Someone made a comment to me the other day that led me to ponder on this: does the way we think about our relationships with our dogs change the way we interact with them? It seems like a no brainer but I believe it’s worth exploring further. I think it affects us in ways we don’t even notice!
I recently created an online course. It’s to help dog owners understand the underlying process of training. Sounds good but…
Whenever I speak to people about ‘dog training’ they instantly think about training the DOG, not educating the human end of the lead! This is apparent when I discuss the online course – often they’re a bit flummoxed because it is aimed at teaching the primate of the team, not the canine – and surely, it’s the canine’s behaviour we are aiming to change?
However, I go through this very process with every one of my in-person clients. They all say ‘I suppose really it’s me you’re training, not my dog” (Embarrassed laugh). Well yes. There isn’t much point in me only training your dog – he doesn’t live with me!
Why are people so resistant to the idea of teaching people how to best to educate their dogs? If you are a dog owner and you go to classes, you’re already in agreement that dogs need educating. Your dog needs to know how to behave in the home, out and about, in social situations, when they’re left alone and in any other specific context in which you wish to have them. And generally speaking, who gets to do the educating? Well, you, as the ‘parent’ of your dog.
Do You Need ‘Obedience’ as we Know It?
Tricks such as ‘sit’ or ‘down’ may or may not be necessary for how you need your dog to behave. Most people want a recall – but not every dog is a suitable candidate for running free in public. Some people value loose lead walking, others couldn’t care less how their dog walks on lead.
Wouldn’t it be sensible to teach you, the dog owner, how to educate your dog in what YOUR dog needs with YOU in THAT situation? If I give you the tools to teach your dog what you want them to know, isn’t that a great gift?
Cook or Chef?
Most dog trainers, especially those teaching group classes, rely on training ‘recipes’. That’s fine up to a point but, if the recipe doesn’t work, clients in the class struggle to problem solve or adapt it to fit their situation or their dog. Why? Because they don’t understand how the recipe works.
This is the usual ‘model’ for providing dog training to the general public. I’m not sure this is fair to anyone: the dog owner feels daft because it’s not working and they don’t know why; the dog is usually blamed (and treated accordingly) and the class instructor feels frustrated because her clients don’t see the success with their dogs that she has with her own. The problem is they are only getting half the information.
Why has this model endured – and continues to endure?
The Power of Language
I think it is because of how we describe the process. “DOG training class”. “I’m a DOG trainer”. Most people expect to focus on changing the dog‘s behaviour – not the role the human end of the leash has to do with process.
So, let’s look at a similar issue but in a different field: parenting.
Few people baulk at the idea of learning how to bring up their children. All parents are ‘child trainers’ if you like – children learn from their parents, whether they know what they are doing or not! We now have Parenting Classes to teach parents how to raise their kids well using good learning theory principles, kindness and empathy. We look at meeting the child’s needs dependent on their developmental stage, and how to provide discipline and boundaries in a healthy and safe way. No-one turns a hair at this! In some places, in some situations, it’s a legal requirement.
Parenting kids and Raising Dogs
The same holds true with dogs. Dogs learn from their environment – and their people are a very influential part of that. I mean, your dog is learning from you ALL the time you are with them, not just when you’re actively ‘training’. It would make sense to make that time count in your favour – not against you!
So why is the idea of ‘parenting classes’ for dog owners such a hard one to swallow?
We’re back to language – and pre-conceived ideas. I’ve already explained how the language we use changes our expectations of a process, but what about preconceived ideas?
In many cultures the dog has traditionally been seen as a pack animal, something that needs dominating, coercing and ‘telling’. The dog was expected to ‘do it or else’. Thankfully that model is starting to die out now; it’s common to train using rewards and kindness.
But we still think of dog training as something to be done TO the dog, not WITH the dog. Nowadays, if you tried to use the same model with raising children, chances are the authorities would have something to say about it!
A Different Approach?
Raising a dog really should be no different to raising a child in many respects. You nurture the behaviour you like, manage and prevent the behaviour you don’t; take care to only ask what the dog is capable of giving at the time but gradually build up that capability as the dog matures and develops.
To do this you need to understand the underlying process! Recipes will not give you a well-behaved dog. Recipes will give you a dog who can do certain tricks in certain situations (usually the dog class and your kitchen.) Good, thoughtful raising and teaching will give you a well-educated, confident dog, who is a pleasure to live with. Which would you prefer?
– Sarah and the Gang
P.S. if you have a new puppy and would like to know more about successful puppy parenting I have a new book, just out, to help you successfully raise your pup using positive reinforcement. You can find out more here.
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