Q. What advice do you have for a customer looking to hire a provider like you?
A. How to determine whether a dog trainer or behaviorist can help you.
If your dog is displaying any type of a nervous aggression, barking, growling, snapping or lunging at people or other dogs. You must test the dog trainer or behaviorist you are considering hiring, to find out if they are any good at what they claim to be good at. Or they are just another ineffective dog trainer.
This simple test will determine if the trainer is very good, good or useless.
If the person you hire while they are working with your dog, cannot get your dog to stop the unwanted behavior. How can they possibly teach you to do it, if they canít do it themselves.
The Dog Trainer/Behaviorist Test.
On the very first session, with the trainer working or handling your dog. You should be absolutely amazed that your dog is not displaying the unwanted behaviors. The trainer must be able to get your dog to pay attention to him or her, within the first five to fifteen minutes of that first session. If your dog ďacts aggressiveĒ with people, then people must be added into the equation. If the problem is with dogs, you must do the same.
The first session is a test of the trainers abilities, you do not attempt to socialize your dog with either the people or the dogs at this time. That will come later.
Analyzing the results of the trainer test
Very Good Ė Within those first fifteen minutes your dog is listening and only occasionally will the trainer have to refocus your dogs attention back onto them.
Good Ė The trainer may not accomplish getting your dog to totally listen to them in the first fifteen minutes. But they where able to get your dog to listen fifty percent of the time.
Useless Ė Your dog acts no better with them as the dog does with you.
There are plenty of good trainers out there that can help you. Unfortunately there are many more that are just no good. You must be diligent in your search.
And do not be impressed by any dog trainers or behaviorists credentials (certified dog trainer, PhD behaviorist, DVM behaviorist). If they have credentials and they pass the test, excellent. If they have credentials and fail the test, what good are they . Do not believe any seemingly logical excuse they make for not handling your dog, or getting your dog to listen to them. People that are no good at what they do, often have a lot of excuses or reasons why something didnít work. The proof is in the pudding.
Do not be embarrassed to test them, you must find out if they are any good. And besides, itís your money .
The Spirit Dog
ďIt should be a very simple matter for any dog professional that knows the canine mind, to get your dog to listen and behave with them. Before they start teaching you how to do it.Ē
Q. Do you have a favorite story from your work?
A. Since we specialize in service dogs, we are fully aware of all the necessary training that goes into creating a dog who not only can be a exceptional citizen, but can also problem solve, assist owners in novel ways that were never trained, protect and be an awesome friend.
My favorite recent story is from Boswick who was trained as a seizure alert dog. He came to us at 5 months old and stayed with us for 3 months learning all about seizures and how to predict them. When he first met his owner, he already knew him from all the smells he'd been trained to recognize. Two days later, at 8 months old, Boswick alerted his owner for the first time to an impending seizure. This was later verified as a true alert of a pending seizure.
Months of obedience training, outings into public places, teaching Boswick how to act in all situations and he and his owner finally board the plane and go home to Kentucky.
A month later I get a call. Boswick has saved his owners life doing things he was never trained to do as a service dog or even as a cute trick. The meds that prevent the seizure did not work. Boswick seeing that something is wrong, opens the front door, runs 2 miles down the road to the nearest neighbor and brings them back.
We only trained Boswick to alert, not what to do if a seizure happened. But what we did do was teach him how to think, how to problem solve and how to manipulate the environment to get what he needed.
Q. What do you wish customers knew about you or your profession?
A. The dog's intelligence, sociable nature and adaptability make him an excellent companion and also make it easy to train and educate him to ensure he fits comfortably into the human world. Today the dog is more companion then working partner and various theories have emerged to explain his behavior - and mis-behavior - and how to make that behavior more amenable to us as humans.
Since the advent of the Internet, the availability of information about everything you could possibly know about anything has grown exponentially. Dog training is no different. You can now find the "secrets" of the Hollywood dog trainers, dog trainers in general and the ways of canine whichness on National Geographic and Animal Planet. Don't get me wrong, I've benefited tremendously from this availability of information despite decades of experience and college studying animal behavior, biology and genetics.
Before the information age, one had to either go to school and become a Veterinarian or an Animal Behaviorist. There was no university education in becoming a dog trainer or even just a dog behaviorist. You had to have the whole ball or nothing. Or, you could apprentice under an existing trainer. Canine behaviorists didn't actually exist before the last few years that didn't have one of the above two degrees. Trainers however, learned about behavior as it applies to dogs, and learned how to train a dog.
Before the 40's and the advent of learning theory and the Premack Principle, animal training was a hit or miss thing. Different "schools" of training existed generally based on what breed group of dog you were training or what function you were training a dog for. There were the herding dogs, guarding, hauling, hunting, pointing, retreiving and earth dogs. Each breed group had it's job and a basic set of guidelines for how to train a dog in it's group. But each individual did things their own way for the most part, mostly after apprenticing under a family member or neighbor.
Then came BF Skinner and his students, the Brelands, with operant conditioning, classical conditioning (Pavlov), the Premack Principle and various other pieces of psycho babble - how dogs and other animals (including humans), supposedly learn. At pretty much the same time, there were studies done on captive wolves and dominance theory emerged to explain lupine behavior and this was translated into canine behavior. Everyone "knows" that dogs are descended from wolves.
During the 1900's many prominent trainers, and their methodologies, emerged in the field of dog training. These include Conrad Most, William Koehler, Winifred Strickland, C.W. Meisterfeld and Barbara Woodhouse. They developed their own particular style of training techniques, and made lasting contributions to the field of organized dog training.
Then came Ian Dunbar and Karen Pryor who introduced positive reinforcement only training and pushed it into prominance in the 80's. Karen Pryor and several others were trainers for Sea World and learned the techniques that the Breland's had perfected. But the 80's also brought out the dominance theory and a battle began between proponents of the two methods.
Personally, my practice and theory is different then most of what you read, see on TV or hear from other trainers. I think it is a mistake to think that because dogs are descended from an ancestor of wolves, they behave like wolves. If you actually watched wolves in the wild, they cooperate, not dominate. Wolves understand who is good at what and test each other in play to find out where they fit in - not the pack as a whole - but in each activity that the pack is involved in.
Training dogs is fun for me and for the dog, as it should be. It is through play behavior, and the social rules that all dogs and wolves learn as pups, that a "pack" or "family" of canines is ruled. Further, it is fun to play with our dogs even if none of us learn anything. It will certainly make more sense to the dog than to be jerked around on a leash or sent to the corner for a timeout.
I've found through the years that all that's really necessary is a knowledge of and continual use of communication signals to and from the dog, the willingness of the owner to change how they view their dog and how they interact with it, and a rehabilitation period for the dog to discard the behaviors that were driving everyone (including the dog) crazy. Play is an important aspect of this process because it is how dogs learn to be dogs as puppies. The rehabilitation process is basically just informing the dog, in a language and format that he understands (what momma did when he was a pup), what is acceptable, where the boundaries lie, and what the rules for future behavior are.
Q. Tell us about a recent job you did that you are particularly proud of.
A. Testimonial from JK
An amazing thing happened in November 2012. I was at a local vetís office, not one that I usually go to but that is close to the UPS store where I go and I just happen to stop in. I wanted to talk to the receptionist to see if she knew anyone who is a trainer for Service Dogs and if she knew of any dogs that were available that might be usable as a Service Dog. This lady, who just happened to be there with her dog, but very excited and started telling me about Jamie Robinson and her training facility: Seize the Leash. She even had her phone number. She spent about 20 minutes telling me how wonderful Jamie was in all the terrific things that she could do in training and that she was very likely to be able to find me a dog as well. After exchanging phone numbers I went home and looked at the website for Seize the Leash and was very impressed by the site.
After thinking about it for a while, I called Jamie and spoke to her for quite a time about finding a dog, what my needs were, what are facilities were like what she could offer to me. I arranged to go out to her place the next day. It was wonderful! The facility was terrific, very large and it had everything you could possibly need in a training facility. There was a full agility set up, obstacle course, a hay bale course, and a large arena for groundwork with a big tree to provide shade. There was also another area off to the side that would later be a small and close training area (more about that later). It also had Jamieís home in a fenced in area in the back of the home that was shaded on all sides for dogs that were being worked at that time.
I met all of Jamieís dogs and immediately homed in on Stormy. She seemed perfect to be my service dog. I needed a mobility dog because I have MS, Parkinsonís disorder, rheumatoid arthritis, bilateral replaced knees and Iíve broken my back and pelvis twice. Stable is not my middle name :-). Stormy and I seem to get along well and Jamie thought the match would work out. I told her I wanted to think about it for a day or two, but I also wanted to take Storm to the vet (I always take my animals to the vet before I get them) mainly because I thought I noticed something off on her left hind. Jamie called me a couple of days later to give me the bad news: Stormy had a torn ACL. Major disappointment! But, she did tell me that she had talked to several rescue groups for me and asked them to look for dog for me.
A few days later she gave me a call and told me one group and found several dogs that might be workable. They were all young, but that would be great because then we could grow up together, training wise. I ended up talking to Jennifer for the rescue group and we decided to meet at PETSMART the next Saturday. They had six dogs they wanted me to look at, I thought that would be great, a wide selection to choose from. Jamie told me not to rush into it, I didnít find what I was looking for, there would be more available soon. But when I got there and looked at the puppies (they were all between three and five months old) I knew Brittany was the one for me. She was a beautiful brown and white with some black brindle. Half of her face was brown and have her face was white, she was gorgeous! She was three months old and just perfect. Unlike the rest of the dogs that were awaiting adoption, she was perfectly calm. She was just resting in her pen and occasionally sleeping. After walking around with her for a while and carrying her for a while I decided that she was the one for me.
That night I called Jamie and told her what happened and who I had decided on. Jamie said that if I had not gotten Brittany she would have. I took her out to Seize the Leash a few days later and started her training. She was amazing and so was Jamie. I was very impressed. Iíve trained horses for about 25 years professionally and done some dog training years ago to work with cattle. So Iím no stranger to training techniques and Jamieís training techniques were very similar to how we train dressage horses, which is what I was used to. There was no coercive training involved, it was simply play training, letting the dog choose what she wanted to do after making the situation comfortable for it to make the right choice. I thought this was terrific. Iíve seen too many other trainers use choke collars, prong collars or electric shock, and thatís just not something that I can do or would put up with. It took me a couple of weeks to get used to the system, but Brittany learned faster than I did so she did wonderfully. As she grew she got used to the different apprentice trainers, Beth, Tammy, Lizzie and April. I had several really great pictures of Beth picking up Brittany from the time she was very small until she was 75 pounds; itís a great series of photos.
The last few months Lizzie has been doing most of the assisting training with Brittany and myself, for which Iím very thankful. The first week of June 2013 I took a bad fall when going into the main arena. I just tripped on some steppingstones and did a face first dive into the gravel. Not a good thing! I broke a rib right at the spine and wrenched my neck, so for the next several weeks Lizzie had to do most of the handling Brittany. Fortunately, the week before that happened Brittany passed her Bachelors with Honors. By the end of June, I was able to start working Brittany myself again and she was ready for her Masterís test, on 30 June 2013, Britney passed her Masterís test with Honors. Jamie is wonderful, not only can she train dogs in a very safe and fun manner that they enjoy and that the owners feel comfortable in dealing with, but she also can train her apprentices to continue on in her absence. I felt fully confident in working with Lizzie when Jamie is busy and I know that Beth is running her own training facility at this time. This wouldnít be true without Jamieís excellent teaching methods. Brittany is getting ready to go for her PhD test next Monday, 15 July 2013, only seven months after we started training. I think thatís just amazing and is a wonderful credit to Jamieís teaching ability and dedication.
I know that Jamie will be moving her facility soon to be near Benson, and I will definitely be going with her to continue Brittanyís training as a service dog. Seize the Leash is the best training facility anywhere around Tucson, Arizona, bar none. And Jamie Robinson is the best trainer you could ever ask for as well as the best friend you could hope to find.