Despite working cooperatively together for thousands of years and selectively breeding them for a broad spectrum of shapes, sizes, temperaments, and abilities, we still fail to fully understand and communicate clearly with our dogs. Dogs have retained a good deal of their original instincts and innate forms of communication. By denying this we do a disservice to the dog. By acknowledging it, but not honoring it, we do a disservice to the dog. We have a responsibility to understand their perspective. We have a responsibility to learn how to communicate with them in a manner that they understand, and teach them what is acceptable or unacceptable by providing consistent and meaningful consequences for wanted and unwanted behavior. Otherwise, in the case of a dog with behavioral issues, we risk condemning them to a life of constant rehoming or worse yet, the shelter and potential euthanasia. And in the case of a fairly well-mannered dog that has simply never been trained to comply with basic commands, we risk condemning them to a life that is largely excluded from family activities and trips because they are a liability. Training is freedom! So I help people learn how to fulfill that vital responsibility. After all, we are insisting that dogs live among humans. The dog never got the choice.
Dogs Are Individuals
My ideology in dog training, whether it’s behavior modification or obedience training, is the same for all dogs, but the methodology depends heavily on the dog as an individual, and dogs are individuals! Some dogs do not value verbal praise or physical affection, so those would not be effective rewards when training a behavior with that dog. Some dogs fill with fear if you use a stern voice as a punishment, while others might require a degree of physical discomfort that is unsettling to many humans, such as a high level e-collar correction. The personality of the dog, as well as numerous other factors such as how the dog feels physically on a particular day can impact what the dog responds to and how they respond. We need to adjust accordingly in order to be effective and also fair.
Accountability is Compassion
This is the area where people have trouble. This is where most of us fail miserably. If your dog engages in unacceptable behavior, you need to issue an appropriate punishment. Negative consequences are necessary if you wish to stop a behavior in an acceptable time frame. The good news is that I have lots of experience, ideas, and tools to help us achieve desired results in a fair, balanced, and humane way. This might be a leash pop, a loud noise, a blast of compressed air, a spray bottle, an e-collar correction, or any number of other creative strategies that make the dog prefer not to engage in the bad behavior. Punishment is not something we use to teach a dog what to do. There is no “punishment based training”. The bulk of any training program is done with positive reinforcements. Anybody that tries to use punishment as their only tool in training will fail. Punishment stops behaviors from occurring. For that reason it is typically a pretty small portion of any training program and should be a small portion of your daily interaction with your dog. It is used to prevent behaviors that simply cannot or should not be lived with.
Punishment should not be the byproduct of anger or frustration. It should be a well-timed message that is delivered to the dog in a way that enables the dog to tie the consequence to the behavior so that the behavior stops. Remember, it is the lack of this message that lands dogs in shelters. It is also the lack of this message that gets Grandma a broken hip when Fido jumps on her because he’s done it a hundred times before and we never told him “no”. When done properly, you should not need to issue a punishment multiple times. That is nagging, and in my opinion, is inhumane. However, some people would rather euthanize their dog than to spend a split second communicating to him that this behavior is unacceptable—sad, but true. This is the epitome of selfish and it happens all the time. It happens at shelters and “rescue” organizations credited with being kindly life savers everyday because punishment is viewed as abuse. If you ask me, keeping a dog in a cell in a shelter for three years because you can’t bring yourself to correct him for jumping on people or lunging at other dogs, is abuse. These dogs often leave the shelter, post euthanasia, inside of a trash bag, and the people responsible get to tout themselves as morally superior because they oppose causing dogs any kind of stress or discomfort.
My goal is to keep your dog in your home with you. We make a commitment when we bring a dog home, and part of that commitment is sharing consequences (both positive and negative) which will result in a dog that leads a richer life because they are a joy to be around. We are their family. They depend on us for everything. They need a leader. And they need you to tell them “yes” and “no”.
The Bottom Line
There are, of course, nuances when training your dog. Not everything is simple. And there is a lot of variation among dogs. I am here to help people navigate those murky waters. I think the most valuable thing we can do as trainers or owners is to be willing to give each dog exactly what they need. If you adopted a dog to snuggle and got a dog with a really dominant personality profile, having that dog on your bed could literally be a death sentence for the dog. Putting these privileges off until the dog is in a better mental space could save their life! The point is that it is important to put their needs first, and sometimes, that just isn’t the thing that makes us feel good. The good news is that our dogs will benefit from living with a calm assertive leader, and so will we because there will be far less stress and an increased ability to involve them in our daily lives. So start today, and remember—always be kind; always be clear.