As a dog trainer, I love taking a dog, and a treat and teaching the dog a new behavior. There’s something very rewarding about establishing a relationship with an animal and having moments that you completely understand each other. There’s something profound about communicating without language. You learn to listen with your eyes. You learn to truly trust because you are seeing actions and not hearing words. You and the dog pick up on little nuances about each other and can predict what the other is going to do in almost any given situation. It’s that level of understanding that makes your dog light up when his trainer walks in the door.
Imagine living in a house with 2 or 3 people, and always being the odd one out. You’re rarely a part of the conversation or interaction. The only engagement you get is when someone sets a bowl down, pats you on the head, or scolds you.(most of the time you don’t even know why you were scolded) Other than that, you just do a whole lot of nothing.
Then the trainer walks in… he starts to engage you. He begins to show you how to do things with your body and you get rewarded for it. You begin to think… What do I have to do to get another reward? Let me start to offer behaviors. You’re communicating, and it’s sublime. You’re game to do pretty much whatever this guy asks of you… You’re engaged.
Fast forward… the trainer leaves. He gave you, the owner, a couple of things to practice like sit with a treat, and come with a treat. The thing is… life happens and you never get around to practicing the behaviors. The trainer comes back. He shows the dog a couple of new behaviors. The dog is catching on fast, and still sits very well. The trainer leaves, you ask the dog to sit without a treat or leash, as instructed, and the dog sits. You’re happy he did it, so you say good boy, and walk off. Later on, you do the same thing. This time the dog takes a little more time before he sits and then he looks up at you very puzzled.
This isn’t the game. Where’s the feedback for a job well done? When can he get up from the sit? Later, you ask the dog to sit and the dog flat out ignores you and walks away. This is not a training issue. It’s a relationship issue. Your dog probably doesn’t like you as much as you think he does because you don’t have a relationship with your dog.
As a dog trainer, this becomes my dilemma. The dog is trained. He does every single behavior I ask of him. He’s attentive and wiling. Owners, almost always discount the dog’s perfect behavior with me as “He likes you because you have treats.” When I leave, the dog doesn’t do any of behaviors with reliability. How can I make the dog more reliable for the owner? The real and unfortunate answer is: I can’t. Dog owners have to put the time in…
What I can do is show you how to engage your dog. I can show you how to get your dog to want to be with you, and work for you. An engaged dog would rather be with you than exploring their surroundings. Once you get engagement, obedience training is a breeze.
Over the next 3 weeks, I’m going to cover some things you can do outside of obedience training to open the lines of communication and build a relationship with your dog. Stay tuned!!