From the largest to the smallest, all dogs have a purpose. More importantly, dogs need a purpose. For some it might simply be to sit by your side or on your lap as you type away at your computer. Others feel it necessary to keep watch over your children as they play in your yard. And then there is the true working dog that really shows its personality once it has run the agility course, killed the rat in your garage or brought you the morning paper. This sense of purpose is a natural instinct rarely used by today’s trainers.
So many owners desire a “mellow” dog, but choose a breed that has a strong working or herding drive. Then they wonder why the dog trashes their condo while they are at work. The owner seeks the services of a trainer who simply provides methods or techniques that suppress the dog’s inherent talents and skills. And in today’s “I paid, now fix it.” mentality it is easier to understand how some vets are prescribing sedatives and anti-depressants for dogs that are exhibiting these anxieties. While it might be too late to choose another dog, other options do exist including day care, dog walkers, obedience classes, flyball, agility and other terrific activities. These types of classes help to shape behavior, as well as allow dogs to expend pent up energy.
A canine’s sharp ability to read our body language, interpret our vocal intonations, and sense our mood at any given moment–in a split–second actually –is remarkable and without dispute. They do not need to be trained to be “submissive” to us. As we provide everything for them, dogs really assume this role quite naturally.
It is easy to concede that a dog views its owner, once this role is established through bonding and training, in a leadership role–a human leader. No longer needing to hunt for its own food or search for shelter, the companion dog relies upon us for survival. As the survival instinct is hard-wired into the psychology of the dog, and due to its cooperative nature, a dog willingly accepts humans as leader. Where this relationship often goes awry is when well-intentioned owners attempt to obtain leadership or control over the dog using fear, intimidation or by infusing human psychology or reasoning during the developmental stages when imprinting takes place.
But, make no mistake about it–dogs quickly figure humans out! Dogs are scientists of human behavior. Their survival depends upon their keen perception.
Dogs learn when the advantages and the disadvantage of their actions are spelled out in black and white. When we do not clearly communicate to our dog where their advantage lies, stress and confusion sets in and learning does not take place. If a dog is allowed to make its own choice, with no guidance from us, the possibility is 50/50 that he will make a correct one. For example, if we allow our dogs to decide where they want to go potty–they will usually choose inside our houses.
Setting up your dog to succeed builds confidence, and a confident dog is a stable companion. It is the trainer’s or handler’s responsibility to provide a stimulus that is sufficient and clear enough so that the dog understands where the advantage lies.
Because dogs have an inherent willingness to please, the process of teaching is easily accomplished without the use of food as a bribe, or pain to induce or eliminate a behavior. Patience and consistency are far better tools than some of the gimmicks and tricks being used by many of today’s dog trainers and manufacturers of training aids. A quickly-trained dog is not necessarily a well-trained dog. Nor should it be considered a well-bonded companion. The teaching/training process presents to us the unique and special opportunity to develop a very deep, mutually respectful relationship with our canine companion.
However a basically trained dog is a suitable house companion and for many that is just good enough. In many homes even a basic level of training isn’t met.