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Frequently Asked Training Questions

Ten Questions To Ask Your Dog Training Professional Before You Hire Them

At Dog Training by PJ, we strive to provide you the best, up-to-date information on dog training. Additionally, we also recognize that often it is not necessary to reinvent the wheel. We aim to provide you with good, factual information; are we are frequently asked questions on various issues already exquisitely answered by Pat Miller, owner of Peaceable Paws Dog and Puppy Training Center in Fairplay, Maryland. She did an exemplary writing of FAQ's and has graciously given permission to Dog Training by PJ to use these.

Pat Miller has been training dogs for more than 35 years. She started her own dog training company on the West Coast in 1996, after five years assisting nationally acclaimed obedience instructor Judy Howard of Arydith Obedience. She moved the Peaceable Paws Dog and Puppy Training Center to Chattanooga, Tennessee in the year 2000. In 2004 she moved Peaceable Paws to Hagerstown, Maryland. Pat is also a freelance writer, regularly contributing articles on dog and cat behavior and training to The Whole Dog Journal, Bark Magazine, Your Dog (a publication of Tuft's University's Veterinary School), and several other publications. She is also Training Editor for The Whole Dog Journal. Her first training book on dogs, The Power of Positive Dog Training, was released by Howell Book House in August of 2001. She has also written Play with Your Dog, Positive Perspectives 2, and Positive Perspectives.

1. At what age should I start training my puppy?
2. Why should I crate train my puppy/dog?
3. Are electronic (non-visible) fences good to use?
4. Why don't you use choke chains or prong collars in your training?
5. What is your opinion on shock collars?
6. How do I stop my puppy from biting me?
7. Why should I spay or neuter my dog?
8. How do I keep my puppy from chewing on everything?
9. What's the best way to housetrain my puppy?
10. How long will it take to train my dog?
11. The Gift of Growl: Is growling okay?
12. Shock Collars: Great Positive Training Tool or Devil Incarnate?
13. Can Laser light play make a dog OCD?

1. At what age should I start training my puppy?

The sooner the better! Actually, very responsible breeders start training their pups as young as 5-6 weeks, so by the time they are placed in homes they already have a good start. Your puppy starts learning the moment he first sets foot in your house. You might as well make sure he learns the right things from day one.

Dog Training by PJ accepts puppies in classes starting at age 8.5 weeks. The only reason we don't take them sooner is that we want them to have at least two of their puppy shots for protection before they start romping with their classmates. At one time, when most trainers used choke chains and prong collars, puppies didn't start classes until they were at least six months old, because of the potential for serious damage to a puppy's tender trachea, occasionally even resulting in death, from the use of those force-based tools. Now that more and more trainers are using gentle, positive training methods, we have no fear of harming a young puppy, and we can start them at a very early age. We start new 6-week classes frequently at Dog Training by PJ, so you never have to wait more than a few weeks to get into a class. If you don't want to wait even that long, we can schedule one or two private sessions to get you started on the right training path until the next class begins.

2. Why should I crate train my puppy/dog?

The crate is an extremely valuable behavior management tool. It takes much of the pain out of puppy raising by keeping your pup safely confined when you can't directly supervise her. Puppies are usually housetrained in a surprisingly short time with the use of a crate, and the crate gives you peace of mind, knowing that your dog isn't peeing and pooping all over the house, or chewing on electric cords and antique furniture when you're not there to watch her.

Dogs if properly introduced to the crate usually love them. The crate can be your dog's own portable bedroom, so if you travel, or leave her at a kennel or with a friend, your dog can take her own little piece of home along with her wherever she goes.

Crates Are Good For:

Housetraining: If it's done right, crating can make housetraining a snap. Dogs come with a natural aversion to soiling where they sleep. Even puppies will try very hard not to eliminate in their crates. Properly done, a puppy's crate is placed in or just outside the master bedroom, where Buddy has the comfort of his nearby humans for company, and his humans can hear if Buddy wakes up in the middle of the night and cries to go out. Too often, new dog owners make the huge mistake of putting Buddy's crate downstairs in the laundry room. The puppy, fresh from the comfort of his mom and littermates, is frightfully lonely and cries his sad little heart out. Finally he does go to sleep, only to wake up at 4:00 a.m. with a full bladder. Now he cries again, desperate to get out and not soil his bed. The owner hears from afar, if at all, curses the noisy puppy and blames the crate for making Buddy cry. Buddy, unable to hold it any longer, finally poops and pees in his crate, then curls up unhappily in the mess. Human finds a filthy crate and puppy in the morning, exiles Buddy to the back yard and sells the crate at the next garage sale. The banished Buddy never learns how to be in the house, and the owner is convinced that crates are horrible.

Owner Peace-Of-Mind: Not only is a properly crated Buddy not pooping and peeing all over the Berber carpeting, he is also not chewing on electrical cords and antique furniture legs. Humans can sleep peacefully at night, or enjoy a leisurely dinner and movie date, without worrying about the mess they will find when they get home. Buddy gets to stay inside, happily nested in his den, rather than pacing the back yard, looking for ways to dig or jump out, barking at squirrels and disturbing the neighbors.

Protecting Buddy: Your relatives are coming over for dinner. As much as you love your dear sister, her children are not so mannered and find pleasure in tormenting poor Buddy. For his own safety, you invite Buddy to escape to his crate before the kids arrive, give him a stuffed Kong toy to keep him occupied, and return to dinner preparations, secure in knowing that he is out of harm's way behind your closed bedroom door.

Protecting the Kids: Unfortunately, Buddy's prior bad experiences with your sister's kids have left him with a definite aversion to small humans. Although your best friend's kids are exceptionally well-behaved and love dogs, you just don't trust Buddy around them. She's on her way over for coffee with her youngest child, so once again Buddy escapes to his crate. (Meanwhile, you make a mental note to contact a Dog Training by PJ so you can overcome Buddy's fear of children while he is still a pup.)

Safe Traveling: There's no arguing that a dog in a crate in a car is safer for all concerned than a loose dog in a car. Loose dogs can cause traffic accidents. Even if the dog doesn't cause the accident, a loose dog becomes a dangerous flying missile in a car that stops suddenly for any reason. If windshields are broken out in an accident, a loose dog can escape onto the highway and cause another accident there, or vanish into the wilds of unknown territory. If the dog remains loose in the car, he can be a serious deterrent to emergency personnel if he tries to protect his injured human from their rescue efforts. Safely confined to a crate, his chances of contributing to or being injured in an accident are greatly reduced.

Hassle-Free Travel: Many hotels and motels are much more amenable to allowing Buddy to stay in their rooms with you if you assure them that he will be crated. Friends and family, too, may be relieved to know that your canine pal is safely crated and not making midnight raids on the refrigerator (or the cat) while everyone is sleeping. Easier on Buddy, too, when he can take his own portable bedroom with him wherever he goes - even if he gets left at home in the boarding kennel while you visit the family.

Training/Time Outs: The crate is a perfect training tool for giving Buddy temporary time-outs in order to discourage inappropriate behavior. A time-out is not physical punishment. We don't yell at Buddy, tell him he's a bad dog and throw him into the crate. Instead, we use it for what trainers call negative punishment - the dog's behavior makes something good, in this case, Buddy's freedom, go away. Properly used, a time-out involves the use of a marker word or phrase such as "Oops! Too bad!" uttered in an upbeat tone of voice at the moment of unacceptable behavior (such as uncontrolled biting, or jumping up on the counter) to let Buddy know what the time-out is for. Then Buddy is gently escorted to his crate for a brief time-out. Once he settles down, he is released again and given the opportunity to keep his freedom by behaving well.

Crates are NOT Good For:

Physical or Verbal Punishment: A crate is Buddy's safe haven. He should never be punished while he is in his crate. Children and adults should not be allowed to tease or torment him when he is crated.

Long-Term Confinement: Buddy should not regularly be left in his crate for longer than four to six hours at a time, even shorter when he is a very young puppy. He gets very little mental or physical stimulation in his crate, and needs to be able to get out to stretch his mind and his muscles from time-to-time, to say nothing of emptying his bladder and bowels. Regular crating for periods of eight hours or longer could constitute abuse, and might induce Buddy to break housetraining. If a dog is regularly forced to soil his own sleeping area, he can eventually lose the instinct to keep his area clean and may be extremely difficult if not impossible to housetrain. Life in a box is not an acceptable life for a dog.

A Substitute For Training: While it is perfectly acceptable to crate Buddy in order to prevent him from climbing into guests' laps during dinner, the ultimate goal is to teach him to be well behaved so he doesn't have to be crated when company comes over. This means that you have to take the time and make the effort to teach him good manners, so that his crate time diminishes as he matures and learns to control his own behavior. Training classes offered at Dog Training by PJ are the ideal place to work on Buddy's good manners in the company of other dogs and humans.

How to Crate Train:

The crate is a sturdy plastic, fiberglass, wood, metal or wire box just big enough for Buddy to stand up, turn around and lie down in comfortably. It can be used with the door open, at Buddy's convenience, or with the door closed, when mandatory confinement is called for. Some pups walk right into their crates and hang up a "Home Sweet Home" sign. Others need a little more coaxing. Even adult dogs with prior bad experiences can learn to love their crates, if we take it slow and make it positive.

Remember that the crate should be just large enough for Buddy to stand, turn around and lie down comfortably. He doesn't need to be able to play football in it. If you want to get one large enough for your puppy to grow into, block off the back so he has just enough room, and increase the space as he grows. Cover the floor of the crate with a rug or soft pad to make it comfortable and inviting, and you're ready to begin training.

Start with the crate door open, and toss some irresistibly yummy treats inside. If Buddy is hesitant to go in after them, toss them close enough to the doorway that he can stand outside and just poke his nose in the crate to eat them. If you are training with a clicker or other reward marker, each time Buddy eats a treat, Click! the clicker (or say "Yes!" if you are using a verbal marker).

Gradually toss the treats farther and farther into the crate until he is stepping inside to get them. Continue to Click! each time he eats a treat. When Buddy is entering the crate easily to get the treats, Click! and offer him a treat while he is still inside. If he is willing to stay inside, keep clicking and treating. If he comes out that's okay too, just toss another treat inside and wait for him to re-enter. Don't try to force him to stay in the crate.

When he is entering the crate to get the treat without hesitation, you can start using a verbal cue such as "Go to bed" as Buddy goes in, so that you will eventually be able to send him into his crate on just a verbal cue.

When he is happily staying in the crate in anticipation of a Click! and treat, gently swing the door closed. Don't latch it! Click! and treat, then open the door. Repeat this step, gradually increasing the length of time the door stays closed before you Click! Sometimes you can Click! and reward without opening the door right away.

When Buddy is staying in the crate with the door closed for at least ten seconds without any signs of anxiety, close the door, latch it, and take one step away from the crate. Click!, return to the crate, reward, and open the door. Repeat this step, varying the time and distance you leave the crate. Don't always make it longer and farther - intersperse long ones with shorter ones, so it doesn't always get harder and harder for him. Start increasing the number of times you Click! and treat without opening the door, but remember that a Click! or a "Yes!" always gets a treat.

It's a good idea to leave the crate open when you aren't actively training. Toss treats and Buddy's favorite toys in the crate when he's not looking, so he never knows what wonderful surprises he might find there. You can even feed him his meals in the crate - with the door open - to help him realize that his crate is a truly wonderful place.

Sometimes dogs and often puppies can do the whole crate training program in one day. Some will take several days, and a few will take weeks or more. If at any time during the program your dog whines or fusses about being in the crate, don't let him out until he stops crying!!!!!! This is one of the biggest mistake owners make when crate training! Instead, wait for a few seconds of quiet, then Click! and reward. Then back up a step or two in the training program. When Buddy is doing well at that level again, increase the difficulty in smaller increments, and vary the times rather than constantly making it harder. For example, instead of going from five seconds to ten to fifteen, start with five seconds, then seven, then three, then eight, then six, then four, then eight, and so on. This is a vital part of a successful crate training program. If you let Buddy out when he is fussing, you will teach him that fussing gets him free. If, however, he panics to the point of risking injury to himself, you must let him out. You may have a dog with a Separation Anxiety challenge. (A crate is generally not recommended for dogs with Separation Anxiety, since they tend to panic in close confinement. If you believe your dog has a Separation Anxiety problem, stop the crate training and consult a behaviorist or Dog Training by PJ's trainers who have experience with this behavior.)

Once Buddy is crate trained, you have a valuable behavior management tool for life. Respect it. If you abuse it by keeping Buddy confined too much, for too long a period of time, or by using it as punishment, he may learn to dislike it. Even though he goes to bed willingly and on cue, reward him often enough to keep the response happy and quick. Keep your verbal "Go To Bed" cue light and happy. Don't ever let anyone tease or punish him in his crate.

3. Are electronic (non-visible) fences good to use?

There are several reasons why Dog Training by PJ discourages electronic shock fences. While we have certainly heard from people who have used them and are very pleased they can create many other behavioral issues.

In our community there are many areas that only allow you to use this way to confine your dog. However, often there will be a stimulus that is strong enough to entice them to suffer the shock and run through the fence. Batteries fail and collars malfunction. Other issues to consider when thinking of the non-visible shock fence – this "fence" provides no protection to your dog from outside intruders; other dogs, kids, and potential dog-stealers and abusers can enter your yard at will, and your dog is at their mercy. The fence can also contribute to aggression problems - if the dog associates the shock of the collar with a person walking by, or a bicyclist, or skateboarder, etc., he may become aggressive toward whatever he feels is the source of his pain. Finally, some dogs are very sensitive to electric shock, especially a shock that seems to come out of nowhere and attack a dog's neck. I have heard of dogs who literally refused to go out in to their yards because they were so traumatized by the electric shock collar.

Sure, it may work for some dogs, and often times the only allowed fencing in the community you live. If you have no other way to contain your dog be sure to use the help of a trainer who is familiar with this type of aversive training. Note: puppies younger than six months should not be confined with this type of "fence" and most of the manufacturers make this exception on their fencing.

You may wish to consider other options, come talk to us while we are at the local pet stores (for free) and we can help you do some "brain storming" and consider all your options. ( - come talk to us)

4. Why don't you use choke chains or prong collars in your training?

Choke chains and prong collars are tools of compulsion training, dependent on your willingness to force your dog to comply with your commands. At Dog Training by PJ we use positive reinforcement training, meaning that we consistently reward the behaviors that we want from our dogs, and manage or ignore (when possible) the behaviors that we don't want. Because all living things repeat behaviors that are rewarding to them, by using positive reinforcement we can get our dogs to voluntarily give us the behaviors we want, rather than forcing them. We don't risk damaging our relationships with our canine pals through the use of force and punishment, and we don't risk the physical harm that can occur with the use of punishment-based tools.

Training is not just about getting our dogs to respond to a list of commands. Training is about relationship - our way of being with our dogs. Choke chains and prong collars rely on pain to force compliance. We don't have to hurt our dogs to train them, so why would I use tools that, by definition, cause pain?

5. What is your opinion of electronic (shock) collars?

At Dog Training by PJ we don't use them and cannot conceive of any training challenge where it would be necessary to use one. Dogs can be trained and it is possible to train our dogs without inflicting pain on them. Certainly there are trainers who use them, and use them effectively. Dogs can be trained with pain, but they can also be trained very effectively without it. Why should we hurt our dogs if we don't have to?

By the way, don't be fooled by shock collar salespeople who try to tell you that the collars tingle, tickle, stimulate, or in some other euphemistic way just "get a dog's attention." Electric shock hurts. Ask them if you can put the collar on your own neck and turn it up to the highest level.

At Dog Training by PJ we believe in the importance of education for us, as trainers, for our clients and of course, the dogs we all love. Through continued education and learning, we've discovered leading behaviorists, trainers and other dog professionals, including leading educational veterinarians generally believe in non-forced training methods. We have listed just a few of them, including:

Dr. Nicholas Dodman: He was a guest speaker with guest host, Steve Roberts, on National Public Radio in August 2008. Dr. Dodman is a world-renowned animal behaviorist offers seven steps to manage and train dogs to be healthy and good canine citizens. Dr. Dodman is Director of the Animal Behavior Clinic at Tufts University's Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine and author of "The Dog Who Loved Too Much," "The Cat Who Cried For Help," and "Dogs Behaving Badly," among other books. This conversation can be listened to at:

Dr. Ian Dunbar: He is a leading authority on canine behavior and training. He received his veterinary degree and a Special Honors degree in Physiology and Biochemistry from the Royal Veterinary College at London University. He went on to obtain a doctorate degree in animal behavior from the University of California at Berkeley where he is the Director of the Center for Applied Animal Behavior Department. Among Dr. Dunbar's other credits are numerous books, videos and a dog training television show in the UK. He is also the founder of the Association of Pet Dog Trainers. Most recently, Ian, his wife Kelly and son James put their heads together and created an international online resource for dog and puppy owners called The Dog Star Daily. To hear a short presentation on training puppies and visit this web page

The San Francisco Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals includes in their electronic library additional information on Choke & Shock Collars: Obedience Training or Physical Punishments?

Karen Overall, M.A., VMD, PhD, Diplomate, American College of Veterinary Behavior further states "there is never any reason for pets to be shocked…"

6. How do I stop my puppy from biting me?

Biting is a natural puppy behavior. Puppies explore their world with their mouths, and they use their teeth extensively in play. Learning bite inhibition is an important part of a young puppy's education. If he bites his mom or his littermates too hard, they let him know. Mom may reprimand him roundly if his needle sharp puppy teeth close too hard during nursing, and his siblings may yipe and refuse to play with him if he bites too hard. One of the pitfalls of taking a puppy away from his littermates too soon is that he misses out on this important lesson. Pups should stay together with their litters and their moms until they are at least eight weeks of age.

Even then, our pups come to us with sharp baby-teeth, and we need to continue his bite-inhibition lessons. We can direct his chewing instincts toward appropriate chew toys (a stuffed Kong is ideal for this) as are various soft plush and rope toys. We can also imitate his littermates by giving a sharp, high-pitched "yipe" when he bites too hard, and stopping the play session by getting up and walking away. Our pup will soon learn that his behavior makes a good thing go away (this is called "negative punishment," and involves no physical correction whatsoever), and will learn to soften his bite so we will keep playing with him. After a brief time out of a minute or two, we can go back to playing. If he bites too hard again, give another yipe and do another time out. He'll get it eventually.

Do not use physical force or punishment, such as hitting him, holding his muzzle closed or forcing you hand down his throat. Some puppies will become aggressive when you do this, and others will learn to fear your hands. Neither of these is a good outcome.

7. Why should I spay or neuter my dog? I want to have puppies!

Approximately 6-8 million unwanted dogs, cats, kittens and puppies are euthanized in this country every year because there are not enough homes for them. If you breed your dog, you are a part of this problem, even if you find homes for every one of your puppies. (Overpopulation) Every home that adopts one of your pups is a home that could have taken a homeless dog or puppy instead - one that will end up dead on a shelter euthanasia room floor. In addition, you can avoid many health and behavior problems, such as mammary tumors (in females) and testosterone-generated aggression (in males) if you spay and neuter prior to the onset of puberty.

If you do insist on breeding, be sure you do it responsibly. That means purchasing a good-quality show-prospect puppy from a very reputable breeder, and being willing to spend the time and money to show her and confirm that she is worthy of perpetuating her breed. Then you need to do the research to find a suitable mate for her who will not compound her weaknesses, and pay to have various medical tests done to make sure her hips and eyes are sound. You will also need to pay to have the puppies vet-checked and vaccinated, and you will need to be able to take the time to socialize them well so they will be prepared to adapt to the big wild world when they leave the safety and comfort of their mother's side.

Finally, even after you have placed your puppies in homes, you are morally responsible for them for their entire lives. If their new owners ever find themselves in a position where they cannot or do not want to keep their dog, you should be willing to take that dog back into your own home. This promise should be a prominent part of your sales contract.

Think about it. If you want to raise puppies, instead of breeding, call your local shelter or rescue group and ask if you can foster a mom with young babies. You will have the satisfaction of saving lives that might otherwise have been ended, as well as knowing that you are not contributing to the tragic problem of pet overpopulation.

8. How do I keep my puppy from chewing on everything??!!

Manage, manage, manage. A pup who is still in the chewing stage should be under constant supervision, or confined to a safe secure puppy-proofed area. Provide him with plenty of irresistible toys. The best are interactive toys such as stuffed Kongs , Buster Cubes and Roll-A-Treat Balls . A cold, frozen Kong can be especially soothing to a teething pup's sore gums. Soft toys such as rope tugs and plush toys are also very inviting to puppy teeth. When he wants to chew on an inappropriate object, direct him toward an acceptable chew toy. If he insists on going back to the table leg, give him a cheerful "Oops! Time-out" and put him in his puppy-safe place.

The best puppy-safe places are in or near places of family activity. You pup will be very unhappy if you shut him away in an upstairs bathroom. We will be more content in his time-out place if it is a wire puppy pen set up in the middle of the den or living room, where he can still be among his human pack members.

You can also try some of the commercial no-chew sprays and creams. They work well for some pups. Others just seem to regard them as icing on the furniture cake.

9. What's the best way to housetrain my puppy?

Whether you are facing the challenge of housetraining a new puppy or retraining an adult dog with inappropriate bathroom behaviors, the approach is the same: manage the behavior to prevent mistakes from happening while you teach appropriate toilet habits. The differences are that while a puppy may not yet have the physical ability to control his need to eliminate for long periods, at least he probably hasn't learned to soil indoors and will have a very strong instinct to keep his den clean. The unfortunate exceptions are puppies raised in very dirty conditions (like many of the puppies raised in puppy mills and sold through pet stores), and those who have been forced to soil their crates repeatedly through improper confinement.

A healthy adult dog is perfectly capable of controlling his elimination urges, so in some cases an adult dog can be housetrained very quickly, especially if she hasn't spent much time indoors. If, however, she has a longstanding habit of urinating and/or defecating indoors, reliable housetraining can be a frustrating goal to achieve. In these cases we sometimes must settle for managing the behavior in order to prevent house soiling.

We use the "umbilical approach" to housetraining puppies and adult dogs. This means that the dog is always either in a crate or pen, on a leash attached to you (or restrained nearby), under the direct supervision of an adult or responsible teen, or outdoors. Establish a daytime routine - go out *with* the dog every one to two hours. (If you want him to use a particular bathroom area of the yard, always take him on leash to this same spot when you go out with him.) Do not just send him out to "do his business" on his own. You won't know if he did anything or not, and you won't be able to reward him for doing the right thing. Go with him. When he urinates or defecates, Click! the clicker (or tell him "Yes!") and feed him a treat. Then play with him for a few minutes before bringing him indoors, as a reward for going. If he doesn't go, bring him back in, put him in his crate, and try again in a half-hour or so. When you know he is "empty" you can give him some relative but still supervised freedom for a half-hour or so.

If he has a mistake indoors, do not punish him after-the-fact. It is your mistake, not his. He won't even know what he is being punished for. Quietly clean it up (using an enzyme-based cleaner like Nature's Miracle, Clean "n Fresh or other good enzyme-based cleaner to be sure you get all the odor) and vow not to give him so much freedom. If you must spank someone with a rolled up newspaper, hit yourself in the head three times while repeating, "I will watch the dog more closely; I will watch the dog more closely; I will watch the dog more closely."

If you catch him in the act, calmly interrupt him and take him outside to his bathroom spot. Again, do not punish him. If you do, you will only teach him that it isn't safe to toilet in front of you, and he will learn to run to the back bedroom to do it.

Keep a daily log for one week, writing down when (and what) he goes. Once you have this documentation of his routine, you can start reducing the number of times you take him out, based on his elimination schedule. As he becomes more trustworthy, you can start to give him more freedom. If he backslides it is your fault, for giving too much freedom too soon. Back up to a more restricted routine, and proceed more slowly.

At night he should be crated, in or near your bedroom. If he wakes up in the middle of the night and cries, he probably has to go out. You must wake up and take him out, Click! and reward when he goes, then bring him back and immediately return him to his crate. We don't want to teach him that crying at night earns a play session!

Dogs do not house soil out of malice or spite. They just don't think that way. If your dog urinates or defecates every time you leave him alone in the house, chances are it is related to stress, perhaps separation anxiety, not malice. Punishing him will only make him more stressed, and make the problem worse. If you are having serious housetraining problems, you may need the services of a trainer or behavior consultant. The majority of dogs, thank goodness, want to keep their areas clean and will happily learn to use appropriate bathroom spots if given the chance. Just one of the many things we love about them.

10. How long will it take to train my dog?

Her whole life! Seriously, this is an impossible question to answer. It depends on you, your dog, and your training goals. We have dogs that are continually learning – especially if you continue to train and teach them. Every time you are with your dog, every day, one of you is training the other. If we stop training our dogs, we become the trainees - which doesn't usually bode well for the dog-owner relationship!

Most basic training classes are six to eight weeks long, with you going to class once a week with your dog, for about an hour each time. At the end of a basic class, some dogs are well on the way to being reliable with their basic cues and behaviors, others still have a long way to go. Once you have completed basic training, you can find opportunities to continue your dog's education to more advanced levels, where he will become reliably responsive to your hand signals and voice cues, even at a distance, even in very distracting environments. Finally, if you choose to do so, you can pursue training even further and explore the almost endless list of great dog sports and activities. Remember, dogs have the ability to learn 200 English words through association – let's do our best to teach them as many "good words" as possible.

11. The Gift of Growl

Our clients always appear a bit stunned at first when we tell them their dog's growl is a good thing. In fact, a growl is something to be greatly treasured. Often, these are aggression consult clients, who are with us in desperation, as a last resort, hoping to find some magic pill that will turn their biting dog into a safe companion. They are often dismayed and alarmed to discover that the paradigm many of us grew up with – punish your dog harshly at the first sign of aggression, has only contributed to and exacerbated the serious and dangerous behavior problem that has led them to my door.

On one hand it seems intuitive to punish growling. Growling leads to biting, and dogs who bite people often must be euthanized, so let's save our dog's life and nip biting in the bud by punishing him at the first sign of inappropriate behavior. Makes sense, in a way – but when you have a deeper understanding of canine aggression, it's easy to understand why it's the absolute wrong thing to do.

Most dogs don't want to bite or fight. The behaviors that signal pending aggression are intended first and foremost to warn away a threat. The dog who doesn't want to bite or fight tries his hardest to make you go away. He may begin with subtle signs of discomfort that are often overlooked by many humans – tension in body movements, a stiffly-wagging tail.

"Please," he says gently, "I don't want you to be here."

If you continue to invade his comfort zone, his threats may intensify, with more tension, a hard stare, and a low growl.

"I mean it," he says more firmly, "I want you to leave."

If those are ignored, he may become more insistent, with an air snap, a bump of the nose, or even open mouth contact that closes gently on an arm but doesn't break skin.

"Please," he says, "don't make me bite you."

If that doesn't succeed in convincing you to leave, the dog may feel compelled to bite hard enough to break skin in his efforts to protect self, territory, members of his social group, or other valuable resources.

What many people don't realize is that aggression is caused by stress. The stressor may be related to pain, fear, intrusion, threats to resources, and past association or anticipation of any of these things. An assertive, aggressive dog attacks because he's stressed by the intrusion of another dog or human into his territory. A fearful dog bites because he's stressed by the approach of a human. An injured dog lacerates the hand of his rescuer because he's stressed by pain.

When you punish a growl or other early warning signs, you may succeed in suppressing the growl, snarl, snap or other warning behavior – but you don't take away the stress that caused the growl in the first place. In fact, you increase the stress, because now you, the dog's owner, have become unpredictable and violent as well. And if you succeed in suppressing the warning signs, you end up with a dog who bites without warning. He learns that it's not safe to warn.

If a dog is frightened of children, he may growl when a child approaches. You, conscientious and responsible owner, are well aware of the stigma – and fate – of dogs who bite children, so you punish your dog with a yank on the leash and a loud "No! Bad dog!" Every time your dog growls at a child you do this, and quickly your dog's fear of children is confirmed – children do make bad things happen! He likes children even less, but he learns not to growl at them to avoid making you turn mean.

You think he's learned that it's not okay to be aggressive to children, because the next time one passes by, there's no growl.

"Phew," you think to yourself. "We dodged that bullet!"

Convinced that your dog now accepts children because he no longer growls at them, the next time one approaches and asks if he can pat your dog, you say yes. In fact, your dog has simply learned not to growl, but children still make him very uncomfortable. Your dog is now super-stressed, trying to control his growl as the child gets nearer and nearer so you don't get mean, but when the scary child reaches out for him he can't hold back any longer – he lunges forward and snaps at the child's face. Fortunately, you're able to restrain him with the leash so he doesn't connect. You, the dog, and the child are all quite shaken by the incident.
Time to change your thinking.

A growl is a dog's cry for help. It's your dog's way of telling you he can't tolerate a situation – as if he's saying, "I can't handle this, please get me out of here!" Your first response when you hear your dog growl should be to calmly move him away from the situation, while you make a mental note of what you think may have triggered the growl. Make a graceful exit. If you act stressed you'll only add to his stress and make a bite more, not less, likely. Don't worry that removing him rewards his aggression – your first responsibility is to keep others safe and prevent your dog from biting.

If the growl was triggered by something you were doing, stop doing it. Yes, your dog learned one tiny lesson about how to make you stop doing something he doesn't like, but you'll override that when you do lots of lessons about how that thing that made him uncomfortable makes really, really good stuff happen.
This is where counter conditioning comes in. Your dog growls because he has a negative association with something – say he growls when you touch his paw. For some reason, he's convinced that having his paw touched is a bad thing. If you start by touching his knee, then feeding him a smidgeon of chicken, and keep repeating that, he'll come to think that you touching his knee makes chicken happen. He'll want you to touch his leg so he gets a bit of chicken.

Note: Make sure your dog's discomfort with you touching his paw is not related to pain. If it hurts when you touch him there, counter conditioning won't work. It's a good idea to get a full veterinary workup if there's any chance your dog's growling may be pain-related.

When you see him eagerly search for chicken when you touch his knee, you can move your hand slightly lower and touch there, until you get the same "Where's my chicken?!" response at the new spot. Gradually move closer and closer to his paw, until he's delighted to have you touch his foot – it makes chicken happen! Now practice with each foot, until he's uniformly delighted to have you touch all of them. Remember that the touch comes first, so it consistently predicts the imminent arrival of chicken.

If at any time in the process – which could take days, weeks, or even months, depending on the dog and how well you apply the protocol – you see the dog's tension increase, you've moved too quickly. Back up a few inches to where he's comfortable being touched and start again. Or, there may be other stressors present that are increasing his tension. Do an environment check to be sure nothing else is happening that's adding to his stress. Have the rowdy grandkids leave the room, give him a little time to relax, and start again.

Remember, dogs can't tell us in words what's bothering them, but they can communicate a lot with their body language and canine vocal sounds. Pay attention to what your dog is telling you. Listen with heart and compassion. Be gentle when your dog tells you he needs help. Come to his rescue. Treasure his growl.

12. Shock Collars: Great Positive Training Tool or Devil Incarnate?

The chasm between those who abhor the electronic/shock collars as an abusive dog training tool and those who support and promote it as an exceptionally effective and humane training tool is so huge it will probably never be bridged. In the middle of that canyon are those who believe that the collar can be an effective training tool for very limited circumstances in the hands of skilled professionals, and those who prefer not to use them but feel compelled to educate clients who insist on using them on how to use them properly.

How could the dog training/behavior community be so divided over a simple tool? Perhaps because the tool is not so simple – perception in large part depends on what you read, who you believe, and your own personal training philosophy.
Many trainers and behavior professionals who adhere to a positive training philosophy find the idea of using the shock collar abhorrent.

Dr. Karen Overall (see question #5 above,) highly respected veterinary behaviorist and author who ran the Behavior Clinic at the University of Pennsylvania Veterinary School for more than 12 years, says, "Let me make my opinion perfectly clear.: Shock is not training – in the vast majority of cases it meets the criteria for abuse… No pet owner needs to use this technique to achieve their goal. Dogs who cease to exhibit a problem behavior usually also cease to exhibit normal behaviors."

Trainers who use and like the collars argue that the e-collar of today doesn't even remotely resemble the shock collars of yesteryear. Collars commonly used 15 years ago had three to five levels. According to the companies that sell them and the trainers who use them, today's collars are much more sophisticated, and can be adjusted to very low levels that create a non-aversive "stim" or "tap" sensation that shouldn't even be called a shock. Indeed, Innotek's ADV-1000 model has 15 levels, the while the Dogtra 200NCP goes even further, with a dial that ranges from 1 to 100.

Shock collars were initially used primarily for the administration of harsh positive punishment and/or negative reinforcement. If your duck hunting or Search and Rescue dog took off after a rabbit, you'd hit the button to shock/stop him with a significant jolt. The dog's behavior of "crittering" makes a bad thing (shock) happen and the behavior consequently decreases; positive punishment. Or, if your dog didn't come promptly when you called, you'd hit the button and keep the button pressed until the dog came and sat in front of you. The dog's behavior of coming to you makes a bad thing (shock) go away, and the behavior of coming when called increases: negative reinforcement.

Since positive or "dog-friendly" trainers use primarily positive reinforcement and secondarily negative punishment, and only rarely and/or as a last resort use positive punishment or negative reinforcement, that would seem to rule out the use of the shock collar. (See Sidebar: APDT's Definition of "Dog-Friendly"

However, some trainers claim to use the newer models as a behavior marker for basic training – a positive reinforcer similar to a clicker; as a "Keep Going Signal" to tell the dog he's doing the right thing and to continue doing it; or as a mild "interrupter" – like a tap on the shoulder, to say, "Hey, look at me!" Some even tout miraculous results – rehabilitating a fearful, unsocialized dog in 20 minutes; installing total off-leash control in 5 days or less; all resulting in happy, unstressed, well-behaved dogs and greatly enhanced relationships between dogs and owners. They argue that the label "shock collar" is no longer appropriate, and create new names for their tool and techniques, such as "e-collar," "electronic collar," "e-touch," "stim," and "tap" to avoid using the harsher sounding "shock" word.

Of course, the collars do work – at least some of the time. If they didn't, they wouldn't be as widely sold and used as they are. Success stories about electronic underground fence collars, remote electronic training collars, and electronic bark collars abound. So do horror stories. It's easily possible for things to go wrong, however, with an electronic collar.

It's confusing, at best, to hear the convincing arguments of those trainers who claim to use electronic collars at a low setting as a gentle way of communicating with dogs. If pressed, however, most of them will readily admit to their willingness to turn up the dial if/when the dog stops responding to a low level "tap." Most will also insist that it's appropriate to use higher settings when they feel it's necessary to apply positive punishment to a dog.

If you're tempted by those trainers' arguments to use an electronic/shock collar in your training, you won't know until it's too late if your dog will be one of the successes or one of the failures. By the time you find out, it may be too late to undo all the damage to your dog, your relationship with him, and his relationship with the rest of the world.

How do you decide your position on the use of this controversial tool?
Steve Lindsay, well-respected behavior consultant and author from Newtown Square, Pennsylvania, supports the limited use of electronic collars in educated hands, and argues for calling them "electronic" rather than "shock" collars. He writes in his recently-released Handbook of Applied Dog Behavior and Training; Volume Three, Procedures and Protocols, "The combined advantage of immediate and reliable radio-controlled delivery of precisely regulated electrical stimulus (ES) make electronic training a viable and humane alternative to any traditional techniques for applying negative reinforcement and punishment."

Lindsey bemoans the fact, however, that "large numbers of radio-controlled e-collars are sold in pet stores to relatively naïve and inexperienced dog owners without much in the way of appropriate instruction regarding their use, misuse and potential for abuse." He acknowledges that potential for abuse is all too real. He also chastises collar manufacturers for not being more forthcoming with critical information about the electrical output of their collars (voltage, current and power, pulse and waveform characteristics) along with an explanation of the significance of the information, so consumers can select the product best suited to their needs.

Conversely, Dr. Overall holds unwaveringly to her position. "I know there's a lot of discussion about what we call electronic collars. But they are all "shock" collars by the definition of physics and their mechanism of action. They all seek to be aversive."

In the end, each owner/trainer must make his or her own decision about whether the shock collar is an appropriate tool to use. Check out the resources listed below, if you still need help deciding your position on the issue. It may depend on the dog, or the behavior and circumstances. It may just depend on your own personal training philosophies, and whether you, like me, are in line with Dr. Overall's thinking and choose to use tools and methods that are clearly dog-friendly, designed to encourage dogs to think and offer behaviors without fear of aversive consequences – a dog-friendly philosophy as used by Dog Training by PJ and precludes the use of shock collars.

Possible Link Between Electronic Containment Systems And Aggression: Five cases involving severe attacks on humans by dogs who were being trained or maintained on an electronic pet containment system.

Dutch Study on Short and Long Term Behavioral Effects of Shock Collar Training Conclusion: That being trained is stressful, that receiving shocks is a painful experience to dogs, and that the S-dogs evidently have learned that the presence of their owner (or his commands) announces reception of shocks, even outside of the normal training context.

Study on Physiological Effects of Electronic Collars, sponsored by collar manufacturer

Online photo of Border Collie being "snake proofed" with shock collar. Note stress body language – averted eyes, hunched body posture

13. Can laser light play make a dog OCD?

In 2007 there was an article on a behavior, that read, there is a study in progress, no conclusive research as of yet, that using a laser does cause a neurological change in animals, dogs are the main animal they are studying. (no site was given) However: this is the response by one of the Veterinary Information Network Behaviorists when asked that same question in 2006:

Gary Landsberg on 06/19/2006 4:28:19 PM ET wrote: There is certainly some evidence that dogs that go through intense games of laser or light chasing can develop a repetitive disorder and over-responsiveness with respect to shadows or lights, which may be a result of goal frustration - in other words constant chasing with no ultimate reinforcement. Dogs that get a reward at the end of the chase (e.g. Food, chew toy) and dogs that tire of the chase on their own may be less likely to develop a compulsive disorder but may certainly learn the light chasing "game" with other lights. Cats may develop similar problems but seem (to me at least) to be less likely to do so, because most cats tire of chase games before the owners.

Gary Landsberg BSc, DVM, DipACVB (Behavior)
MJ Mulholland, DVM, JD, MS, MA, CPDT, CTC
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