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. Good dog training is required but that really means good dog-owner training.
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 success. The 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.
Dog Training is Not a 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
When looking for someone to train your dog, always expect them to require your participation (and perhaps your children). 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.
By Rose Dybel, DTFC, IACP