Clickety Clips interviews top dog trainers
Steve Goward, Deputy Head of Canine Behaviour & Training, Dogs Trust
Steve started as a volunteer at Dogs Trust in 2000 whilst studying animal welfare as a mature student, and went on to study canine behaviour at Bristol University. Now, as Deputy Head of Canine Behaviour & Training, he supports all Dogs Trust’s centres across the UK with staff training and advice on behaviour and welfare.
He continues to study canine behaviour in order to help dogs who are struggling to cope, both in the kennel environment and when they go to their new home. He has spoken at seminars around the world, including ICAWC, India for animals in Jaipur, the Scottish Association of Pet Dog Trainers, the Association of Charity Vets, The National Dog Welfare Conference Chennai India and Cancun University Veterinary Department. His subjects have included stereotypical behaviours, dog aggression & learning theory, welfare and quality of life, positive training methods and safe dog handling. In his limited spare time he contributes to the dog answers section of Your Dog magazine.
How would you advise owners on the best way to bond with their dog?
SG: For me, bonding with your dog is all about knowing your dog. All too often people will give up because they’re not able to bond with or enjoy their dog. Dogs are like us in that they are individuals and have varying likes and dislikes. When you first start dating don’t you make the effort to find out what your partner likes to do and finds interesting? With a new dog you just need to remember they are unlikely to be like your last dog, and the types of toys, the food, and the games they like may differ. The best part of bonding with a new dog is finding out what they love to do! We call it preference testing, and we do it on a daily basis in our kennels to get a better picture of what a dog enjoys doing as this is so important in maintaining good welfare and quality of life.
- First, find out what motivates your dog and create a list of all the things your dog finds rewarding.
- Second, find out in what circumstances your dog struggles to maintain attention. The context or environment that you’re teaching in can make all the difference to a dog’s focus. Just think back to a recent learning experience you’ve had yourself – I guarantee that if the environment was either threatening or overly exciting you will have found it hard to take in new information.
- Third, just as with dogs learning a new behaviour, it’s all about practice making perfect. So, start simple and build up to harder tasks. If you and your dog succeed you will both want to do more.
SG: In my opinion, this can really be answered in one sentence: don’t do anything to your dog that you wouldn’t like to happen to you.
This seems simple, and really it is, but you need to be honest with yourself and say “Would I like to be hit with a newspaper?” or “Would I like to be ignored constantly?” or “Would I like to be shouted at?”.
Some people think that, as shouting at their dog doesn’t physically hurt him, it’s ok to do so. But would you like to be shouted at?
Dog training is all about relationship and trust. If you avoid damaging these vital pieces of the jigsaw you won’t go far wrong.
SG: The concept I find most owners struggling with is why the dog is behaving in a particular way. Owners are often misled by advice that is given out freely on the internet, and by some trainers and behaviourists who believe it is ok to frighten your dog into suppressing behaviours, and that the dog’s behaviour is born out of a desire to take over the household and become the leader of the family.
People look up ”why does my dog …?” and, as we know, there are plenty of ‘experts’ who will give advice and show you videos on how to resolve your dog jumping up or pulling on the lead. Sadly, very few of these ever consider why the dog is behaving as it is.
And, finally, what do you envisage the greatest challenges will be for pet dogs and their owners over the next 10-20 years?
SG: Sadly, the challenges for our dogs and their owners are increasing. We have such high expectations of what a dog should be, but not the time or, in some cases, the inclination, to get it there. The number of dogs being bred or shipped-in creates an over subscription which lowers their value. I don’t really mean a financial value but lowers the value put on their needs and desires as a species and as individuals. Without proper breeding (for health and temperament) we face the on-going situation of dogs bought on a whim and sold on or discarded without a second thought. Without better preparation our dogs are less able to deal with the demands we place on them.
But it isn’t all bad news! We have some great people and organisations trying to make positive changes in the dog world. Initiatives like the Puppy Plan will help many puppies grow up with the skills they will need to thrive in our company. We have an ever increasing group of trainers and behaviourists who recognise the value of positive training methods – and the damage that can be done with aversive and punitive approaches.
The way I see it is that we all have a responsibility to drive the fair treatment and respect of the animals that share our lives, and to take these messages to governments and organisations that can effect change.
Be Dog Smart is the Dogs Trust’s new educational campaign helping families understand more about how to behave around dogs in order to keep themselves safe. You’ll find plenty of resources as well as helpful tips and advice for parents to teach their children how to be safe around dogs.
If you’ve got kids and a dog or are about to bring a puppy home, we have more resources in Clickety Clips’ Kids & Dogs section or take a look at The Family Dog, a step-by-step online plan that tells you everything you need to know to get your kids onboard, your dog in check and the whole family playing for the same team. Its packed with videos, downloads and tools to help you turn it all into a reality.