You'll probably hear me say that I'm not a fan of the word "trainer" and "I'm a Family Dog Mediator®" but nobody is going to look for "canine professional" or "dog and human coach" and not too many people know what an FDM® is. And as a Certified Separation Anxiety Trainer, I still need to use the word "trainer". However, what I really try to achieve is a balance between what makes sense for the dog to learn, and what their guardians want them to know. One of the things that I am SO passionate about is creating a common understanding between dog and human and so, my goals are really quite simple:
1. To help dogs and their caregivers develop a common understanding of each other's needs.
2. To help people see the world from their dogs' point of view.
3. To help dogs become confident, feel safe and understood.
There are many other things that I'd like to do and other goals I'd like to reach but those I will accomplish with each individual dog and their individual guardians based on their individual needs. There are many "basics" that can be learned and more "advanced" behaviours that might need to be addressed but underneath it all, the goal is to empower every dog and human to live together with understanding, kindness, compassion, empathy and love.
Seeing my clients have their "lightbulb" moments when they're dog "gets it" and seeing dogs living their best life because they're safe and loved...to me, there truly is nothing better than that feeling.
Some people like for their dogs to sit at curbs and believe that this shows that their dog is "well trained", "obedient" or "listens to commands". Whilst this might be a neat trick....what benefit does this serve the dog? It might be too cold or too hot on the dog's bottom. It stops them from exploring. It may hurt them if they have joint issues. What does it really mean from the dog's point of view? The dog certainly won't stop to sit at a curb should they get loose from their house. Can you imagine? That would be a sight to see!
But that's not real life. We need to LEARN from the dog WHY they're doing what they're doing. What I teach is what your dog needs to learn to feel safe, confident, enriched, and happy in our human world! And I teach humans what they're dog needs to just BE a dog.
I DO believe that kindness matters. I DO believe that we need to teach our dogs rules, boundaries and the skills to cope with being a non-human in a human world. I DO believe that with knowledge, common understanding, care and empathy, anything can happen!
I DON'T teach obedience. I DON'T use any aversive tools or methods. I DON'T believe that any living, sentient being can learn when they're scared or in pain (and there's ample research to back that up!!).
I teach humans to understand WHY a behaviour may be happening so we know HOW to help the dog. Just like we are born knowing nothing about the world, our dogs are the same. We need to teach them the basics by giving them a solid foundation.
Learning and training are two different things. What I do is set both you and your dog up for a lifetime of learning. When given a solid foundation of life skills, the "good" behaviour will follow. When a dog's fundamental needs are met, everything else will come.
Your dog needs to learn how to thrive in our human world and MGF can help that happen!
Let's be honest....we all love our dogs. They make us smile, they make us laugh, they're great to snuggle with, they prompt us to get out for some fresh air, even if we don't feel like it, they love us unconditionally... there are just so many reasons why we love our dogs. What we sometimes wish, though, is that they would "behave" like we want them to. Or we label them as "aggressive" or "reactive". We want them to listen to us, do as we say (some say "command", I prefer "ask / invite / cue"), respect and trust us. We may have a problem or problems with what they do.
What we need to understand is that what is a problem for us, likely isn't a problem for our dog(s). They're just doing doggy things. They're not barking because they like the sound of their bark (come on, we all know that human that speaks just to hear themselves speak). That's not our dogs. They're not toileting in the house to be spiteful. They just have to go and if we miss letting them go outside to relieve themselves, that's on us. They're not barking, lunging and growling at that dog to be a jerk, they're doing it because they might be scared or anxious. The most common complaints that I hear from caregivers are: their dog pulls on the leash, barks a lot, doesn't listen, jumps on people, isn't people / dog friendly and doesn't come when called.
The key to knowing HOW to change the behaviour is by figuring out the WHY it's happening in the first place. As a Family Dog Mediator®, I focus on the L.E.G.S® of not only the dog in front of me but of their guardians as well. By looking at all parts of the Learning, Environment, Genetics and Self of everyone involved, we discover the WHY so we know HOW to help. Education and common understanding is the key to helping everyone involved.
There are some common misconceptions when it comes to "aggression". First, there is no aggressive dog, there is aggressive behaviour. But what really IS behaviour? One definition is "the way in which an animal or person acts in response to a particular situation or stimulus" and another is "the actions and mannerisms made by individuals, organisms, in conjunction with themselves or their environment". I like both of these two but mostly the phrases "acts in response to" and "actions and mannerisms....in conjunction with themselves or their environment". This is important because when we talk about behaviour modification, we HAVE to look at it from the dog's point of view first and foremost!
WHY are they barking, lunging and growling at that big dog across the street that's practically pulling their owner down?
WHY are they guarding that resource?
WHY did they bite their human when their human sat down beside them on the couch? WHY did they growl at the person entering their home?
The second thing is that "aggression" doesn't just mean that a dog bites / has bitten anyone. Using the above definitions, a dog can display aggressive behaviour around their food, their bed, their caregiver, essentially, all kinds of things that THEY find valuable (that might not make any sense to us). The dog might use all kinds of body language to tell us that they're not comfortable, in pain, want us to move away, they're scared, anxious or stressed. We might not be listening or understanding what they are trying to tell us because they communicate in a completely different way!
We have to look at everything from their perspective, think about WHY they're displaying this behaviour and "listen" to what they're telling us through their body language. Once we better understand the dog in front of us by going through their L.E.G.S®, and we know WHY they're displaying these types of behaviours, we can come up with a plan to help change their emotional response to whatever their triggers are!