Work in progress
This is NOT where I tell you how to solve your problems with your reactive dog but since having George I have learned a lot and would like to share some of the resources that I have found useful. I hope you will too but remember I am writing this website as a dog owner not an expert. There is no substitute for expert help.
1. Seek professional help
Finding good trainers and behaviourists who use force free, progressive reinforcement training methods. Dog trainers and behaviourists are currently unregulated (ie potentially someone could watch a few TV programmes and set themselves up as an expert) so the onus is wholly on the individual to find a suitable source of help.
Training – have a look for good training classes with a qualified instructor. APDT members are signed up to using positive training methods as are the Kennel Club ( Kennel Club Registered or Listed Clubs – ideally one that has KCAIs) but always go and watch a couple of classes before you sign up. Even people who profess to use all positive training demonstrate a range of understanding of what this means.
Some clues that a class is not truly ‘force free’ may include chastisement and/or raised voices when a dog doesn’t do the right thing, the use of water sprays (20% of dogs having water sprayed at them may give an aggressive response #1) use of sharp lead corrections or recommending the use of choke or half-choke collars (euphemistically now often referred to as half-slip)
To find an appropriately qualified behaviourist try the Association of Pet Behaviour Councillors (APBC)
Most behaviourists now will have a degree in animal psychology and or animal behaviour, ideally at Masters Level. To have attained an appropriate level of experience you will be looking for someone who has worked with problem dogs in a variety of settings, rescue centres, classes, 1-2-1 in clients own homes as well as more formal settings.
As with finding a trainer I would recommend that if possible you see the behaviourist at work, though this can be more difficult as an initial assessment may take 2 – 4hrs in an owner’s home. Many behaviourists however will do classes (e.g. growl classes) which they may allow you to watch.
If not possible to watch the behaviourist at work a lot may become clear from your initial conversation with them. Are they talking about positive training methods (progressive positive reinforcement/clicker type training, counter conditioning such as the bar open/bar closed technique or Behavioural Adjustment Training). You could ask them about what they recommend you do with a dog that misbehaves, training an alternative behaviour would be a good answer, using a firm ‘no’ not good #1 and certainly no form of punishment. An alternative question would be whether you need to bring anything with you; if the answer is rewards/toy that bodes well, though of course no guarantee. On the other hand if the response is something along the lines of ‘a water spray’ or ‘slip collar’ I would suggest that you try someone else.
There is a great deal of helpful information on the internet but also much misinformation so the resource has to be used with care one site that I would recommend is Agbeh Yahoo Group – not only is there advice on management of aggression though the use of positive, force-free methods but site also incorporates links to some excellent resources
I also use Emily Larlham’s Dogmantics site which includes a number of Kikopup videos dealing with milder behavioural issues and her Blog has some interesting articles too. Her training Manifesto is also worth reading
Work in progress
#1 – Is Punishment an Effective Way to Change the Behavior of Dogs? Psychology Today May 24, 2012 in Canine Corner by Stanley Coren, Ph.D., F.R.S.C.