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Interview: Dr. Jennifer Summerfield, Author of ‘Train Your Dog Now!’

Dr. Jennifer L. Summerfield is a veterinarian and professional dog trainer. She focuses on behavior problems such as aggression and separation anxiety.

Her new book “Train Your Dog Now!” is a handbook with easy-to-follow instructions for correcting unwanted behaviors and teaching manners and basic tricks. Jennifer’s three Sheltie dogs compete in conformation, agility and obedience.

She has a great dog blog Dr. Jen’s Dog Blog and you can follow her on Facebook @DrJensDogBlog

Adams Media is giving away a copy of “Train Your Dog Now!” to two readers of That Mutt. To enter, leave a comment at the end of this post. *The giveaway has ended.

I hope you enjoy this Q&A:

Q&A with Dr. Jennifer Summerfield, author of Train Your Dog Now!

That Mutt: What’s your favorite dog-related book and why?

Dr. Jennifer Summerfield: I love, love, love “The Culture Clash” by Jean Donaldson. I first read it when I was a teenager, working with my first Sheltie.

I was young and idealistic and loved dogs more than anything, but I didn’t know much about behavior science or positive training methods – popular culture is so focused on the “alpha dog” thing, even now, but it was even more prevalent back then.

So. Coming from that perspective, I remember this particular book as a game changer for me. Jean Donaldson is a brilliant trainer, and she explains things so well. The book is all about training from the dog’s perspective, and how we humans so often misinterpret their behavior.

The notion that most “problem behaviors” are actually just dogs doing normal dog things was really revolutionary for me at the time, and made a huge difference in the way I looked at training.

Truly, I’ve always felt that this book should be mandatory reading for every single dog owner in the world. It would save us all a lot of grief in the long run.

TM: What dog training tool or dog product has benefited your dog the most recently?

Jennifer: Honestly? Don’t laugh, but I’m completely obsessed with the dehydrated cow ear chews from Raw Feeding Miami.

I’m a huge fan of long-lasting, durable things for my boys to chew on, but I’m also really picky about what I give them – I don’t use anything with added chemicals or preservatives, like store-bought rawhides. So RFM’s stuff is great.

One cow ear for each dog = an entire evening of peace and quiet in the Summerfield house. I use them very judiciously, but they’re worth every penny!

TM: What advice would you give to a friend about to get her first dog?

Jennifer: Be choosy, and do your homework! It’s a funny thing, but in my experience, novice dog owners often put more research into buying a new car or washing machine than into selecting a new family member that’s a good fit for their lifestyle.

In my line of work, I see LOTS of problems related to a fundamental mismatch between the dog’s needs and the owner’s expectations. A quiet elderly couple gets a field-bred Lab puppy with tons of energy, or a family with young kids gets a delicate, noise-sensitive Italian greyhound.

Training can help with some of these issues – but sometimes, it’s really trying to force a square peg into a round hole.

Do yourself a favor, and take the decision seriously. Choose a dog based on factors like temperament and energy level, not cute markings or a cheap purchase price.

TM: How has a past failure with one of your dogs helped you make better choices later?

Jennifer: With my first dog, Duncan, I did a lot of things that I would do differently now if I had the chance. He was a fantastic dog, and a great worker – he learned in spite of my mistakes, and was always happy to do whatever new activity I signed us up for.

With my dogs now, many things are different. My training mechanics and technical skills are much better, which definitely helps! But I’ve also learned so much along the way about the importance of their emotional state when we work together.

I’ve learned to make things easier if they’re struggling, quit before they get bored, and get them out of situations that are making them stressed or uncomfortable – even if it means leaving a training class, or cutting a competition run short.

TM: In the last few years, what belief or habit has most improved your life with dogs?

Jennifer: Learning not to take training setbacks or “naughty” behavior personally!

I think as humans, we have a tendency to interpret everything in a very personal way – we assume that our dogs aren’t paying attention in training class because they’re stubborn and don’t respect us, or they’re stealing food from the countertops or getting into the trash even though they KNOW they aren’t allowed.

Most of the time, this isn’t true at all! To quote the amazing Karen Pryor, “it’s just behavior.” Dogs do what makes sense to them in the moment.

If we don’t like what they’re doing, we can work on changing it – but there’s no reason to get angry or offended. I try to always keep this in mind with my own dogs, and teach it to my students as well.

Thank you, Jennifer!

To enter the giveaway to win a copy of Jennifer’s book “Train Your Dog Now!: Your Instant Training Handbook, From Basic Commands to Behavior Fixes” just leave a comment below.

Let me know what behavioral problem you’e working on with your dog. Must have a U.S. mailing address to win.

I’ll choose two winners at random on Friday March 30. *The giveaway has ended. (Congrats to Tracy S. and Sharon W.)

And or course, you can order a copy of the book on Amazon here.

*This post contains affiliate links.

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