How do I find the best trainer to work with dog aggression issues?
I adopted an older female Lab/Pit mix in February. She's a great dog and working out really well for us. We have another older Lab mix female as well. They get along fine. Bella does great with people, cats, chickens, horses, etc.
My big problem is that "Bella" is *extremely* dog aggressive toward other dogs to the point where I can't walk her in a public place because she lunges and snarls and is almost uncontrollable.
I've gotten referrals to 3 different reputable trainers who will work with me and Bella on this dog aggression problem.
What questions should I ask when I interview them and what should I look for? How do I find the right trainer for our needs?
oh, and another thing, do they do privates or only classes? If classes, how do they handle a dog who erupts in class? Discipline (leash pops, yelling, hitting) would send me somewhere else. Classes can be good, but they need to be small enough that the reactive dogs have LOTS of room so they don't feel threatened and the owners should have a way of safely leaving should an altercation occur. A really good class will have portable barriers of some sort available where a reactive dog can go for respite.
1. what training theory do you follow? Anything to do with dominance or leader of the pack would send me somewhere else.
2. do they understand Operant Conditioning? Can they explain it well enough, and simply enough for you to understand it?
3. do they understand Classical Conditioning? Can they explain it well enough and simply enough for you to understand?
4. what is desensitization (this is really a trick question as many trainers will tell you it's exposing a dog to the trigger till they quit responding).
5. how long will it take to cure my dog (another trick question, no reactive dog is ever "cured" but some will respond well enough with enough training they change their response).
6. do they use leash pops? If so, I'd politely say thank you and go somewhere else.
7. how do they feel about using food treats? Tho truly, if they have not already advocated for that, they would be questionable on my list.
Also note, I would not necessarily ask these questions in this order.
Wow, thank you SO much. This gives me some great questions and also some things to read up on. Thank you!
One question: what is a "leash pop?"
I'm looking at getting private sessions --- no way am I going to take this dog into a class, she's too scary. One trainer I talked to said she first works with me and the dog at my farm, then brings her own dog(s) over to work in a controlled environment. With time, we'd venture off the property once we have training/plan in place.
I am going to do talk to the 3 different trainers and will let you know my results. I'm not looking for a miracle, just improvement. I'm concerned that I can't even bring this dog to the vet's office as we might encounter other dogs there.
Last edited by Watermark Farm; May. 14, 2012 at 04:56 PM.
a leash pop is where the handler jerks on the lead. A "pop" sounds better than a leash correction or jerk. It's still the same behavior tho.
another thought, if the trainer offers both classes and privates, ask to observe one or two classes. This can tell you loads. if the instructor specializes in behavior management/training, ask to observe a class with reactive or former reactive dogs.
I will tell you right now, that an instructor who will come to your home first, and then bring a dog of their own later, is one that I would look at. S/he is attempting to teach the dog while keeping it below threshold (another trigger word, listen for it) and then adding a well behaved dog is a VERY good thing.
train yourself before you do your instructor interviews. Learn what desensitization is, learn what flooding is, learn what Operant Conditioning and Classical Conditioning are before you ask the questions.
This is a blog that has chronicled the progress of her reactive dog. She's an .excellent. example of how far you can bring a dog.
Also, I would ask for references from clients who have had dogs with this issue and ask how satisfied are they long term with the training they received. Some trainers specialize in dogs that are more difficult than the average pet. Many trainers can talk the talk but are actually very limited in the number of pets with this issue that have successfully been rehabilitated.
Does the trainer offer follow up with you if the dog displays the behavior again down the line?
An update: I interviewed the trainers, and thanks for all the info. One trainer in particular felt like a great match for us. Her main specialty is pit bulls with serious dog aggression issues and other "end of the line" kinds of dogs. I liked her approach, felt she presented me with a range of options and was very realistic. I have checked her out. She also works in connection with a very well thought of training kennel very close to my house that does a lot of work with rehabilitating dogs with serious social & behavioral problems. Our next step is to do an evaluation, then we'll make a gameplan. I'm already working on obedience at home, which the trainer suggested, and my dog is loving this work and learns very fast.
I'll let you all know how it goes; we'll start in June (once end of school year craziness lets up). Thank you so much for the help.
Sounds more like Leash aggression than DA. That is a pretty easy fix. The trainer should be easily able to take care of it.
Teaching a "Look at me" command, and desensitization work wonders. Just takes consistency and time.
My rule of thumb; if the owner (the one who loves the dog most and is most likely to find excuses for troubling behavior) is calling it aggression, it probably is. Dog-aggression, like any form of aggression, isn't something you can train out. You can train them to behave themselves, but you can't train them not to have that desire and you really can't train them out of knowing they can do it. I'd be skeptical of any trainer who says you can cure dog-aggression. You can absolutely make the dog's life better, though. Just be realistic about the dog's limitations.
On the differing diagnoses: aggression is very different from reactivity, which typically does not involve snarling (I've had 2 reactive dogs, both got that way from one too many encounters with aggressive dogs, so I've seen the difference) and "leash aggression" is - well, as far as I can tell, it's an excuse for unleashing an ill-behaved dog. I may just be jaded on that one, though; I've gotten fed up with being told that the problem isn't that their dog is offleash and circling me and my dog like a velociraptor, it's that my dog is "leash aggressive" and if only I'd unleash her (next to this highway), they'd sort it out. It's like telling a woman if she'd only relax and take off her top, that guy hiding in her apartment with a knife will chill out too, follow the rules of flirtation, and they'd end up dating.