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.


Let Your Dog Play with Other Dogs

Dogs at Play

Roxy and Avery play tug-of-war

Here are 10 reasons why you should allow your dog to play with other dogs.

1.  According to Dr. Michael Fox, puppies that play more grow up to be “more intelligent and highly evolved.”

2. Dogs who don’t play with other dogs as puppies can grow up to be fearful or aggressive toward other dogs.

3. Play teaches inventiveness and problem solving.

4. Play deflects natural aggression and teaches cooperative behavior.

5. Puppies learn how to inhibit their bite when playing with other pups and that’s good news for us.

6. It’s a very easy way for you to exercise your dog. Your dog will be tired and a tired dog is a good dog.

7. Dogs are naturally social creatures who crave the attention of humans AND the companionship of other canines.

8. Play is a lifelong activity for dogs, especially when fostered early. Adult wolves do play and we have exaggerated this behavior even more in our pet dogs. (The Dog’s Mind, Bruce Fogle, 1990)

9. Dog runs and the parks are a wonderful way for us humans to meet each other and talk dog.

10. Watching dogs play is just plain  fun.


Gross Canine Happiness

Back in 2000, CBS broadcast an episode of 60 Minutes featuring a story about Bhutan, a small country located between India and China. What fascinated me was that the priority of the country’s leaders was not Bhutan’s GDP – Gross Domestic Product, but rather its GNH — Gross National Happiness.

Bhutan is a Buddhist nation and I became curious about Buddhism. I discovered that it is not a religion, in the traditional sense. There is no God, no Supreme Being, that followers worship; nor is there a set of dogmatic principles to be followed. Instead, it offers guidance in ways to think and techniques for a person to achieve a deeper spirituality.  Best of all, these do not contradict traditional religious beliefs. They can harmoniously coexist.

One of the hardest lessons for me has been to become less critical and to focus on what is right rather than what is wrong. I have also had to work hard to concentrate on the present, to stop ruminating about the past and to stop worrying about the tomorrows. Fortunately, animals are great teachers.

I was walking a sweet dog named Lizzy one gorgeous, late afternoon, not that I was noticing it. My mind was organizing the next day’s schedule. We had been keeping a quick pace when I realized Lizzy had slowed. As I turned to look at her, she stopped and sat. She raised her head and her nose was busy sniffing the air. She briefly closed her eyes and tilted her head.

I became conscious of the warm sun and a soft breeze. I suddenly heard the sounds of birds. We’d been rushing past a purple floral hedge, which I’d failed to appreciate. Had Lizzy not been fully focused on the present, I would have missed it all. It is often very difficult to focus on “the now” in this busy, goal-oriented world.

When my gaze moved from the flowers back to Lizzy, I found her staring at me intently. Lizzy was definitely experiencing the now. She knew I had a treat in my pocket, and she wanted it now. In support of GCH – Gross Canine Happiness – I gave it to her.