How Dog Trainers can Work with Veterinarians
As a dog bite expert witness, I see my share of aggressive biting dog cases. As a dog trainer working on puppy biting and socializing I see plenty as well. In my experience less than 5% of the problem biting dogs are really serious or difficult to deal with. The best part is that the other 95% are really preventable. There are two significant causes of aggressive behavior in dogs and with a little cooperation between breeders, veterinarians and dog trainers they could be prevented. If we could do a better job of safe puppy socializing and eliminate aversive training techniques, we would prevent most of the problems from ever starting in the first place.
We don’t breed pets to be nasty; we breed them to be companions. Nature and nurture are common and perhaps overused phrases, but behavior either comes from what you are born with or what you learn. Every dog is born with whatever its temperament will be, and you can’t change that. But we can change how they are raised, their environment and what they learn. The first advice puppy owners usually get is from their vet or their breeder who are notoriously behind the times on current training and socializing protocols, but everyone assumes they are right because they are respected professionals.
When people have misguided instruction the results can be unfortunate. Too many dogs bite and misbehave because they are afraid of getting in trouble. Dogs act out to defend themselves when they don’t want to be punished. I get lots of calls from clients who say their dog growls when they “correct” it. We all know of dogs that run off and hide in “guilt” from misbehaving. We certainly see lots of under-socialized dogs that are fearful of a wide variety of things and growl, lunge and retreat to feel safe. These are all avoidable behaviors especially with a little bit of well-placed education.
A ten-minute talk at a veterinarian’s office goes a long way in helping prevent these problems. Its tempting to blame vets for preventing owners from socializing for instance, but I show them how we can all work together because safe early socializing will make their client’s pets easier to manage. I give them peer-reviewed articles from other vets on the benefits and safety of proper socializing including for example, the AVSAB Puppy Socialization Position Statement.
I still hear a lot of vets and breeders teaching methods like holding a puppy’s mouth shut for biting and worse. I give a couple non-aversive or reward-based training examples of how you can eliminate puppy biting by teaching impulse control exercises or by using removal of affection as a powerful technique when a dog is misbehaving. I eliminate the notion of catching your dog in the act, and replace it with methods like using a short-term confinement area combined with puppy proofing.
When we approach and work together with veterinarians and breeders, we can eliminate a lot of preventable problems. What can you do to be part of the solution? Call your vet today and make an appointment to bring a box of cookies and make a presentation in the afternoon staff meeting. They will remember and thank you.