Change Your Perspective And Train Your Dog

As a dog trainer there are two questions I get more than any others:


“How do I get my dog to stop doing (insert annoying, yet often natural, behavior here)?”

“How do I punish my dog when he’s just being bad?”


There are also a few statements I get more than any others:


“She knows better!”

“She’s just being stubborn.”

“He doesn’t respect (me, my wife, my children).


Anyone see a pattern here? I’ll give you a second…


It’s all so adversarial and puts the entire responsibility on the dog. A dog! Blaming the dog for lack of communication skills or not understanding human language or desires is scape-goating and also gives a supposedly lesser creature (according to that whole “he doesn’t respect” me malarkey) a heck of a lot of power and responsibility. It’s also quite egotistical of us humans to think that a dog should respect us simply because we’re human. Even if dogs are capable of feeling the human notion that is respect, it’s something that is earned, not just inherently awarded.


Looking at, and dealing with, your dog from an adversarial perspective sets both of you up for failure. From this perspective every perceived transgression is an insult. When your dog doesn’t come when called it’s a slap in the face! “How dare Rover ignore me when I’ve demanded his presence!


The thing is, it doesn’t have to be this way. Presumably you got a dog because you wanted a companion, a sidekick. Presumably you live with a dog because you like dogs. Your dog is your friend, the two of you have so many great moments of fun and affection every day, yet you don’t even give him the benefit of the doubt when it comes to his perceived transgressions.


Ever consider that your dog isn’t listening to you because she doesn’t know what the heck you are saying, let alone understand what is expected of her in a given situation?


Most dogs don’t comply to your requests, commands, or more accurately, cues, because they haven’t been sufficiently trained to do so – by you.


Newsflash: Dogs are not born with a reverence for, or submission to, humans. Nor do they inherently “know” what we want them to do, how to behave in the presence or home of another species, or the meaning of human language. They also aren’t born with a penchant for world-domination.


Dogs are, however, born with a unique ability to “read” humans really well, better than any other species, and a desire to survive: be safe, fed, comfortable, socially accepted.


They’re pretty easy to manipulate, especially by more intelligent beings with bigger brains, greater access to all resources (including good dog training information), and opposable thumbs. (Hey, that’s us!)


When it comes to dog behavior there’s good news and bad news. The bad news is that dogs often have a very different idea about what acceptable behavior is any given situation. The good news is that dogs are generally very malleable and willing to learn our strange human ways if given the opportunity via clear instruction and rewards.


So next time your dog doesn’t come when called at the park, or jumps up to greet someone think about whether she’s had sufficient instruction and repetition of recalls or if she’s ever been taught what a polite greeting looks like from the human perspective. Has she been taught what is “right” versus merely been told what is “wrong”? Has she been given an acceptable alternative to her natural doggy behavior and has it been heavily practiced and reinforced? Because behavior doesn’t lie, and it’s likely if your dog is doing something you don’t like it’s probably your fault and it’s definitely your job to teach her what to do.


So if you find yourself getting grumpy, or frustrated with Fido, first change your perspective, and then get to work training your dog!

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