Training: Teach the Owner, Not the Dog

dreamstime_s_56902959Dog training is all about training the dog, right? That is sure what many trainers would have you believe; some trainers out there want you to pay for as much of their time as possible. It’s hard to believe, but this should be a learning experience for the owner just the same as the pet, if not more so.

How they Decide
Dogs are a very instinctual species; every decision they make is based upon a kind of instinctual set of ‘rules’. In this way, their ‘choices’ often aren’t really choices at all.

Does this mean they aren’t smart? Quite the contrary; dogs are extremely smart animals, very much capable of emotion! Many biologists would compare their intellect to that of a human child- which is in fact extremely advanced for any animal not human.

On the other hand, dogs are simply not capable of the advanced and intricate decision making process humans are. They don’t ask themselves before acting ‘Is this the best course? What are the possible consequences?’ This is a concept, unfortunately, a great many handlers do not grasp- and that all to often leads to the animal being labeled ‘a bad dog’ and sadly eliminated.

In the case of dog bites- there are extreme circumstances, but the fault almost always can be attributed to the human handler for either not perceiving warning signals given off, not knowing how or what they mean, or simply ignoring them. Whereas the human may spend a day in the hospital, receive a slightly painful and expensive shot, that dog probably is going to lose his or her life. For a completely natural behavior.

Why they Act
A dog will choose the course that provides the most beneficial outcome, as they see it. For example, your dog is jumping through that hoop for the treat reward offered afterword, or the praise you shower him with, or sometimes even to avoid the outcome if they don’t perform well, not simply to impress you. A dog may choose to bite or lash out because they might feel cornered and threatened; most intelligent animals would rather avoid a confrontation (flight) then engage in one (fight), especially with a larger animal, and risk death.

Ironically, the most intelligent species on earth, humans, are also the only species who regularly violate this constant.

Back to Training
It certainly depends upon the complexity and knowledge of the trainer, but a dog usually isn’t going to learn a certain behavior within an hour consultation, especially not complex behaviors that aren’t instinctual to them. Consistent behaviors, like training a dog to avoid the furniture or perform a good recall, require repetition and reinforcement; a process called conditioning.

If you really want to potentially spend hundreds on regular professional consultations, be my guest. Most owners would rather not; for this reason, it’s important that they learn to ‘carry on the torch’ so to speak. They must learn to continue to teach the dog themselves.

For this reason, dog training is often more about teaching the owner than the dog.