Every week at the shelter where I volunteer we get new dogs in who will happily sit or give up paw, dogs whose owners state that they have been through training but they just can’t seem to remember how to behave. These dogs will jump and scratch and choke themselves on their leashes despite the time AND money that their owners put into getting them trained. You would never believe that they had been through obedience class, sometimes more than once.
One common thread I see among these dogs (and the dogs people contact me about BEFORE they make it to the shelter) is that often times the family has sought out the trainer that boasts “results in MINUTES” impressed by the immediate compliance they see in the trainer’s YouTube videos or their free consultation. I am NOT that trainer. I will not guarantee you a brand new dog overnight. I will not assure you that your service dog will be 90% compliant with a brand new task in one session. That is not healthy, and, much like those of us who crammed before that big math test back in the day, your dog is NOT going to remember it for the final.
Yes, there are training methods that will get your dog to do what you want in 5 minutes or less, but these are not the methods that are going to teach your dog WHY you want him to behave this way. A quick yank on a prong collar will teach your dog that going away from you is bad, but I want to teach your dog that being near you is GOOD! There is a big difference between these two, especially when you are working with a dog that is dealing with fear based issues. It is much more difficult to build up a dog’s confidence while simultaneously teaching him that the world outside a two foot radius of his owner’s leg is painful!
Doesn’t it make more sense to build a good working relationship with your dog from the start? Would you go to work every day if you weren’t getting paid? I know I certainly wouldn’t! What about if your boss suddenly decided they would only pay you in the currency of some small eastern European country you never planned to visit? I bet you would be out of there in a heartbeat! You expect their end of the employment contract to be upheld, and your dog expects the same from you! If we are going to ask dogs to work for us, then we need to be willing to make it worth their time and attention. Obeying your commands should be REWARDING for your dog. Pleasing you should be THRILLING for them. We want them to get up every single day feeling like they are performing their life’s mission, not just trying to keep the heat and the lights on.
Where this is most important, for me, is in the training of service dogs. We are going to be asking these dogs to spend their entire life keeping us safe, do we want one who learned to perform their task because they were forced to, or one who ENJOYS working for their handler? Do we want to trust our health and safety to the kid who crammed the night before the test and then never wants to see algebra again or the one who studied all semester and understands WHY X equals what it does?
This may mean that you need to put in more training time with your dog than you would if you used other methods, but I can promise you that both you and your dog will ENJOY it much more than if you approach training like a power struggle where you have to “defeat” the dog and gain immediate compliance.
If you are ready to learn how to truly build a respectful working relationship with your dog, send me a message and let’s talk!