You might think your dog is a perfect little poopsiekins, but everyone else thinks they’re an asshole. Let Traci Moriarty CPDT-KA, owner/founder of Durango Dog College, tell you a bit about how to get Schnookums under control.
What are the most common problems you see?We get a lot of calls about barking, bark lunging on a leash, not acting appropriately in front of other dogs; [and] issues in house, you know, “They jump on my guests when they come over!”, “They won’t come when I call!”, or “They’re peeing everywhere!”
Is there a time table for training?Every dog is different, just like every person is. We have levels – Manners 1, 2, and 3. Just like kids go through school, 1st, 2nd, 3rd grade and so forth. You know, some kids fly through 2nd grade, struggle with 3rd, and then do really well with 4th. Dogs are the same. Some will fly through certain commands and then struggle with others. We stress making a big deal about what the dog knows as opposed to what the dog doesn’t know. I might have a dog whose stay isn’t great, but their coming when called is fantastic. We focus on that so that we’re not constantly saying “no” to the dogs.
So it’s about positive reinforcement than—YES! Absolutely! We use a tool called a clicker – it makes a clicky noise and it basically marks or captures the behavior. If we’re saying “sit” and the dog puts its butt on the ground, we click and treat. The reason we use a clicker is because it’s consistent. For example, the way you and I say “yes” are two different tones and the dog picks up on that, but the click is always the same click. The clicker can go away as the behaviors become learned.
Dogs pick up on things we can’t process ourselves?Absolutely. Our body language, our tone; we always say that whatever we’re feeling goes straight down the leash. [Dogs] pick up on our anxieties, our body language. They sense cancer or they sense a diabetic seizure before it comes on because they sense us, they’re smelling something different in us.
Speaking of leashes …The first thing I tell people is that the leash is not a steering wheel and we don’t use it to jerk the dog around. We want the dog to realize that when they feel a tightness on the leash, they have to come back to us. We may do a lot of stopping and starting until the dog understands, “Hey, if I don’t feel that tightness, I get to go forward to the next thing, so I’m going to walk nicely because then I get to go where I want to go!” It can be a bit age-dependent. Puppies can learn it quickly if you get them started right away. You can have a beautiful walking dog within a few months, but if you wait until your dog is 6 or 7 months and they’ve been pulling all that time, then you’re looking at another 6 to 8 months of training to help the dog understand that what it’s been doing is not what it should be doing.
What’s most rewarding?The bond between people and their dogs. I do a lot of the basic manners classes and get that person who comes in and loves their dog, but may not like their dog very much. They’re struggling. It’s a lot of “No’s”, a lot of groans. But by the end of class, they’re walking with the leash loose and they’re comfortable walking up to another dog because they’re no longer worried about what their dog is going to do. Watching that relationship build, for me, is the best. I love group classes especially because the rest of the group will notice it. You’ll hear people saying, “God, your dog is so much different from the very first class!”
You’ve met and helped a lot of dogs. Is there one that sticks out?My favorite, and I still borrow him and use him as an example, is Jack. Jack is a Border Collie/Australian Shepherd mix and was basically feral when his owners found him. Now he’s a therapy dog! He plays nicely, he walks downtown with great leash skills. Jack showed me that dogs can forget and forgive, which is probably the best thing that we can learn from them. They don’t care if you had a bad day, or if you put on 10 pounds, they don’t care if just got into a car accident, or if you did the wrong thing. All they care about is that you came home. “Yay! You’re home! Yay!”
Cyle Talley would encourage anyone looking for a pet to visit La Plata County Humane Society’s upcoming “Adopt-a-Thon” June 3rd and 4th. If there’s anything you’d like to Get Smart about, email him at: [email protected]