If I were cornered and had to come up with the briefest of brief description of what we do as dog trainers, it would probably be something like “Dog trainers educate”. We certainly wear many other hats: we coach, we cheer-lead, we plan, and of course, we train dogs. But educating people is a task that typically fills many of the slots on a dog trainer’s daily calendar. Our clients and students reach out for help—or simply to learn more about training and dogs—and we step right up. In both classes and private sessions with dog owners, we regularly pontificate about all things canine.
We don’t just speak to our clients, though. Dog trainers, in an effort to educate and improve dogs’ lives more broadly, deliver seminars and webinars, create podcasts or act as expert sources for journalism across the spectrum. And, we write. We write about living with dogs, and training dogs, and training people to train dogs. Many graduates of The Academy for Dog Trainers write for audiences that include both other dog professionals and dog owners. The Academy supports these efforts however we can, and part of how we do so is including in the curriculum content to help students hone their writing skills.
Our students practice in our webinars, as well as via assignments, games and contests. Writing is included in our curriculum because written homework is an important part of working with clients. Good writing requires a hefty amount of knowledge, experience, and skills, and we want our graduates to provide homework to their clients that is clear, concrete, and easy to follow.
To support our graduates in their work of creating and sharing great content about dogs, the Academy has decided to select and submit a number of articles to the annual Writing Competition held by the Dog Writer’s Association of America. These articles showcase our graduates’ skills and knowledge of dogs, and focus on topics that matter in dog training. The following authors and articles were selected this year:
If you’re a puppy parent searching for guidance on how to socialize your puppy, you risk coming across some concerning misinformation, even from professional trainers. The most worrisome recommendations include ‘Don’t use food during socialization,’ and ‘Don’t teach your puppy to expect good things from strangers.’ This advice is misguided and dangerous.
And, there’s something delightful that happens when you’re training a dog using reward-based training. After a while, the dog will usually start to experiment with their behavior. It’s as if the dog is asking, “Does this work? What about this?”
Sylvie Martin (website, Facebook, Twitter). Sylvie wrote How Plain Vanilla Dog Training Gives Power to the People for the Crosspaws blog.
But if the boot camp operator guarantees to turn our dog into the “perfect family member” in just a few weeks, if the doggy day care staff assure us their experience in dog training results in “better behaved” and not just tired dogs, if the behavioural trainer talks about “relaxation exercises” and wants to “improve our relationship with our dog”, we need to ask a lot more questions. What exactly do these people do to change our dog’s behaviour?
She also wrote How to Get Your Anxious Dog to Play for the Crosspaws blog.
Maybe your dog discovers how much fun it is to rip cardboard boxes apart and doesn’t need food reinforcements anymore or they love finding some tasty morsels you have hidden inside the box. The important thing is that your dog is having fun. And, hopefully, you have fun watching your dog being happy.
So, how do I guide people when they call for training but don’t really know what they want?
I ask them. Many times, they have ideas in their mind. And if they don’t, I make some suggestions based on everyone’s welfare. See, my goal in training is really all about making sure the dog is safe and happy and that my clients are happy with their dog. If both of those things are true, I’ll feel I’ve done my job even if the dog only knows a very few basics.
Much like when we get around our own doctors, many of us don’t feel comfortable challenging our dog’s veterinarian. They are the experts after all. Sometimes a bit of pushback, however, can do a world of good in terms of our dog’s stress level, as well as our own. Though many vets are moving away from this model of care, there are those out there that still practice the “take them in the back” form of examinations and procedures.
The problem with punishing a dog for urinating in the house is that it doesn’t help to solve the problem, it may make your dog fearful, and it can even make the problem worse.
If there might be a medical issue, it’s important to see a vet first. Only once medical issues are resolved or ruled out can you work on house training.
If it’s a house training issue, it’s up to you to train your dog by preventing accidents from happening in the first place, rewarding the dog for toileting outside – and keeping this up for three weeks without mistakes.
Zazie also wrote Confidence and Emotions Affect People’s Use of Positive Reinforcement to Train Reactive Dogs for the Companion Animal Psychology blog.
If you’ve never had a reactive dog, then you’ve not experienced those grim moments of hanging on to the leash while your dog lunges and growls at other people or dogs. Feelings of anxiety and embarrassment are often compounded by negative reactions and comments from other people. But while reward-based methods are the best way to resolve behaviour issues, they aren’t always what people use.
When thinking about animal cruelty, it is the negative experiences that are considered. Animals can have negative experiences that relate to their internal states, such as feeling pain or thirst. But negative experiences can also relate to the animal’s perceptions of their situation: for example, feelings of fear or panic due to the perception of a threat.
I have a dog because watching her nose work is simply fascinating, as are so many of the other things she does. Did you know that dogs can have up to 20 whiskers on each side of their upper lips, depending on the size and breed of the dog? These whiskers, known as vibrissae, pick up shifts in airflow so that a dog can gather information about its surroundings.
Lori also wrote Overcoming Car Sickness and Anxiety for the BARKS from the Guild magazine.
People are left scratching their heads when it comes to canine car sickness and anxiety.
It often feels much like a chicken or egg question: which came first? Why is my dog getting sick in the car? Is it because he’s anxious about being in the car and this makes him feel sick? Or is my dog suffering from motion sickness and has become anxious in the car because of this?
As you may be aware, dog training is a wholly unregulated industry. That is, anyone can open shop, take your money, and do whatever they want to your dog. Hitting, shocking, and yelling are just the start of some of the negative and wholly unnecessary experiences that dogs may receive while being trained by a subset of dog trainers (and that is to say nothing of the trainers who are motivated by a desire to help dogs but lack formal education, skills, and experience, so end up taking handfuls of dollars from unsuspecting clients and failing to make a difference).
Kristi also wrote Yes, I’m Angry About That Training Advice for the Kristi Benson Dog Training blog.
Once the puppy sat, the button on the shock collar should be released, according to this dog training guide, which was given to real actual people with a real actual puppy. This guide wasn’t from the Byzantine era, either, where toga-wearing and torture was de rigueur. It was from this year.
Kristi prepared Overcoming Fear of Dog-Dog Play: An Interview With Suzanne Bryner for the Academy for Dog Trainers blog.
Suzanne now gives her own students this opportunity to habituate and even enjoy dog-dog play through graduated video exposure, based on her own success.
I have students and play group attendees and clients who want to do that. They want to watch dog play. I send them videos to look at and watch, because they want a tougher skin so they can advocate for their dogs. Advocating for their dogs–that’s what my Bruisers Play Group, actually all my play groups, is all about.
Kristi also wrote Into the Middle of Things: Dog Training Lessons from the Best Fiction for the Companion Animal Psychology blog.
And that’s actually another way that fictional writing is allegorical to professional dog training: we focus on what matters. The books you read are not ten billion pages. The entire family tree of the main character back to revolutionary France is not included. You do not learn the name of their favourite childhood doll nor the brand of coffee they bought in 1987. You, curled up in an armchair with a mug of mocha and a rare evening all to yourself, learn just what you need to know to make the story work.
The Academy keeps an eye on all of our graduates’ blogs, as they are the voices of the future of dog training. We commend all our bloggers who are refining and developing a voice, and who spread quality information, with a lovely turn-of-phrase, about dogs. This includes The Inquisitive Canine, My Fantastic Friend, Upward Hound, SubThreshold, Wag the Dog, Yaletown Dog Training, Melanie Cerone, Practical Obedience, Bravo Dog Training, Lucky Fido, and Hanging with Hounds.