Recovery & Dog Training

Through uncontrollable circumstances early on, and later choices in my life, I was sporadically exposed to recovery and eventually immersed in it. While I never fully embraced the 12 step programs, I have great respect for their followers. I’ve also found some of their sayings to be very helpful reminders throughout my life. In fact, they even apply to dog training.

“First things first.” – This saying is based on the model of the medical triage. You must take care of the most immediate problem before you get to the underlying issues. For instance, you must stop the bleeding before you worry about putting in stitches.

In dog training, first things first can mean a few different things. For instance, a quality trainer will require a vet check and blood panel before delving into a serious behavioral problem. We have to make sure that the behavioral problem, especially if it is a sudden change in behavior, is not being caused by an underlying health issue.

Sometimes it means having a management plan. If a dog has no recall (won’t come when called) then the dog must be kept on-leash until he has become reliable. A dog who has resource guarding issues (growls over possessions) must not have access to high value items unless it is during a carefully orchestrated training session.

“Cultivate an attitude of gratitude.” – Addicts are taught to focus on the positive and to learn to be grateful for every little thing, especially every minute of sobriety. We would all do well to become more grateful!

As dog owners, we are notorious for taking our pet dogs for granted. A dog can come when called 100 times with not so much as a pat on the head, let alone a real thank you! This is especially true with well-behaved dogs. We pay much more attention to dogs (and children, spouses, employees, etc) when they DON’T do what we’d like.

Cultivating an attitude of gratitude shifts our focus to every little positive thing that our dog does. In the long run it puts the “problem behaviors” in perspective.

“It works if you work it.” – Well, now…this saying applies to so many things! People have a habit of blaming programs for their failure in reaching their goals. We do it with recovery programs, diets, budget plans and dog training.

Every trainer has heard a client claim to have “tried everything” or lament the failure of the last trainer they hired. This is always a red flag for me! It is possible that the previous training plan was flawed. It is also possible that the dog owner didn’t follow the plan.

There’s a bit of a double edged sword here, however. There are many plans that I know would work if I worked them, but even as a dog trainer I can’t fit them into my lifestyle. Not only does the dog owner have to be committed to following through with the training plan, but the plan has to be doable for that particular dog owner.

“Progress, not perfection.” – This is one I actually say to my clients often, as well as to myself. I can’t count the number of times that I've visited a client, listened to them talk about the progress they’ve made and heard them end it with, “But he’s still not doing it right all the time.”

Well, of course he’s not! Have you ever tried to lose weight, quit smoking, start exercising, spend less money, be nicer to people or change any kind of habit or behavior? You simply can’t do it overnight and sustain perfection. If you could, there wouldn’t be so many people making the same New Year’s Resolution year after year.

We have to revel in our progress as well as release our dogs from the expectation of perfection that even we can’t obtain for ourselves.