I wanted to write this blog article because I wanted to say to everyone reading: “Don’t give up on your dog“. There are new techniques and strategies being developed every day that can get results where other methods have failed.
Most importantly though, don’t choose a method of training and limit your dogs ability based on your limits, or someone elses, give your dog every chance at success, no matter what it takes.
I hope you enjoy this article and it inspires you to always investigate all options.
I had a consult with a guy a couple months ago now, and when he turned up, he parked his car in our car park and asked if he should get his dog out. I said “sure, if he is here for training I might need to see him” with a smile.
He cracked open the back of his SUV just a millimetre and braced himself, for as soon as his dog saw a tiny bit of light through an open door, it pushed the door open and sprung out of the car with an “I’m here!”.
The guy attempted to catch the dog and the dog played catch me if you can in our car park. It’s pretty secure so no real risks were at hand but the guy was trying very hard (and unsuccessfully) to catch the dog.
I said “bring him inside when you catch him” with a smirk and I went inside our training facility.
He came in a few minutes later and sat down, he was quite emotional too. He explained that his dog playing catch me if you can was not funny and that his last dog (of the same breed) was killed by a car just recently.
I apologised and asked him this question; “Do you drive your dog to the park and open the door and let him race right into the park off leash?“.
He said he did and asked how I knew?
You see his dog, and unfortunately his least dog (RIP) thinks every time the car door opens, there lays a green field to race into and play, and at some stage the dog had jumped out of the car into an oncoming car.
Dogs make these kind of connections.
I guess it was fun to watch his dogs explode out of the back of the car without a worry in the world until one was dead.
Who needs rules and boundaries when all the dogs want to do is have fun, right?
Dogs are not bound by the same awareness, fears and concerns humans have, in fact if we were a little more like them, we would be better off and if they were just a little more like us, they would be too, I guess that would be a great balance…
His dog that was hit by the car did not in any way have any concerns jumping out of the car, anywhere, to his peril.
This man loves his dogs and would do anything for them.
The friend vs the leader…
Sometimes being a best mate to your dog isn’t enough, dogs need more than friends, but let’s not forget they need friends too!
Your friend laughs at all your jokes, they never say it’s time to go home and are always up for a great time, they cuddle you when you need it and play cool games too, but is this person the person that shapes your life?
That helped you develop your career?
That pushes you to be the best you can be? Probably not, so if you are a best friend to your dog, who is the influence that helps your dog be the best he can be, if not you?
I guess we have different friends for different reasons but your dog, well he may only have you. This leaves you with many roles to fill.
It is easy to give dogs everything they want, it makes you feel good and it makes them feel good too, but what is the cost?
The cost is that your dog loses value for you and doesn’t really take your advice seriously, which leads to a dog that is hard to train. So big deal right?
Well imagine that when most dogs come to stay at our training facility, the owners cannot believe how much we can improve their dog in a matter of weeks. A story is often told though when we hand the dog back to the owner and watch the first interaction.
Sometimes the dogs do not even go to their owners, sometimes they are excited to see their owners and then they run back to me or my trainers and sit with me, even though I have not called them and I have given them permission to do whatever they like.
One dog ran over to his owner and stood there, not looking at his owner, but instead quite obviously looking past her. When she went to pet him he growled, and she then told me “he does that if I have annoyed him“.
I called him to me and he was affectionate, engaged and happy but quite obviously agitated that his owner had “turned up”.
I guess he was abused right? Well perhaps he was…
Abuse comes in many different formats, not providing a safe, stimulating environment may not be as high on the bad list as say beating your dog, but how about that dog that lives on a chain in the back yard for years?
If you failed to educate your child, it may be called abuse or neglect, not because you did something bad, but because you didn’t do something good.
Let’s get back to our friend with the dog that jumped out of the car into the park, and the car.
I explained that he would need to take charge of the dogs freedom and teach his dog that he would need to give permission before the dog was allowed to leave the car, allowed to get off his place, allowed out of his crate, into the house… you get the idea…
He said something really strange to me next that I could not at all understand at first.
He said “I don’t want my dog to live in fear“. Thoughts ran through my head and I was trying to understand his meaning, fear? fear of what? Being put back in the car?
So I said, “I feel that a little fear would have been helpful to the dog that was hit by the car“.
I also explained that, when I park my car on a busy street, I get out and close the door, I don’t walk onto the street without looking, not because I live in fear, because I am not stupid.
I don’t ever remember this happening but I am very sure that my parents would have caught me about to walk onto the road and scolded me and told me that a car will come along and run me over, probably scared the hell out of me when I was two or three, but I don’t remember that, I did learn not to walk out onto the road though.
This guy had explained to me that he was getting some help from a trainer that told him “you can’t say no or do ANYTHING your dog will not like or your dog will hate you, be fearful of you or attack you“; and that “any type of punishment was the act of a cruel, mean person that didn’t care about his dog and was just hell bent on inflicting punishment on weaker animals.“
This doesn’t happen often but I was like “wha….?“
This guy never says no, he never restricts activity, play, food, or anything, in fact he is his dogs best friend.
Problem is that, his dog has no respect for him, none, was not in any way motivated by food, toys or affection because simply, they were all in such abundance, it meant that their perceived value was zero.
He was instructed to open the car door and throw food into the car so his dog would not jump out. The dog has almost no food motivation (especially at the park) so when food was thrown into the car, the dog would jump out anyway.
His dog was also considerably overweight, was an extreme leash puller, would not come when he is called to what I call the “deaf” level. This is where you can call the dogs name or any word or phrase you like and the dog acts like he is deaf.
As the consult rolled on, he went on to ask for positive solutions to his dog opening the cupboards and eating a dishwasher tablet because the last time he did that he was at the vets for over a week.
And something rewarding he could do to stop his dog eating out of the bin because he had cut his tongue on a tin can lid in there.
Why would anyone do this to this man, he loves his dog, he even lost one to a car based on this terrible advice he has been given.
When he finished talking, he sat there, helpless and just looked at me and I said to him.
YOU CAN SAY NO
You can limit your dogs access to you and you absolutely should control some of the access your dog has to you. Separation anxiety and dependencies are created by giving your dog uncontrolled access to you.
You can reduce the food your dog gets in his or her bowl and hand feed, good quality, nutritious food for great work from your dog, and you absolutely can withhold that food when your dog makes a mistake.
“Scientifically” that’s called negative punishment and if your dog has high value for that food and he was expecting it, and you don’t give it, that will in fact punish the choice he just made, thus weakening the (bad) choice he made.
You can and YOU SHOULD restrict your dogs access to free running at the park if he won’t come back, and for those that say you shouldn’t, the law says you must have effective control of your dog if he is off leash, yes even in an off leash park.
I understand, more than anyone that this law is not policed often, but it is when something goes bad, trust me.
You can also use leash corrections if you are using those to better train your dog and you feel (or your trainer does) these are the right actions that will lead to a better trained dog.
Strangely enough my friend with the “Catch me if you can / never say no to me” dog was given a head halter and it was ok because it was called a “Gentle” Leader.
Dogs, just like people don’t hand out respect freely, respect in dogs (and most people) is earned through various reinforcers.
Dogs can easily see a person who they don’t respect as weak and they will take advantage of this and exploit you. It could lead to a dog that just ignores you or one that bites you or worse.
Exploiting you might mean refusing to come when called, or not sit on cue, or being aggressive to dogs or people.
Restricting your dogs access to things your dog thinks are valuable and then giving access when your dog has met your criteria will earn your dogs respect.
Of course there will be people who just want to give their dog everything free, but in all honesty look at the relationship. We have dogs stay with us for rehab or boarding, a month or more usually and when the owners come to collect their dog, the dog is not in any way happy to see them.
The owners are fawning all over their dog because they missed him or her and the dog stands there barely tolerating it.
- The more you give the less it is worth.
- Less is more.
- Absence makes the heart grow fonder.
- Don’t know what you have until you lose it.
No matter how you hear it, pouring everything free into your dog never earns respect.
Most people will conjure an image of punishment, when in fact discipline does not mean that all. Dogs that have impulse control and choose not to display certain behaviours, may be called a dog with good self discipline.
Having a well trained dog that displays great behaviours starts with you, you may want to be a best friend, and you can be one sometimes, but you also need to be a leader, a person in your dog’s life that teaches the dog how to behave in certain circumstances.
My client loved his dog/s, but love did not stop the dog jumping out of the car into traffic and being killed.
Since our consult, the program I gave him controlled the dogs access to all or as many valued resources as possible and delivered access to these resources (rewards) when the dog displayed the correct behaviour or followed a command.
His dog does not jump out of the car any more, but stays in the car focussed on the owner, waiting for the YES cue.
His dog comes back when called, no longer steals from the bin or dishwasher, which in turn has reduced the dogs risks of being run over by a car or being poisoned or cut when stealing.
This in turn has brought nearly all the dogs favourite things back into his life, just under the owners terms.
Below is a snippet from an email update.
There are a lot of ways to train a dog, the more time rolls on the more ways there will become. Many people, including people who love their dogs, dog trainers, dog handlers and many others choose the training methods they wish to use and rank the importance of the method above the results.
In this article a dogs life was lost, and this is not a rare occurance.
Dogs every day are being given up on because training is not working.
Some dogs have incredible food motivation and will do anything for a piece of food, in my experience these are not common, but the exception.
All the other dogs range from “not interested in food” or “will not take it in a given environment” to “like food on most occasions“.
These dogs will not stop displaying highly rewarding behaviours like dog aggression because they are offered food. This does not mean you have a bad dog, it does not mean your dog is untrainable, it means the method your using isn’t working.
If you are at your wits end with your dog, I have some tips for you.
- If you are working with a trainer or behaviourist, speak to them and tell them your concerns.
- If you are not working with a trainer or behaviourist, start now. Your dog’s life may depend on it.
- If training isn’t working and your trainer is also lost, that’s ok, everyone has their field of experience. Ask for a referral to another or behaviourist, I get referrals from other trainers every week.
- Take a month off training, in this time keep your dog away from what ever sets him or her off. Avoid situations that your dog will rehearse the problem and keep reinforcing to you that he or she cant do it.
- If your dog has done something really bad, do not euthanise your dog for at least a month. Now is the worst time to make a decison that you cannot reverse.
Don’t give up on your dog.
We have a lot of dogs come to us that have severe behaviour problems, social dysfunction, extreme aggression etc and sometimes it can take us days just to get near them. They may have been to a number of other trainers, they may be 8 or 10 years old but in reality none of these things seem to matter if the owner is committed.
No, not every dog can be rehabilitated, some have problems that come from bad genetics, poor imprinting, trauma, health issues and many other things that can be very hard to impossible to unravell; but the number of dogs that fit into that category are way less than you think and no its probably not your dog.
We always love to hear your thoughts and comments, hit reply below and let us know your thoughts.
Here is a video of a dog that I am working with right now, this pretty much sums up the article about not giving up.