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.


I Tweet, Therefore I Am

Social media has forever changed the way we interact with the world, be it the interactions with friends and family or business associates and clients. A recent New York Times article, “I Tweet Therefore I Am,” questioned whether or not people truly enjoy an experience when they are so preoccupied with figuring out what they are going to say about it in 140 characters or less to their hundreds of online followers.

In my daily pet care business, I maintain journals for the animals that I see on a regular basis. In them I describe how a dog—I usually don’t visit cats on an ongoing, daily basis—is behaving during my visit and our activities together. These daily entries are my low-tech version of a daily tweet, having only one or two followers. Like those that send their tweets out into the internet cloud, I too am often preoccupied by what it is I am going to say about my time with an animal. (There is only so much that can be written about a dog’s bodily functions.)

After reading the Times article, I became concerned I was not enjoying my time spent with the animals and not giving them as much attention as I should because of my need to “tweet” about the experience. My thought pattern became a vicious cycle of trying to focus on the animal’s activities, pleasures, and the context of the moment—immersing myself in our time together— juxtaposed with observing it from an outsider’s perspective. (Although, this vigilance does have a positive side benefit. By knowing well what normal behavior is for the dog, it is easier to discern what might be indicative of an illness, injury, or even signs of stress the animal is feeling.)

Ultimately, it seems that there is a delicate balance between being conscious enough about what is we are experiencing without losing the pleasure of the moment. I came to realize that I would have often missed the pleasure of seeing an unusual bird tucked into a tree or the beauty of a flower if I hadn’t been paying close attention to my furry friends in order to comment upon them. They draw my attention to what it is they see, hear, or smell.

As a dog walker I have far too much time alone to think and like most things in life, it’s all about moderation. I’ll have to log into my Twitter account and tweet about this.

[This is the “Editor’s Notes” from the April/May ’11 issue of Pet Tails.]



If patience is a virtue, than caring for animals can help make us virtuous.

I was far from virtuous one recent morning as my first coffee awaited my return from the daily ritual of walking the dogs as soon as I roll out of bed. A cold wind sweeping off a pond did nothing to improve my mood as I stood waiting at yet another patch of innocuous grass as both Labradors intensely sniffed, oblivious to my scowl and growing impatience.

I know that the life expectancy for my two large dogs is relatively short—one now ten and the other nine—and I should not be wasting any of the time we spend together in an impatient state. Later that cold day I realized it was the 7th anniversary of the passing of our golden retriever, Jake; he had been twelve. I resolved then to have more patience with Baxter and Cole, even when stopping for the umpteenth time during our morning walk. Besides it is a new year, an appropriate time for making resolutions.
Cole, Baxter, & Waldo
Our cat Waldo entered our lives last October and he, too, is now teaching us about patience. One of the first lessons came when trying to find items he enjoyed scratching other than the living room chairs and dining room seat cushions. Not only did we need to find the correct item, but we also needed to determine the correct location for it. The patience part came in the waiting for the absence of inappropriate scratching. It took several weeks before we were no longer awoken at 3 AM to the ripping sounds of cloth being shredded.

A new lesson in patience is on-going. Two weeks ago, Waldo stopped eating. We now have a plethora of cat foods in the pantry closet. After a couple meals of wolfing down a particular brand, Waldo decides he no longer wants it. I’ve had as many as four different ones open in front of him before he decides on one. Our vet suggested adding clam juice, which does help the appeal of a waning liking for a particular brand, but not permanently. (We need to have patience as we figure out what is going on…)

Anyone that has pets learns the need for patience, from house training a puppy to teaching a cat to stay off the kitchen counters. Numerous studies show the many benefits of pet ownership, both mental and physical. Learning patience is just one more.

[This is the “Editor’s Notes” column from the February/March issue of Pet Tails.]