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Team PPP Meets Dale Ward, Victoria Stilwell Positively Dog Trainer!

dalenewresizeAs positive only dog walkers and pet sitters, we’ve joined forces with other force-free pet sitters, dog walkers and trainers across the country in employing a kinder, gentler approach to dog (and cat!) handling and training. We’ve had the lucky opportunity to meet a fantastic Hampton Roads area Victoria Stilwell Positively dog trainer. Can you believe that? Is this not exciting? Little old us, meeting important folks! So we’d like to introduce to you our new BDFF (best dog friend forever) and her name is Dale Ward. Dale is some kind of awesome, people! We got to picking her brain a little and thought, hey this is good stuff! How about an interview? She fell for it agreed! We went for coffee, met her gorgeous and engaging Wylie (pictured with Dale) and had a wonderful time learning more about her. We think you’ll love her, too! For those looking for help, training or obedience classes, we’ve added Dale’s contact information at the end of this post and 2 of the classes she’s got coming up, including Obedience!

Tell us a little about positive training, and what it means?

Positive training is science-based and focuses on reinforcing behaviors that you like.  All behaviors that are reinforced are more likely to be repeated. This applies to dogs, humans and many other species.  This sounds simple, and it really is, if you look at the bare bones.  However, as humans, we often inadvertently reinforce behaviors that we don’t like. Oops.

daletrainWe are used to communicating with words and are often unaware of what we are communicating to the dog with our bodies.  The key to remember is that if the dog finds how you handle/respond to a behavior rewarding, the dog will repeat it to keep getting that reward.  The dog determines the value of the reward!  So, for example, in the case of jumping, many people will push their dog down and say “off”, or “get down”.  The dog’s feet hit the floor and he leaps at the person again, often repeatedly, and the owner’s pushing and yelling escalates.  The dog gets further aroused and his jumping gets even more offensive.  So what’s wrong with this scenario?  The dog is being rewarded for jumping by being touched, talked to, looked at, and is turning the interaction into a fun game.  The dog likes the response he gets from the human.

sheaThis is especially true of big, powerful dogs who have been played with in a rough manner.  Dogs don’t care what you say, so yelling “no” is not going to get them to stop.  Dogs respond to what you do physically.  Your body language should let your dog know “if you jump on me, you are getting absolutely NOTHING from me,” no words, no eye contact, no touch.  Nothing.  Dogs who jump want your attention more than anything.  By withholding that attention until the dog has all four paws on the floor and then rewarding that, you are telling him that the fastest way for him to get your attention is to keep his feet on the floor.  The more you reinforce four feet on the floor, the more this behavior will be repeated.  The jumping behavior, if it is NOT reinforced, will fade away and eventually disappear.  Magic (not really).

How did you get started as a dog trainer?

Ten years ago, I got a cute, squirmy, adorable puppy named Wylie.  She is a Labrador retriever.  My cute pup quickly grew into an unruly mess.  My vet called her a mouth on four feet and recommended a positive reinforcement trainer.  That’s where I learned the basics of how best to work with my dog.  I was amazed at how quickly she learned and how she responded to the training. I was new at the techniques and didn’t always get it right, but I was on the right path.  I loved training and so pursued education, work and then opened my own business.

We know many currently-positive trainers did not start out as positive trainers, and now have the unique perspective of both approaches to training. Was this your path as well?

I learned positive training techniques from the start of my dog training career, so as a professional, I have never used or taught punitive methods.  However, I do have some experience using them as a dog owner.  I had a dog named Roxy when I was in my late teens.  She was a lab/border collie mix and I took her to obedience class when she was 8 months old. This was about 35 years ago.  We all were instructed to use a nylon choker on our dogs.  We were taught leash pops as corrections.  I had to “correct” her so often and so hard that I had to wear gloves to prevent my hands from bleeding. When I got home from class, my dog’s neck would be bleeding and I would cry, asking my dog why she was so stubborn, why she was making me hurt her like that.  I followed what the teacher told us to do.  I was good at those leash pops, but my dog didn’t understand. To this day, I feel a deep sorrow and I regret what I did to my lovely dog.  It makes me cry to this day.  I know now how easy it would have been to train this bright, intelligent, sweet dog. Roxy died long ago but I hope she knows how very sorry I am that I hurt her.

How did you get started with Victoria Stilwell’s Positively program?

I love the way Victoria trains.  From watching her on “It’s Me or the Dog” on Animal Planet, I could really relate to her no nonsense approach with clients.  I don’t sugar coat things with my clients either.  Sometimes, they don’t want to hear what I have to say, but I say it anyway, just like Victoria.  So when she began the Victoria Stilwell Positively Dog Trainer network, I knew I wanted to be a part of it. Being a member of this exclusive organization has been extremely rewarding. I haven’t regretted a single moment.

What would you tell an owner asking “If the shock/choke/prong collar is working, why should I stop?”

dalewyliebeachBecause there is a faster, easier, kinder, more gentle way to work with a dog, one that builds a loving, respectful relationship between human and canine, one built on cooperation and trust.  I don’t think that most people want to hurt their dogs.  I think they just don’t know any other way.  If I can demonstrate how fast and efficient positive training is, they are amazed.  I just did it again today.  I got a jumping, mouthing, alligator snapping 90 pound, unneutered male bully breed dog to offer a sit every time I approached him instead his usual jumping unruliness in one single lesson.  It’s not rocket science.  My most rewarding moments as a trainer are the ones where the human’s eyes light up as they see and realize how smart their dogs really are.  I love that part!

Change is coming, it’s on the wind and it’s unstoppable.  There will be a day when all punitive methods are outlawed, that it will be a crime to use them on such amazing sentient, intelligent beings as our canine companions.

What would you list as the top reason or reasons for poor behavior in household dogs?

Oh, that’s a tough one. Can I have two reasons?  Improper socialization when the dog is young (from 2 weeks to 4 months) and inconsistency.  One more: lack of exercise.

What references would you recommend your potential clients read to familiarize themselves better with innate behavioral traits and how to best use them to their advantages?

daletrain2If you mean breed traits, like tendencies to herd or retrieve, there is so much information available.  There is also tremendous variation within a breed.  For example, most labs like to retrieve, but not all.  Most terriers like to chase, but not all.  Directing a dog’s energy into a sport that lets them use their natural tendencies is a great way to exercise them mentally and physically.  The only caveat I would add is whatever sport they are interested in, whether it be tracking, agility, flyball, etc., they look for positive reinforcement training in all sports. There is never a need to use an aversive on a dog, like a choker or a shock collar.  Some disciplines are slow to make the shift from old school punishment to positive, force-free methods.  The hunting community is one, protection training is another, but their methods are slowly changing and there are now world champions in these fields that have been trained solely with positive, force-free methods.

I would add that when people are choosing a dog for their family, to get one based on temperament and exercise requirements, not on how a dog looks.  For example, if one lives in an apartment and works full time, think twice about getting a Labrador retriever puppy or a border collie or a Jack Russell terrier. These dogs require a LOT of exercise and brain games, DAILY, to be happy, well-adjusted dogs.  Be realistic about how much time and energy you have to devote to the dog. The “cute” wears off pretty quickly.  In a similar vein, please don’t get a dog for your kids.  I have never gone into a home where the child was actually responsible for the dog. Never. No matter the age, from 6 to 20, children will not take care of the dog. So if the adults are counting on the child to walk, exercise, train and play with the dog, it will not happen. The decision to get a dog must rest with the adults, who must be ready and willing to take on full responsibility for that dog.

I’ve really enjoyed our chat, let’s do it again sometime!


If you’d like to contact Dale, here’s what you need to know!
Dale’s biographical page on Victoria Stilwell’s Positively site
Dale’s Dog Training Academy LLC on Facebook

Looking for Obedience classes? Click this image to enlarge!

Marvie and I will be attending Dale’s Loose Leash Walking class in early April, if you’re interested in learning more, click the image to enlarge!
Leash walking Dale Ward Tra&Own Copyright






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