(Meaning me, people. Gia is only 2.5, after all!)
This past Saturday, we had the unique opportunity to experience a private training session with Debby McMullen of Pawsitive Reactions, LLC. I had never before hired a dog trainer, and so I wasn’t quite sure what to expect! I feel like I put my whole heart into training and socializing our dogs. I do a lot of research and am constantly researching to learn new techniques and understand canine behavior more thoroughly. I am always open to learning more, but I also hoped that the trainer would be able to recognize that we were very invested in the well-being of our dogs. Once Debby walked in the door, all of these fears were cast aside.
When Debby and Georgia met, somehow Georgia was immediately on her best behavior, and I am pretty sure that the two fell instantly in love. (Although, it probably didn’t hurt that she brought homemade liver treats and peanut butter along.)
We got right to business, working on Georgia’s jumping. Of course, she was showing off for Debby and wasn’t jumping as much as she usually does on newcomers, but she did offer a few leaps & licks when Debby stopped lavishing her with attention. Debby taught us that rather than directly acknowledge Georgia’s misbehavior by correcting her with ‘No,’ ‘Down,’ or pulling on her collar, we were to turn around. This would, essentially, remove the ‘reward’ (our attention) until she was displaying more appropriate behavior, like a sit or down. At the same time, it would stop the jumping in its tracks. With repeated practice the past few days, we are definitely noticing an improvement in more appropriate greetings.
We are taking applications, however, for local friends that would like to help us with this issue! We need new people to stop over to meet Miss Gia, and not come near her until she is sitting and waiting patiently. The friends and family that have met her have been so kind, but simultaneously, are always telling us ‘Oh, it’s okay! Don’t worry!’ when she jumps up on them. Instead, we need someone who understands that this is only perpetuating her lack of manners. It is one thing to train her not to jump on us, but we need her to understand that this behavior won’t be tolerated towards anyone, including newcomers.
Once Debby had given us some new tools for the jumping issue, we began talking about Georgia’s basic obedience. Georgia is a very kind dog, and she is always looking to please. When you ask her to sit, or lay down, she is very willing to do so. However, Debby explained to us that we want to teach our dogs to ‘offer’ these good behaviors, rather than always having to request them first. This way, they will learn to make better decisions on their own, and be rewarded for them. This was the main technique that Debby wanted us to utilize was, and she called it ‘capturing’. She stressed that we must notice and mark all behavior that we want to see more of, and pay less attention to the behaviors that we want to see reduced. To put it simply, reward the behaviors that we like, and ignore the ones we don’t! Any attention, even more negative recognition like ‘No!’ is still conveyed to the dogs as attention.
Debby explained that the capturing technique was especially applicable when handling the interactions between the dogs. She complimented us for completing the two week de-stress prior to Georgia’s introduction to our dogs, as well as taking their interactions very slowly so as not to create tension between them. She wanted us to be sure to recognize any positive body language between Georgia and our perma-dogs, however discrete. This could be as minor as moving closer to one another, and as major as tail wagging and licking. It is important to note that the dogs have NEVER displayed aggressive, or even threatening, behaviors towards one another. However, we notice Georgia avoiding the other dogs occasionally, or stiffening when they bump into her accidentally. In this case, Debby recommends ‘splitting’. This is using our own body language to interrupt inappropriate behavior, such as a ‘mom stance’ (hands on hips or arms crossed, looking down at the dog). Not only does this communicate to the dog that their behavior is unacceptable, but it also shows all of the dogs that we as the owners can be trusted to protect and lead them all. Additionally, we are not using a stern voice to correct these interactions, which would only add more tension to the situation.
As per Debby’s direction, as well as advice from the team at LCPO, we will be doing more ‘tethering’. This means securing the dogs by leash to an immovable object, and then having them lay on their own mat or blanket. We will reward good behavior with high value objects such as bully sticks or stuffed kongs. Not only do these serve as a reward while the dogs are in the presence of one another, but they are also are exercising their minds, and recognizing that they are safe when together.
The session culminated with Debby expressing to us that she thinks with more socialization, Georgia should do just fine in a home with another dog, particularly if that other dog is a male. However, she also suggested taking her to some group training classes to work on her socialization. This would enable her to be around other dogs in a controlled setting, without the pressure to interact with them. Our goal will be to reward all positive attention to other dogs, as well as any time she looks to us for information on how to handle herself. Similarly to her interactions with our own dogs, this will show her that her humans are the ones that will keep her safe, and that she does not need to resort to proactive action on her part if she feels threatened.
Private training is not something that is affordable on every budget. For our scenario, I picked up a few extra hours of nannying and riding lessons, and certainly appreciated a generous discount from Debby. She has a love for pit bull dogs, and anyone that wants to help them, and so she offered us a discount in additional time. I really recommend Debby’s service, or the service of any trainer that utilizes positive reinforcement, to offer you a one-time evaluation of your training methods.
I am happy to have been able to share our experiences with all of you, and I hope that you have taken a few tips from our lessons with Debby!