I once had a woman at an event tell me that her dog was a disaster but that training him was such an “inconvenience.” She had a family to care for, two young kids, and no time to invest in training her dog. I understand that life can be busy, especially with young kids and a job, but I had to wonder… is this “inconvenience” worth resulting in a dog who can’t control himself around the kids, is destroying items in your home repeatedly, and that you can’t take out of the house? To me that doesn’t sound like a family dog; it sounds more like a family having a dog because they like the appeal of having a dog around but don’t really understand what is involved in making the dog a part of their family.
Our dogs have also changed over time like we humans have. Today, presumably as a result of our fast-paced society and this frequent kind of frenetic human energy and influence, our dogs are more easily aroused, more anxious, and less emotionally balanced. It’s so common to see dogs with behavior issues like separation anxiety, aggression with other dogs, and overstimulation in new or exciting places, very likely because we try to rely on quick-fix management style methods and we carry a high level of emotional arousal ourselves. But there are some things in this crazy life in which we can’t take the quick and easy way out – such as raising kids or having a dog. Or at least we shouldn’t, if we want them to be confident, respectful and productive members of our home and society.
The good news is, a dog becomes an adult after a year and a half – not 18 years like a child – so the amount of time you have to put in the effort to train him is relatively small in scale if you just put the work into it in the beginning. Once a dog has developed bad habits, especially if these behaviors delve deep into a dog’s instinct or personality, they take much more time and effort to fix. This is because you not only have to build up a newly ingrained behavior through frequent reinforcement, but you have to work to extinguish the old ingrained behavior and transform the dog’s learning brain. This sounds like much more of an inconvenience to me.
“Can’t I just send the dog away to a trainer, let them do the work, and then get back my fully-trained dog when the work is over?”, you might ask. I see this question a lot, and there are trainers out there who offer this service. But what most people don’t understand is that this kind of training should come with a “warning label” and doesn’t. This can work well for obedience skills, if you just want a trainer to lay a strong foundation of sit, stay, down, come, and things of the sort. But what most people find is that having a trainer work on behavior (and not all trainers even offer this opportunity), the dog might do great with the trainer and then come back to his family and get right back into all of his old habits.
This is because dogs are smart - they are creatures of opportunity and they understand what they can and cannot get away with, and who is and is not a leader worthy of respect. Then of course there’s always that underlying relationship and the harmony that can still be lacking. I advise my clients not to waste the money on sending their dog away, because more often than not it is just that – a waste of money. Instead, I thrive on empowering my clients to build that relationship with their dog and learn to set those boundaries of all the rules you want your dog to uphold so they value YOU, the relationship, and will gladly do whatever you need them to do. Would you send your children to boarding school and have them come back only during summers or when they have graduated? If you did, they probably wouldn’t have the greatest relationship with you, understandably – you weren’t there for the important part of the learning and growing process! What’s the point, then, in even having a child?
Maria Huntoon, CBCC-KA