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The old adage goes "If it looks to good to be true it probably is." That saying couldn't be more true in the world of dog training! In a world of increasing desire for instant gratification and results, many people have transferred this desire onto their pet's behavior as well. This is exacerbated by popular TV programs and social media channels showing even out of control dogs transform seemingly overnight into well mannered, well adjusted pets. Understandably,  many owners are impressed with the changes, and the speed at which they happen, and hire a trainer to do exactly that. The problem is, these fixes don't last. So, what's really happening?

Behavioral Modification has Limits

Each dog is a unique individual, with a different genetic load, temperament, life experiences and personality than any other. The combination of these three aspects will determine many things about how your dog learns, and to a lesser extent, how much your dog learns. If your dog has a severe thunderstorm phobia, my goal will be teaching your dog to tolerate them, not to enjoy playing in the rain. If your dog has very high prey drive and low inhibition, my goal will be to teach your dog not to dart after small creatures, not to live in the same household as a cat. If your dog is truly dog aggressive, my goal will be to teach him/her to ignore other dogs in public spaces, not to become a dog park regular. 

Dogs are not machines that can be programmed, just as humans have limits and preferences, our canine friends do too. 

Training must be rooted in reality

It is important that we recognize that TV and the internet is not real life. Content creators are able to record as many training sessions as necessary to capture best behavior, edit out all mistakes and failed attempts, and also remove the "boring" aspects (the actual work) involved and only show the finished product. This creates an unrealistic idea that successful training is somehow quick, easy, and mess free. In addition to media magic, many of these trainers are using suppression techniques, which create a highly compliant pet in the short term, but lead to long-term consequences.

What is suppression training?

Suppression training is exactly what it sounds like- a dog learns to suppress the behavior he/she is used to showing, without actually changing how he/she feels about the situation that caused the "bad" behavior in the first place. The dog only learns that they were right to dislike the situation, and anxiety is added because they aren't allowed to respond to it without substantial consequence. Here's a common example:

A dog is nervous around other dogs, and will lunge and snarl in order to try to drive them away. Her owner rightfully doesn't like this behavior, so he puts her in an electric collar,  shocks her and yells "No!" when it happens. His dog very quickly stops the behavior, and the owner thinks this has remedied the problem. In reality, the dog never changed how she felt about other dogs, she was simply too afraid of punishment to act out. While e-collars can be effective depending on behavior and the motivation for the behavior, they are inappropriate for dogs reacting out of fear or anxiety. She begins to have the insecurity that caused her to react to other dogs color other aspects of her life- she may begin excessively vocalizing, fence running, digging, or finding other unwanted outlets for her nervousness. Eventually, it is almost certain that she will act out against another dog again, often with more intensity than ever before. The frustration she feels has been building and finally she will react, either in spite of consequence or with the consequence adding fuel to the fire. This is why so many "rehabilitated" dogs return to their problem behaviors.

Instead of suppressing behavior, it is my goal to change the way a dog feels about the stimulus in the first place. Using the most positive methods possible, I will focus on teaching your pet what to do in situations that challenge him/her, instead of focusing on what I do not want them to do. When a dog is only taught what is not wanted, that leaves infinite possibilities of things they believe you might want. It is imperative to focus on target behaviors for your pet to feel secure and be successful. 

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