FAQ

Many of you don't know me personally, so I've put together this FAQ to help answer some common questions. After all, it's usually not a great idea to take advice from a complete and total stranger. :) Feel free to submit any new questions to: terri@alessoninphysics.com 

Why did you choose the title, "A Lesson in Physics?" That has nothing to do with dog training!
I started using the phrase "a lesson in physics" to describe our bull terrier puppy shortly after we brought him home. Despite all the different dogs that I've come into contact with, I'd never seen one attempt to move with as much disregard for gravity and common sense as Obi. I say that in the most affectionate way possible!

Why did you decide to start a training blog?
Writing is one of my passions and I've actually been writing about pets for several years now. I started with keeping a general online personal journal and in 2005, went on to create a very popular educational website on budgies (parakeets). That site is currently being revamped to be introduced again at a later date as life got in the way for a while and I was unable to continue maintaining it.

How long have you had dogs?
I honestly can't remember a time in my life that didn't involve a dog. As far back as I can remember, there has been a canine. For every chapter of my life there has been a dog that helped me get through one difficulty or another.

How did you get started as a dog trainer? 
For the most part, it happened by accident. I was one of those kids obsessed with Lassie, Benji, Rin Tin Tin, and any other TV animal you could think of. From a young age I started teaching my pets silly tricks or simple commands. As I got older I slowly picked up more through hands on experience and over the last several years I have really honed my skills and learned the actual science/psychology that is involved. Weeding out all the bad advice and myths has been (and continues to be) a matter of educating myself in every way possible. I'm always learning and working to be a better trainer and educator.

Can you train my kid/spouse?
 As long as you promise not to get offended when I pull out the clicker and some treats then absolutely! (I get this question ALL the time and people think I'm joking when I answer. But...it's true. The same concepts of behavior apply to all intelligent animals).

What has been your proudest moment in training? 
There have been several especially proud moments for me. I have one client in particular who never ceases to fascinate me as far as "thinking dogs" go. Her name is Loucee and she's a little long haired chihuahua who has been my student since she was a puppy. She's brightened a lot of days for me and has been doing so for many others through therapy work.  

Another very proud moment for me was the graduation of four of a local shelter's adoptable dogs from their first obedience class. We had a program which allowed several volunteers from Owensboro Regional Recovery to be handlers for the dogs that needed training. Over the course of our six week class, they came on a regular basis to work and play with the shelter dogs. Graduation day was really touching as I saw the bond that had developed between the dogs and their respective handlers.

What has been your most disappointing moment?
There are always the dogs you can't really help because the owner isn't willing to put in the work. This is pretty rare as most people who take the time to come to class are extremely committed to their pet, but it has happened once or twice in the past. I hate seeing people give up on their dogs and then give the dog up when I know that it didn't have to end that way.Of course, there are times when giving the dog up actually seems to be the best decision but that is still a sad situation as well. No one likes to say goodbye to a loyal friend.

You seem to find a lot of excuses to talk badly about dominance theory. Have you not learned that dogs are descendants of wolves?
First off, while this is true we do not live with wolves. We live with dogs. If your dog was not separated from wolves by thousands of years of evolution (making him far more suitable as a companion), he would be much more difficult to live with. On top of that, we have also found that our earlier research into the lives of wolves has been flawed. All of that being said, I have been a member of both camps: dominance theory and positive reinforcement. I've even spent some time in between/on the fence! But through education and sometimes heartbreaking experience, I have ultimately come to one conclusion:  When used to refer to dog training, "Dominance" is just another word for "fear." Anytime you see someone mention dominance theory or alpha theory, replace those words with fear and you'll have a more accurate representation of what you're potentially doing to your dog when practicing these methods. Using fear only "works" in very limited ways and can lead to dire consequences. Fear is the basis of almost all dog aggression-why on earth would you try to use it in order to rehabilitate that behavior? "Fear-based" training is a result of decades of misunderstanding and I want to believe that as a society, we can move beyond this and start using our heads. There is no way that there is one blanket answer ("My dog is trying to be the boss") to the question "Why does my dog misbehave this way?" If that were the case, no one would need a trainer or behaviorist!) I don't blame people for this mindset at all. It's something you have to wade and trudge through if you grew up reading and hearing that it's the way to go. Most of us did, and so it's an incredibly difficult mentality to change. But next time you see a dog in full on submissive mode please ask yourself how their posture is any different to that of a dog that is just plain afraid.

Have you ever worked with an aggressive dog?
Yes, and they are much easier to work with than their owners in most cases. People don't want to let go of believing that their dog is trying to take over the world long enough to focus on true rehabilitation of the animal.  For those who do relax and listen, I have seen vast improvements as the dog owner learns to communicate with the dog appropriately. Every situation is different  but this much holds true: You can put a band-aid on it for the time being by teaching the dog to fear you (risking a much more aggressive and unpredictable response in the future - ever hear about those dogs that "just snapped??") or you can take the time to fix the problem from the inside out.

What are your favorite (and least favorite) breeds to work with? 
I think the fact that I've fallen in love with the bull terrier is no surprise. But my first love was (and always will be) pretty much the entire herding dog group. Talk about a group of dogs that can make a trainer look good fast! Not to mention, they are all just stunning to look at. Of course, there's nothing like a good mutt and for the most part, that's what I've grown up around. At the end of the day, every breed loves its family and that's why dogs are such amazing creatures to live with. With cats I haven't always been so sure (love them...but do they really love me?) but with dogs there's just no question.

I don't truly dislike any breed but I'll be honest... I'm not a huge fan of yorkies. I love working with them, but they just aren't my type! That being said, I'm sure there are plenty of people who wouldn't have a bull terrier (or neurotic herding mix) if you tried to pay them to do so. And with every dog being an individual, I'm sure there are plenty of yorkies out there that I could easily live with (who could also live with me).

Have you ever been bitten? 
Unfortunately, yes. It hasn't happened many times and if you're doing everything correctly it shouldn't happen. But...nobody's perfect! You live, you learn. Especially if you get bitten...

What can followers of your blog look forward to in the future?
We've got great plans for the blog coming up! The first addition that you'll probably notice are informational videos. Sometimes it's much easier to see how something is done rather than just read about it. Training videos will highlight some important lessons so that you can more easily practice at home. We are also going to start offering contests and other fun events once our numbers are up a bit. So, share the page! Like us on Facebook! Spread the word and help the message of REAL dog training reach the masses. :)


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