When we work with our dogs, when we try to fix them, when their behaviour seems completely unexplainable, we come up against a wall.  How can it be, when we’ve bought every book and been to every training class out there, that our dogs just seem to get worse and worse?

Often, when I see clients in a training scenario, they come to sessions and present me with goals.  Ideals.  Best case scenarios.  The client has a picture in his or her mind about how the dog should behave and wants specific steps to “fix the problem” so that the dog is more “obedient”.  No problem.  I can usually give him tools to make his dog behave exactly as he would like it to behave, but I would be cheating him.  If he deals with just the behaviour that he can see, then he might steamroll the spirit right out of his dog.  If he wants to find success, he needs to shift his thinking away from behaviour being “good” or “bad”.

I’ll say this one time.

Behaviour is INFORMATION.

Maybe I’ll say it again.

Behaviour is INFORMATION.

For example, If your dog is biting the leash, your hands, and your pant legs throughout your walk, you could approach it by just addressing the behaviour.  Let’s put a shock collar on him and zap him every time he jumps. Problem solved.  However, if you look at what his behaviour is TELLING you, then your entire treatment plan changes.  Could he be feeling anxious about a specific spot on your route? Is he nervous about walking when the streetlights come on? Now you’ve moved from looking at his behaviour as “disobedient”, to “fearful”.  If you begin to help him work through underlying causes then all of a sudden you’re able to see his misbehaviour with compassion and a lot more patience.

If you look at training your dog to make your life easier and more convenient, you often set up a power dynamic that can damage the relationship.  Expediency starts to trump your dog’s happiness, safety, and trust. As a trainer who always tries to use techniques that will do the least harm with the greatest effect, I can say that the road to success is often a lot longer and has many more twists and turns.  To see results, my clients often spend months, sometimes years, just slowly chipping away at those “bad” behaviours. However, the end result is a strengthened bond.  They know their dogs might never be perfect, but they’d rather have them be happy and secure.

When you have those frustrating days where you feel like giving up, just remember that training isn’t just about getting the behaviour you want…it’s about understanding your behaviour.

Imagine the freedom!