Where Does The Balance Come In?

Hate is a very strong word. Love is another strong word. Have you ever felt indifferent about something? You don’t love it, you don’t hate, it just is what it is.

Well, in dog training there are two extremes that I just can’t stand to hear about. While I wouldn’t go as far to say I hate either concept these are things that make me cringe.

The first is when I read about or see a video that shows a dog seemingly well behaved. He or she is walking perfectly by the handler or coming when called off leash from an obnoxiously long distance away and the handler is bragging that they have only had the dog in their board n’ train program for two days. Obviously we all know how this was accomplished, with an electronic collar.

Now I am going to say here that I have no real issue with electronic collars. I recognize that some dogs in some situations may, indeed, need one. I recognize that some owners will need one because they lack patience or time to get the training done and the dog remaining in his/her home hinges on the dog getting trained in a timely fashion and I recognize them to be a great tool to clean up already established behaviors. However, if your goal for your dogs training is two days, well I would have to ask you, how dog friendly do you think that training is? And, just what exactly are you doing with a dog if you need them to be perfect in two days.

If you get hired on to a new job, even if you are in the exact same position, doing the exact same thing, you are given a 90 day grace period for you to get used to the new surroundings, the new schedule and so on. So, just why exactly is it, you need your dog trained and ready for the invitationals in less than a week?

Food for thought!

The other extreme, on the opposite end of the spectrum, is when I hear trainers tell people they will need to spend a year working on any single specific behavior. Ahhhh….who in the world is realistically taking that advice? No one, that’s who!

Everyday average dog owners already have a hard enough time trying to find time for the family dog. Between working a full time job (which for most, does not include bringing the dog with them) to helping kids with homework, to preparing meals and so on. This is not meant to get the owner off the hook, not even close. It is meant to add some perspective. Asking anyone to wait a lengthy amount of time for their dog to reliably respond to a single command is simply not owner friendly training.

Our dogs tend to suffer more when the training is not owner friendly. That’s when people become frustrated and eventually lash out at their dogs leading to far harsher punishment than was ever necessary.

In order for training to be fun and effective for both parties involved (dog and owner) I like to break training down into three categories:

1) What can you live with?

I could not care less that my dogs beg at the table. This is something that I can live with and choose to not waste time worrying about “fixing”. Essentially, it is not  a priority. Maybe some day if my dogs are perfect in every other aspect of their lives, and I have nothing left to teach them I will worry about this (*insert sarcasm).

2) What can’t you live with?

I absolutely can not live with my dog reacting aggressively toward other dogs when on leash. My Doberman had a serious issue with this many years ago when I first adopted her and it was something I could not stand. Not only was it really annoying, it also posed a serious threat to her safety and others. Which brings me to my last category.

3) Does it pose a risk to the safety of the dog or others?

If your dog is presenting with a behavior that poses a risk to themselves or others then you have no choice but to care. You don’t get say that your dog door dashing doesn’t bother you so you are going to put it on your “I can live with it list.” Door dashing is a seriously dangerous behavior and should not be allowed to continue.

I do strongly suggest breaking your training down like this. Make literal, physical lists of things that could potentially pose a safety risk, things that you personally can not live with, it is a pet peeve and if the behavior does not stop the dog is gone, and finally a list of things that, you know what, really aren’t so bad, they are things you can live with.

Once you have your list make a training plan that helps you to safely, constructively, yet in a timely fashion train the behaviors on your “can’t live with” and “safety risk” lists. Getting those pesky “can live with” items out of the way can help to prioritize your training and help you to move forward smoothly because you have resolved to ignoring those “can live with” items. You can always come back to them later.

As always I recommend seeking professional guidance and remember that everyone’s lists will look differently. What concerns one may not concern another, so don’t worry about trying to make your list based off what you think others would do and base it off of what you, your dog and your family needs.


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