Dog Training – A Misnomer

In the United States, an estimated 2.7 million shelter animals are euthanized each year. Sadly, many dog owners surrender their pets to shelters due to behavior problems. Unfortunately, there is no quick fix for altering the way a dog behaves.

By watching an episode of The Dog Whisperer or a YouTube clip of Zak George, you get the impression that dog training is easy.  They imply that in just one hour your dog can go from Cujo to Lassie.  Don’t get me wrong — some of these trainers are very gifted. But despite efforts at training, some owners still feel the need to surrender their animal.

These shows and videos paint an unrealistic picture of dog training, thus leaving the everyday dog owner feeling like a failure. Despite trying the expert recommendations, they achieve little or no successThe reality is that dog training is about 10% training the dog and 90% training the dog owner.  These numbers may be a little exaggerated but you get the picture.  With the magic of TV editing, you don’t see the dog owner’s required time commitment and consistent effort to have the well behaved dog they desired.

No Quick Fix

Most people want a quick fix.  A couple I know felt they did not have the patience or skill to train their pit bull, Daisy. They sent her away to a trainer for 2 weeks, at a cost of almost $2,000. Daisy returned home, wearing a $300 electronic collar, behaving splendidly and obeying commands. That did not last and she quickly returned to her unruly ways.

Daisy, like all dogs, is a very intelligent creature.  She realized her owners were not going to hold her accountable in the way the trainer had done. I have no doubt the trainer was great at getting dogs to do what he wanted. But he did not address the most import component. He did not address the other 90% of training by failing to also train Daisy’s owners.

It is Really Dog-Owner Training

Rose Dybel and Dog Owner

When looking for someone to train your dog, always expect them to require your participation. It may be by joining the trainer as he or she teaches your dog commands. It might also be with written instructions, i.e., “homework,” to do between training sessions. If your dog is going away to a training camp for a period of time, you need to find out how you will be informed about how to reinforce the training. Ultimately, if you are not going to be involved in the training process, your dog’s behavior will not change.

As a trainer, I emphasize that you get what you put in when it comes to training. I’m with your dog only one hour per week; you, as the dog owner, are with your dog the other 167 hours. The more you work with your dog and the more consistent you are with follow through, the more consistent your dog will be in his responses.  If the dog sees that you eventually “give in” to his bad behavior, his resolve will become stronger to disobey your commands.  I teach owners how to effectively use positive reinforcement such as treats, toys or praise to achieve desired behaviors and non-punitive corrections to deter problematic behaviors.

Remember, “dog training” is a misnomer. A well trained dog must have a well trained owner.


Never Enough!

When people see the pile of stuffed animals, ropes and balls in the corner of the bedroom they often ask, “Do the dogs have enough toys?” My answer is always the same. “No.”

The pile has grown over the last twenty years of dog ownership. Many in the mound have been ripped apart and sewn together, de-stuffed and re-stuffed numerous times, have taken spins in the washing machine and have gone missing for months only to reappear, as if by magic.


I cannot come home at the end of the day without our black Lab, Cole, running to the pile, grabbing a toy and racing back to me with it in his mouth––often squeaking it the whole way.

Friends visit us with their mastiff, Dixie. She knows where the toy basket is kept, grabs one of the stuffed critters and settles down on the floor for a ripping and de-squeaking fest. Cole often joins her and the carpet is soon covered in piles of white cotton and mangled, plastic squeakers. Fortunately they don’t swallow these innards and the only adverse effect is the need to drag out the vacuum.

Our first dog, Jake, also loved to tear apart stuffed toys. As a new dog owner and having always been taught to take care of my own toys growing up, I was always distraught to see Jake tear apart one of his. At the time I didn’t appreciate the joy and soothing effect that tearing gives to a dog. Sadly, I would put a toy away so that it wasn’t destroyed. I will forever regret doing that.

Toys can bring great joy to a dog and to us as we watch them play. So, go help boost the economy and buy your dog a new toy. The pile is never big enough!

Note: This first appeared as the “Editor’s Notes” in the April/May’13 issue of Pet Tails Magazine.


Relearning How to Play

In Memory May 27, 2011 - Jack Breiner

When I make late evening visits to animals while their owners are away, they tend to be perfunctory. But one evening I found myself sitting on a dog bed long beyond my departure time playing catch with Jack, a goofy black lab. Jack is the first dog I have ever met that actually picks up a ball and tosses it. I even found he’d fake in one direction, and toss it in the other when I prematurely leaned. I suspect I enjoyed that visit more than he did.


The best thing about having become a pet sitter is that I have learned to play again. This is something my AARP magazine doesn’t talk about. It has articles about the importance of staying physically and mentally active. They write of walking, bicycling, and ballroom dancing; they encourage we do mental calisthenics with daily puzzles and crosswords. But no one writes about the importance of play—in an unrestrained, unsophisticated way—at a mature age.

Research shows that for a developing child, unstructured play is imperative for social, emotional, and cognitive development. I would argue that it is equally important in our later years. Since I now spend much of my time actively playing, I find I am more creative than I have ever been in my adult life. I have more energy. And I perceive more of the humor in everyday living.

As I agedly regress, listening to Lady Gaga, playing keep-away with dogs, bouncing to country music with parrots, rolling on the floor with furry critters—I encourage my fellow AARP members to relearn how to play. And for an always willing playmate, I suggest you adopt a shelter animal.

[This first appeared as the “Editor’s Notes” in the April/May 2010 issue of Pet Tails.]