An Interview with Ali Hemyari of Nashville K-9
by Michael Quaranta and Marston Maddox
As a dog owner it your responsibility to cultivate a loving relationship, provide healthy sustenance, and create a safe environment for your dogs. Ensuring your dogs’ safety requires training. There are a variety of philosophies out there when it comes to training your dog. If you are going to invest the time and effort it takes to properly train a dog, the last thing you want to do is waste time on ineffective training techniques. You and your companion are likely to become frustrated, not to mention that improper methods could set your dog back when it comes to his or her behavioral issues.
The following Q&A is the second of a three-part interview series that Michael Quaranta of Two Good Dogs conducted with Ali Hemyari of Nashville K9. Ali knows a thing or two about dog training, having trained professional working police and search and rescue dogs for over a decade. He also works with individual dog owners who want to strengthen their bond through training.
- Two Good Dogs: My business partner has two dogs who become unresponsive to his commands when squirrels and birds are around. When he is taking them for a walk and they get fixated on a smaller creature like a bird or squirrel, what is the best way for him to break their fixation and correct the tendency to pull and chase?
Hemyari: It sounds like prey drive is kicking into play. When I say prey, I mean the exact same thing as a lion chasing an antelope. The dog’s natural instinct is to hunt, therefore he’s less likely to listen to what you want him to do and more apt to follow what he wants to do.
This is what one of Nashville K-9’s mentors and trainers Robert Leigh defines as Active versus Reactive. As Robert says
“The dog which investigated of its own volition is considered active. They expect to investigate and to make things happen on their own terms. The dog which chased after the squirrels or birds only after he first disturbed them is considered reactive. They wait until something has happened and merely respond to it.”
The correct way of training this problem is to train while they are in drive and practice training while they are in drive. A dog with strong prey drive should be trained that way (i.e. practicing tug/toy work without reward until the dog nails what you’re looking for, practicing obedience while the dog is in prey drive mode, etc). The best way of learning this style would be to get an experienced trainer such as any of the Nashville K-9 team to show you how.
- Two Good Dogs: A common dog behavior in need of correction is jumping up on people. How do you train a dog not to do that?
Hemyari: The correct way of teaching a dog not to jump on people is to teach them to “jump.” Once the dog understands that it is “ok” to jump, then you can teach them the proper times to jump and not jump. Novice trainers would say to give the dog a hard correction so that it never jumps on people again. But, as any experienced trainer would tell you, training is patience and ensuring the dog understands what you are asking of it.
- Two Good Dogs:When a dog is exhibiting aggressive behavior toward other dogs, what immediate corrective action should the owner take?
Hemyari: To diagnose this correctly, we’d have to break down the causes of dog aggression: Dog aggression is largely in part of lack of socialization while the dogs were being raised and genetic traits passed down from the parents. Other factors that influence dog aggression are environment, being attacked by another dog, lack of human attention, etc. We personally don’t allow any kind of dog aggression in the dogs that we train.
Don’t place your dog in a situation where it will be stressed or tested by another dog. That’s like taking your child and throwing him into a boxing match…you wouldn’t do that, would you? To correct the behavior, redirect the dog changing his point of attention from the other dog back to you. Start raising your dog’s obedience level to being able to “leave it” when approached by another dog. Remaining calm and having your dog understand that you will protect him will, in turn, provide him/her some structure.
Consistency and Repetition are the most important!
- Two Good Dogs: Barking is not something owners always want to stop because it can alert them to danger. When a dog is barking more than the owner wants it to, how can they correct that?
Hemyari: Going back to the diagnosis of barking, the dog has to clearly understand when is good to bark and when is good to be quiet. Since most dogs know or think they know that barking “all of the time” is good, it would be great to teach them a quiet command. Start with Spot Barking and repeat “quiet” in a deep calm voice. As soon as Spot become quiet, reward with a treat and say “good quiet”. Keep practicing and you’ll gradually lengthen the exercise time. They way Spot sees it is that he’s getting a reward not to bark and you’re happy because of it. It’ll not only become fun and successful for him, but he’ll also be trying to please you!
Some excessive barking is due to lack of attention or exercise. Make sure Spot gets plenty of both to keep your home in harmony!
- Two Good Dogs:Are there any common training techniques, past or present that you now avoid and advise against?
Hemyari: One of the most widely used training techniques of traditional trainers is a hard correction to either a prong or choke collar. As a matter of fact, we often times even see police departments training their dogs with hard corrections. This “alpha” method is misrepresenting that the handler is the “top dog” and the dog is the inferior. In reality, all they are doing is breaking the dog’s spirit every time it does something wrong.
What you’d like to do is work as a team with your dog. Start without a prong collar/pinch collar and just use a long line and some food reward (we like to use Granola Barks). If the dog doesn’t do what you say, you tell the dog “no” and don’t reward. When the dog does exactly what you say, you praise saying “good [command]” and reward immediately. The theory we have is that you and the dog are the team, not that you are the overbearing, pressure yielding, owner that has to force the dog to comply. We want our dogs to comply because they want to and they’re happy to, not because they’re being physically forced to.