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Felix Adamo/ The Californian

Columnist Sherry Davis.

No matter how skilled the instructor, the success of any training program ultimately depends on the follow-through of the owner.

When a problem has been allowed to go on to the point of becoming a habitual behavior, it takes commitment to establish and reinforce new rules.

But it's one thing to change your dog's behavior, and another to change your own.

Thart's why owners are often shocked and frustrated when their previously recalcitrant dog changes right before their eyes and eagerly responds in the hands of a trainer.

Although the owner may see this as a traitorous betrayal by man's best friend, this change actually has a very simple explanation.

Besides years of technical skill and behavioral knowledge, it is the trainer's consistency with the dog that brings a change in the dog's behavior, training that provides immediate confirmation of desired behavior and blocks that which is not.

In contrast, training boundaries that are blurred or inconsistent for fear of sparing the dog's feelings do the dog no favors.

It can result in frustration and confusion, anxiety and a lack of respect for a leader the dog perceives as weak.

A recent letter from Bill, a former client, illustrates this point. Bill and his wife called me because they'd had enough of their dog's behavior. And rightly so. He was a nightmare on the leash, attacked every dog he saw and snapped at the owners if they tried to walk by him in a tight area or move him off the bed. He'd bitten several of their friends.

Since not including him in their social activities wasn't an option, I told them in no uncertain terms that changing this dog's behavior would only happen if and when they changed theirs.

Bill writes, "We owe you thanks, and an update. We may have missed some of the details in the instructions you provided, but teaching our dog how to walk properly was enough to totally change things for us and it has brought additional behavioral improvements.

"We can trust that he will not run off ahead of us as he frequently used to do, he will instead wait eagerly for us to attach his leash so that our walk can begin. He ignores all other dogs that are passing as long as they too are under control, and we are having generally good results with 'come' and 'stay' commands."

Bill goes on to say, "He has not bitten since our sessions. He seems far calmer and more trustworthy around other people, and our vigilance in not providing the opportunity for him to bite someone seems to have resolved the issues that caused us to seek your help. We take advantage to reinforce this without taking the fun out of having a pet."

Which only goes to show that just like their dogs, owners can learn new tricks.

-- Sherry Davis is a dog trainer/owner of CSI 4 K9s. Email her at These are her opinions, not necessarily The Californian's.