Kip, also known Kipper the Crotch Ripper, entered our lives just over a year ago as a small bundle of tan fuzz. Right from day one, it was clear that we were in for a bumpy ride. I know for a fact that rescue agency members did a happy dance the day we adopted him. Fist bumps and high fives all around.
How bad was he? His moniker speaks volumes. He learned quickly that “men NEVER ignore being bitten in the crotch.” With a 10-year-old boy in the house, this was a big problem.
His problems did not end there. Kip had a Cujo-like intensity that was especially apparent when he grabbed butcher knives out of the rack and then charged around the house.
Houseplants were enemy number two. He ripped them from pots, shaking them, “Die plant! Die!”
Those plant pots came in handy as burial grounds for his growing bone collection. With no interest in laying down and chewing on a bone, Kip had two speeds, psychotic and asleep. Bones were for burying. His need to chew was directed at two sets of prescription eyeglasses, one twin mattress, three sofa cushions and one gold chain.
Additionally we faced digging, humping, jumping on people, herding the cat and biting holes in my pants during walks. Dogs like Kip are hard to love, especially when they show no desire for affection.
Most trainers do not publically discuss how bad their dog is. It flies in the face of business marketing strategies. Trainers sell the notion of an obedient dog. Their own pet must be above reproach. Many hide their dog’s issues to create the illusion of perfection. Video editing works well to create that illusion. It paints the promise of an instant, guaranteed cure.
I think that some trainers are actually rather insulting about the shortcomings of their clients and their pets. “If you’re dominant, your dog will obey.” It implies that owners are weak, and that the dogs are willful. Owners of challenging puppies are told to, “use a firmer hand. The dog must learn to submit. Treat training will not suffice.” It seems so easy. People buy into it, but I do not know why.
I do not think most owners are wimps. I do not know how some trainers get away with suggesting that their clients are spineless.
I most certainly do not know where they get off saying that treat training does not work for challenging dogs. Research clearly shows that treat training is highly effective, especially on problem behaviours.
Poor teachers blame the student. I think this entire notion of “dominant” dogs does just that. “The dog is trying to take over the pack. It is trying to boss the owner around. It needs to learn its place. Bad dog – bad dog.”
Great teachers, on the other hand, teach better. It all starts with a plan. That list needs to be put on paper, especially with challenging dogs. Dealing with too many issues is overwhelming. Do not face a mountain. Create a set of manageable steps instead. Crossing problems off the list is a satisfying way of measuring progress.
Prevent the dog from making unnecessary errors. Be clear on what you are teaching. If you cannot articulate your training goal in 10 words or less, you do not have a clear vision. It will show in your results.
Use plenty of positive reinforcement. I will proudly say that we used treats, toys and the occasional timeout. We did not resort to pain, fear and startling. Challenging dogs need MORE positive reinforcement, not less. I know this, not only because I read it in a book. I lived it.
People now drool over Kip. He is officially an ex-crotch ripper. His knife wielding, plant killing, pant shredding, cat chasing days are gone. These days, he sleeps on the bed rather than under it. There are times when he gently places his head on my knees as we drift off to sleep.
Going back to the question of why I might want to detail how bad Kip was. It is to show how far treat training has brought him. When executed correctly, treat training works, especially on the challenging dogs.