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No and Know…

January 19, 2016 by Melissa

In April of this year, I will have been officially training dogs for 11 years; five of those “full time,” meaning training as my only full time job. I absolutely love my career; being a trainer is beyond rewarding despite the various challenges. To list all the things I love about this job would take me days to write. Simply put: dogs, people, and their relationships.

As the years have passed, I have continued my professional education both “in the classroom” and through new experiences. I read scientific studies about behavior, attend webinars, participate in Facebook groups, read books and articles, and continue to take on new, challenging cases. Every learning experience has been beneficial. My abilities to have a more open mind, use a variety of approaches, and find creative solutions have continued to develop.

Every person, every dog, and every relationship is special and unique. There is no “one size fits all” resolution or fix. Each client I work with, my goal is to develop a protocol that will lead to success. Success is defined as a person or people in a happy, fun, open relationship with their dog. Communication, understanding, and cooperation are in place and working for ALL participants – human and canine.

Sometimes the solutions are fairly straightforward and quick to implement; other times it may take months, or even years of work to help the relationship reach its full potential. Regardless of how long, complex, or challenging the implementation, my core philosophy remains the same: teach, coach, support, and encourage; the people and the dogs! To scold, belittle, cause pain, or condemn is not only unprofessional, it is hurtful, destructive and demeaning – to the people AND the dogs.

So when people ask if I use “positive training,” I always answer by sharing my philosophy. I make it clear in my explanation, there will be solutions to the problems presented and both dog and human will learn how to be successful. I demonstrate my philosophies; I put my beliefs and theories into practice. You know, the old saying of “practice what you preach…”

I often share with clients my personal challenges and experiences as a dog parent. I was not always a trainer; I made A LOT of mistakes. I learned from my mistakes; got better at understanding my dogs and figured out new ways to find success. And, not one of my dogs has been “perfect” or “easy.” Tucker was stubborn, willful, and extremely smart; Takoda could be very demanding and difficult if things did not go “his way;” Kirby was leash reactive and fear reactive; and Quincy can be overconfident and pushy in one situation, yet fearful and easily startled in another. Each dog taught me how to be better, to communicate more clearly, to establish a set of rules to make the relationship successful and find a common ground where everyone is happy. I learned patience, creativity, and understanding go a long way.

And with my own dogs and client dogs: Not once did I resort to pain, fear or intimidation. Not once did I use a shock collar. Not once did I hit, choke, or spray a dog in the face. Not once have I suggested such a thing. Not once did I “just throw cookies” at the problem. Not once did I permit a dog to be unruly, harmful or dangerous. Not once did I consider being permissive because teaching was too hard or would take too long. Not once did I suggest only treats can be used to train a dog.

Why is that important? Because of a certain TV show. Because of misconceptions and stereotypes. Because of products “guaranteeing a quick fix.” Because of YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter. Because of “old school thinking.” Because too many people want to put things into a category. Because it is just easier to assume…

If I were to say I am a “balanced” trainer, many people out there assume I would use “alpha rolls” and shock collars. The alpha stuff is a myth, by the way. And has been debunked over and over and over and over again – by science. If I were to say I am a “positive” trainer, many people assume I just use cookies to bribe dogs to do things for me. Motivational rewards are used in all facets of life and animal training, by the way. Proven to work – again by science. That science, it is a real pain when you want to just assume…

In this world of needing to label, of wanting so badly to categorize, and endless assumptions, know the power of No. No to fear and pain. No to stereotypes and labels. No to going along with “we’ve always done it that way.” No to being told there is only one way.

Know every day is a learning experience; an opportunity to grow, understand and develop new skills and insights. Do not assume you already know all there is to know; about yourself, your dog, or your life. Do not close yourself off to new ideas, approaches, and solutions. Keep an open mind; listen and observe; and do not judge. Do this for you and your dog. When you train your dog, be a coach, teacher, and supporter. Establish clear rules, eliminating confusion and frustration. Build a relationship on trust and communication. Know what you want, show your dog how to achieve it, and reward success – yours and your dog’s!