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I have been working with and training dogs in a professional capacity for 35 years. I am a former RAAF Police Dog and Drug Detector Dog Handler/Trainer, having served 12 years in that capacity. For the past 23 years since discharging from the RAAF my focus has been on helping dog owners with their dogs obedience and behavioural issues.
My expertise is specialising in anxiety and aggression. With over 35 years working full-time with dogs, I am one of Australia's longest serving and most experienced and respected dog behaviour specialists. My number one priority is helping dog owners have well balanced and harmonious relationships with their dogs.
"What I do think is important is that no one system fits all, the best trainers can read their dogs and assess what works for the individual dog and tailor their training to that. Having watched Mark work, that was what impressed me the most, the way he understands and assesses each dog and then can tailor his response to make it make abosulte sense to the dog."
If the methods you have been using are not helping you with your dog
If you have been working with and been given advice from other trainers, to help modify or work through behavioural issues with your dog, and finding you are having little success, or the process has been taking too long, or been advised your dog needs to be placed on psychotropic medication, or worse still be put to sleep, then you seriously need to be looking at alternative methods for the welfare of your dog.
Relying on methods that could take months, by using counter-conditioning methods that only incorporate ignoring, redirecting or avoiding unwanted behaviours can lead dog owners to becoming frustrated, and possibly resort to eventually administering inappropriate punishment to their dog. We need to understand the unwanted behaviours, the underlying causes and triggers, and then with this understanding help the dog as quick as we can by using methods the dog understands.
Why positive-only may not work?
Positive-only methodology works on the principle that all behavioural issues can be fixed with a treat, and that all we need to do is replace an unwanted behaviour with an alternative behaviour. Unfortunately, this ideology doesn't extinguish or hinder the unwanted behaviour. All it does is add a new behaviour to the dogs current behaviours, and if the motivation for the dog is strong enough to revert back to the undesirable behaviour it will. These trainers also preach the philosophy we shouldn't be teaching our dog what "no" means.
Positive-only trainers preach that any form of punishment will result in an aggressive or fearful dog. I am first to agree that inapropriate abusive punishment carried out in anger or frustration has the very strong possibility of creating avoidance behaviours such as fear based aggression, and should never be tolerated. Appropriate punishment does not. Watch a mother correct her pups for inappropriate behaviours, and you will see no fear or aggression resulting from her punishment. I also come across dogs that have no coping skills for discipline due to a lack of proper discipline in the home.
All training and behaviour modification should be based primarily on positive reinforcement
When we want to teach acceptable or desired behaviours in our dog, we should always use positive reinforcement. You cannot train a dog to do something by punishment, you can only train a dog to do something with a positive consequence that motivates the dog to want to continue with the acceptable behaviour.
However for a dog to want to avoid an undesirable behaviour such as biting or aggression, the dog must have a reason to avoid that behaviour, and choose an alternative acceptable behaviour, and hence why we may need to use methods such as applying an aversive that the dog understands. We need to help permanently hinder many unwanted behaviours that could be dangerous or even life threatening to the dog, owner or public.
Balanced training methods, and what does it mean?
Having a balanced approach indicates a holistic approach to training and behaviour modification. In simple terms it means that all behaviours should have a compatible consequence, and that we should include all of our dogs natural instincts and drives and how the dog relates to its environment when assessing behaviours, and planing a suitable behaviour modification process. Dogs instinctively seek our guidance, and therefore discipline is a very important part of their life. Dogs that are not set proper boundaries and discipline, end up in a state of psychological chaos, being unsure what is acceptable behaviour, and therefore left to finding their own way in a very confusing human environment. This confusion can lead to extreme levels of anxiety in the dog.