — no problem, and accept it.
I've run into several that have. And in my career I can remember two dogs that never really accepted it, but then I really didn't know what happened in between lessons. Consistency is really important.
So one of the best things is a gentle leader which teaches the dog not to pull.
For the pugs, and the bulldogs, that have the… They don't have the elongated snout; they have the flat face, those dogs — and interestingly, one of the best trainers in the country; his name is Brian Killcommons; he's a good friend of mine, and I've seen him put a prong collar on a pug. And the reason is, the pug immediately stops pulling because the last thing you want to put on a brachycephalic — flat face, flat nose dog — is a regular collar, because you really… They have breathing issues quite often.
If I remember correctly, Bill Weld, who was the governor of Pennsylvania, when I worked with his dog, he had a couple of pugs, and one passed away with breathing difficulties.
You don't want to put a flat collar on a pug. You want to either put a harness on… And he experimented with this and it was quite effective. The dog felt the bite of the prong collar once, and didn't pull anymore.
I'm not sure I'm recommending that, but I've seen it work with this particular pug. If you get to junior high school aged pug that's very enthusiastic and he pulls too hard on it, you may have a problem. And Brian is an excellent trainer who's very cognizant of this. And this worked with this particular dog.
So there is a possibility there. It's not one that I'm really recommending. I'm just sharing. I've seen that work, also on an English Bulldog where they used that before I got there and he said it stopped the pulling completely and this dog had no issues. So there is a feasibility with that.
And the harness that attaches at the middle of the back is not something I suggest if you have a pulling dog, as I explain to people. I actually, as a gift, piloted a dog sled for 20 miles through your state actually.
Samantha: Oh wow.
Tom Shelby: In Maine. Yes. And that was a terrific experience.
The analogy I make, Samantha, is if you want a dog to pull, I mean, picture the Iditarod; they're all pulling on a harness that's attached to mid-back. So if you don't want a dog to pull — and so many people think that they want to be humane to the dog, and they end up getting dragged all over the place — then use an easy walk harness or acclimate the dog to a gentle leader. That's what I suggest.
Teaching a dog to heel. That's another thing. I have explained how to do that. And I'll tell you, I'll be happy to explain it, but I have found that I really needed to teach the dog, and then affect what I refer to as the leash transfer, so that my working with the dog-walker helped a dog client, really helped them with their timing, and figuring out how to work the leash.
So, to teach a dog to heel. Dogs work professionally on the left side. And I'm just thinking of a young lady who had lost her sight in her left eye and I then reversed everything so she would have the peripheral vision and could see the dog, and I taught the dog to heel on the right side. But, professionally, dogs work on the left side.
And, again, talking about body language — so, one would use the word heel, and always take the first step with the left foot, so the dog gets conditioned, when that left foot moves, you, the dog, are moving.
If you were to tell the dog to stay and step away, it would be incumbent upon you to step away with your right foot, because if you step away with the left, the dog is getting the body language signal to start moving. So these things are really important if you want to have a well trained dog.
So we started walking. I use a six foot leash. And the dog immediately forges ahead. I say nothing. What I do, Samantha, is, I make 180 degree turn and reverse my direction, and I am now walking in the opposite direction that the dog just took off, and the dog hits the leash — I say nothing — kind of hard and I'm just walking the other direction.
If the dog starts to make a left turn, I make a sharp right turn. And when the dog hits the end of the leash, the dog says, whoa, we're going in that direction.
If the dog starts cutting me off to the right, I make a left turn into his face.
When done properly, and timed properly, the dogs attitude quickly becomes — oh man, I got to pay attention to this idiot; he's always going in the wrong direction, and when I'm not with him I get caught at the end of the leash with an unpleasant jerking myself. And it literally takes me five minutes until the dog is now…
There's only one way the dog can know which way you're going. And that is by staying next to you and looking to his right every once in awhile to see where I'm going. If the dog walks very quickly, I walked at a crawls space.
And interestingly, in Manhattan, the women — and was primarily more so women than men — walk much faster than I do, and I got the impression of almost trying to keep up with the dogs. And I would say, if the dog is walking quickly, they need the dog to understand it has to walk at your pace. And if a dog is walking very slowly, I break into a trot. So the key word I use is “opposite” until the dog realizes — oh man, I got to pay attention to this person so I don't get caught at the end of the leash.
And as I said, most people need a little help in getting this done expeditiously and effectively. I've told most people, in my book, because it is part of basic training, I explained this and I write in the book, but honestly, I find they could really use some help with this.
The gentle leader will make things a heck of a lot easier. The prong collar, I really don't like to use. I do not really liked teaching using the principle of pain. But I am not a pure only-rewards trainer, because I really have a lot of experience and… The analogy I make, Samantha — when I get to a person's home and I see a seven year old child sitting on the dining room table eating mashed potatoes with his fingers, I know I'm going to have a tough time with the dog because I didn't parent the kid.
And you see why I have found very often, when I'm seeing a child like that, the dog was completely wild and not given direction.
So as I said, I am a dependent trainer. And I am into all-rewards training most of the time because we can get much more done with with smiles and treat, thank with negativity. But when I get to the five year old dog that was just adopted and has serious issues, sometimes these issues need to result in a consequence. And the consequence can be as light as when a dog jumps on you and you frown and say “off” and then shrug the dog off; dogs are very sensitive; they don't want your negativity. They want the praise.
So what I do really does depend on what I'm dealing with.
I was the go-to guy in Manhattan for a bunch of years for aggressive dogs. And the vets would say — I'm not telling you to euthanize this dog called Shelby, he'll be honest with you, and I will say honestly, I probably had two to four dogs a year where I had the awful job of telling people, this dog is seriously dangerous.
And my breaking point was — if a dog was was good with a family and aggressive with everybody else, and they wanted to live with that, and were willing to live with those risks. I would work with them and the dog. And God bless — this is America, land of litigation; we need to keep the public safe. But if the dog does not aggress at you, and you want to keep the dog — okay, I will help you.
But when the dog was threatening the owner, seriously threatening them… I mean, I remember a dog that, every time they ate, if they didn't toss pieces of food from the table to the dogs, the dogs bit them. The dog bit them. I mean…
Samantha: Oh, wow.
Tom Shelby: Listen, I got a million stories. And this was a seriously dangerous bite.
And most dogs have what's called bite restriction — they give a warning bite, but when you have an unrestricted bite, when the dog really bites down, then we're talking about a dangerous dog. As a matter of fact, when I worked with the police in search and rescue, one of the reasons when you teach your dog to be a patrol dog, is, you wear that sleeve, so when the dog bites the sleeve it starts learning to unrestrict the bite — which many dogs have to be taught.
Dogs learn five restriction in the litter. When a puppy bites another puppy a little too hard and that puppy runs away yelping. It learns to restrict its bite. When the puppy bites the mothers breasts too hard, the mother straightens them out.
I have found just from experience, a single puppy litter, more often than larger litters, was lacking bite restriction, because it wasn't given enough instruction by the mother to restrict the bite.
So that's an important concept when it comes to dealing with an aggressive dog. And I've dealt with an awful lot of progression. And there are, as I said, six to eight different types of aggression.
So you have fear regression, you have dominant aggression, they have resource guarding. I asked everybody, if you go near their food bowl when the dog is eating, does he freeze and stare at you? Or does he actually grow like he's going to bite you? The resource there is the food.
I ask everybody — so, if you're reading baby back ribs, and a rib slips off the table and falls on the floor, can you take it from the dog? Or is the dog's attitude, I'll die before I give you this.
And it can be very subtle. You can be sitting on the couch with your toy poodle, and a grandchild starts approaching and the poodle starts growling. The resource in that case is Grandma. And the dog doesn't want to share the resource of Grandma, doesn't want the attention taken away and given to the grandchild.
So the resource can really vary. I need to observe and seeing where the dog is coming from.
How are your two dogs, Samantha? Do you feed them right next to each other?
Samantha: We do feed them together. Yes. We worked with our dogs from puppies. Or we get a lot of dogs… Most of our dogs come as rescues. And we work on socialization and aggression issues immediately when they come into our house, which is something that I always recommend to people, is that, you don't take the few days to let your dog settle in or anything like that. You need to start training immediately.
Tom Shelby: Music to my ears. Absolutely. Immediately. I've heard people saying you don't want to start training until the dog's nine months old, and I just shake my head — boy is that a mistake; it's like telling a kid, I'm not going to teach them manners until he's in high school.
So, yeah, sure. I'm glad to hear that. I figured you would have pretty civil, cooperative dogs. They're both rescues? Mixed breed?
Samantha: They're both, one's a lab; we've had her since she was a puppy. One is a beagle mix; she is a rescue. And we actually, we lost a boxer last year. She was a rescue as well. And our boxer and our Beagle are actually opposites. Our boxer was very timid. She had come from an abusive home which made her fearful of everything. And then our beagle was the opposite. She is completely fearless and was very, not aggressive, but she would definitely, was the Alpha dog when she came in and wanted to let everybody else know that this was, you know, her stuff, her food… So we had to nip that in the bud with her. And then the boxer was the opposite where, you know, like you talked about, it was just, it took years, literally years to get her to a point where we could just walk down a city street without having any panic attacks,
Tom Shelby: You used the words “alpha dog” and I can tell you, if I remember correctly — in a litter of puppies by, I think it was 9 or 10 weeks, the pecking order is established. And it's important because then there's this cooperation and civility, if you, you know, cooperate with each other, as opposed to fighting for as to who was the boss.
It's an important concept. And resource guarding is the big one. They can be the toys that the dog plays with and doesn't want to share with the other dog or a person. And then you have what's called the pain aggression. You have the dog that would never dream of fighting. But gets hit by a car, gets a broken leg, and you pick it up to bring it to the vet, and you move that broken leg, which causes enough pain, which causes the dog to bite — that's pain aggression.
Like I said, we go through the different types of aggression and how to deal with them. There's the predatory aggression. I was just thinking, that's why your 10 week old puppy chases the blowing leaf. The movement of the leaf elicits the prey drive, and those dogs that are very predatory, aggressive, are car chasers, bicycle chasers, joggers they chase — that's a predatory aggression. The movement elicits that prey drive. And sometimes I have to explain, when they had a herding dog and the dog was nipping at the ankles, that it really wasn't predatory. This was a herding instinct. That, the Australian Shepherd or whatever it was, this is not really predatory, just a strong herding instinct and we would deal with that.
So, you know, that's why I'm a “depends” trainer — depending on what I see, depending on the ability of the owners to affect the change that I like them to affect, I need to really adapt a training methodology to what will work.
That was the whole point. I never advertised and was all word of mouth. So success was very important.
Samantha: You've already mentioned the gentle leader. But do you have any other recommendations for products for pet parents who are trying to train different types of dogs from puppies to seniors? Dogs that pull, etc.?
Tom Shelby: It's terrific, now, I would also say is if you're going to recommend a gentle leader, do not recommend the head halter. The head halter slips off the head, so they put on an extra device so it wouldn't… The gentle leader doesn't.
So I would highly suggest it's gentle leader, not the head halter. They look similar but they are not. I'd suggest you recommend the gentle leader.
And I would not recommend the prong collar. I would recommend for the brachycephalic dogs, an easy walk harness. Or even — the mismatches which I see all the time. You have a 90 pound elderly lady who gets a 70 pound labradoodle; that's a potential accident waiting to happen. So that would require immediately training for a gentle leader.
And we could also, if you want, discuss, as a tool, the e-collars. And e-collars can administer a tone, a vibration, and the stim, electric stim. And for the off-leash dogs, that can be a really important tool. And for my standard poodle, I lived across the street from a lake and we have tons of geese and ducks.
Coprophagia, as you probably know, is when dogs eat poop. And I could say “leave it” but my dog is, as I said, a standard poodle, very fast, and this is a huge field around the lake, and she will gobble up little pieces of fecal matter, goose poop. So I put an e-collar on her, and I've never used the electric stim; I used the vibration. And when I sealed them down, I can be, you know, 100 yards away, I just push the button, and she'll jump a foot in the air, being startled by the vibration. I say nothing. I need her to relate it to the eating the poop. If I'm yelling “leave it” for that, then when I'm not around or she's 200 yards away and I can't see if she's eating poop or not, it becomes fair game. And I refer to this as the dog-god concept.
And I'll give you another example which I think your listeners will appreciate. Let's say your dog will not… You're eating, you're having a hamburger dinner, and your dog will just ignore you and ignore the table while you're eating hamburgers. And then you have dessert on the low coffee table while you're watching TV. And the dog is very civil.
But now you walk out of the room for whatever reason, and you will have this low coffee table and there's the donut on it. You're not in the room and now the dog immediately grabs the donut. The solution to that is the dog-god concept, which I kind of created that expression a whole lot of years ago.
I tell people, what you need to do is take a Tupperware container and perforated a whole lot and put the food in there. Put the hot dog. And if they're going to put a hot dog in there, I tell them, put it in the microwave, so it's really odiferous, gives off a lot of scent. And put it in a Tupperware container and put it on your coffee table and walk out of the room.
Now, however, you set up a mirror, so that being out of the room, you could see the dog and the dog does not know that you can see the dog. And now again, depending on the sensitivity of the dog, you walk out of the room, and the moment that dog's nose touches that Tupperware container, bang two pots together. The dog is likely to screw itself through the ceiling and startlement. But it's going to relate to that negative startlement to taking the food off the coffee table. You had nothing to do with it. The Dog God sees all, all the time. And doesn't like it when you take my stuff.
The reason I put it in the Tupperware container is, I don't want the dog to self-reward. If you just put a hot dog on the coffee table on a plate and the dog just swallowed it quickly, even if you startle it, it still felt rewarded, it must not get that hot dog. So that's the dog-god concept. And I've used that — for destructive chewing, your dog, let's say, many have dogs that — depends on the dogs — that are into wood; they chew the chair legs, or moldings; you have dogs into cloth that tear off the couch cushions; you have dogs that are into plastic, that destroy your reading glasses or the TV clicker; and you have dogs that are into it all — I will set the dogs up; I confront problems; I will set them up with a mirror and use the Dog God concept, and whatever startles the dog. It can be two pots.
I've had a person, who used to be a referee for his kid's soccer games and he had that air horn. That was hilarious, Samantha. When the dog went for the food, he just blasted the air horn, and I think he had to do it twice, and the dog would look askance at the food when he looked in the mirror, and said, I'm not going near that food again.
What's critical here is the timing. The timing is critical. And when I tell somebody for, let's say, for stopping a dog from stealing food off the table, and the dog ignores two pots banging together, I may suggest an e-collar, and we'll use the vibration and again, and I have never said to somebody, get an e-collar and put it on the dog, I said, get an e-collar, read the instructions, and don't otherwise touch it. Wait till I get there. And then depending on what we're dealing with, if I have 140 pound a rottweiler that wants to kill every dog it sees, I'm going to use a different type of stimulation than I'm going to use for the dog that eats goose poop.
Again, I am a “depends” trainer. What I'm dealing with really depends on the issue I need to affect change with. So, very important concepts. And the most important is again, what I initially talked about, was socializing and avoiding the inadvertent rewarding of unwanted behavior. And that's predicated on timing, body language and voice intonation.
That really summarizes dog training if you really want to get a cooperative dog, it's about, is being properly socialized and you are communicating to him with excellent timing through body language, be it petting or smile or kneeling down, and voice intonation, which, again, is based on timing. It's extremely important and makes all the difference in the world.
Samantha: We've talked a lot about like different kinds of aggression and what to do if you can train your dog yourself. But what if you can't? What are some reasons why people may seek out the help of a professional trainer? And how do you know when you need the help of a professional and this is not something that you're going to be able to handle on your own?
Tom Shelby: One of the biggest issues that — and it's a difficult issue to deal with — you're walking, is leash aggression, where the dog sees another dog on a leash and gets aggressive. Most of the clients will tell their dog that's leash aggressive to sit and stay and wait until the other dog passes. The analogy I use is — what if I told you to sit on the train tracks and stay as the train is approaching? That's what you're basically asking of the dog. The dog's going to be completely nuts as the other dog is getting closer and closer.
So, again, here is a very important concept. When you see another dog, and your dog's on a leash, before it gets aggressive start making love to your dog with your voice. Your attitude is…
Let me explain and take a step back. What most people do when they see another dog, they anticipate their own dog getting aggressive. So what they do is they tighten the leash, and they use the dog's name with anxiety in their voice — Bowser! — and they tighten the leash.
Now, the dog may not have even seen the other dog, but all of a sudden its neck feels very tight. It feels the tension you've just transferred to the dog through the leash, and it hears the anxiety in your voice. And what's he going to relate this anxiety to? The dog is looking at. So you're actually exacerbating the problem. And so many people do that. So what I tell them is, start making love to the dog and offering it treats with a loose leash. “Yes, that could be your best friend, look at that little golden retriever approaching, isn't that great…” and you're actually conning your dog.
And the dog is now getting a positive association with the other dog it sees approaching it. And for goodness sake, don't stop and stay; keep walking, keep the dog active. And then if the dog gets aggressive, I step in front of the dog, and correct it.
And again, how I correct it, it could just be an “uh-uh” I don't use the word “no” as I said, I say “uh-uh.”
And the split second the dog stops aggressing, because I'd broken eye contact, I immediately keep walking and start praising the dog; again, the timing is critical. And mostly, aggressive dogs, I really need to be there. I can explain how to do this to the client. But rarely is it done with success, because it's a difficult one. It really is a difficult one to deal with, because very often the dog's been doing it for a very long time and it just expects this kind of aggression on a leash.
You'll also find, Samantha, dogs are much less aggressive on leash than off leash. And where most people think the dog is really protecting them. I tell them, the reality is, it's almost like the kid is pretty tough, because there's a big brother standing behind him.
So when you're attached by leash, the dog is a much bolder because it thinks you have to back.
Man, when I go to a large area, it's called Trade Winds, where I live, where people walk their dogs, very large fields, and we go with a leash-aggressive dog, I haven't dropped the leash the moment we see another dog, and walk in a 90 degree angle away from their dog. And 90 percent of the time the dog realizes is on his own, it becomes a lot more civil; things are much less aggressive.
Again, and I make that decision based on my having met the dog and worked with the dog, and in the majority of cases, dogs are really much more mellow off leash than on leash. That leash attachment is much more likely to elicit an aggressive response if the dog has had experience with this.
And I just basically finished working with a Maltese, which — and I think this Maltese is seven or eight years old — then the woman would pick the dog up and basically the hold it and put it on her, halfway up to her shoulder, as the dog was going berserk because another dog had the audacity to be walking by. And this took three or four lessons. And I was able to accept the change with an e-collar using vibration, and it would startle the dog. And praising the dog and giving it treats. Took three lessons to be precise. We can approach another dog start praising the little Maltese, and we're good. They'll reach another dog and will have some sniffs, and then you keep going.
And I also tell people, when you have the successful meeting, don't keep lingering, just go, and have success build on success.
Samantha: Really quickly, before we go, would you tell us a little bit about your book. I did link to it, the Amazon link for anybody that's interested in buying it. It's Dog Training Diaries, Proven Expert Tips and Tricks to Live in Harmony with Your Dog.
Tom Shelby: The book I originally wrote was 22 stories. I've got amazing stories. You know, I've trained 100 celebrities' dogs. And I got a lot of really crazy stories.
Just a brief example of one which is not in the book, where a lady left with her elderly mother went to Manhattan and she had two dogs, a 70 pound mixed breed Chow mix breed and a small terrier. And a thief broke into the house and killed the terrier with a blunt instrument, with a figurine the lady had, a little statue, and big dog had a barking collar on, because they lived in a condominium. And the dog got, every time it barked at this thief it got a shock. And when the lady came home to the dead, small dog, she immediately took the leash and then the collar off the large dog, and from that point on that dog would not allow any collar or leash to be put on, and she had a little garden outside her condo. For eleven months she could not take this dog out for a walk, and she called a vet who gave it some drugs, who got his pants ripped as the dog tried to bit it; nobody could put a collar on this dog, and that was a very interesting lesson for me to get.
Plus what happens when you don't do a dog's nails, as you probably know, the nails get longer and longer, which destroy the foot and it goes right up the leg. The nail starts splaying outwards. So this dog's nails at 11 months were ridiculous. So she asked me if I could get a collar on the dog and cut the dog's nails.
So I've had crazy stories like that and I wrote 22 of them and when Sky Horse publishing said they'd publish it, but they won't publish the 22 stories. They want a training manual and they will include some of the stories.
So I agreed to that and I wrote a training manual which I think is not the usual type of training manual; it's not dry. I get lots of experiences of things that happened to me and they included some hilarious stories and really tragic stories. It's not the run of the mill training manual that's boring.
For example, they included a story that had to do, when I was teaching. So one of my lines in the book is “it's amazing how much of my life revolves around feces and urine.”
Tom Shelby: Samantha, you're laughing.
But I don't care if the dog does your kids homework and takes out the garbage and loads the dishwasher. If it's pooping or peeing in the house, it gets real old real fast.
Tom Shelby: Be it the puppy that you adopt that you get, or the five year old dog that you adopt and is urinating and defecating in the house — house breaking is his major.
I worked with Joan Rivers' dogs and her issue was pooping and peeing. The dogs were totally unhousebroken. So they included the story of when I dealt with Joan Rivers because that had to do with housebreaking.
So four or five of my 22 stories are in there, and some are pretty dramatic stories. And I had to write a training manual. And my hope is, if it gets a reasonable reception, then I can, they'll publish the other 18 stories, which I think people are really going to enjoy. They're all true. They're not embellished. I really tell it like it is.
And I'll tell you something else that is going to bring me some adversity. Every single manual that comes with the electrode, the e-collars, the instruction booklet I disagree with dramatically.
If you're going to actually use an electronic stim for training one way or another, they say start with a light stimulation and if that doesn't work, increase the stimulation. That, to me is nuts.
I have worked — I haven't embellished — 8 to 900 appointments a year, half are behavior problems. I would look at the issue we want to deal with. I would set the collar and stim myself on my arm to feel exactly what the dog is feeling and based on my experience, I would pick a stimulation level that's not going to freak the dog out, but make them cognizant that it's an unpleasant in conjunction with the behavior I want to stop if I want to stop a behavior. And I would probably use a tone. A tone stim. Actually I use a verbal command, perhaps “leave it” tone stim. And within a couple of stims, I can now bring the level of stim down. They develop a sensitivity to it. And in a couple of lessons, I just say “leave it” tone, and then after that, all I have to do is say “leave it.”
To me, to follow the instruction manuals and start raising it, you're actually teaching the dogs to adapt to being shocked. And that to me made no sense. So I have never allowed a person to put the collar on without my being there. And again, depending… I'm the “depend” trainer on what issue or I need to deal with, is what I use and the collar and how I set it.
So that's what the book is about. It's really not your run of the mill training manual. You can refer to when something may need to refer to something else. It says “see page” whatever, and you can go back to that if you really need to deal with a particular issue.
I also have some pictures in there of my search dog. Again, we're talking about predatory aggression. My search dog, Michelle, about whom I wrote the book, would go under my parakeet cage and whine and I would open the cage, she would, without a command, lay down, and the parakeets would walk all over her and loved her. And I have one of her pictures in the book is she is in a down position with two parakeets on her leg.
My other search dog, Mikey, named in her honor, he would have eaten those parakeets in a heartbeat. He was a very predatory aggressive, and more difficult to train on a leaving when a squirrel or a skunk went by when we were on our search, but he tracked a woman 11 miles to make the find. And that was tracking, which meant I had to be behind him on a 40 foot leash for the 11 miles. Michelle as a search dog, found two people alive, some not, and almost all of that was air scenting, depending on where we were.
So like I said, lots of experience. I think people are going to read this book and enjoy it as opposed to — I got to do my homework and learn how to do this — there really, with some of the stories, you'll get a kick out of it and I think they'll learn a heck of a lot.
Samantha: The book is really fantastic. As Tom said, for anybody that's thinking about it, you do get the dog training tips along with a lot of his own firsthand experience in some of the stories that he has from his many years of dogs training.
So I hope you guys enjoyed this interview. If you did, and you can take a few minutes to jump on iTunes and leave me a review, that would be really great. When I reach out to experts in the industry like Tom, it makes it a lot easier when I can show them your reviews that you are out there listening and you really enjoy it. So, again, if you could leave a quick review, that would be great.
A big thanks again to Tom Shelby for coming on the podcast today. His book is available now. The link is below this podcast. If you're interested in purchasing it on Amazon, it's about $12, so very inexpensive.
If you guys have any questions that I might be able to answer or that I can pass on to Tom, feel free to do so. There is a link on our website, TheoryOfPets.com, right on the side for comments and questions. Thanks a lot for listening and we'll be back with another hot topic next week.
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