Almost everyone I know approaches dog training all wrong. They talk about their dog's bad behaviors (or even dangerous ones) as though they are some big mystery that will never be solved- and about how they just have no control over the situation. However, in most instances, it just isn't that complicated.
All too often people do not see themselves as the one in charge of the situation and the relationship with their dogs- nor do they seem to understand how their dogs turned out this way, when the answers are usually quite apparent if one actually stopped to think it through.
Are there some issues that are difficult or hard to understand? Yes! I can tell you with my own dog, Cash, he is indeed a conundrum at times. He is SO incredibly sensitive, change is really hard and sometimes I just don't know how to help him- but I keep trying because I am the only one that can make a difference for him.
But more importantly, I am not putting him in a position where he can fail- and I protect him from himself if that's what's needed. I know what he's capable of- and while I challenge him to expand his horizons, I do it safely- whereas too many people just keep ignoring the issues until suddenly they are in trouble.
Most people approach training wrong because it's something they consider when a problem has occurred- and rarely before, as a preventative.
And almost every time, it's well after the problem has begun, not at the first sign of trouble.
It would be my dream to see people recognize that dog training should be seen as a requirement for having a dog.
We often hear of the dog someone spent $5,000 on. They have their ears and tail cropped (but are not neutered) and they "can't afford" training.
Instead they are trying to give their problem to someone else- and when we try to help them "rescue their own dog", they don't want to hear it. I guess, just like they didn't want to consider the actual responsibilities of having a dog before buying one.
But why even go there if you aren't going to protect your "investment" or maintain the supposed joy and happiness you are supposedly seeking from such a purchase?
This is actually the biggest issue we have seen from the pandemic: it's not people who adopted returning their dogs, it's people who bought them under the guise that this would be "better" that rescuing because they'd get a perfect dog?
What they get is a DOG. Not a perfect dog because they knew the parents and they comes with papers. They got a DOG that is a living being that needs guidance and support to live.
This idea of buying to get a "better" dog is myth we as rescuers are constantly battling...but if training were a part of the picture for every dog, we'd be sitting around waiting for the phone to ring, rather than working 24/7 (and still not being able to keep up with the requests to surrender).
Training for a dog is as essential as having a license and insurance is to legally drive a car- but so few people see things this way.
There are a few key tips that could help people have a more successful relationship with their dog- and their dog with society if they kept in mind. All of these things are critical to helping your dog be happy and well-adjusted- therefore for you to enjoy and thrive as a dog owner.
These are the top 3 reasons people go awry with training:
1. Thinking it's the dog's fault for learning (or not learning) what they have.
Dogs will absolutely learn what you teach them. They will also fill in the gaps with what you don't. So if you don't provide appropriate responses to their inappropriate behavior- and guide them to a better alternative, they will do exactly what you are molding them to.
The best example of this is when a dog is being reactive. The dog is barking when they see ______ (fill in the blank with other dogs, man in a hat, any person, etc.; whatever the dog is reacting to).
How often do you see that person bending down and petting their dog, soothing them with "It's ok, don't worry. It's ok"?
The person means well, but what their dog gets from that is "Good dog for barking at ____" Very good dog. Do that every time you see _____".
And then they wonder why their dog is getting worse, escalating or even graduating to all out attacking. In that instance they have absolutely conditioned their dog to perform that behavior on command- and get rewarded for it just as consistently.
2. Expecting a dog to "just know" things is another problem.
This is best exemplified by allowing a dog to play mouth as a puppy and then wondering why at 9 months of age they are still doing it (with great annoyance, when it used to be cute).
Or when you get a dog to be a guard dog and then is surprisingly bites the neighbor, who they are supposed to know is a "friendly stranger" not a "bad stranger" when your neighbor comes over a mere few times a year (and doesn't understand how to deal with new dogs).
Or when people seem to believe all dogs will just go to the door and tell you they have to potty. With the more than 1,000 dogs I have fostered only a handful have ever tried going to the door or "telling" us in some other way.
Most times, these "issues" are exactly what people taught them- or didn't- but they somehow translate into an intrinsic quality of the dog, not a learned behavior in people's minds.
And sadly, it is usually those same issues that the dogs were failed by their owners on that cause those people to give them up.
Training will provide you a map to having a relatively well-behaved dog you love to live with.
3. People don't believe all dogs can learn new things at any age.
Will it be harder to break bad habits than to start properly? Um, think about every New Year's resolution you had and whether you stuck with it or went back to your old ways...dogs are no different.
And just like those bad habits, training inappropriately or ineffectively can be hard to fix.
But dogs will do what works- just like children; just like adults. The kid that throws a tantrum in the store and gets a toy to get them to stop is absolutely going to throw a tantrum next time in hopes of getting another toy. The adult that is rude and pushy and asks to speak to a manager will absolutely try this whenever things don't go perfectly because they were rewarded with a discount or free food before.
It is the person that has to change their behavior and learn new things- and dogs will just follow your cues.
They will behave consistently when you behave consistently.
What do you do when your dog comes to you and paws you to get you to throw the ball? If you throw it because they are being "so cute", expect the to absolutely do this when you are busy working from home or have a guest over that you are trying to talk to- EVERY TIME.
They got the ball once, they will try to again. Instead, if you teach them that it's up to YOU when the ball gets played with, you will have a dog that learns to play when it's appropriate and do something else when it's not.
But this is all about YOU conditioning them to understand this because you provide them the same response to a certain behavior. YOU establish the behavior, not them.
What this means in the end is that training is NOT something you have to take a lot of time out for, it doesn't have to cost a lot of money and it isn't one and done either. Just like kids go to many grades of school and college, learning occurs over a lifetime.
Training is a lifestyle of how you live with your dog, the interactions and patterns you establish- and how consistent you are with those patterns determines what your dog learns and how good they will be at it.
If you haven't gotten a dog yet, look up some training options and see what's nearby, what kinds of training philosophies are out there and think about how you want to raise your dog.
If you have a dog, take a look at the interactions you have and how you can take bad behaviors you don't like and recondition them into ones you'd prefer- starting with YOU.
Training is not optional as it is what allows your dog to safely interact with the world around them in a healthy and sustainable way.
Just do it. There's only frustration and heartbreak otherwise.