Words from a Trainer: What You Should Know

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This week I had the pleasure of interviewing Suzanne Dean from The Dog Training Lady.

Suzanne is an honors graduate of Animal Behavior College who’s been training dogs for over 20 years.

GSC: You recently posted the story about how you became a dog trainer on your blog TheDogTrainingLady.com.

You’re an all positive ABCDT qualified dog trainer who has been training dogs for 20 years.  What made you decide to go the positive route?

TDT: Animal Behavior College teaches dog trainers to be what is called a “balanced trainer” which includes positive methods such as luring and capturing.

Balanced trainers also use negative punishment, which is removing the opportunity for a reward.  Balanced trainers also use mild physical correction such as a leash or collar correction but these are only used when all other methods have been exhausted.

So when I say “all positive” I use luring and capturing for training, but I will also use negative punishment.  I just don’t like the expression “negative punishment” it just has a harsh ring to it.

Of course you are not going to provide a treat to the dog that did not perform the requested behavior.  I prefer to call that omitting the treat.  I guess that’s just semantics.

I won’t treat the dog, but wait a minute and try again, so he or she has a opportunity for success.  That is why I do everything possible to keep all training on a positive note.  It keeps the dog happy, so he or she is willing to continue learning.  It builds a beautiful relationship between the pet and parent, this also builds trust.  When your dog trusts you, just about any training can be accomplished.

Note by Gabriella: Although I personally don’t agree with using physical corrections in dog training.  I think it’s useful for you to know about the different methods involved in dog training. It’s the only way for you to make an informed decision on what’s best for your dog.  And I think it’s great that Suzanne works to avoid physical corrections.

GSC: Hollywood has (unfortunately) glamorized dog training based on the “dominance theory” which include corrections.  Tactics like leash jerks, finger pops, alpha rolls, and disturbingly, helicoptering to name just a few.  As a professional dog trainer, what’s your take on why this outdated method of training just won’t die?

TDT: This is Compulsion training, the “do it because I told you to” training.  The dog taught to avoid punishment.  Many people think that this will get the training objective faster.

I personally believe this should be outlawed.  All this training method teaches is avoidance of punishment, and unfortunately, just places fear in the dog.

Many of these methods can permanently injury a dog, and in some really bad situations, it can kill them.  People using these methods in my opinion have a mind-set of dogs being a disposal item, as they can, and will always get another dog.

There are organizations out there now that are advocating to change the situation.  There are also many celebrities that are animal activists that will step up to the plate.  We still have a long way to go to stop this treatment completely.

GSC: Many dog owners don’t realize that they’re training their dog even when they’re not in a formal training session.  What are the 3 biggest mistakes you see dog owners make that accidentally teach their dogs bad habits?

TDT: The first and biggest mistake and please don’t crucify me on this one…
Is petting – I am at fault of this too.  My dog Mary will come over while I’m typing away on the computer and nudge my arm so that I pet her.

I guess I kind of give in because she is getting old and having lost 3 of the other pack members in the last few years, I’ve been slacking, I’ve gotten soft.

Here’s why you should be mindful of this…

What your dog is doing is demanding petting.  You’ve just trained your dog that they are allowed to demand things from you.

The second biggest problem is getting on the furniture.

We all love that cute little puppy we first brought home and want them to cuddle in on lap on the sofa. You just trained them that it is okay to get on the furniture.

Later when your puppy has grown into a large 65-pound dog, and you don’t want them on the furniture anymore.

This is a decision you have to make from the first day you bring them home.  Are you going to allow them on the furniture or not, decide from day one and be consistent.

The third and the one I bet we are all guilty of this…

Is begging at the table.

Okay now who doesn’t sneak food to their dog under the table now and then?

You’ve just trained your dog to beg for food at your dinner table.

Bad idea!

GSC: Leading on from the previous question…  What should they do to avoid this?

TDT: You have do be very mindful of what’s going on.

The fact is; these things usually happen because we are engrossed in something else.

Like the nudge for petting, you’re usually doing something else.

To stop your dog from becoming demanding, you have to stop and be mindful of what’s happening.

Instead, either ignore your dog when they demand attention (I don’t care for this choice).


Ask for a command such as sit or down and then pet your dog.  This way you’re asking your dog to work for it.  That’s not a bad thing, dogs like having a job.

And it prevents your dog from thinking demanding something from you because you is acceptable.

Getting on the furniture.

Realize what you want from the very beginning.  Know if your 65-pound full-grown dog is not going to be allowed on the furniture, don’t allow it when they are a cute little puppy.

If you want to cuddle your puppy when they’re little (and who doesn’t), get on the floor and cuddle with them.  Don’t let them get into the habit of getting on the furniture.  This just confuses your dog later.

If you don’t have a problem with your full-grown dog being on the furniture than this is a non-issue.

Teaching your dog to beg.

Okay, I get it, I’m guilty too.  “Here’s a carrot or a piece of chicken.”

Instead get a small plate to sit on your dinner table, anything you want to give to your dog set it in the plate.  When you are done with dinner, take that plate and put the scraps in your dog’s dinner bowl, where he or she normally eats their meals.

It is best to train your dog to go to a spot, whether that is their bed, crate, or a rug you have for them.  Don’t allow them to sit near the table while you are eating.

I’ve broken this habit in Mary.  She knows if she stays in her spot till we are done eating, she gets something.  But only because she’s behaved – I don’t do this all the time, only on occasion.

Never give it to your dog at begging at the table – it’s a BIG mistake.

Some dog owners don’t believe their dogs should have table scraps at all.  And that’s fine.  It is all about what you expect from your dog.

Some dogs are on special diets and can’t have scraps.  I would never recommend table scraps for dog that has special dietary needs.

You also need to be careful that what you’re giving your dog is something that is safe for a dog to eat.  But that’s a completely separate article.

GSC: A lot of dog owners are very successful in training their dogs in basic obedience.

But sometimes behaviors and situations arise that require a qualified trainer.

Since dog training is largely an unregulated industry, what are the most important questions dog owners should be asking prospective trainers?

TDT: Referrals, referrals, referrals!  That’s the biggest and most important thing.

Anyone can hang out the dog trainer shingle.  Ask the trainer for referrals, and do your due diligence.

Make those phone calls and ask about the experience they had with the trainer. Ask what kind of training they needed.

If they were just getting basic training then this may not help you.German Shepherd Agility Competition

If it was a behavioral issue ask if the problem was resolved.

Ask if they would recommend this person for your circumstance.

A good trainer will have compiled a list of referrals.

And have asked permission to give past client’s names and contact numbers to prospective clients.

A dog trainer can get through all kinds of training courses.

It boils down to how they treat their clients and their dogs.  I am always available to my clients for phone calls if the need arises and will help them handle the situation in the next training session.

A good dog trainer will also know when it is time to tell you to get in contact with your vet.  There are some behaviors that have their root cause in medical issues.  You always want to rule that out before training and re-directing the problem issue.

Puppies Surrendered due to behavior problems playing

A study showed that 30% of puppies under 12 months surrendered due to ‘behavior problems’.

GSC: A study done at a shelter in Columbus, Ohio found that 53% of the dogs surrendered were less than 12 months old.

And 30% were surrendered due to perceived behavior problems.

However, the behaviors the owner perceived as problematic were all-natural puppy behaviors.

Like hyperactivity, housebreaking issues, destructive chewing, and barking.

You’re a published author on Amazon with 2 books specifically about puppies – puppy potty training the right way and the best training for puppies, which have both received rave reviews.

In your opinion what are 2 easy things new puppy owners can implement easily as soon as puppy comes home to get things on track fast?

TDT: Firstly, potty training is a big issue with pets being relinquished.  If you are going to get a puppy be prepared for potty training.  Puppies have to go out frequently; you have to watch for the signs.

Remember they are just like babies you have to anticipate things.  Circling is one of them.  Depending on age will determine how often they need to go out.

Puppies and dogs like to please their owners.  So, be sure to praise them when they potty, this reinforces the good behavior.

If your puppy has an accident in your house, roll up a newspaper and hit yourself with it…

You weren’t paying attention.

Before you even bring your new puppy inside be sure all business has been done.  The new smells and the excitement is just a peeing accident waiting to happen.

A puppy is not for everyone, be prepared to ask yourself some serious questions about the responsibilities you will be taking on.

You’ll be up late to make sure they empty themselves and you will be up very early.  And no not for your first cup of coffee!  You get that puppy and get outside first thing no questions.

Secondly, have plenty of chew toys.  And I mean plenty!  You want to be able to switch them out so they think they are getting new things.  Take note of their favorites and get spares.

Have several of them around the house.  When you see them going for the chair leg, squeak that toy and get their attention.

Puppies have short attention spans so if you get their attention on the squeaky toy instead of the chair leg, they will start chewing on the toy.  Keeping their focus on their toys this will help a lot in keeping them from chewing on your furniture.

Pet and praise them for playing with the toy instead of chewing your furniture.  This reinforces good behavior.

One quick thing I would like to add, and it is included in my book…

When you first bring your puppy into the house keep the leash on and give them a tour.  If there are certain rooms that are off-limits, go to the doorway allow them to look and sniff then close the door.  This helps them understand it’s closed to them, but they were allowed to sniff so you’re not hiding anything.

Having a puppy or dog is not for everyone, it’s a lifetime commitment.

If people sat down and listed the needs and responsibilities of owning a pet they can make an informed decision.

That decision may be to not have a pet.

It’s better to make that decision than to relinquish a pet later. The puppy or dog doesn’t understand why they lost their home, and that can make for additional behavioral issues if they should get adopted by someone else.

To find out more about The Dog Training Lady, pop over to her website.  You’ll find a ton of information on training, health, behavior issues, and an excellent article on social responsibility.  You should also check out her weekly series where she delves into the different breeds, helping her readers pick the best breed of dog for their lifestyle.  I recently did a guest post for her series on the beloved German Shepherd.

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About the author: Gabriella is a certified professional dog trainer with the Victoria Stilwell Academy. She has a special passion for teaching GSD guardians to train their dogs with kindness and clarity using positive reinforcement methods without force, pain, or fear. Join “Dog Speak” for free dog training tips and advice from a professional dog trainer.

  • Claudia

    I need help with my 18 month gsd he has fear aggression towards dogs,people I’ve had 2 trainers and he knows all his commands but I can’t even go to the park or have people over because he is aggressive so now my anxiety and social life is horrible ,I can only walk him or give him exercise if we are out in an isolated place . He loves only family members and every time I have to introduce him to a family members that’s knew it done at my daughter’s house because he will see her dog how he acts and he will follow then after a couple of hour or days he will be more trusting . Please help. Need a better way I use a prong and ecollar has worked in the past but now he won’t react to it.

    • Hi Claudia,

      Dealing with a dog that has fear aggression is tricky so my advice is to get a dog behaviorist to assist you. I highly recommend working with someone who uses positive reinforcement. Prong and e-collars can cause more aggression in an already aggressive dog. And like you’ve mentioned you need a better way.

      I wish I could help you more, but the best thing for you and your dog right now is to work one on one with a canine behaviorist. If you let me know where you are I can make a few recommendations.

  • Michael

    Interesting article and comments. My problem is that I have just rescued a GSD that was obviously abandoned because she has leishmania. We found here wandering around an industrial area and she was recently made pregnant. The Vet thinks she is about 3 or 4 years old. I am English, the dog was obviously owned by a Greek. We have had her for 2 weeks now and training is going nowhere, she does not respond to her name. She has now been neutered . Can you advise re training please

    • Hey Michael,

      Thanks for sharing your interesting situation.

      You’ve got my brain thinking about how you can overcome this. Like us all dogs are different and that’s the fun thing about training, it’s not black and white, a lot of times it’s improvising and finding ways to work with a specific dog.

      It takes time to teach a dog new sounds and that’s what you should be aiming for. I think the process can’t be separated from actual training, both go hand-in-hand. So by teaching your girl behaviors like sit, stay, come etc (and later more advanced behaiors) you’re teaching her the new sounds.

      Language is sound to a dog. They can’t rationalize that now you’re speaking english and not greek. Think about a new puppy, a clean slate, you’re teaching that puppy sounds to which she responds with a behavior she knows is connected to that sound.

      So my advice is to go back to basics, use reward based training and teach your girl to respond to the sounds you make in english. It’s easy to get caught up in the idea that she already understands the sounds in greek and that it’s difficult or impossible to teach her to respond to sounds in english, but it’s not.

      Please feel free to read some of the training material on my blog to get a foundation for positive training – if you don’t already know.

      Since she was abandoned she most likely has confidence issues, dogs are social beings and isolation affects them the same way it does us humans. Take baby steps and be patient, this will empower your girl and build her confidence which will eventually speed things up.

      I hope this helps, let me know if you have any other questions, I’m happy to help further.


  • Genevieve

    My boyfriend recently got Maverick, a GSD puppy. And OMW is he cute!

    We’ve both been giving him petting and attention every time he asks – and that’s a lot. He’s uber lovable and just wants to be with us all the time.

    He’s still very young, only 10 weeks old but we’ve started teaching him to sit and lie down. So now we’ll just ask for that before he gets a cuddle. Ha, ha, I can see him doing a lot of sitting and lying down! 😉

    Thanks for this post.

    • Hi Genevieve!

      I can’t think of anything more cute than a GSD puppy! That face, those eyes and not to mention those soft little ears… I’m guilty of petting on demand too! LOL

      GSD pups love to be around their people and are loyal from a young age. At 10 weeks, you can quickly change this behavior from petting on demand to Maverick doing something new he’s learned for a tummy scratch or cuddle.

      Thanks for stopping by! 🙂

  • Donna

    Gabriella and Suzanne,

    I’m so guilty of the petting mistake!

    We’ve recently got a rescue named Tango who’s the sweetest girl. She’s adjusted well and loves attention. She asks for it every so often, and I give it to her without fail.

    I didn’t realize that I was teaching her a bad habit, but it’s so hard when those big brown eyes are looking up at me. From now on I’m going to ask for a sit and high 5 – she’s really good at that! 🙂

    Thanks for the tips and great website!

    • Hi Donna,

      Yip, those big brown eye are hard to resist! I’m guilty of the petting on demand too! 😉

      It’s us humans who need to unlearn this behavior. It’s rude in human culture to ignore someone that is seeking or needs attention. But dogs like working so Tango won’t mind giving you a nice sit and high 5 for a few cuddles!

      Good luck!

  • Hi Gabriella,

    I am so glad you put that disclaimer in the article. I do want people to know that even though mild physical correction such as a leash or collar correction this is taught at Animal Behavior College. It is a part of the training that I have chosen not to use in my practice. I always think there is a better way. However, I do know some trainers that do use this method. In their defense when you are dealing with an owner that has said “If this dog doesn’t learn to behave I’m taking it to the shelter”. Trainers will use leash correction to prevent the dog being surrendered to a shelter. This is a last resort option and not one that a good balanced trainer likes to use.

    • Hi Suzanne,

      I’m happy you highlighted the corrections aspect of balanced training. The public should understand clearly what training as a whole entails. It’s the only way they can make informed decisions for the benefit of their dog – whichever way the chose to go. I wish more trainers would be like you and teach owners and not just the dog. Dog owners go to trainers because they have a problem and having even a basic understanding of what it’s all about is better than knowing nothing.

      There’s a clear divide in the dog training world when it comes to corrections. I’ve seen many dogs come into the shelter where I volunteer who are severely damaged by corrections. I recently read an article on Victoria Stilwell’s site where she had to advise euthanasia because a poor dog had been so damaged and the owners kept getting the same message from the various trainers they had their dog at – just turn up the heat if he doesn’t listen.

      It’s such a slippery slope because some dogs with ‘harder’ nerves aren’t phased by a correction but over time and with over use can become damaged. While other, more ‘softer’ dogs may take even a light verbal correction very personally. And, it reinforces the owner or trainer to keep using corrections because they see results instead of exploring other avenues. That being said, hard or soft nerves, results or not, I agree with you – there is a better way to do things. I see the dogs I work with blossom, but unfortunately, sometimes the emotional and psychological scars remain – those dogs need special homes and owners who understand. And, in all honesty, just like in humans, I do believe that there are some behaviors in certain dogs that can never be fixed 100%. Then it’s a matter of respecting the dog’s limits.

      Like my German Shepherd Charley, she was severely abused by her breeder with aversieve methods. That’s how he trains his dogs for show. I’ve taught her not to bark incessantly, not to be afraid of towels, not to cower when we enter a room she’s in and a few other things. Those were a big victories for her. After trying to positively counter condition her dog and human reactivity I realized that she’ll always have a measure of that, I respect her comfort zone and manage situations when they arise. I also avoid putting her in situations where I know she’ll be out of her depth. It takes a lot of work and planning ahead on my part but I’d rather manage it than do anything to set her back.

  • Suzanne Dean

    Hi Gabriella,

    I really enjoyed doing this interview. I hope that this helps potential pet parents understand that there is a lot of work involved in bringing a puppy into your family. I truly hope that people sit down, and seriously think about all the things involved with pet parenthood.

    It is not for everyone, and people should not feel bad if they decide not to bring a dog or puppy into their home. This is actually an extremely responsible decision, even if it is a difficult one to make.

    Please be sure to read the interview with Gabriella. She provided very valuable information on being a pet parent to a German Shepherd. You can find the interview with Gabriella of GSC at https://thedogtraininglady.com/best-dog-breed-for-me-german-shepherd/

    Paws & Wags,

    • Hi Suzanne,

      It was a great pleasure to get so much useful information from you!

      And I fully agree that prospective dog and puppy owners should really take the time to think about all the responsibilities involved in bringing a puppy or rescue dog home. I just love your point that deciding not to get a puppy or dog is more responsible than getting one and then things don’t work out. It’s good advice, but looking at the shocking stats from just one shelter, sadly, it’s not something many people do. 🙁

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