Renowned Dog Trainer Kim Greco Answers Your Most Common Training Questions
Kim Greco is a former dolphin trainer, the owner of full-service dog training company Paw and Possibilities, as well as the creator of a stellar online dog training program called Manners Matter. As an expert in all things related to dog behavior (as well as a favorite amongst the veterinary community), we thought she’d be the perfect person to check in with to ask some of our fans’ most frequently asked dog training questions. We weren’t wrong! Read on to hear what she has to say about everything from when to start training to whether to keep at it with older dogs and more.
New puppy owners want to know: how quickly should they start training after bringing their new family member home?
People ask me this question all the time. When you first bring a new puppy home, you have a lot to think about for sure! The sooner you can add dog training classes into your routine the better. Your puppy has everything to learn, and you want to be sure you don’t let them develop any bad habits. The biggest mistake dog owners make is accidentally reinforcing behavior you don’t want. You can read more about this here. Dog training classes are a great way to help you learn how to set your puppy up for success. You may be concerned about exposing your puppy to possible contaminants or germs by taking them to public places before they are fully vaccinated. However, there is a critical developmental window for puppies to be exposed to novel experiences before they are 12-14 weeks old. Beginning dog training classes before then will be very helpful for your puppy’s development.
For those readers whose dogs don’t seem to like other dogs… is there anything that can be done or is it best just to avoid interaction?
There is a lot that can be done to help dogs learn to be more comfortable in the presence of other dogs. Depending on where you live, it may even be impossible to avoid interactions with other dogs. Working with a professional dog trainer who uses a balanced approach to training will offer you the best results. Keep your distance from other dogs and start very slowly. Baby steps are your best friend in training a dog to be more comfortable around other dogs. The easiest thing to do to get started is to reinforce your dog with food when they see a dog in the distance and they don’t have any reaction. Over time, you’ll be able to get closer and closer with your dog remaining neutral throughout the experience.
What’s the best defence against an off leash dog that seems to be approaching you and your dog aggressively?
Advocating for your dog and keeping yourself safe is your top priority when you are out with your dog. Walk in areas with a low probability of off leash dogs approaching you and be aware of your surroundings. It’s important for you to always be present to the things around you when you’re out walking with your dog. Avoid using your cell phone (gasp!). Sometimes you’ll end up in a challenging situation with an off leash dog even after you’ve done everything you can to avoid it. In that case, it’s most important to stay calm and have a plan. Step between your dog and the off leash dog, if you can do so safely. I have found it successful to surprise the off leash dog with something they are not expecting in an effort to have the off leash dog want to leave. My first choice is squirting water at the offending dog using the Spleash that I have with me when I walk. If that doesn’t work, I suggest dropping whatever treats you have with you on the ground and then walking calming away from the off leash dog.
Do not attempt to pick up your dog or intervene if the two dogs begin to have some conflict. Call out for help if there is anyone around. Many people have been bitten in an attempt to break up a dog fight.
Treats or no treats?
Treats! I always like to reinforce a dog with food -- either treats or their normal food you feed them --when they do something I am impressed by. As your dog gets older and appropriate behaviors are more ingrained in their daily lives, you can fade how often you reinforce them for the things they are good at. Anytime you start to teach something new, you can use food to help set your dog up for success.
How do we stop our dogs from pulling on their leash when walking?
This is actually a pretty complicated question to answer! Believe it or not, most of what I do to have a dog stop pulling on the leash happens long before the walk begins. I reinforce the dog for paying attention to me inside, even if that’s just eye contact. Once we start to think about going for a walk, it’s important to keep your dog calm. We often contribute to the enthusiasm by asking in an excited voice, “Do you want to go for a walk?” Don’t do that! Once your leash is attached, be sure that you lead the way with a calm and confident demeanor. Leave your house first, with your dog following behind you. As you begin your walk, take things slowly. I recommend stopping a lot and reinforcing your dog for paying attention to you. Anytime your dog looks at you, reinforce them with food. If you are walking and you stop, reinforce your dog with food if they also stop without any tension on your leash. If you step to the side and your dog comes without any tension on the leash, feed that too. Pay close attention to your dog and notice all the times they are not pulling and reinforce that, too.
There are some training tools that make walking your dog easier. Speaking with a professional dog trainer may help you assess what tools would work best for your specific needs. Paws and Possibilities offers a free 30 minute phone consultation with a trainer if you’d like to speak to someone on my team about this, you can set up a call here.
Let’s talk hydration for a moment. When taking your dog for a walk, how much is enough? Should we always have water on hand?
I love this question! I think it’s important for dogs to remain hydrated and often we walk them in weather that would require more hydration than others. The best case scenario is to always have water with you and offer it to your dog on regular intervals. The easiest way to do this is to use a Spleash when you walk your dog. That way you’ll always have ready access to clean water for your dog.
Can you really teach an old dog new (behavioral) tricks?
Not only CAN you teach an old dog new tricks, you absolutely should! It’s just as important for dogs as it is for us to keep them young at heart by always teaching new things. Learning should be fun and mentally stimulating for your dog and will help to keep them more alert, engaged, and motivated to be engaged in daily activities. A lifetime of learning can contribute to longevity in our pets as well as ourselves.
What are the 3 things you wish every new dog owner knew?
This is my favorite question of them all!! Thanks for asking. I wish every new dog owner knew the following three things:
Separation Anxiety can be avoided when addressed early. You can proactively teach your dog to be calm with or without you. You don’t have to wait until your dog is anxious and then work to teach them to be calm. As a puppy, be sure your dog has the opportunity to spend some time away from you each day. Teach your dog to be comfortable doing nothing. We tend to always provide stimulation for our dogs and then when we leave, it’s a dramatic experience for them. Being comfortable doing nothing is the most important thing you can train!
Use play as part of your training plan, not just as a way to wear your dog out. Using toys during the training process can be an easy way to deepen your relationship with your puppy and can strengthen your bond. When you combine physical play with mental stimulation, your dog will get more out of the interactions. Even something as simple as having your puppy sit before you toss them a toy will have benefits. Knowing how powerful a dog’s sense of smell is should be included in the engagement, too. Hiding toys or food and having your dog search for them before playing has exponential benefits. Include some kind of scent work in your dog’s life daily.
Every puppy book is wrong. When a puppy is doing something inappropriate and you distract them with something they like, you are reinforcing them for having done the inappropriate thing. My suggestion is to just say “eh-eh” to your puppy instead. After about 30 seconds, you can introduce a toy and you won’t be accidentally reinforcing the inappropriate behavior. A good rule of thumb is to not give your puppy food, a toy, or attention (eye contact, talking, or petting) in response to inappropriate behaviors, and you’ll be ahead of the rest of the pack in helping to create the relationship with your puppy you have dreamed of!
Paws and Possibilities is based in Maryland. If you’d like to connect with Kim and her team about in-person training, you can find them here. Want to check out her virtual training program, available to you anywhere? Click here.
Interview by Zoe Oksanen