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The Hidden Flaws of Basic Dog Training: Why It's Time for a Change

Dog Sitting on White Background

Sooooo many of clients come to me with the same set of goals: basic training, which usually means basic commands. "I want my dog to learn basic command, sit, stay, come, etc."

That's all well and good, but that's like meeting your kid's 2nd grade teacher and informing them which college you want them to go to.

Interesting, but we aren't there yet. Foundations need to be set for that goal.

Dog Training Foundations

Dog running on white background

There is a world of difference between dog training and dog behavior, as I wrote about in this article, but suffice it to to say that treating them as interchangeable is a recipe for disaster.

If my 2nd grader kid still wets their pants in public, or throws tantrums, yeah, which college they go to is pretty far down the road. As my grandfather used so say, "We've got bigger fish to fry."

We need to start with the most important dog training foundation: impulse control.

Impulse control is how your dog is able to sit when you give them the "sit" command. It's how your dog is able to process recall when you say "come".

Yes, you can train your dog to know what "sit" and "come" means, but the only way your dog can actually hear and listen to you is by teaching them impulse control.

So let's start with the basics: impulse control.

What helps your puppy remain in a sit position when what they really want to do is blow past you through that open front door? Impulse control.

What keeps your dog from dragging you down the street every time you go for a walk? Impulse control.

What helps your anxious dog remain calm during thunderstorms? Impulse control.

By focusing on basic commands first, you're skipping over the important part for your dog: the ability to not only learn these commands, but execute them when told to do so. Otherwise, you fall into a never-ending loop of "Sit or I'll Say 'Sit' Again"; your dog heard you the first time, he was just too busy with his own agenda that he couldn't listen to you.

Breaking the Dog Training Cycle

I find dog training to be useless. Therefore I don't do it. However, I have a four month old puppy now, Hazel, who walks on a leash, knows (and listens to) basic commands, drops items on command and is capable of entertaining herself appropriately.

How did I do that? By starting with impulse control.

I utilize the Piloting Method of dog training. For a brief rundown of what that is, check out this link, but the short answer is that it's almost like parenting children. We understand and operate under the concept that children are full of questions about the world they live in, and how they fit into that world. But we assume that a dog or puppy should automatically blend into a human world seamlessly.

Dogs, just like children, need guidance to navigate this world. With kids we call it "parenting". With dogs, it's Piloting. Answering their questions. For example, throughout the day, my puppy Hazel may ask me many, many questions:

"Can I jump on you?"

"Can I eat off the table?"

"What does 'sit' mean?"

"Should I chase the cat?"

(To be fair, the cat is kind of a dick to my puppy. They both deserve each other.)

I answer these questions a couple times per day, as they come up, so I don't feel like I'm actively training my dog, or setting aside X amount of time per day to focus on commands, etc. It's a more organic style that fits into life seamlessly.

Today Hazel had a lot of questions about how to dog in a human world. Tomorrow she will have fewer as she starts to get the hang of it. There will be peaks and valleys but overall the questions become few and far between. She's learned that no, she may not crash into me while playing. She's learned that yes, when you come when called, you will be rewarded, and sometimes that reward is a treat.

By guiding my dog rather than training my dog, I don't feel like I'm constantly trying to manage my dog's behavior, or work around it. Yes, some basic commands are worked in there, but she's learning the most important thing: impulse control. Which comes in really handy when trying to walk a dog in Cleveland in the winter.

Impulse Control Training with Your Dog: Starting Small

I am constantly repeating the same two things during my dog training sessions with my clients:

1. Control yourself

2. Control the situation

No matter what type of problem you're tackling with your dog, the first step is to control yourself. No yelling. No stomping. Stop acting like a fool, waiving your arms around and trying to bend down to your dog's level. I'm not taking you seriously, and neither is your dog.

Your body language dictates what you mean vs. what you say, and what you mean is business.

Stand up straight. Stop talking entirely. And get control of yourself. As Liz Taylor famously said,

Put on some lipstick, pour yourself a drink, and pull yourself together.

There. That's better. Now, let's control the situation.

You can always remove stimuli from a situation to make it more manageable. Bring it down to the lowest comment denominator, a place where your dog can "hear" you. For example.

Your dog jumps on guests. How do you control the situation? Definitely not by just opening the door and hoping your dog doesn't jump. You're going to calm your dog down before you even open the door.

Still struggling? What about putting a leash on your dog?

Not working? Try removing them from the situation entirely. There. That did the trick! Now you can gradually add stimuli (guest) as you see fit, taking smaller, more manageable bites out of that problem. Bring your dog out on a leash, or not at all! It's entirely up to you, you're the one managing exactly how much stimuli you allow your dog to get.

To learn how I worked through my dog's door behavior, check out this video.

Adding Basic Commands For Your Dog

Dog patiently waiting

I never actively taught Hazel "sit"'s a behavior she naturally did when she wanted something, so I merely caught that behavior and named it. With my Border Collie, Arwen, I did have to teach her "sit", and she was a quick study. But the foundation that both of them had was impulse control.

Impulse control is what makes your life manageable with your dog; commands just makes it a little bit easier. For instance, impulse control is my dogs knowing they can't just blow past me to run out the front door. By Piloting them every time they asked if that was appropriate, they soon learned that blitzing out an open door is unacceptable. Now they control their impulse to run outside.

However, using a "place" command when the doorbell rings makes my life so much easier.

Learn more about the 3 basic commands I teach my dogs, and how I trained them in this article.

Dog Training vs. Impulse Control: Conclusion

Dog waiting at front door

Through mentally separating dog training vs. teaching your dog impulse control, you are setting yourself up for a calmer, happier bond with your dog. Your dog's anxiety will lessen, and you will feel more confident in your ability to work through your dog's behaviors.

Dog Training vs. Dog Life

many dogs lying down together

Here at Darwin Dogs, we focus on dog life, rather than merely dog training, so 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. That's why I developed the Piloting method of dog training here in Cleveland over 20 years ago, a force-free method of dog training and puppy training that didn't rely on abusive shock collars or cruel prong collars, yet didn't constantly bribe with non-stop click-n-treat style dog training. I want a bond with my dogs based on trust and communication.

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.

Have questions about our puppy training or dog training?

border collie dog staying

Kerry Stack

Darwin Dogs

Dog Training and Puppy Training

Located in Cleveland, Ohio

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