Since I've been fostering, dog walking & working as an Instructor's
Assistant at a training school I've been getting more interested in the
behaviour side of dog training. I've learned what I was told was
'aggression' in my own dog was simply perfectly normal terrier behaviour
that I made worse by trying to 'train it out of him' rather than working
with his breed instincts.
I'm also seeing behaviour from some of the 'teenage' young dogs that I
walk (different breeds, genders, and 'sexual' status as well!), which
makes them difficult to have around other dogs (pinning other dogs to
the floor, standing on shoulders) and make it impossible to stop and
chat to other dog owners as 'mine' appear to be beating theirs up! I
would like to know best how to handle this sort of thing, if it's a
'thing' that even needs 'handling', and mainly I would like to know how
not to make mistakes with the many dogs I'm in regular contact with - I
want them to grow up well rounded and be able to advise their owners, as
often this is their first dog and they want to make sure they are doing
So I've been looking at courses and there are so many! We're all told to
make sure we get a qualified trainer or behaviourist, but no-one tells
you which course makes a good trainer at the end of it. It's so
expensive as well if I make a mistake. So far I have been looking at
John Rogerson who has been recommended by more than one behavioural
trainer and I am doing two of his practical courses this year, Compass,
which is mainly distance learning I think, who were recommended by the
behaviourist who helped with my terrier, and do seem to have what I want
to do, and I went to a Sarah Whitehead workshop on Sunday that I saw in
Dogs Today and all of her courses look fabulous, too! I've also heard
good things about Bishop Burton College, although that's a bit far for
I'd like a mix of distance learning with practical as well, and I don't
mind it taking a long time.
I commend you for the commitment you have clearly shown to improving your knowledge and handling of dogs, even if a couple of your early points have left me a trifle puzzled.
What other ‘side’ to dog training can there be, for instance, other than the ‘behaviour’ one? Because without an ability to understand how dogs think and learn, you can’t teach them anything worthwhile. I’m also intrigued to know how you ‘work with’ the aggressive instincts of a terrier without making these instincts worse?
Aggression may be a ‘normal’ response in terriers, as it is in most dogs—and humans, come to that—given the right trigger. But it is still a socially unacceptable behaviour that rapidly escalates in any individual not better taught to control it. The more dogs are allowed to be aggressive, the more often they want to be aggressive, and the further they are from learning any different or better way to behave.
Similarly, the bullying behaviour shown by the ‘teenage’ dogs you exercise is totally unacceptable. Clearly their owners have not taken the trouble to teach them any better manners around other dogs, and if you cannot learn soon how to properly take charge of dogs like this, and rule the roost, they will only get worse. This in turn, I fear, will attract many complaints from other owners and do nothing for your reputation as a dog walker.
As far as furthering your dog knowledge goes, I’d start with courses—such as those run by Compass—that give you a sound introduction to the canine species as a whole. Ideally you want subjects like the following covered with sufficient authority and depth:
• Where dogs come from as a species, and how they have evolved psychologically and physically over many millennia
• What their typical social behaviour is
• How dogs essentially think and learn
• How dogs communicate and express their feelings/intentions through specific body language
• How the status dynamics of a typical dog pack work
• The basic anatomy and biology of dogs
• Behavioural quirks or characteristics typical of different breeds or breed types
• How different factors in dogs influence their behaviour: I.e. from basic genetic disposition and early rearing environment to diet, medication, illness and ongoing sources of fear or stress
In tandem with such basic theory, you also want to get as much practical and hands on experience of dogs as possible; constantly observing how they interact with each other. Try, too, to attend as many practical courses as possible to watch how different experienced trainers and behaviourists manage dogs.
All the time you are watching such people, however, it is vital to retain an open and questioning mind and keep asking yourself the following:
• Is this person’s approach kind? I.e. it does not involve punishing dogs—physically or verbally—or intimidating and dominating them?
• Does this person show a great ability to communicate with dogs and understand their feelings?
• Can this person explain dogs’ problems to owners in a way that makes total sense to them, as oppose to just spout a lot of theoretical mumbojumbo that goes over their heads?
• Can this person offer solutions to owners that are totally achievable and realistic?
• Do the methods used by this person actually work? I.e. Lead to consistently good results in a wide variety of different cases
Yes to all these questions means you have found a good role model to follow and study with further. Nos to any, on the other hand, mean you are probably dealing with someone less good, experienced or effective.
You ask what course makes a ‘good trainer’. It certainly helps to begin with the right teacher. Over and above this, however, it is never study alone that makes the best dog trainers or behaviourists, but exhaustive experience twinned with an instinctive and natural talent for understanding, reading and handling dogs that they mostly seem to be born with.
You may well discover you have this gift yourself once you begin pushing your own learning and experience further, and I wish you the best of luck in this quest. No time is ever wasted learning more about dogs.
Meanwhile, for a more in-depth explanation of what it takes to be a good canine behaviourist, visit the UK Registry of Canine Behaviourists’ website: www.ukrcb.org
Carol Price, trainer and behaviourist