The relationship between man and dog goes back for many, many years. The question has always been, “How do I train my dog?” or “How do I get my dog to do something?” This has created a tremendous industry for people who develop new techniques and philosophies and, in some cases, repackage old techniques and philosophies to appear “new,” which has been very successful in TV shows, books, videos, etc.
But the one question that is rarely asked or addressed during training classes is, “Why not?” — “Why is my dog not sitting?” or “Why does my dog not pay attention to me?” I feel this question is much more important than the actual act of getting a dog to achieve a specific behavior. All throughout the world, there are as many different philosophies as there are trainers. Some say “positive only,” some say “negative only” and some say “ignore negative behavior and reward positive behavior” in order to have a dog perform specific commands.
Let’s take this application, and compare it to human nature. How do we get a child to learn or develop a skill? Most trainers would give you a different approach. Dog behavior specialists, or “dog whisperers,” take a new approach to the understanding of relationships between dogs. (However, some people will apply one of these titles to mislead or misrepresent what they do, disguising or repackaging old training techniques that, in reality, are harsh, sometimes inhuman and, in most cases, very outdated.)
When we look at working with dogs, we must take an approach as if it were a relationship-building process. This means that every single interaction, whether direct or indirect, must be of a positive nature. At the same time, we must also understand the dynamics and social interaction among dogs themselves. The fact is that their communication, their mannerisms and oftentimes their play can be interpreted as aggressive by human standards.
Another misunderstanding is when people refer to so-called “acting as a pack leader” philosophy. Being a pack leader means that you are or should be providing an environment where the dog understands and recognizes, through instinctive triggers, that his life, survival, comfort and security are controlled by you, and, therefore, his or her behavior towards you must be one of respect and trust. This formula creates a strong bond between man and dog. Man interprets this as love and affection; dogs interpret this more as loyalty and security.
But, being a pack leader does not mean that we have to act as a dog would. In other words, the theory or training techniques of rolling a dog over, standing over it or holding it down in a dominant alpha role is a misinterpretation of assuming the alpha position. This is best described by explaining that when we take a physical approach with a dog by striking it, flicking its nose, squeezing its muzzle shut, holding it down on the ground, spanking it or hitting it, we then open the door for the dog to retaliate or respond — in essence, to communicate with us — in the same fashion by using the exact same type of physical approach. In my experience, the majority of injuries from dog bites that may have been labeled as aggressive have been in reaction to some type of negative training technique that created a response from a dog and, in turn, caused injury to an owner.
When choosing the training technique that will be most effective for you and your dog, you should take the following factors into consideration:
1. Are you truly comfortable with the training technique and the application of it with your dog?
2. Is your dog happy about your training sessions? Is he excited when you grab the leash to go for your training sessions?
3. Does your instructor provide insight as to why your dog is not achieving the goals of the class? And, more importantly, does your instructor demonstrate how to read the communication signals given off by your dog?
Lastly, any and all training techniques applied to the relationship building between you and your dog should have the following three priorities:
1. Patience 2. Patience 3. Patience.
Teaching and learning with your dog is a choice that we make, and it is a choice that, in reality, is life-changing. As humans, our lives are inundated with stress, turmoil, drama, panic, fear, depression and life changes every day, in some cases every hour and every minute. The one constant thing in the life of a dog owner is that no matter what time of day or night, that tail will always wag, that tongue will always lick and that bark will always sound happy.