The most important thing I learned from my training mentors is the importance of maintaining a well-stocked toolbox of tricks and strategies at the ready when working to help clients with their dogs. This approach has served my clients and me well over 21 years of training.
Transcend and Include
The essential take away from all of it has been to transcend and include. What that means is that I have worked hard to familiarize myself with as many training approaches as possible, without getting rigid about any of them.
In other words, I’ve tried to transcend their limitations by constantly updating my understanding. At the same time, I try to include and develop their legitimate insights as I constantly refine my training style.
And my main criteria for success is how quickly and effectively I reach the desired training goals. I call this approach Integrated Dog Training.
Integrated Dog Training
If Integrated Dog Training as I have developed it has a central motto it’s simply this: “maximize the positive, minimize the negative and be realistic.” Being realistic just means approaching both dogs and owners in all their complexity.
Let me flesh that out a little. When I examine a training or behavior issue through an integrated lens I take into account a host of factors: the dog’s natural drives and instincts, its social context, its capacity to learn as well as the totality of the owner’s constraints.
These include time, money, physical limitations and the million other things that affect how people live with their dogs.
And with all of that in mind Integrated Dog Training is focused on obtaining timely and lasting results. What it is not – pardon the pun – is dogmatic. It is pragmatic and results oriented.
Integrated Dog Training and Rank Management
When I consider the issue of rank management in the light of an integrated perspective, it is crystal clear to me that understanding and managing a dog’s perception of its social status, both with humans and other dogs, is absolutely indispensable.
Of course that doesn’t mean we have to fall back on antiquated, one-dimensional notions of dominance and submission. But as I’ve argued in previous posts, both kids and dogs have to understand boundaries and respect power hierarchies.
Without structure, guidance and authority – read “leadership” – they’re lost. In that kind of vacuum they’re forced to ride the waves of their own changing impulses in order to decide how behave.
Exercising Impulse Control and Checking in with the Leader
So maybe we can just drop the language of dominance and submission and think about our relationships as teaching our dogs to exercise impulse control and look to us for direction in all things important.
I really can’t overemphasize the significance of cultivating this attitude. Especially when disrupting a dog’s routine by introducing a baby into your family!
The Role of Positive Reinforcement
In developing the Integrated Dog Training approach I have focused on and emphasized methods that involve a ton of positive reinforcement. These include treat-based operant and classical conditioning, systematic desensitizing, counter-conditioning as well as the use of toys and affection to appeal to the dog’s various drives.
It’s the use of such methods that makes dogs want to learn and can make training a ton of fun. It’s also what can help reliably undermine difficult problem behaviors over the long haul.
The Role of Aversives
At the same time, like it or not, sometimes that just isn’t enough. Sometimes we need to draw hard behavior boundaries while using lots of positives to develop new, desirable behaviors.
Recognizing this truth, the Integrated Dog Training approach does not shy away from the use of compulsion and aversives in training. This can include the use of spray bottles, shake cans, occasional collar corrections and so on. But this is not where the emphasis is.
The Yin and Yang of Dog Training
As I have come to understand it over 21 years of training, aversive methods are often very helpful in initially suppressing behaviors and drawing very clear lines in the sand for the dog.
However, it is when we teach acceptable, wholesome alternatives using a variety of positive methods that we can reliably undermine most problem behaviors.
Exclusively preferencing one side over the other will usually lead to unreliable results. On the other hand, intelligently integrating these approaches tends to lead to lasting results and strong, mutually rewarding relationships between dogs, their owners and their children.
Want to learn more about preparing your dog for the arrival of your baby? Check out my book:Good Dog, Happy Baby