But I’ve Tried Everything!

There is no doubt that living with a dog that is suffering from any type of problematic behavior can be upsetting and frustrating for the dog owner.  The issue becomes not only about the nature of the dog, but can easily be about the nature of the dog owner.  While dogs posses a variety of personalities and traits, their people often possess just as many.

 The key to success is often the perseverance that the dog owner shows and lets face it, some of us do not possess the middle name of patience. Patience is often the key, linked with knowledge.  Together these two can contribute immensely to getting your problems resolved.  

A dog is walking his owner down the street.  We have all either experienced that scenario or have watched it from afar.  The owner gets increasingly frustrated, often pulling back on the leash with cries of “heel, heel”.  The dog becomes accustomed to the feel of the walk, and the situation just escalates.  The dog pulls just as much, and the owner gets more and more frustrated.  The end result is often a dog that does not get out for as many walks as he needs because it is too upsetting or physically demanding on the family.  One of the problems here is that the owners do truly feel that they have done everything.  They believe that because they were fairly persistent with the information they knew.  They continued to pull their dog back to their side over and over again, day after day.  To them, this felt like a lot of work, and it probably was.  What is neglected here is that a change of tactic is in order.  They also need to realize that their frustration will not help their dog learn.

The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again expecting a different result.  This might put a smile on your face, but there is a lot of truth in it.  To rectify the problem of the pulling dog, the dog owner may need to increase their knowledge and education.  Sure, they have done what they know, but is that enough?  They would be well served to get their dog into a motivation based dog training class, where the techniques of having a dog walk at your side are discussed and shown.  After all, while the owners are expecting their dog to learn by being pulled back on the leash, they might not have considered that they are expecting too much too soon.  

There is the key to most issues…to teach or stop any behavior requires thought and it should be done after we have taken a deep breath, not when we are feeling stressed ourselves.  So, teaching the dog to walk a few steps properly first, then increasing that daily by rewarding the dog for doing the right thing is an option that the owner may not have considered.  Training their dog in a less busy environment should also be added to their list of things to try.  To say that you have “tried everything” often means you have tried the same thing for an extended period of time.
We can see that having some information about how to train your dog is useful before you start, and often provides a lot of success for the dog owner.  On the other hand, there are some behavioral issues that are not so easily rectified with switching methods.
Training is teaching your dog words, such as sit, lie down or roll over.  Behavior work is needed when you are trying to change your dog’s mind about something. Behavioral issues are another story.  

 If your dog constantly barks and lunges at kids on roller blades, you might try to teach it to sit while they go past, but eventually you will want to change his mind, so the roller blades are simply not an issue for him anymore.  That should be the goal.

Changing a dog’s mind also requires a lot of patience but unlike training, it might require the dog owner to be more persistent with their plan of action.  Most behavioral issues will need some professional advice.  Many dog owners get that far.  They call in the specialist, and get an assessment and information on what they should be doing to help their dog feel more comfortable, but that is often where it all stops.

The cries of “I’ve tried everything” are never heard more often than with dogs with issues.  Unfortunately, all professional dog trainers and behaviorists rely on client compliance to get the job done.  They have to rely on the owners to have some stick-with-it-ness.  Things start well, but the great majority of people are not able to keep up specialized programs for long periods of time.  That might be human nature, I’m not sure.  If you look at the other areas, this seems to be the case.  Diets and workouts at the gym often start out great, but quickly peter out.  There are a few success stories, but more stories of incomplete plans in this area. One thing we all know for sure, when we see the success stories, it is always been due to the person being in it for the long haul.

The same goes for the dogs.  The success stories that I have been privy to are nothing short of miraculous, due to one main factor.  The client keeps going.  If they have a dog lunging at other dogs, and were instructed to create some distance, and feed the dog when they are quiet and not reacting.  Over time, they have been instructed to try to get their dog closer to the other dogs.  Unfortunately, this does not mean they will romping in a park together after a week or two.  On the contrary, they may not ever romp in a park, and it might take 6 months of hard work to have them just ignore a dog they are passing.

Trust me, the dog training community would love to sprinkle pixie dust and have your issues resolved.  This is no time to change tactics.  By doing so, you might end up hindering your progress or resorting to something that does not feel right to you.  Keep up with the plan, keep your trainer apprised and know that you are in it for the long haul.

So, to sum up, it is important to realize that as dog owners, you might need some help finding a plan to fit your dog.  Try not to think you have tried everything, if you have not exhausted all your possibilities.  And second, try to focus on the fact that although you may have tried everything, you might need to try them again, or a bit longer.  You would be surprised at the success you will feel.


You gotta learn to crawl before you can walk! If we (humans) really thought about how hard it is for US to learn a new skill, especially coping skills, we would be ahead of the curve with our dogs. Nothing worth doing is instant.
Good post!

Maggi Burtt
Tailspin Petworx

Great post! I have a "reactive" dog and often times I feel that I've tried everything. Then I look at my Kodi and see how much fun he has on walks and I just can't give up. I read everything I can about "reactive" dogs and talk to people in the know and just keep on going for Kodi's sake. It would be so much easier just to say you have a great life in our house and back yard, but then I know he would miss so much, so I keep on going........

Gaby Karlkvist

Hi Gaby,

Don't give up yet - keep reading, keep trying to get things to work. It might take longer than you like, but you're absolutely right that while your dog might have a great life in your house and yard, he deserves (and needs) much more than that.
We've had our reactive 6-yr old dog for over a year, and we're still struggling. Unfortunately, few people understand that something as simple as walking up a driveway to get distance from another dog is not a bad thing; they look at us like we're freaks (and would never even think about giving us more space).
Prior to last week, I'd never dreamed of walking him in a crowded area, but it went well, thanks to him wearing a muzzle. It put me at ease, knowing that he couldn't do harm, and I think it put people around me at ease (he's a large GSD).
I've become far less judgemental about other people's dogs; the only thing I wish is that other folks would respect leash laws, and understand that not everyone wants to interact with their dog (how often have I heard, "It's OK, he's friendly", and wanted to shout back, "Mine's not!").
Patricia McConnell's books and booklets have been the most useful (esp. "The Cautious Canine" and "Feisty Fido".)

Be persistent, and good luck.

i have a mixed breed dog (greyhound, boxer, and pit),and hes really a good dog except for he seems to be very protective of his space when he knows he's in trouble, whether it be his kennel, or underneath the table and we have a hard time reaching him. when he gets to these moments he bites, HARD and im frustrated cuz the only thing i know to do is not play rough with him and put him in his kennel when he's in trouble? any ideas? the one other thing has to do with the latter. he's housebroken but sometimes he pees in the house when i jus took him out, so when i discipline him he gets scared and pees more on the floor which makes me more upset. please if u have any suggestions or good books that would be greatly appreciated. i love my baby and i dont want to let him go, (my husband is getting really irritated...)

Gaby Karlkvist
My recommendation is that you see a dog behaviorist. A dog does not "know" that he is in trouble. He apparently is afraid when you yell at him and that is why he doesn't come out from under the table. I also don't think it's a good idea to discipline a dog for having accidents in the house. I would have him checked out by a vet. It could be a medical condition. Just my two cents worth--good luck!

I also agree a behaviourist is important here. Your dog is biting/hiding and submissively urinating because of fear. You say he hides under the table when "he knows he's done something wrong"...this speaks volumes. He only knows he has done something wrong because YOU are sending him signals that he is going to be punished in some way. He hides to get away, you try to force him out and he bites because he feels that is his only option. He is a dog and when in that state fight or flight are the only options...flight is removed so you get fight.
Housetraining mistakes are on the part of the human, not the dog and punishing (as you are now seeing) only creates more problems.
Please get expert, positive training help for you and for your boy..your relationship with him does not have to be like this..both for his sake and for yours!

For reading I would highly suggest you start with The Culture Clash by Jean Donaldson and then check out the other blogger here, Nicole Wilde for her book on fear in dogs.

This CAN be fixed..but it is not just the dog that needs to change.

Maggi Burtt
Tailspin Petworx

i totally understand that im probably not doing everything i should, but my dog is really attached to me (follows me everywhere, whines when i leave...) and when he does do something that i dont want him to as soon as i get up he runs. and i dont yell, i use a stern voice. but how else can i punish him other than spanking or eye contact and a stern voice? i havent done everything but i also live in germany and i have NO CLUE where to find a dog behaviorlist?

If your pup is that sensitive (ie a 'velcro' dog, like Mine)any sort of correction, even standing over the dog and staring can be extremely distressing.
This is a positive training forum so I'll give you the basics of the types of recommendations done here as they do not recommend punishment and neither do I.
If you have an issue happening with your dog (Any issue, jumping, barking, leash pulling, fear aggression) the first step taken is to figure out what is causing the behaviour (the triggers) and then figure out what you WOULD like the dog to do.
Management of the problem comes first. If it's a housetraining issue or a chewing issue puppy proof the house and work on supervision/crate training of the dog so he has no opportunity to screw up.
No hard eye contact.
No fast movements or "looming" over the dog.
Absolutely NO spanking..all you do is teach the dog your hands are dangerous..this is part of why he bites you!

List the behaviours you find to be "punishable".
Figure out why they are happening (housetraining accidents are the HUMAN'S fault, not the dog's)
Come up with a plan to help the dog succeed in learning a new behaviour that is acceptable and works.
Teach the new behaviours using lots of rewards and CALM praise.

There is plenty of good info here on the site regarding housetraining, please have a gander at them..I'm sure they will be helpful to you and to your pup.

As for finding a behaviourist..if you cannot find someone local (though you should ask around) there are plenty of great books available regarding fear issues like I mentioned previously.

Good luck.

Maggi Burtt
Tailspin Petworx

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