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Views on Dog Behavior Improvers

By Robin Tierney

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Janine Adams interviewed five nationally respected vets, behaviorists, trainers and authors, concluding, "there"s no single magic cure for misbehaving dogs, though some methods were universally praised, while others were given a collective growl." A rating of 1 equals ineffective and 5 equals very effective. The panelists: Dr. Ian Dunbar, Dr. Myrna Milani, Krista Cantrell, Terry Ryan and John Wright. Here are excerpts from "5 Star Behavior Improvers," which appeared in Pets: Part of the Family Magazine.

Clicker Training

This training method uses positive reinforcement -- a clicker (or other sound) -- to let the dog know exactly what behavior is desired. The click is followed by a treat or other reward.

Average score: 4 stars
This method is particularly good for teaching your dog how to perform specific behaviors, from sitting to sequences of tricks, says Wright. Timing and accessibility are the keys to successful clicker training, says Cantrell. Dunbar prefers a verbal "good dog" to a mechanical clicker. Milani says that clicker training is good for teaching a wide variety of behaviors to dogs who already recognize human leadership. "Many serious behavioral problems result from a lack of leadership in the human-canine pack," she says.

Crate Training

A crate is a plastic or wire cage that you can confine your dog in for limited periods of time. It is commonly used as a house-training tool, under the principle that a dog won"t soil in his den.

Average score: 3.8 stars
The crate has become increasingly accepted, perhaps becoming too well accepted, to the point of overuse. The crate is "excellent for house-training, chew-toy training, and teaching your dog to become quieter and calmer when left alone at home," says Dunbar. But the biggest drawback of the crate, he says, is that it is misused "as a prison" by many owners. Cantrell agrees that the crate is "an excellent tool when used in combination with training for teaching house-training." However, "confinement is not a solution for behavior problems such as hyperactivity and digging." Instead of just confining the dog, she says, people need to direct a dog"s energy in positive ways, such as daily walks, agility training, or bodywork to make them calm.

Wright says that a crate may be used as an option for confining a dog for short periods of time. "I"ve found it to be useful to teach dogs to "go there" when they need to control themselves, reduce the amount of stimulation they"re getting, or retreat to a safe zone when they feel threatened. Keeping the cage door open should be the goal." The dog should not be crated for longer than he can comfortably "hold it," and should be given enough daily exercise.

Head Halter

A head halter (such as Gentle Leader and Halti) is used in lieu of or in conjunction with a neck collar for walking and some training purposes. It fits around the dog"s snout and behind the ears, much like a horse"s halter. The leash is clipped below the chin. It works on the principle that controlling direction the head will cause the body to follow.

Average score: 4.4 stars
The head halter is effective for leash pulling, rambunctiousness, and antipathy toward other dogs, says Dunbar. He believes it should not be used as a permanent measure, but rather than to teach the dog to walk calmly on leash.

The head halter provides a gentle message that you are his leader, says Milani. The straps simulate the way a mother dog gently holds her pups by the neck or the muzzle to communicate her authority. Milani equates the collar"s pressure to a human parent resting her hand gently on the shoulder of a young child.

Citronella Collar

This collar emits a burst of citronella when stimulated by the vibration of the dog"s vocal chords as the dog barks.

Average score: 2.8 stars
Dunbar calls it "an extremely effective, humane alternative for teaching barking dogs to shush, especially when the owner is not interested in training the dog to shush." Milani comments that the citronella collar isn"t well suited for dogs who bark out of boredom or frustration or for dogs who feel in charge of their owners or property. "Like all training aids," she says, "citronella collars simply remove the sign of the problem; they do nothing to address the underlying cause of the barking."

Wright points out, "For best results, the dog should be involved in a training program where the reduction of barking is praised and the dog is taught to do something else instead of bark-like "come get me" or "go to the house" or "sit/stay"-for which he is praised."

Alpha Rollover

The alpha roll is a way to show your dog that you"re the boss, according to proponents of this technique. One version involves placing the dog in a "down" position, grasping him by the scruff of the neck, and rolling him over onto his back.

"There is a significant difference between domination and leadership," says Cantrell. "Rollovers focus the dog"s attention on muscle power, not brain power." She points out that in the wild, the alpha dog does not roll the other dog over. Rather, the more submissive dog volunteers the behavior.

Milani notes that the technique does not teach the dog the right response. "I prefer to alter negative behavior by presenting the dog with a positive behavior to perform instead."