Certified Professional Trainer
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Dog Training and Behavior
As a human, I use technology every day - phone, tablet, computer, etc. As a trainer, I use Ecollars often for training of dogs. In short, I embrace the ways technology can assist and make our lives easier. The video below discusses several new tech devices for dogs. I know this is a burgeoning industry, but I wonder sometimes about the usefulness of such devices. Many are used for tracking or monitoring your dog, but there's really no substitute for quality "face time" with a pet.
Regarding the device for tracking a dog, I can see these being useful in working situations for police and rescue. For pets, however, if you're dog's running off and getting lost, perhaps a better solution would be some training! Teaching a dog not to bolt out of open doors, or to come back to you (reliably) when called, can go a long way to preventing a dog from becoming lost in the first place. Even if you can track a lost dog, prevention can do more to save it's life than recovering a dog that gets injured or worse.
As far as the fitness devices for dogs, they're interesting, but are they really helpful? Calorie and exercise requirements vary tremendously from dog to dog. Size, age, breed, health, etc. all will be factors in deciding how much activity and how many calories a dog requires. Regular exercise based on your dog's specific needs, and ongoing monitoring of weight, can all be done more efficiently by simply spending time with your pet and making regular observations.
So while I like technology, I believe there's no substitute for spending quality time interacting with a dog. That's the most important ingredient for a healthy life. Dogs need interaction, teaching, and mental challenges. They also need exercise, and they rely on us to give them healthy and proper amounts of nutrition. No app or tracking device will ever be a substitute for an interacting owner.
I've been a firefighter for over 30 years, and am drawing close to retirement for that career. Over the past many years I have enjoyed a second career in dog training, and often draw comparisons between my two professions. One area that I find very interesting is the effect of human emotion on outcomes.
In the fire service, we are called to make routine decisions that have life and death implications. We are often faced with challenging situations, limited information, and rapidly changing incidents. It's been my observation that those getting flustered, anxious, or bringing a lot of emotional energy to these challenges don't generally help themselves or those around them. Having a clear and calm thought process can save your life. That's hard to do when things are difficult. But I have found many people rise to the challenge, and believe it is a skill set that can be learned in many cases.
When it comes to helping a dog be better behaved or more obedient, human emotions also play a critical role. As human beings, we have a very strong emotional component to our make up. To our dogs, however, these emotions generally translate to energy. Dogs are masters at reading us (humans), and sensing changes in our emotions. An owner that is anxious, worried, angry, frustrated, or even too excited around their dog, can be causing unintended consequences. When dogs are around emotionally charged humans, they typically become a lighting rod for that energy. Hyper dogs get more hyper, nervous dogs get more anxious, and pushy dogs push harder.
Training and behavioral goals need to focus on teaching, and teaching involves sharing information. Teaching shouldn't involve telegraphing unsettled energy on a dog. Dogs that are being made more hyper, anxious, or pushy are not as capable of thinking clearly - so training's going to suffer. A good trainer can help owners become more aware of their own energy, and manage it in ways to help things improve. This takes a lot of coaching of interactions, and working toward calm, consistent, feedback for their dog. When information is being presented in a clear, consistent, and calm manner, dogs are going to be most receptive to learning.
Many calls to trainers are for dogs with serious behavioral issues, and often owners are very frustrated, anxious, or even afraid (of their dog or for their dog). Providing help often requires we detach ourselves from those human emotions. This can be a challenge for many people, but it's a skill that can generally be learned.
We're having some cycles of very cold weather currently. Besides the obvious need to be watching any dogs that are outdoors for brief periods, I also want to remind all owners that ice in Central Ohio is never safe - NEVER. Falling through ice and being immersed in frigid water pulls any human's or dog's body temperature down rapidly. Once body temp falls just a few degrees, living things lose muscle control and will quickly drown or perish.
I'm seeing daily news stories related to pet rescues off of icy bodies of water, the ones below from just today. Keep yourself and your pets safe!
Last winter I discussed how I found it interesting to watch my dogs track in fresh snow. They were following scents, and the snow allowed me to see the footprints of other dogs, rabbits, squirrels, etc. As humans, I think we have great difficulty appreciating how a dog's keen sense of smell changes how they see the world. We simply lack and comparative experience.
All dogs have a better sense of smell than humans, but some dogs are better at following scents than others. I have a hound mix that has a "great nose", but a second dog that's better at tracking because he is more disciplined and tracks very systematically.
In any event, I ran across a very well done video this week discussing the science behind how dogs smell things. It's an animation, but very educational. If you have 5 spare minutes, and find the topic interesting, I think you'll find watching the piece is time well spent....
Several years ago I watched a 40 hr. presentation by a popular UK trainer. At one point in the presentation he discussed dog parks, and the many behavior problems they create. He said in this presentation that one area positive training advocates "got wrong" was being advocates of dog parks. He called it an absolute mistake. I've always believed this, and do not find they benefit our canine companions.
While I've written past posts regarding the many problems with dog parks, I think the bigger issue is how society generally sees excitable behaviors in dogs as natural, entertaining, and a normal part of life. I disagree. I see many owners that spend considerable money and time seeing their dogs are chauffeured to dog parks, play dates, and day care. I understand they are doing what they have been told benefits their dog, and they generally find their dog becomes physically tired after these outings. Unfortunately, the uncontrolled and excitable interactions common in these settings are creating more excitable dogs.
While I have no issue with play and fun as part of a balanced day, the important word is "balance". A dog being temporarily excited around another dog is not unusual, but a dog that never calms around other dogs is a real problem. And this "problem" is becoming endemic because many owners see it as normal. Some owners even encourage excitable behaviors. How much better would our dogs be if we were "teaching calm" behaviors? What are you teaching your dog as acceptable behavior in and out of the home, around people, or around other pets?
If we care about our dogs (collectively as a society), perhaps it's time to shift our image of a dog's life as one of endless play to one also balanced with thought and work. If you're allowing excitable behaviors, they will definitely build with time, If you are teaching your dog to be calm in varied settings, then you will have a much more enjoyable pet. Calm pets enjoy a richer life because they are welcome in more places, and can participate in more activities with owners. If you need help, good trainers have many options for helping owners teach their dogs how to focus, think, and behave - even in challenging situations.
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