December 29, 2011

A Girl's Best Friend (and his issues)

[Bennet is dapper]

The longest and best relationship I've had just passed the 2-year mark, and it's been a wonderful two years. No fighting, hardly any heartaches, and nothing but pure joy whenever we see each other. This gentleman is none other than my dog, Bennet. I adopted Bennet in November of 2009 when my sister adopted Bennet's littermate, Luna. My sister sent me their photos from Petfinder, and I told her to do it, just adopt. I trusted her and instinctively knew Bennet was right for me. She went to see them, and she was in love. After their adoption, I drove up to the Bay Area to pick him up from my sister. The minute I stepped through that door, he knew I was his human. So cheesy cheeze, but it's true, we just knew the instant we met. Sometimes movie moments do happen!
[Bennet's Petfinder Photo]
Bennet is a sweet dog, who is very obedient and loving. However, he does have his problems: barking in fear of skateboarders, other dogs, unknown men, scary noises, getting on/off the elevator; going nuts over squirrels and cats while on leash; absolute terror of riding in cars... I guess it's kind of a long list, but trust me when I say he's a sweet dog! His favorite game to play with me is hide-and-seek with his squeaky alligator toy. He sits before meals. He even drags himself to the bathroom when he knows it's bathtime!

After a particularly bad week of walks when he was going nuts over dogs in the street or whenever we got off the elevator and someone was waiting, I felt like it was time to find a trainer. None of the self-taught corrections were working, and I was starting to actually dread walking him (not because I'm lazy!). I don't like clicker training, and I didn't think a group class would help. So through some research (my sister's trainer in Norcal & google), I decided to try to find one through the Association of Pet Dog Trainers.

After narrowing it down to 2 trainers, I chose to go with Erica Lake, who was the best fit for us. Her training mentality/method was most aligned with my own beliefs on dog training, so I felt comfortable with her. We had our first session, but I'm going to see how helpful the techniques I learned are before I choose to have a second session. I want to make some progress before I ask her for more help. Although I learned a ton of things, there are a few things that really stood out to me/I am actively trying to practice.
  • Bennet has a fear of men. It's very common in dogs. It's important to train them so they associate positivity (treats) with men.
  • Eye contact is crucial. Dogs need to learn to be comfortable making eye contact and to learn to look to you first.
  • I have to remain calm even when the dog is going crazy over a distraction or barking like a maniac.  I also have to be confident and relaxed with the dog. This is a huge huge thing that I have to constantly practice.
  • Don't repeat commands or else the dog will think it's okay to ignore commands.
  • I have to do a little bit of training every day, and repetition is key.
  • Distracting through treats is a great way to grab attention/associate positivity with scary sounds/distractions.
  • Don't feel bad about not taking your dog to the dog park. Dog parks are weird places without the natural hierarchy of a pack that dogs are used to. I don't have to feel bad about not taking Bennet to the dog park!! Yay! Also, going there more often won't fix his issue with going crazy over dogs when he's on a leash! Begone guilty feelings!
  • Dogs don't necessarily pick up behavior changes at once, unlike when you're teaching them a trick. It's not instantaneous. Patience is key. Patience is also something I really lack, so it's challenging.
I find these points to be really helpful, but of course every day is very different and has different issues and needs. I think that if you want to do basic obedience (sit, down, stay) or you're having trouble with something like pulling, it's possible to teach or correct that on your own through something like the Gentle Leader. For chronic behavioral issues, if you're really desperate and dreading specific activities, a trainer can provide really helpful exercises, advice, and insight into the way your dog acts, perceives you, and thinks. Cesar Milan is interesting to watch, but his method is not the only way. Dominating your dog may work for your friend and his dog, but it might not work for you and your dog. And if you're like me, dominating your dog isn't really something that you feel comfortable doing anyway. You know, since I'm such a gentle and kind soul : P

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