As a vet, I get asked behavior questions all the time, both at work and here through the blog. They are important questions, questions that set the tone for the entire bonding process and the life of the pet. They are complicated questions, more often than not. I am happy to answer them as follows:
“Has he been to training?” I ask. If they say no, I tell them to go find one. If they say yes, I tell them to call their trainer and ask them. Boom. Next question. Hopefully it’s about roundworms.
The thing is, I know a lot of the basics: crate training is good, fear is the source of much aggression, number of litterboxes should equal number of cats plus 1. I know the concepts, but the execution thereof is another story altogether. It usually involves a conversation longer than I am able to address in the time I am given for an appointment, even if I were well qualified, which I am not. I don’t mean to be dismissive when I’m not able to go into the minutiae of crate training during a vaccine appointment, I just feel you are better served by someone who answers that question all day every day. I would hope the trainer would do in kind by referring specific health questions to me, which they usually do. In severe cases, a veterinary behaviorist may be in order.
With both Emmett and Mulan I put them through a basic adult obedience class at the local pet store; it was fine for general manners, but I wouldn’t say either of them were highly obedient. I decided since I had a puppy, young and impressionable and not yet screwed up, I wanted to go all the way and train him thoroughly.
So I did what any seasoned, insider veterinary professional would do when looking for a dog trainer- I googled “San Diego dog trainer.” (I’m lazy.) There are a lot of options. A family member suggested a program that uses electric collars- I know it worked for her and her dog did well, but I just couldn’t bring myself to feel right about it. I read some reviews, thought about what was important to me, and found a place whose philosophy seemed in line with mine.
We had our first private session this weekend, and it confirmed an approach that seemed natural, logical, and effective. The trainer, as it turns out, has worked with a few of my colleagues- all with great dogs (I suppose I could have saved myself some time by just asking them for recommendations in the first place, but it would have deprived me of the joy of surfing the web). The training tools we will use are a plain collar, a leash, and my voice, and we’ll go from there. When Brody’s done with his vaccines, we’ll add in group classes. They offer beginning through advanced obedience, therapy dog / good citizen certification, and agility. They know a lot more than I do about what dogs are thinking.
I feel the same way about kids, which is why the preschool teacher for my two was able to accomplish in one week the potty training I had failed at for over a year. The idea of homeschooling gives me the shakes and I get all sweaty. Mammalian behavior, in general, is not my strong suit.
There is something reassuring about having someone more experienced than you walking you through a process and giving you feedback, even if it’s stuff you kind of know, but not particularly well. I’m hoping it will also help me give a little more solid advice in the office; at the very least, I can offer a bit more sympathy to those having housetraining issues before handing them my trainer’s card then returning to feeling for descended testicles.