Who, exactly, is being trained?

Going to “dog school” is a great step many people take in building closer relationships with their canine companions. They’re prepared to invest the time and money to make this happen, which benefits both the animal and the humans it shares life with.

As the thinking party in the human-canine relationship, it comes down to us to make the change we want to see in our dogs.

As the thinking party in the human-canine relationship, it comes down to us to make the change we want to see in our dogs.

We’ll explore on another day the type of things you need to consider when signing up for dog training – including the training tools used and experience of the person running the classes. What is greatly rewarding is to watch the relationship between the dog and its owner/s develop over the course of a few weeks as they come to class.

However, there’s still the view in some circles that dog school works similarly to the way we educate children. That you hand it over to a trainer who teaches the dog new, acceptable behaviours such as not chewing the lead while it’s walking, or jumping up when greeting new people – like children going to school to learn from their teacher and coming home knowing the alphabet. I recently had a conversation in a dog park with a lady who had sent her Bull Terrier to just such an outfit.

The dog went on a ‘training camp’ to a purpose-built facility in Sydney and returned home two weeks later with the verdict that it was no longer bouncing off control at the end of the lead and was able to provide focused attention when requested.

The lady told me that all was well on day one when the dog got back home, day two there was some regression and by the end of the week the dog was back to its old tricks of jumping up, not listening and other shenanigans.

She was disappointed and also upset that she had paid good money, for no result. I could tell she wanted to blame the dog for the outcome or that it was something to do with how it saw their relationship – that she wasn’t to be ‘respected’. So I asked her a simple question: “What did you learn while the dog was away being trained? What do you need to do differently to get a different outcome? She looked at me. Then the realisation dawned that she had not acquired any of the skills needed to help her dog learn what was acceptable and to make that behaviour more rewarding than, say, playing tug-of-war while on lead.

If there’s one thing that will foster a closer relationship between owners and their dogs and get better behavioural outcomes, then it’s this. Training a dog to have good manners only works if the humans also learn and make their own behavioural adjustments. Such as – not pushing down when the dog jumps up so that it doesn’t become a great game that in itself is rewarding for the dog. Rather asking for a ‘sit’ instead and rewarding that.

It’s not always the easiest option and takes patience, time and perseverance – but the result is getting the behavior consistently and the dog doesn’t get shouted at or have to be locked away when visitors come to the door. It means less negative energy invested or having to manage a problem rather than creating a long-term solution. Like life coach Anthony Robbins said: “If you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always gotten.” And as the thinking party in the human-canine relationship, it comes down to us to make the change we want to see”.

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