Behavior Management Practices
We operate transparently and encourage you to ask questions and discuss any concerns so that we have the opportunity to address them. You will find us open to reasonable and mature dialogue.
People often comment about how quiet and relaxed our facility feels. The calm, fun energy is no accident. Dogs get into more altercations and become sick more often when living in a loud, frantic, out-of-control environment. This is why we work very hard to manage the behavior of our guests so that everyone is happier and healthier.
Although we are maniacal about health and safety, anywhere dogs play in groups there is the potential for fights, injuries, and even death. Our handlers cannot have eyes on every dog every second; however, they have been trained to keep an active lookout, to observe body language, and to intervene at the first sign of a problem. Few boarding and daycare businesses provide this level of oversight.
Problem behaviors, to list just a few, include jumping on people, playing too aggressively, showing domineering body language, barking, chewing or scratching on bedding, doors, etc. The same behaviors a responsible dog owner would correct at home.
Because we’re focusing here on negative behaviors, I point out that our main focus isn’t on correcting negative behavior but on rewarding positive. We don’t use treats because with dogs in a group they can cause disagreements and altercations. Instead, we use lots of verbal praise and physical affection.
Striking or Kicking
We never use physical violence—striking, punching, kicking, etc. If an employee is observed abusing an animal physically, he or she will be fired on the spot.
Sometimes we have to use our bodies--arms, legs, knees, elbows, hands--to protect our personal space and keep us from being knocked down, scratched, bruised, etc. or to intercede on behalf of a dog. We might push a dog back with our foot, bump him with our knee to keep him from jumping on us, or clear him away from a dog. We may use our hands to bump a dog and stop it from digging or posturing toward another dog. We often use a walking stick or pole that extends the reach of our arm and allows us to tap or poke a dog or, say, place a barrier between it and another dog. Those sort of things, not violent striking, kicking, or punching, anything intended to hurt or harm.
The exception: If, for example, two dogs are fighting or are showing aggressive body language and at risk of fighting which could lead to injury to a dog or staff member. If no other methods have worked to prevent or stop the altercation, we have no choice to do whatever we must to prevent or minimize the risk of injury or death. Because of how we screen new guests and manage the behavior of our pack, this is extremely rare.
Voices, Energies, and Bodies
A person always has his or her voice, energy, and body to use as tools to correct inappropriate behavior. This is our primary tool for discipline. We will say, “No!,” clap our hands, stomp our feet, perhaps use a finger or thumb to give a poke to redirect his or her attention to us and away from the behavior. We might slap a rolled-up newspaper on a counter, rap on a wall or door, etc. The main idea is to, without causing physical or mental harm, show the dog he or she is doing the wrong thing.
We use water bottles as a benign but effective method of correction when a dog is behaving poorly. This works especially well when dog is several feet away and able to otherwise ignore us. Spraying a water bottle is a way, without causing stress or physical harm, to get a dog’s attention and stop bad behavior.
Please see our section below on e-collars for important information about them and how our trainer uses them in certain situations.
For boarding or Day Play dogs we sometimes use an e-collar to redirect a dog's attention from bad behavior when that dog is too distant for voice or other correction methods. For example, if a dog is sixty feet away in the outdoor yard displaying aggressive body language, we will, if nothing else has worked, put on an e-collar and "vibrate" the dog, which feels the vibration which redirects its attention from aggression to the vibration. This gives us the opportunity to praise and reward the positive behavior while avoiding a fight and/or injury. We will also sometimes, after trying other methods, use an e-collar to stop a dog from whining or barking in his or her room. (We and the other dogs need to rest at night.) Almost always, a dog learns be calm and quiet and intervention is no longer needed. This fosters a calm, safe, low-stress environment.
Vibration Collars (for Barking)
If a dog barks continuously, and no other methods have worked to quiet him or her, we will, at our discretion, place an e-collar on him or her and use the vibrate feature. If this doesn't work, our last resort is to try a bark collar.
If you've ever stepped inside a dog boarding business or an animal shelter only to hear the overpowering sound of dogs barking, or tried to sleep while your neighbor's dogs bark incessantly you will understand why we work hard to foster a quiet, relaxed environment. If a dog continues barking and ignores all appeasement and correction, we use a bark collar. Our is a specific model that gives an audible warning and then, if the dog keeps barking, the collar emits a slight static electricity akin to someone dragging his or her feet on the carpet and touching another. If the dog continues to bark, the correction level increases slightly until the barking stops. If a dog does not stop, the collar resets and starts over from the beginning with the audible warning. If the barking still continues, having exhausted all options, we remove the collar and grin and bear the barking until the dog's stay concludes and then we politely decline to host him or her again.
We encourage anyone with questions or concerns to have us show them how our bark collars work and feel.
E-Collar & Bark
Some persons are categorically against e-collars (“shock” collars). I can understand their position because I myself used to be very averse to them. Who would shock his or her dog? How cruel! From time to time someone will criticize me for using e-collars. But I have noticed that most of the criticism has been at least partly on assumption and conjecture. Here's how i use them.
Because I had never seen an e-collar in person and had not observed one in use, my past reaction to them was also based on what I imagined and assumed. When I moved west twenty-plus years ago, I noticed many people using e-collars to recall their dogs from long distances. A few people demonstrated their use to me, including the “shock” feature. I was amazed to learn the collar was not as I had imagined, and eventually I began using them.
Today I employ them mostly for long-distance recall when a dog is too far to see me or hear my command. Though one may exist, I'm not aware of a more effective tool for this situation.
Mine is a 1-2-3 process: 1.) I give the “come” command, 2.) If the dog ignores me or is too far away to hear or see, I press the vibrate button which feels identical to a restaurant pager. And that is what they learn: Come when paged. 3.) If the dog doesn’t come then, I tingle him by pressing the shock button at a low level. (“Tingle” is the word my clients most often use to describe the "shock.") The sensation does not cause pain, but it is a bit clearer than the vibrate and tends to get the dog’s attention when he is distracted by, say, a deer, or wants to chase a car.
My use of e-collars is not about hurting; it is about redirecting attention, about being able to recognize a command is being given. And I accomplish that using the lowest stimulation level possible.
Is there ever a time when I will truly shock a dog? Yes. If he or she is about to cause physical harm to a person or another dog, I will use whatever stimulation level I must to stop that behavior. Of course, if other means are available (separation board, water hose, etc.), I will use it. For example, if the dog is on a leash, I have control and do not need an e-collar. But I will use a collar when necessary to avoid serious injury or death to me, another person, or another dog.
95% of the time, my e-collar use is command-vibrate-tingle. I use a stimulation level one would describe as a “shock” only when a dog is at physical risk. Occasionally I will also use a shock when teaching a dog to stop other life-threatening behaviors such as chasing wildlife, cars, etc.
Before I train a dog using an e-collar, I explain its use to the owner and have him and/or her feel the vibrate and stimulation levels. This is mandatory or I will not teach a dog the e-collar. The owner needs to understand what his or her dog will experience.
E-collars, like any tool, can be used abusively. Many times I’ve seen people truly shock their dogs to the point that are screaming in pain. Most of these instances have been a result of ignorance, of owners unfamiliar with e-collars and their use. I’ve also seen a few trainers, those whose methods are more militaristic than mine, use them often and harshly. This is hard to watch.
There’s no doubt e-collars can be abusive, but so can a collar, leash, or any tool. As a horse trainer once told me: “It’s not the bit but the hands that hold the reins.”
I understand that some trainers and dog owners are adamant that e-collars are categorically harmful. I respect that because they are fellow dog lovers who, like us, want the best for our dogs. However, some critics can be rabid in their beliefs and insist everyone else must do as they do. I do not practice bigotry; instead, I respect and honor differing views. I post my policies online so everyone is aware of them and able to make informed decisions about whether or not our facility is best for them.
If you have questions or concerns, I encourage your to contact me. You’ll find that we are fellow animal lovers strongly committed to their well-being. We are always open to questions, suggestions, and discussion.