Archive for become a professional dog trainer


Here's a short explanation of habituation done by  a student of Raising Canine's Professional Dog Trainer course – good job, Kathy!

Habituation is achieved by repeatedly evoking a given reflex response, resulting in the reduction in intensity/probability of that response.   It is a form of desensitization but the subject is no longer aware of the stimulus, whereas with desensitization, a response is still elicited but the emotion associated with the stimulus is different. Habituation gives us the ability to filter out irrelevant stimuli. 

Short term habituation happens after a few repetitions of the stimulus that occur close together.  We are no longer aware of the stimulus even though the stimulus is present.  For example, a student studying with music on.  In the beginning the student sings along with the music.   After a while, the student only sings along occasionally.  Eventually the student will no longer notice the music – it will become “white noise” in the background.  But if the student should leave the room, then return, the student will again notice the music.

Long term habituation happens after many repetitions of a stimulus over a longer period of time, with those repetitions being spaced farther apart in time.  We are no longer aware of stimulus even when the stimulus is present, is not longer present, and then returns (or, alternatively, the animal leaves and then returns to the location of the stimulus).  An example would be a dog that grew up in a kennel situation.  When the dog is brought to a “home” environment in a busy, urban area, it may jump up and run to the window or bark every time it hears cars drive by.  After a while, it may pick up its head or twitch an ear toward the sound when cars drive by.  Eventually, it will no longer react to cars driving by.

Habituation is important to survival because if the organism were to constantly react to every stimulus, it would not be able to do anything productive and might, in fact, be rendered helpless in the face of danger.  Organisms need to be able to automatically (without conscious thought) filter out what is “imminent danger” vs. “need to be aware of” vs. “not dangerous, can ignore.”

Kathy Limm
Denver, Colorado

Do You Feel Like You’re Just Treading Water in Your Business?

Too often small business owners have a great idea, and are great at what they do, but don’t know how to take their business to the next level. This article can’t possibly tell you everything that you need to do to get to that next level, but we can tell you where to start!

You start with your vision. In ten years, how do you envision yourself spending your time? If you’re currently in your twenties, you may see yourself running a full-service dog facility with a staff, a spouse and 2 kids. If you’re currently in your late forties, you may see yourself phasing out of the dog training field – no classes, and privates for your specialty, only; and charging a great deal of money because you are recognized as an expert in this specialty. Or, you may want to stay small, doing one or two classes a week and a few privates, taking vacations when you want. As some anonymous wise man once said, “If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will get you there.” It really doesn’t matter what you want, as long as you KNOW what you want.

This vision is your primary aim; it’s why you’re in business at all – so you can achieve the lifestyle you want. To determine your primary aim, you have to do some soul searching. You have to articulate and then put in writing the things you don’t want in life, and the things you do want. You have to identify the barriers that are preventing you from having those things you do want. These barriers may be external, physical barriers (like limited income); they may be internal, emotional barriers (such as low self-esteem); or, they may simply be counter-productive habits you’ve developed (like poor time management).

Take the time to actually write down the vision you have for your future and how you want to be perceived by others; what do you want people to say about you when you’re not around. Once you’ve articulated your vision, boil it down to its essence and write it out in two-to-three sentences. This vision should go in your business plan – it should be something you refer to often (monthly). Keep it in mind and always be working toward that vision. If you find yourself being sidetracked (which you will!), having that written vision will help bring you back on track; or, it may be that you need to revise your vision, and that’s ok – as long as you have a vision that is at the core of what you want.

Predatory Drift

We’ve been having a great discussion on one of the lists I belong to, so I thought I’d write an article on it, as there is a great deal of misunderstanding about this particular behavior.  There’s a behavior the dog training industry (Dr. Ian Dunbar, originally) has labeled “predatory drift.” First, be aware that, to my knowledge, there has been no formal study done on this behavior; however, it is something that is fairly common. If you intend to become a dog trainer, or if you are a certified professional dog trainer, this is a phenomenon you should be aware of!

First, a little science and terminology. Every behavior an animal exhibits is genetic – i.e., they have the genetics that allow that behavior to happen. Pigs are genetically designed to root; dogs are genetically designed to leave urine markers; fish are genetically designed to separate air from water so they can live in water; etc.

Genetic traits are loosely divided into three categories: reflexes, action patterns and behavior traits. Reflexes are more uniform in nature and the least subject to modification; action patterns are more variable in nature and more subject to modification than reflexes, but less than behavior traits; behavior traits are extremely variable from individual-to-individual, and the most easily modified. Always remember that ALL behavior can be modified – it’s just easier to modify some than others!

Predatory drift is an action pattern. It is a food gathering behavior, which in certain animals is called predation. Let’s be very clear here that predatory drift is NOT aggression! It is predation. Most play behavior revolves around normal hunting behaviors – stalking, chasing, etc. Predatory drift often begins as normal play, and something triggers the larger dog and he drifts over into predation.

The reason predatory drift is so dangerous is because it often happens between dogs that have a great size difference. Even though many dogs have lost the “kill” piece of the predatory sequence, that size difference can result in death almost instantly.

Some trainers believe you can pinpoint dogs that are prone to predatory drift, but I’m not sure I agree with this. Certainly there are dogs that are more predatory than others, but this is really a different situation; predatory dogs can be screened based on prior behavior. Predatory drift can happen with any dog – dogs that have never shown any predatory inclinations or aggression to other dogs and even dogs that have been good buddies for a long time. And, it happens in an instant and is generally not preventable.

Things that typically trigger predatory drift are running dogs, injured or struggling dogs, squealing dogs, dogs being ganged up on, and any situation where there’s a big size differential. Because of the risk to small dogs, dog parks and day cares are increasingly setting up play areas specifically for small dogs. If you are an owner of a small dog, it’s important to be aware of this behavior and take steps to protect your dog from potential injury or death; if you have a career in dog training, make a point to educate your owners and take precautions in your business.

Enhanced by Zemanta

What Does Schooling to Become a Dog Trainer Entail?

This is a great question! If you want to become a professional dog trainer, your logical starting point is a school for dog trainers. But what does that mean? Currently, there is no standard curriculum for dog trainers, so you really have to do your research and find out what the school you are interested in is really teaching.

There is a whole body of knowledge about how animals learn – it’s called learning theory. We’ve been studying these principles for years (remember Pavlov and Skinner?). These are well established principles of learning and every dog training school should devote a significant portion of their curriculum to these learning principles.

It’s also important that a good school address business issues. Most people who become professional dog trainers will be in business for themselves. Now, the school doesn’t have to give you the equivalent of a business degree, but they should cover basics of how to set up and run a small business, professionalism and marketing.

Dog behavior is also a very important part of a good curriculum. There’s a lot of misinformation about dog behavior floating around – some of it is just plain wrong, some of it is not relevant to training. New trainers need to be able to critically assess behavior and make good decisions about how to go about changing that behavior. In order to do that, you need to understand both dog behavior and the principles of learning.

And, of course, how to train a dog is essential. But – I would hope EVERY school that trains dog trainers would have this component!

If you’d like to learn more about how to become a dog trainer, please visit

Enhanced by Zemanta

Professional Dog Trainers Making an Impact on Their Community

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about a book I read a couple of years ago. I’ve been thinking about how this book can help professionals advance their career in dog training. This book is called “Small Giants” and was written by Bo Burlingham who is an Editor at Large of Inc. Magazine.

Burlingham highlights eight businesses that have opted to stay small (even though they have the potential to go very big) and become exceptional employers and members of their community. These businesses are very diverse (from a rock musician to a storage company to a New York City restaurateur!); however, they have certain things in common:

  • They want to be the best at what they do;
  • They’ve been recognized by independent bodies for their work and/or community contributions;
  • They’ve had the opportunity to raise a lot of capital and become large companies, but chose another route;
  • They have company goals that include issues outside the main goal of making money – i.e., community, work environment, and lifestyle goals;
  • In order to achieve their non-monetary goals, they’ve opted to remained privately owned.

Now, I know that most dog trainers are not going to meet some of these criteria. Still, I think there are some wonderful lessons we can learn from these businesses about how to get involved in our community in important ways and how to treat our employees so they are loyal to the company. And, from the money point of view, in many ways, this book meshes very nicely with the Law of Attraction. Because these businesses have loftier goals than simply making money they attract good employees, goodwill from the community, good relationships with vendors and clients and money!

This was a fun book to read. It isn’t technical – it’s more like someone’s personal story – but it’s very inspiring and uplifting. I’ll leave the details for you to read about, and I highly recommend that you do.

Professional Dog Trainers Making an Impact in Their Community

The phone call column!

Twice a week, we meet by phone with our professional dog training students and discuss case studies or questions they’ve developed as they work their way through our dog training curriculum. We’re going to start highlighting some of these discussions here on the blog so that our readers can get a sense of what our professional dog training students experience on their road to a career in dog training!

For example, last week, we talked about resource guarding in dogs. This turned into a discussion about the differences between operant and respondent behavior. Often, dogs are engaging in both operant and respondent learning and operant and respondent behaviors. A top-notch professional dog trainer must be able to articulate and recognize the differences. If you want to become a professional dog trainer, you need to be able to put both operant and respondent learning into action!

Keep an eye out for future Phone Call Columns!

If you’d like to learn more about how to become a dog trainer, please visit

Enhanced by Zemanta