You may feel the need for training advice when getting a new dog, whether a puppy or a dog from the rescue shelter. There are many schools of thought about the best methods for training dogs, and some would advocate hiring a dog listener.
My rescue dog has some behavioural issues towards other dogs (either due to a bad experience as a puppy or perhaps lack of socialisation) and I feel it’s important to get help for her and for myself. At the end of the day, pets want to please us and we want to enjoy their company without having to worry about their behaviour or the fear they may harm someone.
Having come across a local dog listener through a local networking group I decided to do some research and find out whether this would be the best option for myself and my dog. The first point of call was the search engines and the pet forums.
When asking for advice on the forums the response was rapid and strong, and not positive. First-hand experience was what I was seeking but the feedback was certainly food for thought. The feeling is that dog listeners are nothing more unqualified instructors riding a fad and making money using old fashioned and outmoded dog training methods. Some feel that dog listening is based on the dominance model, where all behaviour problems are attributed to the dog human relationship being out of balance and the human needing to take charge of the dog.
Well known listeners, who by the nature of what they do are controversial, include the Dog Whisperer, Cesar Millan. The basic premise of bad behaviour can be summed up in this statement from his popular website: Dogs can become aggressive out of frustration and dominance. The frustration comes from a lack of exercise, and the dominance comes from a lack of calm-assertive leadership.
What is interesting about dog listening is that the training focuses on the human rather than solely on the pet. The theory is that the dog is responding to your signals and body language and unless you change its behaviour won’t change.
However, there is some feeling that dog whispering is not the kindest training method and that it uses outdated thinking. One challenge the listeners have is addressing the fact that anyone can give themselves this title without being properly qualified, or recognised, by one of the many accrediting dog training bodies.
What of the dog listeners themselves? To quote well known dog listener, Jan Fennell, “As a Dog Listener, I use the method of Canine Communication which is dog training through understanding and respect, where the dog chooses to cooperate willingly without any use of domination or force”.
This certainly doesn’t sound inhumane or old fashioned on the surface of it. Furthermore, dog listeners claim to work with you and your dog. By using the language of silent signals that every dog understands and not physical force or harsh commands, the dog cooperates of his/her own free will.
Some claim that it is better to consult a qualified dog behavioural expert recommended by your vet and recognised by a national body such as APBC (The Association of Pet Behaviour Counsellors), CABT-COAPE (Association of Pet Behaviorists and Trainers) or the UKRCB (UK Registry of Canine Behaviourists).
However, the wide range of recognised bodies in the dog training world is both overwhelming and controversial and there is not one clear leader in the field. As with choosing any professional, talk to a number of different professional bodies and canine behavioural experts and see who you feel most comfortable with.
Getting a recommendation from your vet is also a good idea and I would always speak to them about your dog’s behaviour, and their recommended local behavioural specialist before making a decision.
Dog listeners such as Jan Fennell claim to understand the psychology of the dog so that bad behaviour can be corrected and the dogs’ fears and anxieties can be alleviated.
Using a method known as Amichien® Bonding dog listeners claim to improve the human dog bond through better understanding, meaning that, as responsible owners, we are better able to see the world from the dogs’ perspective.
By seeing the world through your dog’s eyes the human dog communication can be improved resulting in the removal of confusion, frustration and anxiety for both you and your dog.
From this perspective, it would seem that dog listeners can help dogs and their owners read body language, reduce frustration, improve good manners, canine communication and the general nature of the dog.
The goal of more mutually satisfying human dog interaction is certainly admirable but further in depth research is needed into the methods employed as to whether this is the best way to deal with your dog’s behaviour.