First ever consultation with a dog trainer

March 21, 2009 at 7:42 am 2 comments

DISCLAIMER: This blog post was written in 2009. We no longer do Obedience Training using “dominance”-based methods. We no longer use collar corrections. These methods made Boogie MORE TENSE, MORE TRIGGERED and more prone to aggressive behaviors. We switched over to reward-based methods in February 2010 and saw improvements. 

Posted Date: : Mar 21, 2009 3:38 PM

Jill Bowers, dog trainer came to visit for our first consultation today. She remarked on how “non-aggressive” and “calm” Boogie was. While she was talking with us, Boogie was snoozing on the couch. She also commented on how cute and adorable he is… which of course, we already know. 🙂

So what causes a dog like Boogie to indulge in naughty destructive behavior when home alone? Why does he pull on the leash and what makes him lunge at people and other dogs? Why did he go over to the dark side?  Jill said it’s not uncommon for rescue dogs to be fairly calm and docile at first, and then when they get settled and comfortable in their new homes, they show their true colors.

I think the biggest myths and lessons that we learned today were as follows:

Boogie thinks he is Alpha Dog. Yeah, no kidding. But here’s the twist. I always thought that being Alpha Dog was like a status of privilege for any member of a pack, a position that dogs fight for. When in fact according to Jill, being Alpha = Anxiety. Dogs don’t really want to be Alpha. It’s in their nature to fill the position because they haven’t been told otherwise. When Jill worked with packs of wolves, the Alpha wolf was the most stressed member of the pack. The Alpha feels he has to take charge. He feels he has to lay down the law, set the routine, lead the way etc etc. The purpose of training is to convince the dog that he does not need to be Alpha. (Reminiscent of Cesar Millan philosophy) More than anything, dogs crave routine and consistency. A non-Alpha dog who is told what to do, is a more relaxed and happier dog than an Alpha dog. Which now makes sense when you consider what happens when you leave an Alpha dog at home alone…

Crate-training. Sigh. I admit that I still don’t feel comfortable about putting any animal in any cage … but for training to be successful, Jill says that we need to get Boogie a crate, and I am starting to understand the potential benefits. When Boogie has a safe place that is his own to chill out in when home alone, this will address his separation anxiety issues and relieve anxiety in general. Jill said that an important part of our training will be the command “Go to your place”… and Boogie will know to settle down in his crate/cushion. I could say “Go to your place” before I leave the apartment and Boogie will know what to do and relax (instead of rearranging the furniture and chewing cushions). Eventually he will go to his crate by his own whenever he feels stressed.

Jill: “The first 20 minutes of being left alone are when dogs are the most stressed because they don’t know what to do with themselves. This is when they go through the trash and chew things.” Having Boogie crate-trained also means that when we let him stay at someone else’s place with his crate, he has some place to go and feel secure. (Christa, your cushions and trash too, will be safe!)

Me: But what if my friends’ dogs aren’t crated and Boogie is crated? Will this be unfair to him?

Jill: YOU think it’s unfair. Boogie will be glad that he has his own space. In fact he may not want other dogs around him all the time and will be relieved that he has a crate to go to.

Jill’s Mailman Theory: “Everytime a dog barks at the mailman and the mailman turns around and walks away, the dog WINS. When the mailman returns, he barks again. The mailman walks away as he does, the dog thinks again that he has won. If the mailman keeps returning to the same territory, the dog gets angrier and angrier with him.” This explains why dogs have a problem with the mailman. Fortunately today, Mr. Mailman was around to witness Boogie under Jill’s leash control. “Yeah, train that dog!” the Mailman said, and then we told him the Mailman vs Dog theory and he laughed. He got it 🙂

Boogie’s random  acts of aggression. Jill thinks that this is an “energy” thing. It could be Boogie picking up on the other person’s energy or it could be our energy, or it could be a symptom of his anxiety in general.

The Myth that dogs aim to please. Jill doesn’t believe in rewarding with treats while training. “I want the dog to focus on me, not on getting a treat, so I reward with praise”. Dogs love praise and are the most loyal beings ever but this doesn’t mean that they live to please. That’s a myth. Dogs are very selfish beings. They are out for themselves as sweet as they are. Boogie has his own interests at heart. I have no doubts about this.

Pulling on the Leash. Jill: “This is because he hasn’t been taught to HEEL”. Heeling will be one of our first lessons when we start the training. Boogie will also be corrected by leash  and Boogie will learn to know which behaviors are good or bad. I think this training will be awesome for all of us. I think a big part of the problem is that we are not communicating effectively with the Boogs… He doesn’t understand what we are saying through no fault of his own.

Things that we should not say. The word “NO”. Don’t say NO unless you are sure that the dog understands what the word means. If you keep saying NO over and over it becomes a totally meaningless word. Likewise, if you give a command and the dog doesn’t respond, don’t repeat it. Give a correction, then when he responds, praise him. We will learn how to “correct” with a Sprenger collar and leash. (No more harness!) She also advised us not to say Boogie’s name too often. This one is hard because we like saying Boo-gie... We say it all the time just because he looks so cute.
So, our 5-lesson training will start on April 11th. after Wes and I return from our overseas trip. That’s a total of 6 hours. ($650) and includes two free weeks of bootcamp…

We are going to buy a crate this week. Let’s see how Boogie adapts to having his own space. Will be leaving the crate door open until training starts.

Me: “Is it true that by the end of this training I can walk Boogie off-leash and he will be obedient?”

Jill: “Absolutely. Some dogs learn in 2 weeks, with other dogs it can take 2 years. But the goal of this is to no longer be dependent on leashes or collars. You will be able to have him off-leash and trust him.”

Wow. That is some goal. I love it.

Entry filed under: Social stuff, Training.

Boogie Monster Update Boogie’s unhappy day

2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Alex V  |  June 14, 2012 at 11:52 am

    Hi lili. This training sounds much different from the BAT and positive reinforcement type training you’re doing today. If you don’t mind me asking, what made you decide to make the switch?

    • 2. lili  |  June 15, 2012 at 5:58 am

      Hi Alex
      This post is really old. This was our first trainer … this was all before BAT and the Positive reinforcement type of training I am doing now.
      Generally speaking, I found the training program to be really harsh. I did my best but it was emotionally stressful for me. I had to micromanage Boogie’s every move and use prong collar corrections for every single thing. We couldn’t move onto the next lesson until we had mastered the basic commands (sit, stay, down, come) and we weren’t making any progress. Boogie’s neck was red and sore, and I couldn’t bear to “correct” him any more even though the trainer said I wasn’t correcting him hard enough, I wasn’t dominant enough etc. Behaviorally, Boogie was getting worse …everyone noted that he was miserable, mopey, tense, more reactive and aggressive, less sociable. I started researching other methods, reading books, etc…. and I found Grisha online (this was when BAT was still really new), started using a clicker, found a new trainer (Sarah).


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