Thursday, July 21, 2011

The Professional Dog Trainer


I could manage without a trainer. I have a psychologist's foundation in behavior, had a trainer for Mimi and still have all the notes, and I have trained Chou Chou to do basics like sit, down, stay. But she will be a big dog that I have to control, and as a herding dog, she will have a mind of her own. The more training, the better.

Herders have been bred to make independent decisions as they work with their flock of sheep, and sometimes her decisions will be different from mine (even without sheep). Some people see this as stubbornness; I fell in love with the intelligence -- and sweetness -- of briards, but they are not for everyone.

So I scheduled a consultation at my house with a woman who teaches dog classes. Very expensive! $100 for the visit.

I basically wanted to fine-tune my authority: when I am sitting down and I ask Chou Chou to do something, she ignores me until I am standing. 

But it went badly as soon as the trainer walked in the house. What I will describe happened within a short timespan, but when I recall it and tell it, it was terrible and so it seems like it's in slow motion:

Chou Chou was pawing her shoes, and the trainer pushed her off. Okay, sure. But Chou Chou persisted, so the trainer pinned Chou to the floor on her back. Chou Chou flailed madly, so the trainer pinched her nose. Chou had a very frightened look, wild eyes, and was trying to get up, but the trainer was squeezing her lip and pushing her down. She said I have a "spoiled dog" and she needed to get control. I was horrified. I asked her to let go of Chou Chou.

She said she wanted the puppy to "give up." But it wasn't working and Chou was pinned on her back, lip squeezed ("a $1000 parking ticket deterrent," the trainer called it, "as opposed to [my] $1 tickets.") Chou looked terrified, peed on herself, and bit the trainer as she held the poor puppy's mouth. I begged the trainer to let me put her in the crate to calm down, but the trainer said that was "too passive... Chou Chou has to learn to obey." It got intolerable for me to watch.  I pulled her off Chou Chou and as soon as the pup was free, Chou ran to the other room, into her crate. 

That wasn't necessary, much too harsh! Chou Chou's not "spoiled" -- she's a baby, only 15 weeks old.  I am consistent with the rules -- I use treats when she's doing well, and if she paws me and doesn't stop, I leave the room briefly, removing the attention she wants. If she's a little terror running through the kitchen and growly, she goes into the crate for a 5 minute time out. I just thought the trainer could help with a couple of things, but she wasn't interested in what I had to say; she said that she could see that Chou's behavior was symptomatic of a "bigger problem," that Chou Chou is not respecting me. But I don't think that's true.

I suggested we all go outside. Chou Chou took off! She ran and ran and ran around the yard, working out her anxiety. 

The trainer was frustrated with me, because I wouldn't take Chou Chou to the park down the street -- she has not had all her vaccinations and the vet told me to keep her in the yard until she has completed them (one more week). The trainer said she's "raised a lot of dogs and has always taken them everywhere before the vaccines were completed and never had a problem." I was firm that I would listen to my vet and contain Chou until she gets the last vaccine (next Saturday).  

Then the trainer said I needed to get a metal choke collar to "control" Chou Chou. I said I would not do that. This is a 15 week old puppy. 

We never got to my original questions. The session ended. Both Chou and I were glad it was over. That trainer was not going to come back!  ("Yay!")

No more aversive stuff! Lots of treats. I hand-fed her the kibble meals, 3-4 pieces at a time from my hand, saying her name, and a happy "good dog." It's taken a couple of days to get Chou Chou back the way she was, to trust me again and then make progress.

A 15 week old briard pup (who has only been with me for about 2 months) shouldn't be treated so harshly or have her spirit broken. That's my opinion.  

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