In The House of Dog – What’s In A Name?

I think that the most important point in the relationship between a dog and their owner is when they name the dog.

Think about it. Think about when you named your dog. And I mean, really think about it. Take a few minutes, stop reading this for a minute or two, close your eyes and think about that moment when you named your dog. What emotions are stirred up inside you right now? A spark of joy when you saw that wagging little puppy tail? Or a maybe a hint of sorrow, since the dog you are thinking of may have passed on. When you think about the dogs you have had in the past, when you speak their names, what do you feel?

Names hold a lot of power. Names are a certain amount of power that we exercise over the things around us; things we love and things we fear, we name them in the hopes that we will understand them and be able to have control over them.

When we don’t like someone, we use ugly and degrading names for them. When we love someone, we use cute and funny pet names. When we name our dogs, we impart to them (without knowing that we are doing this) characteristics and ideals to them without the dog knowing this. My wife picked Flynn’s name, after the character Flynn Ryder from Tangled. And that name affects how both of us view him. We’ll use words like goofy and charming, and “he’s giving you the smolder”, when we talk about him. And Flynn is most likely blissfully unaware of what we are talking about.

Sometimes I feel like a name is also an expectation of what we should expect from that thing in the future. If you name a car you bought a lemon, then you expect that car to break down frequently. When it does break down, you are just as exasperated with it; but when it keeps running when it shouldn’t, you’re ecstatic. Think about hurricanes? What names do you remember?

I think a lot about when I name myself a “dog trainer”, what effect is that having on me and on the people around me. It implies that I have a knowledge and understanding of dog behavior, or at least I should. It also implies that I understand how best to apply said knowledge to behavior problem your dog is having. It implies that I can teach you, the owner, how to do it. And for the most part, that’s true. But I’ve met some behaviors that I’ve never seen before, some dogs whose behavior we couldn’t change, and owners who I couldn’t teach (or possibly who wouldn’t learn).

Think about your dog’s name. Think about what you were hoping for when you named your dog. Think about how you let your dogs name affect your behavior towards them and in response to their behavior. Think about what kind of a power you want that name to have and work towards it.

Keep working and moving forward!

Happy Tails everyone!

-Ben

In The House of Dog – Resolutions and Resolve

New Years Day started for me the way so many days have started for me in the past two years. I was out in Baker, the cloud cover was just breaking away and the day was getting warm. The client’s house sits on this beautiful piece of property. They have a variety of livestock, and the husband is working on their barn when I arrive. It really was a beautiful day. I won’t go into the details of why that client contacted me, but I will say that they had some concerns about their dog’s behavior and I was able to allay those fears during the assessment.

I did what I feel like any honest, upstanding person should do: I told them that they didn’t really need me. I could have helped some, but nothing that these competent dog owners couldn’t and wouldn’t do on their own. When I gave them my assessment of their situation, they understood immediately what they needed to do and how they should go about doing it. They had a “light bulb” moment and started to plan on how they could begin working with their dog.

Now, I could have given them the doom-and-gloom speech, and believe me when I say that I have looked several owners in the eye and told them that is wasn’t a matter of if but rather when their dog was going to bite someone. I have an obligation to be honest with people. After all, their dog’s fate may very well rest in my hands.

That being said, I can always use more business. 2019 was a good year, overall, but the holidays have slowed things down. Again, I can be dishonest with myself and blame the economy or the holidays. I used to work for a person who said that business always took a hit during election years. I don’t know if he was right. I guess that I got complacent for a while. I always have and always will give my clients 100%, and when I am working with you and your dog, you are getting everything I’ve got. But maybe when it comes to the aspects of pushing my business, I’ve gotten lax. Could I be more aggressive in getting my name out there? In making contacts and expanding my professional network? I almost certainly could and will do so. I guess that’s my New Years Resolution?

What about you? What is your resolution? Is it losing weight? Exercising more? Training your dog?

There is one thing that you need for a resolution: Resolve! See what I did there? Seriously, if you don’t like pun based humor, this blog isn’t for you. Anyway, you need resolve. Can you build up your resolve? Well, sure, through repetition. Start simple. Say no to that one extra piece of leftover Christmas candy. Go for at least one 15 minute walk. Ask for your dog to Sit at meals. Do that for a few weeks. Soon, it will become a habit, and once it’s a habit, it’s hard to stop!

When it comes to dog training, you have to start small. Your dog will not be magically obedient over night. It will take time, persistence, and resolve. But you can do this! And if you can’t, that’s why you have me!

Happy New Year, everyone! And if you are former client reading this, thank you so much for making 2019 such a successful year for me! And if you are a new client or think you might need help with your dog, then I hope this encourages you to contact me! I would love to speak to you about it!

Happy Tails everyone!

-Ben

In The House of Dog – The Christmas Special

Admittedly, I am a bit of a Scrooge. I just have never been a huge fan of Christmas. I attribute this mainly to a dislike of shopping and not being overly fond of Winter. What can I say? I prefer warmer weather and longer days. But that is another conversation entirely.

As a dog trainer and someone who is well acquainted with what happens in the pet world around the holidays, I also view Christmas from a somewhat jaded perspective. You see the memes rotating around Facebook about older dogs being surrendered to make room for new puppies, and puppies acquired at Christmas only to be surrendered a few months later. You hear stories of vets treating more cases of pancreatitis and intestinal blockages (Seriously, folks, bones are bad for dogs! Stop!). The holidays are rough on your pets.

So, as a dog trainer, what advice can I offer you to make the holidays safer and more enjoyable for you and your pups? I’m glad you asked!

First of all, if you are entertaining guests at your home (and especially if you are entertaining guests with their dogs), make sure your dogs have some space just for them and give them breaks from the party. A bedroom or den, somewhere there is not a lot of foot traffic is ideal. Provide them chew toys like Kongs or something else equally tasty to chew on. Also, remember that in exciting situations, that accidents happen. Yes, those kind of accidents. Remember to walk your dog frequently, and give them plenty of opportunities to potty.

Secondly, there is going to be food. Lots of food. Lots of tasty food that is not very good for us, but extremely bad for your dog. There are some foods that you might prepare that your dog CAN eat. There are plenty of lists on the internet but the best source of what is safe for your dog is your veterinarian. And remember, I know that Fido is cute when he begs, but if you are not sure what you can give him, then don’t give him anything! In all fairness, we prepare special plates for our dogs at Thanksgiving and Christmas. If you are interested to know what we fix, please let me know!

Thirdly, be aware of what your dog’s limitations are. Is your dog a chewer? Maybe leaving presents under the tree is not always a good idea. You are also likely going to be pressed for time and not always be able to train. My words of advice are always: if you can’t modify it, manage it until you can modify it. In other words, if you can’t trust your dog in the kitchen unattended, then don’t let them in the kitchen!

Finally, be patient! Remember that the holidays are stressful for everyone, dogs included. This season is almost over, and it’s okay to do what you need to do (as long as it is humane and within reason). If you need some advice on what to do with your dog, let me know!

Otherwise, I hope everyone has a wonderful and safe holiday, and a most Happy New Year!

Happy Tails everyone!

-Ben

In The House of Dog – Conflict and Resolution

Peace cannot be kept by force. It can only be achieved by understanding. — Albert Einstein

Dog training is a form of conflict resolution. The conflict is the dog’s behavior and the owner’s subsequent response to that behavior. The resolution part falls to the dog trainer. As someone who has an understanding of canine behavior, as well as human behavior, it’s my job to bridge the gap and bring peace into a household. But that’s not as easy as it sounds. Actually, it doesn’t even sound that easy.

Unfortunately, there are as many “methods” of dog training as there are of conflict resolution. Every trainer is different, and every dog is different. But we both learn the same way. And that’s what makes dogs and humans compatible. When it comes to dog training and conflict resolution, the method used to resolve the conflict is just as important as the goal of resolution.

Some of you may have heard this comparison before, but go along with this one for me: Let’s say you come to me in the hopes of getting you over your crippling fear of snakes. Now, I can do this a multitude of ways, but only certain methods are actually going to work. I could take an old fashioned approach, and punish you every time you look away from or disengage the snake. The fear of the punishment, in order to keep you engaged with the snake, will need to be strong than your fear of the snake. So, the question becomes is your fear of the snake any less or are you experiencing a greater fear from the punishment? Eventually, you will choose the snake because you are so afraid of the other punishment and you will feel like you will have no other choice in the matter. This is called learned helplessness.

Unfortunately, there are many people out there who call themselves trainers who use this exact process. They believe, incorrectly, that a dog is finally being calm; when, in fact, the dog is displaying learned helplessness. I’ve seen it too many times than I care to count. It’s absolutely heartbreaking.

This is why I prefer scientifically proven methods that employ positive reinforcement. Let’s take the snake example again. I’m going to get you over your fear of snakes. And we’re going to start by giving you an amount of money every time you look at the snake. Then we’ll start moving you closer to the snake, increasing the amount of money if necessary, etc., until you are more comfortable with the snake. Eventually, you’ll start seeing that snake as a form of income. The snake now has a value to you, beyond your fear of it. You might not ever love the snake, but you would learn to tolerate it much better.

Now which method would you prefer? That’s what I thought…

The second method is how I train, and how hundreds of other trainers train dogs. And we see the best results. And more often than not, we are called into cases to help dogs that went through the first method and came out worse.

So here’s the thought I’m going to leave you with: Peace is the only acceptable outcome for conflict resolution, because without that, someone is always going to get hurt.

Happy Tails everyone!

-Ben

In The House of Dog – Giving Thanks

“Gratitude is the sign of noble souls.”— Aesop

Well, friends, tomorrow is Thanksgiving. I know most of us think it’s corny to sit back and reflect on what we have and should be thankful for. But how often do you really do that? How often do you stop and think about everything good in your life? Are you thankful for your family, friends, pups?

What does this have to do with dog training? Well, in practical application, not a lot. But it helps you with your training and your mental health while you train.

A thankful attitude can help keep you positive when you are running into problems. Can’t quite master that stay? Or need to improve your timing when it comes to your dog’s reactivity? It’s good to be aware of your shortcomings, but also be thankful for where you are and how you have gotten there.

We should also be thankful for these wonderful creatures we share our lives with. I’ve never met a day so bad that Flynn and Phillip couldn’t fix. It doesn’t matter how depressed or lonesome I feel, those two can always make me feel better.

“When the Man waked up he said, ‘What is Wild Dog doing here?’ And the Woman said, ‘His name is not Wild Dog any more, but the First Friend, because he will be our friend for always and always and always.’”—Rudyard Kipling

We should be as thankful for our furry family as much as we are for our human family.

So, this blog post will be shorter. I honestly just wanted to put a few thoughts out there and to say this:

I am very thankful for many things. For my wife, my family and friends, my pets. I am also thankful to get do this for a living. And I am thankful for you, my clients and everyone who has supported my business. I truly could not do this without you and your support means more to me than I can truly express. Thank you so much!

Have a happy and safe Thanksgiving everyone!

In the House of Dog – Learning and Teaching

I’ve spent the last hour looking for a quote, but can’t seem to find it. The quote says something to effect of that teaching a student makes the teacher better. It’s true. Teaching a student makes the teacher better.

As a dog trainer, I’ve got two kinds of students. My clients are one kind of student. What they want me to teach them if focused in a very narrow way. The client wants help with their dog, with the behaviors their dog is displaying. Once that behavior is changed or on it’s way to being changed, the client is no longer in need of my tutelage. While I view my clients as always being one of my students, the truth is that they move on with their lives and so do I.

But there is a second kind of student. There are those individuals that are crazy enough to want to learn how to be a dog trainer themselves. Few of these students last. I’m not the best teacher, but I know when I can or can’t teach someone. The ones I can’t teach say things like “I don’t like people so I want to work with animals!” or “I just love dogs a lot more than people”. Those kind of people shouldn’t be dog trainers. It doesn’t mean they can’t find a good job working with animals, but dog trainers, or people like me who could easily be called an obedience instructor, specialize in working with people.

I don’t just train dogs. I train people to train their dogs. Teaching a would-be dog trainer isn’t much of a change from doing that. There’s a lot more science involved, a lot more reading, and a lot more work on the part of the student. But teaching a new dog trainer has an unintended side effect: it makes the teacher better.

I’ll be honest, before I went on vacation I was in a serious state of depression. But, at my wife’s request, I took on a coworker of hers as a student. And she has been an excellent student. But having her riding along with me, asking questions, watching me teach, has made me want to be a better teacher. It pulled me out of my depression and reignited my passion for training and behavior work. It’s also forced me to keep expanding my knowledge in a more aggressive manner.

I wasn’t lucky enough to have a mentor or teacher to guide me through my early life as a trainer. Most of what I learned, I learned through reading and other resources. But I relish the opportunity to help another trainer learn. And it makes me more excited to work with my clients as well. It keeps me focused, reminds me that I need to keep my skills sharp, and expand on them constantly.

I’ll make an announcement soon about my new apprentice, but thanks for reading today.

Happy tails!

-Ben