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Please help! New member has question about trainers methods

April 30th, 2012, 08:31 AM
Hello, I am a new member here and I have a question that I really need advice on. About three months ago I adopted a dog from a rescue agency. A little history on him, they are not sure quite how old he is, about a year or so. They found him in Novemeber and he probably had little human contact before this. That being said, he is a sweetheart from what the foster family and I have seen, but of course has some behaviour issues. I will probably be asking advice in the near future, but I need help ASAP with a current situation.

I should also add that we have another dog, about two years old who we have had since he was a puppy. They get along wonderfully, with the occasional snap over toys, but we have not had any lasting issues with them together.

We started basic obedience with our new dog, and he picks up things very quickly and the command training is coming along nicely. We had a trainer lined up to work with him, but she became unavaliable, so I found another to come and work with us. The trainer came to our house to work with him, and I should add here, we have not had a lot of visitors since we got him. That being said, he started barking at people when they came over, but it seemed once he got used to the person, it stopped. I should add he is/was very people shy when we got him, though has come along way! However, when the trainer came, he of course started barking, which was normal, however this behaviour escalated to him actually snapping at her as time went by. Now I appologise for the big back story, but I really need help!

My question to the forum is if you think the trainer handled the situation appropriately. I have not seem my dog get that escalated before, though I am probably more than a bit biased at his sweet nature, as I have never seem him aggressive towards people before. The trainer was over for a little over 2 hours, during this time, when he barked at her, I was told to call him and treat him. For a while, he was fine with her, but something seemed to set him off once in a while, and he would bark, and then this turned into a growl. By the end of the session, he was going up to her, and growling and at the end actually snapped. Her solution was to again, call him and treat him when this happened, but I feel, as does my boyfriend that our dog figured out that growl equaled treat. The trainer feels differently, and as the professional I have to give her credit for noticing much of his behaviour I didnt see before. My other dog must be part of this situation, as it seems that when the new dog started to bark at the trainer, it would set off the older dog, who would in turn, it seemed, escalate the new one. I am unsure if there is any dominance issues in this, but when the older dog barks, he generally heads to the window, and he gets quite protective of the house when he sees things go by. Another issue in the house to work on, however again, they both seem to get a long great so far. This trainer works with a prominant rescue agency, and I would like to hear people opinions on this training matter. Your help is appriciated!

April 30th, 2012, 08:44 AM
Sorry no advice but I wanted to welcome you to pets. There should be someone coming along soon who can help.

April 30th, 2012, 08:50 AM
Hi Sullivan and welcome to the board :) ,

For me, I like to get a reference for the TRAINER. When it comes to dog training, I would 100% require that other people I know and trust recommend the particular trainer....not the agency, the trainer. Like everything else on the planet, a personal recommendation is best.

Also, I MUCH prefer group obedience training. For one it's usually cheaper but that's really beside the point. In group obedience training the dog is outside its territory and learns how to interact with other distractions like other dogs. It also reinforces YOUR role as the leader during these distractions :2cents:

I'm not a trainer - but calling a dog to give it a treat after it has growled at someone does not make sense to me. My instinct would be a loud "NO"! with no treats. Then a minute later make the dog sit and give the dog a treat.
Hope that may help and I'll be curious to read what other members suggest!.

Good luck!

April 30th, 2012, 09:00 AM
I agree Marko 100%. You don't treat after a "growl"! Group training is more social and way more fun.

April 30th, 2012, 10:52 AM
Your hunch is correct. You were reinforcing the bad behaviours with the treats. There is nothing wrong with using treats to combat aggression but this needs to be done properly (there goes that myth that you can't harm a dog with positive training techniques!!) otherwise yes you will be causing a bigger problem.

The key is to treat the dog for making the correct decision to not growl or for ignoring, not waiting until it's too late and inevitably reinforcing what you don't want the dog to do! I mean honestly, if you wanted to TEACH your dog how to growl at people this is exactly what you would do!

I would can this trainer and look for a new one. Ask for references, ask for referrals from other local dog people. Look for a trainer who is experienced in dealing with aggression and has a proven track record of rehabilitating those dogs, ask for references from those particular clients and check with them. Don't just hire a dog trainer because they say they can cure aggression or have done so or know how to do it. There are a lot of "trainers" out there who think they know what they're doing and have little to no successful experience. You don't want them using your dog as an experiment and a learning tool for themselves.

RE group classes, that depends. If you are dealing with a special case dog group classes can set you back if you need more hands on help from the trainer and it's not fair to the other dogs in the class if the trainer has to constantly help you. Group classes can be horrible for some dogs/people, and again can set you back if it's the wrong environment for you and your dog. So what if they're cheaper if you won't benefit from them, it's throwing money down the drain. You would be much better off taking that money for an 8wk group course and spending it on one or two privates with a good trainer if that's all your budget allows. I would prefer two with some time in between so you can work on some home work and have the trainer monitor your progress during the second session to make sure you are on the right track.

April 30th, 2012, 12:27 PM
The key is to treat the dog for making the correct decision to not growl or for ignoring, not waiting until it's too late and inevitably reinforcing what you don't want the dog to do! I mean honestly, if you wanted to TEACH your dog how to growl at people this is exactly what you would do!

Absolutely KEY. Diverting the behaviour before it actually happens as well works wonders which involves no treats whatsoever.

Also, just a question for the OP:
What other behaviours did she note that you did not see before she brought it up?

I too would look for another trainer. Some trainers have only one way of approaching a problem. Look for a trainer that is not stead fast on one type of training method. They should have a 'tool box' approach as every dog is different and not a standard method used. This is a diverse trainer which may be alittle difficult to find..but they are out there.

May 1st, 2012, 03:31 AM
Thanks so much for your advice guys! I am a pretty new dog owner, and I think I need to learn to trust my instincts a bit more!
I have a referral from my vet for a place that does group classes, so I might try there, he is really coming out of his shell outside the home! It is truly wonderful to see, when I first met him in January he would not come near me at first, now he is freely going up to meet people!
As for behaviors, she did point out some dominance behaviors that he was doing, it was our belief that our older dog was more the "dominant" one in the relationship, but she seemed to think our new dog was and pointed out some stuff they were doing in this respect, for example walking between the older dog and the trainer. Again, some of it is not quite sitting right with me, but I am glad she came so that I pay more attention to these things. I have some reading ahead of me!
I have been looking through the forums for some ideas on books to read, I head McConnell was a good author?
Additionally, are there any other suggestions for working with my new dog when people come over? The suggestion was that I take the dog on the leash, and have someone come over who completely ignores him while I work with him using sit, watch, etc to keep him from barking. When he is calm,he may go and sniff while the visitor ignores him. If he barks again, I get him back and do a down stay till he is calm. This seems like a good plan in theory to me, and I admit I have not been able to get anyone over during a good calm time where I can really work with him. This week soon, and we have some other homework as well.
Again, if anyone has any suggestions please let me know, thanks so much!

May 1st, 2012, 07:37 AM
I agree with all above. It sounds to me the reward is poorly timed.

I also agree with the group lessons but if you want a book I do suggest you give a peek at Leslie McDevitt's "Control Unleashed." Following it I was able to control my dog's excited barking when guests came over. How? By treating, but the timing is all different. With McDevitt's "games" you morph the reward for a bark into a reward for looking at you. Give a look at some of her reviews, she has been very well received in the doggy training world.

May 2nd, 2012, 02:41 PM
I am by no means an expert in dog training. But I do understand behavior. Your gut feeling is right. Rewarding agressive behavior or actions is counter productive. This trainer is reinforcing dominant or 'alpha seeking' behavior. If this were my dog I would take the following steps when this behavior occoured. When guests come to the door put your dog in a sit, down or otherwise submissive position (gain control before the dog does). If the dog growls or otherwise deviates from submission do one of three things. Interupt the behavior with a loud noise followed by a stern 'NO'. If this does not work put the dog in a submissive position (on its side or back). As a last resort isolate the dog (not in its crate) in an area thats use is exclusive to punishment. Never reward agressive behavior. Always trust your gut instinct; If it doesn't feel right it isn't.

May 4th, 2012, 09:37 AM
You cannot reward aggressive behavior, this is a myth. Aggression is a distancing signal. The dog is trying to communicate that something in their environment is making them nervous or emotionally aroused.
Aggression isn't simply a chain of behavior, it's behavior that is the direct result of emotional stress. Introducing rewards to a dog who is being aggressive to curb that response works (when delivered properly) because you are trying to change their emotional response to a given scenario by associating the thing they are reactive to with something positive. Saying that giving rewards encourages aggressive behavior is a bit like saying that if you give a child a reward for swimming when they are nervous, you will teach them to be afraid of water. What is actually going to happen is that you will teach the child that water means good things, and before long swimming (a fun activity) will become self-rewarding.
This is called counter-conditioning, and here is a great video showing how it works

It sounds like 2 things happened with the trainer you saw.

First, there was an escalation on the ladder of aggression. This may have had nothing specific to do with the person (he may simply just be becoming more reactive to people coming in the house in general), or it may have been because her body language and focus was constantly on the dog, and that made him uncomfortable (presumably when you have people over they spend most of their time ignoring the dog, and that is a lot more comfortable for nervous animals). Either way, he was simply stepping up his reaction because his previous signals (barking) did not make the threat go away. He did the only thing he thought he could do, he tried to signal harder to get her to leave.
Here's a good video on escalation of aggression

Second, it sounds like the dog was over-threshold. She moved too far, too fast with him and he was unable to become uncreative because he couldn't give himself adequate distance between himself and the threat. Houses are very closed in spaces, many dogs become reactive when they feel like they can't self regulate and remove themselves from the situation. We're dealing with the sympathetic nervous system here, fight or flight. Most reactive dogs are at their worst in situations like this because by default the flight option has been removed.

Also, I think the reward system she was using was a bit off. Dogs are very specific learners. By calling him to you and rewarding him when he became reactive, you were rewarding his coming to you, but not addressing his emotional response to the trainer. In his mind, he got a treat for obeying your command and coming (something he has probably rehearsed with you many times), not for anything to do with the other person in the room.

I would have either had you work at a distance and rewarded him for calm behavior and looking at the trainer and not reacting, or had the trainer deliver the rewards while maintaining non-threatening body language.

By all means hunt around for a better trainer, but avoid anyone who suggests physically or verbally correcting the dog for this behavior (removing the dog from the situation is a good alternative). This is a fear response. Punishing the dog will only eliminate their attempts to communicate their discomfort, but will not address the underlying emotional state. You will create a dog who may react very aggressively "without warning" because they have learned that their more polite signals will earn them punishment, or, alternatively, you will see an escalation in their behavior because they have learned that people coming to the door = stress = punishment. They will try even harder to keep people away.

Your best bet is slow counter-conditioning to approximations of people coming in the house (i.e. doorbell ring = food, door knock = food - obviously you want to work where you reward him for not reacting to these), giving him a job like 'go to your mat' for when people come in (teach an alternate behavior to reacting) and to have guests be really non-threatening when they come over (the old "no talk, no touch, no eye contact") and drop food for him. I say drop, because you don't want him to feel like he has to engage with them for a reward (right now, you can up the ante later), just to tolerate them in your space. :thumbs up

Oh, and the dominance thing? Totally bunk. Been disproven in scientific circles for more than 40 years. I'd forget it and concentrate on learning his body language and signals so that you are better able to predict when he is about to become reactive and you can head him off.

Here is some resources that may be of some help?
Longblades already covered "control unleashed" :)