Kelly Dunbar had a terrific conversation with Andrea Arden on Animal Cafe this week but before I get to the substance, I need to get a little gush — and one small whine — out of the way. I’ve seen Andrea on various Animal Planet shows and I’m a huge fan. I was trying to figure out what I like so much about her TV persona, and when I was looking for images to put on this post I figured it out: Dogs are always kissing her!
You never see dogs kissing Cesar Milan, of course, and — I could be wrong — but I don’t recall Victoria Stilwell getting bussed by any pups. A trainer who has no problem with overt signs of affection, who emphasizes the joy rather than the obedience aspect of the human-dog interaction, is my kind of TV role model.
The whine? I loved Andrea’s turn in from Underdog to Wonderdog, which showed that any dog could be a star with time and attention (and okay, a team of trainers, groomers, vets and dog house architects). I know it’s a fantasy, but I’ll take it over ones like, say, Kim Kardashian’s wedding. I wish Animal Planet would resurrect the show.
It would be remiss of me not to mention here that Andrea also has a thriving dog training business, and is the author of several training books, including the recent Barron’s Dog Training Bible. So she actually is a dog trainer; she doesn’t just play one on TV.
One of the biggest problems Andrea encounters as a trainer is people suffering from the Lassie Syndrome: expecting a dog to walk into their household and not only know exactly how to behave but also to perform supercanine feats. This sets a dog up to fail.
Dogs are selfish, just as we are. They are programmed to guard resources, to grab food — to survive. We have to teach them that food is not in limited supply, that they needn’t be concerned when something is removed, that they need to have impulse control.
It’s not unreasonable to expect dogs to behave in a way that’s compatible with our lifestyle, but we have to teach them our ways.
We also have to respect their ways. “Many people consider their dogs to be members of their family,” Andrea says, “but don’t acknowledge that they have different needs and personalities. Some people get annoyed when their dog is not equally friendly to all other dogs, for example, but why would you assume your dog should like every creature in the street?”
What you can realistically expect a dog to learn
Among realistic expectations for your dog:
— To be house trained
— Not to nip or bite in play
— To give people friendly greetings
— To come back when called
Andrea says that the biggest complaint people have about their pets is with regard to house training; they complain that a four-month-old puppy is being willful and deliberately disobedient when she piddles on the floor. Andrea often uses analogies and humor to introduce rationality into the discussion: “When you were that age, how much control did you have over your bodily functions?” she’ll ask a client.
Cruel to be Kind
People tend to kill with kindness, feeling that it’s cruel to restrict a dog’s freedom. It’s even crueler to behave in a way that will result in having your dog sent to a shelter.
Andrea emphasizes that basic management precedes training: Keeping dogs on leash in the home or keeping them in a crate for a period prevents them from engaging in behaviors people don’t like. Dogs don’t have expectations. “I explain to people, the period of time when you’re helping dogs to succeed by keeping them on a leash or keeping them in a crate — maybe six months — goes very quickly,” she says. “And then you have a dog for the rest of his lifetime with behavior you like.”
Other basic rules for humans include understanding that their dog’s behavior is a reflection of them, that their dog is an ambassador for dogs in general as well as for individual breeds. A dog out of control in public will also keep dogless people and businesses from wanting to allow dogs in public spaces.
But I’m just scratching the surface. There’s much more. Listen to the interview at Animal Cafe.
And if you’re so inclined, contact Animal Planet and ask them to bring back from Underdog to Wonderdog. I’m a proactive whiner.
*Here’s the link to Bunny’s post about meeting Andrea at Blogpaws, when she was the keynoter there.