In The House of Dog – To Everything, There is a Season

For everything, there is a season, and a time for every purpose under Heaven – Book of Ecclesiastes 3:1

Fall is my absolutely favorite season. Besides having my two favorite holidays, it has some of my favorite colors. I feel like the days are just the right length. I like cool, crisp mornings. I like falling leaves. I’m not afraid to say that I like pumpkin spice. I like Fall. It’s a season of change.

Not everyone likes change, though. My wife, for instance, absolutely despises even the slightest change to just about anything. She is the ultimate creature of habit. As a trainer, I wouldn’t say I like change so much as I recognize the need for it. If your dog is biting people, that probably needs to change. If your terrier is chasing squirrels at the park, that probably won’t change (we can talk about that another time). Change is necessary for life. Evolution is necessary change for survival. If an animal cannot adapt to changes within it’s environment, it will become extinct. Change happens whether we like it or not.

Why am I talking about change? Well, this is going to be one of those rare blogs where I don’t talk about behavior. I want to talk about changes in my approach, both in how I am training dogs and how I am conducting classes.

Let’s talk about the changes in the training first, since that is going to be a shorter conversation ironically enough. As a trainer who specializes in behavior, I have to consider which training methods work best for the dogs I am working with. The first big change is that I will no longer be teaching “Sit”. Now, before you ask why, the answer is very simple: within the dog world, sitting is usually a behavior displayed when a dog is feeling uncomfortable. From a training point of view, “Sit” is a next to useless cue. “Down” is always preferable for big dogs, and is more comfortable for dogs in general. So, I will no longer be teaching “Sit”.

The next big change in my training methods is using the functional reinforcer more often. What is the functional reinforcer you ask? It is exactly what it sounds like. An example of a functional reinforcer would be a dog growling at you and you taking a few steps back. Now, you ask “Why would you do that? I want him to stop growling at people to begin with!” The reason we are going to acknowledge and use the functional reinforcer is that it keeps the dog in a calmer state of mind, and gives a clearer definition of the dogs threshold and tolerance for the trigger. A dog under a severe amount of stress can’t learn, and since that is what you are paying me for, that is what we are going to accomplish. This may mean using more visual barriers, shorter bursts in training or keeping a higher threshold for a longer period. But it will help, trust me!

The next big changes I want to cover in how I will be conducting my classes. After some observations of both owners and dogs, I’ve determined that this change needs to happen.

For puppy and obedience classes, there will be two sessions a week, each session being closer to 30 minutes with a 3-4 days between sessions. I’ve decided on this course because I feel like many owners need a little extra help. I feel like I’ve been spending a lot of time on the phone or texting lately; and while I have absolutely no problem with answering questions, I want to make sure that owners are getting the information they need the first time if possible. So, instead of being five 45 minute sessions, there will be ten 20-30 minute session depending on the class and what we are covering. The prices of the classes will change a little, to reflect how often I will be working with you. I feel like this method is going to help owners immensely.

For Concerned Canines classes, we will be doing a similar change. Depending on what we are working on, we will meeting 2-3 times a week, for 25-30 minutes. If we are working on dog reactivity, we may be meeting only twice a week, or the third session that week might include decoys or have some obedience work. Also with Concerned Canines classes, there will be less of a focus on obedience work and more free shaping work. While the class will have less structure, it will be more effective in the long run for modifying the behavior. Finally Concerned Canines classes, I will advising that we work together for longer periods. In extreme cases, owners need to be prepared to work together for several months. The reasoning behind this is that simply you can’t schedule a behavior change. Everyone recovers from stressful and frightening things differently, at different paces. Dogs are no different.

I want to take a moment and express how much I appreciate all of you, friends, family and clients for supporting my business. For the most part, my business has grown very quickly and I couldn’t have done that without the support and patronage of everyone! It means the world to me! Thank you so much!

Happy Tails everyone!

-Ben

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