I'm Mean to Dogs

I was working with a dog at the dog park the other day. We were near the dog park, but not inside the play area.  We walked around practicing loose leash walking, eye contact, the “let’s go” cue, sits and stays.  While working close to the dog park fence, a woman asked me if the dog was friendly with other dogs.  I explained that he was and that he routinely went to dog daycare and to dog parks.  She then asked if he was going to come in to play when he was done working.  I told her that he wasn’t.

“Oh, you’re so mean!” she told me.  I laughed and went along my way, thinking about all the “mean” things I do to the dogs I train. 

Most of the dogs I work with suffer from a lack of impulse control, often referred to as delayed gratification when talking about humans.  Basically, they want what they want and they want it NOW.  I get that and even empathize with them.

My job as a dog trainer is strikingly similar to what my job was as a mother.  I have to teach the lesson that good things come to those who wait and that rewards must be earned.  It’s my job to teach a dog the proper way to ask for things and that one doesn’t always get what they want every time they want it.

To do this, I take dogs to the dog park and do all kinds of super-fun things, excluding actually going into the dog park to play with dogs.  Can you imagine living with a child who kicked, screamed and cried every time you drove past a playground?  My clients don’t want to live with a dog who can’t be near other dogs without lunging, barking and pulling them across the park.

I do make sure that the dog friendly dogs have social time with other dogs either at daycare or the dog park.  I just want to also make sure they understand that being near a dog park or passing a dog on the street does not mean that manners suddenly don’t matter.  I want them to clearly understand that they will not meet every dog they see and if they are allowed that privilege, they must do so with some level of decorum. 

I do lots of mean things to dogs.  I make them sit still and wait for things that they want.  I make them come to me when there are much more exciting things to do.  I make them walk next to me and look at me when there are a million things to sniff. 

I’m mean, but if I’m training right, I’m not just making them do these things.  I’m actually making them want to do things.  That’s where the magic lies.  The art, if you will, of dog training is to know how close to get to the dog park so that cheese is still a fair trade-off for ignoring the other dogs and looking at me.  It’s knowing that the first time we practice these mean lessons there must be a bigger reward from me than there is sacrifice from the dog.

If I’m fair about it, ignoring the dog park becomes easier and easier.  Eventually, the dog realizes that there are good things to be had either way.  Sometimes you get to play, sometimes you get hot dogs.  It’s totally a win-win!  If you get really good at it, there are days when you get hot dogs AND play time!

And you know what?  I have seen dogs playing in the dog park stop, come over to the fence and look at us while we’re working outside.  Maybe they’re thinking, “Wow, I wish my owner would walk me around the park and feed me cheese and hotdogs.  That lady is really nice!”