Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Training is not "all he needs"

There is no doubt that training is a necessary and important aspect of living with dogs. In order for dogs to learn to survive in human societies, we need to teach them how to do that. But there is a long-standing myth that every problem that people face with their dogs can be "trained" away.

This is simply not true.

A lot of problem *behaviours* stem from roots other than just training, although a lack of training usually occurs alongside.

Too often I am faced with dilemmas that exceed mere training and delve into deeper issues between the family and the dog. Part of my job as a trainer is to help people realize what else is missing in their dog's routine that is contributing to problems they are experiencing.

Poor matches between families and the dogs they choose as companions is a very key component to problems that owners face. Most people seek out dogs whose appearance is appealing or different, who has special markings, or is very different from the typical dogs in the community. Some choose on sheer emotion when they feel bad for a dog sitting in the corner at the shelter, not realizing the inherent difficulties they may face later. Still others choose based upon the premise of "my last dog was a ________, so another one would be perfect." Decisions made in this way sometimes do work out fine, and life continues merrily. But all too often things slowly start to go downhill and *training* does not seem to be solving the problem. This is not a failure of the trainer or the dog, but a failure in the realization that the dog that a family wants, and the dog the family has, are not the same dog.

You can't make a high-energy dog into a couch potato, no matter how much training you do. That dog, if not given sufficient physical and mental exercise and an outlet for that energy, will express it in other ways, such as barking, digging, running away, pulling on leash or destructive chewing. The real solution to the *problem* is to either make a lifestyle change in yourself, to accommodate the dog that you have, or to find that dog a suitable home where it will be able to have its needs fulfilled.

The same thing can be said when you assume that since your last dog was naturally the world's-best-dog, all others of its type must be the same way. This couldn't be further from the truth. No two dogs are the same, and dogs within a breed can vary greatly from one to the next. Assuming your next dog will be just like your last one is immediately setting yourself up for disappointment and failure if that turns out not to be the case. And as it happens, the dog is the one who suffers. It is punished harshly for behaviours that are merely symptom of other needs not being met; the dog is kennelled more and more often or banished to the yard; the dog develops self-destructive stress behaviours like licking, spinning, chewing, or fixations; or the dog is put to sleep as a *problem dog* or *untrainable*. When simply a better match could have prevented all of those problems.

Every family dynamic is different, and not all dogs will fit in neatly to the life and schedule that you live in.

Choosing the right dog for you is the first step to ensuring that you and your dog will spend many happy years together.

If you already made your choice of dog and are finding that you are having some mismatch problems, all is not necessarily lost. In the majority of cases solutions can be found to bring peace back into the home.

But if you are looking to add a new dog into your home, whether for the first time, second time, or fifth time, there are considerations to make before taking home the first dog that catches your eye.

Stay tuned for considerations to make when thinking of adding a new dog.

In the meantime, feel free to share your stories - whether happy endings or horror stories - of how you chose the dogs that you currently have in your home, and what led you to make that choice!

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