Thinking of Hiring A Trainer For New Pups From Me? Oh, Please No!
This blog topic is prompted by the consideration of two new prospective buyers of our pups in doing just this. These buyers are willing to spend whatever money necessary, and whatever time necessary, to ensure that their new pups have every opportunity to become successful adult guardian dogs. I support them in this, but hiring someone to train your dogs that doesn’t also live and work with your dogs is almost certain to fail the dogs, and you, in a variety of ways; let’s talk about that.
Your pups have an extensive, specific training history. This training structure and methodology is thoroughly and meticulously demonstrated through the blogs library on my web site. As a buyer of my pups I know, because I have asked and you have told me so, that you have spent lots of time learning about your new pups through those blogs; a hired trainer is VERY unlikely to do that, so that professional knows less about your new dogs than you do by far, AND will come to you invested in his/her own training methodology that has worked for them through their career. Unless that career specialized in Puppy Culture raised Maremma LGDs, and in particular ones raised by me and my training team, that trainer comes to you as a beginner as well. Further, the trainer is at a disadvantage because he/she does not live and work as a daily partner with your dogs.
Also, you don’t “train” LGDs as you do companion dogs. Companion dog people take their dogs to manners classes and teach things like sit, stay, heel, and such. They put their dogs on leash and teach a variety of commands; this is a good time to mention that there is a big difference between a command and a cue: command/bad, cue/good. Training sessions, as most people think of and have experienced with companion dogs, are ill advised with LGDs.
LGDs are bred to work independently of people, and direction from people. Training an LGD typically should consist of influencing the environment the dog works in so that the dog is likely to be successful there. Frequent training sessions focused on teaching the LGD cues and asking for behaviors runs the risk of making the human in the dog’s life more central to his thinking than looking to the environment for instruction about how to do his job. Not only does this threaten his ability to make his own decisions in doing his job it also may make the dog uneasy if he is working without his human partner: LGDs can learn separation anxiety too, just as companion dogs can.
I like to think of a lot of the training I do with my dogs as “invisible” training, meaning that I am indeed teaching my dogs lots of things but I suspect they have no idea that I see these times as training sessions. I am in the background ready to step in and redirect the dog as necessary but I am not key to his daily decisions.
Training with LGDs happens in the fabric of every day and involves every person who has proximity to the dog. If there were to be such a thing as a “formal” training session with an LGD, and there are certainly times that this is appropriate, those sessions should not last more than 5 minutes – ever – and do not involve a leash and collar almost ever.
At this point in my blog, and to be slightly technical, I need to be clear with you about what I mean when I say “mark” and “reinforce”; you will see this written as M/R. To mark a behavior means to identify to the dog EXACTLY what he just did that you liked. Dogs learn most quickly when a clicker is used but it is also possible to use a marker word; the marker word for our pups is “Yessss”. The mark should happen at the precise moment the behavior you want to see more of happens. Almost immediately after you mark a behavior the dog should be reinforced for the behavior because this will make the dog more likely to want to do the behavior again in the future. Reinforcement can be anything the dog likes and sees value in; using treats is common because almost every dog likes to be given treats, sometimes even from people he doesn’t know well, but from someone the dog knows well cuddles and being told he’s wonderful may be appropriate as reinforcement too. The rule is that what you use has to make the dog happy to have it; the dog decides, you don’t.
Establishing a training history bank account is important for persons who will spend a lot of time with the dogs, and who will have a need to ask for behaviors from the dogs. Training history IS “M/R”. Having a friendly relationship with the dogs is good too, and probably what the dogs will have with most people, but as an owner you should also be a trainer. So, possibly, should trusted employees on the property be.
LGDs are property managers. From the dog’s perspective people who live and work on the property shared by the dog are partners; the dog is likely to care what those people think and likely to seek a relationship with them. A professional trainer would be a VISITOR. This person has no relationship standing with the dog; visitors should NOT have a training relationship with your dogs, for more reasons than I have space to go into here. A couple of biggies that I can think of right off the top of my head are the potential of theft or the owner’s personal liability.
So how do you, a person with little to no experience with Maremmas, step right in and be as effective a trainer with your dogs as you had hoped a professional could be? EASY.
Check in with me often – at least daily for the first few days after the dogs arrive to your property and working situation. Read the training blogs and watch the videos; check back to the blog library often or subscribe to it because I add new blogs frequently. Ask me a million questions; allow me to teach you to “speak Maremma”, because it is your job to learn their language, not the other way around, and learning who these dogs are is a thrilling ride!
Start your M/R experience with simple behaviors that the dog is likely to offer frequently all on his own, such as eye contact with you, manding for you, walking quietly next to you, taking his feet off the gate as you approach to open it. Think of every time you take the opportunity to M/R a behavior that you like as adding a dime to a savings account. And by the way, think of every time you scold the dog or tell him no – even said sweetly - as taking $1 out of that savings account; it’s actually probably more damaging than that.
I will go over more complicated training protocols in other blogs and be very specific for you regarding how to train for these behaviors. But I hope you can see, given the dialog above, why a stranger, a visitor, cannot come to your home and fix/train/straighten out your dogs for you and go home again. It simply does not work that way for LGDs.