In honor of National Dog Training Month, we had Lizzi & Rocco’s Head Trainer, Jennen Herbst, answer questions that were submitted! Learn more about how Jennen fell in love with training and more!
Question: When did you realize you had a brain for training?
I began getting interested in it after adopting my dog Margot in 2012. It was my dog Meia though that got me really into training. She was a very reactive dog and after a negative experience, we had to start training. I was not a fan of the methods we used so started researching other ways. With all this research I was able to start working with her and building up her trust. While it took a little while and sometimes I would miss things, Meia ended up being a very well-trained dog. She went from a dog that I was scared to take in public to a dog that I took almost everywhere. Watching the improvement she made and the progress I made with her, doing a lot on my own, made me realize that training might be something I wanted to get involved with and learn all the training things.
Question: What learning experience are you the proudest of?
I am most proud of the experience and work I have done with reactive dogs. I started out with my dog Meia who I adopted without knowing her issues. It took a bad situation with a small dog for me to notice she had these reactivity issues. Through the training we did, we developed a bond and gained trust back in each other which was lost in this situation. Over the past few years, there have been several dogs that I have been able to help with the things I learned from her training make me so proud and are one of the most rewarding things. Our reactive program is named after Meia due to the impact she had. I have really evolved I think the last year which I am proud of as well.
Question: How do you get your dog to stop eating poop?
One of the biggest things with this issue is management by preventing it from even being able to do it, cleaning up the poop right away. You can teach them to “leave it” but if you are not there it does not work so you have to set them up for success with prevention methods. There are some supplements and recommendations to add to food that can help. A Lizzi & Rocco’s employee would be happy to help you find these.
Question: What’s the best way to train your dogs to stop reactive barking?
Reactivity is a complicated issue. It depends on what they are reactive barking towards. In our reactive dog training program, we use a combination of desensitization and counterconditioning. We have to find the distance that they can be without reacting (the threshold) and start working from there. We have them work on things while the other dog (or other triggers) is at the distance they can focus. We then get them to do some basic skills or walk around while the trigger is present. As they get comfortable then we move them closer and closer. You cannot really train this in the moment and have to set up appropriate training set-ups to work on it before relying on the methods when out on walks. Again, it depends on what the dog is reactive barking towards so adjustments would be made based on what that is.
Question: What are the most important things for us to do to make space for our dogs to be their best and for us to have the best connection with our dogs?
Keeping the interactions and environment as positive as possible is something that I have noticed helps build that connection. Showing them that they are safe with me as an owner. Sometimes it takes time and each dog is different. After getting to know the dog (and watching the changes they make as they grow) I work on coping skills and cooperative care skills that are appropriate for the dog, making them feel as comfortable as possible in different situations. With very nervous dogs, I do not push them and give them their time to settle in. I then set up positive experiences to build their confidence in the world, moving at their speed to prevent pushing them too much too soon which I have witnessed backfire. Honestly, just spending regular time with your dog to train or finding activities that they enjoy and that you can do together is a great way as well. Dogs like to work and most dogs like that human connection so finding a way to combine these together can really help.
It wasn’t just Jennen who got questions, her faithful assistant Margot also got questions as well!
Question: What are you paid?
I’m paid with a place to live, a nice big bed to sleep in, the fancy food my mom makes for me, a lot of agility fun, and mom telling me that I’m the best girl ever (which she will never admit to saying). I also have a pretty good clothing and accessory collection. You should see how many collars I have.
Question: Margot, what are the benefits of being a trainer?
The benefits of being a trainer is getting a lot of treats and getting attention from people and/or dogs. A big benefit is the friends I meet, especially golden retriever puppies. I think my mom should get one because they are my FAVORITE. The best thing though is getting to go to work and spend a lot of time with mom which is something I didn’t get to do when she had her previous job.
Question: We have an 11-month-old Black Goldendoodle who bites a lot and also is very jealous. How do I stop Binnington Bear from biting so much?
It would depend on why the dog is biting. If it is when playing, then you stop the play. I block off an area while we work on this so they can’t just move away when I give them a verbal correction. I also look to see how long it takes before they get to that point and then stop playing a little bit before that so the dog can’t even get to the point. You can redirect them to bite or chew on something else but you must give them some type of cue that indicates the biting is not what they are supposed to do and then redirect them. If you do not put in that verbal correction they will just think that they are getting rewarded for the behavior with a chew. You also need to set up training sessions, just for a few minutes, and only work on this behavior. That means blocking off an area and starting to play with them. If they start to bite then give them a verbal correction cue and walk away. Once they are calm again, they can try again, repeating this process as much as needed until their behavior is worsening. If it seems to be a more aggressive behavior, you may need to adjust the training a bit but would still use redirection methods.
Question: One of my dogs gets really agitated with vehicles on wheels (cars, trucks, bikes) while walking on the leash. How do you stop that behavior?
It depends on how they are getting agitated. If it comes out as reactive, then I usually use a desensitization process. You have to find the distance where the dog is still comfortable and work on skills and reward them for doing it while that trigger is present. As they get comfortable and listen at that distance, you can begin to move them closer. You want to make sure that they will listen at that distance and perform certain skills that help with focus. If they are too close and already at the distance they react, it is likely you will not be able to get them to focus and they won’t be able to pick up on anything. If their agitation develops into fear, you would still use a desensitization process but include coping skills in the training for the dog.
Stayed tuned for part two of Jennen’s answers!