Posted by: Linda Trunell | June 23, 2013

Sometimes I Just Don’t Know Yet

Abby & Lily

There are many reasons people enroll their pet dogs in training class. Many of my students are new puppy owners. A well-run Puppy Class is a good way to help socialize a puppy during the critical first 3-4 months of life. The puppy will also learn good manners and basic behavior cues.

A Beginner Class can help a newly adopted dog to settle-in and bond with his new family. The dog may already have some training but working with his new family members can help build trust and confidence when the training is positive reinforcement and fun for everyone.

Many people seek training for specific behavior problems. Sometimes their dogs have annoying habits –

  • jumping on people
  • excessive barking
  • digging
  • inappropriate chewing
  • not coming when called
  • potty training
  • pulling on the leash
  • mouthing/rough play

These behaviors can be changed when owners learn how to train and reinforce the desired alternate behaviors.

Sometimes dogs have more serious or even dangerous issues –

  • people or dog aggression
  • resource guarding (food, toys or people)
  • separation anxiety
  • fearful, anxious, or reactive to strangers, kids, loud noises, etc.

Sometimes these behaviors are a combination of nature and nurture and sometimes they are caused by physical or emotional pain or some of each.  Much aggression stems from fear and can be caused by inadequate socialization at a young age and/or failure to continue socialization throughout adult years.  Sometimes a traumatic event can cause behavior to change because the emotions have changed – for example an attack by another dog.  A dog who was not reactive on the leash may become leash-aggressive to other dogs after being attacked by an off-leash dog while walking.

Max was viciously attacked while we were walking when he was only 7 months old.  He recovered physically and was still okay with seeing other dogs on our walk but for many weeks he refused to go to that point on our walking path.  He would just stop so we would turn around and go another way. Then, one day we were walking with friends and their 3 dogs and as we approached that point, he slowed up but continued to walk.  He looked at me and back at his friends, now a little ahead of us.  I left it up to him if he wanted to continue.  He decided to follow them and after that it was fine.  I knew he had overcome the fear.  It took me months to stop having “flashbacks” every time I heard dog tags jingle when we were walking.

Some dogs do not recover from such scary things without help such as counter-conditioning and desensitization.  Some dogs may never be the same.

As much as I wish I could help solve every dog’s behavior problems, I am smart enough to know that some issues cannot be resolved in a training class setting – even if it is a private class. What I can do is give what help I can offer and recommend what to do next. Sometimes a certified animal behaviorist is needed. Other times it may be a positive-reinforcement trainer who specializes in fearful or aggressive dogs and is able to work with the family and dog outside of the training room.  Other times, it may be a physical condition requiring medical care.

I am always continuing my education and learning more from every dog I interact with. Knowledge and experience come with time. Knowing one’s limits and not being too proud to admit them is easier when one’s motives are pure. My motives, first and always, are to help dogs.

Here’s to being our dog’s best friend,



  1. We have not enrolled ourselves and Donna in any training class yet. I sometimes wonder if its just me being too smug and thinking we’re doing fine training her by ourselves. And yes we were dog idiots before we adopted.

    I was recently added in a chat group where the trainer was very positive in encouraging the humans and assuring them that their problems can be solved if they apply themselves an hour a day with their dog.

    I understand that people enroll in training because they are experiencing problems – dog-dog aggression, dog-people aggression, jumping, chewing up the sofa – etc. We were kind of concerned how a group of 10 such dogs can be brought together in a basic obedience training class, and how the trainer can manage them particularly the couple of dog-dog aggressive dogs that are enrolling, when the humans themselves are having trouble.

    We are perhaps overly-protective of Donna because we decided that is not a training we want to be in. I’m writing this because a post titled “sometimes I just don’t know” may sound unflattering, but it is better to present the truth as it is. And when people are more informed, they get better at deciding what sort of training they think they require and want their dogs exposed to.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for your reply. I can truly understand your concerns. All dogs need training, but not all dogs need training classes. Some need training before they are able to be in classes with other dogs. I evaluate dogs before putting them in classes together because some are too reactive to fit in. In that case I would recommend a few private sessions and working to socialize the dog before allowing them in a class.
      Truly aggressive dogs are NOT allowed in class. Some behavior issues cannot be worked on in a class setting.
      Classes are made up of dogs of similar size, age and play style so they can interact safely and have fun with the other dogs.
      Puppy classes are a very important part of the early socialization but only if the puppy is not overwhelmed or frightened. It is normal for some puppies to be shy at first but very soon they are comfortable and joining in the play. I limit class size to 6 dogs and monitor the interactions. By closing observing body language I can tell who is having fun and who is not. My first priority is that everyone (dogs and owners) have a good, instructive experience. I would never allow a dog to be stressed or scared.
      If anyone is considering a class, I would suggest they ask a lot of questions about the training methods used, get references from others and actually observe a class before enrolling.
      When you are working at home one hour is often too long. I think the best results come from several short sessions throughout the day. Remember too that dogs are ALWAYS learning whether it is a training session or just daily interactions.
      Above all, training should be fun for you both and never stressful. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person


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