Questions About Dogs and Training

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This page contains all Questions About Dogs and Training FAQs on one page for easy search. For a more formatted view, visit the page ‘Dog Questions and Answers’ instead. If you have questions about service dogs, please visit our Service Dog FAQs on Total K9 Focus.

Q:
What is Training without Conflict?

(FAQ in Questions About Dogs)

A:

Training without Conflict (TWC) is Ivan Balabanov’s School for Dog Trainer’s certification. Ralf graduated as part of the first group of students. Here are some critical distinguishing factors:

  • Training without Conflict teaches WHY and HOW things work the way they do. TWC provides a deep dive into fully understanding how to train dogs in the fastest, most effective, and most fun way possible. Fun for both the dog, the dog owner, and the trainer.
  • The program helps trainers understand how to effectively work with each dog’s genetic predispositions and harness them during the training process instead of battling them. This creates harmony during training, which is what ‘training without conflict’ means.
  • Training without Conflict equips trainers to train high-level obedience, successfully work with severe behavioral cases, and stand out from the crowd through evident ability and skill. The way you see dogs will change. The way you talk about dogs will change. The way you work with dogs will change. This fundamentally different way of interacting with dogs leads to superior results.
  • TWC allows trainers to produce lasting results that dog owners and dogs enjoy equally. Trainers will be able to work with dogs where many others have failed. Clients will be better served because TWC trainers can do what other trainers often can not.
  • Training without Conflict trainers elevate the conversations they participate in online and offline by fully understanding and applying learning science to dog training correctly. More profound knowledge can drive conversations by reason instead of emotion.
 
Q:
My Dog is On Drugs, Can We Start Training?

(FAQ in Questions About Dogs)

A:

We often get asked when a dog is on drugs if we can start training? The short answer is “no.” Let me explain why.

First, let’s clarify what drugs. We are specifically talking about psychopharmaceuticals, like Prozac and so on. Drugs that affect the brain. If a dog is on other medication, training can usually begin if the dog is healthy enough to do so.

Veterinary Behaviorists

The pet industry in the United States is booming. It is about $80 billion in annual sales for dogs alone. The veterinary sector wants a more significant piece of that pie. They are expanding through the field of veterinary behaviorists. Veterinary behaviorists attend veterinary school and are the psychiatry arm of veterinary medicine. They usually prescribe drugs instead of training (there are occasional exceptions). It’s a good business as it creates a new monthly revenue stream.

Veterinary behaviorists have varying levels of education. At the highest level, they attended a specialized school and completed intense studies. However, the problem is that it is primarily theoretical. Their daily interactions with dogs are very limited compared to professional dog trainers. As a result, it is very difficult for veterinary behaviorists to understand what is and isn’t a behavioral problem. When you lack the knowledge of how to interact with a dog, classifying behaviors as problematic is questionable. Common statements include:

  • “The dog is too active; let’s calm him down with drug A.”
  • “The dog is showing behavior B; let’s give him drug C.”
  • “Training isn’t good; they use aversives. We don’t want that.”

A Conflict of Interest

Many veterinary behaviorists don’t want dogs to receive adequate training instead of drugs because they would lose clients. They prefer the dogs to be on medication to prescribe refills every month. It’s a good revenue stream.

However, this approach has several problems. First, we don’t fully understand how those drugs work. Second, those drugs are not benign—they have many serious side effects. Third, these drugs often don’t work.

Psychotropic drugs have evolved over time, but these problems persist, regardless of the drugs’ generation. Common side effects include weight gain, epilepsy, and lack of sex drive. The last part is not necessarily relevant for most dogs. However, there are also significant health warnings on how these drugs affect the heart, liver, kidneys, and brain. The side effects are plentiful.

Of course, veterinary behaviorists can offer treatment for medical conditions that could affect a dog’s behavior. Thyroid issues would be on top of that list. And they can affect a dog’s behavior (e. g., lead to aggressive behaviors). In that case, thyroid medication is the first step and maybe all that is needed. But, we are alarmingly medicating dogs for things that are not medical issues. It parallels the use of drugs in human psychiatry. Yet, there are few studies on these medications’ long-term use, which should give us pause.

The Scientific Data

Selective publication of clinical trials on psychotropic drugs also could lead to a bias about their perceived effectiveness, according to a study led by researchers at the Portland Veterans Affairs Medical Center (New England Journal of Medicine, January 2008, Volume 358, Issue 3, Pages 252–260). The study examined 74 FDA-registered studies for a dozen antidepressants. It found that most studies with negative results were not published in the scientific literature. Or they were published in a way that conveyed a positive outcome.

Another study, “Effectiveness of Antidepressants – An Evidence Myth Constructed from a Thousand Randomized Trials?” published in Philosophy, Ethics and Humanities in Medicine, May 2008, Volume 3, Issue 14, had similar findings. These medications seem like a magic bullet during the sales pitch. But, as hundreds of thousands of dog owners have discovered, they are not. It is always an expensive discovery.

Working With Me

As a dog trainer, I regularly get inquiries from dog owners on those medications. Their dogs are in “treatment” with behavioral specialists. If the drugs worked as advertised, those dog owners would not be looking for training.

I don’t work with dogs on those drugs. I advise owners to discuss how to discontinue usage with their veterinarian before training can be scheduled. These medications must not be stopped “cold-turkey” as that can lead to very dramatic chemical imbalances. These are serious drugs, and they must be discontinued gradually.

I am obviously not opposed to medical treatments, but veterinary behaviorists don’t interact much with dogs; dog trainers do. Veterinary behaviorists may mean well, but they simply don’t understand what is and isn’t normal dog behavior. As such, their advice is based on very limited, narrow knowledge. As the old saying goes: “If all you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.” In this case, a pharmaceutical nail.

Problem Behaviors

Dog on Drugs for Dog Misbehavior

It is essential to realize that most “problem behaviors” dog owners contact dog trainers for are normal dog behaviors. They are simply expressed in unacceptable contexts. No drug can change that. For example, a dog chasing squirrels is normal behavior. A dog chasing kids on skateboards is essentially the same thing; we just can’t allow that. This is an example of normal behavior expressed inappropriately. This is the same with aggressive behaviors and most other behaviors. These challenges can usually be addressed quickly through training, not through drugs. These problems are not rooted in a Prozac deficiency but a lack of opportunity for genetic drive expression.

My main problem with veterinary behaviorists is that, in their view, “science says” aversives should not be used. That is not what science says at all, but it sounds good. After positive reinforcement (including differential reinforcement programming) doesn’t work, the dog is sterilized and put on drugs. There is no evidence that this works either, but there is money to be made. Yes, I am that cynical about it after 18 years in this industry.

Knowledge Gap

It’s unlikely I could have a meaningful conversation with a regular medical doctor about proper nutrition. Equally, I can’t take seriously a veterinary behaviorist’s advice on a dog’s behavior. They essentially have no way of knowing what is and isn’t normal canine behavior. To know that, you must spend time interacting with many dogs, not just read about them. Book knowledge is meaningful and valuable, no question. But it is no substitute for actually interacting with the species under discussion.

The well-known Canadian clinical psychologist Jordan Peterson once said the following in an interview. “The worst dog I’ve ever met was owned and trained by a behavioral psychologist.” Book knowledge and experience are different things. Edison didn’t invent the perfect light bulb in the lab and then just had to build the thing once. He made 10,000 light bulbs before it finally worked. Hands-on experience matters.

More Scientific Data

Lastly, a recent study in the Journal of Veterinary Behavior (May–June 2021, Volume 43, Pages 46-53) found that these medications essentially don’t even work. The study stated, “…surprisingly, we failed to find any significant associations between treatment response and the administration of specific medications…”. This may have been surprising to the researchers, but it was not surprising to professional dog trainers.

Veterinarians and dog trainers should strive to work together for the best outcome for each dog. However, that is only possible if each stays in their lane of expertise. Not if we try to be something we aren’t.

Related Articles: The Layered Stress Model

 
Q:
What is a Behaviorist?

(FAQ in Questions About Dogs)

A:

A behaviorist is someone who subscribes to the concepts of behaviorism, also known as behavioral psychology. Behaviorism is a theory of learning that assumes all behaviors are learned through interaction with the environment through conditioning. Hence, all behavior is simply a response to environmental stimuli. Behaviorism is only concerned with observable stimulus-response behaviors that can be studied in a systematic and observable manner. While revolutionary at the time, from today’s perspective, it is pretty evident that this view was very limited and, in many aspects, has proven to be incorrect.

Behaviorists

Behaviorists are generally people with a college degree in behaviorism. Those tend to work in research. However, many dog trainers call themselves behaviorists these days to advertise their focus on working on behavioral challenges in dogs. That doesn’t indicate they have any advanced degree in behaviorism or any particular skill set. They just repurposed an official college degree into something other. Many of these so-called behaviorist dog trainers are stuck in a 1950s mentality of thinking that has been upended by subsequent advances in understanding. That doesn’t diminish the importance of behaviorism and its models. They are very important. But it means there is much more to understanding behavior and resolving behavioral challenges than this early field of scientific understanding.

Veterinary Behaviorists

A special breed of behaviorist that has emerged in the last ten years is the veterinary behaviorist. Veterinary behaviorists attend veterinary school and are the psychiatry arm of veterinary medicine. They usually prescribe drugs instead of training. This creates a new monthly revenue stream. There are different levels of education for veterinary behaviorists. At the highest tier, they do have to attend a specialized school and complete intense studies. However, the problem is that it is primarily theoretical. Their daily interactions with dogs are very limited compared to dog trainers. As a result, it is very difficult for them to understand, let alone explain, what is and isn’t a behavioral problem. When you lack the knowledge of how to interact with a dog, classifying behaviors as problematic is a highly questionable practice.

This is especially concerning as a recent study in the Journal of Veterinary Behavior (May–June 2021, Volume 43, Pages 46-53) found that these medications essentially don’t work. The study stated, “…surprisingly, we failed to find any significant associations between treatment response and the administration of specific medications…”.

A Brief History

The journey of the scientific understanding of behavior started to take off in the 1860s with the studies of Ivan Pavlov (known for classical conditioning) and John B. Watson (known for The Little Albert experiment). Watson laid the foundation for behaviorism (1900–1950), which was further advanced by Edward Thorndike (known for The Puzzle Box and the Laws of Learning) and, most famously, B. F. Skinner, who formulated operant conditioning as we know it today.

As a counterbalance, humanistic psychology (1930–1970) developed. It was a rebellion against what some psychologists saw as the limitations of the behaviorist approach. As a result, humanistic psychology is a perspective that emphasizes looking at the whole being and the uniqueness of each individual.

Next came the cognitive revolution (1950–1970). It was an intellectual movement that began in the 1950s as an interdisciplinary study of the mind and its processes. It later became known collectively as cognitive science. A key goal of early cognitive psychology (1970–present) was to apply the scientific method to studying human cognition.

In parallel, ethology (1930–present) looked at behavior differently. Ethology focuses on behavior under natural conditions (instead of the lab) and views behavior as an evolutionarily adaptive trait, not simple stimulus-response conditioning.

Today: Evolutionary Psychology, Neuroscience, and Genetics

Evolutionary psychology (1980–present) is the current field of study and where our most advanced understanding comes from to date. Evolutionary psychology synthesizes developments in various fields, including ethology, cognitive psychology, evolutionary biology, anthropology, and social psychology. At the base of evolutionary psychology is Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection. This is further aided by our advances in understanding genetics.

Evolutionary psychology, neuroscience, and genetics shape our current understanding of behavior. Over the last 70 years, the advances have upended many behaviorism doctrines and refocused our efforts on seeking more profound understanding and not superficial observations alone. Focusing on observable behavior was a fine start when we had no other options. However, today we have functional MRI scanners and no longer have to treat the brain as a black box. Behaviorists focus primarily on observable behavior only and, as such, have a narrow view of most behavioral challenges.

Related Article: Dog Behaviorist or Dog Trainer?

 
Q:
Do You Use Shock Collars/e-Collars?

(FAQ in Questions About Dogs)

A:

I usually don’t use e-collars for obedience training. Never say never, but 95% of the time, that would be an unnecessary and foolish idea.

However, I sometimes use them. Generally speaking, electric collars (e-collars) are overused in dog training. There is no need to train obedience with e-collars just because we can. I don’t even remember the last time I used an e-collar with a dog in our Board and Train program. It’s rarely necessary. If I think it is the best option, I will discuss it with you before I use it with your dog and explain why and how, so you can decide.

Aversives are used to either stop behaviors that must end or stop dogs from choosing competing reinforcers (e.g., squirrels) over commands. Many things can be aversive; it depends on context. Something that may be aversive in one context is not aversive in another. For example, a time-out (removal from a situation). If your dog doesn’t like visitors and you put him back in his crate, he may enjoy that. While another, very social dog, would hate it when there is a new person to interact with. It all depends.

E-collars are aversive. That’s the point. That is their purpose. They allow to quickly teach a dog to NOT do something by attaching unpleasant consequences to it. Sometimes they are necessary or at least the easiest and fastest way to a necessary outcome, but the keyword is SOMETIMES.

Using E-Collars for Stopping Behaviors

Let’s say your dog eats sprinkler heads, self-mutilates his tail, or chases kids on skateboards. In such scenarios, including an e-collar at some stage as part of a larger training plan can make a lot of sense or may be the only responsible option. For example, a dog chases his tail, catches it, and self-mutilates to the point of serious injury—daily! Are you interested in embarking on a 6-12 month differential reinforcement program that may or may not work out? Probably not. It would be irresponsible and not in your dog’s best interest to let him suffer further injuries. There are many other scenarios. With an e-collar, such behaviors can usually be reliably suppressed with a couple of applications.

Using Them For Competing Reinforcers

Dealing with competing reinforcers is another fair application for e-collars. For example, your dog has learned whatever commands you wanted him to learn with toys or food and is good at them. But, every time you go on a walk with him through squirrel alley, all he wants to do is chase them. For dogs, squirrels are fun to chase! If that is what your dog loves doing, you need to be able to stop him before he takes off and maybe gets hit by a car and dies. If done correctly, it won’t take many repetitions to end this dangerous activity next to a street. He can still chase squirrels in the backyard if you don’t mind.

In summary, yes, I sometimes use e-collars when I think it is in the best interest of the dog’s well-being in a particular case, but it’s not a major or frequent part of my training.

If you are interested in learning more about how e-collars should and shouldn’t be used, I recommend a recent podcast. On the Training without Conflict Podcast, Ivan Balabanov provided some great insights for dog trainers and dog owners. The episode is called The Disadvantages of Low Level E-Collar Conditioning.

If you are interested in more details on the aspects and components of dog training, I recommend my article on Positive Dog Training.

 
Q:
How Does Your Board and Train Program Work?

(FAQ in Questions About Dogs)

A:

Our Board and Train program is different and, I believe, far better than many others you will find. Here is why.

The Challenge

You got our dog to have a friend, and you are sending your dog to school because you want to enjoy living with your friend. The most common approach is to teach a set of obedience commands and boss your dog around all day long. That’s how we traditionally see it, so everyone is familiar with that approach. But does that truly get you what you are looking for?

Of course, we will teach your dog all standard commands and then some in our board and train program. But that won’t keep him from digging up your flower bed. Or eating sprinkler heads. Or chasing kids on skateboards, just to name a few ideas your buddy may get.

The challenge is your dog’s genetics. He wasn’t bred to sit home alone all day while you go to work. Maybe a few walks a week, and maybe visit a dog park here and there. Every cell in his body is genetically programmed to engage in predatory behaviors. He doesn’t get to use any of them while living with us. Further, every breed has different, additional instincts and genetic drives. If we don’t fulfill these innate desires daily, your dog will find displacement activities. These are things like digging holes and so on. We tend not to care much for the things dogs come up with.

Our Board and Train Approach

Our Board and Train program starts by getting to know your dog and figuring out what he finds most rewarding. That usually isn’t food, trust me. We develop a custom reward event for your dog to fulfill him biologically. That keeps him out of trouble. This reward event is a custom-tailored game you and your dog can enjoy together. It also becomes the reward for all obedience commands. It will take your relationship to a completely different level.

The reward game will create a fantastic relationship between you and your dog. You will have something you can do together and mutually enjoy. This is called play-based training. We usually use toys instead of food, and you will love it. I will teach you the game when you come to visit your dog during the board and train program visits.

Key Points:

  • We have a waitlist, but most dogs can start within 4-8 weeks.
  • We require a 50% non-refundable down payment at the time of booking. The remainder is due upon drop-off.
  • Our Board and Train program is 6-8 weeks long. It depends on the dog.
  • You’ll receive 1-2 training videos per week.
  • Starting at week four, expect to visit your dog for in-person training sessions.
  • Depending on your dog, socialization is included.
  • You have lifetime support for your dog.
  • Included: sit, down, stay, come, leave it, off, out (drop it), loose (casual walk), heel (formal walk), kennel.

Our Board and Train Program: Board and Train Obedience (also available for our Building Confidence Program and Resolving Aggression Program). Ralf is a certified Training without Conflict (TWC) trainer.

 
Q:
How Does Your Dog Training Service Stand Out?

(FAQ in Questions About Dogs)

A:

Our dog training service differs from what you see elsewhere. We don’t just teach your dog commands. Our focus is on making you a better team. We achieve our results through play-based training and building a strong relationship with each dog. Together, we design a custom training plan for you and your dog. Our dog training service is tailored to your needs and helps your dog meet its full potential.

When working with dogs, we consider the dog’s genetic drives. During training, we figure out how we can provide your dog with biological fulfillment and, as a result, prevent problems from recurring after we get them under control.

We have comprehensive knowledge of learning science, evolutionary psychology, and ethology, and don’t insult you with simplistic, one-size-fits-all solutions. Our dog training service offers a holistic approach, honoring your dog’s being.

Ralf is a Training without Conflict™ certified professional dog trainer (TWC CPDT), and Sarah is a Certified Master Trainer. In addition, we are professional members of the International Association of Canine Professionals (IACP) and evaluators for the American Kennel Club’s Canine Good Citizen programs. Further, Ralf is the author of the canine behavioral book If Your Dog Could Talk. Ralf has been working with dogs since 2004 and Sarah since 2011.

We encourage you to compare our dog training service with other companies. Watch our training videos and read our reviews. See the difference for yourself.

 
 

This page contains all Questions About Dogs and Training FAQs on one page for easy search. For a more formatted view, visit the page 'Dog Questions and Answers' instead.

Services and Area

We are located in Southern California and train dogs nationwide. Happy Dog Training currently offers local dog training services in the following counties. Riverside County, Orange County, San Bernardino County, Los Angeles County, and San Diego County. In addition, we offer our board-and-train program nationwide and all virtual training services worldwide.

Do you want your new puppy trained right from the start? Are you looking for help for your fearful dog? Do you need to resolve a severe aggression problem? You came to the right place! We are experienced, professional dog trainers. Ralf has trained over 1500 dogs in over 18 years, and Sarah has trained over 1200 dogs in over 11 years. Consequently, we can help you with any dog training goal.

For many of our clients, we train their dogs from puppyhood, getting them off to a great start. However, we also have extensive experience training rescue dogs from all imaginable backgrounds and circumstances. Our Board-and-Train program is our most popular.

We can help you, regardless of your dog's challenges or training goals. Being a professional dog trainer means having experience, knowledge, and skill. Further, we developed a highly effective training program to specifically help fearful dogs gain more confidence and become the best possible version of themselves. Building Confidence is our second most popular training program.

Last but not least, we are experts in dealing with all types of aggression in dogs and are often the trainers of last resort after many other programs have failed. Most of our aggressive dog clients previously spent significant money on half-baked solutions without much improvement. This is different from us. We will give you an honest assessment of what goals are realistic for your dog. We will tell you what can be resolved reliably and what likely needs to be managed before we start.

Our flagship product is our board and train program. But our virtual dog training and coaching services have become quite popular over the last couple of years. Our setup enables us to deliver online dog training services from our indoor and outdoor training areas. This allows us to help clients worldwide.

Also, check out our Free Dog Training tips on Separation Anxiety in Dogs, Potty Training aka Housebreaking, and Leash Handling for expert solutions to common challenges.

Additional Services: Presentations and Q&As on Dogs | Professional Service Dog Training

Finally, once you're ready to move forward, please use our dog training contact form to schedule a free phone consultation or book a paid, in-person consultation.

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