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by on January 10, 2012

By: Gail I. Clark, Ph.D.


I received a complaint from animal control because my Papillion barks at squirrels in my backyard non-stop. I called a dog trainer who sold me a small dog electronic bark collar. I set the collar on the lowest level, but my Papillion still acts depressed and scared. What should I do?

Answer: Electronic bark collars use strong aversive shock every time the dog barks. Shock collars are harsh short cuts or quick fixes that can do more damage than good when used without proper basic training and on dogs that don’t have the temperament to take the harsh correction. Your Papillion’s depression, or his inactivity you have interpreted as depression, stems from fear. He doesn’t understand that his barking set off the shock so he is lying low or quiet to prevent getting another shock. When dogs are hurt or afraid, they freeze or become inactive, and may even roll up in a ball. As time passes, your dog will test the waters by gradually getting more active, and if he doesn’t get shocked again, he will eventually return to his natural energetic self. Unfortunately, that includes barking at squirrels again.

Training without Fear.
In the meantime, positive training can teach your dog to stop barking at squirrels. A knowledgeable animal trainer can show you how to teach your dog to obey your commands, such as “quiet,” through positive methods and without severe collars that choke, pinch or shock. A dog, like a young child, doesn’t understand what is acceptable behavior until you teach him the rules. When a two year old child grabs something that doesn’t belong to him, you don’t shock his hand, you teach the child social etiquette and to ask politely. When you want a dog to stop barking, teach him a “quiet” command, or a command to “come” that draws him from the center of the squirrel condo. There are many gentle and effective training options an experienced, knowledgeable animal trainer and behaviorist can offer to change misbehavior without resorting to aversive shock or force methods that create fear.

Once your dog has been taught how to behave when you give a command, he also needs to learn consequences for disobeying your commands. Consequences discourage undesired behavior and start with the lowest level of discomfort, like squirts of water or bursts of citronella from spray bark collars which are very effective at discouraging barking and do not instill fear in the animal. Experienced animal trainers have a bag of tricks to offer for the best solution to your dog’s barking or behavior problem.

Not all Dog Trainers have Experience.
Finding the experienced, knowledgeable dog professional can be challenging. Dog training has attracted many inexperienced newcomers in these difficult economic times because there are no regulatory licensing agencies or specific educational and vocational requirements for dog trainers. Anyone can advertise as a dog trainer or behaviorist and appear credible in newspapers, telephone directories, and websites claiming amazing results in print without being challenged. There are no degrees in dog training required to hang out a shingle or open a dog school, and yet hiring a competent trainer is as critical to the wellbeing of your animal as a good teacher is to a child. If you hired an inexperienced car mechanic and he burned up your engine, you could get another engine and your car would be as good as new. If you hire and inexperienced dog trainer and your dog becomes fearful as a result of harsh tactics, the damage is not easily repaired and your dog may never be the same. Before you hire a dog trainer or behavior consultant check out referrals, experience, and credentials.

Referrals and endorsements are good leads for starting your search for the right dog trainer. Conducting interviews and observing their work will lead you to the professional that is the best fit for you and your dog.

Professional Experienced Trainers.
Experienced animal trainers have a general knowledge about many different breeds and the training issues associated with both sexes. An expert dog trainer or behavior consultant has trained, hands on, a variety of breeds, recognizes the canine personality and temperament differences, and understands the importance of early prevention of behavior issues. The experienced, knowledgeable trainer teaches and motivates animals to learn and never uses methods of force that instill fear in the animal. A successful animal trainer or teacher is eager to discuss their training philosophy and strengths in education, learning, and behavior. Observe how the trainer teaches people and dogs. Note the skills, behavior, and attitude of the trainer’s dogs when they are relaxed and working.

Degrees and Credentials.
There are several online dog-training interest groups and organizations that allow paid members to use the organization’s name or acronym in promotional material, for example, Jane Doe, APDT, which simply stands for Association of Pet Dog Trainers. Some organizations require that a trainer complete an online test or course before they can don the organization’s acronyms, John Doe, CPDT, or Certified Pet Dog Trainer. Letters after a professional’s name usually denotes a degree or license, however, in the case of dog trainers, the letters may only mean a paid membership in an interest group or the completion of an online test. If letters that you don’t recognize follow the name of your potential trainer, ask what the letters mean in terms of their educational background.

Don’t’ turn your dog over to a trainer or take recommendations over the phone if you aren’t totally comfortable with the trainer’s credentials, referrals, experience, method, and knowledge. Remember, anyone can call themselves a dog trainer and everyone gives dog advice, just ask your next-door neighbor!

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