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My Training Methods

I'm truly lucky in my journey that I’ve gotten to live and love so.many.goddamn. dogs. There have been some kittens and the random chihuahua and bulldog thrown in there, but I’ve officially fostered over 200 pitbull type dogs. Each and every one of them has taught me a lesson in life, love, loss, and especially dog training.

I’ve been on both sides of the dog training coin- from compulsion based methods, to now, positive, science based training. I have to be honest, I used to have A LOT of dog fights in my house. They all seemed to come out of nowhere. I was taught in my beginning days to flatten every dog and correct everything the dog did wrong. No treats, no praise given. I was taught by my “mentor” to “correct” or “punish” the dog when he/she disobeyed. I can 100% see, in hindsight, every time I corrected a growl or a hard stare, I taught the dog not to give me, or the other dog, any warning before escalating to a bite. They genuinely didn’t think they had a choice. They needed to respond to a perceived threat, and I took the other options away.

But now that I know better, I do better. I know the choke chains, the prong collars, and the e-collars are simply not necessary. Can they work? Sure, it can work, sometimes. Until it doesn’t. Until your remote runs out of battery or until you don’t have it on. Or, even more relevant to me- you try to “punish” a dog that is too afraid to even stand. I once had a foster that was SO terrified of being on leash she would just pancake her body. The “trainer” I was provided at the time dragged the dog so hard across the street that her belly was bleeding. What did we teach that dog? That they have no choice in the matter and that their fear doesn’t matter to us? Why can’t we make the dog feel better? Use some treats, de sensitization, and positive experiences to make her feel better? Instead of telling the dog not to jump on us- why don’t we ask them to do something for us instead to get the attention they want? What about a cute spin or going to a mat? I have come to understand that every behavior has a function. The jumping may be to get attention, so we can allow them to get attention when all four feet are on the floor. Would you just shove your child over when they come over for attention when you’re on the phone? Why wouldn’t we SHOW the dog what behaviors we want instead of only correcting the behaviors we don’t like? What is this actually teaching the dog? That we’re a bully? That we’re unpredictable and not to be trusted?

When I started working at the Connecticut Humane Society I got lucky lucky to work for a progressive organization with a wonderful woman with a lot of behavior background running their program. They simply didn’t allow the use of aversive tools so we had to come out with other ways! Using whatever the dog finds reinforcing (the dog decides what’s a positive reinforcer- not us. To some it may be a toy, to some it may be food, to some it may be praise and affection- and we can combine all three!) we can literally change the emotions of the dog and create what we want to see instead of what we don’t want to see. My work at the ASPCA has been all fear free, even the medical care. I am surrounded by people with masters in behavior and with real educational backgrounds. Both of these organizations have shaped my training so much.

Now, if you look around my house- there isn’t a single prong collar, choke chain, or e-collar. You’ll see all my foster dogs getting along and sharing bones and toys. I’ve taught my foster dogs and my permanent ones that they are in a safe space and they can control their own outcomes. No one wants a life without any choice! I learned how to help a momma dog through her pregnancy, I’ve bottle fed orphan puppies, i’ve taught a 12 year old junk yard dog how to go to a mat and down, I’ve held the paw of many a dog fighting survivor- spending their entire lives on chains with a life full of the type of torture the regular person just cant even imagine. I’ve watched that same dog go from a shaking growling mess in the corner to a beautifully dog friendly, playful, family dog. the chained up dog fighting survivor Dogs are constantly trying to figure out how to live with us, how to get reinforcers, how to get through the day. Whether or not we know, they are constantly watching us and learning from their environment. We just have to show them what we would like from them!


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