By Dr. Meridith Leo
Whether you have been a dog lover and owner for a long time, or you just became a new dog parent, having a good canine citizen makes not only your family’s life happy but your pup’s life fulfilled too! Whether your dog has a habit of barking at the mail deliverer, struggles with potty training, escapes the yard, pulls on leash walks, or destroys household items, there is always a way to teach an old or new dog some tricks. Don’t get me wrong my two puppers are working on their manners and luckily our community has several experts who can help with any behavioral problems your dog(s) and you might be struggling with.
I recently reached out to Erica Lieberman, MA, CPDT-KSA, CBATI, VSPDT, CDBC who is a dog professional, owner of Pawsilibities, and a local Bayport Blue Point community member. She offered me some insight into how a pet can benefit from well-rounded training.
Q: How did you become interested in dog training and what should someone look for if they are seeking out a dog professional?
A: I have had animals my entire life. I always loved dogs, cats and horses. I have also always been a good student and avid learner. I went to school for my Master’s degree and I also attended Law School. While looking for a job in 2005 I began volunteering at Bideawee in Manhattan. I learned quickly that they needed help with their media presence, website and pictures of the adoptable pets. I stepped up and began to offer these services for them, while also getting to meet and work with their shelter’s dog trainer. She showed me some techniques, and I ran with it! I love to learn so I looked into going to dog training school. After much research I decided I could study on my own, as long as I continue to seek opportunities. I read everything I could find! I went to seminars, and met wonderful colleagues, and finally landed a job as a behavior consultant for Manhattan’s largest dog day care company in 2009. I worked there until I started my own business at which time, I had been promoted to the Director of Training for all 8 facilities throughout Manhattan.
When selecting a dog trainer, the first thing to know is that there are absolutely no national regulations on training. Literally anyone can wake up and call themselves a dog trainer. There are different groups that offer certifications, so it is very important to check these to see if the person you are choosing has elected to have these credentials, because it means they are held to a higher standard, they must prove they attend continuing education events, and hold insurance. The International Association for Animal Behavior Consultants, or the IAABC is a great place to start! Next it is important that if your trainer wants to use any kind of training tool on your dog, ask them to explain to you how exactly it works. Suppressed behavior is not changed behavior, so tools like shock collars, bark collars, and other items like this, only teach a dog that a behavior is bad, but never give them the construction of what the right behavior is. This can cause a lot more harm than good in the long, and psychologically usually results in learned helplessness from your dog; he doesn’t react anymore because he is afraid of being punished for it, but he doesn’t feel any better. In fact, he feels much worse and is likely going to strike out eventually. Finally, it is personal, you should like your dog trainer, and want to try the things they suggest, but never be afraid to ask why something is being trained to your dog.
Q: What advice do you have for new pet parents?
A: Puppies bite. Puppies are a lot of work; way more than my human baby was! Make sure you, and everyone in the home is on board for a puppy if that’s what you are getting. If you have kids, take their favorite stuffed toys and be sure they are somewhere the puppy cannot get them. If you rescued a dog, it may take several days, months or even up to a year, depending on the dog’s age, for him to settle in. Give your new rescue time, and space, if they are moping or depressed, it is ok, it is normal, the best thing you can do is be patient. If you want to, and it works in your home, let your dog sleep in bed! I am so tired of hearing this causes behavior issues, of course it can cause issues, dogs are complex and there a zero rules that apply to them all. Finally, a tired dog is a happy dog, so take your dog for walks, play with him, and train with him to exercise his brain too!
Q: What are some techniques for potty training a puppy or new dog?
A: TREATS!!! Food rewards immediately following elimination in the correct place. The difference and challenge with potty training as opposed to say, teaching a dog to sit, is that elimination is rewarding in and of itself. Relieving yourself when you have to go to the bathroom offers more comfort, whereas simply placing his rump on the ground is reward if we feed a treat when he does it, so we often see dogs offer us the sit after only a few food rewards. But with elimination the problem is that the dog is rewarding himself just by going to the bathroom, even on your couch! So, we need to make the clear message that when our pup eliminates in the right space, he gets something very good for doing it. This will make eliminating in the proper spot more reinforced and of higher value to your dog. Also realize that if you want a good solidified habit, you need to continue reinforcing and rewarding the correct behavior for several weeks, and once you have gone 28 days straight with no accidents, you can now make treats following elimination, more sporadic; I never fade elimination treats entirely, even my 16 year old dog will get a treat for eliminating in the rain, because I want to maintain this behavior.
Q: Why is training your dog important regardless of the size of your furry friend?
A: As the owner of a 4-pound dog, I feel it is so important she understands different training. First regardless of size no one wants a dog to use their home as a bathroom, so first potty training is important. Next small dogs tend to be much less confident, and we often just call them snappy or laugh at it because they can’t really do serious damage, but the dog is scared. Your pet is showing you that she/he is so afraid of a situation she/he has to escalate to the point of snapping or even nipping. This is when a dog is triggered most; it is never cute, and it isn’t healthy for them. Training a small dog some basic obedience gives them more confidence and they learn to have less anxiety, this means they have a much higher quality of life.
I never want a dog to be so over trained that they lose who they are, but all dogs should know some things you expect in your home. The best way to think about your dog of any size, is like she is a foreign exchange student in your home. She doesn’t eat the same food; she doesn’t speak your language and she has an entirely different set of cultural norms. Help your dog fit into your home by teaching her simple rules, and regardless of size, breed, even age you will see a bond form that is unlike any other.
Q: Because many people are working from home due to the Covid-19 pandemic, what advice do you have for at-home training to maintain your dog’s healthy physical and social lifestyle?
A: It is a lot like what we are doing for ourselves. Try to have a routine; make sure to go for walks, feed on a schedule and encourage times of independence. Make sure your dog can tolerate some time away from you, even if you are home most of the time.
One easy exercise for those whose dogs already know how to stay: If your dog will stay as you take many steps away leaving a great distance between you two, instead start practicing this same cue “stay” with distractions instead of distance. If your dog tolerates you taking 10 steps away from him, teach him to tower 10 minutes of you teaching a zoom class or a zoom meeting. You will be surprised at how you can apply this cue to distance, distractions, and duration! If your dog doesn’t know how to stay, give us a ring, we can definitely help with that!
For any other questions about dog training techniques that you would like answered please email:firstname.lastname@example.org. Your questions could end up in the next edition of the Gazette.