Tools, Training, and Practice!
Updated: Sep 11, 2018
“Tools don’t train dogs; training trains dogs.” We hear that a lot, don’t we? I say it myself, often – and it’s true. But it doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t use tools – or that you should allow yourself to be made to feel guilty for using them. We use tools to help us in every situation; every job; every day. For example, you’re qualified to drive a manual, or stick-shift, but you choose to drive an automatic because it makes your life easier. Therefore, you’re making use of a tool (the automatic gearbox) designed expressly for that purpose. Your money, your life, your choice. Plus, some people are simply not physically able to drive manual cars. Vacuum cleaners; dishwashers; washing machines; food processors; remote controls; sat nav devices; automatic tyre inflators. These are all tools that assist us in our everyday lives. Can we wash our dishes or clothes by hand? Of course we can – but why would we make our lives harder? Life is short. Using tools that help make our short lives (and those of our dogs) easier and more enjoyable is not wrong, when those tools are used correctly, responsibly, and appropriately.
So, now let’s talk about training, because tools do not excuse you from training your dog. Training your dog is not an option; it’s an obligation. You have chosen to bring a living being from another species into your world. Dogs don’t come to us knowing human rules, human etiquette, or, most importantly, human language. How many times have you seen some frustrated soul ineffectually tugging their pulling, lunging, over-excited dog around on the end of its leash – which is invariably, ironically, attached to a “no pull” harness? Your dog doesn’t understand how it’s supposed to behave on a leash unless you teach it. Your dog doesn’t understand how it’s supposed to behave in any situation unless you teach it. And if you don’t know how to teach your dog (and why should you?), you hire a reputable, balanced trainer. A good trainer will be not only the teacher, but the translator between you and your dog until the two of you can communicate effectively, directly with one another. And the way you do that is to practise, and to form new habits.
Walking on leash is one of the most common issues I am asked to help deal with. The only way your dog will learn to walk nicely on leash is if you teach them. Not by sticking one of those aforementioned harnesses on them and hoping for the best. Practise the exercises your trainer has taught you. Just as we teach a green horse what a bit is for, so we teach the dog what leash pressure means. Do the leash pressure exercises. Dothe “follow me, yield to me” exercises. Do the sudden direction changes when walking. And most of all, do reward your dog every single time they are walking nicely to Heel – even if that’s every three to four paces, initially. Heel is a position, not a behaviour. Gradually you will be able to phase out the rewards, and use praise alone for a good Heel position. The videos on my page of Katana walking to Heel off leash show what can be achieved with just a little, consistent effort. It’s really basic stuff. Katana was taught to Heel with nothing more than a leather training leash, a flat buckle collar, a handful of treats, and lots of praise.
Now let’s talk about practice. Just like school homework, it’s the bugbear of trainers everywhere. “I’ve been working with a trainer but my dog still gets over-excited, and barks and whines, and he’s still jumping up at people! It’s weird; he doesn’t do it to the trainer, though – I don’t know what the problem is!” I don’t know how many times I’ve personally had this particular conversation, but if your dog is still displaying unwanted behaviours it is because in some way you are still reinforcing those behaviours. Especially if the dog doesn’t do it with the trainer! If you engage with your dog when he is whining, pawing at you, or, God forbid, jumping on you, he has trained you. If there are toys scattered all over the floor and food freely available 24/7, what motivation does your dog have to listen to anything you tell him, or engage with you, except on his terms? He is not having to earn anything. And since he will generalize this behaviour, you will no doubt have some explaining to do when he jumps up on the stranger who stops to give him attention on the street. If your dog is still doing things you don’t want them to do even after you have supposedly trained them (and don’t forget that training is a constant, ongoing process), the dog is not the problem. You are. Either you don’t care that your dog is misbehaving, or you do but are failing, or refusing, to make the changes necessary to stop the behaviour. Everything begins at home. How you live with your dog, and the rules and boundaries you put in place there, extend in every respect to the wider world.
As your trainer, I train you to train your dog. I can teach you to understand your dog’s body language and what he is communicating to you, and I can teach you how to “speak dog”. I teach you how to live differently with your dog, and how to form better habits with them that will carry over into every situation. But, here’s the “but”: none of what I teach you matters in the slightest unless you follow through with it – consistently. Fixing and changing a dog’s behaviours, and the way you live with your dog, is not like fixing a leaky tap or a broken washing machine. I can stop the jumping, the biting, and the pulling on leash. But as I have said before, a dog is a living, breathing creature with a brain, a personality, and a mind of its own. As a trainer, I can tell the moment I walk through a client’s door if they have implemented, and been consistent with, the changes I have advised them to make. The dog’s behaviour and demeanour shows me. The dog cannot lie. If you stand there and tell me, “But we’ve done everything you told us to and the dog still nips / bites / jumps / whines (delete as applicable),” I can one hundred per cent guarantee that, unless you misunderstood or misheard me (several times over – I repeat myself a lot for emphasis), you have not done everything we discussed. Don’t get me wrong; I actually have no problem with that. It’s your money, it’s your dog, and it’s your choice. So; I’m making a polite request: if you want the dog you tell your trainer you want before you commence lessons with them, you have to put in the work. And you only have to put a little in to get a lot back. And then you’ll find that it isn’t the chore you feared it might be