STEAM Week: The Science of Dog Training

This summer’s Library Challenge theme is “Tales & Tails,” so for STEAM Week, we will take a look at animals and science. Here’s an interview with Chris Lantzer, CPDT-KA (Certified Professional Dog Trainer – Knowledge Assessed) from Woof Wise Dog Training, LLC.

Q: Briefly, tell me about your business and why you decided to get into dog training.  

A: Woof Wise Dog Training, LLC is passionate about improving the quality of life for dogs and people. We would like to keep dogs in their homes as cherished and enjoyable family members. We offer group classes for general manners and obedience skills, as well as private lessons for more challenging behavioral issues. All of our trainers have had difficult dogs and truly empathize with the owner and dog on difficult issues.  

I myself became a trainer as my heart dog, Pumpkin, a rescue herding mix, had many behavioral challenges. I did not want to relinquish him, so I learned how we could improve, and our relationship blossomed! I’d like everyone to experience that joy.  

Q: What is your method of dog training? 

A: We use positive reinforcement dog training as it is scientifically sound without risk of damaging the dog or exacerbating issues.  This is the same method that is used to work with wild animals such as dolphins trained for the US Navy to recover equipment; African rats that save lives by detecting landmines across the globe; and even your local zoo animals, like tigers who are trained for blood draws.  Humans, too, use positive reinforcement in learning! Positive reinforcement is rewarding desirable behaviors and never involves physical punishment. It is about mental compliance, not physical dominance.  

Q: What’s the science behind this method of dog training and why does it work? 

A: Behaviors that are rewarded are repeated.  For every behavior, there is a consequence, and if we like the consequence, we repeat the behavior. Think of something as simple as credit card award points and how that affects your behavior.  Businesses are well aware of this and shape their workforce through positive reinforcement for safety compliance and attendance. We all like to win. Rewarding good behavior creates an eager learner, whereas aversive methods create avoidance at best. Undesired behaviors are managed so they do not become habitual or reinforced until the desired behaviors are well-established.  An example of this may mean puppy-proofing your house or putting the garbage can behind a door.   

Q: How does training dogs improve relationships with their people? 

A: Training helps establish a basic communication, and once those lines are open, the possibilities are infinite. I love to see people discover how amazing and fun it is to be able to communicate with their dogs! It is a big “ah-ha!” moment that creates the biggest smiles. What I might love even more is that it changes US. We become better when we are patient, thoughtful, problem solve, and find a way to communicate rather than just complain. This transfers far beyond the dog training to our other relationships as well. Positive reinforcement training is a great life model for all of us, and especially children. 

Q: What are some challenges? Some success stories? 

A: One of our greatest challenges is helping clients to understand that any problem they are having with a dog cannot be “fixed” quickly. Quick fixes through a strong aversive may suppress a behavior but do not change how they feel, so often when one behavior is suppressed, another starts. Dogs are emotional, sentient beings with brains similar to our own. You cannot fix them like a computer or a car. There are development life stages, complex emotions, learning history, and the relationship itself. 

There also needs to be a realistic expectation of goals and improvements. Again, they cannot always be “fixed” as behavior is fluid, and nothing in life is certain but change. Yet we can make great improvements, sometimes to the point that the issues do seem to be gone. Also remember a beagle who bays does not have an issue any more than a terrier who digs. We sometimes need to remember man bred dogs for certain traits, so it is important to choose a compatible breed for your lifestyle. We can often find alternatives to help allay even those inherent annoyances, but be willing to compromise. 

We are so fortunate to meet with many wonderful people who love their dogs and are dedicated to training. We truly have countless success stories from general manners, dog reactivity, to fear-based aggression. Dogs and people living happier lives. I think people are often surprised how many big changes can come from small, consistent steps. Often 30 minutes a day broken down into short sessions throughout the day is the key to success. 

dog wearing a tie

You can find many books about dogs and dog training from Westlake Porter Public Library! Thanks again to Chris from Woof Wise!