A happy Mary Lou!
Mary Lou – President of the Fearful Dogs in Recovery Club

An Ounce of Prevention Series – Post 1

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.  ~ Benjamin Franklin.  Wise words.  When it comes to our dogs, this saying could not be truer.  As a professional dog trainer, people call me to help with their companions for a wide variety of reasons.  The most frequent request I get is for help with fearful and or aggressive dogs.  Behaviors that were cute as puppies or tolerable are now scary and unsafe.  So what is a dog guardian to do to aid in prevention to fear and aggression?  There is a list of things we can do and this series is to help address that list.

Number one on my list would be for dog guardians to learn their companion’s language.  Dogs are talking to us all of the time.  Most people do not hear what dogs are saying until they have to get out their “Hey, you!  Stop now!!” shouting voices and start waving their hands via lunging showing their big pointy teeth.  If dogs learn they have to shout and wave their hands just to get you to stop and listen to them, they will resort to using that tone voice as a matter course.  An analogy I frequently use with clients is; say you were sitting outside on a park bench and someone walked over and sat so close to you they were touching you.  You then scoot over a bit to get more space and they follow you.  Then you move to politely asking for space.  They ignore you….now what?  Either you shove them to get them to move away (your shouting voice) or you get up and leave.  Sound familiar?  Have you seen your dog do anything similar to this with other dogs or people who want to say hello in an oh too friendly personal way?

The best way to learn what dogs are saying is by observation and education.  The online world is filled with resources to help you learn what dogs are communicating to other dogs, other animals and us and how we can put that knowledge to use for bettering the lives of our dogs.

So, have I said enough to get you eager to learn?  I have gobs of favorites with different levels of interest and depth which am happy to point people towards.  My personal all-time favorite is Carol Byrnes, CPDT-KA of Diamonds in the Ruff and her “What is My Dog Saying?” Canine Communication 101 presentation.  After you have some education from professional sources under your belt, put your new knowledge to use by observing your dog and letting him know you understand him by getting him out of situations he finds overwhelming, scary or threatening.  He will thank you for it by looking to you and communicating when he needs help, not to mention many wags and face licks.

Consumer Protection Warning:  As you are out searching on the internet of guides and how to’s beware.  There are no legally mandated licenses for dog trainers.  Because of this, there is no standards committee or oversight on the profession.  This leaves the door open to any Joe Schmoe to say they have special skills that allow them to speak to dogs yet they have no background in animal learning theory to hang a sign out and say they are a dog trainer.  I would not want a doctor to tell me he read a book on how to take out an appendix just before he got that scalpel out!  Our dogs which we have taken into our care deserve as much respect and humane care as we do.  So please, research those letters after trainer’s names to see if their education and belief system is up to your standards.