Animal Welfare for Dogs

Podcast - Animal Welfare

Podcast Episode 45: Animal Welfare for Dogs

This episode discusses animal welfare for dogs. The permanent management of unwanted dog behavior has become a pandemic. It’s all the rage with veterinary behaviorists, force-free dog trainers, animal rights organizations, and other groups unburdened by knowledge or understanding of typical dog behavior. The approaches and characteristics are multi-fold. They include walking your dog during off-hours, avoiding certain homes or situations, buying enrichment toys, drugging dogs, and many more. This creates animal wellness concerns for dogs.

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Podcast Transcript: Dog Welfare

Hello, this is Ralf from Happy Dog Training, and welcome to another episode of Dog Talk. Today, we’re going to talk about animal welfare. I’m probably going to have a bit of a different take than the typical one you usually hear because I’m going to put this in the context of training. Animal welfare in comparison to other things that are being suggested besides training.

So, I want to focus on that aspect more because that’s an aspect I care about, and it’s something that comes up more and more. I find it somewhat interesting on the one hand but also disturbing on the other how the issue is framed.

A Management Pandemic

To my mind, there is a pandemic management. And what I mean by that is that there are more and more suggestions that behavior in animals and dogs particularly—but it applies to other animals that live with us—but obviously, we’re focusing on dogs. That the behavior of dogs should be managed instead of modified.

So, it becomes managing everything, adjusting your life, fixing this and that in your home, and putting up this barrier and that barrier. Walking a different path and avoiding situations your dog doesn’t like and things like that. Management basically. Don’t fix things. Don’t train things. Only the things you really can’t manage, you should train. And that’s not something I can get behind. And that’s not just because that’s my job, and I train dogs. But I think it’s a problem for animal welfare. It’s an animal welfare concern to me.

These ideas of permanent management, veterinary behaviorists really propagate them; the force-free training community is also very big into management and animal rights groups. Basically, don’t do anything to the animals; just let them be. And training shouldn’t be done. So, manage everything and don’t train. That’s not good. That’s not a good approach for living with dogs. It’s not good for the dogs, not good for anybody. It just becomes a never-ending management palooza. A lot of stress and a lot of work in your home. It doesn’t help your dog. It just avoids the problem. But it doesn’t make your dog better.

Training Example Tina

So, I’m going to post—in the show notes—I’m going to post two videos. And I think they’re a beautiful example of what training can accomplish and why we need to train and not manage. And it’s Tina and anybody who follows Ivan Balabanov and the journey with Tina will be familiar with these.

I will link the first video he did, the case study video. And then the last update six months later of how the transformation went, because it’s quite remarkable. But that’s a great example of training. Training without anything other. No drugs, no management, just training. These are just strategic things that you manage for a bit during the training protocol, but not as a permanent way of living.

Management is not how this was accomplished. This was achieved by modifying the behavior through a sophisticated training protocol. It was very targeted toward what Tina needed. And that is what it’s all about. It’s about training to change dogs’ behavior when that needs to happen.

Managing Behaviors Affects Animal Welfare

So, when your dog eats sprinkler heads, the answer is not to put fencing around them or bury them. That’s management. That’s not the answer. If your dog is afraid of other dogs, you should try to work on your dog’s confidence versus just avoiding other dogs all the time. Because ideally, we get a dog to the point where he gives other dogs a chance and he can have social interactions, maybe makes a friend or two. It doesn’t have to be everybody, but it would be good for him to make friends with other dogs because it’s good for dogs to be with other dogs from a mental perspective. This is just, again, an animal welfare concern.

But this management pandemic that we are in. Where did this come from, and how did it start? Because it didn’t used to be this way. We used to look at behaviors in dogs that we didn’t appreciate as something we should address through training. And only if we couldn’t address them through training would there be a management aspect.

It’s not that there is never time for managing things. There certainly is. Management is not something you should never do, but it shouldn’t be the first thing you do, it shouldn’t be the main thing you do, and it shouldn’t be the predominant thing you think about. How can we manage all of this?

Making Dogs Better

It should be what can help this dog be better. Can we help this dog have a richer life? Because if we can train a dog to function at as much liberty as this particular dog in front of us can handle—this will vary by dog—but the more liberty a dog can handle, the richer its life will be. If a dog can be trusted off-leash because he has a recall, he can go hiking off-leash on a trail, have a blast, and be a dog out in nature. If that’s not feasible because he takes off, well, you can’t do that. Keep him on a leash, which is not great if you go hiking, or maybe you end up not going hiking or you don’t bring him, so your dog misses out.

The more freedom a dog can be trusted with, the better his life quality will be and that is the animal welfare I’m talking about. It’s about trying to give our dogs the best possible life and fulfillment and making them the best version of themselves.

Outcomes Vary By Dog

And it will vary by dog how far this can go. Some dogs are just social butterflies and have no issues and it’s great. Those dogs don’t always end up with dog trainers. They may take some obedience classes or something, but that’s about it. But for behavioral cases, they wouldn’t come in for fear; they wouldn’t come in for anxiety; they wouldn’t come in for these things because they don’t have any of them.

But then there are other dogs who are very fearful for whatever reason.

There’s usually a genetic component to that. There are going to be limits we’re going to run up against in how much better we can make a dog. And we have podcasts on that, too. But we can always improve them and help them explore the world more. But that would never happen if we just managed everything. So, if you have a fearful dog who doesn’t like anything and we’re just trying to shield our animal from everything that makes the animal uncomfortable, that’s not in the best interest of that dog.

It’s not animal welfare. That’s not acting in the animal welfare interest of our dog at that moment. It’s not helping it to become the best version of itself.

We Don’t Do It With Children

Let me take an example that’s probably relatable. We all fall, learning how to ride a bike. Many people teach their kids how to ride bikes. And you have training wheels on first and then you hold them and help them. But most children, including myself, when I was a kid when you ride a bike, you learn how to ride a bike or you get too wild on it, once you’re actually good at it. Sooner or later, most kids fall off a bike. It happens. You scrape your knees. You scrape an elbow. It’s not the end of the world.

But so, when you start riding a bike, you don’t know how much fun riding a bike can be. You’re struggling with it and not really enjoying it because it’s difficult; you don’t have the balance yet. And you fall off and you want to stop. Most parents, who know what they’re doing, will not let their kids give up on riding a bike because they fell off it once. They’ll encourage them to get back on. They’ll doctor him up. Help him. Come on, let’s try again. I’ll hold you. I’ll help you. Put the training wheels back on, whatever.

Coaching and Encouraging

But we’re going to encourage our kid to get back on the bike and become proficient because the kid doesn’t know yet how much fun they will have riding a bike through the neighborhood. They have no idea yet. Or learning how to swim or whatever it is.

We, as an adult, look at this and know this is a lot of fun. Swimming is fun. You can do it in so many places. It’s a great thing to do. You can go in the water safely. So many fun things you can do when you know how to swim. A kid who learns to swim may feel uncomfortable in the water. It doesn’t know how to swim just yet. And I was like that. I didn’t really enjoy deep pools that much. I was not that comfortable with them. And it was not that I couldn’t swim. I didn’t like it. But the better I got with swimming, the less I cared. So, it was that kind of thing.

When I was a young child, I wasn’t that happy about being in the deep end of the pool, having to swim, and maybe going underwater here and there a little bit. But I was encouraged to keep doing it and I got better. And I love swimming. I mean, it’s a beautiful thing to learn. It’s like riding a bike and other things.

Managing Fear is Bad For Animal Welfare

So, the point is we shouldn’t give up on something just because somebody doesn’t appreciate it in the beginning when it’s hard. Or they’re unfamiliar, or they struggle with it. We don’t let that happen with our kids. We keep encouraging them to try because we know that it will be fun for them once they master this.

And that’s the same with a dog. So, if we just manage behavior and don’t allow our dog to explore and encourage them and push them a little bit outside their comfort zone. I mean, don’t overwhelm them, obviously, but just like pushing them a little bit beyond what they’re comfortable with—encouraging them, coaching them, helping them explore something, trying something, and helping them through something.

It builds confidence and becomes better and stronger—more and more. Sooner or later, they’ll do things you never thought they would do, and now they enjoy them. Because they’ve learned, this is actually fun; I can do this. I actually can. I have some ability. The dog can be somebody. I can do things. I’m not this little, fragile flower that has to hide away. I actually have abilities.

That’s the same with dogs. But we don’t get that if we don’t go in a training protocol where a little push over the threshold happens. If we only manage and avoid, we never see that. That’s the animal welfare concern I’m talking about. Because it doesn’t make our dog better to hide them away, it makes it better to challenge them a little bit, pushing them outside their comfort zone just like we do with each other, with our children, and with adults in development classes.

Encouragement Goes a Long Way

This is a general principle. Just step a little bit outside your comfort zone. Try something new.

And we’re doing the same thing in training with a fearful dog, for example. But it doesn’t have to be just fear. It’s about anything we can change with training to make the dog’s life richer versus just managing the situation. We can teach a dog most of the time to stop aggressive behaviors. There are, of course, cases where it’s challenging for so many reasons. We have podcasts on that. Listen to them if you want to hear what all the different scenarios could be. But most of the time, you can usually eliminate aggressive behaviors.

And living with that versus fixing that is very stressful. So, you don’t want to live with that. Many dogs like that, if it doesn’t get addressed, they end up in the vet’s office for euthanasia. And that’s certainly not a good thing if you could actually fix it. And you don’t know if you don’t try. You have to try. If you don’t try, you won’t know. If we’re going into a management protocol and something goes wrong, our dog has to take the one-way trip to the vet; that’s not in the interest of its welfare. Going through a training process and seeing how much we can improve it, how good our dog can get, how much security we can develop, and how much trust we can build makes our dog better.

Managing Aggression is Bad For Animal Welfare

Maybe we can squash the aggressive behavior completely. Maybe we can’t. Or, at least, we can get it to a point where it’s much easier to live with and our dog can make some friends. It doesn’t mean you have to love everybody. But it’s about improving a dog’s life through training. So, management should not be done as a way of life. It should be done when we can’t fix it or we can’t address it any other way. The first example that always comes to mind is food aggression. We have a podcast on that if you want to listen to that. But food aggression is most of the time a genetic predisposition.

And it’s not uncommon because it’s evolutionarily a very successful behavior. It’s a very successful strategy for a dog to be food aggressive. That’s advantageous in the world if you’re a dog. If you’re a predator, having food aggression and protecting your resources is not a bad attribute to have, instead of just giving everything up. And dogs that have that are usually fantastic outside of that issue. So, there’s no reason to do anything other than manage that.

Sometimes Management is Necessary

That would be a management item because you literally can’t fix it in training. You can’t change a genetic trait through training. Suppressing it at the moment is possible. You can penalize it in a moment. You can start hand feeding and all these weird things that people try with food aggression, but they all fail eventually because we’re dealing with genetics most of the time, and no amount of training will fix that. No amount of suppression will change that. It’s just not a good idea. That’s a management item.

But there are not that many of those management items; there are very few. And we should not resort to management when we can train. That’s the point. So, how did we get here? How did we get to this point where everything is just managed, and we’re supposed to manage? Where people tell dog owners to manage? It probably goes back to the way the dog training world has evolved.

How Dog Training Changed

We can write a whole book about how dog training has changed. But here’s a quick, like a cliff note, so to say. Dog training used to be extremely harsh. And that was not fun. It was not fun for the dogs. It was not fun for the people. But then softer ideas came into play: clicker training, markers, bridges, food, and luring. And more positive reinforcement versus just compulsion.

And these are all great things. You should do all of them. It’s great to use positive reinforcement through play. And if you prefer food, you can go that route. But we went from this total extreme of compulsion, becoming softer, which is good. To the other extreme, now, where we’re not just softer, we’re like, oh no, no, you can’t even say “no” to your dog. That is too harsh. Don’t say “no” to your dog. There are a lot of dog trainers out there walking around saying you can’t say “no” to your dog. That’s ridiculous.

We say “no” to our children all the time. We say “no” to each other all the time. But, we can’t say “no” to our dog? That’s just silly. But it’s when you can’t say “no” to your dog. You’re not supposed to use any training collar or training tool whatsoever. It has to be only positive because if you’re not only positive, you are just a monster. You’re a horrible human being. You must be punished, shamed, or sidelined because, oh, my god.

From One Extreme To Another

We went from this one extreme of it’s just way too much compulsion, and there’s no need for any of that. To want to be softer, which makes sense, to the extreme of, there can be no compulsion at all, ever. The dog can never be made to do anything. It has to be all just free will, which is not realistic. It’s not as developed intellectually as a human being. There has to be some control where we say; you can do this; you can’t do that. That’s off-limits. That’s okay. That kind of thing. So, we have to do that. We do it with our children as I said. Anybody who is a somewhat successful parent, at some point tells his kid not to do something and instills some consequences. We collect the smartphone. We collect the Xbox because we want to change the child’s behavior.

And that would be, in technical terms, called negative punishment. Which you can do with a dog to some extent, but there are limits. There are limits on when you can employ that. And it depends on the scenario you’re dealing with if that’s an option. But the point is, consequences are a thing we do. We shouldn’t shy away from them.

Management Doesn’t Fix Problems

But if you go to the other side, everything has to be force-free and positive; we can no longer fix any problems because of the supposed solutions in the differential reinforcement realm. It’s not that differential reinforcement is a bad thing. It’s not at all. There are a lot of great things you can do with it. But it has its limits unless you combine it with some punishment. Sometimes you’re not going to be able to address all the things you can in a more traditional training route where you use a mixture of reinforcements and punishments.

For training, where you encourage what you like and discourage what you don’t like. This is the more regular thing we do with everybody in the human world.

Psychology 101. Lesson one, first day: Don’t reward bad behavior. Anybody who’s ever taken a psych class has heard that. But that’s the extreme. So, when we get to that side, we can’t fix and must manage problems. And we’re getting into this eternal management cycle because we’re not allowed to use any tools and we’re not allowed to say “no,” and we’re not allowed to modify behavior because that’s a bad idea. So, we need to manage. Again, it’s an animal welfare concern. Not a good idea.

Training Tools

I think the whole thing came from a dislike of using training tools or aversive tools because most tools are, in some way, shape, or form, aversive. A head-halter is aversive. It’s touted as this beautiful thing, but it’s not. It’s quite aversive. A regular collar can be aversive; a harness can be aversive. It doesn’t matter what it is. Anything can be aversive in the right context.

But the usual concern goes to martingale collars, prong collars, shock collars, choke chains, and that kind of stuff. So, those are the things that certain groups take issue with. And if you take issue with these tools, then you end up with these no-tool ideas and are limited in what you can accomplish in training. You end up with a lot more management than you otherwise would. But that’s a problem.

Anything Can Be Abused — That is Not An Argument

So, the problem is not that there are training tools and that you can abuse them because you certainly can. You can abuse absolutely anything. But the problem is that we are trying to equate a very targeted, limited use of a training tool in an overall training program to something that abuses a tool, and that’s all somebody does. So, if a trainer wants only to use compulsion and hammer your dog into the ground with training collars, well, look elsewhere; that’s not a good idea. We shouldn’t be doing that, either.

But if somebody takes issue with using 5% in a training program, having 5% tool usage with a 95% positive reinforcement component. Like 5% aversive collar and 95% reinforcement, encouragement, play, food, praise, or whatever positive reinforcement you use. If somebody takes issue with that slight aspect of “no,” you can’t do that; that’s an ideological problem. That’s not an actual issue that somebody is hurting a dog. We’re just power-steering a dog in the right direction with these tools.

Too Many Poor Examples

And yes, you can abuse them. There are tons of videos on YouTube and other social media websites. Large accounts with even millions of followers. It’s disturbing. Where you have really, really bad examples, no question. I’m not defending any of that. That’s not the point. But these are extremes. These are the extremes that we don’t want either. They’re bad ideas.

But they make it harder to defend any tool usage because they show such an over-emphasis on, let’s just call it, brutality because that’s what it is. And that makes everybody cringe, myself included. I don’t like seeing this either. This is not a good idea. So, somebody again, using a regular training collar that you can do a lot good with, in a very bad way, and then everybody feels bad about it and say, well, we can’t use this tool. Look how horrible this is.

Skilled Training vs. Poor Training

Versus looking at a really skilled trainer that uses the same tool in a completely different way. And if you watch that trainer work, and I would like to think I’m one of them, if you watch someone work in this way, you will not take any issue with anything that happens in that training session. And yes, that dog has a prong collar, but nobody will take issue with what they’re seeing because it’s not bad. There’s no bad anything. There’s no yelping. No screaming; there’s no anything. It’s just a happy dog doing its thing, getting slightly nudged in one direction or the other here and there because he’s not quite doing what he’s supposed to do.

With this balance, we can fix problems. But, if we don’t even allow the slightest aspect of that in any training program, well then, we can’t fix certain issues and we’re ending up in a more permanent management scenario and that’s a problem. This is not good for the family. That’s not good for the dog. It doesn’t make the dog better. And it’s an ideological issue. It’s not an actual animal welfare issue. The welfare issue is that we’re not fixing something we could.

Training is Good for Animal Welfare

A couple of examples just from the top of my head. I’m going to pick some examples that are very clear-cut because I want to make a point, obviously. Let’s take going hiking on a trail. If you want to teach a dog not to approach the scent of a rattlesnake, you’re going to need a shock collar. Because when he does that, you’re going to attach a consequence to approaching the scent of a rattlesnake, and the dog will learn that’s a bad idea without getting bitten, without getting injured, without getting any venom in it.

And now, because of that, I can let my dog loose on a hiking trail and my dog can explore nature. Probably also a good idea to have a solid recall, which I also need a training tool for if I want to recall under distractions. I can teach my dog the concept of recall without distractions, without anything.

Training Creates More Liberty

I can use food or a ball. No problem. But the moment there is a competing reinforcer in the environment, like a squirrel running up the tree—a rabbit to chase on the trail. I need a tool to stop that. My dog will be on a training collar and leash, and I can do that. I need to do that also in training. So, now I have a recall I used a tool for, and I have rattlesnake avoidance I used a tool for. What does it get me? It gets me a dog I can let off the leash in the mountains on the hiking trail where it’s allowed. And the dog can have a richer life. Explore nature, be a dog, and sniff around. Anyone who has not seen a dog loose on a hiking trail enjoying nature is missing out.

Dogs Should Ear Freedom

You need to see this to appreciate it. I think. They have so much fun if they explore nature in this fashion, just being out there and enjoying themselves. And if you have a good relationship with your dog, they always come back; if you have a good recall, they come back. They’re not going to run into rattlesnakes. They’re not going to pursue them so they won’t get bitten out there in the mountain and then die because you can’t get them back to the car before the snake venom kills them.

And you’re giving your dog more freedom. You’re giving your dog a richer life. So, this is training, using these horrible things. Of course, I’m being sarcastic here. Still, we’re using tools to create and modify behaviors and teaching our dogs not to do something that tremendously enriches their lives because it allows them to do something that otherwise wouldn’t be possible. And that’s much better for animal welfare, for our dog, than keeping them on a leash the whole time.

Training Tools Create Freedom and Save Lives

And there are so many applications where tools come into play like self-mutilation, chewing on themselves, destruction of the home, and there are so many things you can think of that dogs do for reasons that can absolutely be addressed by using some tools in a very targeted, limited manner. You don’t have to go nuts. You don’t have to do anything dramatic, but you have to have some way of convincing a dog not to do something that has to stop. And by doing that, you make the dog’s life better.

Is it better to stop a dog from chewing on its tail using a training tool or amputating it? What’s better? To me, it’s not a question. It’s obviously, better to stop him from chewing his tail if we can. It’s not that you always can. I’ve had one case, one woman. I mean, the most dedicated dog owner you can imagine.

One of the really, really committed German Shepherd owners among my clients. And what she went through with her dog. Ultimately, the tail was amputated, which was the only thing that worked. I mean, she got very creative. We tried every single training approach you can think of. Veterinary behaviorists went at it; vets went at it. Behavior consultants of all kinds went at it. I mean, she tried and tried and tried every suggestion made to her. And the dog stopped but always went back to tail chasing. It was neurological.

Only Manage When Necessary

And at some point, like it was two or three years of trying. Her vet said maybe we should amputate the tail. And she said, yes, we should probably do that. And then they did that, and the dog didn’t start chewing anything else. This would have been a potential risk, which they were aware of, but the dog stopped after the tail was gone. There was no tail to chew. So, in this case, amputation was necessary.

But for most dogs, that’s not the case. I have many clients where the dog was chasing its tail or trying to chew on its tail or its paws for neurological reasons, and we can absolutely stop that. And then we don’t have to do any medical procedures after that. It just stops.

The same with aggression. Aggression is the thing that gets dogs euthanized at vet offices a lot. Is it better to stop that if we can and have the dog go on and live a rich and happy life with people or euthanize them for the behavior? That’s not animal welfare to me. Again, let’s not kill the dog if we can avoid it.

Again, there are scenarios where you can’t. I’ve seen many things over the years, some really sad stories that were no one’s fault; neurological issues and genetic issues in dogs. There’s just nothing to do. If it’s just dangerous to have this animal around you, certain decisions must be made, but that’s not the case most of the time. Those are the rare cases.

Training Should Always Be First

And when you have a behavior that we haven’t tried to address through training, you should never consider euthanasia. You should try it through training first. So, that’s another thing. Training has to be definitely the first thing. If you have a behavior that’s dangerous or that needs to be curbed for the dog to continue to live with us. Train, don’t, manage. I mean, manage for safety while you go through training, so you don’t have accidents, but do training. That’s not a management item.

Those things come to mind when I think of animal welfare. We can give our dogs richer lives. We can make them better at liberty, knowing there will be limitations. Not every dog will be able to earn the same level of freedom. But that’s fine.

As long as I can give my dog more freedom than he had before training. I’ve made the dog’s life better. And now he has two or three friends. He has some freedom. His life quality goes up. So, it’s an improvement that comes through training. That will never happen if we go straight into a management cycle.

Hire the Right Trainer

If you have a behavioral issue, the best chance you have of making a real dent in that as a dog owner is hiring a skilled and experienced dog trainer. Not somebody who just did this for the last couple of years. You could find a fantastic trainer who’s been in business for two or three years. It’s not that you couldn’t. It’s just difficult to sort that out and the likelihood is low.

You’re much better off having a seasoned dog trainer with the right background, education, training, and certifications, not just one from one place. You can look up the people he was trained by like he’s done many things. You get some good recommendations. Of course, I always recommend Training without Conflict Certified Trainers and dog trainers from the Michael Ellis School of Dog Training. Those are the two camps in the United States I recommend. And when you have serious issues, those are skilled individuals who were trained by some of the best and will have solutions and answers that others haven’t thought of.

Veterinary Behaviorists Lack Experience With Dog Interactions

That should always be step number one. Hire a skilled trainer. A lot of people end up going to veterinary behaviorists first. And the thing to know about that is that veterinary behaviors—and some of them are certainly very well educated. It’s not that they don’t have an education. They do. And there are degrees of how good the education is depending on where they went. But some of them are very well educated.

But I would personally say, from my experience, probably not the majority. The majority is more at a medium level of education. At the same time, there is a top tier, maybe 10% to 20% of them, who have a really high level of education, and they will come up with more creative ideas to help people, including more balanced training programs.

But when you go to a veterinary behaviorist, you must remember that they do not interact with dogs in a realistic environment or manner as much as a seasoned dog trainer who has worked for 10 to 15 years. I think I mentioned on the dog trainer podcast episode before the average dog trainer works with about 80 to 120 dogs a year, depending on their business model and where they work. They may touch more dogs when they work in a larger dog training facility where they’re involved in some aspects or some sessions with more animals.

Dog Trainers Interact With Dogs

But when you are training a dog from start to finish over a couple of weeks or months of a program, 80 to 120 is the industry average of a dog trainer. When you work and interact with dogs that much, you understand as a trainer what is and isn’t typical behavior and how behavior is best approached in the context of living with us. A veterinary behaviorist doesn’t have that experience. It’s not what they do. It’s book knowledge. And there’s nothing wrong with book knowledge.

I’m a big fan of books, but you cannot get to the same level of experience and understanding of what is and isn’t typical just from reading about it. You need more than book knowledge to fix these problems with anything other than medication. So, while you should—I’m not saying you shouldn’t go to a veterinary behaviorist, by all means, go. If you want to get an opinion, there is nothing wrong with that. But know that there are limitations in their experience with what dogs are really naturally about and how they normally interact. So, the recommendations will be based on more theoretical knowledge than practical experience.

Okay, so these are my animal welfare thoughts. Training first. Management only if you have to. That’s the summary of everything I just said. And I hope you find this interesting. It was informative. You got something out of it, and I see you again next time. Bye.


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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.

Other Resources

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

Contact Us and Start 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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About Ralf and Sarah

Happy Dog Training is the pet dog training business of Ralf Weber and Sarah Gill. We are certified professional dog trainers in Southern California. We are specialized in advanced obedience training, all forms or behavioral challenges and service dog training. For behavioral training, we are known for our work with aggressive and fearful dogs. Our service dogs, through Total K9 Focus, have a nationwide reputation for their reliability, longevity and performance.


Certified Professional Dog Trainer Ralf Weber is lead pet dog trainer of Happy Dog Training. Ralf is a long-time dog owner of German Shepherds. During his career, Ralf has worked with over a 1500 dogs of many different breeds. Moreover, Ralf has a thorough understanding of all aspects of canine training. This includes evolutionary psychology, ethology, and, most importantly, learning science. Ralf is specialized in resolving dog behavior challenges—especially fear and aggression. Apart from this, Ralf trains dogs in basic and advanced obedience, service dog tasks, and GRC Dog Sports. Ralf is further certified in a broad range of other canine training areas. Last but not least, Ralf is the author of the behavioral book If Your Dog Could Talk: Understand Your Dog Like Never Before.

Ralf loves helping people have a better relationship with their dogs. He is a certified professional dog trainer in the Training without Conflict™ methodology by Ivan Balabanov (TWC CPDT). Ralf is also a member of the International Association of Canine Professionals and also holds their basic and advanced dog trainer certifications (IACP CDT, CDTA). In addition, Ralf is an AKC-approved evaluator for the AKC Puppy Star, CGC, and Advanced CGC programs and is also certified in canine first aid by the Red Cross.

Sarah Gill, Certified Professional Master Trainer

Sarah Gill, is a professional service dog trainer and handler. Sarah entered the world of professional service dog training after a car accident. As a result, she had to use a wheelchair for almost two years, trying to maneuver in a house not designed for it. No one expected Sarah would walk again. This opened her eyes and became a driving force behind pushing herself to defy the odds. When she regained some stability, Sarah attended a dog training school and learned how to train service dogs. Sarah completed her Master Trainer Certification and gained further experience by training new trainers. However, the school wasn’t accommodating to those with physical difficulties and PTSD. Hence, Sarah moved home to Dallas. In 2019, Sarah teamed up with Ralf and moved to California.

Sarah started this journey because she had a trained dog to mitigate her disabilities. But Sarah needed additional tasking for a new diagnosis. The only option she could find was getting a second dog for the new diagnosis. She knew there had to be a different way to address this. Sarah's passion is changing the ways of the service dog training industry.