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A Holistic Approach to Dog Training (Part 2) Dog Training is About so Much More Than You Training the Dog

By Don Hanson, BFRAP, CDBC, CPDT-KA | Feb 02, 2015

Last month I shared a bit of my story with dogs and emphasized how the relationship we have with our dogs can be improved upon if we take the time to train them. However, training is about much more than teaching the dog to sit; a training program should have a comprehensive, holistic foundation.

What is “A Holistic Approach to Dog Training”?

Holistic is defined as “relating to or concerned with wholes or with complete systems rather than with the analysis of, treatment of, or dissection into parts.” It is essential to a dog’s welfare to understand a dog’s physical, mental, emotional, and social needs and his methods of communicating with one another and with humans. It is the use of this knowledge that allows for the building of a trusting relationship with dogs, meeting their needs, and thus ensuring their quality of life. As humans, we have the ability to continue to learn about our dogs as a species as well as individuals.

A key component of a good trainer is that he will make the process of learning and training fun. This not only increases the probability of success, but also serves to further enhance the relationship. Also, central to training is the management of a dog’s environment to prevent dangerous and undesirable behaviors while simultaneously using reward-based training to teach the dog to offer behaviors that help him thrive within our human world.

Why should I train my dog with a holistic approach?

Besides the obvious benefits of having a well-trained dog that is responsive to you, training, when done with humane methods, is extremely beneficial to your dog as well.

Dog’s Don’t Come With A User Manual

Spending some time to learn about your dog, its breed, what he was originally bred to do, normal and abnormal canine behaviors, how he learns and how he expresses what he is feeling will be very beneficial. A good place to start is with the following books ; On Talking Terms with Dogs: Calming Signals by Turid Rugaas , The Other End of the Leash by Patricia McConnell, PhD, DOGS: A Startling New Understanding of Canine Origin, Behavior and Evolution by Raymond and Lorna Coppinger, Dog Sense: How the New Science of Dog Behavior Can Make You A Better Friend to Your Pet by John Bradshaw, For the Love of A Dog - by Patricia McConnell, PhD, and Living with Kids and Dogs…Without Losing Your Mind: A Parent’s Guide to Controlling the Chaos by Colleen Pelar.

Building a Bond & Trust

If you make training fun and rewarding, which is not hard to do, training can become a central part of your effort to build and strengthen the bond with your dog. After all, isn’t companionship the main reason you got a dog?  My dog Muppy was a bit shy when we adopted her. Through training, we’ve established a wonderful relationship that has helped her get over her shyness. Additionally, she’s learned: how to control herself around other people (sit, down, stay), behaviors that help keep her safe while enjoying the world (heel, coming when called, leave it), and things that help me take care of her (swallowing a pill, trimming her nails, combing out mats). All of these things she’s learned also make it easier for her groomer, her veterinarian, and others who care for her. Because she has learned these things through the use of positive reinforcement, her trust in the human world has grown immensely.

Socialization & Habituation

Properly socializing and habituating your dog when he is 8 to 16 weeks of age and maintaining this socialization for the lifetime of your pet can go a long way in helping your dog to enjoy being part of your everyday life without being fearful. Unfortunately, most people do not fully understand the concept of socialization and think that exposing a dog to a couple of friends and their existing dogs or the neighbor’s dog is all it takes. Socializing a dog is not that simple and requires planning, which is why taking your puppy to a class taught by a professional dog trainer can help you get off to a good start. You will have the added benefit of meeting others that are going through all of the same puppy frustrations that you are. Many families and their dogs become longtime friends through puppy class.

Prevent Problems Before They Start

People have good intentions when they train their dogs, but often they or a family member or friend inadvertently end up training the dog to do exactly the opposite of what they really want. Often people come to us with a dog that habitually jumps up on certain people and after we talk with them, we discover they have unknowingly been rewarding jumping. It’s much easier to train what we want from the beginning than to have to “untrain” a behavior we don’t like.

Learning Basic Manners

When one gets a dog, it is usually with the intention that it will be a member of the family and will be able to participate in family activities. One of the best ways to make this happen is by teaching the dog some basic manners like sit, down, walking on a loose leash, coming when called, and leaving things he’s not supposed to have.

Mental Stimulation

So many people worry about making sure their dogs get sufficient physical exercise, yet rarely do they think about their mental stimulation which is every bit as important. A dog that receives plenty of mental stimulation is much less likely to engage in problem behaviors like destructive chewing and digging.

Regular training sessions, even after a dog has successfully learned everything you want him to know, can keep his skills sharp and help expend that pent up energy. Teaching your dog something new and fun (e.g. retrieve a favorite toy, find a hidden object) can provide your dog with mental stimulation on those days when life does not accommodate a walk. Sometimes it can be as simple as training your dog during commercial breaks as you watch your favorite TV program.

Because It Is Fun!

My dog Muppy absolutely loves to “go to school.” When she prances in her heel position, it is obvious to see how much she is enjoying herself through her body language. Her mouth is open, relaxed, and smiling while she is looking at me with rapt attention. Not only is she having a great time, it fills my heart with joy to watch her. All the while, she is learning skills that will help her to successfully live in a human world. Give holistic training a try and spread the word!

Working With A Professional Is Worth It

Working with a certified professional dog trainer (CPDT) is one of the best ways for you to implement a holistic training program for you and your dog. A good CPDT will teach you about body language and canine communication; he will introduce a fun, positive method of training and will help guide you through those difficult moments of canine chaos. A professional understands that all dogs are different, yet ultimately learn the same way and can help you prevent problems before they begin. They are also there to answer your questions and to show you how to do something; not something you can get out of a book or a YouTube video. Yes, you can see a trainer on YouTube, but he cannot see you and your dog, and that is an essential factor in helping people and dogs to progress.

Don Hanson is the co-owner of the Green Acres Kennel Shop (greenacreskennel.com) in Bangor and the 2014 Association of Professional Dog Trainers Dr. Ian Dunbar Member of the Year. He is a Bach Foundation Registered Animal Practitioner, Certified Dog Behavior Consultant, and Certified Professional Dog Trainer. Don is a member of The Pet Professional Guild. He produces and co- hosts a weekly radio show and podcast, The Woof Meow Show heard on The Voice of Maine  (103.9FM, 101.3FM, 1450AM & woofmeowshow.com) every Saturday at 7:30AM and Sunday at 8:30PM.