Presidential Pup’s Trainer Has the Right Idea
by E. Kathryn Meyer, VMD
Immediate Past President, American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior
Back in the Spring of 2009, I remember clearly the drama preceding the announcement of what lucky dog would be appointed to join the Obama family in the White House. As a dog-loving resident of the DC area, I too was caught up in the excitement swirling around the kind of dog they would get—puppy, adult, purebred, mixed breed, or rescue pup. But as the president of the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior, I was much more interested in the kind of training the Obamas would seek for the newest member of their family. In his role as the “First Dog,” Bo would need to be adaptable and friendly in situations unfathomable for a typical family pet. The training techniques used would have to foster confidence and trust in people. And even more importantly, the Obamas would be setting an example for millions of dog owners with the type of training they chose. Would they use the most progressive, humane, and effective methods or would they accept the offer of a popular TV celebrity to use dominance theory to shape their newest family member’s behavior?
Having read “The LOVE THAT DOG Training Program” by Bo’s trainer, Dawn Sylvia-Stasiewicz and co-author Larry Kay, I applaud the Presidential choice. But you don’t need to be powerful, rich, or famous to learn how to train your dog or puppy in the same way Bo was trained. Ms. Sylvia-Stasiewicz and Mr. Kay have put together a very nice book that guides owners of new puppies and dogs through a 5-week program that provides a sturdy foundation for a happy, well-adjusted dog. I particularly like the authors’ goal of creating a “spirited” dog, rather than a dog that has been “broken.” Dogs trained using the program are not fearful of their owners and will joyfully offer new behaviors that can subsequently be “captured” to enrich their lives. Dogs trained using punishment as the primary approach are often afraid to do things wrong and become reluctant to offer new behaviors.
The book is well organized, broad in its scope, and includes helpful appendices and an index. The 5-week program touted on the book cover is the nuts and bolts of teaching your dog the basics. If desired, you could simply read and apply the techniques laid out in Chapters 3 through 8 and derive significant benefit. The program is based on developing a relationship with your puppy or dog while training the basics—housetraining, crating, sit, recall, leash walking, down, stay, stand, settle, release, off/take it, and boundary training. Helpful training logs are provided for each week to aid in applying the techniques.
If you have the time and interest, however, I would strongly recommend you read Chapter 1. This is especially important if you are a new dog owner or if it’s been some time since you’ve brought a new puppy or dog into your home. Much has changed in dog training over the past few decades and Ms Sylvia-Stasiewicz chronicles her own crossover from traditional dog training that relies on physical “corrections” to the current standard of positive reinforcement training. Of particular interest is a section entitled “What About Being the Leader of the Pack?” While approaching dog training through the lens of “dominance” makes for dramatic TV programs, it is an often ineffective and damaging way in which to approach educating a dog. Positive reinforcement done in a skilled, consistent manner is effective, safe, and humane.
Chapter 2 is also worth the time to read to prepare for your new pet. Topics covered include advice on choosing your dog, setting your training goals, and preparing your home and family for the new dog. A handy list of equipment and supplies is provided, as well as a checklist for setting up and dog-proofing your home for the new arrival. I found the advice to choose the top 10 skills you would like your dog to master very valuable. No puppy or dog is going to be perfect and it takes time, patience, and effort to train a dog. Narrowing your focus to the most important skills makes the process seem much less overwhelming.
Once your dog has completed the 5-week foundation, the fun really is just beginning. Chapters 9 through 12 comprise “The Next Steps” portion of the book. Chapter 9 offers more skills and games to add to your dog’s repertoire using simple training techniques building upon what he or she has already learned. Chapter 10 focuses on clicker training, which can open up a whole new level of fun for you and your dog. I do like that the authors introduce the clicker at this point in the book rather than in the 5-week training core. It has been my experience that people often become frustrated with clickers when they are first training their dogs. Fortunately, all of the foundational skills can be taught easily without a clicker. BUT, if you would like to go to the next level with your dog and have some real fun capturing behaviors and putting them on cue, don’t skip this chapter.
The authors rounds out the book with a short, basic chapter on handling common behavior problems and a “Your Dog in the World” chapter. This last chapter discusses issues related to various doggy experiences, such as Dog Parks, Road Trips, Water Safety, Doggy Day Care, and Trainer Selection. The book closes with the Appendices, which cover the Canine Good Citizen certification along with a description of a wide array of available canine skill training, obedience training, dog sports, and dog show opportunities.
“The LOVE THAT DOG Training Program” offers very good, solid advice to the typical new puppy or dog owner. I would have liked more emphasis placed on socializing young puppies as part of the foundational training, as this is arguably even more important than obedience training during early puppyhood. Once the sensitive period of sensitization has passed in their puppies—usually somewhere between 3 and 4 months of age, owners will never again have that kind of opportunity to positively influence the ultimate temperament of their dog. I also think the title may not necessarily reflect the content of the book. Clearly, we want to “love” our dogs but it is not just love that creates a well-behaved and well-adjusted dog. Fortunately, the book delivers on how to teach your dog what he or she needs to learn in a positive and loving way. Overall, “The LOVE THAT DOG Training Program” is a fine addition to the dog-training literature available to help create that happy, well-behaved dog that so enriches our lives. Just like Bo.
More information on “The LOVE THAT DOG Training Program” by Dawn Sylvia-Stasiewicz and Larry Kay can be found at http://lovethatdogbook.com