Being a dog owner means not only feeding and grooming your pet, but regular dog training sessions as well, and it’s a critical part of raising a well behaved puppy into an obedient adult canine. But do you know the difference between regular dog training and canine behavior work?
Many dog owners assume that canine behavior work is interchangeable with dog training, which is not the case. Today’s podcast guest, Debby Dobson, a professional animal behaviorist, will explain the difference between these two, and why that matters. Debby is highly experienced in working with dogs to fix many common behavior problems.
When it comes to canine behavior work and fixing behavioral issues in canines, unlike regular dog training sessions, it’s all about finding the root of the problem first. Debby gives us advice on how to effectively make the dog understand what the unwanted behavior is, and how to achieve the desired results. This almost one hour long podcast interview will get pet owners on their way to fixing many problematic behaviors in dogs.
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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Difference Between Dog Training vs Canine Behavior Work
(raw podcast transcript)
Samantha: Today I had the pleasure of speaking with Debby Dobson, and Debby works with dogs. She’s a dog behaviorist, so there’s a bit of a difference between dog training and dog behavior that lot of pet owners don’t understand. And the difference between behavior work and dog training, Debby it explains it actually, very well in the interview that I did with her.
But basically, training, there’s some kind of a behavior and you are training to attain that behavior. For example, command training, you’re trying to get you dog to sit, stay, what have you.
Behavior training is focusing on a behavior that you don’t want and you’re working with the dog to work on the reason for that behavior, and kind of get to the bottom of that, and help the dog to stop doing whatever unwanted behavior that might be. And again, like I said, Debby explains it in our interview a little bit, so I’m going to go ahead and let you guys listen to what she has to say. It was a really great interview. I thank her a lot for coming on the show. She also gives some great resources for anyone that’s looking for some information. If your dog has some behavior issues going on, maybe jumping or things like that. Barking, nuisance barking, things like that. There are some great resources in here. She named some great books and some pet products that you can use to help with behavior work with your dog. So, I am going to leave it to Debby and she is going to tell you more about what it is that she does in the pet industry with our canine companions.
Interview with Debby Dobson
Samantha: Well obviously the first thing I want to do is thank you for agreeing to the interview, I really appreciate that. When we talked a little bit in our emails about the difference between dog training and dog behavior work, and we’re going to talk about that, but I think it’s a really important topic that not a lot of pet parents are educated about. So that is my goal for today, would be to share some of your knowledge to help educate some other pet owners that may be struggling with some behavior issues.
Debby: Well, first of all, Samantha, thank you for having me. I really appreciate this and I hope I can give people an example that I often use in some of my dog behavior lectures to illustrate the difference between training and dog behavior work.
One of the most common dog behavior issues that I get from people, from clients, is that their dog gets so excited that they’re jumping up to greet people. If you have a small dog, they may not be able to knock someone over, but they might scratch them or they might put muddy paws on their clean pair of pants, or whatever. So, jumping up is a very common dog behavior that people want to address. So one of the things I suggest to them, is that they can teach their dog a good sit-stay, which is dog training. When I say “dog-training”, and I’m talking mostly about obedience training, which is “sit-stay”, “come”, “heel” — and it can include some other things as well, but those are the basic “commands.” I don’t really like the word “commands,” but we use it.
The reward for a dog who does a good sit-stay, is that they’re petted by the stranger. They have exercised some self-control so they definitely deserve to be rewarded for that. If you have a dog who is jumping up, which is the behavior that you want to address, you can use dog training, which is to teach a reliable sit-stay, to help the dog overcome that behavior and have them meet and greet people politely.
Samantha: Excellent, and that leads, actually, perfectly, right into my first question that we wanted to talk about, which is the difference between dog-training and dog-behavior work. And I think we discussed it a little bit in an email, but a lot of people kind of use those two terms of dog-training and dog-behavior work, kind of interchangeably and there is no difference there for them.
So when people are working with you, or when you’re working with a family and their dog, how do you explain that difference between dog-training and the behavior work?
Debby: I use the example that I just used. I also mention that dog behavior issues can include anything from jumping up to greet people, which can be dangerous and frustrating, but it also can include things like thunder phobia. It can include separation anxiety. So when you think of behavior… My background is in social work so I’m always fascinated about how people think and why they do things, so this was good training for me to sort of segue into dog behavior. What makes them tick? Why do they do these things? And why don’t they do these things?
The object of dog behavior work is to find out what the triggers are, what motivates your dog to behave in a way that you don’t want, and then figure out how to ameliorate that behavior without using force or intimidation.
One of the things I tell people is — get to know your dog’s personality. Is your dog… And I’m going to start this with an example that I often use in my workshops — let’s imagine that there is a litter of six puppies. These dogs, these puppies each have the same mother and the same father so the gene pool is pretty small. Of those six puppies, one of them will be pretty shy, pretty — everything is big and I’m so small — they’re kind of timid. On the other end of the spectrum, there is going to be another dog in that litter of six puppies who is pretty fearless. This is the dog who runs over to the other big dogs and people and “rough and tumble” playing all the time. Not afraid of much of anything. The other four dogs are somewhere in the middle. Some things kind of scare them and intimidate them, but they’re pretty balanced and happy. They’re pretty “go with the flow.” Most dogs fall into that four puppy category, but if you have one of the dogs on either end of the spectrum, then you’re likely to have some behavioral problems.
So you need to understand your dog’s personality from the beginning. Every dog is different and just because they have the same mother in the same father, even the same breed they all are unique individuals. They are all different. When I was growing up in the small town in Connecticut we had at pair of twins who were absolutely physically identical and her mother dressed in the same clothes. so when you look at them you couldn’t tell the difference between Nancy and Belinda physically. But when you talk to them and got to know them they were very different people. So get to know your dog’s personality. Get to know what motivates your dog, gets you know why your dog is triggered by things, and then you’ll be able to start from a place of — OK this is what I need to work toward; these are going to be my goals.
Samantha: Excellent. So what sparked your interest in dog behavior in the beginning. How did you get interested in that as opposed to just dog training.
Debby: I adopted a dog when I lived in Arizona. And it was one of those Disney moments where I had been going to the shelter periodically. And one day — and this is absolutely true — now I was moving in Sedona, Arizona and I was out running some errands. Something came into my head that said “go to the shelter now.” And I can’t explain that. I don’t know why. So after I finish my errands and I went to the shelter and I was walking into the area where the dog runs for and there was this dog. And the shelter had skylight and there was a beam of sunlight coming down into her run and it was like this Disney moment. I mean she had beautiful golden fur and the and the sunlight, you know, made it all sparkly and golden highlights and I was like — oh my gosh.
And she looked almost exactly like a dog that I had to literally rescued off the street in Connecticut years before and I thought — wow this is… I was smitten; I was absolutely smitten.
But even then, I could tell that this dog was not approachable. They had big runs, I could have easily opened the door, and tried to get in there and try to pet her but I could see that she was very anxious and — she would you know put her head down and forward and sort of stare at me.
So rather than try to go into her run, I went into the one next door where there was a little puppy, and it was separated just by a chain link fence and I wanted her to see that — I was a good person, and I was playing with the puppy and giving tummy rubs and there was nothing for her to be afraid of.
And on the way out I asked the people at the desk about that dog, and they said — oh yeah, she’s been here for a few days — and they didn’t tell me that she was a “fear biter.”
Samantha: Oh no.
Debby: They didn’t mention that, which was kind of a big piece of information that I needed to know. But I decided that I would go back, and I would just — take her for walks, and I would just spend time with her, before I made the decision. Because I knew it was a big decision; when you get a dog — you have to make a commitment to walk them, give them good food so there’s more expense, and I knew this was a big commitment.
So I went back to the shelter, gosh, every day for at least a week, maybe ten days, and of course every time I went to see her I felt more in love, so I decided to take her home.
At that time I had two cats, I had a black long haired male cat who was very friendly and very mellow, and then I had a female cat. And when I brought my dog, who I hadn’t renamed at that point, into the house, my black cat absolutely freaked out, he arched his back, all the hairs stood up, and he hissed, and he’d never done anything like that before. And that was very upsetting because I thought he would be fine with a dog — he was mister friendly. And my other cat just looked at me as if to say, “Oh, so now we have a dog?”
So, I started to… I made a nice enclosure for her outside, near a tree, and I put her out there and she barked and barked and barked, and I was like — oh my gosh this isn’t working. Then, about two weeks after I had brought her home, a friend of mine had come over to some work on my house. And he was sitting outside on the back steps, and eating his lunch, and I let Nora, I named her Nora by then, I let her out. And she was sitting next to him on the back steps, and he was giving her little pieces of food, and I thought, “Oh my gosh, this is great. Here’s my new dog, and here’s my friend, and they’re sitting on the back steps and they’re having a great time.”
And then, I went back to whatever I was doing, I was washing dishes or something, and the next this I heard was this sort of scuffling sound. I looked out — it was a sliding glass door, so I could see the whole thing — my friend told me that when he went to stand up, Nora had tried to bite him.
Samantha: Oh no.
Debby: So I thought — uh-oh, we have a problem here. This is really bad. Because I knew he was a dog lover. He had two or three dogs of his own, and he was feeding her food, and they were sitting next to each other on the back steps, I thought, “What could go wrong?” I went through that whole period of denial, and finally after several days, I thought — OK, I’m gonna have to figure something out here.
Long story short, I ended up giving her away to a couple who had just had to put their older German Shepherd down. She escaped from their house. She was out in the desert for what, three nights, and almost four days. It was May, so the temperatures were getting up into the 80s during the day. There was no water. There were coyotes. There were rattlesnakes.
Finally, on a Sunday morning, I got a call from the shelter, and they said, “We think your dog is here, but we can’t get her to come.” So I jumped in the car, raced over to the shelter. I don’t know how she figured out how to get from their house to the shelter, because it was a few miles from where they lived to the shelter. So I raced over there.
I went into the back of the building, and I could see her coat, her golden coat, and kind of hidden behind a Manzanita bush. And I called her name, and she sort of stuck her head out, and I said, “Come on, it’s OK.” And she came to me. And I, that was when I made the decision of — no matter what, we were going to figure this out and I was going to help her.
So that began my commitment to her of trying to help her become more confident and more relaxed. And the first tool that I used was exercise, and that was before I had ever heard of Cesar Milan; I didn’t know anything. I took books out of the library. And back then, it was 1996 or 1997, there weren’t many books available on dog behavior. There were a lot of books on dog training, and sometimes I would get little snippets of information about behavior, but I had to piece it together.
We lived in an area where there was a horseback riding stable down the road, and all around our neighborhood was forest service land, and there were these trails — horseback riding trails. So I began starting our day with a hike and initially I kept Nora on leash, because I didn’t know if she would run off and chase a deer or whatever. Eventually, I began to realize that as we became more bonded and she became more trusting of me, I thought — well I’m going to try letting her off the leash on the trail. We were far enough away from the road, so I figured that was safe, and I had practiced calling her to me, and I thought — OK.
But I’ll never forget that first day when we walked to the trail and I unclipped the leash, and I was like, “OK, go! It’s OK, you can go,” and she looked at me like — really? I can go?
And then she took off down the trail and she just had a blast. So I tested my theory. I called her back and she came running back and she looked at me and eventually that evolved into a series of sort-of big loops, where she would just take off and explore and sniff-around, and check things out. And then she would circle back and check in with me, and then she would take off again. So, it didn’t take long, fortunately, before I knew that she was fine off-leash on the trails.
Eventually, I taught her the word, “car.” All that meant was, when we’re on the street, you can go anywhere on the street as long as there’s not a car coming, but when there is a car coming, and I say the word car, you have to go to the side of the road.
And I trained to her to that because we had a bike path on the main road going into my neighborhood there was a white line, and so it took me about three days of training her. Every time a car came down the road I would pull her into the bike lane and say “car.”
She was very confused in the beginning, and I felt like a heel, but she got it. So then, I would take the leash with me, because I was technically breaking the law by letting her run off leash, but I eventually was able to get her to the point where she could go walk with me, even ahead of me, on the street and if I said the word “car” she would go right to the side of the road.
So I used exercise in the beginning, and over time I enrolled her in a fun agility class, I took her to soccer games, I took her to uptown Sedona where all the tourists were, and what I was using, I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was using what they call systematic desensitization. And that just means exposing the dog to the thing that makes them anxious. And you do this in very small steps. And you watch their body language and if it’s too much for them you remove them from the situation, and eventually come back and do it again.
What I learned by using that technique was that — over time, each time I introduced Nora to a new situation it took her less time to overcome her fear of it. And then by the end of the soccer season she couldn’t wait to get out of the back of the car, she would race up to the bleachers, she would meet all her friends, she would mooch popcorn. But the first time I took her to a soccer field, she was terrified. She couldn’t move, she was literally frozen in place.
So time and time again… And in the beginning it seems like you’re doing the wrong thing because your dog is so frightened – and then you just have to wait and back off, and take a breath, and go home. Or…
When I would take her to uptown Sedona we would go right on the main drag, and if she became too overwhelmed and too frightened, we would head over to a side street and just continue walking on the side street. She would calm down again and then we’d circle back and go on to the main drag again.
And again, the same thing happened, I mean she was eventually able to walk on all the sidewalks in the main part of town, and she would spot tourists who were missing their dogs and make a bee-line for them. And they would be like “Oh, can I pet your dog? I’ve been on vacation for two weeks and my dog’s been in a kennel in Minnesota,” and she could find these people. Some of these people were men, and she was terrified of men.
So, it was a process, and some days she would make progress, and the next day it would be like sometimes three steps forward and two steps back. And then two steps forward and one step back. It was a process of back and forth and I just had to accept that this was the process. Whatever it took, I had to be patient, and let her work through it. And eventually it did pay off — oh gosh, in spades. But it took me about two years to get her to the point where I felt like — OK she is going to be all right. I don’t have to worry about her biting someone, and getting sued, and maybe she would be put down.
Samantha: That’s certainly interesting how — you weren’t really expecting it, but it sort of found you, I guess. Dog behavior work sort of found you. So that’s definitely interesting.
So for pet parents who, their dog has a behavior problem that they want to fix, and either they’re not comfortable working, doing it themselves, or they don’t have the time, or whatever their case may be, they’re looking for a professional. How do they know when they need a professional dog trainer versus a dog behaviorist?
Debby: That’s a good question. First of all, there are many, many more good books out there. And there are also really good online articles. Like the ASPCA puts out a lot of very helpful articles. It also depends upon the severity of the behavior. So like let’s say your dog has bitten someone, or tried to bite someone, versus — your dog is pulling on the leash. Those are two behaviors that you want to address. But one — the biting — obviously is much more severe than the pulling on the leash.
So, you have to make a distinction — “can I handle this?”
I knew that my dog potentially could really hurt somebody and I wanted to keep her from reacting, and I wanted to keep other people safe. Maybe I, at that time, I bit off more than I could chew. But in the long run, it did pay off. So, you really have to ask yourself, “can I handle this?” Because it is an investment of time. If you want to go ahead and do this on your own, be prepared to invest quite a few hours.
Again, ask yourself, depending upon — is it something that I can do at home? Is it separation anxiety? Can I get a crate? Can I use something like Rescue Remedy to help my dog? — or is it something that could endanger a member of the general public, like a bite.
Samantha: Right, I think that’s an especially important distinction to make. Sometimes, thankfully for you, you had a serious issue to deal with but you had the education. You were able to find the resources and you had the time to put into that. I think a lot of people underestimate that time factor of how long it takes. Whether you’re training or working on a particular behavior that you need to change, it’s a time constraint that a lot of people don’t foresee.
That’s one of the things that I hear so often from pet owners — they just can’t understand why their pet isn’t learning, whether it’s command training or behavior work, they can’t understand why their dog’s not getting it.
The first thing I always ask is — how long have you been working on this? — “Well, we’ve been doing it for a few days now.” A few days is not nearly enough time and I think a lot of dog owners highly underestimate that where — you can teach a child or you can teach another human being something in a matter of hours or a matter of days. We communicate the same way. We both speak the same language so it’s easy to teach and to learn in that aspect.
Canines and humans speak a different language and we have to work together to understand each other and that takes a lot more time. Some things — certain behaviors like you had mentioned may take months of work before you start to see any changes but you will get there if you keep up with it. You take the time and you are consistent with it.
Debby: And the other thing I want to point out Samantha, that is absolutely well said, absolutely true. It is a huge investment of time.
But, think about children who have been traumatized from the time they were very small. Some of them can never completely emotionally recover from that, and if a puppy was traumatized from the time it was very small…
I don’t know; I’ll never know exactly what happened with Nora. But I can tell you this, from the time I first met her until the day she died, she still retained a fear of men. She never forgot. So if the trauma is severe enough and repetitive enough for a human when they’re young, or for a dog, it can absolutely change their outlook on life completely.
If the trauma wasn’t as severe… The very first dog that I rescued off the street had been probably more neglected than abused. Over time I figured out she had been sort of shut down in somebody’s basement. She never ever wanted to go in the basement. She would go anywhere else in the house, she would go on the boat, she would go, but she never liked being in the basement. That was a memory she retained from who knows how long ago.
What ever had happened to Nora stayed with her her whole life. The day that our vet came to my house to put her to sleep, she did react when he came in the house. He had spayed her, he had treated her her whole life but he was a man and he was coming into our house. So her first reaction, and she was very sick at this point, she growled at him. She never forgot. So it depends on old the trauma was, it depends upon on how severe and repetitive it was.
Even for humans — there are people who will never completely recover from early childhood abuse.
Debby: So if you can ascertain — part of it is your dog’s personality — how much can they bounce back. But part if it is, so many people rescue dogs today, and when we get a dog in the situation, or from a situation like that, we don’t know what happened to them.
I was to able to finally piece together that Nora had these issues with men, and that there were other triggers as well. But it took me time, and I had to be very observant of how she reacted to different stimuli, so to speak. But mostly it was men. It was dark colored dogs; that was another trigger for her, and there were a couple of other ones that weren’t as severe, but those were the two big ones. And I didn’t know that when I adopted her, I had no idea.
Again, if you feel that you’re not prepared to deal with the severity of the issue, it might be a good idea to either — first work with a professional, and then if you can’t invest the time, depending upon the severity again of the issue, it might be a good idea to just say, “Well, maybe this isn’t the dog for me.”
Samantha: Absolutely. And I think another important thing to point out is that often times, shelters and rescue organizations don’t know everything about the dog as well. If they’re an owner’s surrender, sometimes they get a lot of information. Sometimes they even have past medical history, they know the vet that they worked with, and you get tons of information. But more often that not, the dogs are picked up as strays, or they’re dropped of when nobody’s at the shelter; they’re dumped there, and they don’t know either.
So, I think it’s really important that when you’re going, or thinking about adopting a dog from a shelter or a rescue, they may have been abused as a younger dog, and they shelter’s not aware of that. They may have behavior issues that the shelter isn’t aware of because, like you mentioned with Nora, she had an issue with dark colored dogs. If there isn’t a dark colored dog at the shelter at the time, they may not know that. If all the volunteers at the shelter that the dog has seen are women, they’re not gonna know that there’s an issue with men. So, it’s something to certainly keep in mind, when you adopt any shelter or rescue pet, that — chances are, it’s going to go great, and you’re going to put in some early training in the beginning and everything’s going to be fine. But there is that chance that there may be underlying behaviors, and those are going to take more time and effort on your part to work through those with the dog.
The other thing I’m finding out is that a lot more shelters now will try to do an assessment, a behavioral assessment of a dog, before they even put them up for adoption. So during that time when they might be in quarantine to make sure that they don’t have any medical issues, more and more shelters are being really careful now about trying to sort of, at least have some… As you said, these dogs arrive at the shelter with no human accompanying them, so the shelter is — they don’t know what’s going on either.
There are some tests though, that they can put dogs through, and it’s difficult, it’s challenging, because basically you’re stressing the dog out, which is hard — the dog just got to this new shelter, and they don’t know what’s going on — so it’s difficult. But, I would rather… That can be extremely helpful.
I didn’t know, for example, when I adopted my dog Nora, that the shelter had labeled her a “fear biter.” They really should have told me that, because that is a pretty serious behavioral issue. And I didn’t know it until Walt was sitting on the back steps with her, and he went to stand up, and that triggered her, and she tried to bite him. I mean, that was two weeks after I brought her home from the shelter.
Samantha: So what are the most common behaviors that you see in dogs, or that dog owners seek you out to try to change over? I mean I’m sure that fear aggression and fear biting is a common one. What are some of the other ones that you see quite frequently?
Debby: The three most common that I hear from dogs parents are — one, pulling on leash, and there’s a great harness that I recommend for that, which I’m happy to tell you about. Two is jumping up to greet people, and three — is barking excessively.
Those are the three most common ones.
Samantha: Oh, excessive barking. That’s a good one. I hear about that a lot, as well. Whether they’re inside or outside, sometimes both, excessive barking is a nuisance for a lot of people.
Debby: Dogs don’t understand that — Nora was great; she ended up being my four-legged alarm system, but she only did one, loud, deep, window-rattling bark to alert me. And as much as I love dogs, I really don’t enjoy hearing dogs who bark and bark and bark and bark and bark.
So those are the three most common ones. I suppose there are probably, depending upon where you live… I had a neighbor who lived not far from where I live now. He would leave his dog and go away and the dog would just bark. It was a beagle mix and it was sort of a baying bark. It was lonely, and the dog didn’t understand where her person was, and this neighbor didn’t see that that was disturbing to anybody. So depending upon the town you live in, that could be considered a nuisance. Obviously, jumping up can be — you don’t want a little child to be knocked over, or an older person to be knocked over, or you don’t want them to be scratched. Pulling when on leash — there is a harness called the Freedom No Pull Harness, that is one of the best tools that I’ve found for dogs that pull excessively.
Samantha: I agree. I love the Freedom Harness as well, and I quite often recommend that to pet owners dealing with pulling too.
Debby: Yes, and it’s a $30 investment, it’s extremely well made. Even if your dog chews on it, it’ll last. It’s also very comfortable; it’s padded underneath, where it goes underneath their front legs. And it works.
The other cool thing about that harness is that it helps to calm reactive dogs down very much like a thunder-shirt sort of swaddles the dog and makes them feel all cocooned in there. The Freedom No-pull Harness will tighten up a little bit right at the front part of their chest.
I used it on a very large standard poodle who is known to be extremely reactive to other dogs. It was like a switch flipped in her brain and she just stopped doing that, when she had the harness on.
Samantha: The other thing I love about the Freedom No-pull Harness is that it’s very easy to use; it’s very easy to put on your dog and to use every day for your day-to-day walks. There are some great resources on their website. And you can find YouTube videos as well that show how — they demonstrate how to put on and how to use it, super simple which I think is for pet owners, the investment in it and how user friendly it is are two of the biggest things that I hear from pet parents trying to figure out.
Some no-pull harnesses are a little bit confusing. They wrap around the dog in different ways and sometimes you have to buckle them in two or three different places. But the Freedom No-pull Harness is very easy to use too.
Debby: I agree.
It was a little intimidating — I think the first time I took them out of the box when I got them, I was a little confused. But once I could orient myself to that ring in the back — that Martingale-type ring that you clip the leash on — then all of a sudden the whole thing became very obvious — oh, this is where it goes under the legs, and this is how it snaps. But I remember looking at it just holding in my hands and thinking oh my gosh, this is a lot of webbing and rings and adjustments.
Samantha: It is. I always recommend the videos when I recommend that harness, is to just check out one of the quick videos because it does help a lot to see how it goes before you actually take out of the box and try and get on your dog.
Debby: Yes, that’s a good idea. I will remember that next time.
The other thing I teach people for barking is — one of the things that I’ve done for years is when a dog is barking at butterfly or something — and I have seen dogs do that I mean they bark at birds and butterflies. I’m like — oh my gosh.
I always ask people “How much exercise is your dog getting? How much are they burning off all that extra energy?”
And then too, I teach them to just gently take their hand and put it around the dog’s muzzle and say “quiet” or “no barking.” And when you say that, you don’t have to say it in a loud voice — dogs have very acute hearing; we don’t really need to raise our voices when we talk to them, when we want to communicate with them — unless there’s an emergency situation.
I’ll give you an example. One evening I was taking Nora out for her last walk of the day, and we had gotten to the end of our driveway and my eyes were still adjusting to the dark — it was Arizona so there were no streetlights; it was very dark — and I looked down and I realized “Oh my gosh there’s a huge skunk right here.” We had a lot of skunks in our neighborhood. And Nora started charging for the skunk and I yelled. And she had just been sprayed a week or so before. My brother and his family were coming to visit and she had gotten sprayed right in the face. I must have bathed her three or four times. And here it was a week later, eight days later, and she’s charging after another skunk.
It’s one of the few times I’ve ever yelled at her, and I said, “NO!” — I’m sure the neighbors thought I was crazy, but after that she never went after another skunk, and she never got sprayed again either.
So the tone of voice that you use is very important when you’re interacting with your dog. If you speak in a sort of a happy little sing-song voice, that’s the kind of voice you want to use to praise your dog like, “What a good girl.” Remember to always praise your dog. As soon as they even approximate what you’re trying to ask them to do, be encouraging. Smile. They do know the difference between our facial expressions. Try to be genuine, and try to be sincere because they will pick up on that immediately.
So your tone of voice, the volume of you voice. Whenever I had to emphasize something to Nora I raised my voice a little bit and I made my voice a little harder like “no, that is not an option” — she was doing something that I really, really did not want her to do. And she would stop, she would stop.
So what I believe is if we can give our dogs what they crave which is a lot of freedom, they will be happy, and they will in turn eventually reciprocate and do what we ask of them. So it’s a give and take situation. Like most of the relationships we have as humans. There’s a little give and there’s a little take and it goes back and forth and we reach a happy balance.
My last two questions kind of go together, and we have sort of touched on them a little.
The first one is about at home behavior work with your dog. I know you’ve given some examples of that so the answer to that question is that it can be done at home but we’ve also talked about how there are certain times where maybe you don’t have the time or the behavior is something that is quite severe that can maybe injure you or maybe somebody else so you want to seek professional help. There are some times where you shouldn’t be doing it on your own.
But if, let’s say your dog, for example, pulling on a leash or jumping, excessive barking — something that absolutely you’re capable of doing on your own and you have the time. Any resources that you might recommend for dog owners that are seeking to do it at home? And I know we talked about the No-pull Harness from Freedom which is great. And you mentioned the ASPCA had some great information on their website as well.
Debby: Yes, I highly recommend the articles online. Today there is a plethora of information out there. Anybody who’s seeking to work with their dog on non-severe behavioral issues has a wealth of information available that wasn’t available 10 or 15 years ago.
The other thing I would recommend — one of my favorite authors is Patricia McConnell. She has written columns. She has written a dog behavior column for The Bark magazine for years. She has published a number of books. “For the Love of a Dog” is one of my favorites. Philosophically I probably agree with her; her basic outlook and her basic philosophy is very much in sync with mine, so I recommend her books.
The latest book that Cesar Milan has just published, which came out earlier this year, is called, “Lessons from the Pack.” It is probably, I believe — I’ve read all his books — it is probably his best book to date for a number of reasons; I don’t want to give the whole thing away, but it’s not a hard read; it’s not a long book, but there’s a lot of genuinely helpful information; I’ve touched on it a little bit.
One of the other things that I found really, really made a difference with my dog is my overall demeanor when I’m approaching a situation. If I want to work on something that’s upsetting to me, and I’m upset about it, and I’m trying to work with my dog — is that going be helpful? No, it won’t. I’ve got to get into a space mentally of being hopeful, being optimistic. I’ve got to have enough information when I approach the problem so that if this technique doesn’t work I can try a different one.
I can modify a technique that I’ve read about, say, in a book, that will suit my dog’s individual personality. You’ve got to play with this. There’s no cookie cutter formula for every single dog. There’s something that worked pretty well for many dogs or most dogs, but your dog is an individual; your dog is totally unique, like every child, like every adult human; we’ve all — yes, we have things in common; we have similarities — but every dog is a unique individual so, you might have to take, like, one technique and merge it with another to have your dog listen and change the behavior.
So you’ve got to be flexible, you’ve got to be optimistic, you’ve got to be willing to be patient, and consistent, and you have to remember to praise your dog. They will…
I mean, I realized this with my own dog more — she would end up doing anything I asked her eventually, once she realized that she could trust me and that I wasn’t going to ask her to do anything crazy, and I would never put her in a situation where she would be afraid for a very long period of time. She was more than willing to do whatever I asked.
So, yes. There are lots and lots of resources available. And if you’re willing to dive in there, as I said, compared to 10 or 15 years ago, there is so much helpful information out there.
Once you find the technique though that works for your dog, be consistent with it. Don’t try something on a Tuesday and then switch it off again on a Thursday — your dog is not going to understand. “Wait a minute I thought we were doing it this way and now you’re, wait what?” If it works consistently then be consistent with it. And always remember to praise your dog. Always.
Samantha: Absolutely, those are excellent tips. Consistency is the biggest thing that I find dog owners struggling with when it comes to training so it’s definitely important to point that out.
Debby: I guess what I would like to say is that over the years I think I’ve only ever met one dog who I even thought was probably a hopeless case — I still have scars on my arm from where he bit me — and he was a Labrador retriever. I don’t know whether this dog was inbred or he had a brain tumor or I don’t know what happened. I don’t know.
What I want to leave people with is that there is always hope. 9.9 times out of 10, if your dog is exhibiting challenging behaviors there is almost always hope. The more time and energy you have to devote to your dog, the better the results will be. You can do it. You might need a little guidance and help from a professional initially, but absolutely positively you can turn your dog around and you can have a dog who you are proud to bring, you feel absolutely comfortable bringing in any situation that you could encounter and not worry. Absolutely positively. It is 100% doable in most cases.
Samantha: I agree. Quite often I think dogs end up in shelters because somebody bit off more than they could chew. They thought they would be able to work with the dog, and they couldn’t or — the dog has behavior issues that someone gave up on without taking the time and putting in the commitment and the consistency to help the dog. That, I think, is very important, as well, to share.
Debby: Yes, I always tell people at the end of a consultation, “There is hope.” If it’s a severe issue, it may require a little more time. It may require even the temporary use of a muzzle, in some cases. One of the other things, too — I would caution people to be wary of when somebody starts by using, what I think of as, fairly severe correction tools like a prong collar or a shock collar. You can change a dog’s behavior pretty darn quickly using those kind of things.
But I prefer to think of it as — giving the dog the choice, at least initially. “This is what I’m asking you to do or not do. We’ll keep doing this over and over again. I want you to eventually make the choice yourself. I don’t want to force you to make the choice.”
I’ve seen dogs who were trained pretty darn quickly using things like that, but there’s something missing in them. They don’t have that spontaneity anymore; they don’t have that spark of joy when your dog greets you after you’ve been away for an hour or something — they lose that. It’s a balancing act; it’s a fine line sometimes between changing their behavior, but not taking away that spark of life and that incredible joy they exhibit. That’s one of the things I love so much about dogs, is that they’re emotionally so honest. I don’t want to take that away from any dog.
Samantha: Absolutely, I agree with that as well. Dog training — there’s so many different methods out there, and, like we talked about earlier, the greatest thing about dogs is that they’re all so different. So finding something that works for your dog and sticking with that so they can learn what it is that you’re trying to teach them is especially important.
Debby: And not traumatizing the dog in the process; that’s really important. Because, again, you can force a dog… It’s kind of like those old circus acts where the trainer got the tiger to jump through the burning hoop. Yeah, you can force a tiger to do that, but what is the cost to the tiger in the long run for being forced to jump through a flaming hoop.
Most dogs, once they form that bond with their person, will really, really try hard to please them, when we humans can figure out how to communicate what we’re trying to get across to our dogs in a way that works, goes both ways.
They usually will go — oh, that’s it? OK, no big deal. I can do that. Oh, you just wanted me to do this or not do that? Oh, OK, fine, I’m happy to do that.
Samantha: So again, a big thank you to Debby for speaking with me on the topic of dog behavior work. And hopefully now you have an idea between the difference between behavior work and dog training. If you’re having some of those behavior issues, again, she mentioned some great tips and tricks, and some excellent resources as well, that we all can use. Those are all linked on our website, theoryofpets.com, so if you’re listening to this on YouTube or social media, just click that link onto our website, and you’ll find the links for like, the Freedom No-Pull Harness, the Cesar Milan book, the Patricia McConnell book are on there to link, the ASPCA site is there as well. So lots of great resources.
If you’re struggling, and you think you dog needs some behavior work, like Debby told us, you can try to work on that at home; just make sure that you have the time and the patience and that you’re going to be consistent with it. Of course, if you need help, she also gave us some tips for finding a behaviorist to work with as well.
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