Training Must Feature Trust
DEAR DIDI: Why is training my dog so difficult? People give me all kinds of suggestions and everyone has a different way. None of which is working. My German Shepherd just doesn’t want to have anything to do with it. He even goes and hides under a table or behind the sofa no matter how many treats I offer. -About to Give Up
DEAR ABOUT TO: This question is like asking why child rearing is so difficult. Only the four-legged kid can’t speak your language and never will. Therefore it is even harder to raise a dog in some ways.
The most important thing to remember is that your dog is a unique little individual. Don’t lump him into any categories. It is easy to think they are all “dogs” and therefore there is one right way to do things. You might even be thinking he is a German Shepherd so there is a particular way to train that breed. The internet, corporate training programs, and your neighbors will all have lots of advice. Everyone who has ever owned a German Shepherd will think they are experts. You will get people who have watched way too much Cesar Millan or Victoria Stilwell that now consider themselves educated dog owners and want to tell you what you should be doing. Anyone can write a book. The dog market is now a 75 billion dollar industry. Lots of competition vying for your every dollar.
Think of the Nature vs. Nurture argument. Every dog is unique. They come with their own hang ups, personalities, temperaments, experiences, and genetic predispositions. Their IQ’s vary. Their owner’s abilities vary. The best thing you can do before giving up is to find a truly knowledgeable and experienced trainer that understands how to modify his/her training methods to meet the needs of the owner and dog. A trusting relationship with a dog is a two-way street much like a marriage. Not only do you have to trust your dog but he needs to learn that he can trust you! A good coach can be like a relationship counselor and can lead you down the right path, which is not an overnight fix, but also show you equipment and tools that will help YOUR dog. That same equipment may not work for the neighbor’s dog who is a different personality. The owner’s ability to correctly employ the equipment is also important. Sometimes people just can’t master a technique and we have to find another way that works. A child’s teacher in school knows how to push yet support, encourage yet challenge, lead yet know when to let the kid lead. Interview trainers and listen to what they have to say about their ideologies and methodologies.
Lastly, a quick note about treats. All animals need to be rewarded for their efforts or they will quit trying. Even humans will likely stop showing up to work if the paycheck is gone. One just has to figure out what is considered a reward by the animal being trained. Not all dogs value treats enough to be willing to do things for you. Some dogs prefer toy rewards. A few will actually work for your affection as a reward. Sometimes it helps to modify the dog’s feeding schedule to make sure they become more interested in treat rewards. Not all treats are the same in a dog’s mind. Just because you paid $22 for a small name brand bag of yummies doesn’t mean your dog will like them. You may just be contributing to the pet industry’s bottom line. Find something your dog wants more than anything else and then only allow him to have it when he participates in active learning/training.
Dierdra McElroy is a graduate of Texas A&M University and is an Animal Behaviorist specializing in canines. Like Didi’s Facebook page: California Canine. If you have questions or concerns about the pets in your house, you can get them answered through a future column of Didi’s Dogs. To ask your dog behavior question, email your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.