Despite working cooperatively together for thousands of years and selectively breeding them for a broad spectrum of shapes, sizes, temperaments, and abilities, we still fail to fully understand and communicate clearly with our dogs. Dogs have retained a good deal of their original instincts and innate forms of communication. By denying this we do a disservice to the dog. By acknowledging it, but not honoring it, we do a disservice to the dog. We have a responsibility to understand their perspective. We have a responsibility to learn how to communicate with them in a manner that they understand, and teach them what is acceptable or unacceptable by providing consistent and meaningful consequences for wanted and unwanted behavior. Otherwise, in the case of a dog with behavioral issues, we risk condemning them to a life of constant rehoming or worse yet, the shelter and potential euthanasia. And in the case of a fairly well-mannered dog that has simply never been trained to comply with basic commands, we risk condemning them to a life that is largely excluded from family activities and trips because they are a liability. Training is freedom! So I help people learn how to fulfill that vital responsibility. After all, we are insisting that dogs live among humans. The dog never got the choice.
Dogs Are Individuals
My ideology in dog training, whether it’s behavior modification or obedience training, is the same for all dogs, but the methodology depends heavily on the dog as an individual—and dogs are individuals! Some dogs do not value verbal praise or physical affection, so those would not be effective rewards when training a behavior with that dog. Some dogs fill with fear if you use a stern voice as a punishment, while others might require something much more aversive. The personality of the dog, as well as numerous other factors, such as how the dog feels physically on a particular day, can impact what the dog responds to, and how they respond. We need to adjust accordingly in order to be effective and also fair.
Accountability is Compassion
This is the area where people have trouble. This is where most of us fail miserably. If your dog engages in unacceptable behavior, you need to create a contingency that will drive the dog to make a different choice. If you do “x”, then “y” will happen. It’s easy to reward good behavior, but knowing and understanding how to apply appropriate punishment is a concept that eludes many of us. It doesn’t help that the recent trend is to equate punishment to abuse. This is simply not the case. Punishment is anything that decreases or eliminates a behavior—nothing more and nothing less. Bitter apple spray on the furniture to eliminate chewing is a punishment. A leash pop to stop a dog from pulling on the walk is a punishment. It doesn’t involve anger, yelling, or harm of any kind. And it is absolutely necessary to stop a behavior. This is not debatable. Without it, many dogs can and do end up in shelters and/or euthanized—simply because we didn’t (or wouldn’t) tell the dog “no” in a meaningful manner. Many dogs get euthanized for simple things such as jumping. I can stop jumping in five minutes. Refusal to use appropriate punishment is not compassion, it is willful blindness—the refusal to know what could be known. If you want to feel compassionate, create contingencies with your dog’s behavior. Tell your dog both “yes” and “no”. Create a well behaved dog that gets to live a rich, full life because they are a joy to have around. If you are unclear on how to stop a behavior, the good news is that I have lots of experience, ideas, and tools to help you achieve desired results in a fair, balanced, and timely way. Punishment is not something we use to teach a dog what to do. There is no “punishment based training”. The bulk of any training program, including mine, consists of using positive reinforcement. Reinforcement always increases a behavior. There is no “punishment based training” as punishment can only decrease behaviors. Shaping behavior effectively requires a degree of objective observation and experimentation to strike the right balance of techniques with any specific dog.
My goal is to keep your dog in your home with you. We make a commitment when we bring a dog home, and part of that commitment is sharing consequences (both positive and negative). The alternative is just hoping for the best and discarding the dog or implementing stressful management techniques when things go awry. It doesn’t have to be that way—we can shape our own circumstances if we can just accept the responsibility.
Road Map to Success
There are, of course, nuances when training your dog. Not everything is simple. And there is a lot of variation among dogs. I am here to help people navigate those murky waters. I think the most valuable thing we can do as trainers or owners is to be willing to give each dog exactly what they need, which means fixing any imbalance we may have with affection and rules/boundaries. We must first acknowledge what we want as owners, this means you need well defined goals. You will need to know how to obtain them through creating the correct contingencies, and you must be willing to implement the four C’s of Diamond K9 philosophy: calm, confidence, clarity, and consistency.
Many people just want to make sure their dog has a solid understanding of basic commands. Some people want to stop undesired behaviors. Some people need help with both of those things. Whatever is is you want, it is all within your reach, and you’re improving both your life and your dog’s by making it happen. Training is freedom!