We always start with such lofty goals when training our dog or working with puppy behaviors. Our shelter dog is going to become a therapy dog who visits nursing homes.
Your new puppy is going to know all the commands and do rally and agility, as well as volunteer at a soup kitchen on the weekends.
That mutt you found on the side of the road? Well he's going to unify America and create world peace, as well as solving global hunger. Oh, yeah, and bring back Firefly. With the original cast.
Rather than creating all these lofty training goals for your dog or puppy, let's focus on the most important, and perhaps work our way up from there.
Dog Training Goal 1: Empathy
I don't care what you're doing, be it housebreaking your puppy or trying to teach your new shelter dog how to walk on a leash, everything starts with empathy. Without empathy, there is no communication, and dog training grounded in communication.
The highest form of knowledge is empathy. - Bill Bullard
Now ask yourself how solid you are in your knowledge of your dog. Are you really trying to see the world as they see it?
So perhaps to you it's just a walk around the block with your new dog, but to the puppy mill rescue you've just adopted, it's the first time they've ever seen a car, and you're walking them down a busy road.
Maybe to you it's just another dog you're passing, but to your dog-reactive dog, it's a terrifying potential threat.
Think of some fears, anxieties and concerns you have that are unique to you. Others may not share the same dread that you may have; if they simply tell you to "get over it", are you able to immediately end your worry?
Not in the slightest.
Your emotions and responses to a situation aren't right or wrong, they just are. You can't help being afraid of snakes. You can't help being worried about the stock market. Your fear of the dark doesn't make you bad or weak.
And just because I may not share the same fears or phobias doesn't mean yours aren't absolutely real to you, as mine are to me.
So rather than dismissing my dog's behavior as "bad" or "naughty", I'm going to try to take a moment and see how things may look to them.
Dog Training Goal 2: Focus
I see you all bobbing your heads on this one. "Yeah, you have to keep your eye on the ball and focus on training your dog, or housebreaking your puppy. Stay focused."
There's only one thing you need to focus on: your bond with your dog. Ask yourself, is what I'm about to do going to strengthen my bond with my dog, or damage it?
Your goal is to build a relationship based on trust, love and mutual respect, grounded in communication. The rest slides into place. But you will never have a healthy bond with your dog if you've placed any aspect of their training (be it leash walking, housebreaking or otherwise) above your loving, respectful bond with your dog.
Dog Training Goal 3: Grace
You're trying to teach your dog basic commands, but no matter what you do, he's refusing to sit, or stay, or any of the "simple" dog behaviors. Why is your dog giving you such a hard time?!!!!!
Your dog isn't giving you a hard time. Your dog is having a hard time.
Maybe you're both fried, and now isn't the time to work on basic dog commands. Maybe you aren't teaching it in a way they can understand. Regardless, hard times are bound to head your way, know how to handle them.
I have a self-imposed deadline of posting a new blog post at the beginning of every week. I've just started this one at 7:00 the night before it needs to be posted. I'm in my office, plugging along with my three lovely dogs all quietly chewing their bones.
Until my puppy, Hazel (aka, "Quagmire") decides otherwise.
She's getting into everything (which is really outside her usual behavior). She's harassing my other dogs, Arwen and Ellis, trying to get them to play. She's doing zoomies all around the furniture, and barking at the computer monitor.
I have two ways to handle this: either with frustration, or with grace.
Sure, it's easier to yell at her, or constantly half-ass my way through Piloting her, but I know that won't work, and I will get frustrated when my lack of effort doesn't give me the results I didn't earn.
So rather than lose my shit and raise my energy by yelling, or bribing Hazel into trying to behave, I'm going to take another look at the situation.
Hazel doesn't know about my deadline, that's mine, and belongs in the human world. All she knows is that it's 7:00, and that's her witching hour. She lives in a dog world, and my human world concerns don't, well, concern her. All she knows is she has a need, and it isn't being fulfilled. So how do I handle this with grace?
By consciously stopping what I'm doing to address the situation. I have a myriad of correct choices in front of me: remove Hazel from the situation by putting her in her crate to chill out, taking her into the basement (aka Thunderdome) to play with the flirt pole, give her a Kong with PB, put her on a leash and Pilot her through her negative behaviors (while giving positive to her beneficial behaviors) ... I could go on and on.
The only thing I'm not going to do is act without grace, meaning continuing to hope that a half-assed response on my part to her whole-hearted assholery will result in anything other than annoyance and frustration.
If you're wondering, I ended up taking her outside to run for a few moments, whereupon she was put into her crate with a toy for the duration of this writing session. Total time it took for me was about 8 minutes. Now I'm able to focus on my task at hand with the attention and grace it deserves.
Dog Training Goal 4: Clarity
Ah....clarity. The thing that we seem to be missing from our lives in general also seems to disappear when we are trying to work with our dogs.
Clarity is cutting through all the bullshit of what we say, and what we do, to get through to exactly what we want. Be it from our jobs, our relationships or our dogs.
During our weekly pack walk, Missy, a client of mine comes up to me with a question. She's just started on her path to Piloting her dog, after trying for years to (unsuccessfully) train her dog. As she's walking up to me, her dog is dancing all around on the leash. Missy Pilots her dog, Cleo, and even though Cleo is struggling, she's trying her hardest to remain calm, as only a 6 month old puppy can, and doing okay. Missy then decides Cleo needs to sit.
"Sit, Cleo. Sit! C'mon, Cleo, sit." *pushes Cleo's butt down* *Cleo promptly stands back up*
Wash, rinse repeat.
I stood there for a few moments, allowing the drama to unfold, until Missy looked at me for direction.
Me: What was your original intent? What did you want Cleo to do?
Missy: Be calm while I talked to you.
Me: Was she calm while she was standing?
Do you want your dog to go to a specific place when guests come over, or do you need them to just not be an asshole, you don't care where they aren't assholes, as long as they aren't assholes.
Do you need to have your dog sit every time you stop while on a walk, or do you want them to just not be an asshole?
Do you care if your dog-reactive dog looks at you when passing by that other dog, or do you just want them not looking at that other dog (like an asshole)?
Are you getting the idea here? We've covered what we actually want with so many extra steps and layers, we lost track of our original goal.
In Missy's case she just wanted Cleo to not be an asshole (while she asked me a question, about her dog being an asshole).
Missy handled Cleo's original assholery well, and calmed her down, but then felt the need to pile on the commands to a dog who was already struggling. Cleo didn't need to sit. She needed to calm down.
By losing clarity of what she originally wanted (Cleo being calm), Missy mired herself into a never-ending battle on two fronts: Cleo was struggling with calm to begin with, and when Missy actually got her to be calm, Missy lost her clarity of what she wanted, and started adding layers of commands, rather than just taking the win of having a calm(er) dog.
Be clear. Be concise. Most importantly, don't add layers to an easy concept, thought, or command. Know what you want, and then don't be afraid to accept the win for what it is: what you asked for in the first place.
Dog Training Goal 5: Respect
Obviously you need to respect your dog: their physical needs as well as their mental/emotional needs. We aren't going there, though.
But what about you?
Are you respecting yourself when you compare how well everyone else is walking their dog at the pack walk to how poorly you feel you're doing?
Are you respecting yourself when you would never expect your dog to be the perfect dog, yet you berate yourself for not being the perfect dog owner, (what ever that is)?
You beat yourself up for the slightest mis-step with your dog, but are willing to find empathy for your dog in even the toughest situations?
What about you? Respect what you've done, how you've grown with your dog, and realize that training a dog isn't a fad diet, it's a lifestyle change. Allow yourself to have mis-steps, and grow from them, rather than festering in those stagnant waters of self-deprecation.
So you messed something up. Big deal. Give yourself a mental hug, promise to learn, and move on. It's what your dog would tell you to do.
Dog Training vs. Dog Life
By focusing on dog life, rather than dog training, our goals can become so much more attainable and clear-cut. Most of us don't want an obedient dog, we just don't want a dis-obedient dog. Robot-style dogs who are afraid of stepping out of line are for certain types of people I guess.
But that's not my style. I want a bond with my dog based on trust and communication. That's why I developed the Piloting method of dog training over 20 years ago.
Learn more about our Piloting method of dog and puppy training here.
Find out more about our private in home 30 Day Best Dog Ever and 30 Day Best Puppy Ever training packages here.
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Dog Training and Puppy Training
Greater Cleveland Area