If you’re looking for a dog trainer in the New York City area who specializes in positive methods, a great relationship with your dog, and has tons of fun doing it, then Rikke Brogaard is the trainer for you! She’s a Certified Pet Dog Trainer and a professional member of the Association of Pet Dog Trainers (APDT), and keeps herself updated with the latest dog training trends and animal-related vet and scientific updates at yearly conferences and regularly attends educational seminars. Brogaard has studied with some of the leading trainers and behaviorists in the country and is the NY State volunteer Trainer and behavior consultant for MAGDRL, the Mid Atlantic Great Dane Rescue League.
A dog training theme that is close to Brogaard’d heart is the dog-child relationship and helping families make the transition from being a “dog” family to being a “kid-dog” family (or the other way around) without adding extra stress to an already stressful time. She made the training transition herself when she brought her seven pound baby home to a household with two 150lbs Great Danes, that were used to being the only babies (of the furry kind)!
Animal Fair Media learned a few tricks of the dog training trade when we sat down with Rikke Brogaard to get the details about her special training techniques.
AF: What inspired you to become a dog trainer?
RB: I was completely intrigued with behavior as a child. I found a book called Manwatching by zoologist and ethologist Desmond Morris on my parent’s book shelf and I was blown away by finding out how much you could tell about people and animals simply by reading their body language. I also watched every animal program I could find on TV. It wasn’t a lot since I grew up with three available TV channels in Denmark (that’s how it was back then; it has since changed a lot, obviously). People like Jacques Cousteau and Jane Goodall became my heroes, but back then I didn’t really have focus enough to narrow down what I wanted to do. When people asked me what I wanted to do when I grew up, the answer was just “something to do with animals”. I had a horse, and a great poodle-collie mix named Bessie, from the time I was two years old and there are so many pictures of me with that dog glued to me.
I took a bit of a detour working first as a flight attendant and later in the Music Business for years until I decided to commit to doing what I always wanted to do: something to do with animals. By that time I had narrowed my focus to dogs and I began looking into what exactly it would take to become a great dog trainer and I also soon realized there were two very different schools of thought on dog training. Punishment based versus reward based. I knew immediately that I would be a Positive Trainer and started reading everything I could be Jean Donaldson, Patricia McConnell, Pat Miller, and the like. I sought out Pat MIller who became a mentor to me and I took every training academy she offered and got my handling chops by volunteering at places like the ASPCA and for Rescue Organizations before I finally felt comfortable enough taking my first client. More than ten years later I still think it was the best decision I’ve ever made, career wise.
AF: What is your training technique?
RB: I’m a positive trainer, all the way. I think many people think that positive means permissive but it doesn’t. It also doesn’t have to mean treats, treats, treats, all the time. Rewards are anything your dog likes. Food is obviously a huge currency for dogs (and for humans, as is money… because it buys us food). I just don’t think there’s any reason to use force to train a dog, a child, or a human. I find it much more awesome and impressive when I see humans and animals interact and comply with each other just by responding to a kind request. That means there’s a real relationship there, and isn’t that the whole reason we have dogs, kids, and partners?
I generally use either a clicker or a verbal marker, or in case of a deaf dog either a thumbs-up or a smile, or whatever else the owner and I can come up with that is practical. I recently worked with an awesome woman who was a quadriplegic, so we used a Manners Minder as a treat dispenser and used the sound of the treat being dispensed as a reward marker. The client only had to press the remote control with her thumb to mark the desired behaviors and we used shaping to teach all the behaviors we wanted. It was awesome!
AF: What are your Top 5 Training Tips for someone at home?
RB: If I had to pick five training tips for someone at home … in no particular order:
1. Capture great behaviors when they happen spontaneously. We know that behaviors that are rewarded are repeated, so take advantage of that by marking the good stuff when it happens. I tell people it will literally triple their training effort if they just remember that. Dogs pretty much do all the stuff we want: sit, lie down, stay, come, all the time. All we have to do is put it on cue. So simple, and so overlooked.
2. Management, management, management. Don’t wait for your dog to mess up and then react to it. Manage her environment from the beginning so she has much less opportunity to do something wrong. Show her what it is you’d like her to do instead of waiting for her to do the wrong thing and then punish her for it. It only makes everyone resentful and grumpy.
3. Play with your dog!! It builds relationship, it helps your bond, it’s fun, it wears the dog put, it reduces stress. Training also falls under play for me. I want all my dogs to think we were just having a great time and playing when they learned to come to me when I call. Learn about “Shaping” and about nose games. We spend all this time trying to get a Beagle to stop sniffing everything on a walk, but their noses are awesome so why not use let them use them in a way that works better for all of us? I’ve never seen a dog owner who wasn’t totally blown away, excited, and proud when their dog just managed to find an object we’d spent ten minutes hiding from the dog, or when their dog finally “got” the behavior we were trying to shape them to do. Shaping (reinforcement of successive approximations) is a little like playing that “Hot and Cold” game with kids where they have to try to figure out what you want them to do.
4. Have realistic expectations. I think people would spend less time being upset and annoyed with their dogs if they understood how dogs learn and how their brains work. It would make them understand what their limitations are and capabilities are. Dogs are not telepathic geniuses. You need to give them gentle directions and if they understand what it is you’re trying to say they are very likely to do it if they’re physically able. Just standing there, waving your arms and legs and repeating some weird word the dogs doesn’t understand – is not going to do it. I find that people are totally relieved and amused when we have this conversation. It makes so much sense to them once it’s explained. And speaking of realistic expectations: If it has already taken you twelve years to try to get your husband to put the toilet seat down and you still haven’t succeeded, then it should be massively reinforcing to train a dog. Much quicker. Apologies to the gentlemen on this generalization. To make it fair: the male to female equivalent could be when men are trying to get their wives to just say straight out what they want or need instead of letting them guess and then being disappointed when you don’t do it right.
5. Call a good, certified, Positive Trainer. When you get a dog, any dog, why not just put a few hundred dollars in the budget for someone qualified who can walk you through how to best set everyone up for success. It doesn’t have to be super expensive but someone could potentially teach you so much about your dog in just a few hours and it could make it so much more pleasant and easy for you going forward. If you can’t afford to have someone come on a regular basic, at least just have a great trainer come in and help you read your particular dog, explain to you about canine body language, so you will always be able to read how your dog is feeling and doing. Also have them talk to you about stressors and about how stressors can push your dog beyond their bite threshold, etc. Oh, while most advice is well intended, not everyone who offers their opinion at the dog park is a dog expert. Just sayin’.
AF: What animals do you have at home? Name (why you named), Breed and where you got them from!
RB: I have a six or seven year old Merle Great Dane named Olive. I got her (and most of my dogs over the past fifteen years) from The Mid Atlantic Great Dane Rescue League (MAGDRL). Olive is the most mellow dog I’ve ever had. I refer to her as “Slowly Moving Furniture” and jokingly say she was bred to be on the couch with a remote control and a beer. She is my Soul Dog and I use her all the time as a Buddy Dog for shy or fearful dog. Super solid dog. I had a list of all kinds of cool names when I got her but after having her here for a week my daughter Dea (who is almost 11) and I realized that none of the names on the list fit her personality. She needed a sweet, mellow name. We’ve had so many Danes because we also foster for the Rescue sometimes. Dea says she wants a “small dog that does something” next.
AF: What is the funniest trick you ever taught a dog? Why?
RB: I tend to like really goofy tricks for my own dogs. I’ve taught loads of fun tricks for client’s dogs but they are mostly the standard tricks, Roll Over, Prairie Dog, Play Possum, etc. Olive moon walks, which is cute because she’s so big. She will also tell you that she represents the Wu Tang Clan (Rap Group) if you ask her. I can ask her which group she represents and run down a list of Rap Outfits and hip hop names and when I get to the Wu Tang Clan she goes; “WU WU!!”. I know, silly. I also taught Pat Miller’s dog Dubhy a cool behavior chain. At the verbal Cue “Are you sleepy?” – he would sit up on his haunches and rub his eyes with his paws, walk over to a small stool and say his prayer, and finally walk over to a blanket on the floor, grab the corner with his teeth and wrap himself in it, putting himself to bed. He actually knew parts of those behaviors already, I just tweaked them and put them together in a chain.
AF: What animal charities do you support? Why?
RB: I volunteer for MAGDRL, a Great Dane Rescue, as much as I can. I’m a single Mom so between work and my kid I don’t have a lot of extra time but I am a volunteer trainer for the Rescue and I do evaluations and transport when they need me. I sometimes foster dogs for them if I can. The last foster dog was Rufus. At 182 pounds, Dane lived with us for a year before he was placed in his perfect, forever home. He damn near ate us out of house and home but he stole our hearts. Best cuddler, ever.
I also volunteer when I can for Unleashed NYC, an experiential leadership program for girls, empowering them to be social change agents, using animal welfare as their leadership laboratory. Girls learn they must address the immediate problem of saving pups from being euthanized, but also work towards long term sustainable change. It’s the brain child of Dr. Stacey Radin; she’s unstoppable.
AF: Do you train cats?
RB: I only train dogs. Of course I’ve dabbled in the occasional cat, hamster, pig, and a few other little critters, but I’d love to get into clicker training cats more and other species. I really want to go to a multi-species workshop or to Bob Bailey’s Chicken camp. Alas, work wise, it’s all dogs for me. Oh, and the kid. I came home recently and she had surprised me by cleaning the whole loft while I was gone. I immediately praised her and grabbed the car keys and took her to Beacon’s Closet (her favorite place on earth) for some shopping. I know good behavior when I see it and I am definitely trying to see that particular behavior repeated. On the way to the store she busted me “I know what you’re doing”. But it worked. There was lunch waiting for me yesterday when I got home and she casually mentioned that she’d seen there was a sale at the LF store. That’s when I explained to her about intermittent reinforcement.
Rikke Brogaard will have your dog rolling over, sitting, and behaving like a champ in no time!
For more information visit: www.rikkebdogtraining.com