TRAINING THE CHINESE SHAR-PEI
The first thing you need to know about training your Shar-Pei is to start right away. Puppies are learning from the moment you bring them home; it is always best to start them off learning the good stuff! Puppy kindergarten or socialization classes are a great way to teach your puppy good manners from the start. As an added benefit of puppy class, you will help to build a strong bond with your puppy, which will ensure future training success. Puppy classes will also help your dog to not be so excited or distracted around other dogs and people. Dogs, just like kids, learn faster when they're young. It's never too early; however, it's never too late either. If your dog is a little older, a fun training class can help keep him mentally stimulated. Most dog owners start obedience classes at around six months old, sooner is better, but this is just fine.
So where do you go for training? There are many different kinds of trainers, and many methods of obedience training offered in our society. These different types of training fall into two main categories: traditional training, which focuses on using something aversive to teach the dog what NOT to do, and positive reinforcement or motivation-based training, which focuses on your relationship with your dog and making the dog a polite member of the family. In the past, dogs were workers or employees of the family, with a specific job to do: protect the sheep, guard the house, pull the sled…Traditional training taught the dog that he must perform his job perfectly or suffer the consequences. These days, dogs are much more a part of the family. Their job often involves keeping the couch warm and playing with the kids. The old way of training does not lend itself well to these dogs, and does not always result in a dog who can perform his job very well. My favorite legend about the Shar-Pei is that they were specifically bred to guard the royal children, which really fits their personality. In my experience, many of the Shar-Pei I have known love kids, and are apprehensive of new adults. This is a very good reason to choose a training program that the kids can participate in.
The traditional trainer will use methods that will teach your dog to obey you in order to avoid something bad. This type of training is called "aversive training," and uses an aversive to startle the dog into obedience, also referred to as "submission." Traditional trainers often refer to being an "Alpha Wolf." This theory is flawed, because our dogs have been domestic dogs for centuries, relying on humans for survival. This type of trainer is still very common; they will use a choke chain or pinch collar. Some traditional trainers have started using food rewards to encourage good behavior, but they still use harsh, painful and even dangerous means and can actually cause certain dogs to become aggressive out of fear. I have seen this type of training contribute to, if not cause aggression in several Shar-Pei (other breeds too). Choke chains, pinch/prong collars, electronic collars and citronella spray collars can have serious, detrimental results both mentally and medically if used incorrectly. One problem with choke chains and prong collars is that they don't come with instructions, so even many professional trainers do not know how to use them as they were intended to be used. Even with proper handling, dogs trained on choke chains risk suffering a spinal injury from the repetitive jerking on the cervical spine. I have found them to be an unnecessary, extra step in the training process. This type of training is not safe for children to try to implement. If you try to "dominate" your Shar-Pei, you are only challenging him to a dog fight, and people don't win dog fights. My own Shar-Pei, who were trained on a choke chain, back when I used to use them, would do the exercises I taught, but they hated every minute of it and you could see how unhappy they were. They would lean away from me or look away from me as they slowly went through their repertoire. That wasn't really what I wanted in my dog.
Positive Training simply means helping the dog learn the appropriate behavior, and then rewarding him for doing it. The dog must think, learn and make the right decision. He must choose to offer the correct behavior in order to earn privileges, food or acceptance. We must make it to his benefit to offer desirable behaviors, and not to his benefit to offer inappropriate behaviors. In time, the dog will want to perform the behaviors we are teaching him.
Dogs are opportunists; they do everything because they get something out of it. If a behavior is rewarded it will be repeated. This means if your dog is developing bad habits, he is getting something out of his bad behaviors. The challenge is to be sure he gets what he wants only by doing the behaviors you want. So we must find out what he is working for. For example, if he is barking at you for attention, and you yell at him, he got what he wanted, so he will do it again. Even "negative" attention is attention.
To stop inappropriate behavior, we will need to discover the least reinforcing scenario, often ignoring or walking away, and this is how we respond, every time. We must then teach the dog a new way to get what he wants. For every unwanted behavior you want to eliminate, you need to teach your Shar-Pei what to do instead. Using the attention example, we might teach an obedience exercise like sit, or something like "go get your toy" so the dog then has a way to get our attention. If we don't teach him a new way, he will simply find another way on his own, and it will likely not be a behavior you will like.
When teaching a new behavior, we always set the dog up to succeed, help him learn what it is we want, and once they get it, we reward them for doing it. It sounds simple because it is. To teach a dog to sit who hasn't done it before, we first must get the behavior. We can accomplish this by holding a treat against the dog's nose and slowly moving it back, over his head. As he looks up, his body will eventually fall into a sitting position. As soon as his butt hits the floor, he gets to eat the treat. So he learns sitting is rewarding.
The next step is to associate the word "sit" with this action. So after you get the dog to sit two or three times (no more) by putting the treat in front of his nose, then you begin to say "Sit" when you do that. After repeating this, with the word THREE times, then we must no longer use the treat to get the behavior. We simply say the word "sit" and hold our empty hand over the dog's head and wait. Eventually he will try sitting, and then, say "YES!" and give a treat out of your other hand. He still gets the reward, but we don't show it to him ahead of time, this way he isn't sitting just because he sees a treat, he is learning to sit when you ask him to.
The list of reinforcers is limitless. The more reinforcers you have, the more opportunities you have to reward your dog. Be creative, make your own list - figure out what motivates your dog and use it in training. Some reinforcers include: food, water, social interaction (with people or other dogs), exercise, toys, praise, petting, games, attention, body posture, freedom…
When looking for an obedience class, you should look for a positive trainer who covers not only basic obedience exercises, but also some basic canine communication, possibly nutrition and or simple health basics (like exercise & hygiene), problem behaviors and good manners. I recommend finding a trainer who does not use any type of aversive, which can actually damage your relationship with your dog. This means no choke chains, no pinch collars, no squirt bottles… Some trainers don't even use leashes, that's great! Then you have a dog who will actually work with you, not just with your leash, right from the start!
The best place to find a trainer is to try to find a Certified Pet Dog Trainer (CPDT) with the Certification Council for Pet Dog Trainers (www.ccpdt.org). Currently there are many trainers who call themselves "certified." The CPDT is the ONLY nationally standardized test to evaluate the skills of a pet dog trainer. All other certifications are either subjective (reviewed by peers) or are just a result of taking a course. The CPDT, first administered in September 2001, is currently going through the national accreditation process and will hopefully someday become the license to train pet dogs. All CPDTs must obtain CEUs in order to maintain their certification. Some other great places to obtain a referral include your veterinarian, the Association of Pet Dog Trainers (www.apdt.com), the National Association of Dog Obedience Instructors (NADOI), local kennel clubs, pet supply stores and other dog owners. If you're having a behavior problem with your dog, look for a Certified Behavior Consultant with the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants (www.iaabc.org).
Here is a list of questions you may want to ask a potential trainer:
Where and for how long did you go to school to learn how to train dogs?
Are you a member of any training organizations, such as APDT, NADOI or IAABC?
What are your credentials (CPDT, CDBC, CABC, etc) and what do they mean?
How long have you been training dogs?
What methods of training do you use?
What type of training equipment will I need?
What will the classes cover?
How much will it cost?
Do you offer other types of training?
Do you have any references I may contact?
Michelle L. Douglas, CPDT, CDBC owns and operates The Refined Canine in southern Connecticut. She lives with her husband Matt, their son and three very spoiled Shar-Pei. Michelle has been involved with the Shar-Pei breed since 1993 and has been training dogs and their families professionally since 1997. The Refined Canine offers group classes, private lessons, and behavior modification programs, all using positive reinforcement techniques. Michelle has been featured in The New Haven Register and The Connecticut Post newspapers, has been a guest on Pet Talk on Southern Connecticut Cablevision's channel 12, and most recently, the Chaz and AJ morning show on 99.1 FM WPLR. If you have any questions, you can visit Michelle's website at www.refinedcanine.com or e-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.