Training your dog is not so much teaching your dog tricks as it is learning to speak a language that your dog understands, then having the ability to communicate with your dog about things that come naturally to them.
Canis familiaris is a common dog that has become domesticated over time. Canis lupus is the dogs’ wild cousin, the wolf. Even though the dog is no longer wild like the wolf most of the behaviors still apply. These behaviors are innate and have succeeded in allowing the wolf to survive for the entirety of its existence on earth. Wolves and our sweet house pets all communicate by smell, sound, energy, body posture and eye contact.
Though your dog has feelings, it’s important to avoid anthropomorphizing their feelings as they are quite different. One of the most important things to a dog is the pack; your household and your dog are a pack as he sees it. In a pack there must always be a pack leader. Your dog is very happy having you as their pack leader however if you are not going to be the pack leader then your dog will step up to get the job done because someone has to do it.
To have harmony with in your pack and your home it is very important you are the pack leader and once you assume this role realize that your dog’s “feelings” no longer matter. It’s all very black and white in a dog’s world; the pack leader gets to eat first, eats the best food and always walks in front unless the dog has permission to walk a head of you. The pack leader never gives any reward to the lesser pack member unless that pack member has done something to be rewarded for.
Your dog will constantly test you to see if you are serious about being the pack leader because this is extremely important to your dogs’ survival as they see it. As your establish pack leadership your dog will test you less and less. The main way your dog learns is by trial and error. Therefore a dog memory is supreme. A dog never forgets.
This leads us to consistency. You, as pack leader, must be consistent to a fault. If for example your dog tries to get up on the bed with you and is allowed to once out of 200 times then your dog will continually try to get up on the bed. They have learned that once out of 200 times they will be allowed to stay and to your dog those are pretty good odds and will keep them motivated to try and try and try. That’s the hardest part in training your dog. Consistency!!! If your dog learns that no matter how many times they try to get on the bed they will NEVER be allowed to stay then eventually that is a test they give up on. Dogs are very smart opportunists. If something doesn’t eventually pay off then that is a waste of energy and one to just avoid.
The other very important thing to know is your dog will do anything to please the pack leader. A dog’s feelings do not get “hurt” if they are corrected. They want to be shown and to know “how to act”. If a dog puts its eyes down, tucks their tail between their legs, rolls onto their back and exposes their belly or even tinkles a little bit they are NOT saying “my feelings are hurt….why are you so mean to me”. Instead they are saying “I respect you as the pack leader and I am going to show you how much I respect it by showing you how submissive I can be”.
Another example of miscommunication is when a dog jumps up on you. First of all this is undesirable behavior. The first thing you must do is correct your dog so that they will stop it, but most importantly you should know WHY they are jumping in the first place. If you have ever watched a video about wolves you will often see the entire pack go up to the pack leader and “nuzzle its muzzle” or lick the alpha wolfs mouth. That is all your dog is trying to do to you when they jump up so earnestly when you get home from work. They are desperately trying to “nuzzle your muzzle”. This is a show of respect. So instead of punishing your dog for what he sees as a demonstration of respect, teach him instead to do it by your rules. Teach him to sit then wait for you to bend down to him before they lick your muzzle.
The main goal in dog training is to teach YOU the dogs “language”, then to teach YOU to teach your dog the rules of the “pack” and their role and acceptable behavior within that pack. In the long run your dog will be much happier because their world makes sense to them. Also this provides you with the best possible relationship you could possibly have with your dog.
The majority of problems people have with their dogs boils down to simple miscommunication that is easily corrected. But unless you are truly skilled in training many unfortunate things can happen. Potty training is one such example. Unless you catch your dog in the act of urination yelling and spanking your dog will mean nothing to them except that in their mind sometimes out of the blue you yell and hit for no reason. There is a joke out there that shows a man throwing his dog out the window every time he sees an “accident” on his floor. Before long the dog will have his accident then leaps out the window. Funny yes, but also very telling on “dog training” done incorrectly.
Another sad example of “training done incorrectly” is one man got a shock collar to stop his dog from jumping up on his small child. Every time the dog would jump on the child the man would angrily push down on the button that would emit the shock to the dog. This was very painful and upsetting to the dog and he couldn’t understand why this was happening. Pretty soon the dog realized that every time he would feel this horrible pain the child was next to him. Before long the dog put it together in his mind that the child was causing him all this pain and eventually he attacked that child as a way to protect himself. This is a very harsh and sad lesson that shows you training must be done by someone that is trained in training dogs.
Training is different for big dogs and little dogs and even though it is never too late to teach an old dog new tricks, training an older dog is very different from training a puppy. An aggressive dog is trained differently from a fearful dog. Each dog is unique as are people. As a school teacher has to learn many different ways to teach many different “learners” a dog trainer’s job is no different. Each situation is unique and must be treated as such.
As a trainer there is nothing more rewarding than seeing this creature with such a capacity for unconditional love to learn how to be a better pack member to the one person that means more than anything to him in this world…you.
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