5 tips to help find the right dog trainer

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1.      Do your research! Research, research, research! Inform yourself about various dog training philosophies and the multitude of techniques that different trainers implement into their programs. Decide which method you believe will work best for you and your pup. Does the trainer you are researching reward correct behaviors, correct wrong behaviors, or a combination of both? Does this trainer have experience working with your dog’s breed and the specific behavioral issues your dog is exhibiting? How does the trainer plan to address these issues? Don’t hesitate to ask questions! Your potential trainer should be eager to explain their philosophy and personal training style to you.

2.      Read the reviews. What was the experience of previous clients? Were they satisfied with the results they received? Were their expectations met? Were clients able to contact the trainers after the program was completed to receive further assistance as needed? Were the trainers prompt and responsive to client questions or concerns?

3.      Be wary of any trainer who promises to “fix” your dog. Generally, trainers who claim they can “fix” your pup are simply setting you and your dog up for failure. They are instilling a false sense of hope with the implication that they hold some rare magic cure to rid your dog of all behavioral issues. Many clients hear these promises and begin to envision a blissful future where their fearful, anxious pup is suddenly frolicking and playing with other pups by the end of a four-week training program. Training does not end when a training program is completed. A brief Bootcamp Program will not deliver you an entirely new dog. It is up to you, as a dog owner, to reinforce the learning that has taken place throughout the program by implementing the training techniques in a consistent manner even after the trainer is gone. Trainers do NOT “fix” dogs. Those who make such promises are unable to meet their clients’ expectations. Thus, their clients experience extreme disappointment in their training experience and, in turn, communicate that frustration to their pup. No trainer is lucky enough to hold the magic cure that “fixes” dogs. Trainers DO, however, help raise their ceilings by pushing the pups to expand upon their comfort zones little by little. This is an important concept for all clients to grasp before looking to hire a dog trainer. Training is a life-long commitment between you and your pup. As trainers, we are here to assist you every step of the way as you help your dog transform into the calm and confident pup you know he/she can be! Yet, we also want you to have realistic expectations for your dog and his/her progress throughout training process. This allows you to celebrate in the small successes along the way and enjoy the training experience as a whole!

4.      Get involved! Since no trainer can magically “fix” your pup, you must be prepared to take the plunge and get hands-on with your dog’s training! Does the trainer you are researching plan to include you in the training process? Will you be equipped with the knowledge and tools that allow you to continue training your dog once the program has completed? These are important questions to consider when looking for a dog trainer. You want your dog to view you as a leader and as a person they can rely upon. If you are calm and confident in your leadership, your dog will realize that he/she can be calm and confident as well. It is not effective to invest in a dog trainer who will teach your dog to obey him/her but not show you how to command the same respect from your furry companion. After all, you are the one who needs to be able to live harmoniously with your pup! You want a trainer who will help strengthen the relationship you have with your dog and, furthermore, help you feel confident in your knowledge and ability to handle every new or unfamiliar situation you may encounter.

5.      Cost Effectiveness – Are the prices of the trainer competitive to those of other trainers in the area? What does the price guarantee you? Are you guaranteed results? How long will it take for you to start to see those results? Does the trainer charge a monthly or hourly fee? Will they charge you for additional sessions if client expectations are not met? What if the session extends beyond its scheduled time? Ultimately, we receive many clients who have invested large sums of money into multiple trainers and have yet to witness satisfactory results. For this very reason, it is important to research your trainer and consider how effectively your money is being spent. Is it worth it to invest more into a trainer who does guarantee their results so you won’t find yourself needing another trainer in the future? Find the trainer who will support you long-term and who truly prioritizes your dog’s success and well-being.

Training the basics

Dog Training Richmond Va

One of the biggest problems we find that owners who struggle with their dogs have is; a dog who is inattentive, reactionary, and impulsive. They have a dog who sees, hears, smells something and instantly reacts. Usually they ignore all commands, and blow off the owner to do what they desire. A dog who if they want to do something, they simply do without giving zero thought of the outcome. A dog who is in fear, hides. One who dislikes someone or another dog, growls and/or attacks. Wants something, takes. Wants to run, goes. Etc. etc.

When training basic commands with your dog, it is important to challenge them as they are learning. They will only learn that they need to listen (and sometimes it’s for their own safety) all the time, if you teach them to do so. It shouldn’t matter where you are or what they are doing, i.e. at the park or on a hike, they should always have one eye and ear on their owner. By training them that commands are non-negotiable, you can override different fears, impulses, and aggression. What we teach in every session with every client are the three D’s of proofing a command. Think of proofing a command like bomb proofing. That NO Matter what is happening they need to listen. The three D’s of proofing commands in training are distance, duration, and distractions. We teach the same thing to dogs who are fearful, who are reactive, who are bratty, who are aggressive. But how they affect them is different.

Distance equals confidence: One of the first questions we ask dog owners is “does he/she follow you everywhere around the house”. Dogs that exhibit anxious/fearful behaviors or are dealing with separation anxiety are the usual culprits of this behavior of following their owners everywhere. Creating distance with training our furry companions, they learn to handle being on their own and don’t need to lean on us for emotional support in order to feel at ease. For the bratty or aggressive dogs, they learn whether my owner is next to me or far away they still need to listen. The more comfortable they feel away from their owner, the more confidence they have to stand on their own four paws.

Duration equals calmness: Duration is the amount of time a dog has to stay in the command. When you are training duration, you are teaching your dog to relax and calm down. How? Think of duration as meditation. Meditation usually involves us sitting or lying down for a period of time. It would be rather difficult to meditate if you were pacing a room. So training your dog to lay on a bed and to stay there will help them learn to relax. Some dogs have a natural ability to just hang out for long periods, even as puppies. While others have an inability to sit still for more than five seconds, but truthfully all dogs have the ability to learn how to calm down for a long period. After practice they start to allow themselves to relax through duration work and they learn that they do not always have to be going 100 miles an hour all the time. This learned calmness allows you to teach your dog an on and off switch therefore they can have their fun but when it is time to relax, they can return to a state of calmness. Which is extremely helpful for the hyper guys who constantly need to be on the go.

Distraction equals impulse control: Distraction is one of the biggest challenges for most dogs. Have you ever seen the video of the dog, where the owner has stacked numerous treats on the dog’s snout? This dog has amazing impulse control. This pup’s ability to sit still and not give into the temptation of eating all the cookies is amazing. While training this specifically isn’t completely necessary, but what I’m talking about is helping your dog learn to control their urge to react to every sound, or sniff every bush, investigate every person walking by the window. Training them that no matter what is happening, they need to control their urge to investigate when they are in command. That no matter what is going on they need to control their urge to all the distractions in the world.

Using Calmness to Train

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Have you ever been in a panic? Of course, we all have. But thinking back to that moment, did you make clear and rational decisions? For example, you’re running late for work so you rush out the door. While driving, you take more risks like speeding, running stop signs or traffic lights, tailgating other drivers. All in a frenzy to get into work, you’re loudly yelling at other drivers to get out of your way. Knowing they cannot hear a word you’re yelling (in some cases this is a good thing), but you yell all the same. Stuck in traffic, you remember that in your rush to leave you forgot to lock the front door or turn off lights and appliances. Finally at your desk you take a sigh of relief and think to yourself that maybe it’s time to invest in a backup alarm clock. So the next time you forget to charge your phone, the backup is there to make sure this never happens again.

At that moment, the moment you took a breath and calmed down you made a choice to prevent that experience from happening again. What if you could help your dog do the same? What if you could help him/her take a deep breath and calm down?

Whether your dog is anxious, aggressive, or is completely bonkers and overly excited all the time helping them take a deep breath and calm down could change their life (and yours) dramatically. Take a moment and imagine what your dog’s life could be. Imagine the best version of your dog the can see other dogs on leash and not react, the I come home from work and he/she hasn’t completely destroyed everything, the is freaking out at the sight of another person/dog and say I can help my bestie overcome this. I can help them calm down, because you can.

So much of what we do here - and what other trainers who are aware of the value of calmness do as well- is teach impulse control. Using anchoring commands like “place” and “down/stay” with long durations. While also teaching not to pull on leash, not to fly out of crates and doors, waiting for food, and approach all things in a chilled out and relaxed fashion….except of course playtime.

Calmness training has a huge advantage to transforming problem behaviors. A dog that exists in an amped up state of mind makes them challenging to live and work with. This being one of the major reasons we don’t use treats or toys to rehabilitate dogs. We want a calm and relaxed mind to work with, not an edgy and hyper treat or toy focused maniac. And the greatest benefits of all this calmness training instead of excitement is it creates a relationship of leadership with you and your dog. Once they understand you control their behavior, they create new reactions to otherwise stressful or anxious situations.

Addressing leash reactivity

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Recently we published a video to our Facebook feed showing a client and his dog. This dog was constantly pulling to sniff the ground, or smell a bush, randomly changing directions, just all over the place during the walk. This same dog would then bark, yelp, screech, lunge, spin, and drag when she saw another dog. This is behavior we see quite often.

The best way to address your little companions leash reactivity during walks happens long before they come into visible contact with another dog. Trying to address the reactivity when it’s happening, when your dog is already stressed and at their worst is not a winning strategy. If we are allowing them to act upon their impulses (pulling, sniffing, leash biting, marking, lunging, jumping, spinning, etc.), we cannot be surprised when they do what we have trained them to do: listen to their impulse rather than us. Allowing the bad habits of acting upon their impulses is encouraging our dogs to be disconnected and pushy, rather than attentive and polite.

So what can we do to win over our dogs? We win by creating a structured walk. We do it by having our dogs walk in a relaxed and calm heel. No more pulling on leash, sniffing whatever comes their way, no more intensely staring at other dogs, etc.. We need them to look to us for guidance and permission. If you set up your walk in this fashion - listen instead of ignore, patient instead of pushy, relaxed and calm instead of being stressed. If you see giving your dog the gift of comfort and peace of mind that comes from leadership and structure, you’ll see some profound changes in your dog’s behavior on walks. Remember, you win the battle of reactivity, long before the actual fight.

Should my dog be sleeping in the bed?

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I don't know about you but I love cuddling with my dogs; and its even better when you can cuddle all night in your bed with your little (or big) one while you sleep. I was one who allowed my dog to sleep with me in my bed every night until I started dog training and realized what I was allowing to happen. Allowing your dog on your bed, or any other type of furniture for that matter, boils down to the dog's state of mind.

Think of your bed or furniture as you getting a promotion at work to the corner office with the amazing view of the city skyline. If you consistently show up late, neglect turning in assignments, take 3 hour lunch breaks would your boss give you that corner office? Of course not, because your work is far below the expectations of someone deserving the promotion. Now if you think of yourself as the boss and your dog the employee does your dog deserve that corner office? If your dog is showing signs of aggression towards people and/or other dogs, has separation anxiety, resource guarding food, anxious of people or dogs, barking non-stop at the door, jumping on guests arriving, completely disregards you calling them over, jumps the fence, etc., then rewarding them with the corner office is only going to further encourage the behavior. On the other hand, your dog is easy going and listens to you, then letting your dog on the bed is okay because they are making good choices and are deserving of the promotion to the corner office.

The first step in showing leadership with your dog and changing the power dynamic is not giving your dog these luxuries. You have to teach them and show them that you are in charge and all of your furniture is owned by you, not them. You also have to teach them that your praise, affection, and those luxuries are earned. Over time, after training and withholding these luxuries, your dog's mind set will change and begin to see you as the leader. Once they start making better choices, you can slowly begin to give your dog a little more freedom and allow them to sleep on the bed sometimes. Praise and affection is earned, not freely given.

How can I help with my dog’s separation anxiety?

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You return home from work or running errands only to find your house is a disaster. Torn pillows, deep scratch marks on doors and windows. Not so enthusiastic voicemails from neighbors complaining about your dog’s constant barking. How can this be? I left you in the kennel and I’m positive I secured the latch before leaving. You investigate further, only to find the crate has been torn apart and your dog has cuts and scrapes on his/her mouth and paws from escaping. You go into your bathroom to collect yourself, only to pick up the scent of an awful odor. Looking on the floor you notice a present your dog left. These are all symptoms of dogs who suffer from separation anxiety.

After cleaning up the mess you sit down and think to yourself how can I help my dog with his/her separation anxiety?  First let’s start with examining your dog’s behavior prior to leaving. Is he/she panting or drooling excessively? On the slick floors do you notice sweaty paw prints? Is your dog pacing constantly and following you everywhere you go in the house?  If you are noticing some or all these symptoms this is a strong indication your dog needs help and guidance.

This brings us to how can I help my dog with his/her separation anxiety?  Let’s start with discussing the difference between separation and isolation anxiety. Isolation anxiety is your dog doesn’t want to be left alone - any person or dog will do for company. Separation distress or anxiety on the other hand, your dog is hyper-bonded with a specific person. Your dog continues to show stress behaviors in the absence of that person, even with presence of other people or dogs. Why is making this distinction important? True separation anxiety is more difficult to overcome versus isolation anxiety. Not to say nothing can be done, but more effort and time on your part will be needed to help your dog overcome and resolve the anxiety issues.

Next let’s examine your relationship with your dog. When home with your furry companion, is he/she constantly by you going from one room to another under your feet? When you are relaxing on the couch, does your dog immediately jump up to lay on your lap or cuddle next to you? If you are allowing your dog to be with you in your space constantly while you are home, leaving them is going to be that much harder. The best thing you can do is to start creating personal space. Teach your dog what we call “place” command. "Place" command is simply asking your dog to lay on a dog bed or cot and if you leave the room they must remain in their place. Think of “place” command, as doggie meditation. We are asking them to lie down and relax for long periods of time without worrying, where you are or what you are doing. Creating this distance while you are home will make it so much easier on them when you leave because they have learned to be away from you.

Another thing to focus on is your arrival and departure. Make your departures very calm, no hugging/kissing “I’ll be back” in a high pitched tone. Just calmly have your keys and head out the door. Also mix up your routine when leaving. Eat breakfast before you shower instead of after. Pick up your keys and put them in your pocket before you take your dog out for his final potty break. Make the morning as unpredictable as possible.  When arriving wait until he/she has completely calmed down. If he/she jumps all over you when you return, ignore him. Turn your back and walk away. When he/she finally settles down, say hello and greet very calmly.

Finally, the dreaded crate/kennel. Most dogs are asked to go into their crate before their owner leaves. Start asking for time in the crate even when you are home. Dogs are very smart and love routine, so if every time you leave you ask for crate they associate the crate with you leaving. Mix things up, ask them to go into their crate for 30 minutes and just hang out before you take him/her on a walk, or while preparing dinner. The crate begins to take on a different meaning. What do I do if my dog hates being in his/her crate? If that is the case, start very slow with crate. Ask them to go into their crate then immediately call them out. It is also very important to note that they are not to jump out, you need to give permission to exit. Do this over and over and over again for very short periods, we are talking seconds. For example, let's say your dog's name is Coda, you will give the command "crate", "kennel", "house". etc.. When Coda enters the crate you will give praise. Then immediately give Coda permission to leave. We like to use "break", as our you're free to do what you would  like Coda. This is done very fast; "crate' - good job Coda, "break" - good girl. Over and over and over again. Once you see your dog is entering the crate without any hesitation, slowly start adding time before you give the command to exit. Remember it's important to work at your dogs pace, take your time and keep doing repetitions.  Another great exercise to help with a dog that hates crates, feed them in their crate. Using their food has a powerful impact, and can help them associate something they have a negative feeling towards in a more positive light.

Fixing separation anxiety is hard work. It’s all too easy to get frustrated with your dog’s destructive behavior. Remember that they are not choosing to do it out of spite or malice. It’s not fun for them either. They live in the moment, and the moments that you are gone are long and terrifying. If you are making the commitment to modify his/her behavior and succeed in helping him/her be brave with being alone, you’ll not only save your home from destruction, you will enhance the quality of your dog’s life immensely.

Can using a crate help calm my dog?

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Imagine this: You just left your previous job and you were immediately hired by another company that your friend told you about; it is your first day. You walk in pretty confident in your abilities but you are not really sure exactly what you will be doing at this new job of yours. The first thing you do is you meet with your manager to find out what your responsibilities will be within this new company. He tells that your job will be to sit and meditate in your own little space given to you by the company each day. Obviously, you are a little confused...okay maybe a lot confused by what he just told you. You ask him to clarify and he does. He tells you that he does not want you to worry about anything at all; he just wants you to have your own space to meditate for however long you need.

I don't know about you but I would absolutely love this job! For someone to tell me that I do not have to worry about anything and just meditate for a whole day may be the dream job. I bring up this "job" because it is extremely relevant to you and your dog even though you might not think so. Dogs by nature are easily excitable by different sounds and simply just by the bustling world around them. So when you are sitting there thinking "I wonder what (insert dog name here) is doing right now at home while I'm away". Most likely, there days consists of some sleep but for many dogs, they are responding to all the stimuli occurring around them every second. In their mind this is happening: "Oh, what was that sound?!", "Wait when will my owner be back?!", "What was that?! Do I need to be worried about that?!", etc. If you can imagine doing that yourself all day, it would be pretty tiring. For dogs, this constant stimulation can produce anxiety based behaviors and anxious feelings. So this leads me to the whole reason of writing this blog post which is why it is important to implement a crate into your home.

By implementing a crate into your home, you are giving your dog the job described earlier. All your dog has to do in the crate is to meditate and be calm. If you start using a crate with your dog while you are gone, over time the dog will begin to learn how to be in a calm state of mind. Once the dog learns to be in calmer state of mind, your dog is less likely to respond to the all the stimuli occurring around them which makes it much easier to train and teach your dog. Dogs are den dwelling animals and instinctively feel more safe and secure in their own place. The crate becomes a place that is theirs and only theirs. It is place they can go to to feel comfortable and safe. As owners, the crate tells the dog that they do not need to worry about the world and that we can handle it ourselves. When your dog finally realizes they can just be calm without a worry in the world, they will respect you more and you can start to become more calm as well.

Is using a dog harness detrimental to walk my dog?

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We have all been to the pet store and seen the abundance of leashes and collars that help us walk our dog. The new trend in the dog world is the harness. There have been many times where I have gone on a walk with my dog and every dog that we came across had a harness on. In the big name pet stores, they now have a whole wall of different kinds of harnesses that are supposed to make walking our dog easier. Well, contrary to popular belief, these harness can not only make walking your dog harder but can actually teach your dog to pull. Think about this:

In Alaska, mushers and their pack of dogs sled across the the Alaskan countryside throughout the year. The dogs that mush as a living are not taught to walk nicely in heel but are taught to pull the sleigh for long periods on time. The question is what kind of collar do they use in order to get these dogs to pull? The answer is a harness! So if you think about it when you put a harness on your dog you are becoming a sleigh. The strongest part of the dog is the chest area therefore when you walk a dog with a harness, you are allowing the dog to use the strongest part of them to control the walk...and you. Harnesses are made to develop a pulling response from the dog and they basically set your dog up to learn how to pull when on leash.

Now that we have told you the explanation on why we do not recommend harnesses, it is a good transition to talk to about the collars that we do recommend. Here at Calm K9 Training, our go-to collar is called a prong collar. More specifically, the Herm Sprenger prong collar. Why? Unlike many other manufacturers, Herm Sprenger collars are beveled. They round each and every prong to prevent discomfort for the dog. Many people look at these collars and think they are barbaric but in reality, these collars do no harm to a dog if used correctly. The most important part of that last sentence is if used correctly. Why do we use these type of collars you may ask? Prong collars are a tool for owners to communicate to their dogs when they are doing something wrong AND when they are doing something right. It empowers the owner and gives them the control that is needed when walking a dog that is a puller or is reactive on-leash. However, we do not recommend going out to buy a prong collar and immediately use it on your dog without any guidance. It is important to learn about these collars and how to use them before you use them on your dog. We all want our dogs to learn but as dog owners, we must be learning as well. Remember, it is a learning process for all of us not just our dogs.