“I want my dog to go with me everywhere.”
“I want my dog to be able to go to the dog park and play with dogs.”
“I want my dog to be social with all people.”
“I don’t want to have to walk, exercise, or train my dog every day.”
“I want my dog to be a service dog or protection dog.”
“I don’t want to say no to or correct my dog. I only want to use treats in training.”
“What do you mean I have to continue on with training? Should my dog just know these things now?”
This is just a short list of things we commonly hear as dog trainers. Things that, to be blunt, are typically very unrealistic goals and/or expectations for your dog.
1. Genetics Matter. A lot more than a lot of people want to admit or believe. I hear, far too often, “It’s all in how you raise them.” And, while environmental and training factors do come into play, we cannot override genetics. Breeds were created for a specific purpose, and job.
How many of you have seen the social media video of the Pointer puppies “pointing” in unison, with their mother? This is genetics in action. There is a reason that you see German shepherds and Belgian Malinois as Police K9s, and not Labradoodles.
2. Setting Expectations Based on Your Dog. Now that we know genetics will come into play with training expectations, it’s important to note that your dog is still an individual. Just because you may want to take your dog to a dog park does not mean that your dog wants to be there. Just because you want the world to know how amazing and sweet your dog is doesn’t mean your dog wants to be social with other humans.
By putting your dog in situations that they are uncomfortable in, you are setting them up to fail. Set your dog up for success, and be your dog’s advocate. Society puts a lot of pressure on dogs, and dog owners, for them to be friendly with everybody. Dogs are not stuffed animals. By continually putting your dog in situations where they are uncomfortable, and ignoring their warning signs, they will begin to take matters into their own hands (paws) to protect themselves. And this is where we see dogs resort to reacting, fear aggression, or fear biting.
3. What You Allow Will Continue. Dogs do not speak in our language, nor do they learn like we do. They learn by association — in pictures, patterns, and repetition. When they find something that works for them, they will do more of that, which is great when it is a good behavior, but not ideal when it is an unwanted or unsafe behavior. And that behavior will continue, and continue to escalate, unless there is an interruption in that behavior.
And always remember — sometimes means always in a dog’s mind.
Your dog is learning from its environment whether you know it or want it to or not. And dogs will modify their own behavior based on input they are getting, whether that is from you or not. Dog behavior does not happen overnight. Nor can it be changed overnight.
4. One Size Does Not Fit All. Dogs are not robots. They are living, breathing creatures who all have different personalities, drives, and experiences. For some dogs, food is a very high motivator. For others, it is not, and they prefer toys or play. Some dogs prefer touch or praise. It’s about finding what works for your dog. If a trainer says he only uses one method and that there is something wrong with your dog if it doesn’t fit into the method, then it’s time to find a new trainer who actually trains the dog in front of them.
That also means proper communication. There are four quadrants to learning for a reason. If you are only using one quadrant in your training, then you are limiting yourself, and your dog’s success.
Training your dog will be a constant, and continual process in your dog’s life. Training is also very much a perishable skill. Think of the language class you may have taken in high school. If you aren’t using that language on a regular basis, you are not going to be fluent in it.
Be your dog’s advocate. Have appropriate expectations based on your dog, and set him up for success.
Bridget Murphy and her husband, Ray, co-own Koru K9 Dog Training and Rehabilitation, High Risk Deployment Police K9, and The Balanced Dog Podcast. Koru K9 specializes in behavior modification and works with thousands of dogs per year, consistently achieving results that far exceed their clients’ expectations. Her passion for behavior training started while rehabilitating her own dog, Luna, whom Murphy describes as a “hot mess” when she was rescued. These days, Murphy spends the majority of her time running Koru K9’s operations. Her training motto is “train the dog in front of you,” and her style is one that is motivational, with a focus on building the relationship between the dog and its owner. Murphy and Luna, who is no longer a hot mess, work together in sheep herding as well as high-level obedience. Murphy, and her other dog, Cairo, have achieved their PSA (Protection Sports Association) PDC, and PSA-1 title and are actively training for their PSA-2.
Each month, this column is written by a different trainer or dog professional. If you’d like to contribute, contact Editor@BayWoof.com
Main article photo by: Highwaystarz-Photography / iStock