PROBLEM PETS: DON'T DESPAIR--THE SOLUTION IS OUT THERE!
Text and photo by Ardeth Baxter
Your companion animal, a former shelter dog, has, shall we say, some bad habits. Fido chews everything in sight--your Kilim rug, your Nike running shoes. He barks nonstop at nonexistent people and tears up the house every time you leave him alone. You've read a few magazine articles on behavior training. You've even tried out a few commands, to no avail. You were thinking of signing up for an obedience class, but you don't know which one is the best, and besides, you don't have a lot of free time to devote to training. You're frustrated, you're angry, and you can't take it any more. As much as you adore Fido, for the sake of your sanity and your possessions, you're actually contemplating returning him to the local animal shelter for somebody else to deal with, even if it means euthanasia. Stop right there and take a deep breath! You still have many choices.
Amazon.com lists some 569 books on dog training (and 62 on cat training). Pet experts such as Uncle Matty (Matthew Margolis), Brian Kilcommons, Carol Lea Benjamin, Warren Eckstein, Karen Pryor, Paul Owens, and the monks of New Skete, to name a very few, offer their own brands of behavior modification for pets who range from the merely obstinate to the downright ornery, such as clicker training, affection training, dog whispering, and "raise with praise" techniques. But if you prefer a less literary, more local approach to teaching your dog better behavior, read on.
The Santa Fe Animal Shelter and Humane Society and the Animal Humane Association of Albuquerque both operate animal behavior Help Lines you can call for advice on problem behavior. Leave a message at the Santa Fe Shelter (telephone number 505-983-4309, ext. 19) and your call will be answered within 24 hours. The Help Line can also help you determine if your pet's behavioral quirks are caused by an underlying medical problem.
The Animal Humane Association of Albuquerque recently initiated its around-the-clock animal behavior help line (Albuquerque Metro area call 254-8088; statewide call 1-888-207-8100). The AHA mails the caller a handout discussing the specific problem along with suggested behavior modification techniques, with a follow-up call a few days later to determine if the information has helped or if further help is needed. A few of the handouts for dogs discuss canine rivalry, fearful dogs, submissive/excitement urination, nuisance digging, housetraining a dog, the escape artist, and dog bite prevention for children. Cat problems are also covered.
Help lines like those of the AHA and Santa Fe AS&HS are becoming common throughout the country, with gratifying results. The theory behind them is that behavioral problems are caused primarily by bad communication between guardian and pet. Their goal is to help solve the problem before the guardian is overwhelmed and decides to get rid of the animal.
This extreme reaction to supposedly untrainable pets is precisely what the Pets for Life campaign, originated by the Humane Society of the United States and the Denver Dumb Friends League, works to prevent. Its philosophy is that a commitment to an animal companion should be life-long, and behavioral problems can be rectified to make that possible. As part of that campaign, AHA's Behavior Department has begun a program called "Doggie Charm School", which involves in-house training of less adoptable shelter dogs who have suffered from lack of socialization or obedience training.
A number of private trainers are also available to aid the hapless pet guardian. Carl Koski of Los Lunas (505-271-8070) has over 25 years of experience, including training military dogs. He believes that the secret to successful training is to put yourself in the place of the dog and to encourage self-confidence and self-control. His classes are small, using a special relaxation technique to calm the dog and make training easier. Koski does not advocate hitting a dog to make him behave. Rather, he uses positive reinforcement and "time out" away from the dog's human pack.
D. Scott Aldrich of Positive Results (505-989-8782) in Santa Fe claims nearly 100% success in training "bad" dogs to be obedient dogs, employing such modalities as Healing Touch therapy, stress relief, pain management, and trauma release. His program emphasizes praise and respect, never punishment or treats. Aldrich bases his training on the idea that dogs have a pack mentality, and the human is always the leader; the dog must be led to understand and respect that.
PetsMart offers potty training, puppy classes, basic obedience and private classes through its Pet Training Associates. They can also demonstrate how to handle an aggressive dog. Visit your local PetsMart for more information.
So your choices for changing Fido's habits for the better are many. Please give them a serious try. It's the least you can do for your beloved, life-long companion; he'll give you so much in return.
Websites with information on behavioral training:
Animal Humane Association (AHA): www.ahanm.org
Santa Fe Animal Shelter & Humane Society: www.sfhumanesociety.org
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