What's Missing in Our Training?

Updated: Dec 10, 2019

Time. A valued commodity for most of us. Whether it’s the time we spend at work, with family, by ourselves or the time we spend training or playing with our dogs.

Recently I've been receiving emails and phone calls from pet owners with various ages of dogs ranging from young puppies to older dogs, and the common theme that I hear is that people are wanting more from their dogs in a short amount of time.

They are expecting behavior from their dogs before they have really put the time and the foundation training into teaching the dog what the expectations are. A lot of the people I have been talking with are complaining about their dog not responding in the time frame that they think the behavior should be learned.

What we want to focus on is:

  • How is the dog learning;

  • What is the communication that we are providing to the dog;

  • Are those things being matched appropriately; and

  • Are we giving the dog enough time to learn and retain the information?

Many times, we have an idea of the behavior we want to teach, and we know what we want the end result to look like. Unfortunately, many people jump from point A to M to Z, and because they already have the end picture of what that behavior looks like in their mind, they want the dog to progress quickly to the end result.

When we are working on behaviors with our dogs, it's important to realize the learning stage of where your dog is at that particular time and how the dog perceives the communication being provided to him.

If we are not breaking down the puzzle pieces small enough for the dog to understand the specific behavior that we are asking for, we end up with unrealistic expectations from the dog.

They become confused and many times show signs of this confusion through barking, jumping, scratching, yawning, or just sit and stare at you as if you have two heads!

When we rush the training process, nothing good comes from that.

This is when training tends to break down and we get frustrated. We either get upset with the dog or end the session with a dog doing a behavior that we didn’t want. Or, we stop training all together thinking that our dog can't learn when in reality, we are the ones that were impatient, provided the wrong communication tools or skills and/or we moved too quickly.

We live in a society of instant gratification. There are so many aspects of our lives that we get something very quickly and we get that instant gratification and reward for that particular thing. We then turn that desire for instant gratification into the training with our dogs. We see other people with their dogs that are very well behaved. . .they are walking nicely with their dogs, they are ignoring other dogs and not barking or lunging, or their impulse control skills are good. We may also see dogs that are sitting or staying in a down while the owner is talking or even walking away, or maybe we see a dog is not rushing the door or is being polite when they are greeting someone.

We see those dogs and we instantly want that in our dogs. There is nothing wrong with wanting those types of good behaviors. However, we need to learn to be patient. We need to break down the puzzle pieces when we are training new behaviors or raising the criteria of what we are expecting from our dog. We want to make sure that the communication skills are appropriate for the dog that we are training and we are allowing enough time for the learning process.

One of the recent calls I received was from the owner of a puppy who was having trouble with biting and housebreaking. These are very common concerns that people come to me with. This couple was not sure if they wanted to keep the puppy and were very frustrated. Now, before we jump all over this couple (and others who feel this way when faced with this scenario), what we need to consider is the time and communication provided to the puppy. These are very common behaviors of puppies, and, these are also all common emotions that people who have puppies may go through during various stages of the puppies’ life.

Time and communication are the common denominators. Both in the above situation as well as with other adult dog owners who get frustrated with training.

Many times put too much on the dog, and depending on the previous learned behaviors, training may take longer than people originally expected. We also need to look at each behavior we want to teach the dog and make sure that we are communicating in small enough pieces that the dog is understanding, learning, retaining the information and being successful.

Benjamin Franklin said, “Tell me and I forget; teach me and I remember, involve me and I learn”.

I think this really applies not just in our lives, but in the training with our dogs.

Bottom line . . we need to be realistic about the expectations and goals in our training with our dogs. We need to look at the age of our dogs, the learning ability and the previous learned behaviors and adjust accordingly.

Training takes time. We are not going to get all of the behaviors that we want from our dogs in a day, in a week, or even necessarily in a month’s time, but, if we break the puzzle pieces down, keep our training sessions short, and are patient and consistent with our training, we will see the training develop and the puzzle pieces come together!

Enjoy the journey with your dog!

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