When Dogs Ask Why

What is a trained dog? It’s not simply teaching certain behaviors, or cues, that produce a reliably trained dog. Relevancy is often overlooked, but it’s what makes for a trained dog. Think about it. Training is not about teaching dogs what we want them to do and enforcing them to comply. Successful training explains to dogs why they should comply.


There are several aspects to training a dog. First, in some cases, you have to teach the dog what you’d like him to do and when, as in “sit when I ask you to do so”. After a few repetitions you’ve got to wonder if the dog starts to think, “Okay, it was fun to learn something new, but why do you want me to keep doing it over and over! Or, why should I do it when there is something better to do?”


Once you’ve successfully elicited and isolated the behavior you’re teaching, you’ve got to get the dog to do it on visual or verbal cue. That’s all well and good, and it takes a bit of know-how and patience to get there, but good training goes beyond teaching a behavior on cue - which can be seen as a parlor trick, done randomly and often repetitively as a performance without much other context.


Now that you’ve taught the dog to sit on visual or verbal cue, in order for the dog to respond reliably and enthusiastically over and over, he has to be taught why it’s relevant. For example, “sit” to greet visitors and they will smile and pet you and you won’t be banished from the room when company arrives.


The key to having a trained dog is getting that dog to perform reliably when cued, regardless of the situation. In order to do that the dog must learn the reason why to respond to your requests immediately.


Relevancy teaches a dog why to do what you’ve asked. Done right it teaches the dog to WANT to do what you’ve requested, it builds motivation right in. And this is what makes for a reliable, well-trained dog.


As I said in my last post, dogs aren’t inherently wired to just take orders from people. In fact, they are wired to do many things that are in direct conflict with human wishes and desires. So, how do we get a dog to override his natural tendencies and happily respond to our requests? Give your dog a reason to want to perform for you! Life rewards are an important piece of the puzzle. To get the most out of this concept, and to really convince your dog that your suggestions are by far the best ideas out there try this exercise:


Before you ask your dog to do something think to yourself that the dog is going to ask, “why?” and then come up with a good answer and give him a good reason to want to follow your request. Please be more creative and clear than responding with, “because I said so” because relevancy greatly improves performance!