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Q: How can I tell whether a dog trainer is the right one for me and my dog?

A: First of all, ask if they are certified! A Certified Dog Trainer has completed a rigorous learning program and has passed tests to demonstrate that he or she knows what they’re doing.  Many people who train dogs have no formal training, so what they do might work…or might not.  Gordon Fontaine, owner/trainer of Zen Dog, is one of only 400 graduates of the San Francisco SPCA’s rigorous, hands-on program.  Gordon holds a Certificate in Training and Counseling (CTC) from the SF SPCA.

Q: What are Zen Dog’s training methods?

A: Of the many different dog training methods available, very few are (1) fear-free, (2) scientifically-proven to work, and (3) easy for non-professionals to apply.  Zen Dog only uses techniques that have been proven to work by scientific research.  Training based on unstandardized methods, “my grandfather trained dogs this way for 20 years…” is unproven and often unrepeatable by pet owners.  At Zen Dog we use methods anyone can learn.

It’s important to know that many punishment-based techniques aren’t supported by research and also hard to implement. 

Q: What is Zen Dog’s approach?

A:  Zen Dog approaches each case by first understanding our client’s goals.  Next, an individual training plan is created that addresses each client’s unique needs.  Plans focus on understanding your dog’s motivation for unwanted behaviors, (how to motivate your dog to do what you want).  Training is focused on ‘life-rewards” and hands-on exercises that will change your dog’s behavior while improving your dog handling skills.

Q: What is Zen Dog’s system?

A: Zen Dog incorporates an integrated approach. 

First we make sure the entire household understands their dog’s motivation for behavior.  Then we teach positive reinforcement methods that reward good behavior and reduce unwanted behavior.  Many of our exercises also help people realize when THEY are inadvertently rewarding their dogs for bad behavior.  It’s important to realize that positive training ALONE is sufficient training for about 80% of pet dog owners.

In cases where dogs are “difficult to train,” Zen Dog may recommend using stronger methods of training (please Contact Us to inquire about our stance on choke chains).  It’s very important that each family understands and has tried positive reinforcement training BEFORE they consider aversive training methods.

Q: How will my dog know when he’s misbehaving if I don’t punish him?

A: Removal of the opportunity for reinforcement, or a mild “punisher” (like a time-out), is often enough to clearly communicate to your dog the consequences of its unwanted behavior. The use of painful or frightening punishments like choke collars, prong collars, and shock training might work but require precise timing and are often unnecessary.  It’s important to realize, dependency on punishment-based techniques can result in a dog that is permanently fearful. The Zen Dog approach relies on consistently showing your dog what actions lead to positive outcomes.

Q: How do these positive training methods work?

A: Instead of forcing your dog to obey out of fear, Zen Dog’s methods rely on understanding, motivation, and consistency to give your dog the choice to make the right decision.  You will be pleasantly surprised to find that your dog will quickly learn what actions you want more of and which ones you find unacceptable.

Q: What areas do you service?

A: Boston and the surrounding areas – please contact us for more information.

Q: Are you insured?

A: Yes.

Q: What is your cancellation policy?

A: Cancellations made less than 24 hours in advance of a scheduled appointment will result in a $50 cancellation fee.

Q: What is your payment policy?

A: Payment is due when services are rendered. 

Q: Can you provide references?

A:Yes! Please contact Zen Dog and we’ll be happy to provide additional references.

Q: My dog is aggressive towards other dogs and/or humans. Can you help me?

A: Yes, dog training can definitely help your situation.  Some kinds of aggressive behavior and other problems can be stopped if caught early.  Depending on the severity of the situation, Zen Dog will either create a program for you or recommend someone who specializes in this type of work.  Please contact us for a referral as soon as possible.

Q: How is Zen Dog different from other dog trainers?

A: Dogs learn by A) association and B) consequences.  They’re easily motivated to learn from pain/fear or positive reinforcement.  Unlike trainers who rely on harsh punishment programs or uncreative “one-size-fits-all” solutions, Zen Dog uses training methods that are rewards-based.  By understanding your dog’s unique needs, Zen Dog customizes a more humane and cooperative relationship between you and your dog.

Q: How are Zen Dog’s methods “scientifically proven to work”?

A: In the last 10-20 years, dog trainers and behaviorists have been measuring and evaluating various dog training methods to see how well they increased or decreased behavior.  What they have found is that certain training methods produce the same results regardless of who performed them.  In other words, some methods work better than others.   Unfortunately, many popular training methods cannot be reproduced by others; therefore, they are not supported by science. 

At Zen Dog we only use methods that have been scientifically-proven effective – these are methods that can be reproduced by anyone!

Q: Are you saying that Zen Dog’s methods are all science?

A: No actually, it’s a delicate combination of understanding each dog’s unique motivations, home situation and personality; then crafting a training program that speaks directly to the animal.  Equally importantly is fitting the client’s situation with a training plan they will be able to follow on their own. 

Our job is to teach BOTH the dog and the person the right time-proven training method in just the right way to get MORE of the behavior we want to see, while quickly eliminating behavior we don’t want.  It’s all about understanding and effectively communicating with your dog.

Q: I think my dog’s “Alpha” -- can you talk a bit about dominance theory?

A: There is a lot of talk about owners needing to be ‘dominant’ over their dog or people who have a ‘very dominant’ dog.  I tend to NOT focus on things that can’t be classified or defined e.g. if you ask someone to describe their “dominant dog” they often talk about behaviors like: ‘won’t listen to voice commands, won’t do what I ask, or shows resource guarding around couches/food bowl/toys, most commonly shows signs of dog/dog aggression or bullying.  All of these are behavior problems that can be changed with training…are they signs of a “dominant dog?”  Maybe?  Maybe not. 

Zen Dog’s focus is on behavior and how to change behavior.  We help you understand the natural social hierarchies of the dog world, then teach you methods to ensure that we as humans act in a way that improves our dog/human relationship.  Some may call it “improving your standing in the pack” -- we call it taking an active roll in working with (not against) your dog’s natural pack mentality. 




Boston, MA

By Wan Chi Lau

The folks at RainyDayMagazine met Gordon Fontaine about three years ago at Shobu Aikido of Boston

Gordon achieved his Shodan rank in Aikido in 2005.  In his dog training practice, Gordon combines his Aikido understanding and the most modern "reward based" techniques to create a humane system that is both practical and successful for his clients and their pets.

Gordon has just set up his new practice in Boston after returning from a intensive training program in California. 

Feel free to contact ZenDog directly for your pet's training needs. 


Zen Dog:

- Interview


- Snapper video

- Loose Leash Walking video


Photography by Wan Chi Lau      
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