Guest Post: Kate Senisi from Kate Senisi Pet Solutions

10 Feb

Based in Manhattan, Kate Senisi is a pet-activist and trainer who uses positive, reward-based methods to help owners communicate effectively with their pets. With a holistic approach and an emphasis on common sense and creative thinking, she helps owners manage their pets behavior while nurturing the trust and respect required for a healthy relationship. Kate has a special affinity for Bully-breeds, and enjoys inspiring owners and ensuring education regardless of financial status. She currently teaches basic and puppy classes at Unleashed by Petco in the Upper West Side, Petco in Union Square and is available for private sessions through The Dogs. She lives with two furry four-leggeds: Sir Charles the cat and Disco, a rescue pit-mix with an underbite and dance moves like Travolta.

As a trainer and owner of a Bully breed I always recommend teaching your dog by using reward-based methods. Did you know that by using aversive, fear-based training methods you can actually destroy the trust and bond you have with your dog? Additionally, Bully breeds are typically very thick-skinned and can take quite a lot of “aversive” before being intimidated into modifying their behavior. Dogs (especially of Bully-descent) can also habituate to pain over time so a leash jerk that might have initially startled your dog can quickly lose it’s effectiveness after a hundred repetitions. So I ask a question that may be rhetorical to most; would you rather have a dog that follows your cues out of fear or respect?


Let’s talk about what constitute aversive, fear-based methods besides jerking the leash. Basically, think of any way to intimidate, startle or frighten a dog into achieving results and you’ve got an aversive. Aversives can include alpha rolls, jabbing a dog lightly with your hand, or holding a dog on its side until they stop struggling. Most people probably think this sounds horrible yet there are so-called trainers out there convincing owners they need to use these methods with their Bully’s to show they are “in charge.” The wolf pack studies that this dominance theory of training was initially based on have been shown to be inaccurate. However, it’s a concept that remains because it seems accessible to people. If you use these methods you will probably see the appearance of control and compliance, but at what cost? The trust and bond you have with your dog is slowly being eroded. Yep, you’ll probably have an obedient dog, but it will be because they’re living in fear of the consequence of every move they make. Is this the kind of relationship we want to have with our family pets?


On the other end of the spectrum, reward-based training isn’t just showering a dog with treats and praise. It’s based on understanding how dogs think and learn and then smartly rewarding them when they are doing something “good” and ignoring/redirecting behaviors when they are doing something “bad.” Always remember that dogs are just being dogs. Their behavior is not “bad” in their world, it has been somehow rewarded in the past and therefore “good” or successful for them. To be fair, they live in a world run by humans so why shouldn’t we show them the ropes in a way they can easily understand? Also note that most reward-based trainers do actually use mild forms of punishment to let the dog know a behavior is unwanted BUT the good ones never use force or intimidation. Punishment is not a dirty word unless it’s tainted with force or intimidation. An example of a mild punishment would be turning your back and ignoring on a dog who has jumped up on you or giving a 15-second timeout from play when your puppy’s teeth hit your skin. Smart, force-free punishment is just as effective in letting discouraging a behavior and doesn’t scare or intimidate your dog. Smart rewarding doesn’t always have to be done with food. Once your dog gets the concept of training, you can (and should!) use real-world rewards daily and food every once in a while. Aside from creating a dog that fears you or the choke collar when you use aversives, I think the key difference between using rewards and using aversives has to do with motivation.


Bottom line: do you want your dog to selectively listen to you when you have treats in your hand or a choke collar on him? Or would you prefer that he actually WANTS to listen because you have a fair and balanced relationship based on trust and respect? It’s a no-brainer for me but give this question some thought and decide for yourself. If you decide trust and respect is the way to go, smart, reward-based training is for you!

As Bully owners I think it’s especially important that we lead the charge on using force-free methods with our dogs. We usually get a lot of attention on the street and should be setting the standards for having breed ambassadors and getting people educated in the most effective and healthy ways to train our four-legged friends whether they be Bullies or Chihuahuas!


One Response to “Guest Post: Kate Senisi from Kate Senisi Pet Solutions”


  1. Training to Fear or Respect? : Kate Senisi Pet Solutions - February 27, 2012

    […] Original article appeared on That Touch of Pit, a blog that celebrates pit bull-like dogs while changing […]

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