I do not compete with my dogs. I am your average dog owner with more than average knowledge about dog behaviour.

I began my quest for information about dogs and training when I got my first dog, as an adult in my own home, 10 years ago. I like doing things “right” so I often try to learn as much as I can when I undertake something new.In this case it was what to do with a new puppy.I had dogs growing up but didn’t have much to do with them other than promise I would walk and occasionally feed them. My brothers were the ones to do any “real” training.
My first dog, in childhood, was a surprise for me when I came home from camp one year (I hated camp and swore I would never go back). As with many families, I think it was a gift motivated by parental guilt. That big black mutt named Sparky, didn’t last long to my recollection. I think I remember being told it went to a farm. In hindsight – a parent myself and a dog trainer – familiar with the ins and outs of “new puppy in the house” – my mom was likely overwhelmed by this new bundle of black love and told my dad it had to go.

My second dog in childhood, came to us as a 2 year old Lhasa Apso, Pebbles. She originally belonged to a cousin. She was a car chaser, a resource guarder, had handling issues and was a biter. Fun times! Again, my brothers trained her and I have no idea how or what they did.Pebbles lasted until her natural death, many years later.

The next dog did not come until I was married and my children were older. Even before I got involved in professional dog training, I knew the bulk of work was going to fall on my shoulders and I was fully prepared to accept that responsibility. Then began the research.

A friend of mine had recently brought a puppy into her home and had a trainer in to help her. In addition to the books I read (many of them I would not suggest reading now) she suggested I use the dog trainer as well.I arranged some sessions with the trainer in the hopes of doing the right thing by my new puppy. I was going to sign up for puppy classes but thought I’d get started right away with in home training.

Anyone reading this, likely has or had a puppy and knows one of the first things a new puppy will do is bite. And bite. And bite. It’s a very normal thing for puppies to do.

A West Highland Terrier puppy – or any terrier puppy for that matter – will have you in tears in short order. Or was that just me?

Razor sharp milk teeth hurt!

Most of the reading I had done as well as talking to the Vet, suggested holding the pup’s mouth shut when he bit as well as flipping the puppy on his back and not letting him up until he stopped struggling; which unfortunately I did

The dog trainer had suggested every time he bites, I should smack his chin in an upward motion, hard enough to hurt. I tried a couple of times. Each time she said, No, not hard enough, do it again. Each time I did it, she said No, do it harder.

I could not.The same sort of instruction was given for leash walking. When my dog pulled, I was to “pop” the leash, hard enough to cause pain/discomfort so he wouldn’t do it again. If he didn’t return fast enough on a recall, I was to “pop” the leash 3 times.

I could not.

Thus began my journey towards better dog training. I am writing about this because there have been tremendous advances in animal training. Years ago, it was thought the only way to train an animal was with compulsion methods – forcing an animal to comply often through fear of harsh physical punishment. Yes, you can get fast results. You also get a dog who is often afraid to offer behaviour for fear of being punished. What you get are behaviours that are suppressed, not changed.
There are many trainers who continue to train this way. I am not one of them.

I researched and researched and read and read and kept searching for other ways of teaching my dog. I found many trainers; marine mammal trainers, exotic animal trainers, search and rescue trainers, police dog trainers and many others who were able to train dogs without fear, force, pain or intimidation.

The message I want to get out is that you need to ask questions of the trainer you want to bring in to your home. There are many good referral sources, two of which are, CCPDT and TRULY FRIENDLY DOG TRAINING.

Ask the trainer questions.

-What equipment do you use? If it involves prong collars, choke collars, e-collars you may want to look for someone else.

 -If my dog does something wrong what do you recommend? If it involves “popping” the dog or holding him down or physically harming him in any way, you may want to look for someone else.

-If he pulls on leash what do I do? If they suggest a “training” collar, you may want to look for someone else.

If at any point the trainer asks you to do something you are not comfortable with – question it, don’t do it just because a trainer tells you to. Your gut will lead you in the right direction.

I am not saying force free methods are the only way to train. I am saying it is the only way I choose to train.

Janis Mikelberg, CPDT-KA