Managing severe behavior problems such as aggression and serious fear-based behaviors requires assistance from a qualified professional. I am not comfortable offering advice in these areas without a personal meeting. Please don't ask me to give long distance advice on serious behavioral issues. I will, however, try to help you identify a professional in your geographic area who uses positive gentle methods or direct you to other resources.
These "rules" are derived from my teaching style and the materials in my books and student handouts, which evolved from the work of some special people. To learn more about using a reward marker, see my book, Retired Racing Greyhounds for Dummies, or check out the training section on the resource page. If you'd like to know more about where I learned the methods I use, check out the books and videos on the Resource Review Page.
1. Learn to Speak Dog
Use your dog's natural abilities and instincts to make training fun and easy.
Your retired racer doesn't speak English. Everything in his world is a series of photos--one big Kodak moment-- complete with sounds and smells and feelings. Help him learn new and correct behaviors by putting the right photos in his album. Teach him how to put new photos in his album by using a reward marker. The reward marker is the shutter on your camera that takes new pictures for his album. Use it to teach new behaviors and when you increase the level of difficulty of an existing behavior.
Keep your signals consistent and clear.
Learn as much as you can about dog behavior so you know what he is trying to tell you.
2. Dogs do what works
They work to:
Get good stuff to start.
Keep good stuff from ending.
Get bad stuff to stop.
Keep bad stuff from starting.
3. Apply Win/Win Learning principles
Win/Win Learning is what I call my approach to training. My style relies on mutual respect and cooperation. Training is something I do with my dogs, not something I do to them.
Build a winning relationship. Protect your dog and pay attention to him.
Time invested now will build interest and pay dividends tomorrow. Punishments drain your account.
Learn what is rewarding for your dog.
Find ways to let him work for a living. Keep his body and his brain busy. Find lots of fun things to do together. Teach him to work for a living. Don't be afraid to spoil him if he's earned it.
Catch him doing it right. Pay attention to your dog. You can't catch him doing it right if you aren't watching.
If he's doing something you don't like, something is rewarding it. You must identify and remove the reward for the inappropriate behavior.
Manage his environment-don't let him practice things you don't want him to learn. Remove access to the reward for the inappropriate behavior. Keep him from putting any more of those pictures in his album and get rid of the ones that are already there. Make sure all his rewards are coming from you not environment. Some examples of how to use management as part of dog training:
Jumping on people is very self-rewarding. If he's jumping on visitors, put a leash on him before you open the door so he can't get any more practice. In the meantime teach him that if he wants to be petted and greeted, all four feet have to be on the floor (sit or down).
If he's stealing food off a counter, keep the counter clear while you teach him the behavior you want instead. Don't let the counter (the environment) pay him. That's your job.
He's always underfoot in the kitchen because he's learned that when you cook you always drop bits of food that he can scarf up before you get to them. If you can't get to the dropped morsel before he does, point at it and say get it. The floor has stopped paying him. Now you're providing the reward
Use what he wants now as the reward for what you want. Let him learn that the best and easiest way to get what he wants is to pay attention and do what you want.
As much as possible, ignore what you don't want unless it's dangerous to your dog, a person, or another animal.
Focus on what you want your dog to do instead of focusing on how to stop what you don't want.
My dog is never wrong. If he isn't doing what I ask of him, I didn't teach it well enough. He's the piano. I'm the musician.
4. Life is a series of Kodak Moments
Dogs don't speak English in spite of what Walt Disney would have us believe.
Everything that happens, good or bad, is recorded as a photograph complete with sound and smell and feelings.
If he has lots of bad photos (behaviors you don't want), those have to be removed (remove the rewards) and replaced with lots of good photos (rewards for good behavior).
If we want good photos, he has to be looking at the camera (if he isn't paying attention, he isn't listening).
Make sure he knows when the shutter is snapped (use a concise reward marker like a clicker or a short, crisp verbal signal).
No double exposures-don't keep repeating cues or give mixed signals.
Take lots of new pictures. His album needs hundreds and hundreds of photos in all kinds of places before he'll really know a new behavior.
5. Time is of the essence
You only have 1/2 to 1 seconds to mark or reward good behavior.
6. There are no magic wands or quick fixes
A good trainer can make it look easy, but it isn't. Reliability depends on increasing difficulty. If you want reliability you need to practice countless times in lots of places.
Each behavior has three degrees of difficulty
Each aspect has be added and practiced separately.
8. Don't rely on punishment. They drain your relationship account and they often don't work anyway.
Punishments don't work because they must have all these elements
- The punishment must occur as the unwanted behavior begins
- It must happen every time the behavior occurs
- It has to be big enough to stop the behavior but do no physical or emotional harm to your dog
- It must not be associated with you
- There has to be something that can be rewarded instead
- The reward for new behavior has to be better (in your dog's opinion) than whatever reward he was getting for the bad behavior
Just like rewards, punishment is defined by your dog. If what he wants is attention, then even bad attention is a reward. A punishment is whatever your dog will work to avoid or that will stop an undesired behavior.
If I try not to use punishments, do I let my dogs do whatever they want? No. If there is any way to do so, I manage them so they can't do the undesired behavior.
Do I let my dogs know if something is unacceptable? If my dog, a person, or another animal is at risk and there is no way to manage my dog to keep him from the behavior I don't want, I let my dog know (with a sharp no or ah-ah) that I don't like whatever it is he is doing.
For example, if I just adopted a retired racer, there is a very good chance the first time we venture into the back yard he's going to see a squirrel dashing off. Since this isn't something he's likely to have encountered before, every instinct he has is going to send him flying after that squirrel. An eighty pound dog lunging at the end of the leash can whip that leash from my hand and let him into the street in front of a truck and/or put me on my butt. The situation is dangerous for both of us. But there is no way I can mange him or the squirrels to prevent the behavior. You can bet I make sure the moment he even thinks about lunging, I interrupt him with a sharp no. BUT, I also spend time teaching him what it is I want instead (walking on a loose leash no matter what is happening around us) and he gets lots of rewards for doing that right.
9. Keep it simple and make it fun
Draw on his natural abilities and instincts--think about what your dog loves and what he was bred to do
Use life rewards--whatever he wants now (a walk, a ride, a chance to greet another dog) is a life reward
Act up or calm down depending on your dog's personality
Minimize repetition (do it two or three times then change the picture or work on something completely different)
Only work for a few minutes at a time
Learning is stressful. Stop before your dog gets stressed.
Let him know when when he's released to do something else and let him know when a training session is over
Always leave him wanting more
10. Get the behavior
You can't reward something that doesn't exist. You don't need special collars or leashes to train and you don't need to use your hands to force your dog to comply. Hands are only for petting, praising, or protecting your dog. Use these force free ways and a reward marker to get what you want.
Shape-break into smaller pieces
Wait for it
To learn more about using these and similar gentle techniques, see Retired Racing Greyhounds for Dummies or check out the section on training on the Resource and the Resource Review pages.
Before you sign up for a training class observe one or two sessions of a beginner class. Try to watch the first session with the dogs to see how the trainer handles the rowdy or noisy dogs and then observe another session that is a few weeks farther along. If you see anything that concerns you and you wouldn't want to do with your dog, look elsewhere. Look for a class where both the dogs and the owners are having a good time. Greyhounds learn best when sessions are short and fun.
Look for small class size-eight to 12 dogs maximum-and an instructor dog ratio of about 6:1. A class with more than eight dogs should have an instructor and an assistant. Large classes run by an instructor who only barks orders to you and your dog may work for the easy to train dogs and handlers but it isn't likely to provide for individual needs. Expect to pay more-lots more-for small classes and individual attention.
Ask the trainer to describe his methods and philosophies. Ask him how he deals with the issues of inappropriate behavior or noncompliance with commands. If he says he uses only positive reinforcement, get him to be more specific. I know of programs that claim to use positive methods that still incorporate leash pops, corrections, choke collars (which they call training collars), and prong collars. Does the trainer understand how sensitive most Greyhounds are to punishment, including verbal punishment? Does he push or pull dogs into the position he wants them in or otherwise force compliance? Gentle, positive methods do not rely on force.
Ask how many sighthounds, particularly greyhounds, he has trained. Ask for references from those owners. If he hasn't had much experience, ask questions to see how much he knows about racing greyhounds. Does he seem to know what he's talking about?
Look for a class that emphasizes "manners" rather than obedience. Look for a trainer that includes problem prevention and some basics about simple problem-solving along with the basic skills. Teaching a dog to heel is great, but it doesn't keep the pot roast safe on the counter when you're out of the room. Does he spend time in the first class talking about learning theory and behavior? That is, does he lay the groundwork for success? Ask him to show you an outline of his basic course so you know what he'll cover. Ask if he provides handouts or other supplementary materials to help you during the week or after the class is over. Find out what the refund policies are. If it's not a good fit, you should be able to get a refund of most or all of your money through the end of the first class with the dogs (usually the second lesson).
I prefer personalized, in-home training, but that's beyond the reach of most budgets. If you're considering a private trainer, ask for an initial consult in person. If he offers only training packages (a series of lessons for a set price), find out if there is a way to sample his approach or what his refund policies are. For example, I offer hourly lessons but I also offer a package of lessons at a sharp discount. After we talk on the phone for 15 to 20 minutes and seem to be in agreement about philosophy, we schedule the first appointment. After the first hour, the client and I decide if this is a good match. If so, we continue the first session, and she pays for the entire series. If it isn't right, we agree to part as friends and she owes me for one hour at my usual rates.
Ask him about his professional associations. The two best known are the National Association of Dog Obedience Instructors (NADOI) and the Association of Pet Dog Trainers (APDT). If he if doesn't belong to either, ask what he does about continuing education? If continuing education isn't important to him, ask yourself why?
NADOI has a companion dog endorsement. It doesn't guarantee the instructor will use the methods I suggest, but at least it means he considers himself a professional. Look for NADOI instructors with a companion endorsement.
APDT now has certification process that includes continuing education requirements. It should provide an invaluable resource for people who are looking for dog-friendly trainers. APDT has an orientation toward pet dog training rather than obedience competition.
Other organizations of so-called balanced trainers are forming. In my opinion balanced training is too often another way of saying if I'm not smart enough to train your dog without pain, I'll use whatever works to make him comply. Look at these blanaced trainers carefully to be sure you understand what they mean by balanced.
If you generally feel good about the trainer you're interviewing, but want to know more, ask whose teachings and writings have most influenced his training techniques or philosophy. You should hear at least one of these names: Ian Dunbar, Terry Ryan, John Fisher, Karen Pryor, Gary Wilkes, Sue Sternberg, Ted Turner, Patty Russo, Leslie Nelson, Marian and Bob Bailey, Patricia McConnell, William Campbell, and Jean Donaldson.
There are almost no laws or regulations governing the profession of companion animal training. Few certifications are worth the paper they're printed on because the schools that provide the training issue them. If someone is calling himself a master trainer or a certified trainer, be suspicious. The American Humane Association is in the process of finalizing standards for humane dog training. I'll add those soon.
Ask other greyhound owners for recommendations. If your vet or boarding kennel operator seems to have an enlightened approach to dogs, ask for their recommendations. But do ask if they get a referral fee. It's always good to know what their interest is. If it seems I'm being pickier about a trainer than I am about a vet, it's because vets have to at least pass state licensing exams. Anyone can-and does-call himself a dog trainer.
So where do you turn if you have a serious behavioral problem like fear or aggression? Look for a trainer or behavioral counselor who uses gentle, humane methods and avoid punishments or corrections. Ask your veterinarian. Ask your adoption group. Ask at your local pet supply store. Get more than one referral.
Interview the consultant. Ask about her training and background. What qualifies her for this work? Ask what professional associations she belongs to. Find out how long she's been doing behavioral work. Be very specific in how you ask this. Behavioral work and training a dog to sit or heel are two very different things. I know trainers who are adept at training dogs and may even be good at training their human handlers--but they don't know squat about dog behavior or problem solving. Ask if she does training and/or behavioral work full or part-time. If she's part-time, what does she do in her other life? Is it in a related field? If not, is she professional in her approach or does this seem like a hobby or just a way to make some extra money? Ask how many dogs she works with each year. Ask how many retired racers she's worked with. If she hasn't worked with any, ask about other sight hounds and other adult rescues. Get references. Don't be rushed into making an appointment. She should take time to get to know your situation. What kind of report will she send your vet or give to you? Does she recommend any exams or lab work? What are her charges? What specifically do her fees cover? How many visits will it take? She can't give you an exact answer, but she can probably give you a range based on her experience.
Find out what methods she uses? Ask specifically what training devices and techniques she uses. Ask how she feels about food in training. What is her attitude about punishment? There are lots of different approaches to training and a good trainer will use a variety of techniques to get the approach that is right for you and your dog. However, beware of trainers who use this as an excuse to revert to physical punishments or corrections at the first opportunity. There are no situations where harsh physical or emotional punishments or corrections are appropriate for dealing with behavior problems.
There are no magic wands. Avoid anyone who promises a fix or assures you that a serious problem behavior will be resolved quickly. In some situations you need to recognize that a dog is too dangerously aggressive to be kept safely in your home. Be honest with yourself about what kinds of stress living with an aggressive dog adds to your home and what liabilities you are risking. Retraining a serious behavior problem is like watching grass grow. Get used to it. You'll be asked to spend a great deal of time and effort (and money) on a treatment program. Make sure you feel comfortable with the person you're asking to help you.
How much will it cost? It depends on the geographic area, the consultant, and the amount of time she has to spend with you and your dog. Don't assume the most expensive trainer is the best one, but don't shop for the cheapest one either. As one trainer so eloquently put it, "If you pay peanuts, you get to work with monkeys." Even in a small rural area expect fees of at least $25 per hour. If she does in-home visits, travel time is usually an additional charge in these areas. In large metropolitan areas or wealthy communities, fees run well over $100 an hour. Some consultants in large metropolitan areas are charging several hundred dollars per hour.
If you're engaging a trainer/behavioral consultant to help with serious behavior problems like fear or aggression expect to pay higher fees. Many people involved in behavioral work are becoming more and more reluctant to work with aggressive dogs.
You'll want to ask a behavioral consultant the same kinds of questions you'd ask a trainer. Again, there are no agreed upon standards of training or experience. You'll find a range of backgrounds. Some people who are involved in behavioral work are veterinarians with specialized training, others are individuals with advanced degrees in psychology, ethology, or other behavioral sciences, and others are trainers (like me) that have specialized in working with problem dogs. Don't be dazzled by degrees or certificates. A trainer who has been working successfully with problem dogs for years may be a better choice than a someone with a PhD who is new to dog behavioral work or someone with a brand new PhD.
If you were referred to someone, ask if she pays a referral fee of any kind back to the person or organization that gave you the referral. It's always good to know if there is a financial interest.
A good behavioral consultant will stress (if not insist) that you start with a trip to your vet to rule out any physical cause for the behavioral problem. This visit should include routine bloodwork (and a urinalysis in the case of house soiling) and I recommend (and sometimes insist on) a thyroid panel if aggression or fear is involved.
While she can't fix your problems over the phone, she should be willing to spend at least enough time to get some sense of what you need and whether she has the expertise to provide it. She may send you some questionnaires to complete or she may do this as a face-to-face interview during your first visit. She should also explain her methods and philosophies so you can determine if her style is compatible with your personality and that of your hound. She should fully explain her fees and what is included.
She won't be able to tell you exactly how many visits it will take, but she should be able to give you a minimum and maximum range based on previous experience. Six or eight visits should be sufficient for most situations. That doesn't mean a serious behavior problem will be cured. It means that if the approach is right for your dog AND you're following your consultant's advice faithfully, your dog should be improving noticeably.
Beware of anyone who promises or guarantees results. And if they promise a quick fix, run.
I charge by the hour and the first visit includes a small administrative charge. I do charge extra for travel time if the client is more than 30 minutes from my home office. I send the client a history form to complete and return before we meet. Prior to our visit, I review the history and decide what other information I need to get during our visit, draft a treatment plan, and determine what handouts, equipment (a Gentle Leader for example), or other things I need for our first visit. Before we meet for the first time, I've already invested an hour or more of my time. During the first visit I complete the evaluation and initiate treatment. This visit lasts two to three hours. If a dog has been taught some basic behavior cues, many simple training problems and some simple behavioral problems need only one visit to plan and implement a retraining program. Most moderate to serious problems will require more than one visit.
Prior to the second visit, I modify the treatment treatment plan based on what I learned during the evaluation. If the referral was from a veterinarian or is being done on behalf of a rescue group, I send the referring agency or veterinarian a written copy of that report. The second session is scheduled for two to four weeks after the initial visit. At that time we review the treatment plan, evaluate our progress, and revise or update the treatment plan if necessary. It lasts about an hour and a half.
Serious aggression or fear may require as many as six or eight visits over several months or more. Those visits would be spaced closer together at the beginning and then spread out as the dog progresses. I also recommend a refresher visit about once or twice a year after that just to keep handler and dog skills honed.
I encourage clients to call with any questions or problems. In fact, I tell my clients and students that phone support is free for the life of any dog I have trained or worked with. So far only one person has taken unfair advantage of that offer.
If you can't find help
Ask your adoption group for a referral. If your group can't help, ask them to contact me. If you do not have a group available, e-mail me your location, including the nearest larger city and I will try to find someone to work with you. If none of those are reasonable options, I will do phone consults. Contact me by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please be sure GH behave consult is in the subject line.
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