By SCOTT SHELTERS
Special to the OBSERVER
When most people return home after a long day of work, the last thing they really want to hear is their dog's loud barks echoing in the night. They would rather not have their dog jump up and scratch them with its dirty paws or have the four-legged creature run into the living room and bite the kids.
Some brave individuals try to solve these issues on their own. Others seek professional help. Those who choose the latter option might be better off, according to some area dog experts.
"There are a lot of things you can do yourself. You can teach dogs to sit and stop certain behavioral issues," said Susan Ewing, who writes the bi-weekly "Pet Pen" column in the Saturday Magazine of The Jamestown Post-Journal. "A lot of people, if they're not experienced or if they don't process things by reading, the professionals can help them."
LeeAnne Codgill, who opened Sirius Dog School in Brocton in 1977, believes it's important to train dogs as comfortable and cherished family companions by avoiding training methods that involve physical or mental domination strategies. Codgill began using clicker training, which uses positive reinforcement to help animals identify desired behaviors immediately through sound, in 1984.
"My program is based on science," she said. "We look for what the animal does right and try to encourage that. The animal has encouragement to do things, but no fear of punishment. It's very exciting doing this kind of teaching."
Codgill got into dog training after she took her first show dog to someone else's training class. "We went to a traditional class with the typical kind of force training," she said. "It took a lot of experimentation to find what worked best."
Andrea DiMaio of Dog Speak, located in Ashville, follows a similar policy. "I do all positive training. I don't use any physical corrections," she said. "They're finding more and more that there are consequences to harsh training methods."
The structure of classes helps some to stay on task with their dogs, according to Ewing. "Classes are great because they set deadlines," she said. "They'll say, 'Make sure your dog can do this by next week.' It keeps you on task."
According to Ewing, typically classes will last for six to eight weeks, depending on the instructor. "There are different kinds of trainers," she said. "It's good to sit in on a class first before you sign up. You need to talk to the instructor first to find out if they use positive training methods."
WHEN SHOULD I TAKE MY DOG FOR TRAINING?
Whether or not to take a dog in for professional training is at the discretion of each dog owner. However, experts describe several specific reasons to seek professional help.
"If you have a dog that has tried to bite you or has bitten you, if you have an aggressive dog, you need to seek professional help," Ewing said. "A lot of dogs want attention even if it's negative attention. For example a lot of dogs will keep jumping up. The best thing to do is turn your back on them and not say a word. Even for things that aren't as crucial, the professionals can teach you how you should handle them or how you should react."
Codgill recognizes that pet owners can find a fair amount of information online or by reading books. However, that information may not be accurate.
"There's a lot of really good information out there and there's a lot of really bad information out there," she said. "One thing about a book is you have to hold it in one hand when you may need that hand to take care of your dog. There are a lot of visual learners these days. With my classes, I also give them a DVD."
Those who wish to seek professional help should do so sooner rather than later, according to DiMaio.
"I actually start classes at 10 weeks. They're well on their way with their vaccinations by then. The sooner the better," she said. "You can actually start teaching puppies sooner than that."
"Vets are coming on board to say to get your dogs into classes as soon as possible. They used to say they couldn't come before four months, but now they say the sooner or better," Codgill added, noting that 12 weeks old is about the right time to take a dog in for professional training, depending on the status of its shots.
At times, dogs can receive a lack of socialization at home, which can be made up for at classes.
"It's important for anybody to bring their dog in to expose them to what they could be missing out on at home," DiMaio said. "They have a socialization window that starts to close at 20 weeks. You want to get them exposed to as much as you can as soon as you can. As much as you can show them before they're adult dogs, the better. It's really important to start early."
"One of the things that has changed is that everybody works. No one is home with their dogs, and socialization is a real problem," Codgill added. "They need to see other dogs and all kinds of people. Some dogs are so scared and are always on the defensive. They need to experience this type of interaction."
Both Codgill and DiMaio encourage entire families to attend their classes. "Everyone in the family should get involved," Codgill said.
"With this type of training, anyone can learn how to do it," said DiMaio. "It's for the whole family, including the kids. Using the positive training, the trust is built. The people are having fun, and the dogs are having fun with the people."
For owners who have missed out on the 20-week window to bring a puppy or dog in for training, it's still not too late.
"There's no dog that's too old to work on behavior issues. You can usually work with any dog," DiMaio said. "Obviously, the older the dog is the longer it takes. You're trying to build new behaviors and replace old ones."
RESEARCH BEFORE BUYING
Like with most items consumers purchase, experts tell prospective pet owners to do their research before they buy a puppy or full-grown dog in order to find a perfect match.
"Besides getting professional help for anything you can't manage yourself, people should consider the breed," Ewing said. "Terriers love to dig, so if your yard is a picture-perfect lawn with lovely gardens, getting a terrier is not going to make you happy. Some dogs bark more than others. If you can't stand barking, research the breed. Behavior is anything a dog does, and behavior issues are the main reasons dogs get turned into shelters."
"First, you do your research. There are books that tell which breeds are good for which people," added Codgill. "Once you get a dog, the violins have got to play. You've got to love each other, and you should be able to tell that in the shelter. Word of mouth is great, too. Get to know your neighbors and their dogs."
WHERE TO FIND HELP
Call 792-9929 for more information on Sirius Dog School.
Dog Speak at The Dog Place Training and Grooming is located at 2332 W. Lake Road in Ashville. Visit www.andreadimaiodogtraining.com for more information or find Dog Speak on Facebook.
Tom Beitz of Smart Dog Solutions offers consultation and training programs. Visit www.smartdogtrainer.com for more information.
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