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— August 27, 2013 —

by Daniel McElroy Jr.

If you have a dog with aggression issues, there is one question you need the trainer to answer. That ONE question is this. “How many times have you been bitten recently?”

This week’s Tail is more of a humorous thought than a Tail. Recently, I was evaluating a young dog for aggression issues. He was a little prone to guarding toys and treats. We determined that his issues were workable and that they stemmed from a lack of training, rather than him being a truly aggressive animal.

During the eval, the owners asked all the usual questions like, “How many dogs have you seen like this?” “What kind of success have you had in training these dogs?” and the best one, “Have you ever been bit?”

That got me to thinking. Over the years I have developed a reputation for dealing with “problem” dogs and yes, I have been bitten a few times. There are basically three groups your prospective trainer will fall into when he/she answers that question.
Group 1:
“I have NEVER been bitten by a dog I’ve trained, but I did have a close call once with a dolphin.”

Group 2:
“Oh, I get bit all the time …”

Group 3:
“Well, I have been bitten, but it’s been a while.”, or “Not very often these days.”
If you really do have a “problem” dog, you want a trainer who falls into Group 3. Here’s why.
If your trainer falls into Group 1, they haven’t seen enough “problem” dogs. No one is a magician and if a trainer deals with true “problem” dogs, they’re going to get bit eventually.

If your trainer falls into Group 2, they haven’t learned to be smarter than the dog. This trainer needs to figure out how to be effective without getting into fights with difficult dogs. A couple of puncture wounds will be a great teacher for this trainer.

A trainer who falls into Group 3 is a trainer who has learned to gain compliance, trust and respect with technique and teaching rather than force. They are willing and able to give a correction when necessary, but they have learned that technique trumps force and they can truly connect with a dog in a way that the dog understands.
So, this is meant to be a little tongue in cheek, but if you’re having issues with your dog, I think it truly illustrates the levels of what you can expect to run into while interviewing trainers. I hope I fall into Group 3 and I sure hope I’m not jinxing myself … I have an evaluation later today. I guess we’ll see.

P.S. In all seriousness, I truly believe that too many dogs with totally trainable “issues” are given up to an uncertain fate. Unfortunately, they are generally euthanized. I strongly encourage owners of these dogs to look for help and not just fall into the “revolving door” of problem dogs. The fact is, if they have one messed up dog, it just might be something they are doing. Chances are they will experience issues with the next dog also.


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