Why Are Dog Trainers So Averse To Training?

man feeding treats to dogs in the woods

Building a relationship or a recall?

We are living in a golden age of dog training. The industry has been infused with information from professionals in the field of applied behavior analysis and animal training in general. Mark and reward training (click/treat) and lure/reward are if not embraced, are at least not unknown to most dog trainers and pet owners. Bob Bailey was pulled out of retirement and is once again offering chicken camps to help trainers understand and practice the fundamentals of operant conditioning. The list of educated and accomplished professionals contributing to the progress of dog training continues to grow. So why do so many trainers struggle with the idea of “training?”

I understand attempts to make training accessible to pet owners who may harbor as much enthusiasm for training dogs as I have for changing the oil in my car (very little). Yet often these attempts seem to only further confound or complicate what is quite a basic concept, teach the dog to do what you want. There is relationship training, attention training, engagement training and who the heck knows how many others methods and protocols out there developed to get a dog to do what someone needs them to do.

Don’t misunderstand me, I am all for having a good relationship with dogs and empowering them (whatever that means). Even people uninterested in the mechanics of training likely want to have a good relationship with their pets. And what that means for one person will be different for another and I’m not sure how we can even begin to define what it means to a particular dog. But if we break it down to basics, if a dog is able to understand what is required of them in order to keep them in a home as a valued member of the family, whatever relationship there is is more likely to continue and hopefully improve.

The behaviors required of most dogs are fairly routine; come when called, poop and pee in a designated area, on leash walk slow enough for the human to keep up with you, only chew stuff that isn’t of value to the humans. We can add to this list as we like, but each one of these requirements consists of a what often is an easy to train behavior, if you know how to train. What we call “paying attention” to us could be described very clearly as a specific behavior, in my case it means look at me. Because this is among the behaviors I deem important for a dog to be able to perform, it’s one I reinforce regularly, whether the behavior is performed on cue or not. And as we could predict because of the Law of Effect it’s a behavior I see a lot of in my dogs. I’m not focusing on our relationship, I’m focusing on the behavior. I like to think I have a good relationship with my dogs. They usually come when I call them, they wait for me to catch up to them on our walks in the woods, they would choose to go out the door or into the car with me when given the option.

I appreciate focusing on the warm fuzzy of relationships with owners rather than the cold sounding rate, timing and criteria of training. But what does a good relationship look like? Does it look like an owner putting on their walking shoes, grabbing a leash and going out with their dog? Does it look like hopping into the car and heading to a location where a dog can run off-leash? Does it look like signing up for an agility or nosework class? Does it look like a dog pulling on a tug toy or retrieving a ball? If it does, and it’s not happening because a dog pulls while on leash or lunges at people and cars going by, or takes off and doesn’t come when called, or is too afraid to interact with their owner, as a trainer I know how to remedy this. Train the dog. Make it easy for their owner to get the behaviors they need in order to be successful at keeping up with their end of the behavioral bargain required to create a good relationship; grabbing leashes, driving to off-leash areas, picking up the frisbee.

There are dogs out there who are reaching the end of the rope as far as the energy and patience an owner has for the dog’s inability to do what the owner needs. I may not know how to fix a relationship but I do know how to train a dog, i.e., get a behavior, and put it on cue. I make no apologies about it. Training is not a dirty word in my book.

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22 comments so far

  1. Sweetpea on

    Absolutely fabulous post – THANK YOU for your very important reminders and *nudges* to do the right thing by our pooches !

  2. Julie Cook on

    Don’t understand your title?

    • fearfuldogs on

      Are you asking a question or making a statement?

  3. Helen Gruenhut on

    my problem is information overload, done by myself. I cannot decide what
    thing to train. We have relationship. I have started a basic waltz with my dog.
    fun with that, and my dog really enjoys it; but so many things to train to choose from.

  4. justthreadtwiddling on

    You definitely have a way with words!

  5. Vince Egan on

    Good words Debra “training” Ellie was a much larger challenge than training Hank. I am afraid he has been neglected except on his agility course.
    It’s the eye contact that caught me. If the FurBallls want something they know how to look at me hard enough and long enough to see the light bulb go off over MY head. So whose training who? It’s a joint task force for peaceful participation. It’s just good basic and time consumptive work that like a child never seems to end. In fact isn’t it the reason; to keep learning new things, find new surprises and new pleasures for both of you. I’m lucky in where I live; Ellie is such a strong eye it is sometimes difficult to call her off and she is more stubborn than me but when she rolls over next to me in the woods or on the floor all the minor “control” issues do disappear like Scarlet OHara.
    Thanks for your continued work demystifying a basic process.

    • fearfuldogs on

      Great to hear that you and Ellie are still enjoying the adventure together. You put the time and energy into this “relationship” and it’s paid off in spades. 🙂

  6. Matthew on

    debbie, in many cases I think the relationship part will fix it’s self as people learn to train with sound and humane methods.

    give people the tools to fix the frustrations, the relationship will improve naturally. And the tools are how to train their dog.

    The other part…debunking myths about dog training, behavior and how we need to “be” with our dogs in order to get the behaviors we want. get rid of that garbage, combined with sound training skills…then the relationship fixes it’s self…in most cases.

    • fearfuldogs on

      I agree, what is a relationship anyway but a series of behaviors performed in each other’s company? Dog comes when called, person feels good about it, dog gets cheese, feels good about it. All that feeling good starts to spread out all over the place. People can start behaving in ways that are less threatening and scary to the dog and the dog gets to do stuff and make chicken happen and feel good about the person who sets the process in motion. Its a beautiful system.

      • Vince Egan on

        Beautiful! When does the chicken come! Hank and Ellie now know they can hypnotize one of us into becoming one with the box of milk bones. Funny isn’t it. They know where the box is, they can reach the box but stand back until we Yes Master our way to the ritual of the bone. Borders; entertaining entertainers. Dogs gotta have fun too!!

    • Vince Egan on

      Good on Ya Matthew. I needed to be one with Ellie. A clicker would have driven get mad. I believe I bought enough all natural best tasting gobbl me up dog treats and food to feed a third world country or the local shelter it was just time and the eyes always the eyes now I have become the alpha sucker as in these 2 bozos won’t hardly do anything without me. I reckon that’s a good thing, if a bit tiring. Ellie was a scared, no terrified, miserable dog that is now, while not ALL lollipops and rainbows, at least will work with you. As long as you have the frisbee. The old ways are still the best ways; easier on the dog too. Right?

  7. Jenny H on

    Good Article, thank you!

    I do not know why people drop out of training groups.
    I used to think that it was because too many concentrated on competitive venues instead of fun activities.
    But when I tried to run such a group, people dropped out like flies once they has the basic good manners behaviours.
    Basically I suppose that too many people do not really view their dogs as companions and hobbies, but as furniture 😦

  8. Elaine on

    Wonderful post and I too place a high value on my dog paying attention to me or looking at me and i think the ‘relationship’ develops because of that. I too reinforce that nearly every day.

    • fearfuldogs on

      It is a predictable and lovely side effect of positive reinforcement training.

  9. ubuntug08 on

    Couldn’t agree more with you. Understanding canine psychology and building a loving relationship with them is all that matters.Loving them is more important, than just turning them into obedient zombies. I see trainers use electric collars indiscriminately for training these days. They say it’s mandatory for the giant breeds. Any thoughts on that?

    • fearfuldogs on

      Are you asking about the need for special equipment for training large dogs? If so- People train giant, undomesticated animals without equipment other than a whistle and a fish, or piece of steak, or apple. It’s not the size of the animal that matters it’s the skill of the trainer. If someone wants to say that they are not good enough to train a large dog without using force, coercion, pain or threats, that’s one thing. But to insinuate that larger dogs need force, coercion, pain or threats in order to learn is wrong. Period.

  10. HandsFullDogTraining on

    Great post! I’ve noticed in my classes that improved relationships are a commone result of training, yet most people don’t go into training saying “we need to work on our relationship”. Pull the weeds of frustration and the human-dog bond has room to grow.

    • fearfuldogs on

      It’s a great side effect of positive reinforcement training, all involved end up feeling better about each other.

  11. Julieann on

    I’m new here and my dog (rescue, 7 months) was so fearful that I couldn’t get him in a car or take him to a public place for training so I spent hundreds on having a private dog trainer come to my home. She is strictly food rewards and, at first, it worked like a charm, As my dog has grown in confidence, he has started “ignoring” the commands and is not food motivated. I am at my wit’s end as we have stopped going on long walks and I have to put him in the garage more and more to get a break from bad behavior. He mildly barked and what the trainer recommended was not working so I taught him the “speak” command in order to teach “quiet” but he didn’t get the 2nd so he now barks insanely to get a treat and she says the trick is to “ignore him” when he barks but he is not connecting that and he again goes in the garage so we can get a break. I have only ever had indoor dogs – I don’t WANT to have my dog outside. My mom always had a balance between treats and correction and she did a great job with her dogs (she is passed away now so I can’t go to her for help). The “treats only – no correction” method only works if he WANTS to do the activity. However, I am afraid to start corrections on my own because he is so fearful and I don’t want to make it worse (my mom’s dogs were always newborns – never rescue so this is a new experience to have a dog with “history”) Have you ever heard of the “Command Collar”? I saw the infomercial on TV and thought I would try that – I don’t know what else to do!

    • fearfuldogs on

      Of course a dog only does what they want to do. No surprise there. Good trainers use positive reinforcement to get the dog to want to do what we need them to do. A dog who is not doing what we want them to might be motivated by something else, that happens, or they might be too scared. I realize this response is late, but I wouldn’t use the command collar. You taught your dog that barking makes food happens. It’s not surprising that you have a dog with a reinforcement history for barking, who keeps barking. Behavior is lawful.


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