Classes Didn’t Help My Dog

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Classes Didn’t Help My Dog


A high percentage of our clients with adult dogs contact us to help them fix a very specific behavioural issue that has motivated them to pick up the phone and call for help. More often than not, that issue is a dog that is either aggressive or over-aroused on lead when they see other dogs. The second thing they usually tell us is that they have either tried classes and/or puppy school and their dog still has the issue. They have received a whole range of generally good advice at the training school in these class environments, but nothing has helped.

Over the past year we have started to specialise in helping clients with these issues. Part of the reason we have gone down this track is because we are set up to properly facilitate the specific environment required to conduct productive training in this area. Dogs with leash aggression or over-arousal require the following key elements in their training program if they are to be successful:

  • A thorough understanding of the motivation behind the behaviour in relation to the specific animal.
  • Very good leash handling skills. Master the leash.
  • Rock solid basic obedience to enable effective communication with the dog.
  • Highly effective reward systems. You need to be paying your dog $50 bills not 50 cents when they offer a desirable response under pressure or arousal.
  • At first, you will need a very controlled environment. You need to be able to introduce and control the relevant distractions before carefully increasing them.
  • Access to fairly neutral, suitable dogs that can be controlled and accessed on a regular basis to re-create the problem situation and facilitate the training. If your dog is highly aroused, bringing in a hyperactive dog isn’t going to help manage the energy in the room.

Every element listed above is essential to making incremental improvements and having a successful behavioural modification program. These elements are near impossible to create in a class environment for two main reasons – firstly, it isn’t possible to control all of the other dogs behaviour in the group (they are there for their own goals); secondly, you are not going to get the specialised, focussed coaching and information you need from the instructor to develop the skill set you need given they have multiple dogs in the class all requiring attention.

Whilst training classes have a number of benefits – they are generally more affordable than private lessons, you get to train your dog around other dogs, and if their behaviour is generally okay and you aren’t needing too much specialised information, you will achieve good results- sometimes individual coaching and personalised expert advice is required to address certain problems.

The other factor to consider is that off lead behaviour doesn’t always reflect on lead. It is quite common for a dog to behave well with dogs off lead but still show considerable arousal when on lead and sometimes even aggression. When a dog is restrained, it can very easily build frustration, create some anxiety through feeling a lack of control, and if it’s opposition reflex is triggered it can increase arousal – e.g. If a dog feels pressure on its chest from a harness, they will instinctively lean into that pressure causing an increase in arousal.

High arousal on lead can develop as a result of inappropriate off lead play, be it high adrenaline dog park play with unfamiliar dogs and generally very few rules or anyone enforcing appropriate play. This type of social interaction is akin to a human mosh pit. If this is the only type of interaction the dog has with other dogs, every time it sees another dog it will have an involuntary adrenaline response, resulting in high arousal and undesirable behaviour.

For those of you with specific behavioural problems, such as a dog that is very hard to hand on lead near other dogs, it is very likely you will slip through the cracks in a class environment. You will finish a course feeling very underwhelmed and frustrated. A tailored program in a controlled environment, with specific dogs and individual attention is what you need. This may be a more costly option but it can save you a great deal of time and headaches in the future.



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