Responsible Dog Training

Drawing on over 20 years of experience as a dog owner and trainer, Robert Fairhead plans to publish a guidebook on dogs and dog training in late 2022, Robert’s Responsible Dog Training.

The book will provide dog owners with a structured six-week program covering the essential skills to train and care for their dogs. And extension exercises to extend and enrich a dog’s training.

Robert will also share anecdotes and case studies based on his dogs, dog training and everyday dog walking encounters.

Robert’s Background

In 1972, ten-year-old Robert pestered his parents into letting him have his first dog, a yellow lab puppy he named Duke, and who lived at the family home to the grand old dog age of sixteen.

After travelling and living overseas for many years, Robert adopted a six-month-old named Harry in 1999. And the following day, he joined a local dog club to train and socialise Harry.

Dog Training

Having worked his way with Harry from the beginner to higher classes at the dog club and gained obedience titles, Robert became a volunteer instructor in 2001.

After a dozen years of delivering the club’s adult dog beginner classes, Robert coordinated relaunching the program in 2014 as the Responsible Dog Ownership (RDO) Course.

He also helped integrate the club’s puppy classes with the new RDO Course and implement a transition class to the higher training classes.

Robert with his Best Mannered Dog, Harry (December 2000)

For several years, Robert ran a “Can I Pat That Dog?” workshop for children. He is also a moderator for the Queens Park (Sydney) Dog Walkers and Eastern Suburbs (Sydney) Dog Lovers Facebook groups. And Robert is a member of the Association of Pet Dog Trainers (APDT) Australia and shares their vision:

All dogs are effectively trained through dog-friendly techniques and therefore are lifelong companions in a relationship based on mutual trust and respect.

Reactive Dogs

In 2014, two years after dear old Harry’s passing, Robert adopted a two-year-old black lab named Jet, who joined the family with some “baggage”.

With the help of fellow dog trainers, Robert used positive reward-based methods to modify Jet’s reactive behaviour.

Signs of reactive dogs include:

  • The dog may be fearful and spend the whole class with tail tucked between its legs or hiding behind its owner.
  • The dog may be anxious, barking and lunging at other dogs and possibly other class members and the trainer.
  • The dog may become aggressive, similar to above, only in a “fight” rather than “flight” mode.
Robert with his reactive rescue dog, Jet (October 2017).

Proving that patience, persistence and positive methods pay off, in 2022, ten-year-old Jet celebrated his eighth forever-home “adoptaversary”.

Beyond Dogs

Away from dogs, Robert is a writer and editor at Tall And True and blogs on his eponymous website, RobertFairhead.com. He also writes and narrates episodes for the Tall And True Short Reads podcast, featuring his short stories, blog posts and other writing from Tall And True.

Robert’s book reviews and other writing have appeared in print and online media. In 2020, he published his début collection of short stories, Both Sides of the Story, and in 2021 Twelve Furious Months, twelve short stories written for the Furious Fiction writing competition.

You can find Robert’s @mydogposts on Instagram and Twitter. A selection of his Instagram posts and writing on dogs is also available on the Blog page of this website.

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Positive Reward-Based Training

Broadly speaking, there are two schools of thought when it comes to dog training: the traditional aversive approach and the more modern positive reward-based method.

In aversive training, the dog performs the desired behaviour to avoid a negative consequence:

  • If a dog is straining on its leash, the owner jerks back, causing discomfort around the dog’s neck. This can be amplified by using a constriction collar, e.g. a choker chain. The dog learns to walk beside its owner to avoid discomfort.
  • Similarly, if a dog is jumping up on its owner or other people, the owner punishes the dog, verbally, physically or both. The dog stops jumping to avoid punishment.

Using Positive Methods

With positive reward-based training, your dog performs the desired behaviour because it receives positive reinforcement and rewards for doing so:

  • To encourage your dog to walk loose-leash, lure him or her beside your leg and reward with a treat. The dog learns walking calmly beside you earns rewards.
  • To discourage jumping, don’t punish your dog, ignore it. The dog learns jumping up is not earning rewards and tries something that worked in the past, like sitting. Reinforce the sit by rewarding your dog with a treat.
Jet and Bonnie and friends sitting for treat rewards

Contrasting Approaches

This is only a brief overview of these contrasting approaches to dog training, and advocates of both can argue it does not detail all the pros and cons. Others will contend there are variations within each. And then there is “balanced training”, which combines aspects of aversive and positive reward-based methods.

Robert used aversive techniques, including choker chains, in his early days as a dog trainer. However, as he learned new and more positive ways of interacting with dogs, Robert changed his thinking and training.

This is why today, Robert only advocates using positive reward-based methods for dog training. And why Robert is a proud member of the Association of Pet Dog Trainers (APDT) Australia.

Please note: You can learn more about the benefits of positive reward-based training on the RSPCA Australia and Australian Veterinary Association (AVA) websites.

Learn more about Robert’s Responsible Dog Training >>>